Q&A: Disney Issues Times Three, Ships, Droids, Star Wars Fun Galore

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 11, 2015

1. was wondering about your thoughts on the figures/ mini-statues for Disney Infinity. Generally speaking I prefer more articulation in figures (and realize that time has passed, pretty much), but as we seem to be returning to 5 POA I've begun to re-think that. They're a little pricey at $14 a pop, but they really seem to capture the essence of the character (I think the Ahsoka is the best figure of her made yet, capturing her attitude perfectly), and in some cases — like Yondu or Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, they're the only shot you're going to get at owning a figure of certain characters. That probably won't ever be the case with Star Wars, granted, but they're almost to scale with 3.75" figures and co-exist nicely with them on the shelves. Your thoughts?

To paraphrase one of my heroes, I am absolutely the wrong audience for this kind of toy. Don't care. Enjoy yourself. (Also a comic Yondu just got announced this week.)

Toys follow trends - and Star Wars hasn't been on the leading part of a trend for quite some time, if ever. This is what the kids want now - or at least, this is what they're being told they want. Action figures as we know them are kind of antiquated - as are we. Figural representations of popular characters change with the times and the 3 3/4-inch action figure is one that has come and gone - mostly gone - since the decline of Star Wars and G.I. Joe. They still appeal to collectors and to some parents, plus fans carrying the torch for that kind of product not unlike those of us who also love 8-bit video games, vinyl records, and cheap comics on newsprint.

Much like cheap comics on newsprint are a relic, so are traditional action figures. They still have a place, but the trend is currently toward "collectible" figures that feature some electronic component. I remember when CommTech first hit and I found out it was wirelessly transmitting a few kilobytes of data, I immediately thought it would be awesome to adapt this to some sort of toy to function as a game cartridge - after all, Atari VCS games are teensy. You could put nearly anything in a figure and use the toy as a form of DRM and/or fancy packaging. It's really nifty - but is it worth re-re-restarting a collection? Probably not.

Since its purchase by Disney, Star Wars has gone from being Lucasfilm's most popular property to one of Disney's properties - it's no longer where they drive their business, it's just one of many things in a portfolio that may be a big success (Marvel) and may be neglected as soon as the shine wears off (Muppets). So we are right now going to see stylized figures in their gaming platform - it is what it is. I'm fascinated by the idea of taking something I hate (game DLC) and packaging it in a form I love (toys), but these aren't - to me - toys. They're statues, and in games that I've played where you DO use them deploying your collection can be a cumbersome ordeal. I assume the "collectible" (scalped) ones will be cheap later and the boring, easily-found ones will be desired down the road but who can say for sure? Without the software functioning in a few years - and let's be honest, we're in an era where internet-powered gaming means that our favorite software will go dark sooner than later (see: Wii everything, Xbox everything). This format may allow some games to retain functionality long after the server plugs are pulled, and believe you me, they're coming down eventually.

The figures themselves are nice - but after collecting this stuff for most of my life and now also writing about it for over half of my life, I don't care to be the person to carry the torch for a new scale that is, most likely, going to burn itself out before 3 3/4-inch ends for good. $14 for a figure I can't play with in my toy vehicles? Don't care. Enjoy yourself.



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2. Do you think there's a chance that the [Disney theme park] R6, R8, R9, and now R0 domes will ever show up on droids sold outside the parks? Would EE, or another retailer, ever be interested in doing multipacks? I ask as I do truly feel it's unfair for people with no other choice to spend up to $35 per unique astromech.

There's a lot to unpack here, so let me just start unpacking.

The Theme Park Droids are usually there for months or years. If you watch eBay prices do jump up and down, and I remember the first 25 domes (and matching bodies) were up on eBay for a little over $100 above the park's asking price for those very figures. "Scalping," you say - I disagree as a lazy collector. Going to Disney costs $100 a head, plus parking, transportation, overpriced lunch, time off of work, and heaven help you if you need a hotel or have a family to bring with you. It's very rare that I say this, but when it comes to park or convention exclusives it is worth costing it out to see what the trip is worth against your time, money, and patience. Or if you have a good friend or two (Hi Mike! Hi Shannon!) willing to help out once in a while. I'm seeing complete droids on eBay for about $23 shipped - given the droid itself is about $13, plus tax (about $1.04), plus shipping ($5-6), $23 meets my teeth-gritting "reasonable" mark.

