Q&A: Star Wars Crowdfunding, Third Party Bootlegs, and Sisters

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 26, 2020

1. I've been hearing about how Hasbro won't make the Tonnika Sisters (from the Cantina) for years due to legal issues, or the rumor that they're actually prostitutes and would be a bad idea for toys.

So...why doesn't Hasbro simply make a "looks close enough, but legally different" figure set of them called "Cantina Bar Patrons" and be done with it? They've made figures who didn't really look like their movie counterparts, so why all the fuss?

Over the years we've had this come up - "Why not do them as seen on Clone Wars?" we asked. "Hey, one of the actresses said 'yes'" we were told. "Lucasfilm just plain does not want to make any background unmasked humans," we've heard. "The other sister might still sue," they've said. With the changeover in Hasbro's Star Wars team, the whole company of Lucasfilm being sold, we've had real "brain drain" across the entire corporate estate - I don't mean this to imply stupidity, I just don't know of a better way to describe some sort of unfortunate generation loss through the lost of accrued knowledge through changes in your workforce. It happens in all product lines everywhere, but when it comes to Star Wars we're also talking about obscure background aliens in an era where 3 3/4-inch figures are no longer driving the line and background talent-as-toys are increasingly rare. I've even heard whispers of Disney saying background talent with human faces without signed release forms will not be produced, even if the figure's faces are changed, because they don't even want to think about the hint of a possible lawsuit.

Given we've had zero new cantina aliens in the last four years in either the 6-inch or 3 3/4-inch scales out of Hasbro, I just plain don't think they're going to bother with the Tonnika sisters. We've been nudging Kenner since Galoob's Action Fleet mini-figure, and that was over 20 years ago. You want her? Start a petition, and let's hope for the best. For whatever reason she doesn't make it out of the fan petitions' early voting, so I'm at a point where I'm just doubtful anyone even wants to try. Maybe we'll get a good fan-made alternative some day, or a mini statue, or some other loophole - but I doubt it, unless someone puts them in The Mandalorian or something.



Ad: Stuff at Entertainment Earth!
Transformers Generations Selects Deluxe Exhaust Transformers Generations Selects Deluxe Hubcap Transformers Generations Selects Deluxe Greasepit X-Men Movie Marvel Legends Professor X and Magneto Figures X-Men Movie Marvel Legends Wolverine 6-Inch Action Figure X-Men Movie Marvel Legends Mystique 6-Inch Action Figure Power Rangers Lightning Collection Red Ranger Helmet Star Wars Black Series Han Solo Mimban Mudtrooper Figure Star Wars The Black Series Battle Droid 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Mace Windu 6-Inch Action Figure King Diamond Ultimates Action Figure G.I. Joe Classified Series Profit Director Destro Figure G.I. Joe Classified Series 6-Inch Action Figures Wave 2 Case Star Wars Black Series ESB Boba Fett Action Figure Star Wars Black Series ESB 40th Anniv. 6-Inch Figures Wave 3 Star Wars Vintage Collection Carbon-Freezing Chamber Playset Star Wars Black Series ESB Luke Skywalker Dagobah Figure Star Wars Vintage Collection Princess Leia (Bespin Escape) Transformers Generations Selects Deluxe Tigertrack Transformers Generations Selects Deluxe Rotorstorm TMNT Ultimates Michelangelo 7-Inch Action Figure TMNT Ultimates Metalhead 7-Inch Action Figure TMNT Ultimates Rocksteady 7-Inch Action Figure TMNT Ultimates April O'Neil 7-Inch Action Figure Conan the Barbarian Conan (Iconic Movie Pose) Action Figure Star Wars The Vintage Collection Imperial Death Trooper Star Wars The Black Series IG-11 Action Figure - Exclusive Star Wars Vintage Collection Skiff Guard Action Figure Set Star Wars The Black Series Porg Action Figure Set Star Wars The Black Series The Mandalorian (Beskar) Figure Star Wars The Black Series Ahsoka Tano 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Zeb Orrelios 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Clone Trooper Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Sabine Wren 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Imperial Stormtrooper Figure Star Wars The Black Series Ezra Bridger 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars The Black Series Admiral Ackbar Action Figure


2. Hey Adam I was wondering If you got a chance to check out the Unproduced Droid figures from Pro-customs and the Custom figures from Stan Solo & The fans strike back/Smith Lord creations? What is your POV on “Third Party” Star Wars products? Transformers (and to a lesser extent) G.I. Joe has had Third Party companies for a while now. Just curious how you feel on the subject it seems this is a polarizing thing in the Star Wars collecting community.

