Q&A: Star Wars at Disney Parks, Kid Stuff, and Big Big Purchases

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 26, 2015

1. What do you think Disney's true motive was in buying the Star Wars property?
Was it to continue telling George Lucas' story, or to make more money in licensing, like videos and toys?
Further, when Episode 7 is released this year, do you foresee a price drop in basic Star Wars figures?
I know Disney's/Hasbro's stance will be "Well, where else are you gonna get them?" but kids will want the figures, and parents will be weary of shelling out $10 a piece for just the core characters.

It's money. Why does anyone do anything? A company can't love. A company can't eat. A company can't play. If it cannot beat, it joins - or acquires - to continue to feed the beast.

It's all about putting on a show. When you talk with Disney people (and indeed I have) they let you know that they see their homegrown properties as family fare, not necessarily boy or girl driven. Which is cute - things may change but we still live in a world with pink aisles and blue aisles for toys, and Disney's own properties have basically taken over the imagination of many young girls since the 1990s while boys tend to move away from Disney branding at an early age. Not only does Disney have an introductory princess for preschoolers, and a whole suite of older princess characters, but they sold a decent chunk of Disney Princess Wedding Dresses too - there is a ton of money in being a successful, branded entertainment firm. There's a decent amount of unisex animation, and girl stuff, but stuff that has staying power for boys once they hit the big 1-0? Well, unless you're a Theme Park Fanatic, probably not.

Enter the Marvel deal - Disney immediately gets boy cred with established properties spanning seven decades, which dad likes. And mom likes Spider-Man, particularly as a character frequently purchased for young boys who may be introduced to the character through cartoons or plastic - comic books aren't really part of the equation here. Disney's success with Marvel is above and beyond what anyone reasonably expected. A deep cut like Guardians of the Galaxy has been transformed into a household name and they've reinvented the idea of what a franchise can be like with probably the first tightly-plotted "shared universe" since Star Trek or before that, perhaps movie serials of old.

So! Disney bought your heart. They know you like this stuff, and they know how to exploit an established brand. While Lucas was content to make a couple of TV shows and do the toy thing, Disney can also sell you on theme parks, cruises, live-action stunt shows, concerts, and establish more through corporate synergy. They can make their own high-end collectibles (and might, as is being speculated) while also taking advantage of their branded Marvel publishing arm for double-plus nostalgia booms. Remember, Avengers made over a billion dollars - everything else is just gravy. Everybody is making money off of your fandom, in numerous ways, and Disney is great at furthering this. Storytelling is important, in the sense that it's necessary to sell you movie tickets and toys. Star Wars novels don't exist because someone has a story growing in their heart, they exist so corporations can sell you paper. If you like the story, that's a nice bonus. Their goal is to sell you an experience, a lifestyle - one you've pieced together on your own before as an outsider hobby in the 1990s is now a fully armed and operational, taking aim squarely at your target demographic.

If you look at Hasbro's toy lines and certain retailers' proclivity to raise the prices of their TOYS to US this year, I would wager that stuff will get more expensive. We saw pricing wars on figures for episodes II and III, but we saw big price increases for The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars. Given the last couple of years of toys - all toys - price reductions are extremely unlikely. You'll be lucky if everything is flat, especially as companies start to plan "midnight madness" - they're all assuming you'll probably pay higher prices because you're excited for the new movie. We've seen it before, we've seen it recently with G.I. Joe. The first movie toys performed a little on the soft side, and Hasbro said "Well, if we charged a little less they would probably sell better" in an earnings call the following year. And then the figures for the second movie have less articulation and cost two bucks more.

I know Revenge of the Sith doesn't feel like it came out ten years ago, but since 2005 we've gone through two new generations of video game consoles. The iPhone was only just introduced in 2007, but now smartphones are everywhere - it's hard to imagine a world without them. The old rules of $5 toys and licensed toy lines for all major franchise movies no longer apply, so it's entirely possible that all of our hoarding might result in some stiff competition for new customers if patience for the new stuff doesn't trump the instant gratification of a cheap toy, delivered to their homes within a few days. Hasbro's success in the 1990s means that we are their competition as we unload our mint in box collections on Amazon and eBay, creating a real market that can really take a bite out of the sale and demand for brand-new, more expensive action figures. Now that's going to be a fascinating thing to watch, particularly as Hasbro wrestles with keeping any existing character not in this year's movie in circulation.



