Q&A: Dead Droids Aren't Much Fun, Minor Characters, and Droids

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 19, 2017

1. I have a couple questions this time around. When a movie like Star Wars kills off a large portion of it's main characters, does this bode unwell in regards to sales of toys or action figures of those characters? It would seem like that would have an impact on sales and overall playability for a child. Do you have any numbers to indicate whether or not this is true with Rogue One? If I were a child, I feel like it may have impacted my interest in those toys.

Also, as a fan, I am sure that you have debated various plot points and character development in the Star Wars universe. It seems like evil characters are not as evil as they once were and backstories are created in order to have a higher level of sympathy and understanding for the choices that the bad guys make. With that being said, what are your thoughts on Maul? I would absolutely love to see his arc on Rebels end with a sacrifice for the greater good or something pointing in that direction. They have provided enough information to have that kind of an ending play out for him. Another fight with Obi-Wan? Eh, they can do better than that with the complexity of the character. What are your thoughts?

Last, but not least. Is there anything toy related on the horizon for Dungeons & Dragons: The Animated Series? I see some decent interest for it on various Facebook sites, etc. but still not even a Funko line. I think that series and some of the other 80's stars (Blackstar, Crystar, Bravestarr, to name a few) are deserving of some modern love.

Historically death has not inhibited Hasbro's ability to make or sell product. Darth Vader continues to do well, as does Boba Fett. Hasbro famously brought Optimus Prime back to life after killing him off in the original Transformers: The Movie, and now the character dying and eventually coming back are basically baked in to the narrative. Star Wars blows up so many characters that it seems they can't possibly hurt popularity.

Given how Hasbro treats its big licensed brands right now, it's almost moot. With Rogue One, we lose a few characters - but the bulk of the toy sales happen before anyone sees the movie, and like The Force Awakens the line is basically over by its release. We've still got a 4-pack and a wave's worth of figures, but that's it for this window (as far as we know). Do kids even have time to react? Do kids even want action figures? That's hard to say - the shorter selling windows basically require people pounce or miss out, as the classic "you only get a toy for Birthday or Christmas" scenario isn't helpful to sell toys if the kid hasn't seen the movie to ask Santa yet or doesn't enjoy a timely birthday.

Hasbro doesn't release sales numbers on specific products, although we had been informed that Bladebuilders outperformed action figures for The Force Awakens, which had considerably fewer deaths and considerably fewer 40something fans fawning over it. The money has been slowly creeping away from action figures since the prequels, where the electronic roleplay lightsabers were usually the #2 or #3 best-selling item for the movie. With few lightsabers, it's possible something else took top position for Rogue One but that information hasn't made it to my ears yet.

Kids don't exist in the same bizarre media/merchandise complex we enjoyed as the original Star Wars generation. Movie licensing was a new thing, and with fewer TV channels, no internet, and a massive audience from comic books to which to advertise, you could more easily sustain someone's attention. If Kenner made a toy, it would be sold for a few years before being discontinued - now, six months would be a long lifespan for a successful product. I never liked them bringing back Darth Maul. Boba Fett seemed to be easier to make an excuse to bring back to life, what with his armor and jetpack. Sure, he could get out of a pit. Lucas commented about how he found it funny that fans and licensors felt the need to bring him back, and shortly after that we got to see Darth Maul cut in half and thrown down a bottomless pit. Obviously he approved on some level of bringing him back, but given the nature of the Force, sensing things, and having your excretory organs removed, he should by all accounts remain dead. Unless there's a robot butt and wang in that spider suit, and from now on I'm going to assume that there is, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Darth Maul wasn't much of a character in the first place - he was just a top-notch henchman who showed up, fought, said little, and died. Boba Fett is very similar in most respects, and it's good for business. People love to fawn over these guys. Was it worthwhile? Probably. I don't think it was a good idea to bring him back at all. You could have done most of his arc with Asajj Ventress in his place - at least that would have been more satisfying to see.

As far as I know none of the 1980s properties you've mentioned have anything licensed on the horizon. Sometimes the only way these items come back are because fans make it happen - Rocks and Bugs and Things and Robo-Force got new lines recently because a fan tracked down the licenses and bought the brands outright. MadBalls is currently enjoying what I assume is a brief comeback from many companies after a few false starts. Funko does a lot, but not everything - usually the licensor still has to want to do something, and part of the problem is that not everybody is completely sure who owns what. There's decent interest in Blackstar but there's probably more interest in even the most obscure idea from Star Wars. As such, I'd suggest fans get on it and do their digging to find out who owns it, ask the license holder to do something, or even get the license themselves and give it a try.

