Q&A: Kmart, Star Wars Rebels, and Unmade Episode 7 Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 8, 2016

1. I wasn't actively collecting last year, but was interested in buying Rebels figures for my son (to actually play with.) In the course of looking for Chopper (never found him and my son has since moved on in a way that I never could as a collector) I saw lots and lots of different Original Trilogy Saga figures. At the time it struck me that Hasbro was really cranking them out as I would see different figures at the store every time. I assumed they were making an investment in the future with new tools of so many classic characters.

So the question is, do you think Hasbro will take advantage of that investment and reuse those new molds to get those figures back out in the future? eBay prices of those Saga figures have spiked, and it seems unlikely Hasbro would have churned out so much in so little time without a plan for the future. Yet, the release schedule is jam-packed with new media to the seeming preclusion of old favorites. What's your take?

Hasbro's new Star Wars team is more tight-lipped and full of surprises than before, thanks in no small part to Disney. I was pretty jazzed to see them reissue a Zeb/Chopper 2-pack for The Force Awakens of which I've seen plenty, but one of the bizarro things going on right now is that it's not classic figures that are the issue. It's main characters. (A quick addendum - after I wrote this column, I found a Zeb and a Chopper set at Kmart, of all places. So keep hunting!)

I assume because America is racist, Finn is widely available (and was made in pretty much the same numbers as Rey and Poe, packed at 2 per case in most cases.) But do you want Sabine, Hera, Rey, Poe, Luke, Leia, Chopper, or even Darth Vader? Too bad. Hasbro made a The Force Awakens line that was designed perfectly for the collector (as far as character selection goes). You get a couple of major players from Rebels, and everybody was introduced at 2 per case in their assortments. Even the old guys usually came back at 2 per case, except for the couple of cases where you get 12 different figures at 1 each. Were I in Hasbro's shoes - going in blind as to who the real hero of the movie was, and unsure of how fans would react - I'd probably have done what they did pretty much exactly. (Heck, I was assuming Finn would be more popular, not less popular.)

So what we have now is a really strange situation - kids are being introduced to the movies and like them. Getting the main characters is tough, Toys R Us sold through their multi-packs and a lot of the repacks are gone. With the focus on the new film, there's not a lot of room for keeping a hundred figures in circulation over a whole year, so Hasbro is tasked with the unenviable task of guessing what people will like from a movie over a year in advance while also trying to capitalize on the oversaturated "classic" market, which the secondary market is all over the place on these days.

I have to assume Hasbro will bring back some figures, but after two years it seems Rebels is the new "expanded universe" in that it's the category that is popular and underserved. Kids who watch that show may not even realize that figures exist other than Kanan and Ezra, and with all of the products in circulation Hasbro can't get everything perfect. Will a new Old Man Rex sell better than a repack of Kylo Ren with weird winged poles? The answer was, amazingly, no.

I really do hope Hasbro cashes in on its library of toys to give repacks/reissues to big box stores for the holidays. "Best of" assortments - later christened "Saga Legends" - were a pretty important part of the line from 2002 to 2012, because reruns really are important for new fans. It's easy to forget the modern line is 21 years old, so there are numerous characters that you may have never seen. We still haven't gotten the Jabba's Palace Ishi Tib figure, but the Rebel one from 1998 was 18 years ago. The last Emperor's Royal Guard was 4 years ago and a hard-to-find (and excellent) shared exclusive. The Emperor in his black robes? I think that was an exclusive around 2012. Count Dooku hasn't had a new sculpt since the cartoon The Clone Wars figures. What I'm getting at is this - the line has been pretty good at getting a lot of newness out with a few popular retreads, but with hundreds of characters that would likely qualify as important, odds are kids will be chasing some of their favorites.

