Q&A: Star Wars Movies, Female Figures, and Hera Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's Q&A time! Should we expect more female action figures now? Maybe, but I'm not holding my breath. What's up with Hera - is she getting more toys? And how about spin-off movies - should we be excited?

Leave a comment and don't forget to send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. So, long time reader (like pre-GH...I was living in dorms when I started noting you name--another guy in my building had the same name, different spelling--and that was sometime between '96 and '99).

Here's my question: So, you sold me on the Star Wars Command sets, and I snagged Epic Assault at Target on clearance. But, I have to ask, any word on if there's a future for Hera in the Command line? She's the only Ghost crew member missing, and when my daughter inherits my Star Wars toys, she needs both Hera and Sabine as role-models (and the rest of the crew, too). Or, is this more of a, "Wait 'til Toy Fair" question?

I wish I could come up with a better answer than what I have, which is basically nothing. I don't have any dirt on upcoming Command right now and Hasbro has been tight-lipped on future waves - and since we haven't even heard whispers, I'd assume there won't be any. As much as I'd love to give you a hint, I have no hints to give. I hope this format can find its footing (preferably by continuing and varying the $5 packs and ditching the higher-price, less-value sets) but it seems a few stores are phasing them all out. I'm not hopeful here, but anything can happen in a movie year - after all, with The Clone Wars and Attack of the Clones we got a couple of heaping helpings of new "classic" stuff.



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2. What established characters are you pulling to get a film in the spin-off trilogy? Or one that you think has the most toy potential trying to keep in with theme of the site.

Right now from the rumor mill I hear it's Yoda, Han, and Boba. Which makes sense as they are all household names and all different from each other but a Yoda film might rob him of his mystery, I love AC Crispin's young Solo trilogy too much to probably accept whatever new continuity that they give him. However, A Fett standalone revenge type film where he has to re-earn his tarnished reputation after being killed by a blind man might be kind of cool. A space western of sorts. Especially if it delves into the Underworld like the long post-poned live-action series was going to do. Daniel Logan could even still play him as he's pretty mature looking now, young enough to to do all the action, and seems like a nice guy who could really do a lot with his first real leading role like that. I was hoping we'd get a coda to his story after Sith but I guess it's largely superflous to the rest of the saga.....but perfect for a spin-off.

One of the things that makes Star Wars great is a sense of wonder. The movie usually gives us most of what we need from a character, and the TV, comic, and novels tend to basically be chasing the fix with diminishing returns. When you look at the movies, what really seemed to make the greatest impact in toys and in the culture at large was something new. The original Star Wars changed the world. Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and Yoda all loom large and (as movies go) didn't wear out their welcomes. Darth Maul managed to light the world on fire to some extent, too, but are there really good stories left to tell? And will they damage the long-term viability of these characters as mascots or pop culture go-tos?

The prequel Jedi - save for maybe a "Mace Windu didn't die" story - don't have a lot to work with, which could be good. I'd love to see Disney treat spin-offs more like Guardians of the Galaxy, because giving a fun filmmaker like James Gunn a hundred million bucks to go nuts with a studio tentpole will likely pay dividends for years as a) something new (even though it's not new), and b) a fresh voice. Admittedly it owes a lot to the existing blockbuster establishment, but as new characters go the movie managed to be a big deal to a lot of people and actually surprised people. Nobody was expecting Groot to be a big deal before the movie hit - a spin-off film is a weak gamble for Star Wars because the best you can hope for is more of the same. A Boba Fett movie might help sell more Boba Fett stuff, sure, but an all-new character probably has a lot more potential if it's a winner without hurting the future prospects for the existing portfolio of heroes and villains. Whatever you do with Boba Fett will probably be met with complaining, anyway.

