Q&A: Getting More Retro Star Wars and Changing Priorities in Toyland

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 19, 2023

1. Could you speak at length at what you think happened in 2012 that caused the modern line to change course so drastically? I was a toy-buying kid in the 2008-2012 era, so seeing my beloved Star Wars line go from a sprawling assortment that consistently got massive displays of varying ranges at TRU to ring in the new year to a drought of new product from 2013 was jarring, even to a child.

TPM3D's line bombed, but I still struggle to believe that it was enough to outright kill all retailers' faith in several products (Remember 'Deluxe' vehicles? Battlepacks, even?). I suspect the Disney shakeup is really what turned things upside-down, but it baffles me that to this day, collectors still don't bring up how quickly the change happened. I'm assuming the original plan, as evidenced by the Yoda and Vader packaging, was to support AOTC3D and ROTS3D in 2013 and 2014 with a similar range that TPM3D had. The various AOTC and ROTS figures in the Black Series (2013) line seem to point in this direction, being figures too far into development to outright cut. I remember how awkward and unsatisfying that line felt to collect, like a retirement party that no one decided to show up for.

Star Wars as a toy line probably should have died around 2013, but the Disney sale pumped it full of life again. It's easy to forget the 3D prequel program that 66% didn't happen, but also that The Clone Wars was not received well be most adult fans - it's kids that loved it and grew up, and now (ha ha ha) you adults out there are stuck with an Ahsoka show. I can't speak for everybody, but I think that Generation Xers in 2012 had absolutely zero desire to revisit The Phantom Menace and voted with their dollars, while anyone who wanted it could buy the original stuff for the same price - or less. And I don't blame them, it was an unpleasant launch with a lot of stuff being offered for a second (or third) time.

A big inventory pile-up seems to happen every few years - I think it might be happening now - and it results in the line contracting or changing a bit. It's possible for a glut of bad product to hit the market and cause a radical rethinking of things, and you can't always make changes fast enough. The 3D movies are a prime example - 2012 had so much stuff rotting that the final wave of The Vintage Collection was almost completely axed from the US market and sold overseas in tiny numbers. That did happen with the various Movie Heroes and Clone Wars figures in the green Yoda packaging - there are even a smattering of Maul packaging figures that never hit the US market, but short of a few, weird competists nobody seems to care. There were a lot of unique and weird Movie Heroes that most people just ignore.

The 3D Phantom Menace line bombed in part because of poor research - there were a lot of good figures in it, but most of the vehicles were being sold at $29.99 due to rising costs in China. This concerns you because at the time, many of those vehicles were still available in Episode I 1999 packaging for $20 or under - there was no need to reissue them unless you felt that the movie rerelease would create massive new kid demand. You can be pretty sure any excuse to bring back Darth Vader will result in new sales, but Anakin's Podracer and Sebulba's Podracer - and the 2012 versions lacked the driver figures at the higher price, too - it was just a slow-motion disaster waiting to happen. And it happened. Other product got made in numbers higher than the market needed - I do not know for a fact what those quantities were, but successful products do not get dumped at Ross Dress for Less unless there someone goofed and ordered twice the run.

The 3 3/4-inch Yoda packaging had some really cool stuff in it, but most fans were tuned out by then. The "cheap" Jedi Starfighters, Slaves I, and Republic Tank are actually really fun toys! I loved the Mission Series 2-packs and Saga Legends singles. (The packaging stank, but the figures were nice.) Even creative weirdness like Yoda's Jedi Starfighter were a blast, fun little toys that captured the old Kenner spirit. But when fans don't want to have fun - and in that era, a lot of people were concerned more about serious collectibles than collecting toys - it's not like you can win that argument. I sometimes joke that if I'm ever really, really excited, Hasbro should be worried. I love weird things with fun toy features that are new and not already in my collection - I genuinely liked Hasbro's Resistance cartoon toys, despite being pretty iffy on the cartoons. I wish they made more. But I digress.

On the whole collectors don't talk about things they don't care about. How many people talk about Star Wars Amp'd other than me? Remember those army men figures, Star Wars Command? Who but me has a complete set of Fighter Pods? There are literally thousands of toys out there and because it's more than any sane person can absorb (hi Steve) very, very few people have the bandwidth to remember or care about the parts of the lines they don't follow. I lost track of the revival of Galactic Heroes after a while (the bigger, Jedi Force ones with jointed arms and legs - I loved and got all of the squat originals from 2002/2004-2010.) But nobody talks about the originals either, or Titanium Series, and so on and so forth - I assume The Retro Collection will get memory-holed should the line end. Unless, of course, you're like me and absolutely obsessed with them.

But I'm probably digressing away from the real nut of all of this: nobody can afford to collect it all, and nobody has the attention span to even realize what they missed. I knew so many collectors around my age who just got to a point where they said "I'm only buying Droids" or "Original trilogy only" by then, and in hindsight I can't blame them at all. I always assumed Star Wars post-prequels was always 2-3 years away from being completely dead again, and here we are... possibly never, ever going away.



