Q&A: Bongo Fury, Star Wars Merchandising, and Rogue One Threevisited

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 1, 2017

1. Should I just accept that we're probably never getting a Gungan Sub toy for our Hasbro figures? Back in the days of 99, I felt that a toy was kind of a given considering its unique design and that there was a nigh infinite number of Phantom Menace toys. But here we are, nearly twenty years, with nary a Bongo in sight. Perhaps it's time I move on and stop chasing that planet core traversing white rhino.... But at the same time, we have gotten toys of Teemto and a super-articulated Ric Olie, so stranger things have happened. So what do you think? Should I hold out hope for a possible twentieth anniversary release, or just accept that bathtime will never be as fun as it should be?

The short answer: you poor, poor miserable person.

When you take a look at the past decade of vehicles, you'll notice a few patterns - not the least of which is that the prequel era (and its The Clone Wars cousins) have been swept under the rug. As an added bonus, Hasbro had a corporate mandate around 2000 for Power of the Jedi to reduce the amount of product in the first prequel pouch of the line. In 2012 we had our last big push for that movie, and to this day I consider it nothing short of a small miracle that we got an MTT out of it - that was poison and anybody who was the slightest bit of a fan was waiting for it to crash.

The important thing to remember is that Hasbro has also gone out of their way to underpresent Gungans of any kind in this line - it's an area where there's a lot of room for growth and fixing, but we got a couple of Jar Jar Binkses in 2012, plus the Gungan Soldier, and that's about all. It's also worth noting that prior to 2012, unless I'm forgetting one, the last new Jar Jar Binks was 2002. Hasbro no liken Gungans, so don't spect a diverse product offering.

It's important to remember too that The Phantom Menace is about 17 years old, and it has yet to really find an eager younger collector base ready to relive that part of their toy lives. By comparison, Return of the Jedi's once-hated Ewoks were 17 in 2000 - at which point people were asking for more and more Ewoks, although the Ewok train really didn't leave the station until 2007. And we've still got no modern Ewok Village or vehicles other than the glider. I personally don't believe the Prequel Kids will ever be collectors, but thanks to the more diverse & interesting cast of The Clone Wars (read: more than one speaking part for women, tons of bounty hunters) there's more opportunity for that group to be important to our community down the road.

As Hasbro has made very few substantial vehicles of any kind - including the new movies - I don't think you will ever get an action figure scale Gungan Sub of a satisfactory ($30-$50) price point. I just don't see it happening, ever. I would consider it unlikely (but not impossible) for Hasbro to do any new figures from The Phantom Menace in the 3 3/4-inch size that aren't reissues at this point, and without substantial fan demand I can't imagine much in the way of prequel vehicles. I mean, fan petitioning didn't get a Sail Barge off the ground - you're only going to get a Bongo if someone at DisneyLucasFilm or Hasbro champion the idea internally. Since we've had exactly 0 100% new George-era vehicles since the big Disney takeover, I suspect you and I will both be disappointed for a very long time.

It's also worth mentioning other anniversaries, in case you're getting hopeful. Star Wars turns 40 next year, and we're about to see what they do for that. But for the 25h Anniversary of the original movie, we got nothing but a trio of iffy 2-packs. For The Empire Strikes Back at 20, we got nothing. (A few nice vehicles coincided with the 30th, though.) For Return of the Jedi at 20, we got nothing and as far as I can recall we've never had anything specifically made for any of its anniversaries. The Phantom Menace revival came only for its 3-D release with very few new figures coming in over the interim. It's not without good character designs and wonderful ideas for figures, vehicles, and creatures. I'd love a big toy Sando Aqua Monster or Colo Claw Fish. Ain't gonna happen.



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2. What playset/figure/vehicle would you be most surprised to see [from Rogue One] in plastic? I think Bor gullet the mind-rape squid has shot to the top of my list.

As unmade things from the movie go, that's probably the least likely to be made thing I'd be very happy to see as a toy. How do you even sell it? It was weird and creepy and is exactly the kind of thing you need more of in Star Wars.

