The future of Star Wars is coming sooner than you think - but for now, Q&A! Let's talk Kubrick figures. It won't take long. And how about Squid Lake figures? Well... that won't take long. And how about toy hunting in the present? It's a lot different than it was 15 years ago. Also, send in your questions for the mailbag!
1. You mentioned Medicom's kubrick line in the 3/31 column, where they had slipped a chase figure that could only be mistaken for Indiana Jones into the Star Wars Series 2 Han Solo box. While I have been a big consumer of Hasbro/Kenner products, the Kubricks stole my heart (and wallet) some time ago. They often slipped some great tributes to the old kenner days into their line with Red Bib Fortuna, prototype fetts, blue snaggletooth and the like. The deluxe series vader with vinyl cape may be one of my favorite star wars toys of all time, as it was simple, clean, and positively reeked of nostalgia.
I know your day job is tied to items for sale in the U.S., but you clearly have your head in the toy world in general. Us brick-heads haven't seen a new wave of kubricks since January 2012, and I read in a forum site that Medicom hasn't made any kubrick style figures (star wars or otherwise) for some time, just bearbricks. Questions directed at medicom result in vague replies that more is to come, but that has been the standard line for more than a year. Do you know have any guesses or knowledge on why that might be? Given how many of their figures share parts, they don't seem to face some of the tooling challenges the big H has to contend with for production. A license like Star Wars seems tough to just put on the shelf when there is money to be had.
I'm sorry to say I haven't seen anything or heard any whispers - it wouldn't surprise me if Hasbro and/or LEGO saw the line as competitive and the license ran out, because usually after a year a line is just kinda dead. Kubrick as a thing seems to have a lot less traction these days - I don't see much crossing my desk outside Be@rbrick - so it wouldn't surprise me if Medicom just decided to be done with it, either. I don't profess to be an expert in the space, but I can say that outside things I don't remember seeing before at my annual trip to Toy Tokyo it doesn't seem like much is going on here like 10-15 years ago.
2. Mon Calamari "Squid Lake" Dancer/Diva? Thought she was teased as an exclusive already sculpted and in the on deck tank. Always thought of her as an opera diva, perhaps due to the Chancellor's box, but fan fix suggests Ballet.
I don't recall Hasbro mentioning she was sculpted - maybe in the "parking lot," which is a nice way of saying "maybe some day we'll get to it-list." Given the current trajectory of The Black Series - one new character per wave, tops - I wouldn't suggest getting your hopes up too highly just yet.
I'd be delighted buy one - what I find the most boring about this line is that we're in perpetual rerun season, with nary a new character to break things up. I've got super-articulated Darth Vaders, so new ones are generally not interesting - but super-articulated Mon Cal swimmers? I'd be up for that.
3. The dynamic of collecting Star Wars action figures has changed. If you want to get most figures you need to commit to, all but exclusively, buying and pre-ordering your figures online. Yes, you'll pay a premium and possibly a little extra for shipping, but it's a wash when you consider the alternative. This has been the reality of action figure collecting for nearly six years. The golden age of action figure collecting has been replaced by the reality of rising fuel costs, shifting retail focus, internet shopping and increased production costs. When I read the endless rants from fellow collectors regarding Hasbro's poor case assortments and sporadic retail distribution, my sentiments have grown increasingly unsympathetic. Why are collectors still complaining about poor retail distribution? You are starting to sound like dinosaurs and it's time to put the issue to rest.
I encourage collectors to continue to pursue the thrill of the toy hunt from time to time, but simply for the purposes of nostalgia.
However, if you're expecting a return of the old ways of toy hunting, your disillusionment has clouded reality and I feel it's time for you to move on. Your high expectations of finding new toys at retail are misguided and I for one, have grown quite weary of your complaints.
I've been pre-ordering my figures online since '09 and have been able to secure my figures with relative ease. While my collecting has grown to be much more solitary, I've enjoyed sleeping in on weekends and spending more time with my wife and family.
