Q&A: Star Wars Licensing, Promo Posters, and Skipped Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 29, 2016

1. I see six inch figures being tackled by several different companies and its scale is becoming more and more popular. However, no other company has touched Star Wars in our beloved 3 3/4 scale. Is there a legal reason for this?

Licenses are granted with a variety of variables. The classic "master toy license" model - one company gets the whole pie - is increasingly rare. It simply doesn't make sense to grant Hasbro everything when a company like Galoob (22 years ago) could do a bang-up Micro brand, or LEGO pretty much does what they do best. Instead, it's more common to divide up a license by scale, by material, or both. As of right now, Hasbro's legacy licenses are/were denoted by size but some have since been chopped up and farmed out, like when Hasbro decided to let Sideshow do its thing. Similarly, Disney got to make die-cast metal because that was most likely not previously defined - like how Disney also sold 12 3/4-inch electronic figures, adding a unique feature and a unique size to set them apart from existing licenses previously granted.

To my knowledge, Hasbro has 3 3/4-inch wrapped up. Funko couldn't make 3 3/4-inch Pop! Vinyl figures because of this license - this is why they have stands and bobbling heads. Contractually, they're bobble heads. Hasbro also has the rights to 3 3/4-inch die-cast metal figures, as we've seen in the past. I don't doubt that there may be a loophole or other way around this, but I have little doubt someone out there may be clever enough to come up with a way to do a 3 3/4-inch figure that isn't, by contract, a proper 3 3/4-inch figure. Maybe it isn't articulated. Maybe it's made of a different material. Maybe it's glued to a display base and is therefore a statue. And maybe it's because Hasbro wrote a really, really good contract.

The most common query I used to get is "So Funko's doing ReAction, why can't they do Star Wars?" Because Hasbro has the exclusive rights to plastic 3 3/4-inch figures, nobody else can do this. Moments after seeing Super7's Alien ReAction figures (maybe... 7 years ago now? Wow, that's a long time.) I asked about unproduced Droids figures like Vlix and Mungo Baobab. No can do - Hasbro has that area. A different style wouldn't be enough, otherwise Funko wouldn't have to make bobble heads.

The closest I've ever seen to someone getting around this license is, of course, Disney. They had Muppet and Disney mash-up figures wearing Star Wars costumes. In the late 1980s, they had a series of collectible PVC figures clearly cast from Kenner's originals, with no articulation, in bizarrely off-model colors. If I didn't know better, I'd assume they were bootlegs. The Starspeeder 1000 is a 3 3/4-inch scale vehicle, designed to be compatible with 3 3/4-inch figures, and includes a low-low grade R2-D2 figure as an accessory or a button. And finally, there's the Droid Factory program - depending on who you ask (and what you believe) Hasbro does not make the 3 3/4-inch Droid Factory figures for Disney. For all I know there's a loophole (figural construction kit?) or something just because Disney can make things happen, but I do not know the nature of this deal.

Until Hasbro decides to not do Star Wars, odds are we will not see those kinds of figures at any place outside of the Disney organization. And if Hasbro ever did release its grip on the format, I have little doubt Disney would give serious thought to doing these for their own stores and parks.



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2. Just wondering if you have/use any of the Star Wars Figure Posters that have been produced as a quick reference guide or art on the Wall. They appear to be sporadic. Hopefully they produce more. I'm impressed by the Figure Posters from The Revenge of the Sith and Legacy lines that came out, showing all (?) the figures. They look cool and show the figures in the best light, giving a good overview.

I don't think you've missed anything - I have a few of these and they're neat, but where they are in my home, I have no idea. I doubt we will ever see these in the next 5-10 years, because Hasbro used to give them out mostly at conventions over the summer. Now that everything is a secret until the Fall, it seems painfully unlikely that Hasbro will have an opportunity to do something like this except as a mail-in offer, and that seems even less likely. It's expensive, it's bulky, and that kind of promotion is very last-century.

Hasbro has also put a reduced emphasis on upselling for a variety of reasons. One, catalogs (and posters) aren't free. Two, documentation is increasingly being done in as many as four languages - so that's not always elegant, but Hasbro's design department has been finding clever ways around this. (See: Titans Return Transformers spec cards deploying icons over words.) And three, it's competition - there was a definite change in the school of thought a few years ago that showing you all the figures you might find could change your mind from buying the figure in your hand right now. "Hey Billy, do you want this Luke figure?" "Sure thing, dad! Oh wait - there's a Leia out there?" "Looks like it! Well, you only have ten dollars - would you rather wait for Leia?" "...yeaaaaah."

Granted, most kids want whatever it is now, and I personally am 100% in favor of showing people everything because you're not just marketing for today - things like cartoons, comics, coloring books, and pack-in catalogs exist beyond the purchase to worm their way in our collective imaginations for years or possibly even decades. I made a joke (that's not really a joke) that to some of us toy junkies, things like catalog posters were/are the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue - we'll scurry it away and look at it far longer than is healthy because it's something some of us want and may not ever have a shot at. Granted, that's an outdated and/or sexist way to put things, but I think it makes a good point. We really do lust after this stuff and there are toys I pined over in catalogs or seen on cardbacks from the 1980s that I'm still chasing down. (VLIX)




3. Why are we, the collector base, paying 3-4 times the original prices for [the 6-inch Black Series action figure wave 1] R2? Don't we know that there will be, at some point, an R2-D2 back on the store shelves?

