Q&A: Hasbro Figures, Custom Figures, and Saving Some of The Expanded Universe

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 4, 2014


1. Do you know when the next wave of 2014 Saga Legends figures will be released,particularly the Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight one?

Luke and Obi-Wan (Clone Wars 2008 style) have been on Hasbro.com for weeks and I've been asking around for answers on these - so far, nothing. Similarly packaged Darth Maul and Snowtrooper figures are supposed to exist too, and I'm not sure what the hold-up is.




2. In relation to the series and other source material beyond the six movies, do you think that anything will be used by Disney in the upcoming movies? I recently heard that they will not be using expanded universe stories, but I did not know what that might include. I think that children and adults who have been faithful to the Clone Wars series would like to see some characters pop up in one form or another. What are your thoughts? I did not think that every loose end needed tied up in the series, as this provides the opportunity for characters to live on and be used in the future.

I was pressing a bunch of people at Disney about The Clone Wars and they were skilled at NOT answering this question. Thankfully StarWars.com posted the answer a few days later and they said that The Clone Wars and the movies are now "immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align."

Which is interesting - mostly because were I in their shoes I'd upgrade Ewoks cartoons, movies, and Droids cartoons too just to get those out in circulation again. That TV show has the added benefit of referring to other characters, so Quinlan Vos is saved from the gutter of history - but we also have the dubious fortune of having Darth Maul's resurrection from some of the comics, too.

Buzz I have heard indicated that while The Clone Wars is done, it may not be done done - unfinished episodes exist in various stages of development, and should the desire arise these could be, at some point, somehow, completed. But this buzz is of little value without a source, and I ain't got no source.


3. Do you happen to know the legal process that goes along with customization? I know there are third party or unofficial transformer toys that have been released. I am curious about how this is acceptable.

I am not a lawyer.

A few years ago there were rumblings of a more aggressive Hasbro/Lucas/Whoever when it came to customs but it seems whatever storm there has passed. If you look at Etsy, it's like 90% hand-made copyright violations and nobody cares yet. Welcome to the terrible future of the Internet! Some are just one-offs, but some - and this is where I heard objections raised with custom figures in the past - are made in hundreds or thousands of units. Obviously, no good customizer has time to make thousands of the same figure to sell and cut in to Hasbro's bottom line, but more realistically it's not like they have the raw materials to do it either. A one-off art project selling on eBay probably doesn't make the customizer too much money after materials and time are factored in, and it's probably not worth anybody's effort to hire a lawyer to send a nastygram to stop the sale of a $50 custom that's based on a $10 figure with $25 in supplies. These things don't hurt sales of the genuine article.

I am unable to get a straight answer out of Hasbro regarding Third Party but from the various toy industry works I've read, you can't trademark colors or a vehicle. There's no law against your making a toy truck that turns into a toy robot that happens to have a silver plate for a face with a red and blue body. However, you can totally trademark the Autobot symbol, the name "Optimus Prime," the brand "Transformers," etc. Anyone can make a toy turtle that comes with a set of katana blades and can stand on two legs - but only Playmates can brand it TMNT and name it after a painter. I am not a lawyer so I may be missing out on some nuance here, but legal fees have a lot to do with it too. Is it worth tens of thousands of dollars to track down and sue a guy who maybe only made tens of thousands of dollars profit at the end of the day? Possibly. This sort of thing may hurt sales for the genuine article, but the general rule of thumb in the toy business is that a very wide audience of kids, collectors, aunts, uncles, gift-givers, and so forth are what make most of these lines work - just adult collectors aren't enough to make most lines work. Since only adult collectors buy the third-party stuff, in the grand scheme of things, it huts Hasbro's bottom line a bit - but more than anything else it's probably just a black eye to the billion dollar company.




In about five or six years, I've seen "May the Fourth Be With You" go from a joke that isn't funny to a marketing scheme and endless meme that isn't funny. Hopefully it'll be about as popular as "Talk Like a Pirate Day" in a year or two and burn out on its own.

Casting news! So I gotta say how pleased I am that a bunch of names I didn't hear reported on every pop culture site made it in Star Wars 7. Andy Serkis was a welcome surprise, and John Boyega was in the little-seen Attack the Block - a swell UK monster invasion movie from a few years ago. It's worth a look, particularly because you like sci-fi and you haven't seen it. Kenny Baker was also something of a surprise, given the digital R2-D2 has performed quite well, as has remote control versions over the years. Hey, not to knock the guy, I'm glad to see anyone is getting a well-earned payday. The lack of Billy Dee Williams - or at least the lack of confirmation - has raised a few eyebrows, certainly my mailbag and IM lists brought this very question up over the last week. It's my hope he'll show up in #8 or somewhere in #7 doing something awesome and unexpected. Heck, there's even a precedent for it with Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek Into Darkness being semi-hush hush.

One of the depressing things about reviving old franchises is not merely the fact our childhood heroes will suit up and remind us just how much older we are, but old age is a very real thing. Anthony Daniels is 68, while Kenny Baker is pushing 79. The great Max von Sydow is 85. Harrison Ford is 71 - for the film buffs out there, Sean Connery wasn't even 60 yet when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade hit theaters. Not to be morbid, but it wouldn't surprise me if one or more actors weren't around to see the completion of this trilogy. I'm not saying anything regarding their casting so much as just whining about getting old.

But back to the topic at hand, when we first heard the casting news for The Phantom Menace I didn't know much about a lot of these people. Samuel L. Jackson showed up in good stuff, so that was good news. Natalie Portman I only knew as the girl from Mars Attacks!, I seem to remember seeing Jingle All the Way partially because I wanted to see who Jake Lloyd was, and I hadn't seen many Ewan McGregor movies at the time. And I had no idea who the hell anyone else was. I won't poo-poo gender or race inclusion yet because a) what we see is supposedly not final and b) it's not inconsistent with the franchise thus far, but hey, here's hoping it gets better. If we get to Episode 9 without any mention of Lando, I'll be plenty irritated.

I know the business in speculation of the movies is to be all down on it, but my guess is I'll have a good time and while I figured I'd be more interested in the toys than the actual movie prequels, I feel the opposite so far this time - mostly because of the theoretically huge time gap. Between Episode I and Star Wars, we're looking at about 20 years of galactic history - Return of the Jedi and Episode VII may be as great as 35 years later, meaning that the visual connection could be even more jarring. I was genuinely expecting (and hoping for) pristine Y-Wings in the prequels fighting alongside less junked up versions of Original Trilogy ships, and what I got were largely all-new things that were usually not as fun to futz with. (I like the Jedi Starfighters, though.)

Anyway, I guess this was of no real value to anyone, but I'm still hopeful. I've often kidded about being the cockroach of the fandom, the one who'll say "I'm still here!" when the last person turns the lights out and leaves the world of collecting. Now that I'm convinced that day will never come - the sky is not falling, there's too much money to be made here - it's going to be a strange new world with potentially multiple movies before the franchise hits its 40th birthday. It seems few franchises are able to really make a second, really good first impression without somehow fundamentally abandoning their roots - Marvel managed to recreate its characters in the transition from print to film. Even Transformers made a splash, but I can't say I feel that the new Star Trek movies will crawl from under their ancestor's shadow yet, and I assume Planet of the Apes will always be reaching for its own place due to the legacy of that first, truly spectacular movie. My complaint here is less about Star Wars, but the movie business itself - Prometheus was a fascinating visual treat, but Alien, it ain't.

--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.