Q&A: Star Wars Goes Back to Sleep, Target Audiences, and Old Tyme Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 20, 2015

1. So, what exactly is going on with Hasbro's distribution...again!? I hit Target, Wal-Mart, and TRU on Force Friday's Midnight Madness and walked away with no 3.75" or 6" figures. It wasn't an issue of having too many people, either. There were more people than I thought there might be, but places were certainly not mobbed. Years ago on another Midnight Madness event that I attended l, I clearly remember a pallet of 3.75" figures at Wal-Mart that employees pulled from as many people cleared the pegs.

I figured that stores would quickly replenish the next day or week, but all I see are empty pegs where 3.75" and 6" figures should be. What is Hasbro thinking? They had a chance to ride this wave of consumer interest right through the Christmas shopping season, but now...casual consumers and fans alike who can't find figures will have even more reason to simply give up. Casual buyers will buy something else, while Collectors will wonder why they are "hunting" or "stalking" 5POA figures that they were not really excited about in the first place.

I was wondering this myself - it looks like we're in the midsts of an honest-to-goodness shortage... or just iffy planning. (Or excellent planning.) The manufacture dates (date stamps) on many of the toys are surprisingly recent. Some "Wave 1" stuff is around June, and "Wave 2" is July 20. The Black Series stuff seems to have been made around May.

After a decade, it's entirely possible Hasbro is either a) catching up with demand - is it really sane to expect people would ramp up to or above 1999, 2002, or 2005 numbers after a real lull? Or b) this is all intentional and we're dancing to their tune. I have no real way to know, but if Hasbro is playing a long game plan to get people really interested again it seems to be working. Of course, I go to lots of stores and I'm seeing reshipments of items at places that were "sold out" days earlier. Phasmas and Kylo Rens are making reappearances alongside other toys.

Given the issues with the ports and good old fashioned transit times, it's not impossible that we could just be dealing with manufacturing and supply chain bottlenecks. We don't know if Disney gave Hasbro a date where they were allowed to start manufacturing certain items - one way to prevent leaks is to prevent there being something to leak. In 1998, we had test shots on the web in September and by November, every toy collecting site that wanted to pay for it could have purchased the entire first wave of toys, packaged, without any real fuss. This time around there were no such known opportunities that I've heard, and this could be the result of a more draconian approach to managing those who make our stuff in China. We do know that stuff on a boat from China can take about 6 weeks to get here, plus or minus time in customs. From there they have to go to Hasbro's distribution centers, to the retailer distribution centers, to the retailer. That can take a few days or more.

Since Hasbro doesn't release its manufacturing numbers to anybody, we'll never know if we're seeing a shortage created through genius of marketing, of true demand from frenetic fans (and salacious scalpers), or what. Sometimes "distribution problems" can be chalked up to stores just not ordering all that much product, and it's not impossible for a line launch to exceed expectations to such a level that nobody was really ready for it. In toy manufacturing, overestimating demand is a costly mistake that can cause real problems for later. Given how it seems even MicroMachines are selling, though, I'd be more inclined to believe we're suffering through a "heat wave" where people just want to buy anything. It's tourist season. Sometimes you compete with your fellow collectors - right now the eyes of the world are on us, and fair-weather fans are shopping and collecting again. They may be gone in a few months, but for now Star Wars has once again gone form a hobbyist thing where there are interested kids who are underserved (see: Rebels) to a pop culture phenomenon where we're all scrambling (see: 1995-1998).

Right now there's not enough stuff to go around. All you have to do is type "Phasma" or "Kylo" on Craigslist to see the evidence, people are really going nuts right now and it could be very temporary. I overheard some kids and parents muttering what sounded like disappointment when items they bought a day earlier weren't sold out, because they couldn't sell it yet. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a lot of that going around again, much like we saw in 1999. After Amiibo made stuff preposterously hot again, clearly there are people buying toys with different expectations, standards, hopes, and dreams than what those of us who have been here for the long haul - whenever it is you started hauling - carry with us.

