Q&A: Indy, Indy, and Star Wars

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 27, 2016

This week in Q&A - Indiana Jones. Which is a separate license from Star Wars. Also more Indiana Jones. Not to be outdone, we're also going to look at the vehicle count - are we getting a fair amount of vehicles for the new flick or are we being shorted? I guess it all depends on your point of view.


Don't forget, send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. With the news just released [recently] Indiana Jones V , Does Hasbro still have the license? And do you feel that we could get another figure line for this movie? Jakks pacific could finally do a 31" or 48" indiana jones adventure buddy, and Hasbro could have a chance to make it up to the fans for producing that crappy painted first wave of the series, which ultimatley killed the line, along with terrible assortments and just no real push for the line!!! Thank you......FORTUNE AND GLORY......

"Don't get your hopes up, cheese!"

Generally speaking we don't know who does or doesn't have a license until the replacement licensee announces it. (And in the case of things like die-cast metal Star Wars vehicles, well, anything can happen.) I don't know if Hasbro still has the license or the nature of the deal. There have been some interesting writings about how Kenner did business and how they ultimately lost the exclusive rights to Star Wars in the 1990s, and it's possible that Hasbro's Indiana Jones license came along with their acquisition of Galoob, but I am just speculating here. I don't know, I don't have a confirmed answer.

If Hasbro does have it, and maintained the deal, there's no guarantee they or anyone will make it. You point to the bad wave 1, but the reality may be a little more complicated than that. LEGO did OK with it, but not great. Gentle Giant didn't do a lot of stuff with it.  Funko didn't make any bobbles or vinyl figures.  As a property Indiana Jones always appealed more to older boys while Star Wars skews young, which makes a tremendous difference in terms of toys and interest. We're also in a post-ToyFare era - the nerd class is very different, while the aging Gen Xers aren't necessarily going all-in on any toy line anymore. In short - there may not be any toys for the next movie, and if there are they may not necessarily include 3 3/4-inch action figures.

A few months ago Scott Neitlich (formerly of Mattel, now of Jakks Pacific) wrote in to say they do not have the rights to Indy. Depending on what Disney feels they are worth, they may not get a lot of takers after the last movie. The property is beloved, but it's not like Star Wars in that a) you can't make toy Nazis really, and b) they don't have a cast of hundreds/thousands. If Hasbro does another line, I assume it would either be The Black Series-style figures that will end shortly after the home video release or a 5-jointed 3 3/4-inch line of no more than 2-3 waves. I know you're going to hate me, but as a toy property Indy doesn't really have the legs many wish that it would. It's a cousin to Star Wars, but it's not Star Wars.

A quick tangent - Jakks Pacific does 20-, 31-, and 48-inch figures almost entirely in properties with massive youth appeal. Master Chief skews a little old, but the vast majority of the characters done up in the bigger sizes appeal to kids in (if you'll pardon the pun) a very big way. I've got Mario and Link looking at me from across the room. In the other room, I've got Ezra and a Stormtrooper - and in another room, Chewbacca and a super-duper tall Inquisitor. Other releases include Power Rangers (coming soon), Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and other big-big-big licenses that appeal to the widest possible range of ages from toddlers to my parents. This may be tough to hear, but Indiana Jones doesn't exactly have a lot of fans in the elementary school range and that sort of thing matters.

Back to Hasbro toys, the quality control and assortments of the action figure line from 2008 didn't help. It's not like LEGO continued for long beyond 2009, plus there aren't a ton of figures that may be worth doing at this point. It was a real struggle for Hasbro to get out that last wave of Raiders of the Lost Ark figures. It would be super-cool to see a few other outfits and a few other characters I don't really think this movie, as a mass-retail line from a major toy manufacturer, will ever have life beyond the movie window. Give it to NECA or someone who better understands how to market to the collector/adult without having to take the kid client into consideration, and you'll probably get something awesome. But that hypothetical toy maker has to look at the performance of the brand - classic and new - for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and say "this is a good idea." The 1980s "Adventures of Indiana Jones" line didn't do well. LJN's Temple of Doom figures didn't do much. I don't know how the genericish theme park Indy merchandise did, and well, that last movie wasn't exactly a winner. Star Wars had a lot of successes. Sadly, it seems there is no time for love for Dr. Jones.



