Q&A: Let's Start 2014 with 2013 Figures, Black Series, and New Stormtrooper Sculpts

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 5, 2014

Welcome to 2014, Q&A fans! Let's talk about some of 2013's hardest-to-get action figures. And Stormtrooper sculpts. And The Black Series some more. Because why not? It'll be fun. Did you miss me, because I missed you! (Also, FOTD is on hiatus this week - we'll be back next week, though.) Let's get started - read on!


1. What figures are you talking about each time you mention the "costly Asia/European figures"?

Hasbro produced a bunch of figures in late 2012/early 2013 that never were released in the USA, including some "Movie Heroes" on Darth Maul cards (light-up weapon Sandtrooper, blast-apart tan Battle Droid, grapple-backpack Boba Fett) as well as both The Clone Wars and "Movie Heroes" figures on green, Yoda-themed cards.

As far as I know these will never come to the USA, plus the new versions of animated Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi should be filed under "just different enough to make you mad." A new 501st Clone Trooper and a different Captain Rex are in there, too, as is a single-carded Maul if you're in to that sort of thing. For movie fans there's a light-up Lightsaber Episode III Anakin Skywalker in there. The Sandtrooper with the light-up gun is super-cool and it's quite unfortunate it wasn't sold in the USA. Boba Fett is the 2004 Vintage figure with a different backpack. There's a blast-apart red Battle Droid, too.  All in all it's a real mixed bag - had Hasbro canceled them outright, I doubt many would complain. The fact that you can't have them is what makes them desirable.

They're "martyr figures" which will no doubt remain expensive just because Americans never really got a shot at them. I'll be tackling them in Figure of the Day at some point or other, but as they're all repacks with few new characters I expect nobody really would read them, anyway.



2. Is there any rhyme or reason Hasbro uses in determining which characters make it into the Black Series line?
It's always a safe bet the first choices would be Vader, Fett, Stormtroopers, and fan favorites.
I can see people wanting that, a "best of the best" collector-friendly line.
What I can’t fathom is someone saying, "Wow, a collector-grade, highly-detailed Star Wars line, costing $10-$20 per figure? I sure hope they make a Padme and Biggs!"
Or, does Hasbro plan to release all characters in this line?

There is reason, sort of, but you're not going to like it. Figures like Biggs and Padme are in the Black Series because the 3 3/4-inch 2013 Legacy/Droid Factory line was canceled - Hasbro decided that those figures must be released, and they went into the next line, which is this one. The work on the figures was done and they were far enough along that Hasbro saw it prudent to release them - in their position you would put them out, too. Biggs, in particular, was also required to tie into the Toys R Us exclusive X-Wing Fighter and from what I've read this was a very intentional choice by Hasbro.

We had a similar situation with Power of the Jedi in 2000 - Hasbro's Star Wars team was tasked by upper management to totally rebrand the line and focus on the original three movies. Figures were already in production, so achieving the desired Original Trilogy-emphasis took a little while and we had figures like Boss Nass, more Obi-Wans, more Mauls, and a few others in there before it really shifted over. (It didn't hurt that some figures like the Tusken Raider and R2-D2 could pull double-duty.) It is extremely difficult/expensive/wasteful to throw out development on products like these, so you're gonna get them, regardless of the current climate for the line.

If you're trying to reconcile Hasbro's marketing speak - a collector line, best of the best, etc. with what the Black Series actually is - don't. It's just the packaging that's out now. The marketing line may be that this is the "executive edition" of action figures, and if the line lasts long enough we may very well see that. We're all suckers for thinking it'd be anything but a continuation of Vintage, minus the beloved packaging and graphic design style. "Vintage" wasn't necessarily about best-of-the-best over the years, as that first 2004 C-3PO is pretty basic even by 2004 standards, and Hasbro almost couldn't wait to update Vintage Bespin Luke (2007) to Vintage Bespin Luke (2010).

To put it another way - look at the 30th Anniversary Collection. Some figures - animated Boba Fett, McQuarrie characters, and so forth - really do showcase new spins on popular characters. On the other hand, it had two Biggs figures, a red Naboo Soldier, Pax Bonkik, and yet another Destroyer Droid. By and large, these are not things that are all rewarding to long-time fans and/or newcomers, it's just filler. Any way you slice it, the brand name - be it Black Series or 30th Anniversary Collection or whatever - is really just an envelope to put out whatever figures they feel like at the time. You should place no more significance on it than you do the numbering system on each carded figure which, again, you should ignore. It's like life - there's no significance to a lot of it, just coincidence that humans place significance upon when you really, really shouldn't.


