Q&A: Force Friday, Star Wars Packaging of the Future, and Why Are We Here?

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 9, 2015

1. Why do you still do this at all? Wouldn't you just be happier hunkering down at your job during the day, relaxing at home at night, and forgetting all the insanity that is inherent in being a guru for this hobby?

I still read your column because I enjoy it and love the (often) idiotic questions, but I could certainly live without it if I knew that one less person was receiving death threats over a discussion about toys.

I got into writing about toys for three reasons. One, because I wanted to know everything. I was going to learn about these toys anyway - may as well share what I can with the rest of the class. Two, to help people out. Not everybody has the time or interest to spend thinking about this stuff. And three, to make some dough. (#3 didn't work out so good.) I genuinely do not know what to do with myself most of the time - so every night I spend an hour or three writing about stuff for this site or 16bit.com, some of which you see, some of which you don't. I get a lot out of your questions because sometimes I don't know the answers and can't get them yet - but I still want to know what the answer is, so I might prod around and see if I can find out more. Usually me trying to figure out what or why something is is helpful for me and sometimes you. After all, when I see your questions I sometimes get the opportunity to complain at length to people who are very much in a position to make changes in the line plans going forward. (Seriously, how many Toy Buyers started off as toy news people and still write toy news?)

Generally speaking I get a lot of insight from looking at information, and sometimes I'm able to give some of that back pending issues surrounding confidentiality and whatnot. I don't consider myself a guru for the hobby - 20 years ago I was in a position to hear a lot of great news and gossip, much of which was helpful to others. Today, it's a little different - but I'm still in a position to share some information of value for those who care to read the column. Some don't - there are numerous, better alternatives to this feature for those seeking out information. Now if someone would pay me to do this sort of thing as part of my job I'd be delighted. I always assumed ASWN (my old newsletter) and this site would have resulted in me doing something in print, but finding the right purpose for print in the 21st century is a challenge if ever there was one.

As long as a sufficient number of people still want to read me, I want to write for them. Q&A still gets the numbers, Figure of the Day doesn't, and I don't know what the Entertainment Earth Podcast or 16bit.com really pull in. But, like I said, I don't think a lot of people who do toys as a full-time job come back to the hobby to try to talk about it all that much, and for the time being I am still in a position to do so. And I hope I can keep doing it. (And maybe find a way to make some dough from it.)



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2. Do you think Force Friday and the Force Awakens toy launch is going to flop without 3.75 super articulated figures or will collectors just buy what's available because we are so excited about the new movies? Does Hasbro really not care about all the effort we have put into building a somewhat consistent 3.75 collection since 1995?

We do not know what the line is going to launch with the Force Awakens toy line. Will kids bite? What's on deck for exclusives? We don't know, and I'm in no position to comment on this stuff yet.

Regardless of how the final line shakes out, there's only one thing we know for sure: LEGO will probably generate more revenue than whatever Hasbro brings to the table. And they don't even have noses.   It seems LEGO has been edging out Hasbro for a while.  Will it flop?   Well, "flop" is relative.   Depending on who your boss is, selling out of all the inventory isn't a success.  It means you failed to correctly guess the market.   If Hasbro makes action figures and those action figures go away over the next few months, your opinion and mine is arguably not worth much.   We now know there are MicroMachines.  Were all of the old guys asking for it?  No.   Was it something I wanted to see again?  Heck yeah.  (Although MicroMachines, Titanium, and Hot Wheels all seem like overkill.)

The 3 3/4-inch line changes over the years - with new and old molds being trotted out, and the change in The Clone Wars over the years, your collection is already inconsistent. There are 2003-style cartoon figures - those are effectively statues. The 2008-style cartoon figures are meant as a sort of "hybrid." The later ones around 2010 are more animated. And there are also "realistic" 2003 Clone Wars figures, plus more salted in the line over the years. With Saga Legends and Mission Series, we've already seen "realistic" figures brought to the line only as 5-jointed figures - let's not pretend that a hypothetical changeover is new.  Simple figures came and went.  Super articulated figures would come and go.   Some years had a healthy mix.  It's never all or nothing.

Black Series Ree-Yees dropped the ankle joints, some of the later clones ditched the rocker ankles, and Yoda - 5 joints in that line. Try to see what's happening here - Hasbro is going to raise "premium" or "collector" figures thanks to their perceived value. If you're going to be sold figures with less articulation (again, Yoda) - would you rather get a $13 Black Series Yoda with dubious soft goods, or a $10 2-pack with an R2-D2? I know answers will vary, but the marketplace usually favors low costs. Hasbro would be wise to move in that direction. There aren't as many collectors - and certainly not as many completists - as you might think with skin in the game after 20+ years.  In about a month, we'll have a better idea what the next few years may look like.



3. Any preference for future Star Wars packaging in terms of colors? By my count over the last 20 years we've had orange, green, purple, red, blue, white, and black. I kind of always wanted to see a bold gold and maybe we will for the 40th anniversary which is coming up? I've always hated brown though and don't think it would gel well with Star Wars or any other toyline for that matter. Maybe a light mute yellow would look cool too? While I've never been one to keep my figures in the package, I always appreciated classic 80's/90's toy packaging and their title logo designs especially. I'd buy a book like that in a heartbeat if such a ine exists.