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2. I was watching the excellent Plastic Galaxy movie about the origins of the original Kenner action figure line, and it struck me that one of key motivations for having figures be 3.75" was that it made it easier to sell the vehicles. Apparently the money was in the vehicles and the figures themselves were considered something of a loss leader.

When kids see my collection, invariably the first thing they make for are the vehicles, and then they look for figures to put in it. The reaction today seems the same as it was for a kid in 1977, and with the toy market having changed so much in the intervening years that feels quite significant to me.

While we have had a good number of new and old vehicles of all sizes since 1995 - I look at the 6" sized TIE Fighter, the quasi playset/vehicle Falcon and the relatively small number of 3.75" scaled vehicles accompanying The Force Awakens, and rumoured for Rogue One - and it seems there is a very different mindset at work. (And yes, this is a thinly-veiled grumble from someone still holding out for a Blockade Runner).

I wonder if you feel the role of vehicles and figures has changed significantly over the years, and if so when did things begin to change (i.e. the end of the Kenner line in 1983?)? Have the multitude of Star Wars products and lines pushed vehicles out of the picture?

Pretty much - vehicles have been slipping in the toy aisles for quite some time. In Steve Sansweet's From Concept to Screen to Collectible, this whole thing is also discussed. It's also easy to forget that Kenner found success with the 12-inch action figure format - 3 3/4-inch figures succeeding was something new for them in Star Wars, with their lower price points and greater variety being very conducive to actually collecting. (Adjusted for inflation, the Walmart price of $1.97 from 1978 is about $7.79 today.)

As a kid who was scrounging garage sales and flea markets in the 1980s, I went after the vehicles first - they did more, they were more fun. If you look at the prequels, vehicles were in somewhat short supply there as well - The Clone Wars offered an amazing selection of hardware for our figures, but a lot of collectors quit by then despite the fact many of the vehicles were modeled after the films. A pity. Around 2013 Hasbro told us that manufacturing costs resulted in their having to actually make new versions of existing ships just to make them sellable at a reasonable price - inflation and China's rising wages are just some of the factors that make vehicles increasingly expensive. That's why Hasbro moved production to Vietnam for some of their brands, and now also India. (So far, Star Wars hasn't had a lot of play outside China.)

The role of vehicles changed by the 1990s - actually, even by the 1980s. Kenner was keenly aware by The Empire Strikes Back that the "accessory" figures were driving sales. The same thing happened with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero - the tanks and planes were the intended sale, with the figures being "accessories" for those toys. The cartoons and marketing managed to change the focus to the people, and the rest is history. (Also history: any interest in G.I. Joe from someone under 30.) Increasing costs have changed how Hasbro does vehicles today, and the shift in the interest of toy collectors did too. In the late 1980s, collectors first turned their attention to 12-inch Star Wars Kenner action figures - those shot up pretty nicely by 1989. The vehicles started going up shortly after the big figures. 3 3/4-inch action figures - even 12-backs and Yak Face - were still pretty cheap. I got Sise Fromm for $4 carded in 1991. Droids toys were worthless - R2-D2 and C-3PO cost me a princely sum of $10 each unpunched. I of course opened them all. The collector mania surrounding 3 3/4-inch action figures started to really take off after Heir to the Empire was published. Vehicles are nice, but look at the secondary market for older, discontinued vehicles - those things are expensive. Collectors didn't buy extras to speculate on the secondary market and kids tended to play with them. What you don't collect tends to be more valuable, and vehicles were generally the road less traveled. It was outright common in the 1990s for collectors to buy more than 2 of each then-new Kenner action figure - but vehicles? Maybe they'd buy one, two if they were living large. This is why the Power of the Force 1995 Millennium Falcon is $200-$300 and the Han Solo from that line is less valuable than the box and stamp to send it to you.

Circling back to the prequels, keep in mind there weren't a ton of vehicles and interest faded fast. There was no real "year 2" for any of the prequel movie vehicles beyond a couple of stragglers, and The Phantom Menace only debuted 7 vehicles (plus creatures) in 1999. Attack of the Clones got 5 in 2002. Revenge of the Sith got a princely 11, but 5 of those were Jedi Starfighters - only 7 were new molds. The Force Awakens brought us 8 new molds, 5 of which made the final cut of the movie. I'll be shocked if we get more than 5-7 new molds for Rogue One. Most action figure lines get very few vehicles these days - at best, Masters of the Universe Classics gets 1 a year and Marvel Legends... uh... help me out, have they had one since Hasbro took over? Did DC Universe Classics have any that weren't tied to a movie or TV show?

