Q&A: The Star Wars License, Toys R Us, Jurassic Parked

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 24, 2018

1. Do you think Hasbro is seeing enough of a return on investment to renew their Star Wars license when it ends? It seems like we are to the point where you can't just Star Wars on something and people will buy it. With Star Wars movies coming out what seems yearly and with Marvel movies coming out what seems like every 6 months or so they don't seem to have the ability to support all the movies. I don't feel like they are able to give any movie enough attention. Hasbro seems to be spread too thin. Making a hard decision might be what is best for the line.

Yes, but there's a longer answer.

For example, it's not just about who has the license. It's about who doesn't have it. Mattel has good quarters and bad quarters, shareholders don't necessarily seem happy these days. If Hasbro keeps the license away from them, their profits may improve because Mattel's will simply be worse. Similarly, if Playmates got Star Wars the profits could power massive expansion and additional product lines - with the power of the Force, any toy company could become a fierce competitor overnight. It's rare that a new or small company gets a big license out of the blue, but ex-Hasbro/ex-Tiger/ex-Kenner people got Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 for Zizzle and had a good, short run. Its value is beyond simple quarterly balance sheet numbers.

The other part of the answer you may not like. This column - and site - started because of the popularity of the 3 3/4-inch line. To me, that is always the core of Star Wars as a hobby - and I may be increasingly alone in this. Hasbro makes a lot more money off lightsabers Bladebuilders toys and The Black Series than 3 3/4-inch lately, and I'd say there are a ton of reasons. (I blame the mix - the 3 3/4-inch line is pretty scattered and incomplete, with minimal classic characters to entice old farts and parents.) The amount of money is staggering, and Hasbro is finding if it branches out in the right places it can do things that the 3 3/4-inch line can't do financially.

...having said that, I still think it has to do with the direction of that segment. Things started to take a dive around the time the themed waves went away and "Wave 1" of whatever year was happening piled up and prevented some really awesome stuff from wave 2 and 3 from making it out to customers. I don't think the execs see things the same way I do - nor do we see the same things they do - because you can read the data and come up with different conclusions. Theirs was to try a $20 action figure, and people showed up with wallets open. It's hard to argue with that if you're in the business.



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2. Since Jurassic Park / World 3 3/4 figures and vehicles have come out, I was wondering how compatible these are to hasbro's figures. I was thinking about buying a couple vehicles, but I don't know if there is enough legroom to accommodate certain figures. Also, as hasbro is winding down their transformers series with power of the primes, has there been any mention of a new series continuing in the fall. Lastly, as San Diego comic con is coming up, are there any news you are excited to hear about? Thank you for your time.

Define "compatible."

The scale is about right, but the Jurassic World Mattel figures are closer to the better Hasbro G.I. Joe product - a smidgen taller with joints that actually work. A lot of collector reviews will tell you that a figure with 16 joint is always automatically better. They are wrong. Crappy ankles, hips that don't swing forward, and hands that can't hold anything aren't valuable to anybody. Jurassic has joints that don't restrict movement, so you can probably easily get dino theme park humans in your Star Wars vehicles.

Due to the reduction in articulation and the need for knees, you probably can't get Star Wars figures in Jurassic Park vehicles. But the big T-Rex can totally eat your Star Wars figures. I tested it.

Hasbro's 3 3/4-inch figure utopia of 2008 was about as good as cross-compatibility got.

There is indeed a series after Power of the Primes, and that line will be pretty much over and dead by Halloween. The subsequent line has not been officially announced by Hasbro, nor has its release date... but it's entirely possible I've seen it, and know what it is, and it's pretty impressive. Possibly. I can't say that, of course, but maybe you'll see a preview before it's time for kids to go back to school. Generations has a long plan, if it can survive in a post-Toys R Us world has to do entirely with Hasbro tempering its expectations with how many units it can sell (and where) and the fans' interest in paying regular price for toys rather than waiting for clearance. Based on what I've seen for Power of the Primes, the interest is absolutely there and I assume the return of the combiner gimmick has done wonders to help boost sales.

A lot of things are leaking, so I'm not sure what at San Diego would be exciting. I've seen things on my radar that are good and interesting, but some of the stuff that has me interested tends to be on the weirder side of things. Hasbro's Lost Kitties trades on cat memes and blind box toys, but won't appeal to anyone who reads this who isn't a huge dork or doesn't have kids. (I'm a huge dork.) I don't have high hopes for 3 3/4-inch Star Wars in the short term, but 6-inch is keeping it sexy. Jurassic World 2019 has already started to leak, and it's cool. The Outer Space Men are still doing their own good stuff, but I don't think Gary or Mel will be at Comic-Con. There's an interesting new Transformers segment specifically not geared to collectors that the toy goof in me can't wait to talk about. Funko releases something interesting every single day, so I don't assume their Comic-Con will unveil a lot - but Brian always has something to announce during Fundays.

Oh, and the Onell Design crew and I have been trading some notes and there might be something to talk about before Comic-Con. But they do something cool almost every month, so that's not really a big huge surprise.




3. I read that Isaac Larian gave up trying to buy Toys-R-Us, but is there any chance a startup could buy a bunch of locations and start a new toy chain? You know, mix it with videos and statues and maybe call it Entertainment Terra or We IS Toys or something? (And to open it up, what do you think will happen in general?)

Right now it looks like not much might happen - someone may buy those assets, or ownership may lapse after a period of time and a savvy investor can swoop them up to license to someone else. Half of my local Toys R Us stores closed a couple of months ago, with the remaining stores seemingly set to close within the week.

