More questions about Toy Fair! Also, height issues with new Vintage figures and vehicles and foreign language variants you will likely never see. All this and more, so read on!
1. I noticed that the new "traditional" Nien Nunb/Numb seems to have gotten a downgrade in the height department (the ewok next to him almost comes up to his shoulder) - and you called that "correct height" in your report.
The actor who played Nien Nunb also played a snowtrooper as well several other "full height" characters in ROTJ (Ree Yees.) Nien Nunb is even seen in the ROTJ Rebel briefing and seems close to 6 feet in height. So how come he is suddenly Leia's height?
Do you people read bylines? I didn't write that report. Don't accuse me, man.
...having said that, yeah, Sullustians are short. There's an ongoing discussion in Star Wars of things like perception versus reality versus intent-- for example, is Jabba the Hutt really short, or really tall? Is Han's snow jacket blue, brown, pink, or black? We know Jabba the Hutt is actually pretty short, but were the filmmakers trying to give him the illusion of being huge with perspective and camera angles? It's tough to say, and when it comes to Nien Nunb, that's a bit of an issue. Based on your comment-- "seems 6 feet in height"-- I guess I throw it back at you. How can you tell? I can't tell how tall anyone is from the movies.
Wookieepedia has Nien Nunb listed at 1.6 meters, and in the movie he was portrayed both as a guy in a suit and-- correct me if I'm wrong-- as a puppet. This adds an extra wrinkle to the discussion, but it's hard to deny that the 1997 figure was sort of short-- so clearly, that's the modern interpretation of the character. We've seen a lot of changes made to the saga after the fact, such as Boba Fett's origins, the species of Chi Eekway, and a lot of other details to the point where "right" and "wrong" seem arbitrary. Obviously, Lucasfilm approved it both ways, so you'll forgive me if I co-opt an annoying phrase with "teach the controversy." Star Wars is an evolving thing, which is actually kind of annoying. If Lucas (as in, literally Lucas or his people) change an aspect of something, well, then what? We've seen numerous astromech droids named and renamed, we've seen the approved colors change long after their initial release, and now things like height are something of an issue. Heck, even Leia's height as an action figure has undergone changes since 1995.
So yeah, in 1983 Nien Nunb was tall, in 1997 he was short, in 2009 he was a very tall B-Wing Pilot and an incorrectly named Ten Numb, and in 2012, he's going to be short again. After a couple thousand figures, there are lots of little situations just like this, and after the line finally ends I'll probably start writing articles tracing the evolution of perception from the film and the toys over the decades. It'll be way less fun than it sounds, trust me.
2. Was a little underwhelmed by Toy fair. A few neat figs. Between last year and this year I see that there is a lot of money I'll be saving, spend on catching up a few pieces I've missed, or spending elsewhere. While we tend to gripe a bit in this hobby, and I'm venting here, what do you think is the overall mindset of the collector right now based on your interaction in the collecting world? Seems Hasbro has jumped the shark as there have been more misses I think than hits. That said I know these are toys and are made for kids and that is the target for Hasbro.
Over the last few years I've come to the conclusion that the direction of the line is about 5% direct collector desires and 95% marketing and whims. Some suit at Hasbro wants more pod racer aliens? You'll get aliens. Lucas wants more Phantom Menace for the 3D reissue? By gum, that's what you're gonna get. Some times, it aligns with what we as collectors want, but we no longer have a unified voice like we did in 1997. Back then, saying "We want Slave Leia, Tarkin, an Imperial Shuttle, and a Skiff!" was a thing we could all get behind-- who wouldn't want these things? Today, we've received many characters and vehicles several times over and the number of recognizable people and things from these movies (and beyond) is so split, I'll never expect collectors to truly get behind any one thing ever again. Case in point: Mara Jade won Fan's Choice. Did you vote for Mara? I didn't. I don't know anyone who did, either. Was it the non-hardcore collectors who voted? Passive fans? The uninformed masses who read Star Wars Insider but have literally zero sense of history as to how many figures were made and what they can buy right now on eBay at a fraction of the original retail price?
I hesitate to say that this year was a miss, but it does show a growing disconnect between Hasbro, fan media, and the retail space. We've seen numerous items tooled and developed for several lines over the past couple of years which Hasbro underproduced, abandoned, or seemingly did not know where they would end up-- and we've also seen them make good on a few of those, like last year's Raiders of the Lost Ark figures.
The question of the line being half-empty or half-full comes up regularly, and I can tell you that while I'm extremely disappointed at the loss of The Clone Wars as a viable segment, I'm quite pleased with the NEW new Movie Heroes toys. Because, you know, they're toys and we've had few to no "toy" figures since 2005. Action features are (to me) interesting, particularly when I'm looking at a line with 2 almost identical super-articulated Qui-Gon Jinns on the market all at once, and that the figure has already been rereleased once or twice a few years ago. Bring on the weird stuff! Let me play with those Amp'd ships, and let's put in big and ridiculous mechanisms in figures. Super articulation is dull now, all I care is if the figure can stand and/or sit in the appropriate vehicles and/or hold their weapons. That's it. Anything else is a nice bonus.
