Q&A: Cranky Old Man Rants, Costs, Vintage Wave 7, Lacking Paint

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are your old figures starting to get squeaky and oily? You aren't alone. Is the Droid Gunship a weak toy or is it just you? And will we see figure-with-minivehicles for Episode I next year? Maybe. Hasbro hasn't said. And are vehicles costing more and offering less? All this and a rundown on this past week's new Hasbro releases in this week's Q&A!

1. I recently opened a storage box of figures of mixed lines (I organize by theme, this was my "Galactic Republic" box).

I found that a small number of figures had developed some sort of sticky film on certain parts. Specifically, they were: Qui Gon with his brown cape, Qui Gon without his cape, two Battle of Naboo Queen Amidalas, Senate Plea Queen Amidala and the first Jar Jar Binks figure. The sticky portion were the smoother areas of the mold like the outer cloak or clothes of the figures.

The rest of my figures were fine, so I do not believe the film was due to the environment/storage. The only thing these figures have in common was that each of them was released in the original Episode 1 line. Have you heard of any manufacturing issues specific to this line that would explain this? Could this be due to the occasional defect in product or packaging?

I have heard of the yellowing of stormtroopers and damage to figures over time due to improper storage, but I have not heard from anyone else about this problem.

This doesn't happen to all plastic toys, but it happens often enough that I know I've seen it quite a few times. Around 2002, I noticed a lot of Empire Strikes Back-era Kenner figures either being a little oily or "squeaky" in the joints, and there's absolutely nothing you can do to prevent this from happening. You might notice it on other figures in this and other lines over time. Sticky or oily plastic is part of the materials' aging process, similar to how some white figures (especially from 2002 and 2003) get a little yellowish green on them.

It has nothing to do with heat, cleanliness, sunlight, or care-- it can't be helped. But it can be fixed-- if you wash your figures with mild soap and water, or in some cases just a damp cloth, it can take care of much of the sticky material. I don't have any chemical or technical explanations for it, but if you open your figures this is something you can probably resolve.

2. Am I the only one who thinks that a prime coup for Hasbro would be to make an amazing super-articulated Tusken Raider for the vintage line? I was so underwhelmed with the [VTSC] version. The swivel arms bugged me. The head looked too small (maybe I'm stuck on the vintage Kenner figure with the large head). If they did a Sandperson right -- I'd buy half a dozen.

Depending who you ask at Hasbro (and when) they might tell you existing Vintage "premium" figures from 2004-2007 are perfect and likely not in need of any additional updates, but, as you noticed, they are wrong. That figure sucked, and while it looked nice the figure did pop apart at the elbows if you played at it, which makes any good figure bad. (My carefully posing my figure should not result in its crumbling.)

While I think it would be fantastic, I think it's chances are entirely up to how long "Vintage" sticks around. I figure we'll eventually see Hasbro desire to remake the original 12, as that's something of a big deal and the current 2010-2011 line is pretty lacking in "Star Wars"-logo cardbacks of 1978 characters. I'd buy several Tuskens as well, but I'm not too hopeful for this year. Or next year. But 2015, when the 3D Star Wars hits theaters? I bet that might be likely.

3. The deluxe [Clone Wars figure with vehicle] line is a lot of fun and we've seen some really cool vehicles come out. Do you think we'll see the deluxe carry over into the film line next year? Maybe see some pods for our podracers or maybe at some point some smaller versions of the regular ships?

While I do expect to see some movie vehicles in that style of packaging, my radar seems to believe they'll all be exclusives. It would be an ideal time to update Darth Maul and his Sith Speeder, but beyond that I don't expect much else. (It would be a perfect footprint to reissue various beast toys, but I'm not sure the market wants another Eopie or Opee.) So my guess is yes, the line will continue, but no, don't expect new pods. My guess is Hasbro is going to dust off the 1999 molds for a few vehicles.

4. With the films coming in 3D, there's an expectation that we'll see some new stuff for each film. Hasbro has already cranked out a lot of great stuff over the last few years alone, but I'm sure somebody could make a rather long list of things that haven't been made. However, how much do you really think Hasbro is going to make that's new and how much is just going to be repaints/re-releases?


Hasbro has proven, in its many toy lines, that it prefers to reissue (or retool) a vehicle rather than make an all-new one. Great examples include the bulk of "classic" G.I. Joe since 2007 and Star Wars' offerings since 1995. If the old molds are functional, I expect more of the same-- I fully expect new and improved figures, but things like the Naboo Starfighter and Droid Starfighters are at a stage where what we have is probably acceptable if the figures are designed to sit well.

...I do, however, expect to see more new vehicles in the Jedi Force line if that keeps going. (Jedi Force being the replacement for Galactic Heroes, debuting around August.)

5. I finally found the Droid Gunship vehicle at retail, and upon opening it, I was really struck by how few paint applications it had. It doesn't seem like all that long ago that the vehicles had all sorts of interesting weathering and wear patterns applied. A lot of what made the Vintage molds from the original Kenner era fit in with the modern aesthetic was new, more complex paint schemes. I can kind of understand why some of the Clone Wars vehicles would have a cleaner look (though I really wish my Jedi Speeder had some exhaust streaks or something), but why would Hasbro leave something from the movie line that they obviously poured some time into crafting an intricate sculpt for looking flat and dull for a lack of paint?

