Want to know how to wipe off some yellowing from your Vintage 2010 Clone Trooper helmets and many 2002-2004 releases? I have discovered one solution! We also look at retro action figures, more anti-prequel sentiment and the usual stuff. Send in your questions for our next column - I can't guarantee next week due to SDCC, but it'll be soon, I promise! Read on for more!
1. The current lull in anything new Star Wars wise and the Super 7 Alien figures have got me nostalgic for that period in the late 70's and early 80's when everyone from Mattell to Gabriel to Mego followed Kenner's lead and made 3 3/4" action figures and Star Wars rip offs were everywhere with movies and TV shows like Battle Beyond the Stars, Battlestar Galactica, Krull, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Jason of Star Command, The Black Hole, etc.
Do you have a favorite film or show that tried to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars and is there a 3 3/4" line from the era that's not Star Wars that holds a special place in in your collection? Is there a Daggett or a Twiki in your Cantina?
My toys rarely mixed, with few exceptions - Star Wars figures in my youth would find their way into LEGO-brick vehicles, particularly R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Y-Wing Fighter was such a great idea for a toy that I tried to build all sorts of things for a pilot and an Astromech droid, which always ended up being R2-D2 and C-3PO. As far as 3 3/4-inch goes, my figures would make use of the Fisher-Price Adventure People Alpha Star, mostly because I had no big vehicles. I think as a small kid, the Snowspeeder was my largest toy from a galaxy far, far away.
My childhood toy box wasn't all that big - which is why I'm probably here mow, making up for it. I didn't have any G.I. Joes until like 1988, I had a few Transformers, and I don't think I had any 3 3/4-inch guys other than Star Wars and a few Adventure People as a wee lad. (The cutoff seemed to be most kids got out of toys by second or third grade in my school, but a few hopped back later for TMNT if you can believe it.)
My Cantina was always Star Wars - Walrus Man didn't like no foreigners in his bar.
Of course right now I'd very much like to see more fan-made new space rip-off toys. I went bonkers over The Outer Space Men and the 3 3/4-inch revival of Power Lords is basically only a high price tag away from being bought. I like weird original (or retro) stuff, so I hope someone looks at the lines like Adventure People, or Sucklord bootlegs, or whatever and makes something new and interesting. It won't happen, but I'd like to see it.
2. The thing I dig about your perspective with your Q&A answers is you answer in terms of the big picture a lot and the ever evolving cycles and directions of trends in how kids play with toys. Most people seem to ask questions specific to only what they like. As if they are the only one Hasbro is making toys for. There are three generations of Star Wars collectors with a 4th springing up soon.
I recently read the Prequel gen is not coming back to collecting like the OT gen. Personally I think that has a lot to do with technology. As our society becomes more and more submersed in the instant gratification of technology do you think the 4th gen of Star Wars could be the last in terms of the fate of the action figure? That connection to the physical toy in your hand is replaced by a computerized device. Thus the desire for a newer better device is created and not the desire for a cooler better toy. I mean, why buy a Ep 7 Solo Jedi kid action figure when you could be him on your phone fighting some cool new Sith Lord? Again you want a better video game on your phone or pad and not a toy. At what point did a Gene Autry six shooter become irrelevant? (He was a singing cowboy with two guns that shoot six bullets each and go in holsters from my dad's generation. FYI for you young hipster kids.) Or wind up toys and spark guns? As the kid gets older the nostalgia is lost through the device. So they never care to come back and rediscover toys and what's new. Will the death of the action figure be technology and not the indecisiveness of the toy industry or consumer?
There are all sorts of trends which have been blooming for years. As a kid and for much of my time as a teen, the main expression I saw of Star Wars fandom was collecting. By the late 1990s, I started to meet fans who were mostly into the books - not toys, and not the movies. In the 2000s we even had fans who were mostly into Knights of the Old Republic over anything else, and this is sort of telling - by diversifying the portfolio of licensed products, Lucasfilm has become its own competitor. In the 1990s, a fan could afford the Bend-Ems, Pepsi bottles, cereal promos, books, comics, trading cards, and model kits without too much fuss. Even during The Phantom Menace it didn't get too ridiculous. Around 2006 and 2007, though, it was beyond what a mortal could comprehend.