While fascinating, they don't count in my book and are legally dubious. Why Hasbro or Disney aren't either smacking them down or making things themselves, I don't know. When it comes to "plays with" ideas like a village in the trees, or snow base, or other things that are arguably able to be made beyond the worlds of trademark infringement, I think they should do everything they can. I'd say consult your lawyers, but if someone decided to make a space bar toy that was not called a Cantina and did not have any Lucasfilm trade dress on the packaging, I'm pretty sure they would be just fine doing that without too much legal fear.

Just this week a "third party" or "bootleg" company - Weijiang - got shut down. They did upsized knock-offs of Transformers in China. It's notable that they seemed to be upsized copies of Hasbro's products, probably making it very easy to prove infringement. I assume. I'm not a lawyer.

When it comes to people outright reproducing prototypes or things taken straight from the movies, I won't go near it. With G.I. Joe (and to a lesser extent, Transformers) it seems to be a bit more murky. G.I. Joe is a pretty generic and flexible creation, so sci-fi military changed sufficiently from the source material - but in the same scale - is fair game. You can make a ninja commando, but you can't make Snake Eyes. Lanard's The Corps line has done it for years without going near any of Hasbro's specific trademarks. Nobody owns 3 3/4-inch military toy figures top to bottom, so anyone can participate as long as they don't trod on someone else's legal property.

Transformers seems to skirt the issue with minor changes from the source material when it comes to third parties. They're recognizably those characters, but missing key trademarkable elements like an Autobot or Decepticon symbol, or the names, or the same alt mode, or other details are changed. Again, I am not a lawyer - but it would seem iGear and Fan's Project and whoever change the designs enough that nobody is bothering to go after them. It's not trademark infringement if trademarks aren't infringed, but anybody who's a fan of the stuff can look at it and say "I see what you did there."

As a matter of keeping my collection smaller, I stay away from pretty much all third party stuff except for things that are ultimately wholly original, like BMOG since it's designed by a couple of people I'm friendly with and is more of a "plays with" toy than a full-on replacement for a favorite toy line. If people want to buy accessories or stools or even environments (since changes are always made to make them into a sellable toy), I'd say knock yourselves out. When people start replicating characters or vehicles outright, I'd rather you not take money out of the mouths of the people who own the IP - but that's me. You're going to do what you want, and odds are the people doing runs of 20 or 30 figures aren't hurting anybody anyway. (And I also think it's not unreasonable for Hasbro to steal their lunch/hire them to make the products officially.)




3. More a comment than a question, but your recent Q&A where you referenced crowdfunding a wave of TVC is something I'd support. A year-long Star Wars Figure Subscription Service similar to what GI Joe had could be a good fit for Haslab. $30-$40/figure for limited-run, collector-focused characters with TVC articulation and card would be a fair commitment. Throw in a protective clamshell for shipping and a Bill Burr Mayfeld as a bonus and I'm sold. Probably buy extras through Fan Channels, too. Do you think there's a market for crowdfunding or are we still going through Star Wars [movie franchise] burnout?

I don't think we ever really had real burnout. But fans certainly got sick of buying things from movies they a) didn't like, b) already bought, or c) haven't seen yet.

I noticed a pattern over the years - generally the years where there's a movie, collectors do burn out. In 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, Hasbro/Lucasfilm ask us to line up at midnight to drop hundreds and hundreds of dollars on toys for movies we don't know about. In all the other years, our fandom is based on things we already know if we like or not. This year interest in Star Wars certainly seems higher where I sit than where it did last year before, during, and after The Rise of Skywalker. The hype wasn't there before the movie - I blame bad marketing - the movie itself was what it was, and the post-game was COVID. But we're seeing significant, intense interest in things like reissues of old Kenner figures, reissues of Boba Fett figures from 7-10 years ago, and things from The Mandalorian and - this is key - the things fans recognize.

In movie years we gravitate toward things early like Darth Maul, Kylo Ren, and troopers - the familiar, things that we feel we kind of know before the movie opens. Fans don't leap on figures like Rey or Finn until after they've seen the movie because there's no way to know who's the lead and who's Constable Zuvio, and frankly, spending hundreds of dollars just to be sure you have access to a figure before you know you want it is kind of insane.

