Q&A: Droids, 3 3/4-Inch Star Wars Figures, and New Statues

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 19, 2017

1. My kids run away from buying 6 inch Star Wars figures. I notice only collectors buy those figures. My children only buy and play with 3 3/4 inch action figures from Star Wars. I am relieved that I don't have to buy so many action figures in a year, but still I missed buying new 3 3/4 inch action figures for my children. I remember buying three BMF, not knowing I will have another kid. My daughter enjoyed hers, my is in a box but the third one waited for my son to be born. My son loves his BMF and plays with it often, all his cousins and nephews are jealous that he has one and they don't. So my question is concerning the future of 3 3/4 inch action figures in Star Wars.

Who do you know in Hasbro that I need to send a letter about producing more 3 3/4 inch action figures from all the Star Wars films?

I would advise sending a letter in to Hasbro's general address care of the Star Wars team. One letter probably won't make a big difference, but lots of them will.

It's great that your kids are buying 3 3/4-inch figures - which thanks to the massive existing inventory out there, I assume this will be a consistently popular and dominant format - and your enthusiasm is always welcome.

...having said that, I tend to advise against buying toys for hypothetical offspring. It's generally not great to thrust your tastes on to your kids, because they might go in another direction - trust me, I've purchased some mighty fine toys over the years at pretty good prices that had a backstory of "I bought these for my kids and they grew up to not care about this at all." So the good news (or bad news) is that you can always flip these if your kid doesn't care for it, plus I'm not sure how well some of these things are going to age. Toys may discolor just because of time, even if properly stored.

I know this may seem like a jerky thing for me to keep saying, but I've heard similar things about parents with video games too. No child - not a one - deserves to be subjected to Atari 2600 games because you had a thing for Yar's Revenge. Action figures are a nifty toy, but that's one of the strange things about being an adult still holding on to a consumer good meant for children - specifically, the issue of if it's really good for kids or not, and if so, which versions? LEGO seems to be top dog with kids - and a lot of collectors - these days, so if you really want to do your future kid a solid you might want to stash some of those. Worst case scenario, you either sell them as there seems to be an undying market or he can strip them for parts and make something else.



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2. As many old timers are, I am a fan of the expanded universe. I had been hoping for 3 3/4" scale action figures of the stars of Marvel's revival of the Star Wars comics, especially 0-0-0 & BT-1, the sadistic protocol droid and the homicidal blastomech that debuted in the now ended Darth Vader series and have continued in the current Doctor Aphra series.

It turns out that the first representation of these droids comes from an unusual place. Kotobukiya is offering a set of 0-0-0 & BT-1 for preorder to be released to coincide with Star Wars Celebration. In general I like my plastic action figures short and cheap (and well-distributed!), but in this case, I ordered a set (the first time I have ever ordered from Kotobukiya) as it really seems there is little chance that Hasbro has the interest in expanded universe outside Rebels.

Here is my question: Is it unprecedented for characters to make their first appearance in plastic in a line made by a company other than Hasbro/Kenner? If not, who are the precedents?

This just seems like an indication that Hasbro has totally dropped the ball. If they had made these characters in plastic, I would have bought them (at a substantially lower price) and been happy.

And I've been wanting a legitimate Vlix of my own since 1985. That hasn't gone too well. Hasbro took 20 years to put out Tarkin. An unlicensed metal Bantha came out in the 1970s before Hasbro did one in 1997. Hasbro did get us a Lumiya a few years ago, though. Sometimes you get what you want.

If you want to use facts for whatever conclusion you wish to draw, you may - I wouldn't recommend it, but there are lots of instances where Hasbro wasn't first with something. Or, at least, it wasn't first as a 3 3/4-inch action figure. There are a few Galactic Heroes figures from Revenge of the Sith - Clones and at least one Wookiee come to mind - that have yet to be produced as a 3 3/4-inch action figure. Galoob's old Action Fleet and MicroMachines lines have some figures that came out long before Kenner or Hasbro - and some, like one of the Tonnika sisters, remain exclusive to that format. There's also a 6-inch red Stormtrooper from Hasbro, with no 3 3/4-inch equivalent.

It would be inappropriate to say "Hasbro dropped the ball" in this kind of product development. There's a big difference between "Hasbro didn't make what I want" - which I would argue is what this is - and Hasbro missed a tremendous opportunity. For example, like forgetting to put a Darth Vader in the line one year or deciding it wasn't worth manufacturing FX Lightsabers for a year.

