Q&A: Star Wars Line Planning, Death Stars, and Differences of Opinion

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 26, 2021

1. Marvel and Hasbro have been seemingly in perfect sync. Disney plus premieres a female Loki and I see a female Loki ready for purchase on line. What If debuts and I see I can order zombie captain America at entertainment earth. Why hasn’t Hasbro been able to properly coordinate with Disney to get Mandolorian and Bad Batch figures out sooner? Makes no sense. I want 3.75 figures but I’d think the black series should get this treatment. Thoughts?

What you think that see is something of an illusion - you see what Disney wants you to see. The "What If?" Marvel Legends gave you a couple of characters from each episode in an effort to promote the series ahead of its release, using the toys to promote the show. This used to be a lot more common in the 1990s and early 2000s - it's different now. For example, Hasbro hold back most of the stuff from the live-action Disney+ shows wave until just before Loki aired and there are tons of characters that are held back for a year (or more) for spoiler reasons. Iron Man 3 didn't get its The Mandarin until a bit later, Black Panther held a lot back for a second wave after the first proved incredibly popular, and they're still trickling out some Endgame stuff.

To your own example, Hasbro held back the lady Loki figure - she's in the "What If?" wave which didn't go up for pre-order until after the entire Loki series finished. And you still don't have a figure of the show's Kang yet. Or Mobius.

Most of what you see timed at a new show (or movie) release is the most non-spoilery stuff possible - but even then, sometimes they want to hold stuff back for some reason or another. "Triple Force Friday" in 2019 is probably the ultimate example, where you got a couple characters from a new game, a couple from the new movie, and a couple from the high-profile new series - an incredibly superficial, shallow launch that was arguably the least exciting of the lot. That's where things are largely going - sometimes you get some deep cuts, but by and large, you don't. You might think you do, but the live-action Loki show has but two figures so far. That's not exactly great, and Star Wars tends to be kinder going back and filling in the blanks over time.

We have quite a few The Bad Batch figures coming or in production, ditto The Mandalorian. More than most Marvel shows got. Are they the ones you wanted? Maybe not - but in terms of quantity, both of those shows have more product coming from Hasbro than the D+ Marvel shows when you take them as individuals, with an arguable exemption for What If? - and that's extremely reasonable for an anthology show that seems to cap out at about 2 figures per story with most getting zero.

I do think there's a real zeal to keep spoilers down and sometimes that's good for business and for fans (Grogu's sales were arguably better by letting demand foam over,) but I absolutely agree that the title character of The Mandalorian should be so common you're sick of seeing him. I'm surprised there wasn't a 1990s-style Batman line with "all those wonderful toys" and action features for kids. But what do I know, I only fawn over these things and make a huge fuss over how great they are and how everyone is going to buy them when I see them. Making toys with not one, but multiple billion-dollar firms means you have a lot of suits and middle-managers keeping their heads down and trying to keep everybody happy... and sometimes that means you don't have a big-mouthed idiot who will go on about this or that in a meeting like I might.

Given everything they have to juggle and how they have to juggle it, I'm kind of amazed Star Wars hasn't turned to a nostalgia-only brand - this year's toys are of last year's movies and shows, so nobody has to worry about spoilers - but it's getting pretty close to that. If you're just peeved that the figures you want in the scale you want don't exist, I've been chasing down a legit Vlix since I first found out it existed way back in December 1989. And I'm still waiting.



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2. Like many long-time 3.75" collectors, the sudden domination of the SW action figure market by the Black Series definitely took me by surprise. You've spoken about this ad nauseum--but two related questions I don't fully understand:

(1) Who is buying the black series? Are long-time 3.75 collectors part of the fan base for this line/scale? I ask because, frankly, I couldnt imagine adding a new scale to my collection simply because I have 40+ years of acquisitions hogging my limited space-who has room to add a new scale?! (let alone the fact that there are virtually no 6" scale vehicles or accessories) Are black series collectors generally new to the hobby?