Back in the 1980s, you couldn't get a plain white Luke or vest Han or cinnamon roll Leia around the time of Return of the Jedi, unless you got bagged versions from a major mail-order catalog. This is kind of where we are today - nearly all toy lines with a diverse cast and collector interest have so many characters that nobody can deliver the promise of collecting them all. Sure, you can get a Batman, but the one you want? Maybe! You can probably get an Optimus Prime, but there's more than one. Maybe you can find a Mario figure... maybe. The line that probably gets it best is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because those guys are deadly serious about case ratios and don't make as many figures in a year. They also bring back figures if the demand is there. They also don't have to worry about competitive IP from Nickelodeon, nor other toy brands from their own house competing. Star Wars' greatest handicaps right now may well be Hasbro and Disney because it would be absurd for a company with a portfolio as fantabulous as Hasbro's to put all their eggs in any one basket.



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2. Do you think Kmart's gotten worse or has it just remained the same while other similar stores changed and modernised? Kmart certainly has a lot of sentimental value for me, and the ones near me are always clean and well stocked. The layout is like a trip back to the early 90s. And Kmart never leaves me feeling depressed about the state of Americans as a people like Walmart can.

There are still a lot of Kmarts in my area. There used to many more. Three more closing on this list.

The biggest surprise on this list is my home town. For 20 years there were two K-Marts. A regular Kmart from the 70s and a Super Kmart that opened in the early 90s.

From the day Super Kmart opened rumor had it the closure of regular Kmart was imminent.

Long story short - Super Kmart closed two years ago, replaced by a hotel. The old regular Kmart outlived it. Now a brand new Walmart is opening across the street from the old still open Kmart.

I was sure Kmart finally met it's match. Surprisingly my local Kmart is not on the list of closures. I I'm sure it will be next time. But I've been sure it would be next every time so far. Keep dodging that axe Kmart.

As a kid, Kmart was the closest good place to see toys with Long's Drugs being the closest period. That one closed around 10 years ago. We had over a dozen around Phoenix, but one by one they've been closing. We lost another one late last year because the lease on the building expired, or so I was told. There are only two left in Phoenix and its surrounding suburban wastelands, with only one - the one I dubbed "the crap Kmart" - remaining in Phoenix proper. It had stuff longer than other stores back in the 2000s, because people didn't seem to like it. It was dirty, it smelled weird, and the people there seemed to be having a perpetually bad day. I was there and found Starkiller Base 6-inch Rey the other week, and was shuffled through (I am not kidding here) four checklanes before being able to pay, and none of them would be called "express" lanes.

It was never a great Kmart. Super Kmarts and Big Kmarts came and went. This one - nestled in an area that friends and loved ones have described as "sketchy" - remains open and a fixture on my weekly toy jaunts to that end of town. (This is in part thanks to the utterly fabulous Lenny's Burger Shop nearby, a place so awesome that they have been able to have my order ready and waiting at the register after someone in the back kitchen saw me walk in the door. But I digress. I really do love that place.)

It's amazing what a revolutionary store Kmart was, but so was Sears or Montgomery Ward at one point. The chain in Phoenix was pretty good back in the early 2000s, I remember it being one of the best places to go to find things up until about 2005. Be it new or old, somehow, they'd come through - and I used to have one nearby that was open 24 hours which made a big difference. (Junkies, vampires, and toy collectors will give you business at midnight.)

Like you said, it's time travel - the store hasn't done much to modernize itself, and my experience with its web site has been poor. Store pickups are dreadfully slow, usually taking (I wish I was exaggerating) 15-20 minutes in line followed by more time to find the item. People who ordered site-to-home have legends of just how random the toy picking was, often with very old items being substituted for the items they ordered. Your mileage may vary, of course, but Walmart seems to be doing a lot better in this space. Target, too.

I assume by this time in 3 years most cities will have 1 or 0 Kmarts. Right now it's terribly inconvenient but I make it a point to go there and I try to find a reason to buy something there if the lines aren't too long. I want to see it stay open, but I'm not hopeful. I've got 2 Walmarts within 5 minutes of my home, plus Targets and Toys R Us and other stores. Expansion and growth matters to success, and I doubt Kmart's existing infrastructure will beget a new generation of wistful shopping memories.




3. it looks like the The Force Awakens toy line is finishing off. But no Luke or Leia? The Black Series TFA Leia is a "secondary" outfit, so one would assume the main costume would be in development for the main line. And I thought Hasbro had confirmed a TFA Luke would happen during questions at Toy Fair this year.

