Q&A: Exclusives For You, Star Wars Big Vehicles, and Return of the Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 10, 2014


1. Are the figures in the TRU Battle of Endor set straight repacks? Or are they “different enough to make you mad"?

I got asked this a few times and here's my answer - I'm not buying it. At $100 I can't justify "different enough to make you mad" because really, there are much better Groot figures I could be buying instead which will give me more Groot toys than I have now, which is none. Upon its release I compared the official images to some image galleries of currently available toys and the differences were not obvious - a slightly different wash or lighter black eyes wouldn't be enough for me to throw down the money and frankly, I want to be sure I keep up my "no repacks" policy of exclusives. (I skipped Target's Birth of Darth Vader set and some of the Kmart tin packs - and a lot of other boxed sets of nothing new, too.) I have been a strong proponent of "If you don't like it, don't buy it" because to do otherwise makes no sense to me as a consumer. If you like it, you should get it - and if you don't have those products it's a lovely presentation. As an opener, I don't feel any drive to re-buy figures especially given how many of them are missing accessories - or indeed other figures - from their original releases. The packaging is gorgeous, but I've said before that I'm a toy collector, not a package collector.

This is one of the reasons I'm super-pumped for Rebels. Even if the show is not for my tastes, at least the toys seem tailor-made to the kind of stuff I love. R2-D2! C-3PO! Troopers! Transports! Weird McQuarrie stuff! This is what gets me going.



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2. You spoke highly of the 31 inch Rebels X-Wing – can you confirm whether the S-Foils can be locked in attack position? I have read speculation that they can’t be, but haven’t seen it confirmed either way.

I speak highly of it because this is a fascinating development in Hasbro's strategy of delivering an impressive, cheap toy. It feels like a bizarro 1980s toy - the s-foils cannot be moved, and the only moving part is the kickstand under the nose for the landing gear. It strikes me as too big to be a toy, but as a decoration? There is nothing better to hang from a ceiling. It's light and durable, and looks pretty good from across a room. I liked it enough to consider getting Walmart's Millennium Falcon and I had previously planned on giving them a miss, which is about as high praise as I can give. Hasbro proved my prejudgement dead wrong - nice job, fellows.




3. My question is about the Alien ReAction figures, specifically the Alien. While cruising ebay, I came across a few auctions where the Alien looks like he has 2 or 3 different color tones. Is this just a trick of the angle of certain pictures or are there some variants of the Alien?

There are at least 3 carded "flavors." The standard black/grey figure comes on a blue cardback (exclusive to Comic-Con 2013 pre-orders) or a black cardback (mass retail.) There is also a clear smoke grey plastic figure which was a blue card pre-order bonus for the aforementioned SDCC set.

But wait - there's more! At Comic-Con 2014, Super7 sold blind-boxed figures in Alien eggs to the tune of $25. Clear colorless Aliens and clear sparkle glitter aliens were found in these eggs.



4. Did I miss something or are we at a loss for a real good exclusive to hunt this year? I hoped for at least one cool TVC entry. Amazon had 2 great TVCs to offer last year and this year nothing? The lame TRU TBS sets are hardly what I had in mind.

My dear Frank, you have already forgotten the most dangerous game of all - Walgreens' exclusive The Black Series concept white Boba Fett! Those who didn't get in on the pre-order have quite the hunt later this year, and I do not envy them.

The Toys R Us sets, well, they are what they are. I think it's a mistake to count on packaging fans and new collectors this year, but perhaps Rebels will bring enough attention where such a thing can succeed - last year's "Birth of Darth Vader" set tells me that this is no longer the case, but I've been wrong before. (You guys read this column, it happens all the time.)

It's worth remembering how last year's exclusives performed - Amazon had three great exclusives, all of which had huge price drops and in some cases absurdly low clearances within weeks of shipping. The "Droid Factory" 6-pack was under half price in just a few weeks - a lot of people got burned last year and I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon remembered this. That doesn't explain their Jedi Force 6-pack (which I may be the biggest supporter of), but that's something I can get behind. It's new! Based on the comments prior to Amazon getting their Vintage-boxed Slave I and TIE Interceptor last year, it sounded like there may have been some behind-the-scenes wrangling to find them a home - this is speculation based on what was said at the conventions and/or overheard in the booth, though.

