Q&A: Vac-Metal, Star Wars Droids, and Retro Figures Are Awesome

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 7, 2020

1. Why can't/doesn't Hasbro use chrome finishes anymore on their figures. Is it really simply too expensive, or are there other reasons?

Also, as an EE exclusive, maybe a chromed TVC 3PO and a silver one? TC-14 or E-3PO?

I think a lot of collectors would pay a premium for them.


Two big questions here! First is vac-metal. While you can apply the process to a number of kinds of plastic, results may not be to your liking. For example, if you apply it to PVC plastic - the flexible stuff most figures are made of - it looks good until it actually gets played with. If you saw figures like Hurricane Hordak from Masters of the Universe Classics, the shiny gold finish can flake off when you touch it or flex the plastic enough. Instead, you want to use really hard plastic - ABS - because it's stiff and the plastic won't flake off as easily. (Of course with time and handling, anything can rub off.) Some great examples of high-quality ABS chrome figures include Kenner's original C-3PO action figure, Tomy's pilots for Starriors and Zoids, and The Four Horsemen's chrome weapons on The Outer Space Men.

You need different kinds of tools depending on the materials employed. A tool for ABS may not be good for PVC or for zinc or other materials. So if Hasbro wanted to crank out a 6-inch Black Series C-3PO tomorrow, the current figure and tooling wouldn't work - they would need to invest in new molds. The 6-inch value C-3PO from 2017 [FOTD #2,418] would be a potentially better fit overall.

I never did get a straight answer out of anyone as to why Hasbro elected to move away from vac-metal C-3POs. Someone mentioned "environmental concerns" but I didn't hear any explanation as to what that meant or if I misunderstood. The vac-metal process is used on considerably fewer toys these days, with a few on reissues of G1 Transformers and seemingly little else. For all I know it's a cost or safety issue too, but if you look at the whole of Hasbro's toy offerings you don't tend to see it at all anymore. Not even R2-D2's dome. So the short answer is that it's still something of a mystery.

As to the exclusives, see above. You'd need different molds, and it's not cheap - it's tens of thousands of dollars to make a simple 5 points of articulation figure's tooling, and once you get to the question of new tooling, your character options open up. While Hasbro has still not replied to my request to make Vlix yet as of this year - because of course I'm still asking - I would steer people toward all-new, never-before-made characters as toys before a deco variant, especially if new tooling is required.



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2. I was going through some of my Hasbro 3.75" figures this week. First, it reminded me of how MANY amazing figures Hasbro has given us (regardless of some figures that weren't so great). But second, it made me feel like this would be a great time for Hasbro to make a new standard C-3PO/protocol droid that could be used/repainted as C-3PO from all of the movies (except Episode I), as well as TC-14, K-3PO, etc. My idea is non-vac metal (even though I love and miss that), well-articulated (with a better ability to sit than the current re-released TVC C-3PO), and with all removable limbs (for Cloud City compatibility and just for more fun), BUT no removable panels. I'm basically describing the Disney Parks protocol droids, which I love, but those are a little bigger in scale than C-3PO should be. So, like a Disney Parks protocol droid with the more accurate scale and detail of the TVC version.

Wouldn't this be a great way for Hasbro to get a LOT of mileage out of one new set of tooling?

There's a weird coincidence! Sometimes I just pluck 'em right out of the mail bag.

I would suggest looking at the 3 3/4-inch line as a whole. It's small, "easy repaints" and pre-tool/variant head figures are seemingly a thing of the past, and we get precious few new characters per year. Since the Disney takeover, you can probably count the number of all-new molds that aren't Disney-era characters on your fingers.

Your idea is fun, and Hasbro made a great "sitting" C-3PO around 2006 with the Endor Throne. I have no idea if that tooling still exists, but it worked like a charm. The size may not quite fit, but it exists, and right now "it exists" is kind of a big deal.

Given where we are now - on a good year, we get maybe four or five newly tooled Original Trilogy figures and maybe a dozen completely new molds - sure. Hasbro could do that. I'd rather we as a community rally behind things we personally want and will buy, rather than try to come up with stuff that they could repaint forever and we'd pick up, somewhat begrudgingly. I love droids, and overall, I am very good with droids. I've got hundreds of astromechs and dozens of protocol droids. We don't know how much longer Hasbro will support the 3 3/4-inch format, so it's time to be selfish. Start a campaign for what you want and will personally buy. Support ideas, make noises, because I assure you Hasbro sees these and people who have meetings with Hasbro (cough cough) can point to successful, specific petitions (cough elbow) and bring these up in a business context.

