Q&A: Movie Rumors, Manufacturing Tumors, and Star Wars Exclusive Bummers

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 26, 2015

1. Any word on the status of the Rebels AT-DP target exclusive with AT-DP driver. This is literally the only Rebels piece I don't have. I noticed a few months ago it popped up in some targets out west but I never saw it and I frequent a few targets more times a week than I should. I did notice a few pop up on eBay and it is on target.com but I have never seen it in stock. Think this will end up discount chain fodder or what? Maybe you have an extra one for me...never hurts to ask.

As a wise man once said, "Don't get your hopes up, cheese."  Also "never ask Adam to sell you something."

Rebels will be a part of Hasbro's post-September 4 Star Wars strategy, but with a new line look. We know packaged samples of the AT-DP with Pilot figure exist but so far we don't know how many were made, or if (or when) they'll be distributed widely. A handful of samples on eBay could be things received through backdoor channels, or through a distribution center, or something else entirely. Nobody knows for sure yet. In recent years we do have examples of The Clone Wars and G.I. Joe exclusives directly bypassing their exclusive home and going straight to the Rosses, the TJ Maxxes, and the Marshalls of the world.

If you simply must have the variant, all I can say is keep checking eBay and the sites like this one. With the old line look being retired - and it being packaged with a retailer sticker on it - it's probably waiting to be released somewhere, somehow.



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2. I guess my question should be, as 3d printing becomes more affordable, and the need for molds becomes less necessary, how soon would it be plausible a company, like hasbro, to mass produce toys within their target market country using locally available recycled materials to maximize their ability to make amazing products?

Manufacture-on-demand is always a small-potatoes option. We've seen some companies use it for DVD production of catalog titles, but this sort of thing is pretty uncommon for other forms of manufacturing. For example, everybody has access to a printer - but most people either go with digital books or buy from Amazon or one of the three remaining physical bookstores in the continental United States.

Right now, the quality of even the best 3D printer is still only "pretty good." And as luck would have it, Hasbro teamed with Shapeways to experiment with officially licensed made-on-demand collectibles. I got to look at the output from many of 3D Systems (Gentle Giant) printers at Comic-Con and at their HQ over the years, and it's great for getting things started. The resolution is still an issue on some kinds of products, but the quality of materials is getting closer and closer to what you might buy in a store. However, there are other issues - you can print out figure parts, but assembly is required. Paint may be required. Packaging may be required. Whipping up and approving a toy may not be worth it if you're making a few figures to a small audience, plus market perception is something of an issue. When there is no manufacturing set-up cost, there may be a potential infinite quantity of figures. If Hasbro sold BoShek on demand, would it have done as well? Would it have been as cheap?  The only reason figures are as cheap is they are is the economy of scale - once that's gone, we're dealing with an entirely new beast.

Also - and fans forget this - packaging isn't free. Hasbro will never mass-produce a figure and send it to stores in a clear plastic bag. For viable discounts on a box or cardback, you've got to order some pretty giant numbers - and if you don't, your cost-per-unit gets to be pretty painful. That's a potential issue because it's still a lot cheaper to print paper overseas for many projects.

Things may improve, but the chances of squirting out made-on-demand figures without tooling here in the USA seems a little farfetched between now and the (current) end of the license at Hasbro. The raw material cost is quite high and if you look at printer toner, this may not change for a while. I also view made-on-demand as a possible problem for all of us in this industry. Once it's cheap enough for Hasbro to spit out figures without overseas assistance to keep costs down, odds are the consumer can do the same. You can attach a 3D scanner to your iPhone now. What's to stop people from "pirating" toys? What's to stop the schematics for statue, bust, or action figure CAD files from populating torrent sites - bypassing rights holders?

My worry here isn't so much "oh woe is Hasbro and Lucasfilm and Disney!" but woe is us. An unlimited supply of mint-condition action figures will require unique security measures, perhaps employing materials or techniques that are impossible for a 3D printer to replicate - but if we continue with this thought experiment, let's divert our attention to Transformers. I collect these too - I like them a lot. But there are a number of manufacturers who dance on the fine line of IP infringement by making their own takes on Optimus Prime and Omega Supreme and Arcee and Chromedome. So far nobody is stopping them, and these unlicensed items have enough support to build conventions around them as a big attraction. Who's to say that if Hasbro continues to not give us a Sim Aloo, that an aspiring artist with decent sculpting techniques couldn't unleash their own on to the Internet for all to own for a pittance.