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2. This is more of a philosophical/psychological subject that I'd like your input on. Having lost all my original Kenner collection from my childhood to either Mom's yard sales or unscrupulous acquaintances, I have been a loyal collector/addict since the relaunch in '95. Over the years my collecting habits have changed considerably (mainly due to price and space restrictions). I used to be a "buy 2 of everything" collector (one to open and one to keep MOC) but by 2002 that evolved into more of a "buy one MOC of everything and buy an extra to open of select figures". By the time Hasbro really amped up the product output for the newest Clone Wars series, I filtered my game plan even further to buying one of all the movie-based figures (and most vehicles), and only select CW characters, and the occasional intriguing duplicate figure to open. Aside from the CW stuff and a couple items here and there, I've managed to amass a nice nearly-complete collection of modern Star Wars toys, and most are on beautifully-maintained cards. My son is 7 and has finally caught the bug, and I've decided to "share" my collection with him, as I've no intention of selling any of the stuff (not that it's going to remotely be worth the old Kenner toys' value, after all), and I've decided that instead of a spare bedroom stacked with a maze of boxes, we would start opening and playing with/displaying the toys; I've put in some bookcases in the toy room library-style (back to back) and on the walls, so I believe I have the space to do some "boring" collection displays AND some decent dioramas. Seeing "The Lego Movie" also helped influenced me to not be "that dad" who turns a kid away from imaginative play and the passion for Star Wars that I had when I was his age because "my toys" are off-limits. I want him to learn to ENJOY the hobby, and the kid is just itching to get his hands on the figures to pose them. So far the plan is:

Keep the convention exclusives and certain short-production store exclusives boxed/carded (in other words, the few things that actually might be valuable now or later), as well as some of the sub-collections (SOTE/EU, McQuarries, the original '95 red/orange carded first releases, a lot of the VOTC figures), but open all the prequel movie toys, vehicles and etc. I know you are a fan of opening, so I turn to you for two reasons:

1) How do I overcome the psychological setback of dreading opening all these toys I spent so much effort in collecting on near-mint/mint cards, and just accept that these little plastic men WANT to be displayed proudly and handled?

2) Any suggestions on how to divvy them up? Like all POTF together, all POTJ together, etc. or simply divide all of them regardless of production series and separate them by movie/show?

3) Any recommendations on particular items that would be best kept packaged and binned that I might not think of (Visionaries Owen and Maul come to mind as one example)?

I know this is a weird question, but I (and my son…lol) would really appreciate a little unbiased input from another collector known to appreciate these first and foremost as "toys" and sentimental items and not some kind of retirement fund investment. Thanks so much!

I have met more than a few collector dads who use their kids as an excuse to continue their hobby. Sometimes the kids care, and sometimes they say they care because hey - free toys! - and they want to make their parents happy. Having said that, I've bought collections off of people who have "collected" for their babies - yes, babies - eventually realizing that maybe, just maybe, they should let their kids have their own say and not be handed a pre-collected hobby. Buying a complete set of toys for a newborn is bizarre, unless it's an investment, in which case it's probably just a bad investment.

Were I in your shoes, I'd basically wait for the kid to express interest in the stuff. Kids should not have hobbies - they should have toys. Toys can become a hobby, but that should be later - I don't know that spending playtime walking up and down flea market and collectible toy show aisles when I was six was necessarily the best option for me to find Star Wars toys that were not, at that time, on store shelves. I just wanted stuff to play with - if your kid is just itching to pose them, it might be worth verifying that your motive of giving a kid some toys is pure. Or that they're his to do with as he pleases.

My parents had stuff that interested me to various extents - some I wasn't able to get in to and experience, some I was, and the stuff that was generally pushed was the stuff they were interested in and not me. And now I am making up for this by working with toys for a living. I would implore you that you be absolutely certain that this is what your kid wants. If you've got stuff that's worth a ton of cash, you absolutely should be "that dad" and put it away - your average kid isn't going to care that one Darth Vader is more expensive than the next, as long as he has a good Darth Vader figure... and selling the rare stuff can pave the way to many very happy birthdays. Not knowing your child, I can't say that you're living your childhood dreams through their eyes or not, but please be wary of this. I've heard similar stories from parents wanting to expose their kids to their favorite vintage video games only, or bands, or other areas of fandom. It's possible your kid might really love this stuff, and making it available is a perfectly good thing to do, but I can't imagine any child born in the 21st century is going to genuinely prefer the Atari VCS to just about anything.

I had relatives who did not have kids send me boxes of baseball cards out of the blue for some reason. I grew up in Phoenix - we didn't get a national team until I was much older - so for me, that was fodder to trade in and get cash for Star Wars toys. Nobody really asked my opinion beyond what I can only assume was my mom's bizarre "kids appreciate anything" attitude, which I would like to believe is true but I think you're better off getting someone something they might actually want and/or need rather than relive your childhood through someone else's eyes.

