Q&A: LEGO, Licensing, Star Wars Voting, and - guh- Distribution

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 28, 2017

1. I was wondering how you felt about the ballot stuffing from the recent black series poll. Is this a way for fans to try to get recognition for characters wiped away from Disney's EU cleansing? Is it just sour grapes? Besides Vlix, who I would buy, what's your main missing character from either scale.

I'm kind of torn. On one hand, I hate ballot box stuffing - on the other, if a group got organized to get their candidate elected, that's kind of admirable. It's been a while since figure collectors really got behind a single concept or character in a big way to push Hasbro. The closest thing might be The Vintage Collection coming back, but they've often said that they intend to retire and reintroduce the format here and there. That and you don't know what the current team will do with it - what you ask and what they hear may differ. If you say "we want vintage packaging!" they may well give it to you, but without specifics like "please make new figures" and "original trilogy, please" we could just as easily end up with reruns from the 3 3/4-inch The Black Series range at Walmart. Which would more or less put us in the same rut we've been in, except now Hasbro would have sales figures likely indicating a drop-off of interest in the format, but I digress.

It's my hope that internet voting could be handled in a way to reduce voter fraud, but obviously we're not there yet. It seems Hasbro may have done some voting reconfiguration of their own when selecting the final six, and we have no real way to know the exact outcome because they aren't talking. I'm not disappointed with how it turned out, but I'm not excited either. Doctor Aphra is better (from where I sit) than Ben Skywalker or revisiting an existing character. A lot of fans do feel that Disney should be given abuse because of the Expanded Universe slate-cleaning, but that's just kind of childish. Understandable, but pretty much every franchise with legs eventually starts to eat its own tail and disregard certain elements - be it novels, radio dramas, or even certain movies. I just saw Alien: Covenant a couple of weeks back and it basically works with Prometheus and the original Alien to create a separate franchise - one where the 1979 movie is an endpoint, rather than the beginning. As far as I know nothing has been explicitly retconned yet, but I would like to think any fan knows that just because they're not making more of that thing you like, it doesn't mean it's gone forever. Except, seemingly, Jolt Cola. Where the heck can I buy some?

For the 6-inch action figure line, there are so many unmade characters I'd say it's impossible to pick a candidate to start - but I'd probably start at the beginning and work my way forward. Hasbro has completed the original 12 Kenner figures, so I'd want to tackle the 20-backs next. Ponda Baba, Momaw Nadon, the Death Star Droid, the Power Droid, or Snaggletooth in his many forms would be good choices. I'd also do the same thing with the 3 3/4-inch line - at this point I just want to see Hasbro put the original line to bed. At the very least, this means a Power Droid redeco, another Bespin Security Guard, and Imperial Dignitary Sim Aloo. After that, we can talk Kenner-style Cantina aliens or Ewoks. Mattel basically remade Super Powers in under a decade, while Hasbro and Kenner have spent over 20 years not remaking the original 92-ish figures.

I don't see the collectible action figure-as-a-toy format as being too long for this world. It would be nice if Hasbro threw us a bone and checked those last few remakes off the list. Heck, even a Kenner-style Yak Face would be slick.



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2. Do you think Lego could do a line of blind pack individual star wars mini figures ala the Lego Batman movie and Simpson series? I know my kids heads would explode if this happened. I think it would be a great excuse to make some obscure characters from the Star Wars Universe that you couldn’t do otherwise and with a few new sculpts would be mind blowing! I figured it wouldn’t happen but it seems like the world of Star Wars licensing is just so over-lapped and as a blind bag package thing, hey, why not? You know this would be a big seller - DOGS KNOW IT AND THEY ONLY EAT LEGO ACCIDENTALLY - so any thoughts about what mini-figs you would want? Would a Jaxxon mini-figure not itch that craving you have?

There's a precedent here.

