Q&A: Star Wars Bootlegs, Vintage Updates, and Nerf Darts

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 4, 2016

1. Last night I discovered this website:

http://www.thevintagestudiostore.com/ (Be sure to check out the "What-if..." Series under More)

and more specifically the store:


The site outlines a philosophy to create limited edition custom vintage action figures never produced in the original Kenner line. The first of those figures, the Sandtrooper, is now available for order. A quick Google search showed that this is a "legit" project, so much as any custom is, but it appears to have divided reactions ranging from re-caster heresy to dream come true. I'm a long time reader of your column so I know of your penchant for small production/kickstarter type figures and your thoughts on 3D printing as an outlet to create items that the toy companies won't.

With that in mind I'm curious to both a) let you know about this "What-if" project (I'm not connected to this in any way) and b) hear your thoughts on it.

I'm not entirely sure what I think yet. There are certainly a few I would love to own and so long as no items fraudulently recast original Kenner parts, I'm not sure I see the harm. It doesn't seem this is something Hasbro would give us and I'm not sure Funko could get the license or even the vintage look quite right.

Curious to hear your thoughts.

I've seen a lot of, shall we say, inspired toys over in the world of Transformers collecting. Heck, G.I. Joe too. It's tough to nail down how and where copyright and trademark infringement applies to the product, but the packaging? That's easy. But the products themselves? That can be tough. I'm extremely against bootlegging toys, mostly because of how it hurts identification and a lot of uninformed people can be duped. On top of that, some people just don't care - some people are happy with a fake copy of an old toy, and don't think twice about disclosing its authenticity when it's time to sell it because they don't see it as a cheap knock-off. To them, it's real. I hate that. But I digress.

The issue I see here is that the packaging is where the problem will undoubtedly be for the seller. If he sells something that looks kind of like a Sandtrooper figure from 40 years ago, he might be able to get away with it. It's not the exact same thing, and a number of toy robot makers are doing good business sidling up to Hasbro's Transformers intellectual property and making all-new toys that look like their characters - but they are very careful not to use trademarked names, logos, or graphics like the Autobot logo.

I am not a lawyer. But the guy does claim "We can proudly affirm that this is a new Star Wars vintage Action Figure," and it kinda isn't.

And I don't know how international copyright infringement necessarily works. But. I do see he uses real property of Hasbro/Lucasfilm/Disney/whoever in the packaging, which could be pretty easy to slap with a cease-and-desist order thanks to what's on the packaging. Nobody has a lock on black-and-silver cardboard, but the Kenner logo, the Star Wars logo, the photography, and the painting of Luke and Leia are unquestionably not the maker's property. He even puts a little TM next to the character's name, which I'd bet good money he does not own. I also don't know what kind of money he brings in, how low his runs are, and if it is - in general - worth the time of an attorney to slap someone with a nastygram to say "Hey man, not cool, stop selling this or we're going to have our day in court." I sincerely do not know how this applies to Ecuador, and from what I've seen in other lines it is most challenging to prove that a design that is similar to another design breaks the law in terms of theft. And if this guy is only bringing in a few thousand dollars? Litigation may not be necessary until someone bigger tries their hand at this. Heck, if he called his figures "Space Battles" and this was a "Dirttrooper" and there were no copyright markings of any kind on it? For all I know he'd get away with it - that seems to be what's happening in the world of Transformers "toys" produced by the colloquially-known "third party" manufacturers. (Unlicensed, hence the annoying quotes.)

Of course, as home manufacturing and/or 3D printing really improves this is all moot. Once production is in the hands of a skilled home craftsman, a small batch of any figure is going to be able to be produced without a lot of legal oversight - if and only if it's named and distributed correctly. A torrent file with the data to squirt out a Tonnika Girls 3 3/4-inch statue is going to be hard to hide, especially if it doesn't explicitly step on any trademarks. We're just not there quite yet... but we're getting closer and closer all the time. I mean, look at what this lovable genius is doing on Shapeways, a store that prints parts to order. Those are pretty fancy, and we may not ultimately need to use a web site to squirt these things out as the Thingmaker or other home devices become more popular. Heck, you could even have a public one in a makerspace in a library or something. Anything's possible, and it's always worth watching these kinds of creators to see how the corporate world treats them, and also how that will be ultimately circumvented.

...coupla more things.

Right now Hasbro will not sublease the 3 3/4-inch action figure license. Not to Super7 when they did ReAction, not to Funko now. It could change some day, I imagine it will not until Hasbro decides they don't want to do Star Wars toys ever again. (This may happen if/when we go 3+ years without a movie line. After all, Hasbro is letting Jurassic Park go finally after 25 years!) So yeah, don't bet on anyone doing it on the official.

