Q&A: Exclusivo, Playsets, Star Wars Toy Fair Funtimes

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 28, 2016

1. My Walgreens, and others in my town, got in their exclusive Black Series Vader 3 weeks ago. So far, I've only seen 1 sold in that time. One would think Vader, typically the most popular Star Wars toy, would be sold out everywhere. Given the wild popularity of their prototype white Fett from 2014, could this be bad news for future store exclusives?

I would say no - many exclusives at Walgreens had a similar pattern, where the figure hit once and flew off the shelves but on subsequent shipments, didn't move so good. It's possible this one was overproduced - given the amount per store and the quantity of stores, I would say that's likely - but it probably just means we'll see a correction next time. Hasbro's Marvel Legends exclusives tended to hit, disappear, and then hit hard later. At which point, they sat. They're still doing more of these, and let's be honest - would it be the worst thing if we saw a few less exclusives?

Having said that, they've got a set of Jakks Pacific NES figure exclusives and I've been pounding the pavement for months - haven't seen a one of them yet. Walgreens is doing just fine.



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2. Question, the first: has Hasbro consciously decided to let its new-figure reveals kind of dribble out? Don't get me wrong, there's something to be said for news of upcoming figures arriving basically out of the blue. It's like a little present given to me by the Internet for no particular reason except that the Internet wants me to be happy. But Hasbro is getting slammed by some for the lack of product in support of the new movie, delusional as that attitude might strike some. Bluntly, it was strange to me that Hasbro didn't try to defuse that complaint by showing off the newly-released TFA waves with Admiral Ackbar, Nein Nunb, and the Hassk Thug.

Question, the second: there was a rumored round table that Hasbro hosted where they confirmed that the SA line was going to continue with a couple of waves this year, both as store exclusives. Have you heard anything about this round table? Were you there? Did it produce any other juicy tidbits of gossip that you can share? Can we expect a few more SA figures to join the fray?

Question, the third: why has Hasbro stopped previewing retailer exclusives? If you don't know, well, I can speculate on it about as well as you, at the cost of much less of your time.

I'm assuming the answer is Disney and Lucasfilm, but I can't be 100% certain. The reaction to most Hasbro Star Wars panels since roughly 2013 have been some sort of "...that's it?" since we started seeing waves of figures that look a lot like other figures we've had. There have been embargo dates on certain characters that are no longer spoilers, so it's possible we're seeing some fallout from that. Or indeed that the early 2016 figures were, to Hasbro, "old news." (You may recall they never actually officially announced the last batch of Endor figures in Saga Legends about a year ago.) Unlike in Transformers where it seems dang near everything is going to get previewed, Hasbro has been content to let much of Star Wars just show up without the pomp and promotion that we're used to, which (if you ask me) is an important part of the hobby. Anticipation is important, mostly because it serves the dual purposes of informing the collector masses while also reminding us that our line of choice has a future. It may be telling that I'm really excited for Transformers right now but I can't really tell you a heck of a lot of what there is to expect for Star Wars - if there are more vehicles coming after Ezra's Bike, I don't know about them.

Hasbro did indeed hold a roundtable with some details and I'm not sure what the deal is regarding what is and isn't kosher to discuss - the format and "rules" are confusing - but I think it's safe to repeat that they said more Walmart Black Series figures are coming in Spring without actually specifying what those were. I assume they're new dudes and not subsequent shipments of waves 1-3, but it wasn't terribly specific. Overall I would say that the takeaway is that they know what we want, and in most cases there are very good reasons to not do those things - some of which we've touched on here. (The Big Millennium Falcon was indeed confirmed once more to be too expensive to manufacture in the current climate.)

I have no idea if Hasbro has stopped previewing retailer exclusives. The old rule of thumb during Revenge of the Sith was a "three month rule" - typically you'd see something teased about a quarter, give or take, before you were expected to buy it. Hasbro gave us a lot of previews last September, but their The Force Awakens roll-out was sorely deficient in showcasing, well, anything. It just appeared - and some fans claim to prefer it that way. (These people are crazy and their opinions are not worth listening to.) With Captain America on deck, it's possible that the Star Wars strategy is superbly limited, but I would say it's a little weird that - like you said - Hasbro isn't showing off the new releases. I mean, I guess it's good for fan sites and online retailers, but it's always good to have official confirmation from Hasbro that there's a reason to go out and wade through the seas of unsold Inquisitors and Guavians for something new. As a collector I do not enjoy surprises - I like knowing what to budget.




3. After this weeks Toy Fair how would you summarise the future of the star wars line (Hasbro specifically) have they learnt from recent mistakes or will it be more (or less!) of the same over the coming months/ years?

Also my biggest frustration at the moment is finding the 3.75 black series line, here in the UK only wave one has been released (via Asda) The only way I can get them is by buying them at double/ triple the retail price via ebay. Two months after one of the biggest films of all time was released why can't the majority of the world's collectors get their hands on the main characters? How can we vent our frustrations to Hasbro and influence them to improve distribution? Both Asda and Hasbro uk customer service are clueless

You may not know this, but Hasbro had a pretty amazing 2015 for Star Wars and was struggling to keep up with demand - the lesson learned was "almost everything was a huge hit, so do more of the same." That may not be what you as a collector want, but most companies don't argue with success. It did well, so you should probably expect more of the same. Maybe minus the big giant vehicles in the 6-inch line. And maybe with fewer MicroMachines. We'll see.

