Q&A: Star Wars Clearance Crush, Expanded Universe Returns, and Delays Aplenty

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 31, 2016

1. It's nearly been six months since Force Friday and the film's been out over a month, When will we start seeing some real clearance sales? They have to start clearing out for the summer movie season soon and make way for other Disney franchises.

How's TRU doing too? I keep hearing about them closing stores left and right, Are they the K-Mart of the 2010's? I have a feeling by the time we are too old to read the text on here that brick and mortor retail stores will be the stuff of myths.

And I thought I was the doom and gloom!

It may pain you to hear this, but it's premature for clearance sales within the first 45 days of a major success of a billion-dollar movie. Sure, the line has been in stores for 5 months this week, but most of the good stuff has been selling well. It wouldn't surprise me to see some non-Hasbro stuff start to get marked down - or merely not restocked - soon. Toys R Us has put a few of the bigger items on sale here and there, often for a few days at a time. If you're expecting a major Hasbro clearance, I wouldn't anticipate it until - and if - Hasbro resets the aisle for the new movie. We still don't know if Rogue One will just start filling in the existing assortments (or DPCIs, if you use Target's systems) or if they'll start fresh. If Hasbro doesn't start fresh, I would bet good money that any street date you see will be de facto online only as most big box stores can't distinguish a street date on an assortment by wave - they can only say "Case of Space/Jungle figures NOT able to be sold." They rarely make the distinction for its contents by wave. If there's any exception to this, I've never seen it, and it would render any attempt to repeat Force Friday completely impotent except online.

Kmart still being around is arguably a fine example of how Toys R Us is doing. A store can die for years - in the 1990s Walmart started to usurp Toys R Us' place as the #1 toy seller, and now it's still pretty big. Numerous toy manufacturers simply cannot get placement in a Walmart, so Toys R Us probably still has legs for a while. Just because a store is doing less great than it used to doesn't necessarily mean it will implode, but it could very well happen if and when we all stop shopping there. I still go there, and I assume you do, too. Digital downloads hurt the record shops, but didn't kill them. Digital game downloads didn't seem to hurt too much as game stores can offer "Toys to Life," and you can't currently download an Amiibo. And remember how dead Sears has been for 15 years? I just bought a new robe at Sears.

While I am a little surprised that I now live in a world where vinyl records can be bought at an out-of-the-way dark den of sonic snobbery or on Amazon for roughly the same price, there will likely always be a place to buy toys in person. Walgreens' inroads in this area are exemplary of what manufacturers have been trying to do for years - believe it or not, convenience stores and the likes of 7-11 are sort of the white whale to toy sellers. With thousands of frequently trafficked locales, getting stuff in there means kids with five bucks in their pocket could potentially buy your stuff. Walgreens is doing well in this regard. In the 1990s in Japan, I've read there was a move for more video games to be sold in convenience stores. Heck, before the CD declined Starbucks began being an outlet for the format. There are always new avenues for this kind of product, because odds are you'll always need a store for something. I don't see a day where 100% of groceries are delivered, and many grocery stores do have a small toy section of varying quality. The all-toy retail palace may also change shape, thanks to the need of things like video games and bicycles. If someone can try to reinvent Circuit City (seriously, it's in the news) then perhaps the toy store could be changed significantly. I mean, 30 years ago a comic book shop wasn't a place to sit, buy sodas, and sit around playing Magic: The Gathering.



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2. I know Disney put the kybosh on a few decades of EU stories from the Star wars galaxy when they bought it from Lucasfilm. But what about Shadows of the Empire, is that still considered cannon? That was like a movie without a movie back in 1996. With figures, vehicles, a video game, novel, comics, model kits, and even a soundtrack. It would seem a waste to skip over that continuity with everything that went into it and it's not like they didn't delve into that mythos later on for ideas. While new characters like Dash Rendar and his Outrider faded into obscurity they did use Prince Xizor's species the Falleen and the Black Sun criminal organization in the Clone Wars cartoon when Darth Maul tried to take everything over. I always wanted them to make a cartoon out of that story, even Lucas liked the idea.

To you I say, there's hope. I expect to see a lot of the old publishing program brought into the new one, and I also expect to see a lot of the new program discarded as needed.

One of the guys holding the keys to the Star Wars kingdom is a big fan of old-school Expanded Universe - he was there, he knows it, and he likes it. Rumors went around this week that a major character from the novels may appear on one of the TV projects, and we've seen characters pop up on TV and canonized. It doesn't mean you won't see something, but just because someone like Dash Rendar hasn't appeared on screen doesn't mean he doesn't exist somewhere out there. I'm holding out hope that Pablo Hidalgo is thinking about the Fromm Gang, because that's who Vlix works for, and we all know where this discussion is going.

