Q&A: Star Wars Crowdfunding, Finding, and Windows

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 5, 2021

1. Since retailers, manufacturers, and licencholders hate seeing their products clearanced in stores and buyers hate missing out on products and paying scalper prices why don't we see larger preorder windows or something like Haslab for entire lines to ensure demand is being met and there is no excess to take losses on in stores?

It's complicated. (The short, cynical answer is probably "marketing people." And shipping dates. Also "because they don't want to.")

The Final Form of Figure Collecting will likely be as you describe - as run sizes decline, if stores stop carrying stuff, it's going to go online and be more direct-to-consumer stuff, at higher prices. But we're dealing with a world that also likes you hunting, because exclusive toys exist to get you into the stores to hopefully also buy the aforementioned toilet paper or 20-ounce Pepsi. I guess the very, very long answer is that there are a lot of companies involved in you getting your toy, and your getting said toy is probably not even their chief concern in the transaction.

Back in the 1990s - when nobody cared about the Internet - most movie releases were things they had to work hard to make you aware of, with posters, trailers, TV, and so on. With the Internet, it's content - and they're much more guarded, and they don't want a toy (which is, technically, part of the marketing for their franchise) to jump the gun. Before when something made the news, it was a big deal - you wanted people talking about your movie months in advance and being excited and doing your work for you. Today? It's weird. Solo: A Star Wars Story had neither a trailer nor a title more than a month and change before its release - as opposed to The Force Awakens and Rogue One which had a year of publicity, if not more.

15-20 years ago, when there was no new movie embargo, Hasbro and the like usually just put toys out there and people could post pre-orders whenever they wanted. (This was frequently 3 or so months prior to release - but not always, and it varied a lot.) Not everything even got announced for pre-order. Heck, it still doesn't! I remember a lot of toy lines that showed up in stores without any prior mention online.

Today, just about everything is on somebody's marketing calendar, and under the reign of Disney they get to approve said marketing calendars. There are many stories here. I am not at liberty to discuss them. But I don't think it's a secret that you have to get sign-off on some stuff, and now that it's gone from mostly being Hasbro and Lucasfilm to being a much bigger Hasbro to Disney and Lucasfilm and any PR firms in between... it's big. It's very big. And a lot of the toy launches are key marketing dates tying in to the movie trailer reveal, or the theatrical date, or home video too - does it matter in the grand scheme of things, with spoilers and all? No, but someone has this job and this is what they do, and as long as things keep going well for all parties involved there's not much reason to change or consider altering course. Toy aisles are empty. Revenues are up. Shareholders are largely happy. Do they care if I can't get a figure? Not really.

Trust me, this is going somewhere.

Right now, the control over even legacy characters is so tight that Hasbro couldn't just release a new original trilogy Chewbacca figure without going through a lot of marketing hoops. There's no spoiler, there's no reason not to, but generally speaking most licensees don't want to have a figure out there that far in advance. Personally I would prefer that they do let us pre-order figures a year or more in advance (currently it takes a couple of months to manufacture an approved item with final tooling, and a couple more months to get it here on the boat, so a year may be not enough time.)

Different companies and different teams have reasons not to offer stuff in advance. Some manufacturers are very concerned about their item being "collectible" - if they let it go up and sold exactly as many as the market wants (like Super7's most excellent ULTIMATES! action figures), that damages how they want their line to be perceived. Others have expressed interest about too much lead time giving collectors time to see their other new releases in advance, which may lead to someone not buying what's on-shelf right now. Would you buy a store exclusive Clone Trooper repaint if you knew another all-new mold trooper you liked better were coming out in 6 months? Maybe. Maybe not.

For all these reasons and more, they put the figure out when they feel like it, and sometimes items are rerun to meet the market's needs. With COVID-19, we're still dealing with the fallout of the toy market's advance predictions (and ordering of materials, and considering freight, and movie dates) from last year missing the boat. The idea that people would return to collecting - rather than abandon it - was not a consideration expressed in the biz.