Target has their Rebels packs with bonus figures, which I'll be sitting out until someone confirms the vehicle or figure has unique deco. Or they hit mega-clearance and I start building armies like an idiot.

It's worth mentioning that Star Wars is not "in" this season. Marvel just handed it its butt with Guardians of the Galaxy which, like the original Star Wars, was underrepresented at retail and now everybody is going to be chasing stock of it for months. At Comic-Con, Hasbro previewed what seems like no fewer than 3 series for 2015, while Star Wars 6-inch figures had something like 3 figures revealed. There's a lot of money in Marvel merch - a ton - so with Joe dead and Transformers performing a little soft, it does make sense for Hasbro to put more money in Marvel for a while. This can and should change for Rebels and the new movies, but it seems like Marvel will own summer and back-to-school for years to come.



I had a long conversation with an old friend earlier this week - we're about the same age, he's just got engaged - about how things have been going. We were pretty close - we met in college, lived in the same apartment complex for a while after graduation, and work somewhat similar pop culture-themed jobs - and one of the topics that came up was if we were starting to outgrow this whole nerd thing. Now I don't mean everything - but we have seen the entirety of popular culture shift tremendously to our direction. For example, Marvel movies are no longer fringe, once-every-few-years things. Now you get four or five a year, and heaven help you if you post a contrarian opinion on them on Facebook these days.

As an aging member of the pre-Internet nerd class, it's fascinating to see how much things changed. I now live in a world where Groot is a beloved character. Bane has become more to the world than a mask with hoses coming out of it. The 1989 Batman movie has been recontextualized as goofy and campy. Star Wars is, once again, "out" this season. And absolutely everybody knows who Optimus Prime is.

Back when our parents - or older siblings - were younger, you could generally take the pulse on if someone were old by their taste in music. The Internet has robbed us of this phenomenon thanks to increasingly diverse tastes, as teenagers are out buying cartons to store their vinyl in and someone who is 50 is just as likely as someone who is 15 to be discovering Captain Beefheart for the first time. There are no more Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Doors, or even a counterculturey Frank Zappa of any real consequence these days. Instead, movies and nerd stuff have seemingly wormed in and you can tell who's "with it," "hip," or otherwise culturally relevant through their comprehension and demonstrated interest in these topics. (And/or how this interest can be weaponized against your fellow fan. Admit it, you've done this too.)

I don't have an active dislike for the new stuff but my appetite for it is quite different - I have a harder time rewatching the Nolan Batman movies, I generally won't sit through a Marvel movie more than once, but I seem to have an endless craving for nearly any generation of Star Trek on TV. I couldn't make it through SHIELD - and yes I heard it got better - and am utterly fascinated at some of the stuff that's out there now. Seeing what comes back around, and what doesn't, is equally astonishing as The Hobbit seems to still feel like a cultural obligation, a billion-dollar forgettable afterthought to the once boundless love and affection for The Lord of the Rings when that was all the rage nearly ten years ago. We chew stuff up and spit it out quickly, granting it less cultural relevance.

For all the box office revenues, it gives me no small amount of pleasure to see Avatar, arguably the Snickers bar of popular entertainment, make no significant long-term impact. Similarly, Marvel's slate of movies - so far - hasn't managed to work its way into the lexicon as much as some other properties. It's great Iron Man and the Avengers are known entities, but precious little of it held on and offered the cultural shorthand of Darth Vader (as a stand-in for the evil empire), or the term Keyser Soze which has recently achieved verb status, and even The Matrix had a crater-sized impact on the world of fanboys and fangirls. I'm not sure entirely what it is - perhaps it's me, perhaps it's us - but we as a nerd culture seem less and less willing to expand our canon, or perhaps the quantity of sci-fi, space, superhero, and fantasy movies just aren't providing the quality references we need to build, possibly quite literally, our next The Next Generation.

