Q&A: Star Wars Celebrations, Future Figure Foundation, and Retro ReAction Releases

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 12, 2015

This week in Q&A: We look at convention stuff - what's fun to see? And future figure prospects - are we competing ourselves into the end of the super-articulated line? And finally, let's talk Star Wars ReAction Retro Figures because this tends to come up a lot.


Don't forget to send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. Since Star Wars Celebration is essentially this week I was just curious of your Celebration attendance history and plans for this one. I remember running into you in a random line in 2002. Where do you like to go, the collecting track, sales floor, to the autograph area, the big celebrity events? What was some of your favorite Celebration events of the past and is there any particular panel or event this year that particularly excites you?

It's starting to look like I won't be making this show, but I've (oddly enough) been to all the Celebrations not in Los Angeles. And I lived in Los Angeles for Celebration IV.

Generally speaking I like the stuff having to do with making the series - my favorite thing of all time was a panel where Ben Burtt talked about doing sound design for the movies, because that was awesome. I love the Hasbro panels (and to be honest, the Hasbro panels are what get me to go) but by and large I try to skip anything that could be summed up by a decent web site. Seeing McQuarrie artwork in person is fun, scoping out props and costumes is a good time, but a lot of the show I spent sitting around and reporting on stuff, too. So there's a limit to how much you can actually enjoy the show when you're squeezing in meetings with vendors from work, and reporting for a fan site, and all of that stuff. But do I care that there's a fan gaming group, fan films, or fan comedy things? Nope. Similarly, I don't much care to go to see the panels with people for the new movie mostly because I don't know enough about it to know if it was a good panel. It's great to hear people tell you stories about the new movie, but it's a lot less fun to hear stories that are probably more than a little redacted and generally unknowable thanks to our inability to see the movie. Were the convention the week of the movie's release, I'd be ecstatic to see things like this.

As a collector myself I don't much enjoy the collecting tracks because much of what I want to see is already a web site, book, or magazine article. I like the topics, but being able to walk around and see droids some dude made in his garage is a lot more of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of a thing, as those don't tend to make it out to the other trade shows they ship me off to over the years. That and I tend to get bad seats and can't see anything. Hearing the people who put the movie together talk, that provides you with a lot of insight to a bunch of the stories we have yet to hear - so for me, that's can't-miss entertainment.

It's really neat that they're showing the 3-D versions of Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones - if that floats your boat, that's the kind of thing I do appreciate their showing here. Granted, I have problems appreciating 3-D video so I'll leave that to the rest of the class.

...and if I were there with you? The most important stops for me would be Funko (Hikari) and Gentle Giant (C-3PO Droids jumbo figure). I'm hoping eBay is kind to me.



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2. There hasn't been much love for the articulated 3.75 line since the end of the vintage collection and judging by collectors comments on various sites it has put them off collecting altogether. Suffice to say there have been some great figures and great choice of characters, then there have been a fair share of duds! I've not known a time like it in the modern era and with star wars about to be marketed everywhere in every home I don't understand why its like it. Are Hasbro working round the clock on products for the new films? or have buying habits changed that much? too many sublines? the passion at Hasbro run out? What do you think is the driving factor for the current state of the line and do you have any hope it will recover?

I've been cranky about the super-articulated 3 3/4-inch figures since the announcement of the never-released reboot of Legacy back in 2012. The horde of mostly new versions of figures we had was, to say the least, disappointing. I know we're running low on freshness but each new sculpt cuts in to developing another new sculpt, so seeing another Anakin and Padme just sort of sucked the air out of the collecting balloon. I completely agree with the indifference here, just because you can't sustain interest in a collectible line when you're fundamentally selling the exact same characters in the exact same costumes in a loop every few years. If 1 out of 4 figures isn't immediately identified as new or new enough (or a straight-up no-change repack), why even make it?

Star Wars sort of got a huge setback with The Clone Wars disappearing and Rebels appearing only on deep cable. And then there's a misfire on the digital movie release campaign, and also the 3-D movies, and then the whole franchise got sold off, plus we're seeing this movie series continue will beyond its expiration date. After a few thousand figures the line gets boring - you can see the boringification start around 2004 when half of the year was devoted to reruns, if memory serves the only new to the modern line character was the Cloud Car Pilot. This sort of thing happens every now and again.