Vehicles are very last-century. They got much smaller as the 1980s went on, you'll notice that most vehicle-and-figure line shrank down as we got to things like M.A.S.K. and Dino-Riders - figures were smaller than 3-inches tall and the vehicles were scaled down accordingly. Bigger figure lines had fewer vehicles, and playsets were usually limited to one or two per brand - if that. Still, that last glorious age of scaled-down articulated with figures was glorious.

So, doom and gloom. I expect we'll see some stuff for Rogue One but I don't know that you should get your hopes up too high for an extensive line. Remember, Hasbro developed Rogue One toys at least 9 months ago, if not more, back when the plan was for Rogue One to be out December 2016 and Episode VIII in May 2017 - it's entirely possible this is going to be a tiny quickie short line rivaled only by Star Wars Rebels' debut in smallness. We'll find out in a few months!




3. Maybe this isn't exactly Star Wars related per se but how do you think Hasbro will handle the next Indiana Jones film merchandise-wise? The Kingdom Of Crystal Skull line was pretty diastarous in terms of quality and distribution, So do you think they will play it a bit more conservatively or figure enough time has passed that they can have a bigger launch? Also, Do you think they will produce stuff from the original Indy trilogy again like in 2008? Like with TFA I figure nostalgia will play a huge part in it's marketing. Now that Micro Macines are back for now, I'm hoping they do some for the new film along with some playsets/transforming heads.

I don't know for sure if Hasbro has the Indiana Jones license, or what happened as a result of the sale to Disney. Did Hasbro have a perpetual license through its acquisition of Galoob? Did Galoob have a perpetual license to transfer in their sale to Hasbro? Did that license cover all movies, or just the original three and someone had to renegotiate for Mutt Williams' arrival? I don't know, and generally speaking people aren't talking.

Since Last Crusade got virtually no toys and Temple of Doom got a handful of figures from LJN, I'm not expecting much of anything. MicroMachines seem screamingly unlikely - we got them for The Force Awakens because the 4-year-old child of 1994 - when these were released - is now 26 and possibly has a kid of his or her own. It's also a brand in Hasbro's portfolio that they trot out every few years - we got "MicroMachines" plastic vehicles as Target exclusives in 2005, but they weren't so Micro.

I would bet money that you will never see proper Indiana Jones MicroMachines again. I was stunned to see the gift set Galoob put out in the 1990s. We got a line of Titanium Series for the Crystal Skull line which was largely forgotten, and is largely worthless (as in, go buy it cheap now). As someone who likes Indiana Jones I don't think we're going to see a lot of product because there's no real nostalgia for Indy toys. (TOYS.) People love the movies, the last one was a huge money maker, and then there was some backlash - despite having some pretty great toy designs. That sentence applies to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as much as it does Avatar.

Hasbro struggled to get our 4 retail waves last time - everybody saw waves 1 and 2 of the action figures. I saw most of wave 3 at retail. Wave 4 seemed to be an online/closeout exclusive. Wave 5 was canceled and reformed as an SDCC exclusive. Kids didn't buy in to the Adventure Heroes concepts, collectors didn't jump at Gentle Giant's bust and statue program, and let's be perfectly frank here - what kind of figures do you think Hasbro will do? The super-articulated action figure has basically been given the boot by Hasbro outside of exclusives and a small amount of their Marvel product. Indiana Jones skews older and 5 joints may not work there. If anything, maybe you'll get some Black Series-style 6-inch figures. If I were Hasbro, I'd probably shy away from doing much of anything other than toys based solely on Dr. Jones himself - which means that the license probably isn't going to be worth paying for at this point in history.




Indiana Jones is one of those really weird properties in that it always comes up in conversation yet nobody seems to be doing good business with it. (LEGO may be an exception, but LEGO anything tends to sell eventually - I remember both seeing and buying some of it on the cheap after clearances.) Star Wars fans see it as a part of that collectible world, but the licensors don't and ultimately it doesn't have the same level of interest with the customers either. I assume we will see some form of three-dimensional plastic product for a new film, but even if Hasbro does do something their attention span for movies tends to be 6-12 months with few exceptions. Marvel movies come and go in a year - and they rarely look back to previous entries for new toys after that year. Transformers movies seem to have a branded shelf-life of 9 months or less now, with the last one being developed with a planned sunset period about two waves in. We're still not sure how The Force Awakens will shake out - are we almost done? Will we see more new characters from the movie as toys this time next year? I know as much as you do.