Right now everything sells. Even the stuff we hate - which varies by collector - that's selling. Hero Mashers? Some places are gone. MicroMachines, 5-jointed figures, 12-inch dudes, and so on. It works. It's all hot. Those tourists are a valuable resource in our business, because the one thing that we as a community both need and loathe are competitive buyers. The more Hasbro sells, the bigger the mandate to do certain kinds of products. We don't know how it'll read just yet - after all, if all your basic $8 Lightsabers sell and so do your $200 Lightsabers, what's the real takeaway? "More lightsabers." And the next movie in 2016 supposedly won't have many of those to go around - and most of the ones out now are based on characters from the original trilogy still, minus the likes of Yoda and Kylo Ren. (And technically Anakin, I guess.) People are just in a buying mood now - this carnival atmosphere won't last forever, but it'll make things bumpy as we compete with newbs, poseurs, scalpers, parents, kids, lapsed fans, collectors, the media, and our friends for the newest stuff. I don't know what to tell you other than this probably means anyone who thought Star Wars was dead or dying is 100% wrong.



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2. I bought the 3 3/4 inch The New Order Special Forces TIE-Fighter and Poe Dameron's X-Wing Fighter at Midnight Madness. As I write this, I am watching in my Blu-Ray copy of the The Phantom Menace.

I like the prequels. I think the Phantom Menace is fun and pure Star Wars. My wife and I think Attack of the Clones is a lot of fun, too.

I am sick of the Disney talking-points on the The Force Awakens: not like the prequels, less CGI, almost all practical effects, real sets, better scripts, original trilogy characters.

I am hoping for a enjoyable film and some toys that mesh well with my favorites from 2007-2012. The TIE Fighter is the same size as the 1978 version. The X-Wing is smaller than the 1978 toy and the pilot it comes with barely fits in the cockpit. It almost seems that Disney and Hasbro went, hey, make toys that are the same as we remember from 1978. The Walmart commercial makes my case. What do you think?

I don't think the toy line is expressly going for a faux Vintage vibe - if they were, I'm sure they'd work harder to improve hip joints and vehicle compatibility. While they're at it, Vintage-style packaging for some products (not necessarily everything) would probably cause demand to skyrocket with collectors while the average fan would have behaved as we've already seen - enthusiastically. The Rey Speeder is so close to the Landspeeder, yet so far - the pop-out gun is fun, but where is the magic? The droid seats, the storage, the springs in the wheels are a magical thing. This is a nice model. The TIE Fighter is very plussed up with more seating, more guns, more features, and more storage than ever before - easily the most feature-laden TIE we've seen so far in this scale. (Maybe the big one will be better, too!)

With the vehicles and Chewbacca, we've got some nice Original Trilogy ties - or TIEs - but that's about it. There's no Luke, no Han, no Leia, not much Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO remain elusive, and things like Hero Mashers and Galactic Heroes reek of being done before assets were available of the new guys. While it's true that The Force Awakens offers more "classic" than we got out of The Phantom Menace, that's a pretty low bar - and with some repackaged and revised classic product filling the shelves, it's not impossible that someone at Disney or Hasbro just said "Look, put out whatever, on September 4 it's all going to sell anyway." I mean, I got a pack of Revenge of the Sith MicroMachines on my desk. Right now. And I'm really happy to have them! (I'd be happier if they included stands or sold them separately. Who's working on that?)




3. In your September 7th Q&A pertaining to the launch of The Force Awakens line and the probable future of Star Wars collecting, you said how the 3 3/4" line is moving away from collectors and being more geared to mass market audiences and kids (and their parents buying Xmas and birthday gifts). Do you believe that the bread and butter of the Hasbro line, the 3 3/4" individual figures, will be produced in lower numbers similar to the Rebels and Black series figures in general, or do you believe they will be relatively easy to find once the hype of the Force Friday launch wears off? I know you've repeatedly said you don't have access to production numbers, but if this line is truly moving towards mass market audiences and especially kids, then how will the line have any sustainability if Hasbro continues to produce its figures in what appear to be relatively low numbers? I understand that we're only one week into the new line's launch and the last thing the line needs is the product glut of Episode I, but I hope that Hasbro realizes that kids and their parents don't have the time or inclination that collectors do to go hunting multiple times a week for basic figures.

