Q&A: Jedi Force, MTT, Bigness, Sabe, and Much More

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 4, 2012

Whither Jedi Force? Does Sabe have a future in toys, for you Kiera Knightley fans? All this and more, in this week's thrilling Q&A! Well, OK, maybe not "thrilling" but they can't all be winners.

1. Toyfair has come and gone and one area I heard nothing about is Jedi Force. Was there any hints to the status of this line? Is it dead already after just one wave?

A few new items were shown, including the Naboo Fighter, Speederbike, and Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and a handful of new figures. As Hasbro seems to be aping Imaginext's style, it seems they are also borrowing their release schedule, which is to say few new products. Little kids don't get dozens (or hundreds) of figures during the length of time they'll be with that brand, so it's not in Hasbro's best interest to release too much product in a year.

Since this is a kid-targeted brand-- and let's face it, we really absolutely are not their key demo here-- how much do you think is a fair size for kids to buy or ask for in a year? $50? $100? Back in the 1980s, Hasbro postulated that $100 or so was a reasonable number if you wanted a kid to collect it all, and at that age, Hasbro's probably just chucking money down a sewer. We will be getting some new Clones and supposedly Phantom Menace stuff, but the fact that we're not already seeing it is more than a little confusing.


2. With the Episode I MMT and Hasbro putting out the Hellicarrier for The Avengers movie line and a Bruticus put together from a "Deluxe" size of video game Combaticons, seems like Big is part of the 2012 plans coming out of Rhode Island. While I know the brands don't work together to coordinate product, just curious on your thoughts if these are seen as a calculated risk or just plain risky?

Flagship products are sort of important. I read a book about the 1980s toy biz and there was a quote pointing out Hasbro's larger items, like Fortress Maximus and the USS Flagg, were less "we expect you to buy this" products as they were "We're Hasbro and we're awesome and we're making this because we have giant balls and our toy lines are so big we can do this risky thing." So in some cases, it's just a cucumber down the proverbial pants. (Surely you remember the proverb of Derek Smalls?)

The Avengers item isn't really all that big, and Bruticus is actually five stand-alone standard toys. So in this case, it's sort of an illusion. The MTT, on the other hand, seems to be Hasbro's cucumber. "We do a big vehicle every year!" is what I hear Hasbro say in my imagination, "and Star Wars is still an important brand with lots of collectors and you're going to buy this big thing and sell millions of them." At this point, not doing a highish-end vehicle would probably be like waving a white flag to retail about the longevity of the brand, plus it would mean giving up precious shelf space to a competitor. (Have you actually taken stock of how much shelf space Hasbro has in a Target relative to others? They got a lot.)

I do think some of the products are risky, but it might be there specifically to engage the consumer's imagination-- something for a child to wish for-- which draws them into the brand, but at a lower price point. I read some economics thing about consumers often waste money by not buying the best/most sensible item and getting something cheap, while the Supreme Deluxe dangles over their head keeping their imaginations engaged and buying other products in the brand. It could be that.

As Big Years go, few will beat 2009, where we got a $100 G.I. Joe Pit, a swell Turbo Tank, and a massive Revenge of the Fallen Devastator to name a few. Oh, and the big honking Y-Wing Bomber. That was a good year. This year we've got some good, modestly sized toys, but I'm now actually not entirely sure I believe that Hasbro will release them all in the USA.


3. So, just caught the 3D re-release of TPM with the family and I completely forgot Kiera Knightely played Sabe. Arguably (or maybe not) one of the bigger actors to come from Episode I, is Hasbro able to work on that character with the official name or is she relegated to Queen's Decoy, etc? Is she just not interesting enough?

You actually already have a couple of good options. Sabe came out in Power of the Jedi a few years ago, if you want one. She's pretty good. The going rate is $2-$3. Queen Amidala (Royal Decoy) came out from the same period, and is also basically Ms. Knightley.  So there's your two Sabe figures, one properly named and one merely a decoy.

If what you meant was why Hasbro hasn't done another one, well, Hasbro hasn't exactly been crazy about doing more girl Padme-ish figures lately. If we get one a year, that's a pretty good year.