The new Han Solo in Carbonite figure (with his shackles) weighs 19 grams. 1kg of printer filament can be had for about $23. Assuming you need to buy multiple colors, and that some of it will be thrown out as a byproduct of spitting out the pieces, you can probably make a figure at a raw materials cost to you of less than a quarter. Not a quarter of what Hasbro charges - I'm talking a couple of dimes.  Granted, certain kinds of joints won't work in this format just yet, but we're just getting started.

I doubt we'll see this scenario happen. High-end printers didn't hurt the market for comic books and trading cards any more than their own nosedive up collectors' collective cornholes in the 1990s did. Access to unlimited astromech droids in every color of the rainbow would decimate what's left of the collector market, and I guarantee you enterprising fans would find a way to disrupt any official, legal "toy downloading" system put in place if for no reason other than spite. If I had the means to make unlimited copies of every figure I could want 20 years ago, given my computer skills and copious amounts of free time in 1995, do you think I'd waste any time setting up a newsletter or information hub for toys if the world was able to give me unlimited "free" action figures?  If I could take a CAD file, tweak it, and make any droid I want that's identical to the ones you pay for - again, why would I wait/pay for the "official" download?

It stung music a bit, but that's not to say boutique toys and collectibles might not rise out of the ashes of a post-made-on-demand toy world. I mean, sure, I could download an album from iTunes and burn a CD. But I buy the licorice pizza for a reason.  Hopefully we don't see too many changes in this arena just yet.  We're seeing fans make figures via 3D printing in low runs, but it's still low-run, fragile, collector-only designer stuff.  When we move in the arena of full-on bootlegging, that'll be interesting to watch.




3. What makes you think the Anthology films will take Hasbro's focus off the new trilogy for the next few years? Granted, We know very little of Rogue One/Young Han Solo but everything I read and heard about them makes it sounds like they will both be much smaller films with less of a budget/running time than Episodes VII-IX. I can't see them planet hopping to ten planets like in Episode III, If anything the entire Rogue line will probably consist of a few Rebel/Imp pilots and maybe an X-Wing/Y-Wing/TIE if we are lucky. Equal to the current Rebels toyline. We pretty much know how they both end like we did the Prequels too in that Leia gets the plans and Han lives. They are also supposedly more "realistic" than the current films which I think is code for less toyetic. Hardly threatening merchandise-wise to a 2 to 2 and a half hour space epic with zillions of variations of the main characters/troopers/alens/droids. Yeah, I'm sure next fall will be Rogue crazy but they'll probably spend most of 2017 on The Force Awakens till Episode VIII hits later that year. Especially considering how close they are playing things to the vest right now with TFA. We might even see some more classic trilogy stuff in between too.

To quote the underquoted subject of a new spin-off, "It's your imagination, kid. Come on, let's keep a little optimism here." You're going to to see giant walking space tanks. You aren't going to be forced to watch someone take on the Empire in a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron.

If The Force Awakens (as we've seen it so far, at least) is any indication they want to keep a look consistent with the original movies. As a pal of mine told me, Lucasfilm has a new competitor - they're no longer competing with the three most loved movies of the VHS era. They're competing with lesser movies released after your ability to critically analyze a movie improved dramatically. You can complain and freak out if you want, but we've got a new regime who has so far proven themselves to be so slavish to the Holy Trilogy that I'd worry about boredom from similarity more than boredom from lack of whimsy. And, let's be frank, all they have to do is not put in something fans have to apologize for - if we can get a movie without Pod Racing or Jar Jar Binks or wacky accents, it's a win. It might be boring - but it'll be a win.

While I hope that we see some lower-budget movies - bloat is bad - I haven't read anything about the final budgets for these films. George Lucas was good about bringing his movies in on time and often under budget in the prequel era... he's a unique animal. We don't know anything about running times because no final cut has been delivered yet. We don't know anything about budgets. How you can make these assumptions today either means you're from the future - in which case, welcome to our primitive society where we still thing novelty ringtones are a pretty good idea - or you're just wasting valuable time on wild, pointless speculation. Being the Internet, let's go on to the other topics you bring up.

I view the spin-offs as potentially good, much as how I (incorrectly) assumed the Prequels would bring us proto Trilogy designs. (Hey, it worked out better for The Clone Wars. Y-Wing Bomber, baby!) If the Anthology movies are the lint between the toes of the original trilogy, this is a good thing for toys. I don't like them messing with the characters as we've known them - Han's marital status, for example, seems odd to bring up after 38 years - but there are lots of spaces to play around here and the results aren't entirely unpleasant. With Rebels the Imperial Troop Transport was given an appearance on-screen. We got a concept AT-ST toy. It's here, in my house! And the figures ain't half bad either.