(2) Many of Hasbro's figure selections strike me as only having meaning to the collectors who were around at the beginning: "vintage repaints..." who even knows about these other than the collectors who were there at the beginning, and--see my first question--are they even buying the 6" scale? (Ill mention Ive wanted vintage repaints for the 3.75" scale for years--they strike me as easy money and as curio one-offs that long-time collectors would love. I would!) Likewise, Jaxxon was introduced in Star Wars issue 8 waaaaaay back in 1978. Who even knows Jaxxon outside of the old-time collectors who, again I presume, are focused on the 3.75" scale? What is the logic behind releasing these to the newer Black Series collectors who don't even appreciate the significance of these releases? Or am I fundamentally misunderstanding the collector base for the Black Series?
--yoyoma 87

You're not going to like this one.

In 1995 for that big relaunch, Kenner had only to sell to the young adult fans (and nu-collectors) and VHS-era kids. In 2021, some of those people aged out of the hobby - but their kids may be interested as mom and dad move on to their next phase in life. Disco was pretty popular in 1977, and while some people still really like disco, some people like disco-flavored things, but the original just doesn't appeal to them. And that's OK - that's how life works. It would be pretty strange if people in 2021 liked things precisely as they were in 1996. It would also be strange if people in 1996 liked things exactly as they were in 1971 - a lot can happen to change tastes in 25 years.

"Fans" are the people buying The Black Series 6-inch figures. Who are fans? The kids who saw the movies on VHS - or DVD - for the first time, and younger people too. The original 1977-era fans are aging out of collecting and right now, 6-inch figures are in vogue with newer collectors that love getting a bigger figure with better face paint and more articulation. Some of them just want a souvenir of a movie or TV show, some of them collect, and some of them are kids that buy those figures in absence of a proper "toy" product. Not every person that buys an action figure is the old-school collector person, and they definitely don't feel obligated to buy everything.

Long-term 3 3/4-inch collectors are not much of a thing. You exist, of course. There are forums with dozens or in some cases hundreds of us. But Hasbro doesn't release quantities, and a few hundred - even a thousand or two - fans are a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to run a successful figure line at a big toy company. Even though you don't see them, every store usually gets a couple cases (or more) per wave, it's just that one collector can clean them out in an hour before you even knew they were there.

6-inch Jaxxon came out of a desire to do figures based on the publishing program - and they're all repaints or figures with new heads and accessories. Jaxxon also appeared in the newer Marvel comics, so fans may know him from that too - and his big secret is he's a kitbash of two Luke figures with a new head. Figures with a new head on an old body have historically had lower production runs since most of the molds are reused parts, lowering development costs. I believe I was once told a figure with a new head is about 1/3 the development costs of an all-new figure, but that was a while ago and may no longer be accurate. As such, a figure like Jaxxon has diminished expectations in the first place. Success or failure, it's not a huge gamble. (For the uninitiated, Jaxxon uses X-Wing Luke torso and arms with Farmboy Luke legs, a new head, and some new armor.) If Hasbro pulls in some older fans into 6-inch with Jaxxon, that's good. If Hasbro educates fans about comics, Lucasfilm (Marvel) will also be happy to sell them those other products. It's synergy. Sometimes these products exist to help market other products to other groups.

A flaw in your point #2 - those repaints aren't just for the old timers. A lot of fans never saw those figures on pegs, so these reissues are to help fans not pay $60-$200 on the secondary market for them while updating them a bit so it's not literally more of the same. A lot of collectors could not afford to collect 10 years ago - like kids who were born in the year 1995. Now they're in their mid-20s, out of college, and potentially employed - so all this is new for them. Some people just want a Darth Maul, any Darth Maul, and a reissue of a figure from 2012 for just $14 at Target is quite exciting. That may sound silly to you, but if you were born in 2005 and are a fan, you're 16 now and probably didn't have a lot of Maul toys during your childhood.