We do not for 100% know the story behind development. The 2012 batch uses the same parts that Hasbro used with new domes - right down to the copyright markings, these were the same. Some Hasbro people told me they had no hand in these - which doesn't make a lot of sense to me, given the tooling was clearly the same. The 2015 batch has new bodies, new legs, and new feet - none of the parts are identical to the ones Hasbro used, and none of the packaging of these droids feature a Hasbro logo or trade information. It is possible these are not Hasbro products - and if that's the case, these exact tools cannot be used for Hasbro products.

There's nothing keeping Hasbro from making these droids (with different tools, I assume) in their own lines. As you know many businesses (cough cough) do not want unsolicited ideas for products or exclusives for various legal reasons - and Disney proper has started doing 4-packs for $30 (rumored to increase to $40) with more possible. It ain't bad. But right now as far as I know, those parts may not be available to Hasbro as they're exclusive to Disney.

I would prefer there to be no exclusives. ...Is what I would have said about 15 years ago, now I'm sort of in the other camp - I think exclusives are a pain in the neck, but if you really look at the lines since 2006 the exclusives are usually the easiest items to find. Main line items are harder to get, so there's a real advantage to knowing where to buy something - networking is a nuisance, but I've had to make deals with people via mail order since I was like 9. You might have to do the same, until Hasbro decides to release these very figures in its own line.

I completely agree that $35 per droid is madness. But if you watch eBay over the years, you can probably get a complete set of every droid they've ever had at Disney parks for about $20 delivered if you are patient and strike at the proper moment. When I started writing about toys in 1995, I would never have said this - but now that we've gone from dozens of figures to thousands, the notion of getting every release at your local store with its diminishing toy department space seems unlikely and now we have to jump through hoops. If tomorrow Hasbro offered the same droids as the Disney parks in a big box, I'd be delighted - but here's the thing, it diminishes Disney's exclusive. If I were an online store with an exclusive figure (hypothetically speaking) I would be unhappy to see that same figure sold elsewhere while I am still attempting to sell my inventory down. Especially if I were a smaller store that doesn't have millions of customers buying food, sunscreen, hats, some Dole pineapple thing, or Jack Sparrow masks every day. So as a fan, and as a business, the only real solution is to hope after an exclusive runs its course, the droids make it out in another format somehow. With Hasbro effectively staking its super-articulated droid offerings along with the other figures, the number of retailer accounts who are interested - let alone excited - to order a sizable number of the exact same robots you yourself can buy on eBay for a small mark-up today would be pretty small. Which is how I am saying "I would never, ever want to put money behind rereleasing a toy that already exists when I could make something new instead."

I dislike buying marked-up toys on eBay, but this year I had to snag a couple of items there and the markup wasn't horrible. $20 for a $13 robot could be a lot worse, and I think our thousands of figures helps keep the prices down - nobody really wants to shell out $100 for a robot repaint, so supply and demand keeps R4-D23 and R2-D60 at prices that aren't as painful as they would have been 20 years ago. Seriously, if this were 1995, they'd be $100 and heaven help you if there's a packaging variant. While you contemplate selling your soul or supporting a scalper, also remember the once good-as-gold Jorg Sacul figures are worth about twenty bucks nowadays.




3. Who determines the action figure case assortment ratios? Would Disney say to Hasbro, "This is our main bad guy, and we think the kids will love him, so you should make lots more of him."? Or would Hasbro, looking over pics of the characters, and some Disney blurb, make their own judgment?

It varies from line to line. It's very rarely the licensor, and almost always the manufacturer - how the product is sold (assortment or not) is generally none of the licensor's concern, unless it's a special item like an exclusive.

Just this year I met the person at Playmates who does it for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and interestingly he's been with Playmates since the original line and is still doing it today - and he's retiring soon. At Hasbro it seems to be a group effort. At McFarlane, cost had a lot to do with it - rather than do what Mattel and Hasbro usually do (i.e., all figures need to hit a target cost) McFarlane used to weigh the entire case. Malebolgia's relatively higher price made him a shortpacked candidate, a "loss leader" of sorts to sell more cases and generate more interest in the line. And it worked for a while!