I'd suggest flat-out cashing out of anything that's expensive now. I do not know what is in your collection, nor do I want to guess. At 7, well, I don't know how I'd turn out of I got hundreds (or thousands) of toys dumped on me - maybe happy, maybe not. I doubt any kid would complain about playing with hundreds of action figures, and handing your kid a figure for a good report card here and there is probably a better way to go than trying to get $2 for a POTF2-era anything on eBay. But if you've got a Darth Malgus or Darth Revan, I'd just say sell it and get the kid some other cool stuff when his birthday comes around. A 3DS? Fancy sneakers? You only get to be a kid once... and if this is the thing he wants, and not the thing he's doing because he kinda likes it and it makes his dad happy, then this could be a wonderful experience for you both.




3. I am going to Disneyworld. What Disneyworld star wars park exclusives (other than pins - don't collect that sort of stuff) should I be on the lookout for (which I can't purchase at a mall Disney Store location)? Is custom Build -a-Droid still happening, for example?

A bunch of new stuff showed up over the last month, and some of it is only at Anaheim's Disneyland. I'm being told Disneyworld still has the first 25 domes, while Disneyland has the 11 new ones. When any changeover will take place is unknown to me, so you should probably take advantage of this and catch up while the getting is good.

There's usually a decent suite of Starspeeder toys, various theme park knickknacks and cheap toys, Vinylmation figures, and other stuff. Look at the packaging and read the tags, if no manufacturer is listed it's probably exclusive to the theme park. In the case of some of the Hasbro items, the packaging may or may not sport a Hasbro logo - but since many of the items do have some sort of Disney Parks logo on the box, if you see something that catches your eye, examine it closely and you can probably figure out if it's worth your money on the spot.

As far as I know the Droid Stations are still there and Disneyland (at least) is expected to have another Hasbro mold figure with R2-D60 later this year. Mickey's Jedi Starfighter and various droid sets may still be available, but again - read the packaging. Items are usually marked if they're exclusive to the theme park in some way, as some items are marked as being produced for the Disney Store. Not all are - but a good examination of an item is usually enough to let you know the story behind it.




While doing Droid stuff last week, I made two very interesting discoveries. One: there are significantly more astromech droid action figures - including R2-D2 - than there are total figures in the entire 1970s/1980s Kenner Star Wars line. (And that's counting each Disney astromech dome as one figure.)

Two: Disney formerly really expensive exclusive repaints of droids a few years ago. The price has not changed - they're still $13, which means Disney's expensive droids are now cheaper than the same molds when Hasbro releases them in the main The Black Series line.

From the perspective of someone who has been covering this line for 19 years - 20 come August - it's amazing to see the gradual change in the usefulness of the exclusive as a way to get things out. In 1995, we had one figure you could get from Froot Loops if you could find the box. By 1997 we started getting actual store exclusives, with a bunch of 12-inch figures which required the kind of hellish scavenger hunt that resulted in their being sold for $200-$250 for nearly a year until Target and Toys R Us did some second runs of their bigger items. In hindsight, it showed that $50 for a Tauntaun and Han Solo in 1:6 scale was just too cheap - and it cemented the idea that, barring multiple runs or miraculous acts of luck, exclusives would be scarce items that you had to sweat to find.

This continued for quite some time, but things started to really change by 2005. The Revenge of the Sith stuff started hanging around more, especially after the initial launch party cleared out the (shall we say) temporary collectors. Once they got their Lava Darth Vaders, they didn't stick around for most of the subsequent items - many of which sat around for a few weeks or longer, depending on where you lived or shopped. By 2009 we started seeing waves of basic figures which were actually quite hard to find, while most exclusive items were easier to snag thanks to knowing where and roughly when you could find them at a store near you.

Today, that's pretty much where we're at. The news of Toys R Us or Target getting an exclusive is joined by a chorus of angels, and the once-dreaded Droid Factory bin shuffle now carries the added reassurance that these items may be in theme parks for a few years - giving you plenty of opportunities to visit, get the set at a small mark-up on eBay, or ask a friend to do you 25 small favors. I think the last exclusive I had a problem with was the "I Am Your Father's Day" 2-pack of Luke and Darth Vader, which I never once saw in Los Angeles but was rotting on the shelves when I visited Phoenix several months later. By and large this is the new normal - if Toys R Us gets a vintage vehicle or Black Series boxed set, unless you decide to pass on it while waiting for a sale, you're probably going to have a pretty decent window of about a month to find and buy it. And if you drag your feet, well, not my problem - it's not like the basic line gives you this kind of leeway anymore. One new figure, one per case, and if you miss it it'll be weeks before a restock.

While I never thought I'd say it, here's a salute to the big box retailer exclusive. It's the only way you can really be sure an item is going to make it out in great numbers these days.

--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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