I'm all for "plays with" toys. The Corps brought G.I. Joe a cheap clone product line. Transformers and Go-Bots were joined by countless other transforming toy lines - some which predated them. Major Matt Mason had The Outer Space Men, and I could go on. I really do hope fans make good, made-in-China-or-whereever playsets for figures. Because the environments aren't an exact replica of a ship, and generally playsets are inspired by the movies rather than replicas of any one room or environment, Hasbro would have no legal leg to stand on if someone made "Tree City" or "Yeti Cave" or "Desert Bar Exterior." I'd speculate that an aspiring fan could mass-produce something that looks a lot like Cloud City's Freeze Chamber or the Death Star without too much legal hassle, as long as they didn't make any claims about it being a legit product in any way. But again, I am not a lawyer. But having said that, you could totally get away with a 3 3/4-inch scale "Yeti Cave," and I'll keep reminding people of that until someone puts their money where their ambition is and makes something.



Ad: Get The Black Series from Entertainment Earth!
Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Hux 6-Inch Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Asty 6-Inch Figure Star Wars Black Series Stormtrooper Action Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Kylo Ren 6-Inch Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Chewbacca 6-Inch Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Rey 6-Inch Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series Stormtrooper Figure Star Wars Force Awakens Black Series TIE Pilot 6-Inch Figure Star Wars The Black Series Finn 6-Inch Figure Star Wars TFA Black Series Finn 6-Inch Figure, Not Mint Star Wars TFA Black Series Snowtrooper 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars Black Series Flametrooper 6-Inch Figure, Not Mint Star Wars TFA Black Series Han Solo 6-Inch Figure, Not Mint Star Wars TFA Captain Phasma 6-Inch Figure , Not Mint Star Wars Black Series 6-Inch Poe Dameron Figure, Not Mint
Free U.S.A. Shipping - Spend $79+ on in-stock toys!


2. Bored at work. Last night I was sorting through my vintage figures and the recent 5POA original trilogy figures. I noticed something interesting and I would love to read your comments on it.

Starting in 2013 with its 5POA Saga Legends, Rebels and Mission Series lines, Hasbro quietly did a surprisingly thorough job of making 5POA realistic modern versions of most of the core vintage figures. I took some photos to illustrate (attached). All but two of the vintage Lukes are represented in this modern line, and all but one Han.

Do you think Hasbro's re-make of nearly every vintage Luke and Han was intentional? I.e. Did they have a specific goal of re-doing all vintage versions of Luke and Han (and Leia?) as modern 5POA? Why did they stop before making a Farmboy Luke, Jedi Luke and Carbonite Han to finish off the characters? (Farmboy Luke with a Tusken Raider or Old Ben, Jedi Luke with a Gamorrean, and Carbonite Han with Leia Boushh would have made for some cool Mission Series packs.)

Basically, it pains me to have all these well-sculpted modern versions of all the vintage Lukes, but to be missing Farmboy Luke. Can you provide any hope that this hole will be filled? (Or start bugging Hasbro for me?) Farmboy Luke in 5POA would be a great choice for a 40th Anniversary figure, and he might even slot in well as a filler figure for a later wave in the basic Rogue One line.

From my conversations with a few people on the last few incarnations of the team, it does not seem Hasbro places any significance in "completing" any collections. After all, we're 21 years in to the modern era with no Power Droid (equivalent), no Bespin Security Guard with mustache, and no Imperial Dignitary update. I have to believe Hasbro puts zero significance in any sort of Luke Skywalker 5-joint update collection whatsoever, particularly since we haven't seen any new Star Wars, The Empires Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi characters of any kind in that form factor since (checks abacus) March of 2015. The only evidence I've seen of new Rogue One-era classic dudes is a plain 5-jointed Stormtrooper, which we all saw (and nobody fussed over) at SDCC this year. There were hundreds of them!

I would personally love it if Hasbro did a concentrated effort to update the original 92 93 96 99 in the 5-jointed figure format. On Vintage-esque cardbacks with j-hooks. Maybe, let's say, 16-24 a year, including a few repacks. Who wouldn't? That'd be swell. Hasbro knows that "vintage" is its collector catnip, especially now that they acted on the 6-inch format - there's not a lot left they can reactivate to bring out the older fans. An unabashedly 1970s-1980s tribute line would probably be about it, although sales data makes me think that even that might be a little risky right now. (Although, I would argue, just doing the "vintage" line look for Rogue One would've been appropriate to tie in to the era and its 40th anniversary. "Hey, remember this?" Yes, yes we do!)

At this time - read in to this as you wish - I know of no Original Trilogy-specific 3 3/4-inch 5-jointed or super articulated action figures in any stage of production or preproduction as an exclusive, as a mainline item, or otherwise. This doesn't mean there aren't any - I may be in the dark - but if you look at The Force Awakens that line was clearly aimed at kids, today's kids, with the new movie and TV show at the forefront with token filler of Han, Leia, Luke, and Darth Vader.




3. Is the Nerf launcher on the upcoming Rebels A-Wing vehicle removable?

At this time I am infuriated to say I do not know. I've seen it in person more than once, I know I've seen the bottom, and I'm drawing a blank - which makes me think it must have been removable, but I could be wrong. I've seen one photo of it online where you can make out parts of the Nerf cannon, and it hangs low and externally to the point where I can't imagine it not being removable. But take this with a grain of salt, I get distracted easily at conventions and it's not like Hasbro let me play with it this time. I just flat-out do not have any visual memory of the bottom of this vehicle.