Depending on the era, we also saw items in the RPG miniatures first from West End Games and Wizards of the Coast. Galoob's Epic Collections (the little line that came in small book boxes) predated the Kenner Expanded Universe branding of 1998, and it's jam-packed with stuff we never saw out of Hasbro in any size - the same is true of the 1996 Galoob Shadows of the Empire line-up. Gentle Giant and Sideshow occasionally get something out that Hasbro hasn't yet done.

Is the Hasbro 3 3/4-inch line largely being dictated by what's new from Disney? Yes. Are there a lot of examples of other companies doing something before Hasbro did an action figure? Yes. Are these things really related in any way? No. For many of us, the Kenner/Hasbro 3 3/4-inch action figure lines represent the default of what it means to collect Star Wars, but as expansive and all-encompassing as the line may seem? It's never covered everything. Sometimes a figure will appear in the 12-inch format first. Sometimes it will debut as a Galactic Heroes figure. Once in a blue moon it'll be a statue - and it's telling to me that you forgot to mention Funko, and I almost forgot it. The Pop! Vinyl line of bobble heads is loaded with figures that don't exist in any size from Hasbro, and the same can be said about LEGO too. Conversely, there's a lot in Hasbro that nobody else has done yet too - but right now the pendulum is swinging away from Hasbro, so it's easier to focus on their shortcomings. I'm not a big fan of how Hasbro has come up short marketing 3 3/4-inch figures - even/especially the kid figures - to collectors, but that's where we're at now. Hopefully we'll see more emphasis on the format in future Hasbro presentations to fans, because even if the trajectory remains unchanged at least we know that the format is attempting to be engaged with collectors.

I know it's hard for a lot of us to remember, but the glory days of the 3 3/4-inch line basically peaked from 2007-2010. As soon as The Legacy Collection ended, we saw a very hard shift away from the Expanded Universe and even from obscure characters in general. Once The Vintage Collection restarted, we went a few waves with zero new characters and few new costume changes. It wasn't until Wooof in wave 3 that we saw someone completely new to the modern-era line (1995-present), and the Weequay Skiff Master in wave 6 was probably the first completely new character. I'm not saying that you have no reason to complain, but really while we were all (mostly) happy to see vintage packaging return, a lot of fans ignored the fact that there weren't many new/good figures. Because you guys are easy. The Black Series was largely devoid of newness, too, but you'd be surprised how rarely I ever received complaints on that topic from 2010 to, well, now. People complained a lot more during the previous lines when diversity and massive accessories were at an all-time high for generally being awesome.

For the time being, Hasbro seemingly has zero interest in Marvel's stories or the Expanded Universe at large - it's mostly just TV and movie stuff. And that's not the worst thing, because as an old timer myself I know a lot of fans will scream bloody murder if a comic or video game figure comes out and "steals a slot" from a movie figure that hasn't been made yet. Let's all sit back and watch the fireworks when 6-inch Jaina Solo comes out. If Kotobukiya puts out something that Hasbro has elected to ignore - for example, the pilot Jaina Solo figure - fans could/should use that opportunity to remind Hasbro that they missed somebody. But they don't. They didn't even make all that big of a stink about the Tonnika sister back in the 1990s when Galoob made her. I also doubt we're going to see any groundswell from the action figure collecting base for any specific character (other than maybe Old Man Luke) because there are so few of us, and our wish lists are so diverse now. I doubt most of us would have similar Top 10 lists these days, thanks mostly from having gone from a handful of novels and 3 (technically 5) movies to thousands of stories spanning TV, movies, comics, books, and video games. We're no longer at a point where, even with 100 figures a year, Hasbro could make everybody happy all the time.




3. Kotobukiya is releasing Droids known as 0-0-0 (Triple Zero) & BT-1 from the Marvel series Doctor Aphra at Star Wars Celebration 2017 as exclusives. I really want these droids but at a lower price. Will Hasbro/Disney be releasing them? Or should I grab them because they wont be released in the future?

How long is your long game?

If you need it this year, get the statues. If you don't mind waiting and seeing when/if Hasbro ever makes figures specifically from the new Marvel comics run, I'd suggest holding off since both can probably be made out of partially retooling existing figures. I wouldn't anticipate them being manufactured this year, but it's not like most fans haven't been around waiting for a decade - or decades - for many as-of-yet unmade aliens, droids, and other cast members.