I love Han Solo, Boba Fett, and Yoda - but do I want to see young Han Solo? Early Boba Fett? Yoda? I don't think that I do - but I don't really want to see most of the majors in a new story, really. The most interesting choice from where I sit would be an Ahsoka or an Asajj Ventress, simply because to most people they're brand-new plus it expands what you can sell and who you can sell it to. If you look at Marvel, we're already in the realm of diminishing returns when it comes to toys - we saw a bunch of stand-alone movies which were followed by more of the same with Avengers. The line's most important thing was to let kids team up with those characters in one big year with a successful marketing push, and spinning out Star Wars wouldn't result in this play pattern. It's important - a versus movie is arguably a much better solution. Can we see Boba Fett, Han Solo, Lando, and Greedo fight in some battle royale? OK, now you've got something. It's derivative, sure, but it is better than having a pensive Yoda movie. I love Yoda, but two hours of Yoda is a lot to ask. But Ahsoka? Despite having seen a lot of her on TV, she could be fun to follow around for 120 minutes. Her character doesn't seem finalized yet.

Of course, give me a Jabba the Hutt sequence in any movie and you've got my attention. More aliens, more Hutts, you really can't go wrong by incorporating something like that in a bigger picture. When you get right down to it, to date, Star Wars movies are team-ups. They're about bringing people together, only to tear them apart and push them back together again. As long as they remember this, everybody wins - more movies, more relationships, and more toys means everybody gets to keep working in this business for another ten years.




3. Less a "Star Wars question" and more of an industry question affecting Star Wars. I've seen you address the concept of female action figures not selling a few times since I first asked you about the possibility of a Toryn Farr figure back during your days at Rebelscum. Since then, the answer about female figures and really "non main characters" (read: non white dudes) has remained the same: these are marketed towards boys, it's important to have more of them in cases/ on the shelves, etc...and here in 2015, after a virtual revolution on Twitter, Tumblr, and other online forums, it's apparent that the 'explanations' of yesterday have turned into the excuses of today. We've seen Marvel Comics blow everyone out of the water with MS. MARVEL, a book that should never have sold based on 'yesterday's' rationales, GamerGate has revealed the bottom-of-the-barrel depravity that entitled males will go to to hold on to their power fantasies, and floods of people of all genders got on board with #WheresGamora and #WheresHera in response to the weak product offerings by Hasbro and others for those characters (and let me just add Nebula to that mix as well). With virtually every single other pop culture outlet getting with the times and realizing that the heterosexual CIS gendered white male is no longer their only audience, when do you expect the toy industry to catch up as well? Have they shown any desire to join the 21st century and put out a more diverse product offering, or are they ignoring the decent performance by Toryn Farr, the success of Arcee, and the cravings for Black Widow, Hera, and Gamora and choosing to instead point to Yarna Del Gargan or Lando as evidence that no one wants a diverse product mix?

In short: billion dollar companies create and maintain the stories and the products. They're going to make what has historically worked well until something changes - be it more women in the stories, more diversity in casting, or changes in which countries consume the media. China's increased interest in our blockbuster industry could mean a lot of changes, but there are challenges built in to making more than one or two women in an action figure line based on a franchise a) that only has one or two women in prominent roles, and b) may or may not have fans who are not interested in seeing anything change, evolve, or continue beyond what already exists. When you're dealing with legacy franchises which have historically been mostly one way, it's not like you can get changes without some sort of reinvention, which in the case of Star Wars is going to require new big stories in the form of sequels and spin-offs. And then we're at the mercy of the casting department, because Hasbro probably isn't going to invent a female Darth Vader. (Although Marvel basically did.) In the 1990s, Star Trek seemed to have the most women with around 60 in the 5-inch line alone over about 8 years. With over 2,000 figures I don't think Star Wars has done too much more that in 38 years. The source material matters.

I wrote and re-wrote this a few times and it just keeps getting longer. I don't think you could have written a more loaded question in terms of baiting a potential audience, particularly with your assumption that the standard toy industry line - that most boy toy lines are populated with toys because boy sell the best - is apparently in some way totally wrong. Generally speaking toy lines reflect what the main characters are in a piece of media. Obviously original IP can be whatever you want, but Star Wars is mostly a movie (and TV) line that gets most of its money (especially these days) primarily on the popularity of its main characters. Star Wars has very few significant characters that aren't dudes. While Toryn Farr's current asking price makes me think she wasn't exactly underproduced, Bastilla Shan was a hit and Hasbro actually did a second run of her which was also a hit. (Granted, I blame her scarcity more on Hasbro being spooked by figures based on old video games than anything else. Why else don't we have more of the easy sale that is Darth Revan?)