Do paint apps really add that much to the production costs? Or is this a stylistic choice?

Everything you add to a toy adds to the cost. Paint apps add up quickly, as do accessories, points of articulation, foil in the packaging, little clear rubber bands, and everything else-- this cost is not absorbed by the manufacturer, it's passed along to you. Sometimes the budget for an item has an extra dime to spare and that might allow for a bit more, but sometimes a penny's worth of paint can make a big difference-- machinery has to be bought, masks need to be made, approvals need to happen, tests need to be done, and so on. One or two small changes can mean more manufacturing costs, slightly higher freight costs, or more safety tests to deal with and those are more expensive than you might think.

Someone who works at a company I am not at liberty to name once pointed out to me that $1 of product material cost may mean a $4 increase to the consumer, give or take. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, as sometimes costs of a toy in an assortment can be mitigated by the other items in the assortment. So a repack, or a repaint, brings down the average development and/or manufacturing costs for a carton of toys, meaning that this has freed up a couple of bucks to make a new toy better, or different, or something in some cases. The frightening thing is that this means the Vintage figure cases being roughly 50% refreshed product, or vehicles being roughly 75% refreshed product, this whole thing is keeping it from being even more expensive. Just be glad lines like Star Wars Transformers and the endlessly repackaged roleplay Lightsabers are helping the brand's balance sheet look good to Hasbro's bean counter corps, ensuring we still get a fairly obscene amount of new figures every calendar year. (What are we up to so far? 25 new Vintage guys in 2011, more or less, and another 13 or so Clone Wars? Nothing to sneeze at.)

So yeah, not your imagination. They're working hard to make good products at attractive prices, and while we feel money is no object, Hasbro can't keep cranking out brand new molds with superb grime and dirt paint operations while meeting their profit targets. Of course, the solution is probably to introduce more repaints, and I'd be very happy to grab a redeco Snowspeeder or a few more TIE Fighters. Like the real Pirate TIE Fighter. If you put a Wampa Skull on your wing, Hasbro, I will buy your toy. And I will keep asking for it as it is an unreasonable thing for me to expect you to do. Where was I? Oh yeah-- things are going to get more expensive as we go along, unless Hasbro makes even more cuts to packaging, deco, articulation, or something. That or unless the line really takes off with kids, like in some ginormous triplicate fashion, as that might help bring costs down due to the lovely Economies of Scale. (An anecdote once relayed to me was that due to its massive popularity and huge production runs, the 1980s G.I. Joe line enjoyed a phase where the packaging actually cost more to stamp out than the action figures. I can't find a source to confirm this though, but you have to admit that it shows the advantage of a toy line having a cultural monopoly over kids for a few years. PS death to Bakugan.)


So, what was new this week? The two Star Tours sets hit Disney parks, and distribution has begun for Star Wars Vintage Wave 7-- I got all of the above, actually. If you're on a budget, I'd suggest you go after the ARC Trooper Commander (Fordo), the Star Tours Travel Agency set, and probably Han Solo in Bespin Outfit first. (From the look of things, Han won't be getting a lot of distribution after wave 7 runs its course.) The interesting thing about the ARC Trooper Commander is that the toy is packaged in the Phase 1 armor configuration, but the figure is painted like the Phase II armor. So the red stripes match the weird helmet seen in season 3 of the original show, and not the "let's do the movie trooper with a fancier helmet and skirt" look of the other armor. So what does this mean to you? When or if Hasbro does a Phase 1 Clone Trooper in red, I'd say it's time to cram the ARC Trooper armor on to that body for a more authentic figure. (I now would very very much like to see Hasbro do that 2011 Vintage Clone Trooper in the same colors it did for the Entertainment Earth exclusive 2005 Clone packs and the 2007 Saga Legends figures.)

Oh and Hasbro-- if you're reading-- please keep the ARC Trooper Commander in circulation. And also please repaint it in blue. Or better yet, put out a gift set with "Fordo," three blue ARC Troopers, and however many plain white clones you'd like. I've got money, I'm buying. My ARC Trooper Gunship thanks you.

Despite just being the 2011 Clone Trooper with new gear and a new head, it's one of my favorite figures of the year. Give me a while before I can add "and all time" to that. I LIKE the new Rebel Fleet Trooper, but I freaking LOVE this new ARC Trooper.

Bom Vimdin-- which is apparently the right spelling now, I've seen it officially at least two or three different ways over the years-- will be posted as FOTD later today. And because I don't think I ever explicitly mentioned it here, I also post non-Star Wars Figure of the Day columns because I hate sleeping.

Oh, I also caught Super 8 over the weekend. Fun flick, very mint. It won't be shattering anybody's world view on movies nor will it break any records, but I assume most of you are probably about the right age of person who might see it and go "yes, yes I liked that." (If you were somewhere near the target demo for Goonies or E.T. this is for you.)

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with Q&A in the subject line.