Q&A: Big Star Wars Vehicles (Again), LEGO, and Exclusives

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 11, 2016

1. Any word of a giant box exclusive from Toys R Us this year like the Jabba/Rancor set last year or the AT-ST set two years ago?

None are known (or even rumored) at this time. I assume the 6-inch Droids 3-pack filled one of those slots over the summer, though. I'm hoping that we've seen the last of these - expensive reissues in a new box are not the way I'd like to see things go, but we can thank the change in manufacturing and labor costs (heck, transportation too if you've been watching the news) for this sort of thing. I'm all for whatever gets toys in the hands of kids so the hobby has new blood to go another 5-10 years, and right now, supposedly, it's mostly roleplay that's doing the thing.

I'd say "I hope Hasbro has some exclusive announcements planned for Force Friday" but this seems to be what retailers think of Force Friday so far. After the performance of bigger ticket items last year - and the collective sigh of indifference to the two sets you mentioned - I wouldn't get your hopes up too high.



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2. I recently went to a Lego show and there was a beautiful display of the giant detailed ultimate collector series of ships. Lego puts out one a year but seeing them all together was awesome. There are quite a few at this point through the years. I know they are pricy and over $150.

Why can Lego make beautiful detailed expensive collector focused items but Hasbro doesn't offer at least one a year? I guess the big ship series might have been their attempt but I think there are more things that could be done at this price point.

Apples, meet oranges. I will rob a greater man than I by stealing his line of "I reject the premise of your question." We've gone over this topic in the past - in depth during the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest because that line had the audacity to be a sequel to an underserved billion dollar worldwide blockbuster and it had one flagship vehicle in its toyline! How dare they! Why not our favorite line, which at the time was a year out from the supposed "final" movie with no new TV or anything in sight for a future? ...I'm being somewhat facetious, but this comes up once in a while. Different manufacturers have different needs and different risks they want to take, depending on where there focus is. Heck, there are even concepts for ideas you'll never hear about because the market changed before you get to hear about them. I am assuming you're getting at 3 3/4-inch, which, well, I guess let's get unpacking.

Point 1 - Why LEGO, why not Hasbro? LEGO is LEGO. LEGO was/is doing insane business, no one knows for sure but there's speculation it's doing better than Hasbro in most years because parents are more willing to invest in a toy with more play potential. LEGO was/is the #1 toy company for a while. It's huge. Also, tooling investment is different - LEGO can make a lot of its high-high-end products with 100% existing parts - that's a small investment on their part. If it doesn't do well, all they had to do is run existing pieces in grey. It's a win-win for them.

Point 2 - Hasbro does not have the luxury of using recycled parts. Each and every genuinely new Hasbro toy must be designed and tooled (molded) from scratch. They can't make a big Sandcrawler out of the same parts used to make Transformers and G.I. Joe - it's just not possible. LEGO can do this, and any new pieces they do can pay off with use in future sets. As a manufacturer, LEGO - with its multiple brands, licenses, ongoing kid audience, huge parent and family support, and massive retail presence - can get away with more than a line aimed at an ever-diminishing number of aging toy collectors (in other words, you and me.)

Point 3 - Hasbro does do big vehicles. Since 2008, we've had 7 (or more) releases that were $130 or higher. It's just not always what you want. Last year we got the biggest TIE Fighter of all time. Love it or hate it, it exists and was more expensive than most widely-sold LEGO sets. We also got a very expensive kid-focused Millennium Falcon, which will be followed this year by a very expensive family-focused AT-ACT. The new walker has iPhone/Android (correct me if I'm wrong) support to make it a tech toy for older fans, and it has 3 action figures, ziplines, and cargo containers for kids - and it's the most expensive Hasbro vehicle yet. It's meant to be a piece, despite the "small" size, that should be focused to a larger range of fans. There wasn't much from 2013-2014, but most years have at least one big-ticket Hasbro vehicle. We has two last year and this year we have one that costs about what both did last year.

Now from where I sit - I do work in this business - I don't think it's a good time for Hasbro to do large playsets or vehicles of any kind. Fans are too fickle and the decreasing adult collector audience means more risk. The 6-inch and 3 3/4-inch split, combined with the splits from Hot Toys, Sideshow, LEGO, MafEX, and other higher-end collectibles, puts Hasbro in an increasingly precarious position. In the 1990s, all of us bought Kenner and/or Galoob stuff. Kenner sold a lot of each individual figure - nobody has an official number, but whispers were in the 250,000+ range of some. That's not the kind of numbers we're seeing today. The speculators that came off Hot Wheels, Spawn, Lee's Action Figure News & Toy Review aren't here. The collectors who bought one to open and one to put away for future resale are largely gone, thanks to families and mortgages and divorces and storage spaces packed to capacity.

