Q&A: Sail Barge, Star Wars HasLab Armchair Quarterbacks, and Vintage Cardback Complaint Corner

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 1, 2018

1. If the Vintage Collection Sail Barge Campaign is a failure do you think that Hasbro will still renew their Star Wars License in 2020 when it expires?

I don't think the Sail Barge is a factor in renewing the license. While the 5,000-piece, $500 retail item does equal $2,500,000, that's nothing. 10-20% of that goes to shipping it to you. It's not nothing, but it's an insignificant factor when you consider Walmart alone supposedly sells about $1 billion of Hasbro per year.

The real money in any toy line is the gobs of stuff you sell to kids, moreso than the stuff you sell to collectors. Hasbro has recently said it estimates about 20% of its business to be adults buying for themselves - that means 80% of toys are still going to children. Those lightsabers, Nerf guns, Galactic Heroes, and other items you don't buy sell surprisingly well - this is where the real money is made. Some of those items are pretty cheap to produce compared to a $500 vehicle, so Hasbro is better served by releasing (or rereleasing) lightsabers than by catering to adult fans exclusively.

We do serve a purpose - we read this stuff on real news sites, we make fan sites to serve as free marketing, and our activities qualify as human interest stories.

The Sail Barge itself most likely serves as a small revenue source - it gets Hasbro press, and it earned back a ton of fan goodwill after fundamentally ignoring the 3 3/4-inch collector sector, and original trilogy collectors (save for some 6-inch stuff) have something to fawn over. Even if it fails, they tried - it's not like Toys R Us is here to support a monstrosity like this, and knowing what I know about online toy sales it could be difficult (but not impossible) to move Hasbro's standard minimum runs on some toys. But 5,000? That should, in normal circumstances, be doable. Asking for payment up front is a baller move, and if it works odds are Hasbro is going to be able to make dang near anything with less risk. To them. If the Toys R Us detonation hurts Hasbro, we're all out $500 should they fail to deliver.



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2. I wonder why the Hasbro boys didn’t start with a smaller [HasLab] product out of the gate, instead of the huge and expensive Barge? Also, if they are locked in at 5000 as the lucky number, I really don't see it coming to pass. If they had included two or three new “Barge related” Vintage figures, that would have sure sweetened the deal and we would surely be closer than barely past half way there (as of now). It’s a bummer, but I think that Jabba’s toy Barge will suffer the fate as it’s film counterpart.

No matter what Hasbro does, fans are going to second-guess it. For example, the Sail Barge will come in a The Vintage Collection box. Some fans will love this, while others will ask why even bother since it's a mail-order item and who would want to leave it in the packaging? If they were to include figures that would be nice, but at the same time carded collectors dislike it when Hasbro does a special vintage package as an exclusive as part of some other boxed set - as we've seen at Comic-Con a few times. No matter what, someone's going to be disappointed. Hasbro is making the giant vehicle fans have demanded most frequently over the past eight years, and we're going to armchair quarterback it.

As to the numbers, I can't say - but I can speculate. Hasbro probably wanted to make a big splash (check) while giving fans something they never in a million years thought they would get (double check.) If they did a campaign for Sim Aloo it'd probably be successful, but it would get no media support from the non-toy press. "Hasbro makes another action figure" doesn't get you headlines on the AVClub - but the Sail Barge got Now's your chance to buy a ridiculous toy of Jabba The Hutt's sail barge on a site that primarily writes about TV and movies. That's no small feat - and Hasbro does have plans for HasLab outside of Star Wars and crowdfunding, some of which I would even describe as "OK."

5,000 is a lot - but there are also rich fans out there that might buy a couple Barges and flip them later to the people that dragged their feet. Hasbro could also do what Mattel did for He-Man's Castle Grayskull and green light it for those who supported it, but charge a higher price for those who waited. (If Hasbro got 4,000 supporters, made it, and sold the last 1,000 for $600-$650 I wouldn't complain. [Adam's note - this was asked and answered before last Friday's support surge.])

Based on the crowdfunding experts I've spoken to, anything that isn't immediately supported often has people waiting around for the end to see how it does before they throw in their lot. This is expensive, but it's also really big and amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if we were down to the wire on it, and if it only just barely limped past the goal (if it passes it at all.) After all, we're talking about it, and most questions are from people on the fence these days.




