Q&A: Old and Hot, Star Wars Widevision, and Licensing

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 14, 2017

1. I often find it fascinating that today's "junk" is tomorrow's $80.00 toy on ebay. Most notably the 6" line. I remember when these 1st hit, especially the 1st 4 release in the orange line, could be had easily and eventually on sale/clearance. NOW, these command between $70-$100 per figure (Darth Maul, R2-D2). In addition, figures such as Slave Leia & Greedo, which not have given away, are now such in demand. Is this a case of "There is nothing out there, let me fill in my collection" or "Man, I should have bought these and now I did not" Your thought?

Back in the 1990s, a few people tried to peg collecting as one big pyramid scheme. Due to how it works, it's not - it's certainly not shaped like a pyramid, but generally it does mimic the thing about getting in early means you have potential opportunities. Many people forget that when The Black Series 6-inch line debuted, a lot of fans were angry. Super angry. And some still are - it was around the time 3 3/4-inch figures cost almost the same as 6-inch Marvel Legends, which had impressive build-a-figure pieces, so Hasbro wisely thought to try the 6-inch format. It ultimately worked, but those first couple of waves were turkeys. Even Slave Leia from wave 2 was a shelf-warming dust-collecting dud until rumors/comments about how Disney planned on retiring the metal bikini look from here on out - at which point, within 24 hours, the Amazon price basically tripled.

New Things are rare, so generally those in first on one are good for the long haul. Not everything clicks, but with new movies and new fans being born every day a good collector format is going to keep interest around for a while. Until this year, Hasbro has been stingy with reissues so fans are probably prepared to pay a little more for some older figures if they missed them. We saw this exact pattern play out in the 2002-2006ish Unleashed line of 7-inch statue figures - Jango and Darth Maul hit clearance. Padme sat around unsold until people started making up rumors about a recall. Darth Vader shot up to crazy prices in 2005, mere days after Target had him on clearance. When new blood enters a hobby and decides they want a complete set, the market can change quickly. It can also drop quickly when people get bored and move on - the exact same thing happened in the 1990s with another line you may have heard of, The Power of the Force collection. Lando, Leia, and C-3PO went for big mark-ups for months. Until they stopped. And now you can't sell them because nobody cares.

The "there's nothing out there" notion definitely does happen - again, the 2002-2005 Unleashed figures and a lot of other things went bonkers in the months leading up to Revenge of the Sith, but back then it was sort of a grand finale for collecting. (This didn't actually happen.) The notion of a final movie and a true end to the saga and its merchandise seemed possible back then, and here we are, 12 years later, with movies every year and TV shows that we take for granted. Fans do tend to get a little jumpy when there's not much out there, but it usually coordinates with new blood or increased media focus thanks to a new movie/marketing push. This year's "May the 4th" push seemed a bit weaker than previous years with fewer gimmicks, reveals, exclusives, and surprises. Force Friday is probably going to enter the same space as big retailers see diminishing returns from fans willing to line up at midnight to get (or not get) the figures they want and fans become less likely to want to buy things based on a movie sight unseen. But right now, people are excited - there's no mystery, they know they want Han or Greedo or Raddus or Vader.

I don't expect 6-inch The Black Series figures will get superior all-new versions down the road, but it wouldn't surprise me to see reissues with improved deco or rereleases on vintage cardbacks since that experiment proved successful. I would assume that some of the higher prices are going to be a fad, but the fact that some of the earlier figures got dumped on Amazon for $10-$13 - and some people were very angry they sold that low - probably also means a lot of the figures got in the hands of kids or non-collector fans. When that audience gets a toy (and especially opens/destroys it) we tend to see a surge in prices going up. LEGO items are typically opened and consumed, rather than stored and saved like most action figures. A very finite supply of perfect samples helps, also the fact that 6-inch fans aren't exactly sick of the format yet. Maybe when the line hits 500 or 1,000 figures we'll see collections being dumped, but right now it's small enough that we're probably not going to see stuff get cheaper in the near term.

As long as interest for the line grows (and there's no superior alternative), prices will continue to stay high or even rise. If action figures start to go out of vogue - given the poor marketing of that category toward modern children, this is increasingly feeling likely - we might see people just stop caring as the original generation dies off, literally or metaphorically. If this whole NeoNerd movement collapses as most trends do, there may be a lot of cheap stuff coming to eBay, Amazon, and a pawn shop near you shortly after new movies stop production.



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2. Not exactly toy-related, but whatever happened to the Topps The Force Awakens 3D Widevision cards? I love the other sets, but these were supposed to be released in February, but all I hear are crickets.

I haven't seen or heard any chatter on these in months - I would assume a delay via Disney/Lucas, but who knows? I'll post details to the front page if I hear more, but right now I'm also hearing crickets. I reached out to Topps and received no reply.




3. In the collecting world, we hear license excuses for reasons why various Japanese companies can't sell their figures abroad as they're too similar in scale to Hasbro. I understand that, but have wondered: how do Hasbro Titanium ships and Hot Wheel Starships exist at the same time. The scales are similar and honestly it's hard to tell them apart when all displayed together. They each have pros and cons (HW are sturdier, better paint jobs, Titanium are more detailed with functions). I don't know of any other competing toy lines, but why is this example okay for both companies?

The specifics of contracts are rarely spoken of to the public, or even anyone other than the people who sign them. A lot of licenses are sliced up by category, region, price point, or materials - or other means. For example, take Funko. They mostly make 3 3/4-inch Pop! Vinyl Figures these days - but Hasbro has the license for 3 3/4-inch plastic action figures. They add a stand and a bobble-head, and voila - it's now a bobble head, which is a different license, and one they just happened to already have.