I'm sitting here more or less in agreement with you. I wanted a giant Death Star and a Blockade Runner since the line relaunched in the 1990s. The 40th Anniversary of Star Wars is in a few months, and the new 2016 movie features the Death Star in a prominent role. But are we getting a toy Hasbro Death Star? Yeah. In MicroMachines.

If Hasbro built a modular Star Wars construction toy, you'd be able to see more high-end fancy sets. But that's not the kind of product this is, if it were we'd probably have cobbled together our own by now.

I've said this before and I'll say it again - fans can step up to the plate with big "comptible" stuff made outside the license proper. We're seeing fans make "space dioramas" as 3D printed, self-manufactured things. You can't get away with vehicles, but there's nothing stoping the fan community from making interesting 1:18 scale environments that just happen to fit these figures exactly. And you might even be able to extent it to vehicle interiors, too, because if it's not exactly like what you see on screen it's probably not subject to the same cease-and-desist-able scrutiny. It's a hallway. Just don't step on trademarks and brand names, consult your lawyers, etc.




3. Adam, now that we've seen the actual product and not just sample box photos of the Alliance's new U-wing fighter vehicle is it safe to say that Hasbro will no longer be trying to do larger scale vehicles, and has turned these vehicles into fancy Nerf dart guns instead? I for one as a collector of the 3-3/4 vehicles for the past 37 some odd years prefer a straight out cool vehicle that comfortably sits the assigned pilot of said vehicle. A few lights and electronics are neat and working "s" foils on the ships that require it are also a bonus. The U-wing in the photo looks cool however by all accounts of this vehicle in the trailers shown the ship has at least a two man side by side cockpit and a cargo area for deploying troops. Unless this vehicle is pooping out Jawas I don't think it works in scale to allow for this. I realize the cost for larger vehicles to produce and sell is rather exorbitant but maybe they could have done what they did with some of the other vehicles and present two scales, a smaller kid friendly one and a larger more collector friendly version? I can't imagine that demand for this vehicle being new and part of the original Trilogies mythos won't be through the roof and probably command huge prices on EBay and Amazon a day after it's released. So why not take a chance on it and make it right? Just asking…

It is my sincere hope that if you really don't like this stuff, you'll skip it. Vote with your dollars. Don't be one of those people who hates something and buys only one "just to show 'em" when you would normally buy two or more. Be one of the people who at the very least waits for clearance - it may mean an end to the vehicles at that price point, but nature can't run its course if you keep swooping in to stop things from happening as they should.

The new movie 3 3/4-inch line being made under the current regime is not designed with adults or with collectors in mind. Neither was the one in 1978. Hasbro is not trying to appeal to someone in their 30s or 40s as their primary customer for this particular product. Hasbro continues aiming for kids, and maybe some of you if we older people come along for the ride. With few exceptions, most Hasbro vehicles are designed around play features to appeal to kids and even some of the ones collectors love - the big Millennium Falcon, Turbo Tank, AT-TE, AT-AT (2010), and so on - these do have functionality that is there to be enjoyed by short people. The MTT was designed to appeal to both audiences, but suffered the unforgivable sin of being the MTT.

Your suggestion of two flavors of 3 3/4-inch vehicles is wildly unrealistic. You've just doubled the tooling costs for product development. You've just doubled the marketing you should do. You've just taken up twice as much shelf space while most big stores are cutting back on Star Wars and toys in general. And you've possibly cut the potential profits on each in half. Hasbro gets to bring prices down by making bigger and bigger numbers of a thing - which is why the 1990s were so great for this stuff. Between kids, adults, collectors, and speculators/scalpers, Kenner/Hasbro had quite a miracle going.

Even in the best times, multiple scales can mean competition with yourself - a theme we keep bringing up here, as Hasbro also has Doctor Strange, Transformers, Captain America, and many others this season. Hasbro's continuation of Titanium Series exists for the cheaper ship price point, as does MicroMachines. If Hasbro did two U-Wings, you'd probably lose out on another smaller (or larger) vehicle to make up for the development dollars. Hasbro has a strange internal directive to limit the number of products it puts out each year - so it's not like they'd just add another one to the spreadsheet each year. Hasbro putting out two different 3 3/4-inch scale U-Wings would be incredibly costly and bad for their bottom line - plus let's be honest, most of the collectors would complain about "having" to buy both anyway. (C'mon. You know and I know most of us who'd buy one would buy both.)