Do you think another wave of TFA may still be in the pipeline? Or could these be exclusives that we will really be surprised by?

Right now, I'm really disappointed to say that all I know coming soon are Rebels guys - but I'm also really happy we're getting more Rebels guys. The Force Awakens may be like Star Wars in one more way, specifically Hasbro (like Kenner) skipping out on it when the sequel hit to focus on other things. Without unified fan demand for more, it might be a while before we see too much more from Episode 7. Hasbro does pay attention to large unified fan demands (Rey) but it has to be large, and also unified.

If there are more coming, I will indeed be surprised - I'm not being coy here, I'm fortunate to hear and see things, and if The Force Awakens has a plastic future they're doing a very good job of not telling anyone. I expect repacks will be a big part of the Rogue One line as filler - seriously, not having a Rey out for Christmas would be depressing for us all - but it remains to be seen what will show up. Toy Fair's snooze of a presentation just showed how devoted Disney and Hasbro are to keeping things fresh... and quiet.

I really really really hope Hasbro keeps them going with more aliens, droids, and... well, mostly aliens and droids. Maybe Hux without the hat and coat. I could take or leave Snoke. Bazine Metal looks awesome. ME-8D9 should be on everybody's wish list. I hope fans start campaigning, but as you saw above - and previously - Hasbro still has its work cut out by trying to make sure everybody gets a Rey who wants one. The main cast is still quite popular and the new fan base will not thrive if it's underserved like the aging collector base. We'll keep coming back. The kids who don't get Rey would be like a kid who didn't get Luke 37 years ago. That kid would move on.




May the sound and fury signifying nothing be with you! Hey, we got some announcements - but having a new Marvel movie and a small promotional awareness campaign for the biggest space fantasy movie series to ever exist the same week can't be good for business. It would be nice if action figures or movie promotion got tied in, but such is life. I'd love it to be more of a thing - and next year, in April, we've got another Star Wars Celebration! I'm not sure if I'm going to make it out to Orlando due to my being increasingly lazy and unwilling despite the access to Steak & Shakes. (Seriously, that place is great. The one in Phoenix is missing about 90% of the menu.)

We got our new Han Solo cast this week and I'm glad to say it's someone I don't have an opinion about yet. You never know what you're going to get, and I guess we still don't. We were lucky John Boyega was a) awesome and b) in a good movie, and that the largely unknown Daisy Ridley was great, and that the great Oscar Isaac was great. I'd give that to freshness of character as much as talent, mostly because we don't have to ask ourselves if the performance is good, or if it's just a good impression of someone else. We know it's good. So welcome, Alden Ehrenreich, and here's hoping you survive the second most thankless role anyone would dare take on after young Darth Vader. Now if you'll excuse me I need to go cry that I'm now so old that Han Solo will now be younger than I am.

Another prequel/sidequel brings me down a bit, although I'm optimistic for Rogue One thanks to some of the talent, the designs, and the fact that it might deliver something genuinely new. John Hodgman (a funny person and professional nerd type) had a jag on the Stuff You Should Know podcast talking about the perils of nostalgia once more, this time making a pretty convincing argument of the dangers of wanting to live in the past. The original Star Wars trilogy, as he put it, was about "making the galaxy great again." Comparisons, of course, were completely intentional as was the point that in the prequels we saw the galaxy was pretty corrupt, dull, and otherwise unpleasant. I've generally been a big fan of now - sure, toys were great in the 1980s, but it's not like I had money or the sense of awareness that I have now. I can enjoy a lot more now, as can you, and as long as we all have a future together - and we do with Episode 8 - this whole spiel will probably continue to be entertaining.

...and while I will indeed go see Young Han Solo on day one, it doesn't mean that I've ever once sat around wishing that someone, some day, would make a movie focusing on that character as a younger person. As an older person, yes, and I thank you Disney/Abrams for giving me most of what I wanted. (Please don't kill Leia or Luke or Chewie or R2-D2 or C-3PO.)

Also - fun weekend. Weird hospital thing. It was unpleasant. Long story short - uh - hey, send in those questions and if I ever do a Q&A Patreon thing please kick in a couple of bucks. Later dudes.

--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.