Q&A: Jedi You Missed, Droids You Didn't Like, Ships You Can't Find, Lower Prices You'll Never See Again

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, November 13, 2011

Might we be seeing more Ahsoka figures? How about lower prices any time soon? Maybe, and maybe not, respectively. All this and a great way for new fans to bolster their collections on the cheap are in this week's Q&A!

1. I have had no end of difficulty finding the latest version of Ahsoka (CW44) on the shelves. I saw one in the wild, and someone had it in their hand when I got to the toy aisle, so I lost. After months of searching, no Ahsoka to be found. I may have just missed the announcement, but are the plans to re-release this figure? It seems like a popular one, and I am surprised to see some of the repacks in newer cases, that where chosen over her. Any hope besides $30 on eBay?

Unless my data is wrong, she may have stopped shipping for the year and it may be a while until you see her again. The previous figures seem to say you WILL see her again, be it in a gift set or otherwise, but it might be a little while. Keep in mind if she shows up in a Battle Pack, it could still be $25. You might luck out in your hunting, but depending on your habits you may spend more in gas than you would on eBay. So I suggest patience, trading, or even more patience.

Last week Hasbro confirmed we'd only be seeing 19 new Clone Wars figures in 2012, and if that's accurate it means they're going to need to fill those cases with existing products. And Ahsoka is a good option.


2. Hasbro is always saying that the reason toy prices keep climbing (not because we'll buy anything with a Star Wars logo on it at any price) is because of materials prices, shipping, and labor. Isn't the reason toy companies locate to Asia because of the super-cheap labor, with no health codes or unions? Do you have any data on how much money the average toy factory worker in China makes? I've seen the exposés on TV and was wondering if it really matters to Hasbro that they have to pay a worker there the equivalent of 10 cents more per week atop an already meager salary. It would be interesting to see the breakdown of the cost of 1 action figure.

I'm not the expert on China manufacturing, but I do hear than many in the hobby. One of the biggest problems is-- wait for it-- the rise of the middle class. China can set a minimum wage, and technology (specifically, cell phones) is a big part of how toy making can be changed as the workforce goes. Not only do cell phone plants offer generally better wages, but the actual use of phones among factory workers allows them to network to find better jobs as (I'm told) a lot of gigs are found via word-of-mouth. You might also want to read this article or this one or even this, which point at increasing labor costs as human labor in China starts to get closer to that of the USA. (I have not vetted all these facts but it's vaguely close to what I read on the bathroom walls at the toy industry parties I'm not invited to.) Although it's possible that automation in the USA could yield cheaper results as technology improves, it would probably take a while for a large company to revisit how it does things. LEGO's factories are largely (reportedly) automated, so it can be done-- but LEGO also manages to keep costs low recycling a ton of tooling and minimizing new parts in many sets.

A Transformers deluxe figure in 1996 was about $9.99, today, it's anywhere from $9-$13 and you get a bigger, better, more articulated and action-packed plaything. Hasbro Star Wars figures were $5.99 in 1998 and are $8.99 or so today, but sport twice the articulation, many times the paint apps, and-- at times-- more accessories. (But not always.) Are you getting more for your money? In some cases... it's hard to argue that you aren't.

A few toys from the Transformers line have been spotted with "Made In Vietnam" stickers and as you can see from the above links, assuming this is all correct, that's where it's cheap these days. If China's minimum wage is doubling in a few years-- and signs say that it's likely-- this means America's insatiable appetite for cheap manufactured goods will need to find a new source, quickly.

But what about materials and freight? It's unlikely those are going to get any cheaper-- stamps are going up, I don't think FedEx has lowered their rates lately, and so on.

I'm no economist, but I do know how $1 of added cost from the manufacturer can often turn into $3 or $4 by the time the toy hits Target or Toys R Us. China's going to be getting raises, and that's going to be passed along to the consumer.

So you're right-- each laborer may make a few extra dollars a week, but how many people does Hasbro employ in China? How many hours per week do they get those extra pennies? How much more does Management get? How much does the government take? I don't have the data in front of me (or at all), but you can see where this is going-- China is booming and the people work hard. Hard work deserves to be rewarded, and someone has to pay for it-- and since we're buying the goods, it's going to be us, unless the world finds another way to manufacture goods with fewer (or cheaper) people.

There are lots of ways to save money, not the least of which is to extend the life of a consumer product at retail-- in the 1980s, a toy introduced in 1984 would probably be sold until 1986, unless, of course, it bombed.

3. Do you have a list (maybe a top 10) of Star Wars 3 3/4" figures you would like to acquire (say pre-2007) to add to your collection?