Most Japanese figures are restricted to that territory, with other companies controlling other regions. That's just how the licenses were drawn up, most likely, with safety requirements and the Japanese companies' general lack of interest, desire, or contractual ability to expand. Hasbro already has die-cast metal figures, so it's unlikely to see the likes of Jada or Tomy to bring out their own in the USA.

This brings us to your question - Hot Wheels vs. Titanium. I asked a lot of people at both companies and neither has an answer. I can only assume Mattel's contract was for die-cast metal vehicles with no figures, with someone neglecting to take the time to come up with a stipulation like "vehicles must have wheels and be cars." Hasbro's long-time license is large and inclusive, but how large and how inclusive I don't think many people know - I certainly don't, and it's tough to get specifics out of those who do know. It covers many categories, sizes, price points, and so on but lately it seems if someone can come up with something not explicitly covered by Hasbro's contract, they can make it happen. In this case, I can only assume that the legalese of Mattel's contract for "vehicles" was written in a way that there was nothing in the document about not making tiny ship replicas - we've seen them do it with Star Trek in the past, too. I've heard of all sorts of fun contract disputes because of how things were worded, usually with one company lacking the foresight to realize what the other company was asking to make. Sometimes they get allowed (like Mattel's), and sometimes they can't - I can't talk about those ones.

Also, if you follow licensed t-shirts, you know that "has a license to make this" is different from "has an exclusive license to make this." You can hand out licenses like candy on Halloween if you want to - it's just not always in your best interests as an IP holder. You don't want to give away your IP freely.




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Once more, mailbag is empty super empty! (I think I have one to use for next week.) We normally post next week's edition on Patreon early, but I'm not exaggerating when I say there are not enough questions right now for next week.

So... what else is new? I'm finding more markdowns out in the wild, so if you're in a store and you see something you want go ahead and take a jog to the price scanners. I saw some particularly killer deals on exclusives and LEGO toys at certain stores over the last month. Aside from that, it's been slow. Toys are starting to make the rounds for the 40th Anniversary line, but at the same time it seems Rogue One is drying up and the new-but-unreleased stuff isn't being whispered about just yet. What does this mean? No idea. Sometimes Hasbro forgets to release stuff, sometimes it pops up overseas, and sometimes it just comes out in new packaging later. I'm hoping to see a bit more emphasis on a larger selection of items for the next movie launch, mostly because the 3 3/4-inch line seems to be selling pretty well despite not having a lot of momentum. Plus or minus waves showing up at certain dollar stores, although not actually at a dollar.

While we do know that the second wave of 40th Anniversary 6-inch figures are shipping now, but there are a few items which are still mysteries - specifically the US release of Fenn Rau, the Bitsam/Shoretrooper 2-pack, and any remaining Titanium Series helmets shown at Toy Fair. Hopefully those are being held for The Last Jedi's bow this September, along with the new 3 3/4-inch Bespin Han Solo and Boba Fett which were shown in Hasbro's showroom which we were told would be around that time. Oh, and there's that next wave of The Black Series 3 3/4-inch figures at Walmart - we know who they are, but not when they'll be. I'm a little surprised they haven't already made the rounds, so maybe they, too, are Fall items.

The Disney administration has been weird for Star Wars. Since Spring 2015, we've gone through floods and voids, with the present being a strange something-in-between. On one hand I'm glad they did a 40th Anniversary line, but it's largely nothing new - the 6-inch line is 66% reissues. The Titanium Series line of figures are characters that we've purchased dozens of times in other formats. The Hot Wheels line are repacks. There is no 3 3/4-inch action figure line, and as such no vehicles either. I don't believe any LEGO special items were produced for the event... at least, the packaging doesn't match the other collector ranges and there's no logo on the boxes.

The funny thing is that as anniversary-specific product goes, this is actually a pretty decent line. In 1997, there were no anniversary-specific products. In 2002, there were 3 2-packs. For 2007, Hasbro's entire line was called "The 30th Anniversary Collection," which arguably made it the best anniversary range for any toy line ever. It's a tough thing to pull off successfully, as the 30th anniversary line was jam-packed with a diverse offering of stuff from everything that Star Wars was up to that point in time. For the 40th, we're mired in 1977 nostalgia again without something really golly-gee new. New 6-inch figures are appreciated, but Vader, a Tusken Raider, a Jawa, and the Death Squad Commander could have fit in the regular line. Heck, the Tusken Raider is coming to the regular line. The 25th anniversary line had the same basic problem, except there the figures were basically statues in the shadow of the new movie. Right now, I'm hoping that the 1977-esque nature of the current range means Disney will be demanding similar lines for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in a few years, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Hasbro gave us a pretty wonderful not-quite-anniversary for The Empire Strikes Back in 2010 with a new AT-AT, Snowspeeder, and Cloud Car plus a wave of The Vintage Collection figures. Honestly, if Hasbro just did the same thing this year - gave us a wave in each normal product line focusing in 1977 - that'd also have been pretty great.

Rare public glimpses into The Last Jedi line show that Hasbro is looking back while moving ahead, with speeders for Rey and Luke in the 6-inch line plus statues that are probably going to not be widely sold unless the runs are kept supremely low. I've often wondered if we'd ever get a "Force Friday" launch that's primarily new toys from existing movies and TV shows - capitalize on what people know and love - with only a sneak preview wave or two for the new film. That'd probably get me a lot more excited, because right now I'd jump at new characters from Maz Kanata's castle or the new Rebel pilots from Rogue One. I'd be a lot more excited about a new Finn when I see the movie, the whole "you have to buy the new figures before you see the new movie" thing was kind of fun once every three years for the prequels but now it's just getting kind of unfortunate. --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.