It's also worth noting that Super7's ULTIMATES! (like HasLab and the former Matty Collector) are basically great for people who are well-off financially. As an adult, I assume I'll have $200 for a fancy toy next year if I place an order today - but a lot of people don't get to look at finances that way, just like a lot of people won't buy a year's worth of toilet paper in advance if it is financially cheaper to do so. Or, they don't want to give a toy company an interest-free, risk-free loan. (I'm not at all fond of paying in full for a pre-order a year in advance. A lot can happen in a year, and when the manufacturer misses the target date after a year fans get angry.)



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2. Adam, do you think Hasbro would allow the Star Wars brand to follow in the footsteps of the Cookie Monster Haslab project that failed to reach its goal?

I’m of the opinion that the rancor will quite likely struggle to reach its goal (unless for some reason, it’s a low number, say, less than 12,000), but I think that as they did with Unicron, they might play fast and lose with the deadline, but since fudging the numbers of orders helps nobody’s bottom line, they ultimately will have to consider pulling the plug on the rancor... and what will that do for future Star Wars projects?

Personally, that hole in the wall company that is making Star destroyer bridge kits is ultimately going to make a reasonable facsimile of the Death Star, and then Hasbro will have no final big gun left to shoot, and only have themselves to blame.

What say you?

While I am not at all excited for the 6-inch Rancor Monster - I've got several already - some may be. If they build it out with an awesome display stand that keeps it from falling over or a cool diorama you can build, it might be the coolest thing ever. Unlike the Barge, Unicron, Sentinels, Galactus, or even Star Saber, it's not part of a bigger collection in the sense that it's a missing piece. Hasbro neglected to build out Jabba's Palace in The Black Series so far with but one Gamorrean Guard and a couple of main characters in special outfits, plus Jabba and Salacious Crumb, minus the plastic throne. It could be super cool, but it's not an item that I think anyone felt was missing as part of a larger collection - at no point was I sitting here going "I've got over a dozen Rancor toys, I sure wish someone could sell me a larger one." I've got no figures that need him to feel like they have a home. It's just another big thing to find space for.

There are some conspiracy theorists that say Hasbro is/was already goosing the numbers on some of its items - Unicron in particular has been the subject of some suspicion. When I asked about it I was told they had enough orders from China and Asian markets to make up the shortfall, and there are some things I can't share, but enough of what I do know makes me think there's no reason to not believe that they really did get enough orders prior to the end date. (And they make extras for parts, QC stock, and so on too.)

Looking at the Transformers Victory Saber - a notable, if obscure character, and arguably inessential to American collectors - it's doing well. In its first 12 hours, it got 3,600 of 11,000 backers. Galactus passed its goal (notable, in that Hasbro significantly increased the minimums and moved the goal posts over the army-building Sentinels.) While it may not be obvious to you, there are lots of toy collectors who do not share your (or my) tastes. I'm a toy collector - and this stuff is getting further and further away from a "toy" as I knew it in the 1980s. But, as you can see with HasLab and Mattel Creations, the stuff sells. Even at absurd premium prices that you just know are higher than they need to charge to make these things, they sell. These big ticket items are to today's 45-year-old what a Rock-Ola Jukebox was to your old man's rumpus room in 1990.

It is very unlikely that the item will not fund - Hasbro doesn't want to look bad, and with Cookie Monster they really did make a good item at a very fair price relative to what Master Replicas produced for its Muppet line many years ago. There just aren't a lot of adult Sesame Street fans. There are lots of Star Wars fans, and crowdfunded items like Snake Mountain and the Barge tend to get very expensive - we will probably see more flippers enter the fray too. A lot of people don't have $200 (or whatever) right now, but will have $300 or $400 next year to buy someone's pre-order on eBay. Someone will buy those extra units - an enterprising dealer will get around that 5 piece limit, I assure you.

