Q&A: Star Wars Trash Monsters, Momentum, and Prequel Disappointment

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 29, 2017

This week in Q&A - momentum and the lack of it in toy aisles this month. Certain kinds of trash compactor monsters - you just don't see 'em anymore. Also disappointing the fans of the prequels is in fashion this (and almost every) season.

And send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. I was wondering what your perception is regarding general collector interest for the current Hasbro 3 3/4" The Last Jedi line.

I live in San Diego which has traditionally been a fairly collector-heavy area, and after about the first week of the release of The Last Jedi line, I could go into just about any Toys R Us or Target and find any of the vehicles or single figures. I think that since the Disney takeover of the Star Wars franchise that the Episode VIII line is superior to the shoddy paint apps and vehicle construction of The Force Awakens line and thankfully lacks the Nerf gimmicks of the Rogue One line. While I expect the line's appeal and sales to spike for Christmas once the actual movie is released, the fact that these toys are already starting to sit at retail makes me wonder if the general interest in the Hasbro 1/18th line is finally waning amongst collectors in general or if it is more a case of lack of excitement for the new movie.

Momentum is everything, and under Disney it basically stopped. And I say this as someone who is pretty happy with the new product that's actually new. Since as far back as I can remember, Hasbro has been good about teasing out new figures - whenever a wave shipped, we would usually know the next 6-10 figures we could expect (barring, of course, new movie embargo 1999.) In 2002 and 2005, Hasbro gave us looks at the prequels at Toy Fair - and it was good. At conventions, we saw what might be coming up in the next 3-6 months - and it was good. It never really truly put us in the dark until around 2012/2013, when some things never got officially announced. This, from where I sit, is a big problem. To invoke the over-quoted, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

There are lots of fans who are interested in toy collecting, but the message has died. Packaging no longer shows what "collect them all!" means. If you aren't going to conventions or reading convention coverage, you don't know what's next - and even though I work in this business, I barely know what's next. The repetitive nature of The Last Jedi combined with few new figures and even fewer announcements for what's next means we're experiencing a dryspell and a launch window all at once - this is bad. The fact that the relaunch of Vintage looks boring is also bad. Collectors have something they rarely have, and that's ample reason to take a break and not pay attention. This is bad for business. You want fans engaged regularly, and even during the dark times of new fiction (2005-2008) Hasbro couldn't have been better making sure we knew that some new figure was coming in a few months. They wanted us to be ready, wallets open, feet in the stores, ready to buy. Today, Disney and/or Lucasfilm and/or Hasbro don't seem to understand that while they have the biggest and best licenses on the planet, they have managed to alienate fans with strange marketing decisions and excessive secrecy. Is there any benefit to keeping the line's very few new characters secret for Force Friday when they could have been announced at Comic-Con? Was there any benefit to hiding what Force Link does and putting out demo displays that completely dismantle the motion sensors that are necessary for the gizmo to actually work? Right now it feels like we're in a period where things are poorly communicated and I doubt anybody in the organizations wants to make waves. Someone's going to do a postmortem about lower than expected sales, and I'd bet money that communication will never come up as one of the potential problems.

Nerf or no, paint or no, what we have here is an era where a lot of fans are not engaged - there's nothing for classic older fans in the scale on the horizon (at least that we know of), and even new movie stuff seems to not have much of a future after the next batch of figures. When you have nothing to look forward to, you have collectors that assume they're done. And nobody wants a community of collectors who feel like they're done. I could also blame annual midnight launches and new movies, but it feels there's a lot more going on than just that.

...that and the "new" product looks almost identical to the old product. I completely forgot about Hasbro's New York Comic Con Star Wars announcements - and why wouldn't I? New accessories for 3 out of 4 characters, and Finn was already made in a larger size in that costume. There's nothing genuinely new or fresh here, just a little bit different.

Of the 11 The Last Jedi new carded figures released at launch on 9/1, 7 are virtually identical to figures from The Force Awakens. (Yes, there are new accessories and tweaks.) Poe is almost the same. C-3PO, I had to compare to iterations from a few years ago. Chewbacca is different, but would you notice if it weren't for the porg accessory? Hux doesn't have a hat this time. that's not a significant change. Kylo Ren is pretty similar to the passive fan. Finn has the same head and jacket, which doesn't help. It's not like Attack of the Clones where every character from that film was changed significantly. Obi-Wan Kenobi had a beard and a robot. Anakin Skywalker was an adult. Padme traded her gowns and dresses for a white combat outfit. C-3PO got a new color shell. But most important of all, every single movie up to (and not including) The Last Jedi since the 1990s has had at least one major new villain main character in the basic figure assortments. Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku, General Grievous, Clones, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, we've been given so many new bad guys for each movie as a basic figure. But not this time - and usually it's the bad guy that's a driving force. Seeing how Kylo Ren looks less cool than before, and how Phasma's not on shelf, and seeing how most people can't tell when there is or isn't a difference in the new Stormtrooper helmets? Hoo boy, we've got a recipe for a flop here.

The product is of a decent quality, but unless you're scrutinizing things, this is the most boring action figure launch for a new movie we've ever seen in Star Wars. Did you ever think you'd pine for the glory days of Rogue One with its new troopers and Krennic and new Rebels? I mean, I even hear some handsome devil stuck his neck out to get Bistan produced when it looked like it might not happen.



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2. My Family,especially my son, and I, LOVE THE PHANTOM MENACE and was happy to see a 2pack of Jinn and Maul. So you think they will make more of "The Phantom Menace" 3.75 inch action figures in the Last Jedi Line??