4. I've been holding off on asking this question but I think it is time to clarify your answer in [a] recent Q & A. This does not have to be published and a direct response is fine. What is going on with Hasbro regarding the Star Wars Toy Line? What I mean is, I remember when I couldn't wait for Toy Fair or Comic Con to see the Hasbro presentation of all (and the many) new Star Wars products. Here lately, as in the past couple of years it seems that Hasbro just isn't excited about Star Wars product and seems to lack enthusiasm when it comes to supporting the product. I understand the impact of the current economy, but that's not it. I mean, between the lack of excitement on their end, the unjustifiable rising prices of the figures (overdoing it), and introducing new nitch market product like pods instead of taking those resources and building upon their bread and butter 3.3/4" line just makes no sense, not common sense, not business sense. I mean dwindling the Clone Wars line (as show that is doing very well) and instead creating new nitch lines while leaving the Clone Wars lacking (Is there a new idiot in town we don't know about)?!! Is Hasbro deliberately trying to whine down the line and eventually kill it in the near future? You know what, this is very frustrating and if you want to publish this go for it, maybe Hasbro can read it and see what they are doing to customers who have spent so much of their life's earning supporting them!!!

I get variations on this question every month. Basically, it boils down to this-- "How come I'm not as excited?" I think there's at least a few "I wouldn't mind if the line ended right now!"s every month too.

Is it winding down? Is Hasbro putting their emphasis on their other big brands? It's hard to say since I'm not in all of those meetings. It's plain to me that Hasbro wants to get some action out of G.I. Joe and of course Avengers, which could be good long-term as potential replacements for any brand which falters. Kids love Hulk and Spider-Man, but not so much Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander just yet. With too much Star Wars or Transformers in the marketplace, you might not have kids sample the other big brands, and that's potentially bad.

There are lots of possibilities as to why the line is what it is, but on paper they're doing some pretty amazing things. We're seeing an increased emphasis on marketing to kids with Jedi Force, Amp'd, more Star Wars Transformers, and Fighter Pods. We're getting our token big vehicle with the MTT. The Vintage line-up is, to say the least, excellent, plus Movie Heroes are actually pretty fun to play with. Fighter Pods are not a niche product-- they're not for people over the age of 12, but those doofy little "Squinkies" do pretty good business, and they're cheap. This is the same reason Hasbro does Kre-o-- they see a product they could sell, and try to get a piece of that action. As a business you can't be content to just do one thing. You can't just sell Coca-Cola, you have to have Coke Zero and Vanilla Coke and Decaf Coke and Sprite and a bunch of other products because you can't just sit back and let one product do all the work. It's just not good business, and by that I mean it makes it look like nobody is doing their jobs.

The Clone Wars and vehicles (as a whole) are easy areas for criticism. As to vehicles, I don't know what's going on, and why that Naboo Fighter isn't already out is beyond my comprehension-- it's due very, very soon though. But The Clone Wars... have you looked at the ratings for that show? It's not doing great, it's in decline. I don't know if that directly connects with the toys, but Hasbro fancies themselves a media company and they like to get behind the biggest things they can, which sometimes results in other brands suffering. (See: Transformers Prime.)

Hasbro is not trying to kill the line. If anything, by giving it a lighter year, the brand as a whole will probably stick around a bit longer. I don't know what their long-term plans are-- if they'll want to renew it in 2017-- but it definitely feels to me like they've completely withdrawn support for The Clone Wars. Prove me wrong, is all I'm saying. 19 figures in a year is unacceptable when you have heavy-hitters like Darth Maul and amazing character designs, plus easy repaints like the Clone Troopers that nobody is taking advantage of these days. I guess the point is this: if you go heavy on Vintage, TV will suffer. Or vice-versa. Would you rather not have Darth Malgus, a new Hoth Luke, the Mon Cal Pilot, and the rest? Hopefully we'll see more TV figures next year, but the line has changed shape many times in recent years. Who else remembers 2003, when pretty much all Walmart carried were basic figures and maybe a few medium-sized vehicles? Things change, there are good years and bad years, and some times the product doesn't align with what each of us wants. Like Fan's Choice. Mara Jade? You people have awful taste. Pick something new, dammit!


