Q&A: Star Wars Vinyl Figures, Wave 1 Syndrome, and Probe Droids (Prepare to be Probed)

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 20, 2017

1. In obtaining some of the Funko Pop figures I notice that many licenses don't have the springy bobbleheads (which I prefer), but the Disney licenses (Star Wars, Marvel) seem to always have them. You've mentioned this in passing - does Funko have to do that so the Disney licenses can be termed 'Bobbleheads' rather than 'action figures' (or more accurately, inaction figures)? Just curious.

Secondly, will the recent SDCC Rey and Luke be available (in other packaging, perhaps) somewhere down the line this year? I'd like to get them both, but the eBay prices are a little extreme for these guys at the moment. I'm not a packaging guy, so I don't care if they are in regular Black Series boxes or what have you.

#1 - Hasbro has a license for 4-inch action figures. A bobble head is not a "figure," so Funko can make a Pop! Vinyl figure by adding a spring - it's functionally (and contractually) not a toy figure, but it looks the same and most consumers probably won't raise a fuss. A figure with a springy neck is not a vinyl figure or action figure, it's a bobble head, so Funko can make Marvel or Star Wars without infringing on Hasbro's license. Funko makes Disney figures like Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear because it would seem Disney had more foresight in how to slice up the pie - Disney/Pixar/Muppets don't bobble. For Star Wars a spring wasn't enough, so they had to add a base. Similarly Kotobukiya sold "prepainted model kits" when they were just statues - it was a different license, but the end result was pretty much a statue. So, there is absolutely a reason - arguably a good reason - for this.

#2 - Yes. Any batch or deco variants are up for grabs though.



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2. What's up with the recurrent pairing of Darth Vader and probe droids? I've counted at least four: the Jedi Force Battler, the Mission Series 2-pack, the Force Awakens Build-A-Weapon, and the upcoming Last Jedi box set. (Pictures attached) The two never appeared onscreen together, though I have this vague memory of Darth Vader inspecting a probe droid in some now-Legends source - Tales of the Bounty Hunters, possibly. Is this evidence of a single mind behind the pairing - a long-term Hasbro employee who seems to really like the combo? Or perhaps a case of monkey-see monkey-do across different employees? I know there will probably never be a definite answer to this trivial issue, but I like how you go about answering things and I dearly look forward to whatever historical tidbit / insider insight you might drop in the process.

I've got no special knowledge here - I assume it's just a coincidence or someone at Hasbro (or Lucas/Disney) really got a kick out of the pairing. In addition to your citations, I also remind you of a 2005 Playskool Jedi Force Darth Vader with mini Probe Droid.




3. For a while now it seems like "Wave 1 of Whatever" hits stores (and languishes) while almost everything after Wave 1 has to be chased down online. It's not exactly a distribution "problem" anymore if this is the new normal. You've mentioned SKUs before as being part of the issue. Could you explain this in more detail for those of us that are only marginally aware of what stock keeping units have to do with this situation? And how, if at all, could changes in SKUs help "fix" this situation?

I hesitate to call it the new normal - this is also the old normal for pretty much every toy line that has rolling waves in a SKU. The problem is that Hasbro needs to recoup its investment in product development, so sometimes that means you get a lot of wave 1, or that select figures from wave 1 show up again in waves 2, 3, and beyond. This has been happening for years, and there's an added reason for it. A brand new assortment (for example, Batman: The Dark Knight Collection in 1990) is a new product, and during the aisle resets whatever product was available (wave 1) will go out to all stores. Hot or no, you're most likely to find it. If it's white hot, it'll sell out and wave 2 will take its place quickly. (See: many 1990s action figure lines.) If it's merely warm, stuff might back up a bit. (See: the late 2000s and beyond.)

Action figure collecting was a much more popular hobby in the 1990s with larger runs and more big players trying out varied licenses, with smaller players being experimental and changing the nature of the business. The modern 6-inch collector's action figure exists because McFarlane Toys (nee Todd Toys) dragged the industry forward, while players like Toy Biz said "Hold my beer" and developed what would effectively be the ancestor of Marvel Legends, The Black Series, DC Universe Classics, and so on with its now-defunct Spider-Man Classics line around 2001. As we began a cycle of constant never-ending improvement, some collectors lapped up these amazing advances while others said that they were satisfied with what they had, and moved on.

I would argue that the bulk of the toy aisle today is a revision of the greatest hits of the 1990s - Marvel/Spider-Man, Star Wars, Transformers, Power Rangers, and Batman still make up a big chunk of it with some changes like Funko's new Pop! Vinyl category making the biggest impact of newness in this generation. (And of course, G.I. Joe is gone and a lot of the Kenner licenses went to McFarlane and Neca like Alien, Terminator, RoboCop, etc.) There's no new hotness - customers are generally the new thing rather than the product.