3. While I appreciate Hasbro resurrecting the Vintage Collection, why do you think they have recently failed to recreate several of the original cards and colors correctly? This wasn't a problem when the first Vintage figures came out, and I can forgive them for not being able to include POTF coins, but it's really frustrating to see a great Hoth Trooper that has a reversed photo and the wrong color background. It can't be from lack of research. It's like they're purposely makes the cards just different enough to make you mad.

I like the changes. It makes it a little harder to re-card real 1980s vintage figures on the new cardbacks, plus it's different.

"Just different to make you mad" is the phrase I used to describe a product changed just enough so a completist can't skip it. For example, an army-builder has added battle-damage paint on it. Perhaps an X-Wing retooled the interior controls, but is otherwise identical. Had the product been released unchanged, that would be a delight - I could skip it, had I already bought it.

I'm OK with Hasbro changing up the cards so a wall of vintage figures might look different. A flipped photo or a new color on a figure isn't the worst thing, if anything I assume it's some level of artistic license or something demanded by the new regime at Lucasfilm.

Were I Hasbro, I'd take it a step beyond where they're at. Punch-out holes are annoying and awful, I prefer j-hooks. Functionally, the packaging is terrible - it looks good, but we've had improvements since 1983. It's not like the figures are exact, and there's no real reason to cause ultra-mint unpunched figure fans freak out when the, uh, "chad" is missing. Is that what they're called? Let's say that it is.

Its always a weird place to be - some times they change things to be more accurate, or maybe because someone thinks it looks better. I for one hate the Vintage-style logos for the new movies, but loved how the prequel and The Clone Wars ones turned out. Such is life.



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So! The above was written before the Barge go funded Friday in a shocking parade of purchases. I think it was 4600 or so in the morning, passed 5000 by lunch, and was at 6,200 around the time I wrote this finale part. I know a few people who waited to buy theirs until Friday, a few who are still fence-sitters with FOMO, and I have to say I assume that this increasing numbers are a shopping bot or a foreign consolidator buying a ton to redistribute elsewhere. Or flip. There's no way they should sell a couple thousand in a week, but maybe that's the paradigm of this kind of thing.

It's not over yet, and there's still a chance that there are fraudulent buyers in there (likely, the cards didn't charge yet) but it might not be a ton. The good news is that this might alter Hasbro, Disney, and Lucasfilm's post-movie strategy. They have done a pretty bad job reissuing dud toys from the previous films (more Rathtarrs, really?), but there's still big interest in the classics. Or so it seems - Toys R Us sold through those X-Wings, after all, even though it's a new version. Certain things last, they work well, and they sell. Even 3 3/4-inch The Last Jedi figures seem to be moving on the whole - I daresay Hasbro should have let the line run another wave or two.

With about 19 months between Solo and the next movie, Hasbro has a lot of time to fill - should they so choose. We could see another HasLab item in that time, a dozen waves of The Vintage Collection, and maybe even more Force Link 2.0 figures. (There are some gems in here - more on that post-embargo.) Hasbro has a lot of room to play in this format, and could be well-served giving us figures with 5-7 joints with the best likenesses ever. Wait until you see some of the "classic" guys up close - they're still doing excellent work here when they feel like it. I'd be delighted to see new takes on Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan Kenobi, or maybe a new Padme, perhaps even something like an all-new Blue Snaggletooth since he was on The Clone Wars. Or Walrus Man from Rebels. I'm just spitballing here.

We live in an era where the old guard is getting older - the kid who was 10 when Star Wars was in theaters is about 51 now, and collecting winds down as retirement approaches for many. It makes sense that Hasbro appeals to a mass audience with new movie figures and major characters like Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn - but collectors need more than the characters on the poster. Hasbro did a pretty good job picking new characters from 2006-2012, but it tapered off, got boring, and just wasn't what it once was.

The new movies are packed with awesome designs that would still make for fun figures, many of which would be at home in a Sail Barge or a Rebel Base. (Have you pawed through the Rogue One books? Holy heck.)

The first round of Toys R Us closures look days from closing still - the others seem like they're moving along. The buzz on the street is that KB Toys' is being done by the same guy who secured trademarks for Robinsons, May Co., Bullocks, and a number of other stores which seem in no danger of actually opening. KB-branded toy pop-ups should be an easy order, but won't do a heck of a lot to bring back toys to malls, or malls to relevance. And I like malls.

--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.