I'm not a fan of gold or white myself, but I'd be beside myself if that red used for the 1982 MicroCollection packaging was somehow adapted into a faux-vintage mainline look. I've found it bright and cheery, and keeping the "Vintage" template - but replacing black with other colors - would be a swell idea that I'd jump on given the chance. It'd be great to see used for the spin-offs.

Generally speaking I think they've done a mostly good job. The Power of the Force 1995-2000 era was a little uninspired, but it was hearty and easy to rifle through on the pegs - plus the colored stripes at the bottom of the 1998 cards made it even easier to find stuff if you knew how to look. Most fans won't be happy unless the line gets Vintage packaging, which I can agree with from the perspective of packaging materials and waste. Vintage was much less intensive on inserts - you actually use less materials with that little coffin bubble. I would love to see them push to return to something similar, permanently. If they can cut their packaging materials cost by 10%, perhaps that can go back in to the product.

If I were in charge of the line, I'd probably bring back The Power of the Force 1985 but substitute POGs for coins to cut costs. This (also Ewoks and Droids cartoon packaging) - or this with coins again - is the only "vintage package" card Hasbro has left to play. I am also wondering if they'll use it to tie in with one of the new movies - Rogue One, for example, would be gorgeous in double-bordered Vintage packaging (with a j-hook, I hate the punch-holes) and it would tie into the idea that this is a throwback in the continuity and it looks so pretty. The last times Hasbro used black and silver faux-vintage look for the consumer-level cheap line was 2006-2007, and it (and the 2004 line) looked great and did pretty well.




Well, we're in leak season. This is more or less normal, except in 1999 when they did a fine job holding the line somehow. Perhaps they didn't ship to stores. I remember seeing Attack of the Clones stuff about a month or so early in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith was similar. I wandered into stores that had stuff out like it was no big deal - the same happened again in 2008, except a few of the stores had the products flagged as "recalled." So the store employees - not informed, because seriously, this is such a not big deal to anyone but Hasbro and collectors it isn't funny - would pull the stuff and insist it was somehow harmful. If I didn't hear them say it myself, I wouldn't believe it, but these launches really do bring out the worst in fans, employees, and (if you ask me) the perception of the hobby in general. When hearing some rather disparaging remarks about employees toward the fans in line in 2005, it was pretty hard to ignore the fact that this was mostly some sort of nerd sideshow and certainly doesn't make me feel valued as a fan or a consumer. All I ask for as a consumer - put the stuff out. Let me buy it. There's no way I'll buy everything if you put me in front of $1,000+ of new toys all at once, anyway. I dropped my beloved Action Fleet and MicroMachines in 1999 because there was just too dang much stuff at once - I couldn't hope to buy it, and I never went back.

I can understand the desire for a unified front, but collectors (or so I have seen) are not exactly the "save for the winter" kind of crowd with their disposable income. If they see something cool and new, they buy it. By not having a lot of new Star Wars out, that money may go to Transformers, video games, bills, or other things entirely. It's never really good to stop the flow of newness, and we've been dealing with a real stop-and-go collector line ever since Vintage ended in late 2012. But... that's sort of how things go, and we've still got it better than the rest (other than Turtles).

G.I. Joe? For all practical purposes, dead. DC Comics? Mattel has mostly abandoned it except for Batman and Superman, and a few stylized figures for kids. Transformers is doing fine, but you can't name another movie from nearly 40 years ago still pumping out toys at this clip. And certainly not one that's fairly consistent - we've seen this line change direction so many times, it's a wonder that anyone still feels there's a definite "right" way to do 3 3/4-inch figures. We had (and have lost) waist joints. In 2002, we had figures that were mostly statues. That first Luminara Unduli figure was gorgeous with spread arms and flowing robes, but she couldn't sit. She could stand, though, and she was five bucks. A few years later we got a super-articulated version which had some challenges standing, despite the articulation. And no display stand. And it was $12. For display purposes I still like the 2003 model better, even though it will probably experience some sort of discoloration in its lightsaber thanks to the energy deflection accessory.

Another fun thing I hear a lot is the desire to be "done," which is something you as the consumer still can control. You don't need to be all-in, and you'll be happier for it. There are some things you'll want to chase down, but there are some you can probably let slide. And if history is any indication, figures get better and worse and better as we go. For a character with only one costume, there are a surprising a mount of Count Dooku action figures. Cartoon, holographic, movie, super-articulated, action-featured, and so on - you've got like a dozen options. If for any reason Hasbro doesn't make the figure you want the way you want in September, things do change. The line went from being muscle-bound He-Men in 1995 to pretty puny people in 1998, with added articulation in 1999 and improving slightly in almost every year since (until 2013.) With over 2,000 figures it's not like you're probably going to collect them all anyway, so be patient - if you don't love what you see, wait for a sale. Wait for someone to dump their collections.

--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.



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