I don't know where ideas about "realism" (or what that really means) in designs come from - again, pointless speculation - but for any movie to fit within the confines of the franchise as we know it, it has to borrow that unique look. We'll probably see a lot of reuse of props and costumes, as that worked well for Star Trek in the 1980s and 1990s. We may see similar vehicles or locations or characters. To play around with the Empire and not incorporate the Death Star or Rebellion would be depressing, and to include them in the movies would almost guarantee aspects of them will return to the toy line eventually. If Rogue One is about a pre-Star Wars heist, we may get to see some really cool new droids or fighters - or better yet, old ones which need toys still.




When I was a kid, a common mantra around my house - in a neighborhood with few kids I got along with, and not much to do - was "be happy with what you have." This is something that I found infuriating as a child, because I didn't have much other than a room with some toys in it, and also pants. As a collector, "content" is antithetical to our ethos and the entire marketplace surrounding this very commercial hobby. We're all here because of unmet desires, real or imagined. I still get a lot of complaint emails about Hasbro not doing what fans want, but when you get past new TV stuff - something that may require the kids of this era to demand as adults - they did a decent job delivering pilots, officers, and aliens from the original generation.*

It's easy to focus on what we don't have. We don't have giant new 3 3/4-inch vehicles. We don't have a complete set of remakes of the original 92 96 99 movie-based action figures... and admittedly, there's little excuse after this much time and this many figures, but I digress. The point is that there are lots of figures you don't have and few we can all agree would be a pretty good idea to make. The shining beacon of 2015 classic movie figures is Mosep. This is not debatable - this is a fact.

I get a lot of feedback about how Hasbro never does what we ask for. I can't quantify that, because I've got Dark Empire Luke (twice!) and Thrawn (two times!) and Mara Jade (three times!) and Teek and a Blue Snaggletooth and BoShek and Oola (twice!) and Tanus Spijek and Fordo (three!) and Kneesaa and Ephant Mon and Darth Plagueis - who I didn't personally give a crap about, but here he is and I'm glad you enjoy him. It's been a good run so far.

Now we're entering a weird area where, once again, anything could happen. New games could take place in any era. Anthology movies could take place in any era. This means there's very little to limit who or what or where we might return to over the next six years. From the look of things, Disney knows what we as our vocal group enjoy (the original movie) and what we don't (movie changes 1997-2005). Things are shaping up to be very much devoted to the look and feel of those original movies, to the point where we're getting a new "Empire" and a new "Rebel Alliance" in our new movie. Which seems kind of silly, but also not unprecedented if you look at political parties and how religions splinter and allegiances sometimes change and rebrand with the times. I doubt they'll make Leia into the new bad guy, because boy howdy that'd be something awesome for us old farts and also miserable for the legacy of the franchise.

We have had a glorious run - even if you quit tomorrow, it's been good. The old fart fans were loud enough to usually drown out the prequels, which may mean we don't get that returning "prequel kid" audience. But it means we did get an Ephant Mon (who's cheaper than I would assume, I might add, so go buy one) and Hasbro has done a pretty good job focusing on the new thing after the old thing ran its course.

While this franchise is in no immediate danger of ending, Hasbro has the toys for the next six movies. Beyond that, we don't know. We've got another 1-2 years of Rebels, most likely. We might get a live action show still. We've got a lot - and there may be an opportunity to get more "classic" out of it. Scoff if you will, but The Clone Wars gifted us an AT-TE and a Turbo Tank. And don't forget if you hate the new stuff, the old stuff can be had for pennies on the dollar if you're willing to do some legwork. You won't get everything, but you can put together a pretty amazing collection on a budget these days. Go to eBay, and you can be happy with what someone else had and save a few bucks.

--Adam Pawlus

* - ...to an extent. I can deal with the fact that the cartoon 1980s toys weren't updated since the 1995 debut. I am still angry about the lack of properly updated Bespin Security Guard, Power Droid, and Imperial Dignitary. And the grey suit Death Squad Commander. C'mon, Hasbro, low-hanging fruit - two of those are a repaint and one is just a new head on an existing body. To not have updated the original 92 96 99 after 19 years takes effort and you'd have to go out of your way to make that happen. If you want me to get behind something, let's update that last handful of figures so we can all agree that the line has been updated and enjoy the rest of our time on this planet.

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.



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