To put it mildly - and this is the part you're not going to like at all - it isn't about the original fans anymore. Hasbro wanted to sell higher price point products and re-invigorate the action figure line. The 6-inch line did it. It brought in new blood, lapsed collectors came back, and people who'd never buy a traditional 3 3/4-inch figure (due to perception of their being for children) bought in to this bigger line "for adults." This is what happens in all toy lines as time goes on. If you don't believe me, ask the 12-inch G.I. Joe fans about their slow descent into irrelevance. Hasbro still does stuff for 3 3/4-inch fans - heck, the retro Kenner figures are an absolute treat for people like me! - but so few toy scales stay the same forever. Hot Wheels, LEGO, Playmobil, Barbie... sure. But most toy lines just end. A few get reinvented, like Little People or Littlest Pet Shop or My Little Pony. It's possible Star Wars 3 3/4-inch figures could be doing better without 6-inch as competition, but things were already looking bad in 2012, and earlier, when some of those "last waves" were retailer or shared online exclusives.

If you feel like 3 3/4-inch figure collecting isn't getting the support/respect/love it once received, you're right. In 2006 and 2007, we got over 250 figures - including a couple of repacks - per year. It was absurd. The general attitude I hear via email from the 3 3/4-inch-or-die crowd is similar to some of the stuff I read on Joe forums when 3 3/4-inch Joes were on a downturn, or when He-Man was having an off few years before the Matty reboot. It is sad to see your favorite thing take a backseat to something else. But you also know countless toy line have died and never come back, and the fans of Major Matt Mason trudge along. I'm happy we're still getting 3 3/4-inch figures - admittedly it's not how I would do things (all Mando all the time) right now, but most things are pre-selling out and that's generally considered a "win" in this trend-driven business, particularly when we're talking about a 44-year-old space opera franchise. When Star Trek was 44, that was the year 2010, and it got very little classic love in the wake of the Kelvin movies. And even less product.




3. Yet another Death Star question. I'd assume at many past Star Wars events where Hasbro was present, there were Q&As where fans got to ask questions. And I'm sure the "When are you going to make a modern Death Star playset?" question got asked several times.

Wouldn't you think, having heard the same question over and over and over, that Hasbro would think, "Hmmm, fans keep asking for this all the time. Shouldn't we make it for them?"

Over time, they've churned out stuff we didn't ask for or want, while neglecting ones we do.

Is it a matter of price, bad marketing, or what that keeps us from having a modern Death Star playset?

This isn't a secret - but Hasbro has prototyped a few over the years. It just never became a fully-realized product. When cornered, Hasbro still says "maybe some day!" and I think they mean it.

Also keep in mind that Hasbro has yet to remake Sim Aloo, the 1984 Imperial Dignitary. This is just one of many things we may never see in our lifetime. But, also keep in mind we got cool stuff like a Y-Wing Bomber, McQuarrie concept vehicles, a Geonosis Arena, a rather large freeze chamber, and Mini-Rigs inspired by The Clone Wars. If fans are bristling at the repaints of 2021, I don't blame them - but it's also to remember that the original Star Wars generation came of age during or just before the dotcom boom, when kids were still very on board with action figures as toys rather than collectibles. That's not quite how the toy market is today. Even the toddler action figure line Imaginext is not doing as well as it once did.

There has to be a right time and a good customer base to do something - I would have thought 2016/2017 was it, with the Death Star appearing in Rogue One followed by the 40th anniversary of the original movie. After the $500 Sail Barge, I don't know what they would want to do, or what fans would find acceptable. I know I'd prefer a modular set you can buy in chunks and build it over the years, but I also assume some fans are expecting a 6-foot sphere for $600 and that ain't gonna happen.

As noted above, the 3 3/4-inch fanbase is decreasing. It goes up and down, but the era of massive consumption has ended. If HasLab doesn't do it, or if it isn't the centerpiece of a new movie or Disney+ show, it's probably never going to happen. I assume it's just bad timing - I mean, think about it. Star Wars turns 45 next year - a lot of the original fans are old, some are dead, and realizing the battle station as a three-dimensional object that won't disappoint may be impossible. (The solution, of course, is to just let Playmobil do it. Or buy a LEGO one.)