Here's a poor answer - we don't know yet. I can't even begin to guess. With The Clone Wars and Transformers' 2007 movie, we saw some surprises - kids jumped at certain products that were produced in numbers equal to other toys, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about them. If you look at assortment ratios and case mixes, there was no real reason to assume Ahsoka and Bumblebee would be that much more popular - but it happened. It continues to happen. In 2007 we all said to Hasbro "Hey, we need some more Darth Revans." They said they'd make some - we're still waiting. It's sort of a nasty part of the business, reacting is tough. It's not just a matter of making the figure. You've got to secure raw materials too, and also gamble that people will still be interested in 90+ days after you begin production.

I bring this up because Rebels was a different audience than the classic stuff. In my minor anecdotal viewing, it seemed the Rebels stuff flew off the shelves while the "realistic" The Clone Wars and classic movie stuff took longer to sell through. Hasbro may have played it conservatively and picked a number that was good and safe for them, and worked across the board. Thankfully now we're seeing make-goods with Chopper in the new movie line, but with no sign of more Sabines or Heras it's just more of the same. Heck, Kallus was a slow seller in some spots and I found some sitting on my last vacation. You can't always be sure what the collector market will do, other than you the manufacture will somehow get it wrong.

We have no idea what the numbers were for the new line. We do know, however, that there were enough people lining up to buy toys at midnight that news crews were dispatched to report on the phenomenon, and giant pop-up sections at Target were quickly emptied over the course of 72 hours. There's real interest, and there's not enough stuff to go around just yet. And it's early - if you look at this logically, this means people are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a movie that they hope they're going to like. The real action for this movie probably won't even start until January, because the Zuvio figure in circulation right now means nothing to anybody. For all I know Hasbro is treating this as a sneak preview, with the real insanity due to show up after Black Friday. It's impossible to know what they're doing, mostly because so much of it is kept secret. We can guess, we can speculate, and we can see they really are getting more product to stores one or two times a week. It just sells out immediately.

Kid demand doesn't die because the product can't be found. Some parents will overpay on Amazon - which does Hasbro no good, but the product sold. Some parents will wait, or join the hunt. It's possible your parents did this for you when you were a kid. As of right now it's kind of moot, because nobody really knows anything about any of this stuff. I can't imagine kids are demanding Kylo Ren just yet - but Hasbro knows we'll buy it today because of course we will, and if/when kids warm up to it after seeing the movie it's ready to go for them. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks there may be some intent here, Hasbro may be able to sell more stuff by not having aisles jam-packed with every last figure. In 1999 you'd see Darth Maul sell out and little else. Today everything is selling. It's impossible to view this as a failure... unless you're not Hasbro.




I just came back from a fake Emmys comedy show in Brooklyn. Ira Glass was there. If I didn't already have what I believe to be irrevocable pop culture cred (they handed this out in the 1990s if you were writing on the internet about toys) as I tooled around to see what all was available for Hasbro Star Wars in one of the world's largest - and therefore crappiest for toy hunting - cities. Disney Stores have very little Hasbro, but I did see a clearance Agent Kallus. ($6, I'd give it a C-6 as packaging goes.) Toys R Us has some of its exclusives but not much else - some MicroMachines, but no action figures to speak of. Even Disney's a little light in the selection, unless you want a $13 PVC multi-pack or a hundred die-cast metal Finn figures. I'm not necessarily griping - 3 months out for the movie, it's not the worst thing that there's some interest and we're not sick of it all already.

Interestingly there are non-retractable Kylo Ren lightsabers at The Disney Store, and it seems LEGO wares and Disney's own die-cast metal vehicle selections aren't at all bad here. I guess the good news is that Hasbro is, once again, the hottest game in town. Maybe it's lapsed fans, maybe we're looking at speculators, but the thing is all this stuff is starting to sell again in a nice big way.

Anyway, I have to deal with some other stuff so I'm keeping this short - but happy hunting, and keep looking because there are absolutely other things out there.

--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.