Disney could say to Hasbro "this is the main guy, just so you know" and obviously, they did - but the case ratios I've seen so far on ever case has been surprisingly even. Given Kylo Ren is getting repacked with a new weapon in wave 2 already, I assume we're dealing with a new school of thought and I'm not sure how it's going to play out. Hasbro hasn't actively courted evenly-packed cases of action figures since The Legacy Collection, so we're in new territory here. Also, I don't doubt Disney won't tell Hasbro everything - I assume Zuvio is not going to be a character with a lot of screen time, but it's a compelling design. Hasbro might just be hedging their bets on Kylo Ren while diversifying the rest of its portfolio during the (frankly) unusually large 3-month gap between the toy launch and the movie, and we know licensed story-based products are not expected to hit shelves until the movie's release as well. It's possible we're going to see a ton of new toys in 2016 or 2017 based on the stuff Disney won't even tell Hasbro, assuming (of course) the whole buzz surrounding the notion that the toys we have now are from the first third of the film is indeed not another Khan-style misdirection.




Hey, I got the new 2-packs! They're not really Mission Series, but they cost more and have guns you don't need. Other than that, they're pretty awesome. I also got the new Millennium Falcon. I'm still going through my September 4 stuff!

The new Falcon is the size of the older ones - so if you were a 1980s or 1990s kid, it's like that. The retractable landing gear is gone, there is no access ramp. There are, however, tons of fun play features which actually work. The Nerf Dart launcher is a well-integrated gag that works. The launcher really screams across a room, quickly and with quite a punch. It has storage for 4 darts, but only includes 2. The mandibles open on the sides for storage, and you can cram other stuff in there - guns, backpacks, smaller figures. There are no smuggling compartments, so it's a good substitute.

Figures can sit in the cockpit, it's a tight and overlapping fit but it is big enough for Chewie and Finn. The gunner station pops out and has a light-up targeting computer, but the fact that it was designed to fit really tall figures works for me - you can stand and use this feature.

I didn't like the radar dish because it's a 1-piece item that rotates weakly - it's clunky. On the bright side, the many sounds work well and are pretty noisy. There's a motion sensor thing so the ship's sounds change as it banks left and right when you pretend to fly it around your house, and it completely lacks any sort of voices of characters. I have to assume Hasbro had few to no plot points regarding the ship, so we got some figures and a ship that looks like the new ship - the various aspects of the interior are nothing we haven't seen in the movies. There's a medical bed and a fake hallway, plus plenty of foot pegs.

The plastic used here works well and is closer in feel to the carry case shaped like the Millennium Falcon from the 1990s, which was a pretty rotten case. This gives the plastic a little more flexibility, and Hasbro exploited the material well in the back half cover. It fits quite nicely, and without much of a fight. Removing it, however, causes the gunner station to deploy. Other than that, it's pretty great - it's peppered in foot pegs, plus you get a BB-8 in this set. It's fun enough, even without light-up engines.

Because it's $140, those of you with one (or let's be honest three or more) Millennium Falcons may not need this. It's a really fun toy, just expensive - at $80-$100 I think you'd all enjoy it. I bet it'll sell well because it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the market prices of the existing models. It should do well with or without us, because it is the ship and it hasn't been widely available in quite some time. Since the last release of the Falcon we've had a mixed bag of new big ships - the Turbo Tank, MTT, AT-AT, and Republic Attack Shuttle come to mind. Few vehicles span multiple movies - and multiple decades - to the point where they are, in and of themselves, a legend and named on screen. While I am sure there is some griping that we don't have a new Sail Barge instead, this ship should sell well. I'd be surprised if it doesn't - after all, kids born in or after 2005 probably never had access to a toy Falcon widely in their lifetime with its final release as a $250 exclusive repack that came and went pretty quick. 10-year-olds are finally getting a shot at a vehicle that we've taken for granted, so here's another chance - it's smaller, too. I won't say you'll love it, but I'm having a lot of fun with it. It makes me pretty happy. It could be better, but so could the 2008 Legacy version. If you've got the funds and like toys you can pick up and play with, get one.

--Adam Pawlus

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