Q&A: Star Wars Cantina Comings, Rebels Recesses, and The Next Big Thing

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 19, 2014

1. OMG, OMG, OMG, Mossep Binneed! This is the figure I have actively pined for. Any idea when that wave gets released? I hope you get Jax the green space bunny one day.

Jaxxon is good, but Vlix is better. (I'm pretty sure that's the 242nd Rule of Acquisition.)

Mosep has no date yet, but we can make an educated guess. At NYCC 2013, we saw the debut of the Dagobah Luke/Yoda/Toryn Farr/Snowtrooper wave, which hit in June and July of this year to online accounts. Being generous, that means Toryn Farr took about 8 months from announcement to release - a far cry from the late 2000s, when Hasbro would generally hold back stuff until 3-6 months before release. If nothing else, they're being more transparent and up-front about these.

Wave 5 (Ree-Yees, "Doallyn") was due in August, largely hit in August, and was announced in February at Toy Fair. So, about 6 months.

Wave 6 (Hoth Luke, Malgus redux) is due in October, and we don't know when Wave 7 is due - but we do know that Hoth Luke was revealed at Toy Fair back in February. If it comes out this month as planned, that's another 8 month wait.

So! Mosep and friends were not specified as to what wave they will be in, but as you can see we're looking at 6-8 month waits. There are likely a few waves' worth of figures in there and we also don't know if Mosep is first or second at bat, so I'd suggest a Spring release. Once you see a packaged photo of him online, it'll probably be 60 or so more days, unless he sees his shadow in which case bundle up for another six weeks of winter.



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2. This is your statement:

"New York! I'm not there - but these figures are. Hasbro revealed 6 new 6-inch The Black Series action figures for all of us remaining loyal Star Wars fans. They are: Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker, in Stormtrooper Disguise, Clone Commander Cody, IG-88, Princess Leia in Boushh Disguise, and the Clone Trooper Captain."

My children a girl of 12 and a boy of 4 love the 3 3/4 inch figures, and they told me they hate the 6 inch or bigger toys except Godzilla. So I buy what my children want. I am tempted to buy the 6 inch for myself but I could only afford what my children want. My question is: Loyal Star Wars fans will buy only 6 inch action figures or vary from 6 inch to 3 3/4 inch action figures and if Hasbro will start again making bigger ships for the 3 3/4 inch figures?

That was more of a joke than a political statement - the "few loyal fans" are those of us who read this site, not necessarily collect this figure scale or that figure scale. If anything, your feedback as a readership seems to show that a lot of you like this column and don't buy any toys, which is certainly interesting from where I sit and probably means I should be figuring out another topic to wax nerdly about for your amusement.

Fans buy what they want. Ultimately Star Wars' biggest and worst competition is Star Wars. Kenner had an unobstructed monopoly in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1999, LEGO took a slice of that pie in a big way. Other companies started putting out Star Wars toys and figural collectibles, devaluing Hasbro/Kenner's once master toy license. In 2008 we started to see more splits and Hasbro acting against its own self-interests in some respects - the multiple price points takes away from the line's momentum. In the 1990s we all bought $5 action figures because that's all there was. By 2014 we're all fighting over which flavor is best - and as not everyone will buy everything, each line loses customers as we split off into our own little enclaves. Some people buy everything still, but as you obviously know, not everybody can afford to do this nor even wants to do this.

Big vehicles are tough to tell because the big vehicle category is largely dead. If you go to a big toy store, you'll see a few big action figure playsets or vehicles - but scarcely big licensed toys aimed at a kid audience. You'll see Batman, but no Batcave - and maybe no Batmobiles, either, depending on where you're shopping. Transformers have a big giant Stomp and Chomp Grimlock this year, but it's an $80 giant toy for the smaller kids and not a generation-spanning toy icon in the making. The big vehicle is sort of a relic that gets to show its head every few years, and Hasbro doesn't make many of them. We've had a big giant AT-AT, G.I. Joe Pit playset/headquarters, Republic Attack Shuttle, The Black Pearl, MTT, Metroplex, and... well, this year isn't quite so much big for this kind of $50+ flagship toy outside of Imaginext's superbly huge Supernova Battle Rover. Jakks Pacific has basically gobbled the big toy noise with 31-inch action figures. Large in-store displays at some major retailers take up an island in the middle of an aisle packed with an assortment of Batman and Star Wars characters. This is, as I believe the people in white shirts and ties may say, a paradigm shift.

In the toy industry big shifts can be emblematic of a temporary trend - take the 1990s Micro craze, please. Right now we're seeing a surprising growth in the macro segment with really big Marios, Batmans, Red Power Rangers, Darth Vaders, Spider-Mans, and more at retail stores around the country. We're also seeing a lot of Pop! Vinyl figures and stylized trading figures, because that's also what's hot right now. Traditional action figures in every kid's pocket and holy grail-level Christmas gifts of titanic proportions may be of a bygone era. The U.S.S. Flagg was a 7-foot aircraft carrier that represented the peak of this kind of product, and that was almost 25 years ago.