The Rancor is not the project I would've done - my prediction for the 6-inch item would've been Jabba's Throne (with or without Jabba) as seen in the season two The Mandalorian finale because a) Jabba's really expensive, b) there's no Bib Fortuna yet, c) you could put Boba Fett in it, and d) anything with Boba Fett in it is a guaranteed sale - even if it's a $200 piece of furniture with 2-3 figures in the box. It doesn't mean you won't get a Death Star or Star Destroyer some day, and there may be things Hasbro can do there that a non-licensed toymaker can never actually do. (Lights & sounds, app interactivity, RFID whatnot, etc.) The Barge enjoyed massive fan support - thanks in part to a campaign spearheaded by a lot of fans like Paul over at JTA helping Hasbro's existing desire to do something like that - but for whatever reason the Death Star has not engendered such grassroots support. You could do it, if you like. People will sign your petition and reblog your Tiktoks.

I believe we'll see more stuff. I also believe the 3 3/4-inch fan has a lot more money to throw at stuff (as individuals) whereas the 6-inch fan has a lot more total money (as a community) to throw at a HasLab project. (I've seen some numbers. Trust me on this one.) I really don't know if the 6-inch market wants a $200ish Rancor to go with their $200ish First Order TIE Fighter, but The Black Series market has eclipsed the current The Vintage Collection fandom and it's probably going to do just fine.

But if they try doing some rubbery "real skin" thing over a metal armature, I'm going to consider skipping it because I don't trust the materials will last over the long run. Also if there's no display stand to support our friend Pateesa, I will be worried because most modern Kenner and Hasbro Rancor Monsters have significant issues with gravity.




3. Given that the majority of Star Wars toys can now be had online rather than bricks and mortars, how do you see the way we collect in 5 years?

Will we never find our toys in stores like our childhood, and have to order them all online then?

From what I've seen in the past year or so, it sure looks that way.


There was this great and I believe butchered quote I saw on a screensaver once. "The future will be a lot like the present, only more so." I think that holds true here. I don't expect toy stores to come back, nor do I expect Target and Walmart to finally "get" stocking toys in a way the kind of collectors who read this weekly Q&A will ever find acceptable.

I remember the late 1980s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other popular figure lines where you didn't see everything in a store and you still had to ask if they had any more in the back because the pegs were empty. What you see now isn't new nor is it special in the grand scheme of things. However, there are fewer toy stores than ever, and the pegs are emptier across all brands - not just the ones you buy. To quote the abrasive hollering of one of my favorite bands out of context: "I'm sorry, but you're not special/there's a pattern and it shows."

It's hard to remember, but from 1987-1992 Star Wars was largely a dead property - not only no action figures, but other than RPGs and comic books and eventually novels, it was a whole bunch of nothing outside of Star Tours and clearance aisles. The 3 3/4-inch line is currently out of vogue, and this goes back to why I generally stopped taking "why does distribution suck" questions. This is life now and this is how collecting toys has been since adults took a serious interest around 1989 with the first Toy Biz Batman movie line. Your glory days of 1980 had zero adult competitors outside a few weirdos and adults buying for kids. Now you've got thousands of adult collectors, fans, and flippers - and a much smaller run of each toy than you had 40 years ago. It's not going back to the way things were. You can stop hoping now, and stop asking if it will go back. It won't. I will put that on a certificate you can frame if you like.

Ten years ago, Hasbro had multiple 3 3/4-inch lines available and on the horizon, no 12-inch figures, and no 6-inch figures. Ten years ago there were no known plans for new movies either. Five years ago we were still able to buy Star Wars MicroMachines and Titanium Series vehicles, and now they're all gone. A lot can come and go without a trace.