I would be astonished if we saw more than just these two The Phantom Menace figures between now and the launch of the still untitled, unteased, and trailer-free Han Solo movie that we're supposed to believe will be out in May of 2018.




3. Were there any variations to the vintage trash compactor monster (that came with the Death Star playset)?

I've actually never heard of any Dianoga green trash monster variations - I open it up to you fine people! Are there are we should know about here?




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Sometimes I get love mail, and hate mail, because what I write at the end is occasionally vague and sometimes open to interpretation - even if I didn't think that it was. Last week I was writing about what my feelings were about how things were being reported - The Last Jedi has perfectly nice toys (if boring) with a perfectly nice teaser trailer (if, in the press, poorly-received.) Most of my axes to grind with Disney are about how it seems they're calling the shots at the toy companies, rather than letting toy people be toy people. I really liked The Force Awakens and look forward to watching it a few dozen more times. I thought Rogue One was a perfectly entertaining film, if gorgeous and forgettable, and probably the logical endpoint to what any old-school fan who was an adult in the 1990s would have wanted in a film that isn't about Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie. You got your space battle right out of one of the X-Wing games, you got your tentacle mind-scramble monster. You got your sassy robot. These movies deliver your space opera in droves.

Generally speaking I'm enjoying the Star Wars of Disney like I did the comics or novels of the 1990s. It's not George Lucas' Star Wars, but it's pretty close. It's a bit off in spots, and it reflects a different era. Given most of the Lucas-era films had one or two women of consequence with speaking roles per movie, it's nice to see the balance go from Princess Leia as the Smurfette of the Star Wars galaxy to having women in lead roles. It's good for toys, it's good for fans, it helps keeping us from watching the same kind of movie forever. Well, mostly. There will probably still be troopers and Jedi and the Force, unless we start getting those space gangster movies, and you know that I hope we do.

It's my sincere hope that things continue and things stop before it gets sad and depressing for both Disney and for us. People ho-humed Rogue One because of the reshoots and the premise - and what we got made a lot of older fans really happy. I'm ho-huming Solo because I saw The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (and liked it) and its reaction from fans older than I was could best be described as nonplussed. It's hard to replicate Harrison Ford - and on top of that, Han Solo isn't Hasbro's most popular character to sell as a product, either. (It's a secret to everybody!) I want to see it. I want to love the toys. And if it sells poorly or as the hottest thing in years, I'll write that here. I don't really care if the readership agrees or not, because the effects of this kind of thing will change how your hobby works if you believe me or if you don't.

If I take a big step back and look at the toys we've been sold since September, specifically the 6-inch (good) and 3 3/4-inch ones (also good), it's hard to be upset. Dozens of 6-inch figures with trooper-based exclusives can be found if you look, and the exclusives are mostly easy to get. (This is not a good sign.) The 3 3/4-inch ones are almost super easy to get, with the exception of Walmart's four 3 3/4-inch The Black Series figures. The vehicles all turned out to be fun. The Force Link band is really cool, if saddled with rotten demo kiosks that do nothing to explain that motion controls are important and that you get about 20% of the functionality at those in-store displays. That big playset? That's really neat. It's expensive, but it's cool and it does more than most playsets we've had for this brand, ever.

Just because you make a good toy line, and probably have a good movie, doesn't mean fans are going to stick with a property forever. People get bored and move on. If you lean on the same thing forever, people will shrug and walk away. I lived through 18 years of Star Trek on TV, and eventually even I needed a break. Before I was born, westerns seemed to be an endlessly successful thing - that ended. Space toys soared in the 1960s until the culmination of the space race, the moon landing, revealed it to be a hunk of dead rock, ending the imaginative flights of fancy. Things can end - especially when the financial motive fades as a result of reduced audience engagement. Things also come back, as you've seen with every single example I listed there. The US video game industry even crashed once.

Just because of the nature of the toy business I wouldn't count on Star Wars having a tremendous 2018 and I could expect people wanting a break after Episode IX. I hope that isn't the case - these rumored Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jabba the Hutt movies are exactly the kinds of things that make me excited for there to be a new, living breathing era of Star Wars. But I'm also in a position where people send me a lot of email about how bored they are, or they're unhappy that they aren't getting toys from 35-year-old movies, or that things are changing. I feel you. I also think there are aspects of the fandom and merchandising that are handled poorly, and you can see examples of those on our front page from time to time - especially as video games haven been concerned. It's all a changing business. The greatness of the infinite possibilities of this form of entertainment can and will expand to things we can't even imagine... some of which may not be right for people like me. (Seriously, I couldn't care less about premium pricing at theme parks for glorified sanctioned LARPing. But whatever you want for a new 2D Metroid game, sure, I'll pay that.)

I've been at this for a long time and so have you, and obviously Star Wars is still here. Even the original movie cuts are still out there if you know where to look - the parts of the franchise you love will never be gone. Well, minus the original Star Tours. That's gone. But we got some action figures, and the footage is often uploaded to YouTube, and hopefully creative people will keep the movies interesting even if the toy line isn't exactly what you, or I, or someone else wants to buy. (Look, I'm not gonna sugarcoat 50% off The Black Series "Centerpiece" figures and vehicles at Walmart. I can't. Well, other than bully for you if you feel like buying them now, they're great at that price.) As the old marketing line went, Star Wars is forever and even if Disney stops loving it, we'll all still be here thinking about it, writing, cataloguing, and faithfully waiting for a hypothetical return. And it'll return to theaters in about a month and a half, and again in about six months. I just hope the current crop of stuff sells through by then, and I'm not optimistic.

--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.


Phantom Menace Figures

Interesting thing about Phantom Menace figures is that the modern line started 18 years after the original movie, and we are now 18 years after Phantom Menace.