As far as figures, Bistan is the one I thought would be most likely to be made as a toy by now - but I haven't seen him. I'd love to see more Mon Calamari figures in various colors, too, but at this point I'm assuming that Hasbro is probably winding down the line pretty quickly. Oh, and Blue Leader Antoc Merrick. The Force Awakens was pretty much over and buried by early 2016, with just a couple of waves before calling it a day. Given Rogue One was originally meant to end around March/April, I assume we'll be lucky to get one more batch after the current pre-order wave 3 comes out.

I'm actually kind of surprised Hasbro didn't rise to the bait to finally give us a classic Death Star here - the 40th anniversary of the original movie combined with it appearing in Rogue One would seemingly make it a perfect fit. The only other vehicle/playset from the movie I'd be itching to get is the Ghost, and I don't assume a cameo qualifies you to get a $100-$200 toy these days. Oh, and the Imperial Hovertank, of course. That'd be nice.




3. I remember seeing a clip of George Lucas saying that the merchandise was more profitable than the films, so do you think Disney will take a break after the six films are out for the merchandise to catch up? It is frustrating that so many characters from the force awakens (OT, Prequels, TV) haven't and at this time are likely to be seen.

If you take a big step back and examine the Big Picture, you might get a better idea of what's going on. And that is chaos.

If you were George Lucas, you were in a good position to make a lot of money - you owned the merchandising rights, you owned the sequels. Supposedly Kenner was paying Lucas something like $100,000 per year plus royalties until the early 1990s for exclusive rights to make Star Wars toys. So even when nothing was being made, the story goes, they had to cut George a check to ensure nobody else would be allowed to make anything. Eventually their accounting department decided Star Wars was dead and that was stupid, and then Applause!, JusToys, Galoob, and In Character started to put out figures. That's life for you. If you're George Lucas, you got a lot of money. That's your life - you have many companies working many ways to keep you in plaid shirts and hair gel.

Also, anything you get and don't pay for is profit. Lucas makes the movies and they cost him money. Lucas gets merchandising royalties and doesn't have to do all that much beyond provide a mechanism from which to create new toys.

If you're Disney, it's a little different. It's a much larger company with many many many business interests, from theme parks to cable channels to, of course, merchandising. To keep that massive entertainment machine alive, you need to keep everything going - there are billions of dollars in the movies themselves, and they serve as a toy commercial in addition to employing thousands of people in numerous industries. While I personally think annual Star Wars movies are too much (18-24 months would be my preference), Disney's shareholders demand a return and the Star Wars movie event product for theaters brings them a lot of money. The movies are, in some respects, just one more licensed product like books and comics and video games.

If you've been here forever - and indeed you have - you might recall that we didn't get Slave Leia as a legit action figure for 14 years. Ben Quadinaros took 13 years. And Han Solo in Stormtrooper Disguise for 18 years. We didn't get Grand Moff Tarkin for 20 years. It's been 39 years and we still don't have the Dejarik monsters as real figures, or the Tonnika sisters

We're still in unknown territory - the new regime at Hasbro isn't very chatty or transparent, as they're still learning various ropes and dealing with Disney. The Force Awakens and Rogue One lines were created in a shroud of secrecy before either movie was released - and, of course, the plan was for all of these to be swept off the shelves by March/April for Episode 8 before that movie got pushed back. Things change. So far we didn't see Hasbro save any cool new The Force Awakens figures for the Rogue One launch*, but Hasbro didn't know much about those characters when the line was developed. Now they do - so we're more likely to see them return for Episode 8 because Hasbro knows a lot more than they did 2 years ago. Specifically, which characters are popular, and returning, and would serve well as line filler (or indeed the launch line-up) for the next movie. Who wouldn't be excited to see new versions of returning characters from The Force Awakens come September? I'm excited. I want some monsters and droids and aliens, and now it's Hasbro's move.

To touch on the other issues about the last movie, the same goes for girl figures. Hasbro has learned a lot - specifically that the movie for which they were making toys had a lady hero - and has really come out swinging for Rogue One. But hey, we got Phasma! I'm still somewhat shocked we got several Jyn Erso figures already, and hopefully Hasbro will hit the ground running with Rey and Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran and, if the rumors are true, Billie Lourd.