Adam, why haven't collectors moved on? Am I alone, or do other collectors echo my sentiments? Are we experiencing the death of Star Wars action figure collecting or just a different dynamic? Why don't collectors get out of the business if they don't like it and it makes them angry? Will things change with the release of the new movies? Your thoughts please…
Full disclosure: I work full-time for one of the stores selling full cases online, which is where I obtain most of my Star Wars action figures. I also buy most of my US Transformers in stores, as I won't die if I miss one of those the way I will if I miss my new Star Wars figures. I also go toy toy stores several times a week, because it's a fine, fine sport.
Toy collecting has been a pain in the ass since the early 1990s - that's around the time that people who ruined baseball cards and comic books got in to action figures. I wanted to get a new Arctic Batman or the Penguin Commandos while other people would buy Catwoman hoping to make a killing - buying her for $6 after tax and selling her to another collector for $15-$20 at a flea market or comic shop. Those people helped everybody out by artificially increasing the demand for figures, causing Kenner/Hasbro/etc. to make more, investors to buy and sit on more, and get more to stores while creating little economies, the fallout of which can be found at numerous comic shops and sports card stores today in the form of dusty, 1990s Kenner-branded Star Wares.
Since the late 2000s, we saw people rescinding the "buy one to open and one to keep carded" ethos and cutting back to just one, period - and some of that changed briefly with The Vintage Collection, but it varies from fan to fan. The damage was pretty much done by the end of 2010, so distribution - which Star Wars fans have decried as being awful since roughly August of 1995 - to worse, and I can't disagree with that. You might find stuff, but in a way it's the same as it was back then - you have to be at the right store, at the right time, on the right day. If you hunt on the way home from work, but stores restock around noon and I go hunting over lunch at 1 PM? Too bad - I win, you lose. That's how it always has been, but the market was pumped up a bunch in the 1990s. There were more action figure companies, more toy stores, fewer figures per year, larger runs, bigger cartons, and it was a different era for this kind of thing.
Just think about it - in the mid 1990s, you could go to places like Best, Service Merchandise, Kay-Bee Toys, ToyCo, Zany Brainy, and a bunch of others I've completely forgotten - even sometimes Sears or J.C. Penny would stock Star Wars. Today? Most fans go to Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, maybe Kmart, and/or shop oniine. In the 1990s we saw maybe 12-20 figures per year until the prequels, when things exploded to almost 100 in 1999 alone and we never looked back.
I'm happy that we live in an era that, generally speaking, if you're patient (and packaging-agnostic) you can get what you want eventually. Bastilla Shan is getting a reissue! Those super-rare bonus Pit Droids made a comeback in 2007 and 2008 after being rare and spectacularly expensive imports in early 2000. (I only had mine through the grace of another collector giving me their set, and I am thankful.) The truly rare figures tend to make it back (there are exceptions), and the scarce figures are often buyable somehow - eBay, Amazon, through dumb luck at a Kmart that's in a "bad" neighborhood.
I'm not super-keen on the online-only direction, because online-only toys means few to no impulse buys (kids, parents, aunts, uncles, office workers, non-collectors, new collectors - these guys buy most of the toys, but they don't post on forums). I love Masters of the Universe Classics but I know it'll never be a huge hit like the original line. Mattel managed to find a way that works for them and for many of the fans. (No, not everybody's happy.) As far back as I can remember there have always been figures that are difficult to find and I think part of the problem with Star Wars has been its unnatural long life since the 1995 Kenner toy revival - who of us honestly believed we'd be here still, nine years after the supposed "final" prequel?
Being upset about it on the internet probably won't help a fan get the figure you're complaining about, but maybe the next one. Did you personally write a letter to Hasbro to complain? Did you mention to them that you don't see most figures at a store near you? Hundreds or thousands of voices are more valuable than one, especially when ordering online is the new normal - and I'll be honest, in my line of work, it's necessary for my survival.