Now that it's 2021 I don't think Hasbro can satisfy the old fan imagined "perfect Death Star playset" because we don't all agree what that may be. I'd be very happy with a big box of some sort filled with connectible rooms. Some fans won't be happy unless it's round. It would be difficult if not impossible to make a set-up with a landing bay for a Millennium Falcon, or TIE Fighters, or Imperial Shuttle, and also include a conference room, a chasm, a Tractor Beam control area, the detention block, a throne room, or any other items you might put in an ultimate playset. A MicroCollection style group of connectible playsets might work, as would a "toy" product like the original 1970s Kenner Death Star Space Station, but I doubt that would be well-received by many of you. I'm not saying it isn't possible to make something good, I'm just saying that some fans found the Barge to be not good enough - I can't imagine the reaction to a Death Star would be positive unless it made the U.S.S. Flagg look like a Barbie Corvette.

What you're seeing here is normal in the toy world. Some people like the classic, sad My Little Pony horses and some want the new nose-job snouts. Playmobil adult collectors include among their number those lament the loss of purity in its once license-free play space now sullied by Star Trek and Back to the Future. (Not me, I love these things and my Mad Dog Tannen advent calendar set just shipped!) G.I. Joe went from 12-inches, to 3 3/4-inches, to 6-inches - and each generation has a bone to pick with the others. Things change. Things end. I think that a lot of you know by now that stuff comes and goes and the very best days of 3 3/4-inch Star Wars collecting as the center of the toy/collector/pop culture universe are over. Enjoy the ride out, we've still got a lot of fun to have, but we'll never have the 1990s - or 1980s and 1970s - again but sometimes we get lucky and get something cool. 2001 fans were just treated to new figures from Super7 this week. There's still hope for anything and everything, but if you saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 you have been waiting an absurd length of time for these specific action figures. And I don't doubt we'll be in our 60s talking about the Tonnikas, Vlix, and a fancy Death Star that we'll never get while also complaining about the old age stuff.



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After what I assume were a couple of delays, Disney+ put Star Wars Visions for all to see - in full - this week. (My wife watched three with me and "nope"-d out.) I admit I am a bit out of touch in the anime world - I was good friends with someone who shared a lot of stuff with me in the late 1990s and early 2000s - so I don't recognize these studios, but they put out some gorgeous work. But is it good? Eh. Seeing the series in a pretty big chunk, I think it loses something - but it absolutely feels like someone poured Star Wars sauce on an anime entree.

It's a lot like flipping through an issue of Star Wars Tales or the "New Visions" segments of the Star Wars Galaxy trading cards. It's pretty easy to pick up on the Star Wars elements - there are a lot of lightsabers! - with things that are inspired by the existing series, but not a whole heck of a lot of things taken directly from them. "The Twins," for example, tweaked the ships, trooper helmets (and Samus/Mega Man-style arm cannons), and a few other things where it's different enough that it could have been its own thing... almost.

Star Wars Visions is a real rarity because it comes to us without the pretense of being part of another thing - with one exception, these are stand-alone stories that were created without the intention of selling you a consumer product. (There's a tie-in novel to one of them.) It's fun to see several real talents put together something in Star Wars given how homogenized it can be, and I would hope to see another season of these down the road. It's a pity we didn't see it 20 years ago (for example, when we got The Animatrix) and I assume the reason we're getting this now so Disney can get relationships going with up-and-coming talent. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, anime has only become more popular with the young people as they keep watching My Hero Academia, go back to watch or rewatch Naruto, and so many other things. But those have dozens or hundreds of episodes, this is just nine shorts, unlikely to engender fanatical devotion but surely capable of inspiring people to check out more Japanese animation. (Which reminds me, I need to get back to Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!)

I think Disney and Lucasfilm have something really good going here, but would probably be well-served to do something bigger next time. Maybe a 90-minute feature, or a short series, perhaps letting one of these studios take over and run the next Resistance-style cartoon. Hey, at least it would look pretty. If you have time to kill and can watch an episode of something as an art piece rather than the greatest story you'll ever see, there are lots of things to love about this series. Also it would be a hoot to see other anime tropes exploded through Star Wars, but I came up mostly watching sci-fi stuff like The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Martian Successor Nadesico, and the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. So hopefully next time we'll see some big robots and weird space ship stuff, too, because I really appreciated the all-around weirdness of "Tatooine Rhapsody."

...and we got Droids figures coming! With no Vlix. Or ship date. It's a start.

--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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