I'm a big fan of the older comics from Marvel in the 1970s and 1980s, plus Dark Horse's fare from the 1990s and 2000s. I can also point to the fact that Hasbro didn't do anybody from the 1970s and very few characters from the 1980s comics. Dark Horse's run was so big that Hasbro could still make a lot of figures from those stories, and the number of non-repaint droids from the comics and novels is quite low. I don't see a Kotobukiya statue as a substitute for a Hasbro action figure, but if you do? Go ahead and snag 'em. We never know what Hasbro's whims will result in over the coming years, but right now we can see that the number of figures from Marvel's comics since they started publishing is 0. For 6-inch, I'd say it's more likely than 3 3/4-inch - but who knows? Things change.




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Sometimes trends in this hobby are big and easy to see - but there have been few (very few) times where the community at large could get behind something and say, with one big voice, that "this is what we want." One of those times was the late 1990s, when a lot of us - myself, Mark formerly of Yakface.com, and countless people signing a petition - demanded more vehicles. There really weren't many back, then, but it was largely more than we get now. The Skiff came out in short order, with the Imperial Shuttle getting a (crappy) reissue a few years later. Making vehicles a specific demand helped Hasbro to see what we wanted, and we got it. Right now, we could do that with 3 3/4-inch figures. The operative word is "could," generally because I assume specificity and infighting would overshadow the message of "look, just put out figures more often than the Christmas season. We like buying things all year."

Right now we know the 6-inch line is going to have a healthy year, thanks in part to Hasbro having shown off upcoming figures a significant time in advance. Once you get past New Movie Figures, we're seeing previews 10 or more months early - which ain't bad. It'a also really easy to forget, because 10 months is a long time. We saw a bunch of figures at San Diego Comic-Con last year that not only aren't out yet, but we don't have a firm ship date or pre-orders to go on right now. I applaud Hasbro for showing us a glimpse into the future, but without dates it's hard to get excited. That was one of the advantages of the older model - there was a semi-official "3 month rule" where Hasbro would announce (and put up for pre-order) new toys about 3 months before it was expected to be in stock. It worked nicely.

The majority of Hasbro product development decisions (when not requested by the licensor) are a result of market trends, historical sales data, and a dash of "what does the team feel like trying today?" The current brand team isn't necessarily one that grew up idolizing 3 3/4-inch action figures - that format ruled the roost from 1978 to about 1993, give or take a year or two depending on when you see G.I. Joe of having ran its course. That means kids born after 1989 probably don't fetishize the format like you do, despite its massive popularity with collectors. You could be 27 right now, and not necessarily have much love for the format. It's easy to forget that for The Phantom Menace, figures did OK - not great, but OK. Even Hasbro said that people treated them more like souvenirs than toys. This more or less happened again with Attack of the Clones, with lower prices, better sculpting, greater diversity in movie/character selection, and cooler accessories - they sold more, but did it inspire long-term loyalty? Not really. That's sort of how the whole thing has gone, because you're going to have a hard time hooking future collectors when today's kids have all of a few days to find and buy a figure before it potentially disappears forever. That's less of a distribution issue than it is the marketplace in general - when you had a year to buy 12-21 figures, you'd eventually find them all. if a wave came live and die within 4 months, there's little chance it'll fall into that birthday/Christmas gap and it's really easy to just plain never see a toy, or have the chance to get it. The golden era for collectors is arguably a poor era for kids, just in terms of there being too much product to absorb.

On top of this, marketing has changed. Little pack-in catalogs showcasing the entire line no longer exist. TV ads are rare, as are blocks of time when you can count on kids tuning in to toy commercials like Saturday mornings or weekday afternoon blocks. Now you've got entire networks spanning entire weeks, so it's harder to get that message home. When you add in what is slowly becoming something of a duopoly in the toy industry, competition has shifted so that once a big company has all the big licenses, they become their own competition. (Also LEGO, that's a separate matter.) With competition from Funko and especially LEGO, Hasbro isn't the only game in town for Star Wars like it was in the 1990s. There are multiple "collector" lines that appeal to kids, and now we have to grit our teeth to adjust to the present. Until we get new management, or until someone aggressively markets action figures to kids once again. Seeing how LEGO has basically adopted the best parts of action figures to their already great toy format, that could be a tough sell.

I'm still taking a "long haul" approach to the line, because it's been 22 years and we've yet to see the original 91/92 figures updated. If we're picky about original editions versus special editions, there are even more to consider. It's easy to forget it took two decades to get a Bantha and Grand Moff Tarkin. Also it has been four decades and we haven't had a Blockade Runner.

--Adam Pawlus

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