A child of the 1970s or 1980s could pick up Tomart's Guide to Space Adventure Collectibles and see a reasonably small action figure line that is totally possible to collect. In 2013, no sane human being would look at this line and say "I'm going to collect the whole thing." It's so vast, people don't even know what's out there anymore - what used to be a chunk of a book is now an entire book, and even that needs continued revising to keep up. Toy collecting is no longer a viable hobby for Star Wars fans, unless there's a firm reboot and it's entirely possible that The Black Series (or going full-blown 1970s vintage) are ways to do that. But will people do that? Probably not.
The options open to a fan in 2013 are amazing. You can meet up with a group of dorks and put on some Stormtrooper armor and hang out now. That wasn't even remotely possible in the late 1980s - your space fantasy was confined to a cruddy Ben Cooper costume or that fairly decent Don Post Studios mask you bought.
Toys will have some value for kids as a while, but generally the lines that demand you collect them are not the expensive ones. LEGO isn't cheap because nobody stashed away the $100 sets back in the early 2000s. They got played with, and destroyed. Star Wars, since the 1990s, has been consistently collected, catalogued, and confined to storage units for a rainy day. Very few modern figures have any real value, and those that do may see it expire in the next few years - the demand isn't quite what it was for the real vintage stuff because it's a copy, or a copy of a copy. And there will always be a better Darth Vader figure coming down the road. The originals will never be less original, but the "best" figure won't be in a few years.
Hasbro's desire to constantly update the same characters in the same costumes brought them tons of cash and will continue to do so, but it might have cost them a future generation of hardcore collectors. It might not matter - there's still plenty of money to be made in lightsabers, but odds are the next generation of kids (and collectors) will be more focused on collecting LEGO products when they get older rather than Hasbro. It's still expensive, but it's a heck of a lot easier to digest. Hasbro didn't get behind the idea of having toys-as-a-game or toys-as-a-cartoon and that's probably going to cost them this generation of kids. That, and the endless supply of stuff. Hot Wheels is somewhat similar - yes, there are special cars, expensive cars, and rare cars, but generally speaking there are a couple hundred pretty worthless (but neat) new cars every year. This is no longer a line meant for the 1990s collecting mentality.
There's also the added benefit we had where there were times when our childhoods were not available to us at a moment's notice. If I wanted an old toy in 1986, I had to beg for a ride to an antique show, and odds are I wouldn't find it there either. In 2013, I just go to eBay or Amazon and whatever I want will probably show up in a month. There's no sport of it - that part is more or less gone, so I don't know if anybody born after 1990 will ever have to view an old toy as a real rarity. It's there, if you can pay for it.
3. This is a two-part question, but the parts are related to each other.
First, I know that you are always talking about the heterogeneity of the Star Wars action figure collector fan base. Everyone wants something different (and thinks they speak for the community as a whole). For this question, consider that segment of the population who are middle-aged, saw the movies from 77-83 as kids, now have children of their own, and have collected figures from the seventies until the present day. The folks in this segment are not completists and appreciate both the pros (better posing) and cons (hands accidentally fall off at the wrists) of enhanced articulation. They don't want new figures which they cannot distinguish from figures that they already have. (Forgive them, as I mentioned these folks are old and their memories just can't keep track of 200 clone trooper variations.) This means they are interested in new characters or new sculpts with some significantly interesting element. Is there anything in 2013 or 2014 for this segment of the Star Wars action figure collector fan base? Presumably in 2015, there will be interesting new trilogy figures. How many known figures are on the horizon that satisfy this set of criteria? Do any figures from the black series interest this segment?
What I see here is that you're saying "I don't like what Hasbro is offering" and this is something that comes up every few years. OK - don't buy it. It's really easy. Vote with your dollars. I had people writing me angrily in 1999 because it was all Phantom Menace, or in 2002 because there wasn't enough "classic" in the line, or in 2004 because pretty much the entire line from July 2004-December 2004 were remakes of existing trilogy characters and they wanted new prequel guys. As the options increase, the amount of people you can please goes down. There were times when people would complain the Cantina fans got too many figures and there should be more attention paid to Jabba's Palace. Hasbro has an unenviable job where they are going to make you mad no matter what.