The pop confectionery Disney and Marvel have given us is superficially remarkable. Each installment teases the next, with a fairly low barrier to entry allowing your mom to walk in to a Thor movie and walk out hollering "Ich bin ein Nerd." Ten years ago, Thor's only real cultural cache was as the butt of all jokes in ToyFare magazine. His rising star has allowed for this entire industry to claw its way out of the mylar bags and acid-free boards that kept so many people away from this kind of stuff, but at the same time technology has served as a constant reminder that we're all still a bunch of pissy jerks when someone doesn't agree with us. Every new movie is the best ever, and it is forgotten, and the true believers hated it before you even had a chance to see it, let alone take the opportunity to like or understand it. We'll probably go through a round of this next year, and I'm particularly intrigued to see if Episode VII alters the cultural perception of the prequels and if so, how. Return of the Jedi was not a particularly beloved movie in the 1990s, if you first saw that movie after the age of 10. People bagged on Ewoks and Jabba's palace aliens while some of us (cough) thought that it was probably one of the most fun movies they had ever seen. Such is life, and of being young when it hit theaters. I am nothing if not giddy to see if the "prequel kid" generation sees Episode VII and declares it null and void while talking about how much better things were, or if we as the pop culture Borg have decided an opinion, and there can be no dissenting voice because of your social media footprint.

As someone who has more than a few (in the 1990s, at least) less socially approved pursuits, I like to categorize and quantify data. I really do sit around running numbers on things so when someone says "such and such isn't as good as it was a few years ago" I can come back and say "Actually, there's twice as much stuff being made, with more articulation, and it's cheaper." Yeah, I get off on that - I like to know things. One of these days I really want to sit down and run the numbers on the changing world of genre films, particularly the long tail that seems to have proven Blade Runner a work of genius and an increasing acceptance of the highly entertaining The Fifth Element while slapping the collective face of The Matrix as a now-dead franchise. What's relevant? And why? And does anything have any real staying power in an overstuffed August where each weekend gives us a Marvel movie, a reboot of a popular comic franchise, the third sequel in a pastiche action series, a black-and-white movie that puts the "graphic" into "graphic novel," and this is after a positively huge year of this kind of stuff?

It's a lot to take in if you aren't 4-24, especially as the old guard nerd class tends to cling on to things more tightly than the new crew as it was likely a much stronger part of our identity. For many of us, we're here because it's part of our childhood that we never let go, while the post-Internet generation has benefitted from the luxury of an inexhaustible supply of space, swords, sorcery, and Star Trek. While I may never truly feel I'm too old for toys, at the very least now I believe I know why people's taste in music tends to freeze as they age. There's only so much room in your heart for all of this stuff.

--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.


It's all in the wiring

The thing that keeps us rooted in the music of our teens (and that, no doubt, plays a role in how other media grab us) is rooted in the inherent emotionalism of those years. Hormones and changes in our bodies and brains bring every emotion close to the surface, and anything that can tap those emotions has a chance to stay with us; the more strongly it taps them, the more likely it is to stick.

There's also the nature of our brains during those times, the way that, through our early 20s, our brains are wired to retain new information, and any emotional tie strengthens the connections within the brain that allow for easy recall. I will never stop being stunned that I can still remember just about every shot, every line of dialog, and every musical cue from the OT, but often don't remember MAJOR plot points from decent movies I saw a month ago. Then there are the dozens of movies I've seen over the last decade, most of them good-to-excellent, where I can give you just the barest sketch of plot without quite a bit of prodding. Much like Homer Simpson, my late-30s to late-40s brain has gotten full, so something has to be REALLY memorable to force its way in and stick (and who knows what old information it forces out?).

This whole "blockbuster every week from March-August" just can't be good for emotional connection to any one movie, long-term. When everything is BIG HUGE EVENT, nothing is, after all. "Star Wars" wouldn't have been such a big deal if there were 10 other movies like it released in 1977, after all. Scarcity just adds anticipation which, as long as the movies are good enough (as even ROTJ was, comparative weakness or no), adds emotional connection. I have a feeling that kids that are growing up now will, 20 years down the line, just remember this time for its constant background hum of comics/sci-fi/fantasy culture, but with few really standout moments associated with actually seeing the movies themselves. Maybe there will be ancillary events that stick - cosplaying at a con with your friends, playing an online game, etc - but the movies themselves? There's too many of them, coming out too frequently.