My suggestion would be to grab The Saga Collection from 2006-2007. The whole thing, it's about $300 these days if you buy it as an entire collection all at once. There are more than 10 good figures in here, and if any fan is just starting out it's a great place to kick things off. There are better versions of some of them, but the style of packaging is really good, they all include display stands, and there's some genuinely weird stuff in here like original deco Battle Droids, General Rieekan, Major Derlin, and some nice astromechs.

These aren't all super-articulated, but the thing is (and I keep saying this and taking guff for it) you can buy an entire collection of them relatively cheap. A lot of 73 Saga figures just sold for about $326 shipped on eBay, which is a steal. "But I can't afford it!" Well... depending on how much new stuff you buy per year, it may be cheaper (and more sensible) to pick up someone's collection 1-2 years after it comes out. Put off a few trips to get coffee, or whatever your vice may be. I mean, 73 figures were about $7 per back then, you were probably looking at around $550 after sales tax (and gas isn't even included.) One figure is usually $5-$10 shipped, but the entire line is closer to $300... I can't argue with those numbers.

So yeah, 2006 and 2007 are good places to start-- save up some cash and you can grab a ton of figures for $3-$4 a pop. 2006 was packed with some repacks/new accessory figures, but there were great figures like a melting Han Carbonite, Leia Boushh, Chief Chirpa, Bib Fortuna, a Sandtrooper, Momaw Nadon, R5-D4 (with pop-up bad motivator), Rep Been, Foul Moudama, the Firespeeder Pilot... there's 10 right there. Even some of the repacks are neat due to great accessories like storage chests, tables, boxes, and other gear you just don't see in the Vintage line these days.

Obviously every figure isn't perfect, and a chunk of them are available in newer (and not necessarily better) forms, but this is a pretty good year overall (I did poo-poo it at the time but it's more varied than 2011) so yeah, start here. I'd say about 40 of them are good to excellent and not yet upgraded to a point where I'd pass on them, so yeah, go get some... and after that go for 2007's 30th Anniversary Collection.


4. Do you think there is any chance Hasbro may bring back/restart the Action Fleet series of plastic ships/vehicles?

Short answer: no. Action Fleet had a few revivals, such as the big one in 2002 (without figures, sadly), a die-cast one around 2006 with its Ultra Titanium vehicles, and the first few years of Star Wars Transformers vehicles were, basically, scaled to Action Fleet complete with mini figures. While Hasbro is bringing back Titanium, it won't be the big ships, and unless Hasbro is willing to sub-license out this segment of its license (spoiler alert: it isn't) you probably won't see this sort of thing again for a very long time.

There are other scales Hasbro has been experimenting with, some of which will be hitting soon, so it seems they're wanting to do something new and different. For some reason.


5. The Clone Wars is, by all accounts, a runaway success and a licensing bonanza. A wealth of great potential action figures have been seen already and more emerge every week. Despite this, Hasbro appears to be virtually abandoning it, so that they can heartily embrace the most hated chapter of the saga, investing significant tooling dollars to remake figures that languished at retail the first time they were made.

I understand that Episode 1 is being re-released and I understand that Lucasfilm will be "encouraging" licensees to design, market, and otherwise flog products related to it, but the extent to which Hasbro is committing the line is frightening. Those red & black Darth Maul blister cards from 1999 were still greeting me at some Toys R Us stores four years later. We need a pile more of those figures?

In a line that has kids as its primary audience (as we're told again and again, ad nauseum by Hasbro), why would Hasbro abandon the sub line that's sold so well to kids in order to shift focus to a more collector-targeted source material that many collectors don't like in the first place?

What answer would you like? You know what? I'm going to skip this one. We go through this every time the line changes-- if a new movie comes out, people are mad we're not seein original trilogy, or the Pod Racers. When Clone Wars started in 2003, people were mad they didn't make more Clone Troopers or other prequel aliens. In 2008, people complained the new Clone line was taking over for the movie stuff. I have to put up with the same thing in other lines too-- I'm not crazy about the movie-based Transformers or G.I. Joes either. It happens and they almost always go back and do the stuff they missed, eventually. Let's do another question because this isn't going to go anywhere. Yes, the line will change every few years. And yes, there will be more Clone Wars toys in 2012. Moving on.


6. I read your positive review of the Mandalorian Gunship, and saw the August release date on the Comic Con pics, but never heard of anyone finding the ship in stores. Now Entertainment Earth has altered their ship date to November. Is this ship still coming out this year? Any word on delays? Thanks!