I don't think there's a market for crowdfunding in a "Force Friday" context, pre-movie presales require you to love the design before you know the character or scenario. In May of 1999 Lucasfilm was still telling retailers that Jar Jar Binks was going to be the next big thing, kids were going to love him and he'd be the next Yoda. It can be unwise to be proactive about predicting public sentiment to an entertainment property, especially now when changes in world events and culture in general can cause once beloved and unimpeachable stories to lose favor for a variety of reasons.

However, if we saw a box of figures from The Mandalorian's first season, or the Razor Crest, or a Death Star, or a big Jabba the Hutt Throne Room for The Black Series? I'd buy one. But with figures? I don't see a good reason to do any sort of blind pre-order on "new movie" product, and the interest in action figures from fans still seems high enough to just keep doing things as is - pre-order online early to get yours, or stalk the stores. And nobody wants to stalk the stores anymore.

Crowdfunding is a weird place to be - Mattel really kicked it off with Masters of the Universe Classics (but without divulging the goals), then HasLab did it and now I guess Mattel is considering doing it again and people forgot Matty Collector? It happens. Hasbro did Mighty Muggs, and when I first saw Funko Force 2.0 (now Pop! Vinyl) I said "Oh shoot, this is what Hasbro should've done - everything!" And of course Mighty Muggs were inspired by countless designer vinyl figures, most of which were license-free or quirky. But I digress.

Having said that, crowdfunding would be a great replacement for Hasbro's Fan's Choice polls. If there are figures they're not confident about, put it up to a dollar vote. Long-shots like Vlix, Jaxxon, Funeral Pyre Darth Vader, 6-inch figures based on old Bantam/Del Rey Expanded Universe materials, and so on? Polling fans is one thing, but letting stores put up pre-orders or crowdfunding or whatever to determine actual interest could be fun. I'd be up for it.



Become a Patron!

Special thanks to our generous Patreon patrons, especially: JT, Bobb, Christopher, David, Jayson, Marco, Matthew, Robert, Shawn, Stephen, Timothy, Dan, Fox, Jeremy, Mario, and Todd! Thanks for helping us keep the servers on!



Tenet got pulled from the movie schedule last week, and then everything else changed. Bill & Ted Face the Music is now a VOD release in September. The Star Wars and Avatar sequels got pushed back by a year, and to that I say "Why stop there?" I don't actively hate any of it, but Avatar seemed to make little impact outside its release and Star Wars probably would only benefit from more time in the oven. The Force Awakens and Rogue One had decent development time, and were pretty good. Solo and The Rise of Skywalker were a bit rushed, and while I was charmed by Solo I haven't been able to rewatch The Rise of Skywalker as of yet. I just can't. Lots of other movies are getting pulled indefinitely, like Mulan, leading to an increasingly uncertain future where the only thing I know for sure is that I will probably continue to get through Schitt's Creek.

Disney's Target program is vexing. Over the last decade, the stuff that makes me start to look over the edge of quitting always comes out of Disney. The Droid Factory build-a-droid thing in the theme parks to a non-local is just a tremendous hassle, even buying the figures on eBay was exceedingly difficult because for those who want one of every part (or enough full figures so one of every part is used) it's a near-impossibility. Difficult, but certainly expensive and time consuming. Now we've got Disney taking theme park stuff into Target, and I don't know if it's good or not. Most exclusives at stores with precious few (carbonized) exceptions have been reasonably easy to obtain, but it looks like there's some excess hoop-jumping to start with on these.

I'm a big advocate of voting with your dollars - a tough thing to do, if you're a toy junkie. We've seen how Target handles higher price point items. The Rogue One AT-ACT went from $300 to clearance in under a month. The $200 The Last Jedi BB-8 playset - a ponderous piece if ever there was one - also got marked down heavily at Target and across the country. Unless the edition size is tiny, I'd probably roll the dice on waiting on a $400 Galaxy's Edge Millennium Falcon. (I did ask Hasbro during 2015 if we might get a BB-8 packed with a radar dish to swap out with our existing Falcon toys. I guess they opted to go all-out.) I just can't fathom people paying $400 for an item unless it was limited to lower four digits, and even then... it's $400. And allegedly not going into retail stores - or definitely going - depending on who you ask. It's going to be a project to watch!

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.



I'm on Instagram! All Pictures from a GameBoy Camera.