The decline of the super articulated figure line really hit hard when the last wave of Vintage became an online exclusive and then the story was that stores didn't want to support the line in early 2013, resulting in a pretty hefty dead zone. I was really surprised to see figures like Hoth Luke sell through for The Black Series, while "new characters" like R5-G19 just sit. And then pile up. This is beyond my ability to understand - but other figures like Starkiller, Vader, and Yoda sell well. The advent of Nerd Culture in its current form means there's a huge, untapped audience of new blood that is being better fed by the kid figures than the collector figures, because you may actually find Darth Vader in that form factor. And you need Vader and Yoda. And to be honest, this long-haul collecting business got to the point where no sane person can jump on board to collect them all in 2015 - there's just too much.

So here we are - Hasbro made most of the important figures long ago, and it's going to be up to fans like you to buy the new and weird stuff when it hits, if it hits. The split with the 6-inch line and the next split with the new movies (which may alienate old fans) are probably a bigger deal than whatever Hasbro isn't doing with its 3 3/4-inch line. And yes, new movie - Hasbro has to work on that to meet the September 4ish release date for the new product, and while there are other The Black Series figures in development we don't yet know when we can expect them all to be released. Or where. Or how. But as far as I know, that line isn't dead - not yet.




3. Super 7/Funko will be/are selling product for a current Disney movie, how long before the mouse's endless hunger for all of our nickles and dimes parlays that into retro Star Wars figures? folow up should we all just buy full cases of the Tomorrowland stuff with blind hope that that will encourage Disney to blahblahblah.

Toy licensing has changed a lot since the old days. Right now, a toy company with exclusive toy rights for any license is not unheard of, but uncommon - Kenner had the rights to everything in the 1980s, but today that doesn't make a lot of sense for anybody. Hasbro's construction line has had weak support, but LEGO does fantastic marketing on theirs - so as a licensor, you want to make sure you can get certain manufacturers the categories they're best at. It's good and bad - it's unfortunate that there's a lot more competition for the 3 3/4-inch figure now, because (contrary to what some fans would tell you) the abundance of different kinds of toys and figures does create competition for fan and collector dollars. Nobody can afford anything - I had to drop LEGO myself pretty early on even though I love the stuff, and when 1:6 got expensive I had to abandon that, too.

For this reason, licensees have their licenses divided up by a number of ways - and it's important to consider the value of the loophole. Company A has the license to do action figures - but company B may say "they're not doing this size, so let us do it." So far style isn't really an issue, because the last time Funko wanted to get around the 3 3/4-inch action figure license with Pop! Vinyl Figures, they instead added a base and a spring and gave us Pop! Vinyl Star Wars Bobble Heads - it's not an action figure, so it doesn't infringe on the 3 3/4-inch license which Hasbro holds dear, for now. For that reason, Funko can't make figures - it will directly compete with Hasbro's offerings in terms of size and water down the license they no doubt paid dearly to obtain. In some cases the licenses are done by price points - so you have to make that figure more expensive to not compete. If Funko also made $10-$20 Star Wars figures, that's right in Hasbro's comfort zone. If Funko made $80 figures, that's a different story. (See: Hikari Vinyl.)

When it comes to style, there's nothing preventing anyone from making retro style action figured. Medicom, Funko, Figures Toy Company, Bif Bang Pow!, Diamond Select Toys, Zica, and others have all experimented with figures that look like older figures to some extent. Hasbro has even made a retro 3 3/4-inch rocket-firing Boba Fett, and they're keenly aware that fans do want this kind of thing. Just remember that every new segment means you water down another segment, and that we'd probably have more people buying super-articulated 3 3/4-inch The Black Series figures if there weren't also 6-inch, Saga Legends/Mission Series, Pop! Vinyl figures, and other cheap alternatives. At a smaller toy company, odds are this would be seen as a blessing - but Hasbro wants and needs to sell higher numbers of their products as they have exploded to a very big company with a lot of employees, so a smaller firm that could probably better take advantage of the unique popularity and variety of formats possible with this license while it makes zero sense for a big one.