The issue here is non-collector-friendly casepacks, combined with me not being sure if The Big Stores got theirs yet. Hasbro did indeed ship this item (mine came from the aforementioned online retailer, I ordered like the day it went up in... June?) and Hasbro keeps tweaking its vehicle assortments in ways that don't do us any favors but are, usually, good for the big box stores. It used to be 6 vehicles per case in 2005, then it was reduced to 5, and now it's 4 with (as far as I can tell) few or zero figures ever being packed greater than one per case-- not even the Cloud Car or Snowspeeder. Since Hasbro wants to keep Jedi Starfighters in circulation, new vehicles-- and we saw this with the Jedi Turbo Speeder, Droid Gunship, Swamp Speeder, and others-- will ship, sell out immediately, and then you won't see many of them until later. Generally the big box retail stores will get huge shipments in November (and we're in November!) so hopefully you'll start seeing these as a result of general increased toy shipments. This time of year they heavily multiply how much product they go through, so it might show up-- but keep in mind, you're also competing with literally every parent, aunt, uncle, and grandparent in America now and those people are friggin' monsters when it comes to getting a present for a kid who probably didn't ask for the specific item they're about to buy for them.

Complain about scalpers all you want-- but there are very few of them, and there are millions of people who buy things for kids and they can gobble up entire shipments in minutes. MINUTES. So if you aren't at the store during the exact right moment, you might not see something. And this is going to apply to all sorts of consumer goods in the coming weeks, so yeah, shop early, shop often, or just wait for next year.

Most Clone Wars vehicles showed up in quantity later-- MONTHS later than their target dates-- but they did show up in bigger numbers after release. Unfortunately, so far, it's a matter of waiting and waiting sucks.

So my guess is this one will start showing up closer to the holidays or just after. It's my hope they bring it out in the "vintage" box line too-- the graphics are great and who wouldn't like to see some awesome photo illustration of this vehicle filled with Mando troopers?



Going through more boxes for more Figures of the Day. Believe it or not, after you pass a thousand, it gets slightly tougher to find ones you didn't do yet.

While writing them I do my usual research, and the bulk of my findings are pretty much the same: if you can wait a few years, you can usually buy dozens (or hundreds) of figures for half of retail price, or even less, on the secondary market. In many respects, anyone jumping on board the line today (armed with this knowledge) could probably amass a complete collection for below SRP, and that includes going after most of the hard-to-get items, as there are precious few 1995-present items that are, as the kids say, "worth something." And most of those are vehicles, so the takeaway here is to buy vehicles and/or new minor Clone Wars characters early and often.

After getting some more Toys R Us credit in the mail, plus the discount, plus another bonus gift card, I actually got the Death Star Trench Run gift set with the X-Wing, Darth Vader's TIE, Luke, Vader, and R2-D2. Compared to last year's set with the big Slave I it's not as much fun, but the amount of work that went into the X-Wing is worth noting. The landing gear in the nose now fits into a small compartment. There's a rotating torpedo launcher. The deco is phenomenal. The new targeting computer basically sucks. The redesigned interior is pretty great, and there's a new storage compartment under the vehicle so you can pretend you're fixing it.

The biggest surprise were a pair of very small slots in the vehicle for lightsaber storage-- there's one in the cockpit, and there's another one under the ship in the aforementioned opening hatch. You just slide the blade in, and the hilt sticks out a bit so you can pull it out again. This is a clever idea and it's a shame we don't see more of this kind of thing-- weapon storage is a wonderful feature on vehicles, and other than the AT-RT (2009, 2010) we don't see it all that much on smaller vehicles. The big ones have it, but well, they should-- you gotta put something in there to fill up all that space!

The figures are largely unchanged, but I'm needing to locate some Darth Vader samples to be sure. It's based on the 500th figure mold (which has been reused to death), with one major change-- both shoulder pads are glossy black and the chest armor has a darker metal color. Separately, these are not notable, but together it's technically a different, arguably insignificant, variation. I need to check it against 2008-2010 Saga Legends releases, and the archives I've seen so far just reuse the 2007 version so I can't be completely certain that this is indeed a new (or different enough to make me mad) deco. The combination of dark chest armor stripes and all-black shoulders with no damage is, I'm pretty sure, not something I've seen before on this mold-- but I'm mentioning it here just in case you can correct me before I start going to Walgreen's in hopes they have the older figures to check for myself. So far everything I've found points to this figure being a unique deco.

One interesting point in my Sunday travels, I saw a family looking at the set and the kid was interested in it-- until he saw R2-D2. This set has the battle-damaged version from 2008 which, while a gorgeous piece, was described as "not looking okay." And he's right-- with a big gift set like that, you don't want to cater to collectors. While I love the mold, as a kid I'd probably be put off by a big boxed set and one of my heroes, basically dead. I wonder if this is a common reaction, or if most kids would even notice at first-- I was certainly surprised that it seemed to be an almost immediate response and then the family more or less moved on quickly.

...were it the first-ever release for this R2-D2 (last sold at Wal-Mart in 2008) I'd demand you all go buy it. But since you most likely have these figures and vehicles, I'd let whatever sales and gift cards you may have help with your decision. Mine cost me a grand total of $19, which felt pretty good.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now!