It's complicated. Impatience? Completism? Packaged collectors? There are lots of reasons people pay more to have something now than later. It's not uncommon for fans to shell out an extra couple of bucks to get something rather than waste gas (or time) to hunt it down. Given inflation, it may even be cheaper to buy some older figures on the secondary market than wait for a reissue.

There's also the issue of the reissue. You think we'll see an R2-D2 again - and we probably will. Probably. The Black Series has ran since 2013 and there have been precious few reissues - R2-D2 was even a pegwarmer for a while, as was most of wave 1. We've only had 2 droids in 3 years, plus the newly-revealed 3-pack. Will there be more? Tough to say. If Hasbro did more gift sets, R2-D2 would be a sensible figure to put in the mix. It stands to reason we may, someday, see one, but it won't be in the original deco and/or will not be in the original black and orange box. If people want a complete set in the original packages, they have no choice but to buy the original toy.

Since this is a new and relatively small category - compared to 3 3/4-inch, collecting 6-inch is cheap and easy - people are more willing to pay for figures that they have missed. Not as many people hoarded the debut wave, either. Also, some people are less concerned about the price than you might think. I've met more than a few people all too happy to throw down a few dollars to just have the thing that they want, which I can understand at the beginning. With 3 3/4-inch figures - which I love - I have little incentive to overpay, mostly because I have too many of them as it is. A gap in a 6-inch collection is painfully obvious, mostly because the line hasn't yet got to a point where completism is discouraged. At the rate they're going, which is a conservative release drip, that may be a few years off.




Vlix watch: friend to you and me Boltax posted a swell standee based on the toy model for Vlix that you can (and should) print out. Because we still don't have a mass-produced action figure that anyone is likely to find. Thanks man! (Also send in your Vlix-related art and news, because yeah, we're gonna keep doing this.)

The times, they are a-getting quite different. This week we saw the rise of Chewbacca Mom, thanks to a video that went viral and proved just how important some of the old guard (i.e., you and me) aren't. here's the short version: so last year there was this Chewbacca mask for The Force Awakens from Hasbro. It sold OK. At work, we had a sizable inventory from our most recent shipment, which was last year. People didn't seem terribly interested post-Christmas, so that was that - it did what it did, and we had some inventory. This video goes nuts, and everything goes away.

As you no doubt know, this is the new paradigm.

Star Wars - when I was a kid - was the underdog. It was dead for a short window, but only a short window. For any kid born after 1990, Star Wars was probably always at a toy store in their minds - be it a Micro toy, a Bendy toy, or the action figures we know and love. You had options - there were things to get. For the rest of humanity, it's always been around and that brief window where Kenner and Hasbro took a nap isn't even worth considering. Now it's pretty much the Grand Poobah of toy licenses, but for whatever reason Disney, Lucasfilm, and Hasbro are "resting" it - which leads to a lack of new product, and boredom, and it creates an environment where people have to skip things. I have little doubt that much of the excitement over the Chewbacca mask is by people who had no idea it existed two months ago, and it also shows just how important marketing is and how hard it is to harness.

We're still feeling our way through the dark, because it's not the same world so many of us came up in - many of this column's readership came up with the 1990s revival, where it was pretty much people who were alive for or just barely missed the first generation of Star Wars in theaters. The VHS generation (and also the prequel kids) didn't seem to latch on quite as tightly, but the post-prequel (TV) kids seem to be there, and of course now we have the Rising Nerd Class who seems to be growing, diversifying, and finding new audiences for things that the collectoratti didn't give a flip about - the mask in particular. It's kind of remarkable.

It also shows something I've been saying here for months with limited success - kids and casual fans matter when the secondary market is concerned. This Chewbacca mask was something we wrote off and largely skipped - and now, non-collectors are going crazy for it, driving up its price on the secondary market in the short term for goodness knows how long. Is Hasbro still sitting on it? Are they going to make more? We don't know yet - but people are beyond excited and it's not our usual crew. This can (and does) happen all the time when we're not watching, and it's thoroughly unpredictable. Even in Transformers, a character suddenly getting a recurring part in the comic books will raise interest in an older toy - possibly something decades old whose interest has been flat can suddenly surge just because they appear on The Lost Light or get punched in the face by Cyclonus. Weirdly, we don't usually see that kind of spike in lesser Star Wars toys if something suddenly gets a spike in popularity. (Also, things don't usually get a spike in popularity.)

We saw Ahsoka go from that new kid character in The Clone Wars movie to a powerfully popular symbol for the changing generation, and the secondary market prices on this figure show it. Collectors hated Ahsoka (based on feedback i got in 2008) but as kids met her, and as she grew up? Well, I've got a 6-inch collector The Black Series Ahsoka Tano figure on my desk right now, and there are no Gamorrean Guards or Zuckuss or Qui-Gon Jinns yet. Fandom can make a big difference in changing the parts of the hobby that were a little stale - and yes, action figure collecting is a little stale right now. Much like the new movies, it's kind of refreshing to be in a world where anything can happen with Star Wars once again.

--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.