The Black Series line - when it comes to the 3 3/4-inch guys, you aren't alone. Just this week, I saw the 3 3/4-inch Stormtrooper at a Walmart for the very first time, months after release. I've still never seen (and do not have) Ceremonial Leia. I've seen Rey a few times, and loads of Finn and Poe and a fair amount of Kylo Ren. It is what it is - exclusives can go either way, and it wouldn't stun me if more are going to make it out to circulate in the USA. As far as the UK goes, Hasbro's global initiative has not resulted in all waves of all lines being available in all territories, and as Hasbro is ultimately a company in the USA you'll probably continue to see what you're seeing. Europe skips waves of things all the time, sometimes Asia gets exclusives for one reason or another, and when the USA doesn't buy into a line Hasbro dumps it in Europe and Asia. (This year, this will be Hero Mashers Monsters, a line I'm quite fond of and will have to track down.) It isn't so much the grass being greener on the other side, but I like to remind people that I'm fond of Zoids and Transformers and Playmobil. Playmobil is a German line with more than a few items that get terrible US distribution (if any) and a handful of exclusives. Zoids is basically Japan-only now. Transformers has a US line, but also has items exclusive to Japan and shared items with Asia and high-end exclusives. No toy line is perfect, and the days of your being able to go into a store and be likely to find all of the toys you want ended after the second Reagan term if they ever really existed at all. I had massive difficulty finding many Star Wars figures during Return of the Jedi and afterward.

What can you do? Import. Trade. Write Hasbro UK nasty (OK polite) letters. Will it help? It won't hurt, but after 20 years expecting big changes is probably not healthy for you. Getting 9-12 figures distributed in a year proved challenging, now we're dealing with something like 7 or 8 waves since September - distribution, product, production, and the market will probably not allow all people to find all toys. In the USA, there are still toys from the past few months which I have never seen in person. I'm not saying it's good, but you're not getting special treatment just because of being outside the USA - the hunt is, sadly, never going to end.




We're back to distribution questions.

Over the last 20 years of Kenner and Hasbro products, this has been more or less normal - when the first sighting of a figure happens online, people panic. Sometimes it takes months for a figure to saturate, or for you to be in the right store on the right day at the right time. Much like social networks are being said to give people anxiety, so too can toy sites by reminding people that they missed a thing that may not even be properly "out" yet. Granted if you live overseas, I'd say just bite the bullet and start calculating what importing it would cost. International shipping can be pretty good (not always), and depending on your local exchange rate things might be decent.

More and more people as they get older either quit collecting or just go online. The whole toy run thing has lost its charm for many (not me) as the cost of gas and the time spent do not necessarily yield results - despite this paradigm being more or less normal for two decades. You can usually wait out finding a figure, but not always. If you live in a town with a single Toys R Us and no Walmarts, you really can't live with the expectation that your toy will show up. There's work involved. Even in the 1980s you weren't guaranteed to find the new (or old, or recent) figure you wanted at a store. The way assortments are set up, there will always be some element of luck and timing - and now that there are more figures and more waves per year, well, this is life.

I will say that to vaguely address a question above, Star Wars is not terribly exciting right now mostly because we don't have a lot to get excited about. Rebels is coming back with some great new stuff, and we're getting Maz Kanata (in a multi-pack), but the new movie is largely underserved - this is a mixed blessing. Demand still exists, which is good, but sometimes kids are distracted and move on. Thankfully there's another movie coming to latch on to, but while I'm waiting for Star Wars to bloom I'm eyeballing Jurassic World Dino Hybrid and Transformers Titans Return this year. Both have things I love - vehicles with pilots. Transforming robots. Colorful dinosaurs that look like they were imagined by an insane toddler. There's plenty of fun to be had, and The Force Awakens will hopefully be mined more as time goes on. I don't need 100 figures the first year like The Phantom Menace, but right now there's not a heck of a lot I feel would be truly missing either. Snoke, Luke, Leia, a non-coat Hux would be nice. A couple of creatures, maybe another vehicle or two. Don't get me wrong, I'll buy every last pilot or alien they make, but sometimes those take a while for fans to demand them before Hasbro makes them. For the first six months, I've got a whopping 7 waves of 3-6 figures (some are repacks, yes) already and for a movie with this level of opacity, I think we're doing well. We could do better, sure. Hasbro could've put out and sold a kajillion Sabines, yes. But at least things are chugging along. If nothing else, I've got plenty of time to look at other lines while Star Wars takes a nap.

I am unreasonably excited by the "value" 6-inch figures for $6.75 each that I found over the weekend. I scored Han on Sunday after lunch, and ordered the first batch from overseas - they're neat! Simple, sure, but sturdy. I really hope Hasbro does a little more with them and loads up on Stormtroopers, because I'd rather build an army in this format than in the $20-$25 format.

--Adam Pawlus

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