We can squander it on pointless attention like "we want more figures" or "let's release a new version of this thing we have," or we can take a long, hard look at our toy boxes and actually ask for the things we want. Remember, Hasbro's team does read the internet, they do pay attention, and they will cite fan postings as evidence that "the fans have been asking for it." Well, what do you really want? Do you want slightly better versions of protocol droids you already had the chance to buy? Or would you like them to remake EV-9D9, which hasn't been revised since 1997, which itself was the 1984/1985 figure but tweaked without the opening mouth flap and a couple other minor changes?

It's your hobby. Don't you want it to reflect what you want and not what you think someone else wants you want?




3. Given how insanely popular the Retro line is (need solid cases of Boba Fett, Hasbro!), why did Hasbro only make the new wave at Walmart available as only 6 figures (1 set) per case?

Some stores I asked got zero cases, some one, some 5 or more over the past month.

Whatever happened to the good old days when we had cases of 12 figures?

I only collect what interests me now; has Hasbro downsized to only 6-figure cases?

Will this wave be available later this year at online retailers, or is this a Walmart exclusive?

Smaller figure case packs have been a thing big box stores have demanded since the 1990s. Some companies like Playmates tended to hold fast to cartons of 24 figures - so if you want to sell them, you're going to devote several pegs to this product line. Toy Biz went down to smaller cases in the '90s and axed a lot of figures in the process - Kenner (and Hasbro) took Star Wars from 16 to 12 to 8. Some shops like Walgreens want to carry more toys but shelf space is at an absolute premium, so smaller casepacks are essential and what we see as "too small" may be too much to hang around in a tiny toy aisle. That's life. They don't want to risk getting stuck with doubles of duds. Smaller cases are much less efficient, but if you don't make your customer happy, the customer stops buying. Stores don't want excess product on pegs, and they want to turn over things quickly without things going on clearance. Small cases help that.

I don't get why The Retro Collection wasn't sold as either a) a case only so it's all 6 or bust, or b) in cases of 12 or 18 - because they're gonna sell. Last year's Star Wars wave at Target was also 6 figures. Perhaps it has to do with the stability of the carton or the assumption the store will sell whole cases as a set online?

As of my writing this there are no plans to offer the Retro Collection figures from The Empire Strikes Back wave at retailers beyond Walmart. Could this change? Sure. Fan demand can change a lot. It could make Walmart order more, or if these get offered elsewhere, the evidence that fans want more and want them at more places would certainly be a good thing to see. Walmart is a spectacular partner to Hasbro and has been buying massive amounts of retro remake toys in other lines too - with others potentially coming down the road. Good partners get good exclusives, and it's up to the partner how to price, sell, ship, and distribute the item.

I'd love to live in a world where everybody has access to all figures for a short time, just so we can see them and make up our own minds if we want them or not. It hasn't been that way since the 1980s or early 1990s - for some reason "the hunt" has been a part of this for a long time. I had to get my Retro ESB wave from a friend in North Carolina - between the pandemic and popularity, I can't hunt like usual either. I sincerely hope Walmart decides to take and offer more of this product on its website so all of you can give them money, because that's kind of what this is here.



And here we go! Another week, and somehow, Star Wars Celebration Anaheim is still on the calendar. So is CES 2021 in January, which, given Vegas, may still happen. NYCC is still on the books too, as are some other events which I am not optimistic about happening this year. I hope I'm wrong, but I've only been on one toy hunt since March that included a stop where there were no planned supply purchases.

New figures are still coming but it's slower. It's not over - 3 3/4-inch Star Wars has a small future and it needs your support. You're going to want to pre-order things. You're going to want to make specific requests for figures when you speak to Hasbro or Lucasfilm people. You're going to want to campaign for the actual thing you want. And thankfully, there's still a market for it all, Hasbro renewed the license with Lucasfilm, and all of that jazz.

I hope everybody out there is doing OK given the nature of 2020. There's hopefully a big future ahead of us all and I want to be there to see it.

So, if you like what you've gotten so far in 2020, buckle up for the back half of this month and also the rest of the year. And another time nearby. Real nearby.

--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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