Q&A: Star Wars Battle Packs, LEGO, Vehicles, and More Fun

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 22, 2011

This week: How reliable is action figure grading? The answer... may not surprise you. What's the scoop with Battle Packs? And are we going to expect more classic vehicle updates real soon? Probably not. All this and LEGO ramblings in this week's Q&A!

1. How reliable are the figure-grading services? A collector I know sent one in, and got it back graded an 80. He didn't like that, took it out of the case, then sent it back in and it got a 90. Have you ever seen on of these in action to know how subjective it is?

It's subjective, and they are completely reliable on the person you get that day and their personal expertise. I am not a big fan of grading services. They serve a purpose, but there are roadblocks like the one you describe. In Transformers circles, I've heard of knock-offs and bootlegs being submitted to them as the real thing and they didn't catch it. It's not necessarily the fault of the graders, but these people are like us-- while there are experts, there are things you just can't be expected to know, or at least, there are limits to what you can know.

While a lot of us profess to be toy experts, nobody's perfect-- there are lots of things we don't know, and it's not like they have Gus Lopez or Benson Yee on their staffs to look at these things. Like any service, buyer beware, but grading has proven to be good to those looking to sell graded figures. (For the record, I have never owned a graded figure nor do I intend to. Time and the elements render grades moot.) People do enjoy it, but it's basically a very expensive way to get someone to tell you what they think of your collection.

So yeah, you can resubmit it if you want, but it's an expensive gamble to get figures graded and then re-graded. Ultimately, grading is just asking for somebody's opinion, and you never know if you're going to get a better grade just because it came after lunch or something. I've not been witness to the process, as far as I know they don't talk about it all that much just yet. You really only hear about the horror stories, a lot of people are happy with the service but... I can't say I'm a fan of the concept, really.


2. Why is Hasbro going to sell Battle Packs, that once included five figures, from now on with only three figures, when they still cost around $25? Most of the included figures are strong sellers on single cards, but what is Hasbro's points of including less and less figures in these so popular Battle Packs?

Do you know for a fact what the prices are for this new assortment of 3-packs? I don't. This is a new SKU-- this is a new assortment with these new 3-figure sets. The prices could be higher, lower, or about the same-- we simply do not know until we see an actual retail listing for these products from an online or brick-and-mortar seller.

To reiterate: these 3-packs are a separate product from the 4- and 5-packs you've seen previously. It's a new SKU, which means it's a new DPCI at Target, which means the price isn't necessarily going to be the same as other, previous figure sets. (From what I can see, it won't be.)

I'm sure increasing prices of labor and materials are what's causing these to go up. Figures are made out of plastic, and plastic isn't free. Chinese labor continues to go up as cell phones permeate the country, allowing them to find the best jobs with the best wages. As the Chinese middle class grows and can get better pay at electronics firms than toy factories, that means the toy factories have to pay more to get workers-- and the costs are passed along to you, resulting in price increases.

In addition to that, freight goes up with oil, and sometimes little things like an item's packaging footprint can slightly raise costs. (Bigger boxes mean you're paying to ship air from China to a US distribution center to the store, and the extra cubic footage isn't always absorbed by the vendors.) I don't know what Hasbro's costs are, but it's not just Hasbro that's raising prices. Mattel's DC Universe figures continue to climb, and even the faux Mego figures by a variety of companies are pretty pricey these days. LEGO isn't getting any cheaper, and until manufacturing automation or materials kick in to reduce prices, things are going to get more expensive. Unless, of course, you're OK getting figures with even less deco and articulation than you get now... in which case, things could be cheaper sooner than later.


3. What "classic" and/or Prequel vehicles would you like to see get the "BMF" treatment? For my own self, in the way of new, updated and more detailed OT vehicles I'd LOVE to see the A-Wing, the definitive Luke X-Wing, B-Wing, Slave-1 (duh!), Jabba's Skiff and ----would really love to see a Speeder Bike. On the prequel front, the only ship I'd really go gaga over is a BMF Gunship.

A new A-Wing could be neat, but even there, it'd be like the Snowspeeder in the sense it would actually need to be smaller than the previous release. A new Speeder Bike would be great, given the original mold from 1983 ain't so hot and the 2002 Clone Trooper Bike doesn't look all that different. In all honesty I (as a collector) would be pretty jazzed if the giant vehicles either stopped or were kept purely at new, previously unmade designs. Since 1995, we've been sold 3 unique Millennium Falcons, no fewer than 4 Slave Is, 3 different AT-ATs, and I'm counting at least 6 distinctive AT-STs. Since I buy them all, I would be OK not adding any more upgrades to my collection this year. So if Hasbro comes to us and does a Blockade Runner of some sort, I'd be pretty happy... but with the new Slave I mold last year, well, no. As far as I'm concerned, the current Toys "R" Us exclusive mold and the current X-Wing molds are the definitive toy molds and will most likely not see an update any time soon.

