Q&A: Pull-Back Vehicles, Boring Questions, and Vintage Malakili

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 12, 2012

Will Hasbro do crazy pull-back Star Wars vehicles for this line like they do for Marvel? Uhhh... why are you asking that? Are we going to talk about stock issues? I guess so. There's nothing else to ask about? And does someone really think Hasbro will get to putting out Malakili on a vintage card? I gotta say, I don't, but I ramble on about Ewoks this week so who am I to judge taste? Read on and send in your questions for an upcoming column!

1. It seems just about every other 3 3/4" line Hasbro does winds up with figures on pull back vehicles packaged on blister cards, regardless of how ridiculous they may seem (like Spider-Man on an ATV). Why do you suppose Star Wars has never gotten this treatment?

I'm not saying I want to see Darth Vader off roading on a four wheeler, but it seems like they could do something similar that could be fun and not too stupid.

Wellllll... sorta? The pull-back vehicles are actually a vestigial part of the Toy Biz years with Marvel, where the toymaker did a bang-up job convincing kids that a character that could glide through the air would be best-served on a wheeled vehicle for some reason or another. They sold extremely well, and Hasbro wisely decided to continue this kind of product for the reason any good company does anything: it makes money.

Kenner (and later Hasbro) have done a couple of items like this. In the 1990s, Kenner had an SSP cord-driven Speeder Bike scaled to the 3 3/4-inch action figures, and as toys go it was quite nice. Like most things available in 1998, it was part of what was then called a horrible glut of too many products in the marketplace (seriously, Kenner said this) and was unceremoniously later dumped in the Great Clearance of 2000, where older toys found a second, very cheap life at Toys R Us, Kay-Bee Toys, Entertainment Earth, and other fine homes like (probably) yours. We got a few wheeled BARC Speeders for Revenge of the Sith which were reused for The Clone Wars, but as 3 3/4-inch wheeled vehicles go that's pretty much everything.

Wheels are extremely uncommon in Star Wars, so when Hasbro revived the wheeled vehicle concept in 2006 they did it with popular characters like Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader on an ill-fated line called Star Wars Choppers. Despite kid-friendly sculpts, adequate price points, and frankly creative vehicle designs, fans hated them and even I can't defend the decision to bring motorcycles into Star Wars. While they weren't 3 3/4-inch scaled, that really doesn't matter because they proved quite nicely that vehicles in this particular line usually best function as they originate from the series. In short... Hasbro will probably give it another spin down the road, but they just axed the "Amp'd" segment (or so it seems) as well as the long-running and supposedly generally successful Transformers range, although I suspect the latter is due to their stingy attitude toward new toys and new tooling in that particular segment.


2. Regarding Target and the Hasbro Star Wars Vintage Collection: Is there some sort of retail strategy at Target where if a certain line is nearing it's retail run, that they will intentionally neglect to replenish it's stock? Because, none of the Targets in my area seem to receive ANYTHING for the Vintage Collection. It has been this way for at least six months. We're talking empty pegs for months on end, not a retail glut. And I do check daily, by the way:)

Excuse me, I think I belched pretty loud there.

Big box retail stores do not discuss their retail strategies with outsiders. Although sometimes we can overhear things. When it comes to some assortments, it is not known how the Hasbro/Target relationship works and frankly, and I know you may not like hearing this (possibly again), but this one SKU? Does not matter to Target in the slightest. This is not where the money is made. If this one toy line falters, something else will take up the pegs.

Over the last few years we've seen similar behavior in other lines, particularly (again, as I keep bringing up) Transformers. The SKU is active, the DPCI is functioning, but Hasbro neglects to send several waves to retailers. Why? Nobody knows. Is it a glut? Fear of having to mark down product due to an impending reset? Did someone forget to update a product database correctly? Does Target's buyer just hate Hasbro? I have no clue and there's no good way to find out, but when I see a store devoid of a product-- and some Targets are completely sold out of 2012 Vintage-- I assume it's because someone isn't doing their job or because the employee believes him or herself to be smarter than the computer, which says "put out vintage" and they SEE vintage on the pegs, not realizing it's the 2010 SKU.

This is all speculation, and like all distribution questions, c'mon people, tell me this: what insight could I possibly offer you in order to satisfy your curiosity and satiate your hunger for the new figures you may well never find due to luck and/or timing? We see what's happening. Hasbro isn't making collector-friendly casepacks for its collector line, they put potentially hazardous pegwarmers in wave 1 that backed up instead of surefire sellers like Darth Vader and Boba Fett, and ours is not the only line going through this sort of horror.

At this point I think it's safe to say that collecting current "Vintage" product is a lot like collecting real "Vintage" product. You're going to have to network, you're going to have to hunt, and heaven help you if you think you can go to a toy store once a month and buy the whole line. Since I started writing about these toys in 1995, this is the one big issue that always comes up. "How come I can't find figures?" Well, maybe it's you. Maybe it's your store. One thing is for sure: to some extent, it is always going to be this way.