"Finding toys in stores like in your childhood" - let's talk about that. If you mean in the 1970s and 1980s, remember that even the biggest lines were pretty small, with a few dozen figures and vehicles that were kept in circulation for a few years. In 1984 I remember having to scour Sears catalogs for stuff I couldn't find in stores, and never saw in stores after that either. Since the 2000s, most figures - and indeed most successful products - turned over in six months. Today a few online retailers are actively lobbying to keep rerunning certain toys to keep demand fed, because the secondary market helps nobody. I would argue things are much better now in that regard than they were five years ago.

Now that 40-60 figures per scale per year is kind of normal, you'll probably never see everything - let alone most things - in stores at once. Heck, the only online stores that have a lot of things in stock are usually third-party sellers asking premium pricing. That's just the way things are - determining demand is extremely difficult, and when it comes time for New Movies it's going to be extra off-balance again.

As an Ewok-era kid, I can guarantee you it was hard to find things like Power of the Force figures, Ewoks and Droids figures went away pretty quick, and good luck to you if you wanted anything pre-Return of the Jedi in 1983 or later (minus Chewbacca, Vader, Stormtroopers, and a few others) - it might have been shortpacked or just nearly impossible to find outside garage sales. Of course, back then you got 10-20 figures per year and those 10-20 new guys were eventually - and temporarily - widely available in many stores and also in mail-order catalogs like Sears and JC Penney, and even Montgomery Ward. Remember that one? (Nobody does, it's OK.)

1970s-1990s kids had a very odd fluke of a childhood with a massive upswing in toy stores across the globe. The toy market had not yet been crushed under the steamroller that was Toys R Us, which was in many ways like Amazon and Walmart which crushed a ton of smaller chains and mom & pop stores under its mighty heel. American toy specialty is dead, dead, dead - Walmart and Target (and formerly Kmart, Sears, and the like) never had everything unless the line was tiny.



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Be sure you send in your questions for next time. The mailbag is out of on-topic questions, so if you got some, send some in.

I think about toys a lot. One of my big concerns is the next generation - collectors usually were kids who liked toys and they grew up and wanted to buy the stuff they missed during their childhoods. Some kids, though, grow up and collect the stuff from previous generations - it happens with Transformers and Star Wars and even G.I. Joe now (but oddly, not the 12-inch ones.) With empty aisles and collector (and adult fan) products taking precedent, there's less and less chance for kids to build out a world, and fewer compatible toys around at once, than when we were kids. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome you have at least 3 concurrent Hasbro figure scales, plus LEGO, plus other lines, but the problem with all that choice is you can't enjoy the economies of scale brought to you by a single line nor can you as a fan buy everything you want in a single size. If today's kids don't play with action figures, will they come back for FX Lightsabers after they graduate and get their first big job? I don't know.

With HasLab we're definitely seeing something built around a specific kind of fan - with money, who is older - and frequently has little to do with the kids. During the 1980s, the tiny tots looked at the U.S.S. Flagg, Fortress Maximus, Imperial Shuttle, and LEGO Monorail with awe - they were meant for, well, people my age at that time. Today kids (specifically male-presenting kids) are rarely being pitched preposterously awesome toys outside the occasional big Hot Wheels track (and of course, a regular supply of LEGO sets.) It's just not a thing right now, so it would seem the future of big-franchise collectibles are going to come from tomorrow's LEGO dads or non-stalgia seekers.

I am a little concerned we're in a toy bubble now - like non-sports cards and comics in the 1990s - that's about to burst. Toys never really crashed, but I have a feeling there are countless hordes of toys in perfect, boxed condition during the pandemic (and before) that I am strangely not too worried about being able to get stuff that I am unable to pre-order. At some point this stuff is going to re-enter the marketplace - boredom, deaths, or needing room for a new family member - and there's probably going to be a ton of it since little of the action figure line is going to kids... and we really don't know what to expect from LEGO fans as far as sealed-ness or complete-ness goes. But we also live in a world of million-dollar Nintendo64 games, so what do I know?

I guess LEGO will take the baton for this generation of kids, collectors will buy... whatever.

--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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