3. The Empire Probe Droid is one of my favorite Star Wars things. And I can only think of two versions: the original Kenner figure that was included with the Hoth playset with a little plastic stand for the Probe to sit, and the only other version I can recall was the POTF2 version, which wasn't quite as cool. But I must be forgetting a few. How could there only be one sort of modern version from POTF2. Set me straight. Hasbro probably did make a newer, current version that is awesome right? And I just can't remember it.

Other than a couple of variants, you're right on the money - Hasbro hasn't made a new Probot mold since the deluxe Kenner version from roughly 17 years ago. In addition to the Power of the Force releases, there were also a couple of Battle Packs. A reissue (not really a redeco) appeared in the Toys R Us exclusive 2005 Assault on Hoth Battle Pack, which is remembered mostly for the strange photo on the back depicting an actual vintage 1982 AT-AT Commander. The probe droid received a wonderful redeco in the 2008 Hoth Recon Patrol Battle Pack, which I consider to be an essential purchase.

You can read about the 2008 Probe Droid in Figure of the Day. I like the deco more than the other releases, so it's my second favorite after the 1980s Turret and Probot Playset original. We're about due for a new one, but I do not anticipate one in the near future.


4. My main question is why can Hasbro get the stormtrooper helmet pretty much right on for the new saga legends figs but not the super articulated figs? I attached a pic from Jedi temple archives. Also how many more back to the future Lego sets will there be?? [snip] Any word on if Hasbro is getting clogged up like the vintage waves did? As in sketchy distribution, as it always seems that other sites always post about store reports and it would seem that they are everywhere.

On the Stormtrooper, it's worth remembering that Hasbro's sculpting on these five point of articulation figures is largely much improved and started in 2012. Most of the super-articulated Stormtrooper (and Sandtrooper) helmets are recycled from figures 2004-2007 with few exceptions, so this new Stormtrooper helmet is, well, new. As such, I have a hard time saying much other than "well, it's better than reusing the same one again." Hasbro tends to reuse molds beyond the point where people like us are sick of them, so we're quite fortunate that the new paradigm in cheap figures demanded Hasbro start from scratch and that it worked in our favor.

I do not anticipate any more Back to the Future LEGO sets unless they're voted on in Cuusoo again. That DeLorean is probably going to be it - it came out of a petition on the Cuusoo fan-driven site for LEGO to make new sets, and lucky for us, it worked out. It's unlikely that there will be more sets because this pretty much covers the bases for what would likely sell - an entire theme, while doable, probably wouldn't be a huge hit. But one set? One set should do well. (And Simpsons? I'm hearing we're getting those.)

I do not have visibility into Hasbro's inventory, but I look at it this way: if there's a steady stream of available waves (especially online) and you never see or hear of anything in stores, it is likely product is sitting around. When things are "sold out" online (or only sold at a big markup), that usually means that the bulk of product is out of the main distribution supply chain, meaning it's sold or is going to be sold to someone shortly. Right now I've only seen Black Series Wave 2 3 3/4-inch a couple of times, and 3 not at all yet. Availability varies by region and neighborhood, I'm seeing a lot of 6-inch around, but it's possible people living elsewhere may not be - all it takes is for one collector to find a case before you to buy all of the new figures. It's most likely they were there, and you missed them. If you ask the employees, unless it's a collector, I wouldn't take them at their word of "it hasn't arrived yet." I once asked someone at Target where the Jurassic Park stuff was (this was a long time ago), they said they don't carry it, and found it myself five minutes later. They are not necessarily paid to know these things.


5. The Geonosis Jedi sets from Toys R Us are great. So is the Gunship. But why are the old very articulated clones included. I'd avoided that figure all these years and in an afternoon acquired three of them. Interesting still is that it's the Red and Yellow clones who are included. These being the two that haven't been released yet in the new sculpt. I'm a big fan of the new Clone figure sculpt. And never was that into Clones before it.

