Q&A: Star Wars - Oh, It's All About 3 3/4-Inch Action Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 13, 2019

1. Here’s a weird one... I heard someone saying they believe that Hasbro pays a higher licensing fee on 3.75 figures than other scales (because of their strong history of sales) and that’s why Hasbro is pushing other scales. I don’t believe it. Any thoughts?

I doubt it. I have never heard anything like this. There are certainly cost issues with a smaller, more complex figure but I've never heard anything regarding licensing fees. This isn't to say it's impossible but I wouldn't bank on it.

I have heard that size is less of a factor in toy costs than complexity - in the fine print of the new The Rise of Skywalker press release was a value channel line of $3 3 3/4-inch figures, for example - and Hasbro employees past and present have mentioned the costs of making a basic toy (like a Legends-class Transformers or a Vintage Star Wars 3 3/4-inch figure) aren't all that much lower than making a more plussed up one (Deluxe-class Transformers and a Black Series 6-inch figure.) Things may change but I've heard similar things form other toymakers - simplicity counts for a lot in terms of savings. Those savings may or may not be passed along to you because of corporate decisions, licensing fees, and insurance reasons.

There have been an increasing quantity of fake news sites for nerdy gossip - due to libel reasons, I shall not name them here - frequently with one-letter-off from a legit news outlet. Think of it like "Domino's Pizza" and "Von's"-alikes "Domingo's Pizza" and "Jon's" in Los Angeles - to a casual glance, it looks like a real news site doffing off crazy made-up YouTuber nonsense as legitimate YouTuber nonsense.

There may be a weird game of telephone going on with an ounce of truth buried in the back somewhere, but this is not one I've heard before. Having said that, pretty much nobody with a big enough mouth to say this probably has ever seen any licensing contract, let alone this one, so take that as you like.



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2. I do not understand what Hasbro is doing after you said “Unless it's a well-kept secret, there's no proper 3 3/4-inch line”.

No 3.75 inch action figure line for The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian? Is Hasbro really going to make that mistake????

The Vintage Collection is going to be the line for all of The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian characters????

There will be - indeed, are - 3 3/4-inch The Vintage Collection figures and very few vehicles from The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. But there's no line like Solo's yellow-boxed Force Link 2.0 range, which was spectacular in its fresh toys and an utter dog with a few of its repacks (and barely-repacks, as some Force Link 2.0 figures had the red striped boxes still!) Things for a "kid line" seem like they may have been destined for failure. You can set up a line for failure, and elements of Rogue One and Solo had failure baked-in thanks to repacks alongside clearanced, identical toys on the shelves.

You're seeing progress' uglier head - today's 20-year-old probably didn't grow up with Star Wars toys as a big part of their childhoods, and 3 3/4-inch scale figures hold no more special meaning over another size of toy than the original trilogy over the prequel trilogy. It's special to us. Not the younger people.

Over time things change and unless you have a nostalgist (or someone with a massive urge to maintain compatibility across decades, thanks LEGO/Playmobil/Hot Wheels) in charge, some new person will get hired and "shake things up" because they think it's a good idea. Or because costs changed. Or because the licensor demanded it.

It seems nobody can say that 3 3/4-inch is destined for failure definitively, because while there has been a decline in sales here and there the product also declined to add new "classic" stuff and focused more on new versions of new characters from the Disney movies and new versions of existing toys. To the old guy, there have been fewer reasons to keep buying. There are also fewer old guys and more competing scales. Maybe it's like cheap cardstock baseball cards and cruddy newsprint comic books - the era of these things being for kids is either misunderstood or long over, and as a result things we used to love may be ending their surprisingly long run in the world.

If it really is over, it's incredibly sad to see it end. But I also was hoping that by this point in my life, the vintage line would be totally remade, the franchise would be sleeping again, and I could have a day that goes by without at least 1-2 hours devoted to the world of toys and my life in it.

The line isn't really good at focusing on just the new movie, or the new movie and the classic trilogy. Lately it's just a mess of Disney-era things and repackaged figures, which aren't good at driving the momentum that a singular focus can provide. (I love themed waves, and the new movies rarely give us waves with more than a couple of new figures from the movie. Plus or minus retreads.)





To piggyback on that last answer, I started writing this stuff in 1995 in an email newsletter, on web sites, and in zines to help people get whatever information I could get them about Star Wars toys. I've slowed a bit - but it's been 24 years, and I've written thousands of toy reviews and answered tens of thousands of questions. I'm allowed.

Back in the 1990s I didn't see a lot of kids coming up behind me doing this sort of thing. Kids liked Star Wars but I met very few crazy people who made hoarding space plastic a lifestyle choice - kids would grow out of it, collectors sometimes sold their stuff and moved on, and the new generation seemed to mostly dabble. I figured I'd be some weird guy in a cave with a beard that would have half-answers to questions about these toys in some weird post-Internet future when no more new stuff was being made and nobody really cared all that much about the old stuff.

Instead we're in an era of semi-plenty, with abundant quantities of most toys from the past decades in excellent condition. Hasbro has stiff competition from Hasbro, as old figures can be had on Amazon and eBay for pretty good prices. It may not be $5 and in a local store, but if you've got $15-$20 you can get shipped a remarkable percentage of the modern era of these things.

Because there's an abundance of stuff, not as many kids wanting the stuff, and an inconsistent message on what Star Wars is with abrupt right-turns away from the new thing just when people are warming up to it... things are slowing down. The 3 3/4-inch action figure might just be a collector-only thing. If you say "ha ha that's ridiculous" I can say that only old farts are buying the new NES and Sega Genesis games being programmed in garages these days, and that a 10-year-old that watched the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is pushing 36.

The 12-inch G.I. Joe lost its audience, as did Mego action figures and other insanely popular toy formats. It's a wonder we got Star Wars as the same scale this long, and with some more focus I bet we could see it work again - but that would have to mean other toymakers would need to reconsider what they offer, too. You can't have this many competing toy formats and incomplete "collections" while expecting to keep the loyalty of your buyer base forever.

--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, and we're down to 2 questions per week until we get overloaded with questions to re-expand back to 3 or more.



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