If it isn't contradicted, for all we know, it's canon. I don't think Disney will ever animate an existing novel or comic unless it's tied directly to a project, but we're still pretty early on in their reign. For all we know they'll adapt everything some day.

For kids of the 1990s, Shadows of the Empire is as important as Knights of the Old Republic is to the gamers and Ewoks and Droids TV projects were to the kids of the 1980s. (Assuming, of course, you saw them at the right ages.) If [redacted] is coming to Rebels, I'd say there's hope for the rest of the class.




3. Episode VIII is now pushed back to December 2017.

Bottom line: in your eyes is this a good thing for the toyline vs. a May release? How do you feel the fall launch worked this time around, and what does your gut say needs fixed on the next go around?

I think annual movies show that Disney does plan on getting a good return on its entertainment investment, but has little interest in milking the cow. Each new movie is a chance to bring in new fans, and between movies you can probably do a brisk business in "classic" and of course, TV. So far we've seen pretty rotten support for Rebels despite selling fairly well, and if the original trilogy has a future in the action figure waves we're really not seeing it yet.

Originally Episode VIII came out five months after Rogue One. That's madness. Right now we're five months into the The Force Awakens line and I daresay we've scratched the surface of what we can get from toys. At best, I'd say 18-24 months would have been ideal. At this point Hasbro has some pent-up Rey interest to exploit before doing the next version, plus the rapid turnaround in Marvel has trained toy fans to expect lines to end nearly as soon as they start. That's just bad for business. Good for the movies, sure, but if wave one of your movie toy line is clearance fodder by the film's opening weekend, you're doing something wrong.

Due to how this movie went, I don't know how good it's going to be for toy sales overall. Not seeing the movie until (or after) Christmas means kids have to be pretty on board and aware of the films before release to ask Santa for a toy. Nobody really knew Rey was the lead until the movie hit theaters, so the big question for next time is if kids will have enough love of this movie to buy into the sequel. We've seen that a December opening absolutely works for the box office as long as the movie is appealing enough, but Hasbro really hasn't said how happy it is with toys to the public. (In private, they're doing well.)

What would I do differently? I'm not sure. I don't think the obfuscation of who's who helped, and obviously they didn't get out enough action figures to cover the demand. If I were doing it, though, I probably wouldn't change much other than making some more figures, delivering some creatures, and making three big tweaks to the figure line.

Tweak #1 - Kill the Armor figures. Replace them with the Black Series 3 3/4-inch line. If I'm going to pay $13 I need something better than a hat. A hat is not as good as extra cloth outfits, guns, and articulation.

Tweak #2 - Kill the build-a-weapon gimmick. You'll sell more at a lower price, and a $6 figure is better than a $9 figure to those of us who are buying hundreds of figures. I won't army build at $9 or above. At $6? I filled up my Rebels Imperial Troop Transport with Stormtroopers at $6 per, happily.

Tweak #3 - Gimme something new, and no non-movie vehicles in the pre-release window please. It's one thing if it's cut, it's another if it wasn't meant for the big screen. I like the rigs, they're neat, but I'd love to see some of that momentum used toward other things - possibly tricking people into buying classic stuff that collectors would just adore. You could probably have made a Vlix, a 1977-style Dewback, or any of a number of droids or aliens from the entire series during that pre-release window. People bought everything - they didn't care. Take advantage of this. Put out the Blockade Runner. Make a new A-Wing. Toss out some trilogyish stuff from Rebels. If people are going to buy without thinking, take advantage of this situation and make fans of all ages happy in the process.




We're two weeks out from Toy Fair. I'm not expecting a lot - if we're lucky, maybe we've got a handful of waves over the summer. Hasbro is likely to put Transformers Combiner Wars to bed save for the exclusives coming up (the final wave of Combiner Wars limbs hit online stores last week and Sky Lynx is incoming). Star Wars will likely take a nap because of Captain America's Avengers 2.5 existing to get people excited about several sequels, reboots, and new movies - and the merchandise went up overnight proves it. I'm worried that Star Wars as a toy line will have been fundamentally more active and interesting to follow when it was, for lack of a better word, "dead." Seeing new waves of figures a few times a year at conventions and trade shows was fun. Secrecy is not fun, especially when Hasbro could be exploiting classic characters in between films. Seriously, is there a better time to make new versions of Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader? I think not.

--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.