Generally speaking these decisions are made by what tooling is free at the factory. Hasbro has (from their perspective) perfectly good tooling collecting dust, so to them it probably makes a lot of sense to use it to stamp out figures for an exclusive. Hasbro tends to use old tooling as much as possible because as much as you and I will disagree, on paper, that's a pretty good figure. In 2010, that was the best clone from that movie fan money could buy - and while there's a better one now, well, dem's the breaks.




First, a question - do you or does anyone you know have a Lifeforce (or Salamander) arcade game for sale or just to see? I'm including arcades and businesses here. If so let me know, I want one. I'm willing to flash the cash - perhaps Mr. Lincoln may persuade someone to part with it.

What have I been up to? Well, I hooked up my Wii to play GameCube games I got when Zany Brainy (remember them?) went out of business like ten years ago. I got about six "Shines" in Super Mario Sunshine as the game basically grated on me, and I spend a lot of time powering through it. At this point it's less about enjoying the game than it is about getting my $23's worth of diversions. (Hey, writing columns for you guys sucked out most of my video game time since 2002. I have a backlog.) My advice to you, video gamers: never allow yourself to cultivate a backlog of video games to play unless they're portable and can go with you on planes or elsewhere. You will never, ever finish them all. I don't think I actually saw the end credits of any game I picked up for GameCube except maybe Smash Bros Melee.

Thanks to Hasbro's last-minute release of new Saga Legends and Mission Series I'm quite happy with the end of 2013. If the character selection was a little more varied, as far as I'm concerned, Hasbro would be wise to jettison the "Black Series" 3 3/4-inch line entirely. I'd much rather have $6 repaints of Astromechs with 2 legs and 3 joints than $10 ones with 6 joints and 3 legs. And that Stormtrooper - OH! MY. GOD. Seriously, the 2013 Saga Legends Stormtrooper is a gift from above to anyone wondering what the Hasbro of today could do to perfect the original 1978 Stormtrooper. No holster, no problems sitting, and a neck joint. Mwah! Perfection. I want a dozen of them, post-haste. I'll buy every one I see until my Imperial Troop Transport vehicle is filled... and maybe a few extras. It's just that good. Rex and Boba Fett are nice too, and Cody is also available.

The Funko and Super7 Alien figures shipped and I think I can continue to say that this may well be the line to beat. I love Hasbro's cheapo figures and 6-inch figures, but the retro-styled figures are a lot of fun. Obviously the company got an unfair head start with Alien having built-in legendary status thanks to an old figure magazine article and actual vintage prototypes, but did you know that they're scheduled to have something like 16 more licenses in 2014? Terminator, Firefly, Predator, Back to the Future, Jason, Freddy, and others are all on the way - even if you aren't a horror fan, a Star Wars Kenner-style figure of Jason Voorhees is really damn exciting stuff.

With Hasbro giving fewer and fewer resources to its top sci-fi brand, and the utter death of its own Vintage sub-line as of late, Funko is in a strong position to collect old-school dollars. Funko's runs tend to be lower and their exclusive output is pretty solid. Hasbro can (and of course will) deliver a cheaper product but right now my chief concern is how Funko (and Zica, and anyone else making retro-style figures) will handle it. Will we get a ton of repaints? Between Funko and Zica we've seen 7 molds. We've also seen 5 repaints. It's not necessarily a good start - but Pop! Vinyl keeps it interesting, so who the heck knows?

It's my hope that this category becomes viable - I have zero interest in ever seeing Hasbro reissue its classic Kenner Star Wars action figure line, but I'd be curious in seeing Hasbro trot out a limited selection of new ones or better yet, letting someone else do it. The thing that I think will be the real trick is capturing the feel - even trying to replicate Kenner's style with another license has to be difficult. How do you do it? Do you add intentional errors and come up with crazy variations on the real design like Greedo or Walrus Man? Do you try to replicate the costume as well as 1983 would allow like Weequay or Klaatu? At this point we have no idea what these guys are planning in terms of style, but I'm really hopeful. When I saw Zica's Six Million Dollar Man figures I immediately fell in love with the designs despite having no real love or knowledge of the show. I don't have to be a Lee Majors fan to know that I want a 1978ish Bigfoot figure.

--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.