Toys change with the times and the bulk of the 2005-2015 offerings were good - by no means perfect - about replicating the look of the ship with a fudged scale and a few features adjusted to fit the needs of the time. The Sith Infiltrator drew endless complaints from collectors due to it not being huge, but it sold pretty well despite being downsized to a one-man starfighter. The V-Wing had a horrendous Astromech dome on it, rather than a slot that some of us would've preferred. It's never going to be perfect, because these are ultimately being developed as toys for children that we as adults also enjoy. Once the projectiles don't shoot or the figures won't fit in the seats, I will be there helping to hand out the torches and pitchforks. (The only exceptions I can think of are the Jumbo Slave I and the 2012ish Return of the Jedi Speeder Bike - both were simpler, bigger items that did not dwell on what the industry refers to as "finger food," play features.)

I reserve the right to hate this U-Wing Fighter toy when I get mine. Maybe it's junk, I don't know. Other than a lack of Astromech socket - which I don't even know if it should have - it looks fun. The 2015 X-Wings, I think, ultimately underwhelmed because of the qualities of the materials used in their manufacture. (Waxy finish, specifically.) They also weren't piloted by the film's main hero. I'm not demanding perfection, I don't need a high-end model. But if the wings move, if the cannons work, if the pilot fits in the seat without a fight? We're doing OK. The success of the toy also has to do with the marketing of the movie, which a lot of people in the biz seem to think will provide the biggest hurdle to the movie (and by association, the toys) repeating last year's numbers. You can't follow up the box office-shattering enthusiasm of 2015 on the low-key buzz we've been seeing.

Bonus rant - I was at Target, I saw Stormtrooper Halloween boxer shorts. Basically, they were skeletons in Stormtrooper helmets, made to look like bony helmets, and they're all holding the long Clone Trooper rifles. Not Stormtrooper guns. Lucasfilm/Disney apparently is not too interested in getting all the details correct anymore. But, you knew this. Getting all the details right is not and possibly has never been job one. If they can't get lightsaber hilts right, or blade colors, or the right blasters, I doubt two seats in a vehicle matter all that much to the person "fact checking" the product designs as Lucas/Disney/whatever, and also that feature would result in a bigger ship and we're already pushing against a fairly high $50 price point. I don't think that's going to fly for most parents.




So after publishing Q&A last week I finally booted up AM2R, the fan-made game that is inspired by having been a remake of the original GameBoy game Metroid II: Return of Samus. It's fun, it's tough, it's quite good - it's also free, and slapped with a cease-and-desist by Nintendo because, well, I would too. But it's freaking fabulous. If you have any love for the 16-bit era of video games, the whole "Metroidvania" thing, and things you don't have to pay for, use your search engine of choice and find it via torrent or other file downloading means. (Version 1.1 is the latest.) The game starts off as a vaguely Super NESian remake of the black-and-white GameBoy game, but new things are introduced as you go enabling you to basically see what a new 2D Metroid game might look like. There are little story bits that aren't at all obtrusive, new musics, and new bosses to battle. It's a shame the guy didn't just call it "Some Space Game" and sell it for $20, because I'd pay it. It's probably the best new video game I've bought or played in ages, but I'm predisposed to loving the 16-bit era of video games. It's completely unlicensed and unapproved by Nintendo, but AM2R brings the feel of many misspent hours of my life in front of a CRT TV playing whatever it was I was able to rent that weekend. I want to pipe it out to an old TV to see how it feels.

Figure of the Day continues! Just not daily. Rogue One is just around the corner (or here if you shop at the right big box stores) and I would say it's time to give up on street dates and start hunting. But I digress. One of the questions people asked about The Force Awakens toys was "So what's the takeaway?" Hasbro learned that with the right promotion, you can sell a lot - but the pent-up demand for product has evaporated completely, meaning diminishing returns for Midnight Madness events and - as we're seeing - a few stores putting out stuff at clearance prices. There's a reason that this is happening, and it's only going to happen on assortments that are being carried forward. (For example, for you industry junkies, Asst. B3834 is the 6-inch assortment - the next wave is a Rogue One wave, but Target and Walmart put the whole assortment on clearance because that's how their systems work. So it's going to sell near or below cost until someone catches the error. I can assure you it has been pointed to many by many.)

But again, I digress.