Funko has had a decent - but seemingly not great - business with ReAction since 2013. Some figures sell out, some end up on the clearance rack, and some... let's just say the quality control is still being ironed out on some of them. Perhaps some day there will be a reason to grant them this license, or if Hasbro decides 3 3/4-inch figures are dead then someone else will get it, but until then Hasbro is really your only hope for retro-style 3 3/4-inch action figures.




First off, I can report that the retail decision to increase prices of figures just for kicks is indeed in full effect. Toys R Us stores in the USA are now charging $9.99 for Saga Legends. Similarly, they are charging $9.99 for Mission Series - so two figures, or one figure, the price will be the same. Sometimes there are price increases, sometimes a smaller store does charge an extra buck or two to meet rent and pay employees... and sometimes the store just decides it can charge you a few extra bucks, so it does. And here you go. It is worth noting some online stores are still charging the regular prices, and even if you have to buy a set of 6 it might work out about the same - run the numbers, is all I'm saying. If 4 figures costs you $40 and the set of 6 is $36, well... why not? (And I'm also saying I work for an online toy store in the interests of full transparency.)

One of the questions I ask myself after having done some form or another of this Q&A column since 1998 and various forms of online Star Wars "reporting" since 1995 is "Am I too old and cranky for this?" With this week's announcement of the digital collection I'd say either yes, or that I've been in The Matrix too long to not see the code. I love new technological advancements that improves my experience as a consumer. Digital files of movies I own, well, I don't know if this is it - the six-movie set costs more than the Blu-Ray collection did at launch, seems to have fewer total features, and has no real manufacturing costs. Sure, iTunes and Amazon are taking a cut but nobody has to freight anything to stores or print up anything or manufacture hundreds of thousands of discs. This isn't to poo-poo the successful maintenance of a digital storefront, but it's sort of the same opinion I have of digital music - it's a great supplement to an LP, or something I can get by ripping a CD I paid for (that usually costs less), but I want to avoid paying for MP3s unless I have no other options to buy a nifty physical manifestation of the album.

My favorite way to make digital purchases has been when they come up with a cool collectible to go with it. For example, Freezepop made a USB drive of their logo with their entire discography (give or take) for about $30. Super7 produced a cool designer vinyl figure for Datarock, with a video, pictures, and over 100 MP3s on it for fifty or so bucks. This, I love - getting a toy and entertainment, or a collectible of some sort, really sweetens the pot. Given the fact that the resolution of the files is good enough for now, the figure certainly helps to cushion the blow against realizing that a better, higher-quality version will probably be sold to us yet again in about 5-10 years. Since 1995's "THX" VHS tapes, Lucasfilm has typically found a new way to make a compelling different-enough-to-make-you-mad take on the movies roughly every 3-7 years. It's smart business.

I'm always glad to see Star Wars keeping up technologically as the franchise isn't exactly a pioneer in this space anymore, and at the same time I basically abandoned CDs in favor of records. (And MP3s... downloaded from the bonus cards, or fabricated through other RadioShack cable-crafted means.) I'm sure better masters with 4K or higher-res versions of these movies are in the works later, but I don't currently have the need to pay for another version of the films because the difference to me is minimal and (and this is depressing) I don't actually watch these movies all that often after working with them so closely over the past two decades. So here's to old tech - if it's still good, I'm just going to try to do my best to wallow in what I've got. (And buy some Rondelles records.)

Also depressing - if you still collect media - it was announced that seasons 17-20 of The Simpsons are not getting a home video release, which really shows something of a lack of good planning on the home video people. The format is, supposedly, dying and that's why it won't happen. Season 1 came out in 2001, and it continued along at a slow trickle of maybe one season a year - maybe a gap of 9 to 11 months wasn't out of the question. I got sick of the gaps and quit around season 4 or 5, and now I have to assume it must be maddening that, after 14 years, Fox not only announces that they won't finish it but there will be a gap thanks to the fact that more recent seasons on Blu-Ray got released out of order. For all the "so and so deserves a figure!" arguments, I assume this must be much worse - to invest hundreds of dollars in a media collection that goes on this long, only to see them drop it near the end? How horrible - and how fortunate to those who got out early. I'll probably be complaining like crazy if Rebels doesn't get a Blu-Ray (or DVD) release.

--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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