My guess is we won't see too much happen in the short term - the infrastructure, fixtures, and business relationships are basically already dissolved and other stores will have to ramp up if they're so inclined. Supposedly pop-up toy shops will have a KB Toys branding this holiday season, but professional courtesy yadda yadda yadda. I assume the big investors could see reason to start a new toy store with their own branding if this falls through, mostly because there's going to be a lot of shelf space lost in the coming months and it has value. Toys are kind of a sucker's game, because the margins are terrible - not like clothing. If you sell toys, you're not going to make a ton of money, especially since the perception is that the cheapest price is "regular retail" when in many cases it can be very close to cost, or just a few pennies above. Your average consumer has no concept of this and doesn't care. The current state of retail is a race to the bottom - who can charge the least, work the hardest, pay the least, and maximize profits? (There are, of course, exceptions and I'm glad to throw my lot in with good people.)

It's my hope an existing player will step up. Disney Stores could carve out a section or expand to include non-Disney products and cash in. GameStop could be ToyStop - stores are ultimately about moving physical product and downloads could make game stores go the way of record shops. Any kid apparel store could expand with a toy section, giving us a reason to look super creepy when we go to the mall without a kid in tow. The idea of a giant store just for kids toys is probably unlikely to have a lot of support, but better line planning could do wonders to keep everybody happy. Part of the problem is that the license holders might want to let the toymakers be toymakers.



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A big story making the rounds this week was that spin-off movies are on hold. Lucasfilm has sort of denied this, but what does that really mean? I have no idea. The slate of movies was growing quickly, with six movies still in development after the slate-cleaning. I continue to be thoroughly fascinated by a couple of things - one, that people think there was a post-The Last Jedi boycott of Star Wars that apparently nobody talked about until days into the movie's release, and two, that hardcore fans just shrugged and say "Maybe I'll see Solo some day." That's kind of baffling.

I rarely throw out the awful phrase "true fan," but if you're a fan of the series and just skip one of the movies - I gotta say, that raises my eyebrows. But I also get it - while Marvel is giving us a new ongoing story based on familiar-but-new threads, Star Wars spent 1999-2015 telling us side stories and prequels, neither of which are as compelling as moving a narrative forward. Star Trek has been doing a lot of the same since Voyager and Nemesis basically ended the Prime timeline. What's here for the future? Not much.

Given a lot of us are collectors with too many toys - I'm feeling the weight a lot more now - the annual movies are a lot to take in. Here's a new movie. And a few dozen toys. And you won't have time to rewatch the movie 20 times and fall in love with it before the next one comes out, either. We don't know how many movies we will get or how often, but with one in 2019 and 5 more on the docket I'd say it's safe to assume one every 6-18 months is very likely. And I hope it gets weird.

One thing Star Wars has leaned on is its unending love for the first film - understandable, but Star Trek made spin-offs move away from the original cast, and episodes of the show and the movies were all over the map. We've seen 10 big-screen live action Star Wars adventures, most of which have some sort of lightsaber duel, space battle, and sort of vague sense of what all the fighting is about. Sure, it's for "good" or "evil" but it does get weird when you see a sword fight determine the future of intergalactic government. I'd love to see them steal from Star Trek here - like we saw on The Clone Wars.

This is kind of why I liked Solo. Sure, it told us stuff we knew but it also showed us things we never got to see. We didn't have to go to Tatooine or its equivalent, while we did get a laser knife fight it was at least unique, and we got to see Space Weather and giant space monsters. It could be better, sure - but it was by no means bad. I'm hoping we get to see more interesting stuff around the galaxy, mostly because Star Wars has the potential to be so much more than Star Wars. Kids who saw it actually seemingly liked The Clone Wars, so going off in new, different directions can pay huge dividends if you're willing to take that kind of a risk.

Given the hubbub in the nerd world plus 2019's potential finale on the current incarnation of the big Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as Episode IX, I could also see a severe change in direction for franchise filmmaking take place. This franchise model has helped to get younger people out to the movies a lot more - and buying more stuff - but will they want to keep going back? I'm not so sure. In the last couple of weeks we got another Objectivist superhero movie for the whole family alongside a dinosaur movie for which I would love to make a quip, but it would constitute a spoiler.

With movies becoming TV and TV becoming movies, it's inevitable that some episodes of Star Wars might not all be great. Some will be amazing, some won't - it's like any genre TV show. A recalibration of what Star Wars on the big screen is and should be should join a similar rethinking of the toy line, perhaps skewing more toward the prequel lines. We get some new toys at launch, and then some more, and then a mix of new and old guys until the next movie's sneak preview wave - wash, rinse, repeat. There's no reason to bury the older chapters of the movies, and yes I do mean the Disney-era movies too, when there are so many cool things to crank out. (If you disagree, go flip through the Rogue One visual dictionary and then apologize.)

Unrelated - I also write 16bit.com, which also has been doing a Figure of the Day feature. I'm about to hit FOTD #2000 over there - if you like the stuff I write here, and want to see other toys, please go over there and check it out. I've got a special item tentatively set for July 4 that you guys (yes, you readers of this column over the past almost 20 years) will want to see if the stars align and the sample gets here on time. And also please do be supporting the Patreon - not for the future, but for the past. In the past decade-and-change I've reviewed over 4,000 toys and answered thousands of your questions. If you feel like kicking in a dollar a month, that would mean a lot to me!

--Adam Pawlus

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