"Upskirt" vehicle shots is probably something we all ought to start going for at these shows. Landing gear, Nerf cannons, maybe battery compartments or other elements could be hidden down there. It looks like most can be modified, but really, I don't get why you'd want to damage the toy. Of course, maybe boxed collectors don't get why I'd want to open the toy, either.




Got Tumblr? Galactic-Hunter on Tumblr is here for you.

What a week! The first Rogue One pre-orders went live, and this leak of future Walmart 3 3/4-inch Black Series exclusive figures is... well, I guess it depends on your toy box. From where I sit, I already own Admiral Ackbar, Ahsoka Tano, the Emperor's Royal Guard, and General Lando Calrissian figures. So I don't necessarily need them, unless there's a significant deco variant. Oh - I'm also assuming this is legit, as Robot Kingdom has been good about Transformers in the past, and you all know how much I love those. From where I sit, the 3 3/4-inch The Black Series line - heck, even The Vintage Collection - did little to expand the toy box universe. Part of this is because of the realities of business - what I want as a collector (new stuff) does not align with what the marketplace would probably require. I've got Luke. I've got a lot of Lukes. I've got a lot of Lukes all in the same costume, some with unique hats or helmets. At this point, I don't really want a new movie Luke figure unless it's from the new series - but there are millions of fans who aren't collectors, who don't have all (or close to all) of the action figures since 1978, and would never even dream of going to the secondary market to get them. Keeping main characters in circulation is always a smart move, but these aren't main characters. General Lando Calrissian is a curious choice. (Unless he's in Episode 8 and we don't know it yet.) Ahsoka makes sense from a secondary market perspective, but then again, so would Darth Revan. Admiral Ackbar is still in demand due to the potentially short supply of his The Force Awakens figure. And the Royal Guard, fans have been asking for a rerun for four years, so why not?

I don't need 'em. (I got 'em, and now you can get 'em too.) I'd be interested in a super-articulated Hux or Jyn Erso, though. The good news - from where I sit - is hunting down retail exclusives is stressful, particularly at or under the $20 price point. People get excited about those - the 12-inch Captain Phasma at Toys R Us was in short supply, the 6-inch figures at Walgreens sold nicely, and the previous waves of the 3 3/4-inch figures did extraordinarily well. The first shipments sold immediately, subsequent later shipments were easier to find if you were patient - but you're not - so the perpetual feeling of feast or famine tends to plague the line to this day.

So the good news is this - if you find the wave boring, congratulations! You just saved $52, and a winner is you. If you missed them? Here's another chance - I really do hope Ahsoka gets to the hands of kids who missed her before, as her many figures started to become popular as the line went on. The Clone Wars had roughly three seasons with few to no toys, so hey - maybe some lapsed fans will pick her up and enjoy the rest of what Hasbro Star Wars has to offer. There's a lot!

From what we've seen thus far, the Rogue One lineup is on the happy side of decent. I find it fascinating - and blasphemous - that so many people want to buy ships and gut features from them, damaging the toy, but that's me. I'm not a big believer in "improving" a toy by removing a chunk of it, but I am one of those people who wants open and near-perfect specimens of everything. Good or bad, dumb or awesome, fun or boring, I want it to be what it is. And I'm still not really at all upset that a toy could have a standardized, popular projectile that is in an insane number of American homes already. If the cost goes up, I'm gonna be cranky. When pilots won't fit in vehicles, I'll be furious. But it's not like the existing projectile toys bug me a bit, and I'm not really a huge fan of spring-loaded launchers on my toys. (They're better than marble shooters, though.) Nerf stuff works well and flies far, so whatever man. It's not like a few thousand collectors are going to make the difference here - it's the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of new fans who will or won't buy these that are going to make all the difference. When the movies go away, it'll be collectors again - assuming enough of us stick around - but until then Hasbro has to appeal to that bigger audience. I just hope that we get a few bones thrown at us outside of The Black Series.

...and the leaked figures are quite nice. A new Darth Vader? What seems to be a Rebels-style bepauldroned Stormtrooper in movie form? Rebels Darth Maul? OK, ya got me. These are things I like. I know no line can be perfect, but generally speaking if you left me to design a line-up it'd probably involve a lot of "early days of the Empire" stuff and a healthy smattering of alien gangsters. This is pretty close, minus the gangsters. Darth Vader? I got one - but do I have one with a giant stupid rocket launcher patterned after his belt buckle? I most certainly do not. I'll take one.

You know this, but here's a reminder - Rogue One was originally planned to be a very short line. Episode VIII was initially slated for May 2017 for the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars, but after the last movie destroyed the box office in December Disney realized this was not necessary. As such, don't expect a lot of toys from this one - at least in the next year. I like the aliens and troopers so far, though. I can't wait to get my hands on some!

--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.