Q&A: Punched Star Wars Figures, Big Vehicles, and Monopolies

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 27, 2018

This week in Q&A - Punched and Unpunched - here we go again. Big vehicles are fun to talk about, because they will break your heart. Also the monopoly - does it matter? No, sorry.

And send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. Aside from the obvious poor mix of wave 1 of The Vintage Collection Figures, a line that was brought back for collectors, Hasbro seems to compound the issue by having oversized bubbles, that are taped none-the-less, and taking away the UNPUNCHED option which is a real thing for collectors, the target market of this line. Please EXPLAIN to me what BOZO is running this joint?!

I mean, these are basic, rudimentary, fundamentals decisions that an average collector can make that warrant good products that meet expectations. I am not trying to complain, honestly, I am happy with the line coming back and will take anything they send my way, and I am okay with bubbles being larger when the size of the figure warrants it, but I bought several cases expecting to have something special in unpunched figures. How can some uppity yahoo be so disconnected from this basic collecting fundamentals?!

Sorry for the rant, I meant to send this out to you when the wave first came out, but I was trying to tame my flame of frustration. It's not working out too well!

I want to agree with you completely - but I don't. There are issues of consistency (which have been tossed out the window), and the mintest possible samples - which, right now, you can get.

The tape situation is a bizarre thing we've encountered since The Black Series. Hasbro has been using copious amounts of tape on its products on and off since 2004, with The Original Trilogy Collection getting taped clamshells. In 2015, we saw basic Revenge of the Sith figures and Titanium Series vehicles covered in tape - and ever since, we've seen some here and there. I really don't know what the heck happened as far as their adhesive goes, but I can't disagree - tape on a heat-sealed cardback is a bizarre, ugly design choice and Hasbro's factories can do better. Perhaps it has to do with health standards or manufacturing tolerances of some sort. But it's ugly.

Figure choice, well, we've been over that. I think it's another bizarre and boring decision to make clearance figures, again, but on prettier cardbacks that use less packaging material. A lot of fans have been asking Hasbro (don't deny it I've seen you do it) to rerelease "anybody, absolutely anybody" on Vintage-style packaging. People - you can't say that. Hasbro might actually give you what you asked for, rather than what you wanted, which was probably Original Trilogy characters. I've been witness to this conversation more than once at conventions, and variations on it in my work as the toy industry's most annoying buyer. I will tell you exactly what I want to see even if you don't want to hear from me. I will repeat it to others. But I will not leave it vague, because I have been witness to what happens when the wheels are turning in the opposite direction too many times. (And it still happens!) Be specific at conventions. Say "I'd love to see TRILOGY or PREQUEL or REBELS" when you make your vintage comments. Don't leave things up to guessing.

So, let's talk holes.

Here's where I disagree - when hunting any action figure, I want the best specimen I can get. I want the very best thing made by the factory that is available to me - no enhancements, no customizations, no missing parts, and no paint errors. In the cases of waves 1 and 2 of the 2010 The Vintage Collection, they left the factory punched. Some carry-forward figures may have been unpunched later, but most were punched. If you bought them at a retail store, it was probably punched. If you got it second-hand, it may have been punched. That's what a mint figure looks like.

This means that the current round - punched, taped, and Disneyed - are perfect specimens. They are not to your exacting specifications, but it's not like a complete unpunched collection of The Vintage Collection can exist - there are problems. There are Canada-only package variants and Comic-Con figures on smaller cardbacks for no great reason. The series you just bought is a whopping five years and change removed from the last round - these are different designers, different factory workers, and people with a different understanding of what we as fans want.

It is time for you as a fan to make a stink out of this - because right now, they're not making a stink out of it, and as a fan punching or not punching doesn't really matter to me. I want you to get something that's mint, perfect, and not damaged. As they stand now, the current batches of figures aren't damaged - they're just not shipped unpunched. The finished product is a punched thing, and I don't know what Hasbro will do to change this. Since the next wave(s) are likely to be done before the next Hasbro/Fan convention gathering, odds are this isn't going to get fixed unless everybody gets very noisy.