What you're bringing up is fundamentally a distribution problem - and the current distribution solution. It may not be what you want, but when you get right down to it "buy it online" is how most things work today. I can't buy Mordles at any store, nor Outer Space Men, nor OTMFG. I have to shop online if I want new Zoids, or old video games, or some records in formats that aren't CDs. I don't have a choice. It is unfortunate to see that this is happening for new Star Wars toys because today's kids may not grow up into tomorrow's collectors or toy journalists or bloggers. There are now hoops to jump through, and we live in an insane world where the exclusive Star Wars toy is easier to find than the main line stuff. It's staggering to me, but it was also the reason I was usually pretty happy to see/buy/offer an online exclusive in the last 10 years - no matter what, I was sure fans could get their Astromech Droid 5-packs if they just ponied up for it. No group is ever going to be happy as long as there are opinions and options, as there should be. The important thing now is to make sure you spend your money wisely, let the right people know when there's a problem (spoiler alert: it isn't me), and remember one thing: people are going to ultimately quit collecting. If you don't get what you want today, you may get another shot at it when they dump their toys in a few years. It's the way of things for most collecting now - the "good old days" were filled with more failing lines, more forgotten brands, smaller series, and even less articulation. Things change, and it's up to you if you want to see what has come to pass as basically good or basically bad. If I didn't basically like toys, I'd probably be done with it by now. Be the cockroach - wait out other people, they'll quit before you will.
It's time for questions! We have openings in May - so if you got one, send it on in.
Depending on which week it is, I can be accused of having all sorts of varying opinions - as people do - but lately I've seen people complain at me because I'm basically satisfied at the snail's pace of new releases, which I feel is due to the fact that the new Hasbro Star Wars figures haven't exactly been exciting. Since 2013 kicked off, I could probably count the number of essential 3 3/4-inch figures on one hand - but in a way I shouldn't even thumb my nose at them, because compared to G.I. Joe we've got it great. Hasbro licensed an annual collector's convention for Joe and as far as I can tell, the Rhode Island toymaker showed no new products and may have not even been there for a panel for new toys - new releases after the last movie include a tiny batch of 50th anniversary exclusives to be sold at Toys R Us later this year, and club-exclusive figures which are priced 3 or 4 times as much as a standard in-store retail figure would have been. And that's most of it.
With Star Wars, it's hibernating - 5 movies and at least 1 TV show are in the works and as of today. Star Wars has been a prized pig for Hasbro for years, and they're doing quite well with Marvel and their classic Transformers property right now. It makes sense - those last two have several movies which serve as free marketing, plus their own home-grown property is getting a new film and a new TV show in addition to a fairly well-regarded comic book these days. What does Star Wars have? Confusion. This will probably end in a bit, but I can't fault this particular space franchise from having a couple of off-years considering what the future holds. If you watch the toy business, you'll notice most things go in cycles - it's not uncommon for a brand to be "rested" for a few months or a couple of years while new directions are developed and old products are jettisoned from store shelves. Those of you who are old enough will recall Star Wars as a lumbering and often slumbering giant - from 1986 to 1991, it was all but dead. It slowly ramped up and took over the world again, and right now we're experiencing one of those slow periods.
G.I. Joe, on the other hand, may be suffering from appealing to collectors too much, while not getting enough product out to them (quantity, not variety), and pricing their wares too high to pull in new customers - kids, or new collectors. It's handy that "Star Wars is forever" is a catchy and more or less true slogan, because "A Real American Hero" wasn't enough to keep Joe and Cobra going. It's possible Star Wars could end up in the same boat some day, possibly soon if the new movies don't do what they need to. As I get older - I've been writing columns like this one for more than half my life now - I want to get picky about what upsets me. The lull in Star Wars is just that - a bump. For G.I. Joe, it's more or less the norm - it'll be back some day, but it might be a few years, and it'll be a brief visit to retail until they push the big red button to really bring it back in a bigger, more exciting, and slightly more detailed way.
I guess what I'm saying is this: as a group, we've got it good. We've got lots of options - if Hasbro isn't your liking, there's LEGO or Sideshow or Koto or other similarly rhyming manufacturers cranking out something of interest. There are also thousands of unloved items on eBay for pennies on the dollar which your fellow collector needs to unload - so if you can't be happy with what you have, remember that you can be happy by taking what the other guy has.
I'm also saying this: new Dinobots next month.
Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.