It's important to never say never, but it's also important to realize that as the fans for a property enter their 30s, 40s, and 50s that it's unlikely to get a comeback. Not impossible - but you're going to need help from the new generation. See: Batman 1966. Also Star Wars - without kids seeing the movies on VHS, the 1990s toy revival likely would've been pushed back a few years. This is why I wouldn't say Dungeons & Dragons' animated adventures are an impossibility, but unless Hasbro decided to build a massive licensing campaign around it? I'm not hopeful.



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2. With the success of Rogue One and related to Star Wars A New Hope Episode IV, it has the potential of Hasbro taking advantage and producing so many figures. From Rebel leaders/pilots/soldiers to Imperial leaders(A new Tarkin), Tie fighters, X-wings, even a partial playset of the Death Star. Why do think Hasbro has not gotten off their feet and produce more figures of Aliens, Rebel Leaders, Imperial Leaders, starship vehicles, playset, or a new version of Ponda baba and Dr. Evazan from Rogue One?

Very likely, depending on timing. That is, you'd have to either wait, or be happy with what you've got. The rumors of Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba showing up in Walmart's The Black Series assortment are strong, and if that happens pretty much anybody could be potentially reissued were Hasbro so inclined (and the tools were in good working order).

Rogue One was planned to be a short line from day one. The original plan was to have it basically end right around now, because the line for The Last Jedi would have had its "Force Friday" in March - after all, the movie was scheduled to be released in May when Rogue One product was being developed. Disney wanted the line to start and end in time for the next film, six months later, which sort of can be a problem - you start to cannibalize your own sales and marketing with too-frequent releases.

Hasbro can only make what Disney reveals to them - and generally speaking Hasbro needs 12-18 months to make something. I don't assume Hasbro gets to see workprints or final edits, they just get to see whatever character designs Lucasfilm and Disney deem worthy to share - which is why we're getting some pretty bizarre character choices. Maybe Lt. Sefla had a bigger role at one point, but I doubt it. The lack of vehicles and playsets is consistent with industry trends, although the lack of items that could have pulled double duty as Rogue One toys as well as 40th Anniversary product is a little unfortunate. But, again, remember that the entire plan for Rogue One was that it wouldn't be a long line and it wouldn't be as kid-friendly. It may not mean you're happy with the end result, but at least it makes sense from a development perspective.

It's my sincere hope that Hasbro has designs for more aliens and Rebels, and hopefully brings them out alongside new movie figures in years to come. Who doesn't want Blue Squadron pilots?

Given the bizarre scenario of short selling seasons and annual movies, Hasbro did a good job. Given the expectations of having figures of nearly everybody... that takes time. Hasbro did a decent job getting prequel figures mostly made in the first year or two, but it took over a decade to get all the major Pod Racer pilots out. This could be a similar situation.




3. Hi question was there any droid from the EE set you wanted to do but was rejected? And what was the idea behind using the R2 vintage mode over build a droid ?

Yes, actually! But I'm not sure what falls in the area of telling tales out of school or not. So I'm not going to be able to go into specifics at this time, but maybe down the road. I've been in the business for a while and I'm still not entirely sure who's at liberty to say what in these situations. I will say that the original pitch was a different packaging type with a different droid types and varying molds, with 5 of the 6 final droid characters in the set were in my wish list. One of the goals of the project was to not include any character that would be in circulation at a theme park, which did result in a couple of revisions thanks to last year's Disney droids. It's an interesting story. I assume the tooling decisions were made based on availability of tools - that is, one tool for a whole set is easier to handle than multiple tools - but as that information was not shared with me, that's just a guess on my part. (That's more or less how the Clones concept came to be, getting the biggest bang out of the resources at hand.)




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So... Toy Fair! As of my writing this, I'm about 36 hours form being in New York for Toy Fair. If I have time I'll tweak this based on what happens at the show, but if not you're getting precooked commentary here.