Looking at this year's line-up, I think it depends on the lens with which you decide to view the line. "There's too much collector stuff!" some say. "There's too much kid stuff!" others say. If what some overheard is true and we are going to see the line devoted to one film at a time (with a few collector exceptions), we're going to have a very boring three years ahead of us. The TV shows were really the one source of things that were new, and Hasbro drags their feet with new characters and now it looks like we're going to go from few to virtually zero new characters for 2012. We're still getting Darth Malgus and Shae Vizla and a ton of other figures which some collectors or gamers will like, and others won't. That's the nature of a successful toy line-- it's so big, it's no longer possible to please everybody. It's mathematically impossible to please all fans by now, just because the things we all agree would be good (save for TV figures) have been done.
...but I will say I'll be stunned if Hasbro can genuinely make a good push for Episode I past summer and it'll be a miracle if they can squeeze a full year out of Attack of the Clones without bringing back in The Clone Wars to bat cleanup for Q3 and Q4 2013.
3. [Cut for space.] This is a long-winded way to get to my questions. First, is the proposed schedule for 3-D rereleases one per year? Are we looking at 2013 as an "Attack of the Clones" themed year? If you were making a list of new characters, which ones would it be? I can't think of anymore Jedi from the battle of Geonosis that could be made, although I am sure Joclad Danva, Roth-Del Masona and Nicanas Tassu had some buddies I have never heard of. And it seems like the Outlander Club has more than a few characters (the entry in Wookieepedia lists about 45 patrons by name) that haven't seen plastic, but some of the more distinctive looking ones are prostitutes and perhaps neither appropriate nor essential for a line of kid's toys. So then I am stumped. Are there any Episode II characters left?
p.s. As I finish writing this, I vaguely recall that you may have addressed in a previous column the question which movies are almost exhausted figure-wise and probably Episode II was at the top of your list. Anyway...it's only a suggestion for a question...take it or leave it. Thanks.
Yes, right now all signs point to one 3D movie per year. That's assuming we'll actually get another one after the performance of this first one.
Depending on who you ask, the original trilogy as toys was pretty much done to death by 1985. Every fan has favorites, and Hasbro certainly could (and can, and likely will) keep making, remaking, and digging up new characters for a while. There are quite a few senators and separatists which could make for a new figure, although I don't think there's a lot of excitement there-- it's been so long since we had a strong Phantom Menace wave that a mix of new and existing characters turned out to be quite the thrill.
As far as major characters go, we're basically kidding ourselves if we feel any of the movies has untapped gold left. There are figures to redo, and there are some very minor characters left to do. We're also kidding ourselves if we think this matters-- Hasbro could probably make a fortune just cranking out the 2002 and 2005 figures over the next 2 years, while repackaging lightsabers and a few vehicles to fill out the line. I'm sure we'll see new versions of some characters.
Here's what I'm guessing you'll see on Hasbro's "parking lot" list for Vintage Wave 1 2013. (Feel free to disagree in the comments below.) Dar Wac, Queen Jamillia, Gilramos Libkath, Toonbuck Toora, Dexter Jettster, Dormé, Cliegg Lars, Anakin Skywalker, Count Dooku, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pamde (pick an outfit), and one or more repaints of the existing Clone Trooper mold. I'm guessing you won't see more than 20-26 new Attack of the Clones figures in 2013, but that's just a hunch. (Heck, for all I know after Hasbro sees the performance of Avengers and G.I. Joe and kills Transformers Prime, we might see more The Clone Wars next year.)
4. are there any plans to have the vintage collection produced in foreign languages like the Meccanos or Harberts. Not so much a tri-logo, but something in it's own language.
This will probably not happen-- due to Hasbro trying to reduce country-specific items, and because of IP law. If Hasbro doesn't already own the brand name (like Kenner) there's zero incentive for them to even consider something with a region-specific manufacturer name, particularly when some (like Meccano) have specific and different cardback sizes. I wouldn't completely poo-poo it as a special convention exclusive at some point down the road, but Hasbro has been really putting the brakes on exclusive products to the point where I wouldn't hold my breath. That, and international language would probably confuse fans at normal retail-- you would get it, and I would understand, but this might be confusing to the store stockers and normal customers.
...personally I'd love to see tri-logo, but we're not even getting proper Power of the Force cardbacks after eight years.
For an added fun bit of trivia, Wikipedia says Palitoy bought Meccano, and Hasbro bought Palitoy. It may be assumed that Hasbro owns the rights to those names, and if that's the case, you've got a lumbering gorilla who probably wouldn't license out those names anyway. As toy companies get large-- and Hasbro is pretty dang big-- it's sort of like a star, the gravitational pull prevents some products and ideas from escaping.
5. Recent revelations of reduced articulation on a number of forthcoming GI Joe movie figures sent "shockwaves" through the Joe community. Articulation has, for a very long time, been perhaps one of the top two or three hallmark features of the GI Joe brand.
We seem to be able to infer from our various Collector Q&As and Convention interactions with Hasbro that each part on a figure drives up the production cost, and so it follows that each piece of articulation has an associated cost. We can also infer from reading collector forums that articulation is really important to collectors.