What I've seen is that Hasbro skipped interesting toy innovations this time, and also skipped the lower price point. We got some very nice high-quality 3 3/4-inch exclusives from Walmart in The Black Series at prices similar to the basic figures - which were $8 or $9. My main drive is always "Is this the best toy for the money?" and the answer this time around was that the exclusive figures were. The armor-up figures were overpriced. The 2-packs, OK those were fairly priced for what you got in the box. The single figures weren't as good at the higher price - what made me love Mission Series and Saga Legends were that they could stand, sit in vehicles (no skirts), and were priced at $5-$6 each. They were a good toy at a good price. I cannot say the same for a chunk of The Force Awakens as I'm a firm believer that most figures should stand unsassisted.

The Black Series figures, while good, are still kind of boring. Stamping out the same jointed figures again and again without new features or something tangible to set it apart as a unique generation is, to me, unfortunate. Rogue One seems to have an app as a gimmick, which will no doubt evaporate from the world soon thanks to the iOS updates rendering old software unplayable. The same will likely happen to the AT-ACT control app, unless enterprising fans hack it and release a computer app to control it, and I'm counting on you guys to pull that off. It's no knock against Hasbro, it's just that I don't think any company is thinking about supporting software for a toy in 5 years, while we collectors tend to think more in terms of "forever."

This is one of the reasons fans and their creations matter - Nintendo has decided new 2D Metroid games are bad business, so we don't get any. But a fan made one. Hasbro has decided playsets aren't a viable market and it has been years - many years - since we got something official. Fans are stepping in with furnishings and walls, and I hope enterprising souls will look very carefully at how you can legally develop a nice 3 3/4-inch environment for your toys without using anyone's trademarks to trigger a lawsuit.

We're in an era where the means of production are close at hand, and the push and pull between what you as a person or a group of people can do against what a corporation can do gets interesting. I really wish I went into law so I could better nail some of this down, but look at it this way - anybody can make a 1:64 scale die-cast metal toy car, not just Mattel. But not anyone can use a Matchbox or Hot Wheels brand name - that would inspire problems. So Maisto and Jada Toys and Johnny Lightning and many others have their own thing, and maybe the products are even compatible, just not overtly marketed as such. I mean, look at all the 3 3/4-inch Star Wars stands that weren't made by Kenner or Hasbro. There's a market for "compatible" toys, to which The Corps and The Outer Space Men and those rotten pastel monster dolls you used to see in Walgreens can attest. And Kre-O, and Tyco Super Blocks, and Mega Bloks, and... we can go on.

I think I came away from the movie experience with some insight into what I thought was right (fans will probably still buy much of what Hasbro makes) and what I was wrong about (the line having legs). The latter, well, let's be honest - collectors are fickle. Even with no movie in sight, we kept hunting when Hasbro promised 6-7 waves of figures a year, plus vehicles and Unleashed and Titanium and whatever else post-Revenge of the Sith. If you let the line take a nap, we're going to get bored and do other things. I love Star Wars but this whole downtime nonsense is foolishness. If the movie line ends in March or April (after the video release), why not just transition to advertising Rebels until the next movie line? Throw in a few classics for good measure, we'll stick around.

Based on what I've seen for Rogue One so far I have no reason to be bored by it. They're giving me what I want - new vehicles, new Rebels, new Imperials, and at least a few droids and aliens. For better or for worse, they're planting the seeds of a possible future collector market with smaller selling windows and a lot of untapped demand for aliens and robots from The Force Awakens, sort of like what we're seeing with The Clone Wars and Rebels. Fans still want stuff - and they'll buy it when you deliver it.

If Hasbro decided to let the license lapse - which I doubt, given the cosy relationship with Disney in everything except seemingly Pixar - that might be my time to quit. I don't think I'd like to see another manufacturer start over the line, even if they kept the same basic scale. But I'm getting older. I've been doing this a lot longer than I care to admit, and it's not like the 2,000th figure is as exciting as the 100th, especially now. I'm ready to have my expectations defied, but the licensed product business is so changed that the assurance that things would some day end and go away no longer exists. We're in a generation where nobody born since 1990 probably has any notion of a world without a near-endless stream of Marvel and Star Wars and Batman action figures. I hope we can welcome new fans and collectors who start today and go forward, because the cost of admission to catch up is just ridiculous.

I'm at a point in my life where if Hasbro says they're only going to do a half dozen vehicles and maybe 40 action figures per movie, I think I can manage. If the movies ever end and they can keep it going to play catch-up with ME-8D9 and some of the other nifty figures from the newest film. It was a nice batch - it could be nicer, but that's true of just about anything. On that note, I did play through AM2R, there is a Mac version of sorts, and I look forward to playing through it again. See you next mission!

--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.