There's so much data here that you can frame it any way you want - I could write an argument saying we've had more new women in plastic in the last year than we have in most years, and it's basically true. I could also say we don't have enough not-straight-white-CIS-male characters as toys, and it would also be true. The bulk of action figures trade on stories about some sort of gang war or violent ideological struggle and more personal issues are generally left out. There are, of course, exceptions but toy marketers primarily focus on big explosions and such. This is unlikely to change - but we are seeing new stories come from opening the door beyond the traditional "What would a typical American boy ages 4-11 want?" Different fans want different things, too - collecting isn't an exclusively male game, but there's a lot of white dudes collecting toys. Cosplay isn't exclusively a any one group's game, but a lot of women dress up at shows. There are also comics, novels, video games, and less-consuming, more creative ways to express one's fandom. Action figures are not the be-all and end-all, it's just the part that as of today tends to be sold to young boys and 20-30-something men. That can change, but that's really more up to the marketing department, and we all know the deal with marketing departments.

Looking at the industry as a whole, variety is going down and the most dramatic changes for women characters as toys are their continued marketing toward adults - and not specifically collectors. (See: most of what Funko and DC Collectibles are doing.) Harley Quinn's popularity is right up there with (or exceeding) the Joker, and while Leia is popular her most recent figure in The Black Series shows that the Slave Leia gag is indeed played out. On the other hand, we saw Black Widow in multiple revisions of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel Legends line, with her at two per box in some revisions. That ain't bad - for Hasbro, that's astonishing. We saw Windblade, Chromia, Strongarm, and Arcee also all debut at two per case and (depending on your luck) you can actually find these in the wild - I saw 3 of the 4 on Saturday. (No Arcees this time.) LEGO is including more women in its sets as appropriate, but that's one of the hurdles - a licensed line needs to be based on popular characters, and for the first two decades of Star Wars you really only had Leia on the toy aisles. And Sy Snootles. So as fanbases go, we've got a lot of catching up to do and given the amount of clones and repurposed animation models, it's probably all up to the new movies to make any impact here.

I don't see Gamora's plastic presence as a big failing as these lines usually go - she had a 2 1/2-inch and a 6-inch figure on day one, plus a Pop! Vinyl figure. In other words, pretty much exactly what Groot had until Funko rushed out the baby one last December. All of the toy companies really missed the boat on him at movie time - by making him the build-a-figure and a 2 1/2-inch figure, Hasbro was ill prepared for one of the most beloved "new" franchise characters in years if not over a decade. Nebula? We also didn't get much in the way of Thanos, very little Ronan, and you can probably thank Hasbro's 12-18 month turnover for this. At least Funko has Nebula coming in March as well as some other baddies. Believe it or not, people didn't expect Guardians of the Galaxy to be the #2 movie of 2014 after The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Part 1 so they weren't planning on doing stuff right out the gate. If the line was a big enough hit to warrant more stuff, we probably won't see it until Toy Fair and that means we probably won't get it until late summer. You can't churn out a licensed toy line overnight and you can only make guesses as to what will work, and sometimes you guess wrong. While yes, Gamora didn't get much made, as movie line women go in figure form she came out ahead. But man, they could have sold a bunch of $10 one-sided Groot masks at Walmart. Kids love that stuff.

Rebels is just having a bad time, period. Wave 1's mix didn't meet the needs for the cartoon guys, and even the repackaged movie figures sold out like hotcakes. I don't expect non-collecting fans to know Sabine is in wave 2 and Hera is in wave 3, and given the situation with the ports and Rebels' slow start in general it's not like a fan can get anybody right now anyway. Hasbro missed a lot of sales with Ahsoka, who is probably the most important focal point here - she was a new character who gets to do cool things and be competent, like a Ripley but not as awesome. Hasbro put out numerous Ahsoka toys - not counting paint or accessory variants, quite a few - and the demand still exists for more. Most Landos do just fine, and Gargan came out of one of the worst ratio mess-ups in the line's recent history - you may be the first person I've heard citing them as reasons to make or not to make certain kinds of toys.