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2. You mentioned the Ghost and Phantom in a recent Q&A...

I took a look at the Phantom next to the Big Millennium Falcon and the scale matches up pretty exactly to how big a Ghost would need to be to allow the docking feature. Is there still enough interest in the Rebels show to get this done via Haslab? One would think that the window has closed for anything from that show, but throw in the Phantom 2 shuttle so there’s something to fit in that empty space (and so people don’t have to ‘rebuy’ the Phantom 1)...

I wouldn't be optimistic for a variety of reasons, but there's always hope. Who thought we'd get a 4-foot vehicle of a bad guy's dirt boat from a movie from 1983? Or HasLab, for that matter?

Given the lower ratings of Rebels thanks to being on a network not everybody gets, I would assume such a thing would never come to pass. Hasbro could probably have better sales re-releasing the big Millennium Falcon or perhaps giving us a Star Destroyer or Blockade Runner or some other big new vehicle from a new movie that has more potential. Something from a TV show they skipped before seems unlikely.

There's a lot left untouched by Hasbro for Rebels, and while this is a key omission it would seem bad to leave out the Phantom too. At $50 on Amazon for a vehicle supposedly "nobody" wanted back then, it's in-demand - it would be great to see a reissue, or better yet a new version with a droid socket. (This will also never happen.)

Given there's a generation of kids that kinda, sorta watched this show and The Clone Wars without some key vehicles and figures, there may be growing demand over time. But it's unlikely that Hasbro will want to do more big ships from television. So far Hasbro and Lucasfilm have proven loath to look back more than a year or two on their TV properties with precious few exceptions that I can count on one hand. (So far, anyway.)

If you want this to happen, I'd suggest starting a letter writing campaign, telling Hasbro in person, and doing all the things I always say to do that nobody actually ever does. Organize. Make a big stink on social media. Be loud in Hasbro's direction. But also be ready to be disappointed - Star Wars is unique in its relatively narrow storytelling output in the films having a large representation in toys. Most franchises and TV shows don't get that, and historically Star Wars on TV does not have a particularly good track record as Hasbro toys go. I'll never say never, but I wouldn't bet money on you seeing the Ghost as a fully-realized 3 3/4-inch vehicle without a substantial mandate from collectors that has so far not proven itself to exist.




3. I remember there were talks about Disney acquiring hasbro, about 10 years ago, then the talks between Mattel and hasbro merging that sounded like they broke down last year. If hasbro had merged with mattel after Disney bought hasbro, would that become a monopoly on Disney's part? With the changes in the retail world, do you think that there will be more intellectual properties becoming films and tv shows and less product manufactured and sold for the those new lines in stores and online?

There are a lot of issues at work here - like "is it a monopoly?" and "does that matter?" We saw AT&T broken up, and then it started to regroup. Airlines and cable companies almost completely own some airports or towns, with limited actual choice in a lot of things. Nintendo's practices were seen as monopolistic in the 1980s which resulted in some class-action lawsuits, but now? I don't think the government cares. You can make a very large company and do some things which I don't think are in all of our best interests. Toys R Us carefully, slowly squeezed out regional toy competitors since the 1980s and they were the last significant national toy store chain - arguably not a monopoly, as you had options, but the flavor of the toy world had changed and become a lot more bland. Now it's blander.

Vertical integration was a big problem in the past in entertainment, where one company could make the films, distribute the films, show the films, and so on and so forth. This was seen as a big problem back then, but now we've got streaming services which produce their own content, and everything is fine.

I don't know when people decide to step in and do something - Disney already owns intellectual property, entertainment production, produces some of its own toys, for its own branded stores, and so on and so forth. It might be because entertainment is seen as trivial and fractured so nobody cares - or they have the right lobbyists - but I doubt you're going to see a problem with the feds getting in a huff over Disney and Hasbro merging some day. Disney and Mattel, maybe, but probably not even there.