5. I'm sure you've heard the rumors about some Fox Exec in the UK saying that they could releae the SW 3D films every 6 months and AOTC could come out in August. I can't see LFL doing this though, but since you're in the toy business and many licensees are in the same business, is that even logistically possible for companies like Hasbro to push products up 6 months in advance on such short notice?

It's bunk. Load o' crap.

While possible, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Lucasfilm's pretty big on letting people know what's coming up-- even the secret stuff-- and generally speaking foreign executives are a great source for misinformation, particularly with video games and toys. It's like when people expect Hasbro Canada to develop products and make the big announcements. Guess what? They're not in charge, and neither is this guy. Don't go to them for the skinny, because they don't have the big picture.

The marketing plans do not focus on this, and while it could change on a dime, a second 3D rerelease in 2012 is not in anyone's best interests. Hasbro could push stuff up if they wanted to-- the Original Trilogy Collection came to be as a last-minute companion to the DVD release in 2004-- but the fact remains that there is no release date for Attack of the Clones at all as of yet. I have been getting a lot of people asking me in my other place of answering questions about this, and it's been driving me crazy because I can't figure out where this is all coming from.



Ahhhh where are we now? Right, 2012. We're in a weird position where things look a little more bland, it's starting to feel a little more like the 1990s again. Figures are hard-to-find, there's a growing sense of the unknown as to what the future holds for the line, there are no new movies in sight, and it looks like retailer exclusives may be done for a while. (Except the Walmart Phantom Menace 3D Battle Packs and the missing Clone Wars DVD sets which came out in Europe. Still ain't seen those. Who's got the DVD sets at a good price? I want.) This hobby has largely been about adventure, exploring, hunting, and the creeping fear you just might miss something. And now? Well, now we don't even know if Hasbro is going to necessarily release everything they show us, and with their own Q&A on hiatus it seems like we might not even get the chance to find out about those lost exclusives. "Yes or no will do," am I right?

I've been spending most of my time on fewer toy runs. I'm presently enamored with Bot Shots, a deformed Transformers side line which is pretty amazingly good for the price, and am finally trying to figure out how I'm going to set up my Masters of the Universe Classics while also trying to fill in a few gaps. (And I'm still looking for a Battle Beasts Pillager Pig, dammit.) What this means to me-- and maybe to you-- is that Hasbro is leaving a good chunk of money on the table. We all want to buy stuff, but with the lack of The Clone Wars and, other than The Old Republic, the line has no real future to speak of.

This is a crying shame, and somewhat funny given the nature of the last episode of The Clone Wars from Friday. It was awesome. I don't care if you guys hate the show, they gave us Simon Pegg as Dengar, a young Boba Fett in a really cool suit of armor, alternate Asajj Ventress outfits, new and weird alien creatures, bugs galore, and floating trains. It was wall-to-wall awesome, with no clones or Jedi anywhere in sight. Glorious. And based on Hasbro's recent direction in toys, we'll probably never see any of it in plastic until the "retro" Clone Wars line comes to pass in 20 years. There's not much sadder than to think Hasbro has this great license, and will just end up sitting on it. C'mon, people, bounty hunters galore. Easy money. It's not like the usual weird crap I ask for.

As to where we place the blame? Well, I point toward Avengers and G.I. Joe, because Hasbro's other darling Transformers is getting screwed this year too. (Heck, and last year.) People often ask "is the line dying?" and generally speaking, I'd have to say not really. It might be creatively shriveling away, although it's not the first time we've seen toys canceled without a trace and a few super-cool items ending up de facto European exclusives. That happened during The Phantom Menace the first time around, too.

Speaking of Hasbro supporting the Hub cable channel with toys, now can I get some damn Aquabats action figures please?

--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.

Other Q&A?

You mentioned "my other place of answering questions". Where is that?