While ships bigger than what is on the market right now are going to happen - I refuse to believe Episode VII will come and go without, at least, a refresh to the Millennium Falcon and the X-Wing - it probably won't be for every year, or for all movies, and it's less and less likely that we'll see big updates to classic ships.

At this point I think we're down to only the Rebel Transport and the off-camera Mini-Rigs/Ewoks/Droids vehicles being left not updated from the original Vintage line - so it's not unthinkable that Hasbro might just want to wallow in the waters of the main ships and new ships for a few years, unless this new Star Wars rebirth brings back an entirely new level of fandom. Or, let's be honest, greed and speculation - high levels of cash grease the wheels of production. Those horrible scalpers devalued the brand's collectibility, but they also made Hasbro and Kenner tons of money so we could enjoy a rather amazing run. (I don't like the notion of rampant speculation and dealing, but I can't deny more money in Star Wars means more Star Wars on which to spend my money.)

I totally feel your pain regarding kids not being able to find what they want. In the 1980s, I was that kid. There's not much you can do about it - thankfully my mom was a bit of a nut for antiques, garage sales, and flea markets plus I talked to a lot of people with older brothers looking to sell their old toys back when they were worthless. I got a Boba Fett and IG-88 off of my neighbor's older brother's best friend for a buck a piece. (That's the Boba Fett you see in the various videos I posted lately.) The good news is that you live in a world with hundreds of thousands of devalued figures on Amazon and eBay, worth less than issue price, and they're lucky enough to have a dad that cares enough for what they want to seek it out and get it for them. So I guess the takeaway here is that good on you for being a cool dad and tracking down figures for your kids!




3. So, Rebels is on the air, and the highlight of the new product (figures and ships) are nowhere to be seen. At least by me. And I go to stores a lot! Granted, I do see half an aisle of Rebel "stuff" at TRU, but it's all novelty items.

Is this a major blunder on Hasbro/Disney's part?

Do you think that maybe they want to let the show sink in a bit before going all out?

What you are seeing is not unprecedented. If anything, it's consistent with Disney's recent track record - they're not optimists when it comes to toy line licenses. Toy Story's first figures were kind of scarce and in short supply. Frozen stuff missed the demand, but made it out. Guardians of the Galaxy is only just now starting to catch up with easy-to-make novelty items like screen-printed shirts and cups - but product was on-shelf for the movie. Hasbro has missed the boat before too, with Transformers Animated airing four or five months before the first toys hit shelves.

I think things are going according to plan. If you get kids "lifestyle products" that means their bike, or chair, or room will have Star Wars crap in it and you've basically convinced parents to advertise a brand to their kids during the lead up to a new movie. With that in mind, this could be a smart move on Disney's part, if not a little creepy. This is the first major Star Wars media launch in years to skip the dreaded and generally futile street date, which was originally implemented in 1999 along with "midnight madness" shopping orgies which followed in 2001, 2005, and 2008 - each with diminishing returns.

I think what's really odd is that we have "army men," we have action figure vehicles, we have guns and giant figures, but we don't have the normal 3 3/4-inch action figure. I'm not sure if they're trying to warm the coals of demand, or if they're just trying to see if anyone cares with no action figures. I can tell you that while I got Command stuff and the vehicles, I've got no real interest in splurging on non-figural toy items. If nothing else it's probably pushing more people toward LEGO and other products, as the action figure as the core to any successful licensing program seems to be dropping by the wayside lately.

For Star Wars I assume anyone ages 30-50 associates 3 3/4-inch action figures with the brand more than just about anything else. Their absence takes away some of the legitimacy of the Rebels roll-out to us, but to kids? They may not care. They certainly don't feel the same way. We'll know more down the road, but it wouldn't surprise me if we hear about weak figure sales in the press when we all know that the real problem was that there wasn't anything to buy in the first place. Maybe it's intentional - if we don't buy figures, we don't care about the show, and we likely don't trash it online.




Time! The fire in which we burn. And there's been a lot of it - this has been an issue that has come up a lot lately, because we're seeing the guard change slowly. In the 1990s, the collector ruling class were typically the children of the 1970s which is why we saw things like Twisted Mego Theater and a lot of love for certain eras of comic books. The 2000s shifted hard to 1980s nostalgia - some of which we got in the late 1990s - and much of which is still sticking with us today. We also saw some things grow old and die - only to return. G.I. Joe is a common recurring example because it really does show how a line can die off. The 12-inch Joe collector was king ding dong in the 1990s, able to support high-end, $100+ exclusives in an era where that sort of thing was not only uncommon, it was unheard of. Yet FAO could move units, plus a few companies (which we'd call "third party" by today's standards) put out their own take on remakes of the classic 12-inch Joe body - while 3 3/4-inch died out and came back a couple of times, only to die out again. We're even seeing Joe convention attendance drop, and the 12-inch collector is less of the disposable income and time demographic than it is the "let's worry about paying for college, medical bills, and aging relatives" sort of thing. It's hard to really convey this to people in our particular hobby, but things round us grow old and die off. I'm young (and old) enough to remember baseball cards going from cheap cardstock in wax packages with crappy bubble gum to a high-quality, UV-coated on both sides foil-stamped collectible. I saw comics go from $1 newsprint to $3 cardstock cover prestige things pretty quickly. I was also there for the transition to "adult" action figures in the 1990s which were, let's face it, just slightly better kid's toys. Today, we've perfected the collectible for the adult - well, that's a lie, because Hot Toys and their ilk are the very best example of what I hate about this hobby. That would be exponential growth and pricing to match.