This is a line that can't exist without some entry-level figures. There's always going to be someone who needs an excuse to jump in - a Vader, a Fett, or a video game character. It doesn't help that the Fall line is based on a movie marketing plan that fell through.
While the Fall line is - as we've discussed here, a lot, and why do we keep doing it? - mostly "more of the same," it's Hasbro's second attempt in as many years to try to kick off something new by giving us something you or I already have. Will it work? Probably not. Does it matter? Not really. Kids not caring is likely to be a bigger problem, but that new Ultimate FX Anakin/Vader saber with the color-changing blade should be on their radars. (It's cool.)
4. Second, in a related note, in the first six months of 2013, I bought two Star Wars figures—a low record for half a year since 1995. For the record, they were the over-seas animated R2-D2 build-a-droid and the Disney exclusive R2-MK build-a-droid. With the money I did not spend on Star Wars figures, I started buying Skylanders figures for my kids. Now, suspend your disbelief for a moment while I describe this new fangled kind of action figure. These figures have zero articulation (gasp!), represent creatures that appear in no movie or television show (to my knowledge) and, get this!, come alive when you place them on an electronic pad, so that you can make your action figures battle each other, get all manner of armament upgrades, and go through all sorts of adventures on the television. And the figures cost $9.99 each, about the same as Star Wars Vintage figures, which sadly lack any electronic component to them. What is the compelling reason when Hasbro finally starts distributing new Star Wars in the United States again for me to return my attention to Star Wars action figures, which now seem a dated toy from the end of the twentieth century?
Oh there's more.
Skylanders is a great trend product and the kind of thing more companies should rip off. It's sort of stunning Hasbro hasn't jumped on board, and as you say - people like it. Hasbro is still very big on their web program with multimedia browser games which are, of course, terribly dull. They also bought a new app developer recently, so they're obviously planning something.
It's also a different kind of a product. Action figures sans action are nothing new, but Skylanders are fundamentally a video game - downloadable content (DLC) has been changed from being delivered via a code (with no perceived value) to being delivered by a plastic figure. They're also based on an existing franchise as a spin-off, as Spyro the Dragon has been around for 15 years. So there was some existing branding there - it's like how LEGO's Bionicle line was born out of its Technic brand, which it leaned on to explain the product in its early years.
Ultimately you've got a situation where companies try new things to see what sticks. Hasbro has an answer to Playskool-aged Skylanders audiences coming for Transformers. It's not for you. Hasbro tried to do customizable toys that didn't make it out (Amp'd) and followed other trends (Fighter Pods from Squinkies, Jedi Force from Imaginext, etc.) This is why you're always going to see new expressions of Star Wars on the toy aisles, because they want a piece of those other markets and want it to carry on as a next big thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
All toy companies have been slow to really grasp the synergy of toys and video games, but you're going to see a few more - I can't talk about 'em all yet - and odds are those won't be for you, either. Microsoft's Kinectimals plush didn't set the world ablaze.
Not every kid is going to have a parent willing to invest $70 on a Skylanders Portal and $10 per figure, plus a video game system at $100-$500. Some kids have parents that just hate the idea of action figures, which is why LEGO is doing so well. And Hot Wheels continue to thrive despite being fundamentally no better than they were in the 1960s, cost $1, and do little more than roll around and trip Dad. It's a big market and there are lots of opportunities across the board, and I have no idea what it is you people are trying to get at anyway.
5. These new Star Wars figures with vintage articulation at a lower price point are fascinating to me. I really like the Naboo Hangar Duel three pack from last year, the Obi-Wan is my favorite version of him from Episode 1, and the head sculpts for Darth Maul and Qui-Gon are superb. I was hoping for more of the same with these new figures. Some reviews have shown up online, and they're saying the new figures are made out of a different and cheaper feeling plastic. Also from the photos I've seen it appears the new figures don't have ball jointed heads and the paints jobs aren't up to the old standards. Do you have these new ones yet? How do they compare to three packs from last year?
Nobody has defined "cheaper plastic." What's cheaper? Tougher? More rubbery? Brittle? Hasbro did say they were looking to select a kind of plastic which may more closely mimic the 1978-1985 originals, and based on my samples I would say that's something fans will enjoy debating. For example, Darth Vader (Mission Series) has legs which are mildly rubbery, and the Battle Droids (Mission Series) are unable to stand long - my red droid for minutes, my tan droid for a couple of hours. The other figures all seem pretty great, but only Yoda seems to have a ball-jointed head so far. They're not as glossy as Kenner's original line, but the feel isn't too far removed from the toys I had as a child.