There's a lot of newness thanks to the 40th Anniversary line-up, and it's one I hope fans enjoy - as has been a running theme here, the audience for toys has changed significantly since many of us started collecting 20, 30, or even 39 or so years ago. Getting a new movie before we got all the best characters from the previous one has been a tradition since the very beginning, with Boba Fett and Bespin Luke seeing plastic nearly 17 years before Grand Moff Tarkin. As the story surrounding Star Wars expands, so does the character roster. This invariably causes problems with the fans, splintering the fanbase with different - and in some cases, more organized - voices clamoring for things that the collecting community may not agree with. Specifically, we all want to finish our original trilogy Kenner collection remakes, and people that love games and books want toys from those - canon status be damned. Fans of Rebels feel the show is being underpromoted and underserved - and they're not wrong. I'd say even The Force Awakens and Rogue One remain goldmines that have the potential to really engaged 3 3/4-inch collectors if only Disney, Hasbro, and Lucasfilm would embrace the weirdness that made the original toy line so gosh-darned appealing. Those strange aliens and robots were why I got in to chasing these things down in the first place. Luke and Leia or Han were who introduced me to the toys, but Hammerhead, Greedo, Walrus Man, and Squid Head were the things that kept me coming back long after the line left stores and drove me to flea markets and garage sales.

Similarly, if you've picked up DK Publishing's exquisite guide books on the new films you'll see jaw-dropping selections of every character that you never knew you wanted as an action figure - and these weren't even based on the final cuts! Scores of Rebel pilots, hordes of denizens of Maz Kanata's castle, sweet new vehicles, and enough stuff to keep us in figures for at least another decade (especially if you throw Rebels in the mix.) But that's not where things are necessarily going right now, thanks to the obligatory drag that are most "anniversary" lines. You celebrate the core crew, which is usually an easy sale to lapsed fans and souvenir seekers, but long-term fans will roll their eyes, grit their teeth, and maybe make the purchase. The problem is there are significantly more new and lapsed fan than there were collectors. Back in the 1990s, we were mostly all on the same page as wanting stuff from three specific movies, and anything else was gravy or met with resistance. Believe it or not, kids of the 90s, a lot of fans loathed Shadows of the Empire for daring to have toys prior to (insert name of original trilogy character here). This sort of thing will continue as long as there are new stories, new fans, and the slow-drop collector-unfriendly character selection of 3 3/4-inch figures that probably makes good sense for a wide audience but does little to recruit or retain people who read (and write) columns like this one. Don't get me wrong, I like the new stuff but I'm not getting enough of it on a regular basis. 3-4 waves of 4-7 figures per year all clustered in Fall and maybe Winter does little to keep the coals burning. I need to be engaged every 1-2 months.

What would make me the happiest is if Hasbro announced some sort of new commitment to the 3 3/4-inch line (and even the 6-inch line) as a year-round program. Force Friday in September is good. New waves in October, November, December, and/or January is certainly very nice. It would be even nicer if the program could continue for the spring and summer with classic characters from home video, video games, or other outlets with a few (let's say two) collector figures in the mix every year. If you think I'm being a master of understatement, I'm not - if it weren't for astromech droids, the number of new pre-Disney-era figure sculpts in the last two years is very small. And that was a left over figure that got delayed and made as an exclusive.

I don't see anything wrong with what Hasbro is delivering during the times it's being delivered. It would be nice to see what it would take to get more stuff, more frequently, and maybe at a slightly lower price with fewer rocket-firing accessories. $8-$9 stings a bit, but $5-$6 was a low enough price where I just went ahead and purchased enough Stormtroopers from Rebels to stuff my Imperial Troop Transport vehicle. Seeing Hasbro bring back figures like Agent Kallus, Chopper, Hera, Season One Sabine, and even Han Solo or Luke Skywalker would be welcome in the drought that has replaced Star Wars with the very enjoyable Transformers and Marvel toys. They're nice, but I don't collect super heroes - I buy a few, sure, but the only thing that really gets me obsessively stalking toy stores (rather than merely compulsively stalking them) is new Star Wars. I like what Hasbro has previewed - I assume you will as well - but what I really want to know is if the era of the 3 3/4-inch action figure is something we can only enjoy for new movie seasons, or if it's just an oversight that we now go about six months every year with few to no new releases. Seeing the trends in the business, I am not optimistic - those new metal figures are nifty, and there should be an audience for them, but they're not for the fan who has 2,000 or more figures from the last couple of decades. That fan is waiting for something brand new, perhaps even something that they don't know the name of just yet.

--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.