Licensing is a big deal, and some companies are very good about contracts which stipulate what they can make just as much as what others can't make. Hasbro owns plastic figures sold-as-figures of many sizes and materials, and in certain price ranges. (For example, Funko's Star Wars Hikari are always $30 more than other licenses and their Pop! Vinyl figures all have display bases and bobble heads - this makes them unique and fills a need to not compete with Hasbro.) Back during The Phantom Menace days, LEGO sold minifigure 3-packs. These were cool, but they came and went fast - it turns out that if you sell Minifigures, you're selling action figures and that steps on the Hasbro license. If you sell 4 figures with a box of bricks, then it's a construction set. Recent Microfighters are a decent spin on this too - it's a figure and a small build for $10. Bagged promotional figures are meant as giveaways, and most likely don't trod on selling a figure as a license. Back in 1999, LEGO was cranking out Landspeeders with Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi for $5.99, a bargain by the standards of the day. As long as you were selling a kit, then everything is just fine.

In short, LEGO can't sell individual figures, or figure sets. It has to be a construction thing. If LEGO felt like putting a mystery figure in every set, they could probably do that. They certainly add characters in sets that don't necessarily belong there, like the Fifth Brother in the Clone Commander AT-TE, as an incentive to get kids to covet sets they may not otherwise buy. It works. It works very well.

From where I sit as a fan, I'm an action figure guy. I prefer 3 3/4-inch figures. If tomorrow LEGO or Sideshow or Funko made Jaxxon or Vlix in their product lines I wouldn't find it sufficient. I might buy them, but it doesn't count unless it's a 3 3/4-inch action figure, licensed, and probably made my Hasbro. Unless someone else gets the license when it expires, at which point I'll probably have to take stock of my life and decide if I really need to keep doing this. (The answer will be no. The license won't expire with Hasbro until I'm in my 40s, and if they don't renew it I have little reason to stick around and collect from square one. This won't matter because by the time I'm 40, the original generation will be mostly 50 or older and probably long sick of all of this.)




3. Any info on Target carrying the 40th anniversary 6 inch Vintage carded figs? I haven't seen any in the multiple stores I hunt, and even their website says they are not in stock. Are they just giving up after the Ep.7 pegwarmers?

Some stores do stock them - I saw a few at Targets in my area, but they're popular and potentially not everywhere. It's worth your while to keep checking.

"Giving up" is giving them more credit and agency than is actually likely. Hasbro orders 6-inch figures - they don't order specific figures or waves. Their system says "send me more of these" if they're lacking product. If previous waves sit around, they don't request more of them. We also don't know what is sitting in their warehouses... if Target is sitting on the Chirrut/Baze waves, that means when the store inventory sells, they'll get more of the Chirrut/Baze wave. Chirrut and Baze will sell, while the other four will sit around for a while.

Ordering online is increasingly a good thing, as is checking alternative channels for toys. I can't say everybody right now, but stores that you never visit to look for toys are actually looking in to adding toy departments. Some with tiny offerings are looking to increase their toy offerings as their traditional areas of competency wane. Will it last? My guess is no - but toys are trendy as heck right now, with big movies and spinners and vinyl records replacing DVDs and CDs and media storage. Even video games are at war with themselves, given the value of downloads to publishers versus disc media. How the consumer doesn't see what a rotten deal this is for us, I don't know, but they didn't see it for the iTunes store either. (If you buy a CD or game and hate it, you can always sell it. Not so with your digital media libraries.)

Keep looking. But don't deny yourself an opportunity online if it's good - I know nobody wants to pay $27 for a $20-$25 figure, but depending on what it is you may find it a better buy than missing something entirely. Sometimes Hasbro and Lucasfilm have a goal of an item quickly appearing and disappearing, never going on sale or clearance, because they want that line to disappear long before the next Force Friday or other launch. It's never the goal to have product stick around long beyond its welcome, or the next line's welcome, but obviously this was not handled particularly well during the TFA/Rogue One hand-off.