We've already got Apple making Apple products in Apple stores, although telecoms do have a piece of the action as carriers. We've got Disney doing Disney stuff in Disney stores, but some stores sell their products (JC Penny), plus some things are licensed out or sold elsewhere. Tesla goes direct to customer, while other car makers go through dealerships. The big question is if someone is going to do anything about it, or get upset about it, and my guess is you won't find a politician alive today that could survive attacking the house of mouse, Marvel, and Star Wars when it comes to the court of public opinion.

Basically we have a citizenship that's pretty inconsistent about words like "choice," and fewer choices usually means less progress. Jakks, as a competitor, gave us 20-inch figures. LEGO gave us their own take on Star Wars. As licenses go, we have options. When it comes to action figures, if Hasbro and Mattel merged there could still be Diamond Select, Funko, McFarlane, NECA, and more.

The best citation I can give you for keeping companies competitive is Mattel's Jurassic World line this year. A few years ago Hasbro gave us a modest - small - line with some pretty neat toys. It was OK - light on humans, low on effects, not exactly varied. This year Mattel went bananas with electronic toys, an interactive app, store exclusives galore, dozens of creatures, a retro collector-friendly assortment at Target, and metal cars too. They milked it for what it was worth - and there's a lot more to do still.

Thankfully for us in the near term, the death of Toys R Us has caused a sudden shake-up. We don't know what this means - Hasbro is starting to try out new brands with Lost Kitties and Lock Stars in the near-term which have lower price points which may be more accepted in more stores that don't normally sell toys. All toy makers have to take stock as to what they make, who they make it for, and what new channels can be explored to reach a receptive buyer - and that may mean going outside the traditional license paradigm, which could be good for everybody. Is it a kid with allowance? Is it an adult with cash to spare? You can't rely on any one audience forever - mixing up the brands might help keep us safe from monotony. A monopoly, though, may be inevitable if toy companies merge in the wake of this big shuffle.



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As per usual, we're not going to spoil Solo: A Star Wars Story this or next week. It's a movie for fans, rewarding the loyal with easter eggs galore plus plot points that make zero sense unless you saw most of The Clone Wars. I won't say which one, but it almost seemed cruel to drop a bomb like that on the audience given the relatively low ratings of the TV shows against the must-see event nature of the films.

My very short, spoiler-free take is a) I liked it, b) you're wrong if you didn't, c) see a) and b). Obviously that wasn't Harrison Ford and obviously we got a remix of Han's history, but one advantage there is that it canonized elements of the existing, pre-Disney universe - and I appreciate that. One thing I hope Hasbro, Disney, and Lucasfilm can do is go back and keep making toys. Solo and Rogue One are peppered with awesome aliens, troopers, background characters, and costume changes - most of which we never saw as an action figure. It's my hope that we can see them all done, in a consistent scale, and preferably as 3 3/4-inch action figures. I'm articulation-agnostic, as long as things don't get duplicated too much between "simple" and "Super articulated." (I don't need a dozen more Chewbaccas.)

I assume interest will fizzle out quickly among the non-believers, but this is a movie that should keep the hardcore loyalists interested - if only they had something to purchase every 45-60 days! I suspect that Solo toys, salted into the mixes, could keep fans happy for years to come. The design aesthetic is great and more Star Warsy than some of the creatures in The Last Jedi, if for no other reason than formal wear doesn't make for great toys. It's a shame we didn't get this movie 10 years ago, back when Hasbro was content to put out Yarna d'al' Gargans and Malakilis and Quarren Soldiers as really good main-line figures. There are some fairly significant characters with a lot of action that we may never see as a Hasbro action figure, and that's really disappointing given how many fun and likable characters there were. For the one movie that I would assume will delight kids the most, the toy line is at an all-time small size. It's a pity.

Go see the movie today if you haven't - I've been kind of stunned how many people I know who are big fans of the series shrugging and saying "I don't know when or if I'll see it." I'm a little insulted, but it's telling - we're no longer at a point where Star Wars is special, even when the suits gave us a movie that feels pretty much exactly like they tried to give fans exactly what they would want from a story like this. Now that we've got a lot more in development, I assume twice-a-year movies are just around the corner and we'll experience a new definition of burnout as our wallets are slowly digested over the next 1,000 years.

--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.