Q&A: Star Wars Toys at Toy Stores, Troop Transports, and Wild Speculation

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 16, 2020

1. I have been wondering about how well the new concept toys r us stores are doing. Do you think they will be at toyfair this week, unveiling plans to open more stores? Has there been any news about kay bee?

One of the recurring themes of my toy stuff tends to be preparing for disappointment, mixed with the dubious desire to turn back the clock. In the 1990s, Star Wars collecting was mostly about looking backward - people wished they had their old toys, that the old movie toy lines never ended, and so on. A big thing we used to see a lot more of were parents wanting to buy their toys again for their kids, which I always found depressing. We tend to see this happen a lot with video games. I don't doubt some kids will get a bundle of kicks out of seeing early 8-bit gaming but I do feel for the poor children that get an old-school Atari VCS for their birthday with pretty much any game that isn't River Raid. (And even then!)

As we move ahead, we're seeing lots more specialization in retail - and also, a mass-extinction. Just this week we saw a newish fast food place close (RIP PDQ) and a long-successful Costco suddenly announcing that it's closing. People increasingly want to buy everything online. While I am a big believer that toys benefit from being an impulse buy for kids, that aunts/uncles and grandparents benefit from browsing in a store, and my lack of patience makes me want a toy now, the market disagrees. (Collectors, ultimately, will likely fare better from online stuff in the current toy economy.)

So where are we going?

Toys R Us in its current form is a consignment shop, according to everybody I heard. That generally means that the store doesn't pay for the merchandise unless it sells, and that's not a great business model for growth. It has its place - but it's also why you don't see representation of all your favorite toys and games there. There has been no scuttlebutt about expanding its number of locations or its product offering, and without massive expansion it's unlikely you'll see exclusive products or the warehouse-sized stores of old any time soon. There are indeed plans for more locations, but I haven't yet determined where all they will be or if the plans have changed since the announcement last summer.

If I were a betting man, I'd expect to hear something in the coming 1-2 months if anything else is to happen here. The Target-powered web store is indeed a start, but for those just joining us - the old Toys R Us is dead and gone. This new thing has to prove itself from the ground up and it could be years until it's ever a power player again.

Kay-Bee Toys has had zero buzz or news for about a year or more. I haven't heard any of the major toy manufacturers talk about them asking to open an account, and I haven't heard a thing about there being any locations or any progress. At this point I would file a future Kay-Bee chain under vaporware, as securing a trademark is fairly easy compared to actually opening up a shop. People register trademarks for business all the time, and often these trademarks don't result in any tangible new thing.

As silly as this sounds to some of you, you - yes, you reading this - may be the best hope for the future of toy shops. Someone that opens a tiny 1,000 square foot shop today could grow and expand to bigger stores with multiple locations over time. Funko, LEGO, Playmobil, Melissa & Doug, and a few other players are great to work with if you're a new small business. (Hasbro and Mattel tend to have higher minimums so you'll need to go through a distributor, and don't get me started on the video game business.) 25 years ago I was unhappy with the state of action figure news, so I started my own email newsletter and had a decent, short run of a few years. If you're unhappy with the stores in your neck of the woods, I'd encourage you to open one. I'd be happy to offer any help you need if you're serious, too, but I wouldn't count on Kay-Bee and Toys R Us to be the saviors of the future of toy mass retail. I live in one of the most populated cities in the USA, and there's no proper toy store with action figures and video games outside the big box channels. (Were I not already working for the business, I'd probably get working on that.) Make the world a better place if you can, because the past is over and the future is written by all of us. And I'm busy making presentations at toy conventions, so. You can open the store.



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2. Do you want to talk about that new Vintage Imperial Troop Transport? We've got space to fill.
--You, presumably

Yes! It's good. Assembly is quick and easy - all stickers are pre-applied and you only have to plug one turret on to the top of it. That's it, it takes like two seconds. The packaging is incredibly efficient and it's not mostly air (like some other ships) giving you a fairly decent item. Also it's expensive - but what's interesting is that it shows what Hasbro can and seemingly will continue to do.