Because of the many changes, we see faces change and some lines go on long beyond their natural life. Franchises like Marvel used to be fleeting - in the 1980s we saw Mego die out. We saw Mattel's Secret Wars enjoy a brief moment in the sun before Toy Biz started its line, which really changed the scope of action figure collecting in ways which allowed you to enjoy The Black Series today - it only took Star Wars about 11 years to do it, but hey, they did it! Since the 1990s, the very notion of a line being "rested" is almost farcical. Star Wars' longest "rest" was about six months, Marvel pretty much went non-stop, Transformers kept busy, but G.I. Joe took a few dirt naps. Batman had his ups and downs, as did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but the funny thing is that it seems the big toys of 1982-1999 have enjoyed quite a bit of staying power in the 21st century. (Well, maybe not ThunderCats.)

The key to the success of any toy line is you, and supporting what you love. Competition in licensing has changed - the days of Kenner having a "master toy license" is dead. Now we've got Comic Images with a strong Star Wars plush offering, and Underground Toys with electronic talking Star Wars plush. If you look at Minecraft, Mattel along with Jinx and Jazwares and Think Geek have what seems like overlap between the lines, creating competition, with each more or less taking some food out of the others' mouths. This is the same thing we're seeing with Star Wars, both within Hasbro's scales and with other manufacturers. It's a house divided against itself, and with the retention rate of collectors collapsing against lines that feel less and less fresh, what future have we?

We've enjoyed the dubious honor of seeing Star Wars go from (at least) 5 or 6 brand managers over the last 19 years and each generation has provided different and fascinating changes to the line. Two of the "caretaker" eras - reforming the line after the missed expectations of Episode I and the latter half of The Clone Wars - show different ways to try to keep the line alive in the face of questionable public interest and perception, with the added sting of increasing prices.

Due to the size of the line and the need for some form of rerun or remake for new fans (as there are new 4-year-old boys every year), the number of fans who can or will want to buy it all will shrink. Maybe you'll want to switch to statues, or models, or high-end 12-inch figures. As my job (this isn't my job) takes me into the world of toys a lot, I get to see a lot of people come and go, many of which I don't get to know quite as well as I wish I did and some just move on to newer, greener pastures. As corny as it is to say this, each departure paves the way for new beginnings and new experiences that will, I pray, keep this industry bustling and lively for decades to come. Right now Star Wars' biggest enemy is overexposure, while other brands are barely scraping by with decreasing interest, fewer members in the one-of-everything club, and worst of all - no complaining. Complaining is super important. Complaining shows people care - when the complaints stop, that just means that a line has no line left and it's probably time to move on. Thankfully, most of the popular action figures will continue to enjoy complaints for quite some time.

Satisfaction may be one of the biggest enemies of toy progress - and I've been pretty OK with things lately. While Rebels the show has been hard to pin down so far (1 OK episode, 1 good episode, 1 I care not to revisit) the toys are looking like a lot of fun... but do I need those barely-better re-re-remakes (threemakes?) of figures I've been purchasing since the 1990s? Perhaps we're spoiled. If you look back at the various lines, not counting 6-inch, genuine newness is rare. Each new movie or cartoon show debut brought us about 50% new characters - sure, most if not all of the sculpts tended to be new, but we're still getting a different Obi-Wan or C-3PO.

Depending on how you viewed the line as new or not, we haven't had many all-new waves in this line beyond Expanded Universe. (I count the 1995 line as the last clean start, meaning 1998 was the end of regular completely fresh waves and 2010 was probably the last 100%-new-or-close-to-it wave of considerable size.) For this reason, some people won't stick around forever - Yak Face and the Cantina Band haven't been completely updated since the 1997 line, and prospects like that may not be exciting enough to keep fans on board for another 19 years. Mattel's awesome DC Universe Classics line burned out brightly, while their WWE figures keep going thanks to a healthy and churning base of fans of all ages. I know I keep saying this, but kids matter, and so do you. Vote with your dollars, write letters, start petitions and fan sites, and don't let the fact that you just had a 36-hour business trip with about 11 hours of standing and 16 hours of talking stop you from getting the word out about what you think you still need. Star Wars may be forever, but collectors aren't - it's going to take a lot more than sitting on your butt and complaining about what you didn't like to get more of what you do like.

--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.



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