My advice - given the chance, buy the Darth Vader/Seeker Droid Mission Series set, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Saga Legends), and the Anakin Skywalker/501st Legion Mission Series set as "samples." (Well, Vader for his droid.) If you like these, it's a good representation of what the line has to offer.
Obi-Wan and Anakin are both fairly similar to the Vintage Boba Fett I have on my desk - the legs have a little give, and the limbs don't feel like they're popping out. In terms of size, they're a little smaller - for example, Jango Fett (Mission Series) is shorter than Boba Fett (Vader Bestpin 3-pack) by a visible margin. The new Clone Troopers are also slightly taller than Jango Fett.
The plastic on Jango (2013) feels about the same as on Boba (2012 Battle Pack), but it does feel like the chests may be a little more hollow - this could be my imagination.
While some collectors seem to deny these figures their right to exist, well, they're here. For what Hasbro aspired to do, I think they largely succeeded in making decent toys of an acceptable quality, but we won't know for sure how they shake out for a few years. I've seen enough no-fisted, un-headed, dismembered figures from recent eras in thrift store bins to have high hopes for this line of figures providing fans with a more satisfying experience. (For the record, I like articulation, but I also like figures that can stand easily without falling over and that can fit in their vehicles more. I've got hundreds of figures that can't do anything but stand on a shelf and be posed, which is no longer acceptable.)
Since Hasbro has made some great figures, many releases since 2005 were modified versions of figures from 2005. Several Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi figures were all modified versions of figures released in that year, and we've got another modified 2005 Evolutions Darth Vader coming in The Black Series 3 3/4-inch line any day now. I for one am sick to death of it. If reduced articulation means we get new sculpts and new effort from Hasbro, I'm all for it - otherwise, I'd rather they just reissue figures with no changes. The new Mission Series and Saga Legends figures are most certainly not "just different enough to make you mad," except for a) the Battle Droids, and b) the rest of them if you have not yet accepted that we're going to be getting a lot of reruns from here on out.
I posted a lengthy rant to Tumblr on the new Saga Legends. If you aren't watching my reviews, go read that. If all goes according to plan, I'll have another review up tonight (Monday).
So here's the scoop - if you have figures from 2002-2005 or 2010 Vintage Clone Troopers with yellowing problems, this may be of some interest to you in some cases. Hard yellow torsos may be stuck, but some of the greenish-yellow on the limbs and helmets can be wiped away.
Hasbro uses multiple kinds of white plastics - some yellow, and are stuck that way. Others are not - starting in 2002 and in 2003, many figures ended up getting an aggressive yellow film on them. Examples include Padme Arena Battle (2002 and the Toys R Us Battle Pack), ARC Trooper (2003), and the 2011 Utapau Vintage Clone Trooper. Here's the thing - you can fix these. I tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (available at your Walmart for about $2 for 2 pieces) which I've been using on numerous 1980s vinyl figures for clean-up, and what worked for Battle Beasts, Glow Ghosts, and The Extraterrestrials also works for some (not all) modern Star Wars.
I managed to clean the 2002 Padme figure's legs, the TVC Utapau Clone Trooper's helmet, and the Kmart 501st Legion Clone Trooper's arms and legs - much of the yellowish green residue was removed. It also pulled off markings from the aforementioned 1980s lines quite nicely when I started using them about a year ago, but I was only just now inspired to try it on modern Star Wars as a) I have been able to wipe off some of it in the past, b) and c) I deserve nice things.
It doesn't wipe clean off in one swipe - you do need to do some light scrubbing with these things, but you'll notice it coming off rather quickly. On 2002 Padme, my sample had a slightly yellowed torso made from a different plastic which did not take to the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. My 2007/2008 sample was clean, though, and only her legs needed de-yellowing. And it worked!
I realize this sounds like an infomercial, but I was extremely pleased with the results. Maintaining one's collection is tough, and while carded fans are out of luck the openers may be able to salvage some of their toys white plastic. I can't wait to dig out my animated Clone Wars Commander Bly, because that one has a helmet that got real ugly real quick!
Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.