3. At SDCC Hasbro confirmed that they would like to get the all the original Vintage figures out on TVC cards before the end of the SW run. We know what's coming this year and Hasbro stated that TVC would come back, so the possibility for them to do this is there. However, I really wonder about how well certain figures would sell, even on TVC cards. For instance, Malikili. How would they deal with a figure like that exactly? Would they leave him for a final wave, which would be produced in lower numbers? Would they make him a mail-away exclusive? Would they release a special batch of 5-6 TVC figures like they did during 2004, 2006, and 2007? With all the talk of certain figures clogging up the system and assuming that just about anybody that really wanted Malikili probably has him already, what would be Hasbro's best strategy?

Oh you poor pitiful optimist!

Read carefully into what Hasbro says and understand that while they are stating their feelings-- I have no doubt they would love to get every Vintage figure remade in the modern TVC line. That could mean anything from "sure, we've got a plan in place to get this done between now and let's say 2017" to "yeah, we'd LIKE to do that but who knows if the market conditions and bean counters in Rhode Island would let us?" There are lots of things Hasbro would like to do. They're fans too, but they know (as we do) that market conditions add up to a series of numbers that may make Star Wars look weaker than its potential, or even worse: it might confirm it's a dying (read: aging) brand where the idea of a repack of a figure might not be something they actually get to.

Given Hasbro's last few Comic-Con exclusives, Vintage repacks could (and frankly, should) end up there. We gobble that stuff up, even when, at times, it doesn't make a lot of sense. "Here's a giant cardboard Death Star with 2 figures on weird mini-cards, 12 figures on regular cards, and oh yeah-- all of this stuff is or will be on shelf shortly." It worked! And I have no doubt someone at Hasbro has just turned to the rest of the crew and said "Look, we can give fans like 6-12 repacks a year and a repaint or two for Comic-Con. It's cheap, and they'll love it. Eh? Eh?"

With something like Malakili, well, let's be honest here Damian: other than as a chase figure or as an exclusive, do you really think Hasbro would release the dud in 1997, do another run on a different package in 1998, resculpt him in 2009, and then go back for fourths in 2014? If so, it's got to be in a boxed set or an exclusive, or people at Hasbro have some sort of accounting system that goes beyond the understanding of our meager collector insights. It might work-- it might be beneficial to their bottom line to just say "new package + old figure = subsidy for new figures." I don't know. But even if Hasbro says "Sure... we'd LOVE to get to that some day" it doesn't mean that they're going to be guaranteed to be gifted with the opportunity.


4. I have been a collector of Star wars Figures, for over 25 years now, I have been a dealer of Star Wars figures etc.. for over 15 years now. [edited for length] But all so would you say there is a reduce interest these days in the trade of collectibles.

I have noticed the drop off of my customers as well, do you think the financial situation is severely hurting this hobby / Industry. I see that the Vintage line is coming to a end, which is a shame for i liked this figure line. We have had a lot of really cool looking figures out of this range, a fair few are very Collectible, and are worth more than there original RRP. Now.

We have not seen that many waves of Movie heroes, and Clone Wars, this year. Is Hasbro gearing down the lines they are doing each year, so all we will see in coming years is one line of figures.?

Must've been a barge coming through.

The number of collectors-- the hardcore crew who buy everything-- seems to be getting smaller as people grow up and age out of the hobby. The current casepacks are not necessarily conducive to kids either: if YOU can't find new figures, kids might see the line as being perpetually stale as well.

From where I sit, there's no lack of desire. Fans still want (and buy) the stuff but making customers available to the product is important, and some people want to shop online and some people don't. Some people want to pay $10 for a perfectly poseable figure, and others are furious we got passed the $6.99 mark. New figures tend to sell, the main issue is making sure fans have a chance to get them.

Hasbro is absolutely getting more interested in making the most out of its tooling, moreso than before. I don't know for certain if we'll see more surprise repacks in 2012, or really what we can expect from the Clone Wars and Movie Heroes/Legends line although I suppose the former should be back and the latter should be cut.

For whatever reason, this should've been a "kid year" and wasn't. I assume this has to do with too many factors to list here, including G.I. Joe, Avengers, Spider-Man, and other brands Hasbro cycles in and out (just like Star Wars) to minimize overexposure. I don't think I've heard anyone write in to me and say how happy they were with ANY toy line, so all I can say is this:

We've been blessed with a toy line with unnaturally long life. 1995-2012? I genuinely expected to not have any new figures to write about by 2008. I personally do not like it when a company sets out to make figures "collectible," let the free market decide what's rare and what's not. I sincerely doubt we'll see the line whittled down to just 1 assortment SKU, but as the line ages and if it ends up being exclusive for collectors, it could happen.