The 1970s original didn't have quite as much interior storage capacity (the Imperial Cruiser did later, though) but this one is loaded with space. There are no electronics this time, but you've got plenty of storage. There are two pilot seats and six trooper pockets, just like on the original. New here are six interior fold-out jump seats and loads of interior detailing. The pop-off lid has tons of detail work as well as fully-painted fake tubes and circuits, giving what would normally be a flat, blank slate a fully lived-in look. Hasbro is making use of its high price point to give you extra greeblies. The interiors are similarly loaded with detail, with diamond plate floors and gun racks. The cockpit has flip-out controls for the drivers, and Hasbro added opening doors on two of the side pockets. The back hatch opens up, for added troop access. To fully load this thing with troops you'll need at least 12 figures, possibly more if you want someone standing around.

What I like best is how they seemed to add lots of weathering and sculpted detail work while giving the overall Kenner shape a face lift to look like it would fit in with the AT-AT and AT-ST in the movies. The scale is a little off, but given that these vehicles start being designed before the final episode is done, I can't say I'm surprised. It's consistent with the older toys, but tiny compared to what we've seen Moff Gideon's forces use on Nevarro. Also, the aforementioned cannon isn't quite a match for the series version, and some deco is missing on the toy that we saw on the big screen. Still, it's a decent toy with three wheels and an utterly obscene amount of detail work. Hasbro's new The Vintage Collection ships - like the Skiff and Combat Tank - have all been excellent. I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing some more of these in the not-too-distant future.





The mailbag is empty! Like totally empty. Email me if you have one you'd like answered - we'll probably take a break next week because of Toy Fair coverage.

Toy Fair is days away and you should indeed expect some news. (Maybe some news you already heard. Such is life!) The Star Wars pushes for 2020 are few - there's a 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back that has a few surprises in it (yes, a few even you crusty olds will enjoy) and The Mandalorian season 2 should air in the fall. And there are conversations about that. The big event will happen Saturday and then we'll see... whatever Hasbro decides to show off. (I wouldn't get your hopes up for a full-on year-round 3 3/4-inch action figure program. The 1990s are over.)

My hope - indeed, my dream - is for Hasbro and Disney and Lucasfilm to pick a scale and make it the Go-To Collector Format. 6 years ago, it seemed like the plan was for 3 3/4-inch to be the scale that had pretty much everything in it, with the 6-inch line bringing out select characters specifically for collectors and adult fans, as well as part-time collectors. Now... it's complicated. No one scale completes a "collection," neither The Rise of Skywalker nor The Mandalorian have a place to get every character Hasbro makes in a single format. As a collector I find this maddening - any one size would probably be a good one to say "this is where you should collect them all." That mantra was the driving force behind toys in the 1980s and 1990s, but now it seems to be a lot less important. If you buy Hasbro's (gorgeous) new Earthrise line of Transformers, the co-sells are largely gone. Nowhere on The Black Series do you see an ad to pick up another toy. (Credit to Marvel Legends for showing everybody one must buy to complete the build-a-figure, though.) Things sure have changed - when I was a kid, every Kenner figure showed dozens of figures on the cardbacks and most boxed toys included a print catalog filled with other things they wanted me to buy.

It's just like the toy store business - things changed. Back during Return of the Jedi you'd likely find a toy aisle at nearly every department store, you'd find one or more toy stores in every mall, and it wasn't out of line to see food and drug stores with a decent toy selection. There were also multiple competing toy stores aimed at kids - well into the 1990s, there were several competing chains coming and going in and out of malls focusing on kid clothes, baby wares, and more with a toy aisle. The focus has changed - most toy brands are interested in buying the toy you see in front of you rather than upsell you on another item that may not be in that or any other store.

The one thing we do all have now that nobody had in 1983 was the modern internet. We can network, we can order online. We can check forums and auction sites to see if an item had been released, and we can find answers to a lot of questions in a hurry. Unfortunately, we can't wander around a store devoted to playthings during lunch and peek at the latest Xbox games and LEGO sets while tracking down action figures. We can do a smaller version of that at Target or Walmart... but in the United States, that's pretty much it now. I wouldn't count out our hobby just yet, but the one thing hanging over our heads is the renewal of the Hasbro contract with Star Wars and Marvel. As of the last earnings conference call, it wasn't finalized. I don't know when (or if) it will be signed, or if it will be different than we saw before. With rumors of Jazwares bringing out a Jazwares-made line of Joes and Wicked Cool Toys doing MicroMachines, things are certainly outside the norms of old. Let's all sit back and see what press releases roll in before we meet again.

--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.



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