So best case scenario for Indiana Jones is you might get something like Guardians of the Galaxy - a small spread at launch, maybe two waves, and then it goes away forever. Indy is going to need a hard reboot with an intensive focus on kids to ever really become a thing for toys, and again, let's not forget that action figures are not exactly in vogue for the tiny tots right now, and the toy collector class of the 1980s and 1990s is slowly but surely moving on to other things.

It would be fantastic if every movie series could foster the kind of affection Star Wars brought to the world of toy collecting, but that just doesn't happen. Marvel movie Hasbro figures are still missing numerous key characters - there's no Mandarin toy, there's no Pepper Potts, and Hasbro somehow completely missed doing Groot roleplay too. Every license cannot make a successful toy line, and even a successful toy license cannot guarantee a deep collecting experience. Numerous "no-brainer" licenses are still basically lacking in variety - Mario's getting better. Zelda is basically just various Links with an occasional Zelda or Gannon. Metroid is almost entirely Samus with only one toy of the eponymous space jellyfish coming to mind. Even Alien and Predator are missing toys of much of its human cast, and Star Trek could probably have fostered a collector line even bigger than Star Wars were it not smothered into an early grave through some... interesting decisions in the 1990s Playmates line. (Which, let me tell you, has largely aged better than the Kenner Star Wars figures from the same era.)

So what am I getting at? Star Wars is still tops. What other old movie can foster this much love? It's not like there are Wizard of Oz forums with people demanding mud farmer figures. Just because a movie is successful and beloved - and in the case of Oz, even covering the spread of fans of all ages - doesn't mean you're going to get an endless supply of toys and collectibles. You can't go to the store and find most older movie franchises as toys, unless that store is Toys R Us and that toy manufacturer is either Neca or Funko.

Star Wars Rebels season 2 finale this week. It's not a bad show, I've been enjoying the bulk of it a great deal. My only real complaint is with the action figure line - it feels undermerchandised, or rather, it feels like it's being treated like a non-Star Wars property. I can get all-you-can-eat Ezra and Kanan toys, but not Sabines or - as of late - any bad guys but the now-dead first Inquisitor. Hasbro loves to reissue figures, and I really hope they consider putting out more of Season 1 Sabine. I think Hasbro and the industry can dispense with the myth of "girls don't sell" and "pink things don't sell toy boys" because a) Arcee did fine, and b) she's a Mandalorian! This is money left on the table.

The TV properties are usually the ones that come and go without leaving a major impact. The Ewoks movies and cartoons didn't exactly leave a massive plastic footprint, and Droids churned out a good mix of figures without too many vehicles. Rebels is sort of in that category - to date we've got six vehicles (not terrible) and just over 20 figures from the show - give or take, thanks to the multiple troopers, Kanans, and Ezras. I'm guessing the line will be hot stuff later thanks to there being an underserved market, thanks to most villains and even some fairly major heroes not seeing plastic - there will be interest. Someone out there is going to have Azmorigan be their holy grail down the road (assuming that he keeps not getting a figure) and while that's frustrating for me now, I hope it provides fuel for the future collecting fandom. Namely, I hope it helps there to be one after the class of 1977 sells off their wares and collections scatter to the wind.

After this finale? Well, we've got one or two waves of figures expected between now and Comic-Con, and I am expecting (correctly or incorrectly) we'll see some sort of sneak peek figure for Rogue One before the line rolls out, somewhat similarly to last year, in September. The movie seems to be doing a better "mystery box" than The Force Awakens given that I don't think we've seen any real official footage yet, and most of the stuff we've heard are along the lines of "rumor that's not a rumor." I hope it doesn't get buried, but given the blockbuster mania that kicked off with Deadpool and Zootopia and continues with Superbat vs. Manman - Dawn of Justin to Kelly there's certainly an argument that it will be difficult if not impossible to get people to care about what's next in six months when what's next in three weeks is so much more accessible.

--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.