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2. Are you privy to if Hasbro is going to release a RotJ retro board game for the 40th anniversary of Jedi? Kenner, back in the day, made a Return of the Jedi - Battle at Sarlacc's Pit board game and I thought that would be cool to have one of Jabba's goons they never made back in the day with the retro look included. If not, did the previous board games not do well at retail? I thought the retro line has been doing well aside from the Kenobi show and even those are slowly disappearing off shelves. I am also surprised that Hasbro has not been making more OT retro figures never produced by Kenner. I'm a fan of Stan Solo's stuff but I would think official merch would be very popular at retail. Thanks!

If I knew of an unannounced item I'd have to say I don't know about it. So you can take this as accurate, or not. If there is a new retro board game (with or without figure), I'm unaware of it - given Hasbro's push to plastic-free packaging, I wonder if a carded figure in a board game box got dumped as a concept. (For those just joining us, we got Grand Moff Tarkin with a game in 2019 and a Snowspeeder Luke in 2020, the latter of which showed up at Tuesday Morning for ten bucks last year. Also there was a battle-damaged Remnant Trooper with a Mandalorian Monopoly game.)

I'd love to see one of the Ewok games or the Sarlacc Pit game, but if they're coming I haven't heard of anything. It could be an exclusive, it could be a late reveal, or maybe they just didn't want to do it due to sales of previous editions.

The lack of original trilogy retro figures on-shelf is kind of confusing - those seem like they would be catnip to aging gen xers and their kids. (For the record, I've never seen Target's Star Wars wave or Walmart's Empire Strikes Back wave on-shelf that I recall and it sounds like the non-exclusive solid-only ROTJ wave might not show up in stores either.) Even just reissues of some figures seems like a solid idea. Darth Vader sells. I would buy a Stormtrooper every time I saw one at the store until I got an army that would make me feel bad.

It would be spectacular for Hasbro to do some original trilogy retro guys we didn't get before. It'd be a superb Fan's Choice thing, even if it just meant literally one figure per year. Tarkin would probably have been my top pick (and we got him), but I wouldn't poo-poo Garindan (Stan Solo's is a hacked-up custom POTF2 Garindan with a vinyl cape), Wedge Antilles, Dagobah Luke, Ishi Tib, Wuher, the Cantina Band, and so on. You can have too much of a good thing, and I really do think a slow-drip of 6-12 reissues per year makes a ton of sense, but I only count two new retro Original Trilogy guys since 2019. Or 1985, depending on if you want to measure from there.





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Another week, another announcement! I'm surprised The Mandalorian push is giving us The Book fo Boba Fett product. Not that I'm complaining - as cool aliens and interesting character costumes go, it's probably my favorite Disney-era project. Where else are you going to get new Tusken Raiders, Jimmy James, Uncle Machete, Jerri Blank, Jennifer Beals, Selena Myer's jackass ex-husband, a chef droid, cyborg kids, fish gangsters, Krrsantan, creepy Hutt Twins, Mayor Hammerhead, Sarlacc-Vomit-covered Boba Ho-Tep, and... look I could just keep going on. I haven't even gotten to everybody in Garsa Fwip's place. People love to bag on that show and they are wrong. From a production design perspective it's stunning and anyone telling you not to watch it is depriving you of the stuff action figure collector dreams are made of. (But yeah, the flashback whiplash of the first four episodes was a bit exhausting.)

This week we got some new Tuskens. Obviously, I'm cranky that the warrior is 3 3/4-inch, the Chieftan is 6-inch, and the generic Tusken is retro. I'd love to have everybody in one scale. Heck, I'd probably even put someone else's money where my mouth is - but Hasbro gonna Hasbro, and unsatisfactory scale rollouts have been the norm since 2019. Due to the kinds of stuff I like, I'll be picking up the 6-inch Chieftan. I'm not a monster. He looks cool!

I still think the goal for Star Wars action figures should be to do everything in 3 3/4-inch (not picky as to retro, Vintage, or some new kid line, as long as they're compatible standing around in a playset.) But, I assume Hasbro wants people to have a reason to pick up something in each and every line, which is a pity because LEGO has one scale and it works wonders for them. I absolutely love the idea of doing bigger, deluxe special figures for some characters. The 40th Anniversary stuff for 6-inch makes good sense - it's a great sampler platter of a decent collection of characters that doesn't go in the crazy nooks and crannies that, frankly, are why I bother to collect these things in the first place.

But you know, vote with your dollars. I want vehicles, I'm not getting vehicles, and 6-inch has been, on the whole, not exactly the place-to-be for vehicle collecting. I'm kind of surprised we never got a Vintage or Retro Blurrg - or Clone Wars, or Ewok movie - but such is life. I hope they consider it, it would be fun. It doesn't look like we'll be getting any season 3 Mando stuff at this rate, but also, after the first two episodes, I'm not exactly jumping up and down for anything I've seen to be made as a toy just yet. Heck, I've got an R5-D4. I've got many R5-D4s.

Also worth noting, Indiana Jones Retro are starting to hit.

--Adam Pawlus

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