If GI Joe, of all brands, is losing some articulation (all but 5, in fact, in some extreme cases for the Retaliation movie line) what does it mean for action figures overall? Is the golden age of "super articulation" coming to a close? Or will there be a further division between kids toys and those collectibles aimed at adults? Do you ever foresee a return to the 5 or 7 point articulation in the Star Wars brand?
I don't need to foresee anything: we're already there.
The new line of Movie Heroes has a lot of repackaged figures, but look at the new sculpts too. Not only does the Movie Heroes Battle Droid have only 6 joints (I find this offensive), but some of the vehicles don't even have appropriate drivers. As long as the G.I. Joe figures with reduced articulation are vehicle pack-ins which are capable of sitting in their driver's seats, I'm not going to cry. If I'm being charged $9 for a figure which, a few years ago, was one-half of a $6-$7 2-pack? OK, that upsets me. (I'm looking at you, Battle Droid.)
Increased labor costs in China are a very real thing, but it's being mixed with Hasbro exploiting its existing molds at the same time. OK, development costs have been increased, but Movie Heroes Wave 1 has little to no new tooling, and some of those molds have been paid for dozens of times over. It's important to make a profit, but geez, that Battle Droid is not worth $9, particularly when compared to last year's mega-articulated 2-pack in Saga Legends. The lack of an Anakin Skywalker figure designed to pilot the Pod Racer right now is annoying and disturbing-- there are no fewer than 4 Anakins out right now and none of them fit. Knee joints and ankle joints aren't as much of a concern to me that the only figure that fits the vehicle was released in 1999 WITH the vehicle, and is cheaper than buying the current vehicle at retail.
I don't believe Hasbro (or fans) are looking at the Big Picture. How are kids going to feel that their new toy doesn't have a figure which can drive it? Will Hasbro blame collectors if the vehicle doesn't sell? Will collectors blame kids, or Hasbro, when these things hit the clearance racks?
I personally don't feel reducing articulation means much to a lot of the younger buyers. This may sound flippant, but a lot of our people still collect carded figures, and let's face it: knee joints don't do much on a card. Forums bring out one kind of collector, and represent a fraction of the customer base. Not every collector will seek out a forum to say that they're happy, or unhappy. Actually, very few fans will ever go out of their way to share their opinion about a toy on the internet. While the reduction in articulation is annoying, to say the least, I think the only way Hasbro will acknowledge it as a selling point is if their sales drop, and even then? They might ignore it. Supposedly The Clone Wars is a little soft this season, and we've seen them consistently reduce articulation and increase the price on that line while also reducing variety and, in 2012, reducing the size of the line to something which might have been acceptable in the 1980s. Oh, and the ratings dropped.
More than anything else, I'm afraid the golden age of toy collecting could be closing. The future might be toys marketed to kids once more, which is what they should be anyway, but the action figure as a plaything may have been (gasp) a fad that just happened to have a spectacular run. Hasbro has moved more than a few of its toys to production in Vietnam-- take a look at Transformers Bot Shots-- so it's possible altering production facilities could mean the future could be bright, but without a huge base of consumers, Hasbro might just do the math and realize that in a few cases, additional articulation doesn't matter. If the Big H gets real money out of Fighter Pods, that's not going to bode well for the older fan.
In light of all the complaining, I'm largely still happy with what we're getting from Hasbro and the rest as of late. I don't understand the timing of the MTT, but I do look forward to playing with one. I don't understand why The Clone Wars is getting the short end of the stick given its many wonderful character designs. I don't get why Hasbro includes Ultimate Battle Game pieces and cards while going out of their way to obfuscate it in the packaging. But here we are.
As wave 2 of Vintage hits-- I just got mine-- it's amazing to see just how much mileage Hasbro can squeeze out of the molds it already profited from a few times over. Only 1 of the 5 figures appears to be completely new tooling, with Leia being basically given new accessories, Luke's about 50% new, as is Colonel Cracken. And yet, they're still really cool and compelling. I actually really do love the hero characters and if they can find a new way to do them, I'm on board.
Having said that, this is starting to feel like we're in the home stretch. Will Hasbro renew its license when it runs out? Will we start to see more toys announced and quietly shelved? Does someone need to keep a list of everything Hasbro announces just so we can go over it annually to point out what didn't make the cut? (On that last one, yes.) Even if the line slows down to 20 or 30 figures a year, it's still better than it could be. I remember when we had Bend-Ems, and we hunted those ugly things down! It's still going to be an interesting year, or at least first-half, I'm just a little nervous as to what Hasbro will be doing for the holidays. We've seen how they're treating Transformers lately, I don't think I've ever been quite as turned off by a toy brand as I have been over how it's been treated in the last year. I'm just glad there aren't any exclusives for Star Wars limited to the hundreds or thousand of pieces! (You know, when they actually ship.)
I'm still more or less happy with what's on deck for the year. Fewer figures is not a concern, but no figures, or segments which are already basically done for the year is a little disturbing. We've got more coming, though, plus a few trade shows with panels to announce more stuff. And exclusives, we don't know a dang thing for exclusives after what's out now unless I forgot something.
Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.