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So we have a new show to watch, maybe. HasCon, the Hasbro Convention, is set for September and it should be some sort of a celebration of all Hasbro products. Star Wars and Marvel are mentioned on the page, but it's not really clear what (if anything) will be announced, sold, or represented on the show floor. Early buzz has surrounded the house brands, rather than the abundance of licenses - but one thing I found fascinating is how this page shows what basket Hasbro's eggs are in. Most of its licenses are owned by Disney, except for Trolls and Sesame Street. (Hasbro's doing great things with both.) I have no idea what kind of fanbase (or kids) Hanazuki will bring thanks to its newness, but Transforemrs has had BotCon and OTFCC, while My Little Pony has had Pony Fair and BronyCon. Nerf, D&D, and Magic: The Gathering also have significant fanbases, although it would seem from where I sit they're much quieter than their figure collector-based counterparts. I have yet to meet or experience rage on behalf of Nerf fans the way I do from our team.

The show is just after Labor Day, and it's in Rhode Island, and it's expensive. I know the neighborhood, and I can say it's pretty great - there's a mall nearby with lots to eat, a few good shops, and some evening diversions for entertainment provided movies or Dave & Buster's are your jam. From where I sit, no convention is worth attending unless there's a robust toy presence (check), newsworthy announcements (probably), and an exclusive where the value proposition demands my presence (dubious). From where I sit, unless you're within driving distance it's going to be an expensive show to visit - but the surprisingly varied guest list is pretty fascinating. Also it's weird seeing a guest list where the guests know who I am... but those guests are also some of my absolutely favorite people to interact with at any event where it's possible, so good choices all around.

I've yet to meet someone who identifies as a Hasbro fan, although I am one - most of the toys I collect that aren't indies come from Hasbro, and have for the better part of the last two decades. Based on ticket prices they can't possibly have a good walk-in family/parent/child turn-out, and based on the information available to collectors I don't know if we're going to turn up yet or not - but a lot of our group wants to know more and is curious about going. I'd also remind everybody that the first Star Wars Celebration was a garbage show in 1999, held at an airplane museum in the rain and mud, with leaky tents, and no exclusives, with panels mostly servicing the new movie while the world was on "no spoilers" lockdown. I do not remember that show fondly. Hasbro was at least wise enough to bring it indoors, near an area with many easily accessed indoor distractions should things get boring or not work out.

Fans (and friends of mine) have expressed concern (to put it lightly) about the surprisingly draconian autograph policy that seems ridiculous unless Hasbro is planning on bringing the single greatest suite of exclusive products ever. "Artists and talent will only sign event merchandise purchased on the day of the event. Proof of purchase, such as a valid HASCON receipt, may be required." Given the cover charge, that seems peculiar - but it's also the first show, so seeing what methodologies they put in place to provide top-notch autograph fodder or what kind of security prevents you from bringing toys to a toy show, especially considering there's a dealer room, will certainly be curious.

I don't know if I am going or can go yet, but I loves me some Transformers just as much as Star Wars these days. I hope the locals all can make it, and I do wonder what a Hasbro convention audience looks like. I didn't see any sign of anyone but Hasbro running the show, so this is fascinating as a potentially historic event. How any toy companies saddle themselves with their own conventions?

Also fascinating, and you may know this, Hasbro is doing its own Game Crates soon. You can probably extrapolate why this is interesting, particularly where it can go, where it will go, and the recent quiet shuttering of the MattyCollector store. As a company, Hasbro is willing to experiment above and beyond what we've seen elsewhere - LEGO may have a top franchise in video games, but Hasbro tried its own TV network - which was actually pretty good overall. The Hasbro movie program is more of a success than given credit, as its biggest hits eclipse its also-rans to such a preposterous degree that it's not even funny. Now with subscription services and a convention on the horizon, I'm always sitting here wondering if we'll see a point where Hasbro may actually decide it no longer needs or wants to dabble outside its own intellectual properties.

So to answer your question, I have no idea if HasCon will matter to you if you read this column every week. It's my hope that it starts life as a fair for the locals to meet one of their biggest employers up close, but the costs make it seem kind of high to take your kids to a walk-in toy commercial. (I'm not picking on Hasbro here, Star Wars Celebration gives fans the opportunity to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to be marketed to on something they have already purchased and already decided to purchase later in the year. Getting fans to pay for their own marketing is a pretty amazing feat.)

--Adam Pawlus

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