There's very little that would appeal to hundreds of thousands of collectors, and there's no central resource for adult toy fans to get all their news and control the marketing narrative - ToyFair, Tomart's Action Figure Digest, Lee's Toy Review, and that bizarre price guide with articles around it. As a result, fans have splintered, people tend to specialize more as the sum total of action figures increases, and stuff can sit because people don't need to buy it all.

With the 40th Anniversary figures this year, Star Wars Luke Skywalker was a repack, so he sat a bit. And then a retool with new accessories came to SDCC with a Landspeeder, a retool of which will be in stores in under 2 weeks. Does anyone need four 6-inch Luke figures?

On top of this, there are fewer outlets. It used to be you had stores like Best, Kay-Bee Toys, ToyCo, Suncoast, Service Merchandise, and a number of lost drug stores, grocery stores, and now-closed locations of Kmart and even Hot Topic's support of Hasbro. There are fewer big Hasbro customers, and Hasbro wants to sell more of each figure, with fewer outlets. The math does not help sell product.

"Wave 1 of whatever" will probably become a real problem when Hasbro launches its new The Vintage Collection line, mostly because it's old and busted. Repacks are not a good place to start, and they were wise to continue the numbering system as a built-in compulsion to continue for completists. (I assume there aren't a ton thanks to Comic-Con exclusives being in the mix.)

So in short, not as many people are buying "wave 1" because it's not really "wave 1." It's wave 100 or 200 by now, and it's not a new line that people are excited to start - it's really more of the same, and it's not a new thing anymore. If that first wave of a new assortment is boring, any manufacturer risks the line imploding before it hits shelves. Wave 1 needs to be exciting to keep momentum going. If it doesn't sell through, it doesn't bode well for subsequent assortments.

The only real solutions aren't conducive to Hasbro's current business model (80%ish to Amazon/Target/Toys R Us/Walmart) because it would mean rethinking the idea of an assortment. Either they would have to switch to multiple different item numbers and stores would have to order an entire carton of each individual character - which big box stores do not want (but online stores would love) - or switch to something like multi-packs, which is bad for the not-collector consumer. Unless a manufacturer wants to deliberately short wave 1 and maybe bring back another shot of it after wave 2 or wave 3, there's really nothing they can do to make it work under the current climate.




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This was a pretty good week for news, depending on your taste in such things. Two Star Wars spin-offs got leaked, and if they're true it's going to be great for guys our age who are us.

One is an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off. If Obi-Wan Kenobi is effectively marooned on Tatooine, that means we might see his first visit to the Cantina, or run-ins with Jabba's gang (or other crime lords) in some sort of desert adventure. Heck, maybe even a retelling of that oft-retold final duel with Darth Maul! I would be surprised if we didn't get some sort of backstory to the whole "hive of scum and villainy" line from the original movie, so I'm actually pretty chipper about this. "But Adam!" you ask, "is this because you're excited about the plot or because Hasbro may be forced to put out some new aliens or even a recasted Tonnika Sisters to make as a toy?"

...what do you think?

Similarly, the other is the oft-rumored Jabba the Hutt movie which Guillermo del Toro has been floating. This combines some of my favorite things - a true visionary who loves to do creature effects as practical things, and also Jabba's whole aesthetic. Alien gangsters. Girls. Alien musicians. Girls. Bounty hunters. Girls. As Hutts live for over 1,000 years, it could be anywhere in the pre-Return of the Jedi timeline and could even be centuries before the original trilogy. We could see it as a movie where Han Solo gets in trouble with Jabba. We could see Jabba forming his empire. We could also see Jabba going to Space Bonnaroo to see which bands he wants to hire for his house. Any of these would be great, the more esoteric the better, and such a thing practically screams out for new alien toys (and droids!) of all makes and models. If by some miracle we saw a movie that was all masks, creatures, and effects I'd plotz. Like, all over the place.

Did you know I've been writing about Star Wars toys on the internet for you fine folks since August 1, 1995 - meaning 22 years this month? It's true!

A reminder, FOTD will be going on hiatus after this week until September 1 - where I'm aiming to do at least 5 days of new/newish stuff, more if the schedule permits, before returning to a 3 per week schedule for September. Again, schedule permitting. If you like this stuff, please consider donating $1 to our Patreon - this goes to help host the site and pay its fees, which makes us all very happy since the only ads we post here these days are those from my employer (and Amazon affiliate stuff, and Google which basically pays nothing.) Thanks for your patience, support, or complete disinterest!

--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.