From a business perspective, I think it would do Hasbro some good to completely remake the Republic Gunship, although I fear for my wallet that a new Gunship mold could result in another 6 releases of the ship. It's a vehicle that tends to perform well and on the secondary market, routinely shoots up in price. With the 3D rereleases of all 6 Star Wars films I do expect Hasbro to start cranking out more vehicles, either reissues or new molds, for the "movie year" audiences. But not next year, because I don't think they're crazy enough to put that Royal Starship on the market again.

If you want them, I suggest you get to work.


4. According to LEGO's concept, how possible is it that Hasbro releases further Seperatist vehicles like the Battle Droid Carrier? LEGO has updated this vehicle three times since 1999 and still sells it highly successful. I asked you earlier about a possible release of the large MTT which seems to be quite unlikely to be produced for the 3 3/4 inch figures, but don't you agree that a Battle Droid Carrier would sell perfectly in the Medium vehicle line when it fits some of the new Battle Droid figures, first released in 2009 and currently sold as 2-Pack in the SL line?


Each company is different, with different tooling and distribution costs and different price points to hit. Historically LEGO has been a premium toy-- the Danish toymaker is well aware that as a plaything there is a lot of value in a big box of bricks you can take apart and build into your own creations, and this allows even awful LEGO sets to still make decent gifts for kids. With a business model that encourages higher-end products, with lots of $20, $30, $50, and even $100 releases, LEGO can get away with a lot more. They also have a huge emphasis on vehicles, while Hasbro's emphasis has always been on figures. LEGO can crank out weird, really obscure set pieces from the films, games, and comics while Hasbro can't necessarily get away with this because LEGO already has a rich library of molds from which to pull. It's not like they need to make new brick designs with every new kit, although they often will do exactly that.

So why no Battle Droid Carrier for Hasbro? If you look at the figure design, it's probably not even on their minds right now. The animated Battle Droids cannot fold up, and most vehicles are designed to be compatible with both movie and animated action figures. As such, Hasbro may be either waiting for a better Droid figure mold, or probably just isn't interested in a "trooper carrier" as a vehicle. We never got an update (spiritually or otherwise) of the Rebel Transport or Imperial Troop Transporter vehicles from the original 1970s and 1980s Kenner line, and since the 1990s ended Hasbro has seemingly shied away from products that tie in to a large collection of figures. (No Bandolier Straps, no new mold Carry Cases, etc.)

Personally, I just think it's off Hasbro's radar, and an MTT probably just plain won't happen. That, and there's a clear Clone bias in the line these days. Not even Imperial Stormtroopers are getting a sweet ride!


5. Since we have the new mold of the B1 Battle Droid, are we already going to see further re-paints of this fantastic figure in the next toy line of TPM in 2012? I cannot wait to see this mold as Security Droid, Pilot Droid or standard Battle Droid, hopefully still sold as 2-Pack!

Yes, I believe the first repaint of the mold should be coming this year. It's my understanding (but I'm not 100% certain) that this year's Blu-Ray Commemorative Packs will include a tan repaint of this mold for Episode I.

My money is on 2012-- again, Phantom Menace 3D should allow Hasbro to cycle in some old favorite characters in Saga Legends, the Vintage line, or packed in a gift set. I'd be more or less stunned if Hasbro didn't exploit 2012's Battle Droid opportunities, unless it's something they realize might be a very short sales window. (After the rush of switching away from the movie in 2000 and keeping away from the movie ever since, I'm a little stunned the line look will focus on what is largely the most disliked of the films rather than a generic, saga-spanning look.)



So! The AT-ST from Galactic Heroes is at Toys "R" Us, Target has some ultra-dull Vintage 3-packs (see you in the clearance bins), and a huge smattering of new figures got announced this past week. Savage Opress, in two different costumes, basically at the same time? I'm shocked! I thought they'd spread it out a bit rather than play that card all at once.

Things are looking up for The Clone Wars and kids, at least as toys go. With an emphasis on The Phantom Menace on deck next year-- and possibly late this year-- it might be a dry spell for collectors, though. Which I guess makes sense, as time goes on there's less and less in the way of "new" movie stuff left to do, and the question is more if you want to re-buy an item you may already have purchased. Lucky for Hasbro, we're mostly suckers for that old Kenner logo on the packaging.

Got questions? My mailbag's pretty much empty.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with Q&A in the subject line.