I won't deny there are a few characters - I hesitate to agree with "so many" - to do as action figures. I don't enjoy the game of "Let's identify every Imperial officer and Rebel pilot that isn't already a toy," but I'm all for distinctive aliens, easy droid repaints, and the few - very few - unique main character variations left unmade or un-upgraded. A break in the action so Hasbro has time to catch its breath would be great, but Hasbro also needs to be reminded - consistently - that there are 1980s Kenner-era figures yet left out of the modern era. They'll keep making as long as you keep buying, although it's looking like it might not be all that you want.

* - Yes I know they did Kylo and Rey with new heads, Poe in a uniform nobody saw in the movie, and a variant pauldron Snowtrooper. They are not cool.




Since the original trilogy, we've had schisms. Some fans loved the first movie, but didn't feel the sequels. Those who were young enough to take in Return of the Jedi with fresh eyes may have loved the Ewoks, but maybe not the subsequent telefilms. And some of us loved the cartoons and Ewok movies. And then some of us did or didn't like the prequels. It goes on like this. I'm starting to get rumblings of of some fans who loved Rogue One so much that they seem to be disavowing The Force Awakens, which I find interesting. I'd say so far it definitely seems that older fans who seem to crave Star Wars as a wholly serious fan experience are going for Rogue One, and despite the fact that the movie's message is ultimately "hope," The Force Awakens does seem to offer more of it. It has a future - we know where Rogue One goes, which is and probably always will be the danger of prequels. The rare joy of being able to watch a movie and not know how it might end is exceedingly rare in the blockbuster era, where things like contract negotiations can reveal who can or can't die before the first frame is captured in zeroes and ones.

I just watched Rogue One three times, and then watched The Force Awakens again. Again. It holds up! It's almost silly to say, being so soon, but it's a very different experience with fewer eyebrow-raising trips through the digital and even practical uncanny valley. (Hey, just because you're in make-up doesn't mean you look as much like Dr. Evazan.) When it comes to my favorite corporate franchise entertainment properties, I certainly do get joy of new worlds and new stories - I liked it when Star Trek went in directions with new crews and ships that I couldn't predict. Seeing new characters in the prequels helped open that world a bit, but we were mired in the past for so long.

Seeing Carrie Fisher recreated as a puppet made of zeroes and ones, most likely voiced by a take of a speech recorded in a sound booth 40 years ago, certainly felt like a weird detour or worse, a sneak preview of things to come. For those not following sequel movie news, and I don't consider this a spoiler, but Episode VIII has finished filming. Not knowing how the final edit will turn out, we still don't know if the movie planned to include Leia in a great capacity, or if they were going to let her gracefully retire on a small moon somewhere, or my hope would be to go on some sort of holovid news channel with her dog giving everybody a hard time and generally acting more like Carrie Fisher on a talk show. But that'd be my dream. It wouldn't surprise me if we ended up with reshoots to tweak the story at this point.

It's really surreal to see the younger cast of Star Wars start to age, which was one of the things that made me cringe about a sequel trilogy - I knew the actors were going to die, but coming face to face with the strong probability of seeing the characters grow old and outlive their narrative usefulness never sat well with me. We don't get "happily ever after" in life, ever - decry the clapping Ewoks all you want, but we got nearly three decades of not having to worry that someone was gunning for Leia, Han, and Luke. (Well, Expanded Universe aside.)

One more tangent - I'm not a big autograph person, the list of people I stood in line to sign something is pretty short. Armin Shimmerman. Jane Goodall. Michael Dorn. Steve Sansweet. Carrie Fisher. I also got to meet Alice Cooper when I was working at a toy store once, but that's another digression. We wouldn't be so excited to meet these people if they didn't mean something to us, and we wouldn't be so sad when they left us for the same reason. We lost a lot of complete and total strangers who meant a lot to us in the last year, and as we turn the calendar to a new page we're about to start the list all over again. Make your year count. Be grateful for your health if you've got it.

--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.