Most toy lines we're dealing with are legacy things with years and years and years of baggage and characters begging to be made as toys, and only a few making the rounds each year. We've seen a lot of changes in attitudes over the past five years alone, specifically in the last year, so I'm not expecting to see big changes at Toy Fair this year. But next year? I bet we'll see more differences - things like Rebelle and LEGO Friends are a start, and given Hasbro's currently iffy pushing of action figures of all strains to the core audience, I don't expect to see inroads made to sell them to other groups any time soon. I'd love to see it happen and see how it shakes out - especially if it means new toys that aren't things I already own.  Keep writing letters to big companies, and support the kind of products you want to see with your dollars - people want to make money, and if you let them know how they can get it they'll deliver the goods.  As much as I'd love to pretend that there's some sense of altruism in making more than white dude toys, this whole business is about selling plastic to people and they have to have a financial incentive to make anything.




Well that was long. I made the rounds this weekend, as I am known to do, and saw a lot of stuff. And a lot of empty pegs - there's a continuing dock worker slowdown that has resulted in numerous vessels packed with giant shipping containers the size of a decent apartment anchored near Los Angeles. There are toys, electronics, pots, pans, and other goods that we just can't get. Numerous products missed Christmas and it's not yet known how long it will be until the congestion is cleared, which could result in some particularly interesting times this year. Street dates may be missed, movie openings may come and go without toys, and shortages may continue on really bland stuff. If there is a plus side here, it may drive home the need for domestic (or at least North American) production of licensed products and the perceived lack of toys may help goose sales for product when it shows up. If things are genuinely scarce across the board, we may see the return of some artificial interest across the board. And also, very upset children come their birthdays.

For that reason, take every release date you read with a healthy dose of skepticism - while it may be accurate for an item to be produced, put on a boat, sent over here, and delivered to the port they may be stuck at the port for quite some time. Things usually taking a week at customs - and that would be a long time - are taking several weeks, with some people saying items could take a month or more. This sort of thing is going to ruin some parties, but since you're smart and read this column you know all about it and can now plan accordingly. I'll keep bringing this up here, but plan your year early. Short supplies may mean fewer opportunities (or reasons) for sales, and if your moppets want something for their birthday or whatever holiday is on the horizon, plan accordingly. Consider buying something a month early if it's imported, because it might not be there later. This is true any year, but especially this year.

Having said all that, I'm a little miffed I still don't have Sabine or Hera or my AT-DP driver. I want wave 2 of Combiner Wars as soon as humanly possible, and really, anything but empty aisles would be nice to see about now.

--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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Thanks for replying back! I very much like the battle royale idea. Much like the EU material, I don't want the spinoffs to overshadow the films but they still have to be different enough to draw an audience at the same time. Sure, Not the deepest story but I'd like it to be something memorable and not something we seen in any of the ancillary material yet which is probably a tall order. We have the films for the Hero's Journey type of storyline, They should just have fun with the standalones.

I do think there is a lot of potential as the novels, comics, and video games have shown but it all depends on the talent involved. The choices for the first two don't have me very excited but hopefully they are only involved in the directing process and not the writing.

I'd also love to see what the hell ever happened to Ashoka and Asajj but seeing as how Disney is trying to erase all evidence of Clone Wars's existence, I don't know if there are any rights issues to them anymore or it seems like they would have shown up in Rebels by now.

As for the new characters being the focus of the films, I think I read somewhere that they will stick with old ones but that just might have been rumor talk. Which sort of makes sense from a financial sense seeing as how up until now, There have never been any official spin-off films in the Star Wars universe and they probably aren't going to want to take too many risks hence how careful Disney has been with Episode VII for better or worse.

I'm pretty sure it's been confirmed that they will be unrelated to the other trilogies though.

I am also with you on more Jabba too, I've loved that fat slug since I was in diapers and have a special corner in my office dedicated just to him. I know it's no longer canon but the 90's novel Tales From Jabba's Palace shows just how much potential a character like him has.