5. I assume you have some of the Star Wars Unleashed 7" figures? Do you have trouble with any of the staying upright? My Ep. 3 Anakin and Obi-Wan don't like to stand up, and the worst offender is the Unmasked Darth Vader. It constantly leans over, and I'm afraid the lightsaber blade is going to snap at some point, as it touches the shelf. I'm about ready to open up the first Unleashed Darth Vader and sell the Unmasked version. Any advice on how to get these figures to stand up better (I have troubles with some McFarlane SportsPicks figures too)?

This does indeed happen, particularly as the air heats up for summer. Gravity plus heat stretch the plastic, and figures may require some added support. Like it or not, and I go with "not," we've found that toy companies' simulated aging tests don't necessarily account for real living conditions over the course of a few months or a few years. Short of propping them up and using my favorite method of putting misshapen figures in boiling water and reshaping them (if the plastic memory doesn't do it for you) all I can say is, well, that's why you gotta have a few points of articulation here and there. A hip joint can often compensate for other deformities.



Mike and I went out and got the new Toys R Us Ewok Pac (seriously, that's its name) and Yavin Pilot Pack at Toys R Us this week. Ewoks are short, but have a multitude of accessories to make up for it. The Pilot Pack is what it is-- 2 Luke Body pilots with new heads, a new Porkins, a TIE repaint, and R5-D8, which is shockingly different from R5-D4 in more than a few ways. Sure, it's subtle, but astromech droid fans should be either delighted or infuriated that this is a set worth picking up to add to the growing collection.

The Ewok pack is rather stunning, and it shows some great things and not so great things about the furballs. Kneesaa is basically 2010 Wicket with a new head and retooled neck peg, but it my favorite figure in the set. If you asked me to start making a list of important-but-obscure Ewok characters that would never get a toy, she's on it. And yet, here she is, with a pink cartoony hood and an alternate tan one. She even has a rock bola accessory wrapped around her torso. I am not exaggerating when I say I'd have paid $40 for just her, because at this point I'm willing to go the extra mile for any 1980s Ewoks TV and Droids cartoon-based action figures.

In other words, and I know this is unusual here-- I'm actually quite happy. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to see, not only is it a gift set with no repacks, but there are two Ewoks that are here just to reward fans of the 1980s Ewok Expanded Universe. It doesn't get much better than this!

The others are still in the wrapper as I write this postscript, except for Flitchee which I'm not sure what to make of. I think he's just Leektar with a different lower torso and the head on the package may have been meant to be a new sculpt, but this figure is not. He has two headdresses, and the one he's wearing isn't as cool as the one in the tray next to him. The name "Flitchee" was not associated with an Ewok prior to this figure. Tippet has some great gear, and comes wearing his headdress from the Marvel comics. Teebo is good but is much shorter than his previous 2001 incarnation, which I saw several of on cards in Goodwill over the last week. Rounding out the set is the infamous Corpsey, now named Nanta.

I can't promise you that you'll feel like you got a deal-- after all, Ewok 2-packs were just $8 a few years ago-- but there are enough alternate headdresses here where I almost feel Hasbro did themselves a disservice by including them. Why not repackage them with the alternate gear later? I'd buy 'em again. As things are today I may buy another set, simply because 4 of the 5 Ewoks have alternate looks included and frankly, it's enough for me to consider it a new figure. Not for my columns, of course, but for displays and such.

If you're the right age, and have no shame of your childhood, the Ewoks should be a very exciting set. The whole Ewok backlash was more or less unknown to me until I got older, and as a kid I probably spent a lot more time with Wicket, Logray, Chief Chirpa, Paploo, Lumat, Teebo, and Logray than the bulk of my other figures. (Warok and Romba were unknown to me until the very late 1980s.) As a kid I never sat there wondering "Why didn't they do more?" so much as I was stoked I had six different ones, and now... geez. What are we at, 28 or so, counting upgrades and unreleased 2012 Ewoks? I remember when I bought the Galoob MicroMachines pack of Ewok figures, and got nine at once, and thinking that was pretty exciting stuff. Heck, it was! But this is good too.

I'm really not even sure what Hasbro might want to do, save for upgrades. While I would love to see a proper Kaink-- the Star Tours costume doesn't do it for me-- I hope that should Hasbro decide to devote any more resources to an Ewok figure, assuming all we get are maybe 1 or 2 more, that Chukha-Trok is in there. He's awesome, he has an axe, and has a unique design. But even if this is it, if this is the Ewok sendoff for the line, I'm glad Hasbro gave us 8 figures for 2008 and not one of them am I buying begrudgingly. Even Teebo, I was hoping to see redone. And now I've got it.

--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.