Q&A: Star Wars Naming, Small Screen Expectations, and That Store

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 23, 2019

1. The Mandalorian. How does your industry feel about a streaming series' potential to carry a product line? Main line or more of a complement like Rebels and Resistance? Considering the other content also launching in the 4th quarter, with Episode 9, Clone Wars, and the Fallen Order video game, does Mandalorian being a tentpole series to launch Disney+ factor in?

In very short: we love what we see. We do not expect we will see a ton of product for it (not due to the show itself, but because of the glut and fatigue already in the marketplace.)

I can't tell you much, but how we feel? That I can say. From what we've seen - much of which you've seen - the program itself seems like a slam-dunk. All of the elements of what older fans want from a Star Wars seem to be there, from the post-Return of the Jedi setting to the look of many key characters with the kinds of elements you'd want in a line of "made-up" Star Wars toys, with or without a story behind it. It looks right. It feels right. Will Disney, Lucasfilm, and Hasbro give it better merchandise support than the weak back half of The Clone Wars and the Rebels and Resistance TV shows? That remains to be seen.

Star Wars product did not align with what the movies (and the marketing) gave us terribly well, perhaps due to secrecy, planning, or other intangibles. We got a Solo movie without Han Solo in the basic figure assortments until wave 4. We got The Force Awakens, which was largely constructed around Han Solo and Leia, the former of which didn't get a toy until 4 months after Force Friday and the latter of which took two years for her main movie outfit in 6-inch - and we're still waiting in 3 3/4-inch. There's a tremendous amount of secrecy and possibly more cooks than ever before second-guessing the merchandise, so the big question I have is if The Mandalorian will be a key pillar to this franchise or just a detour. That's something I don't think any of us really know for sure at this point.

Triple Force Friday isn't Quadruple Force Friday, and Lucasfilm made sure to highlight its focus is The Rise of the Skywalker, The Mandalorian, and Jedi: Fallen Order. There's no The Clone Wars in there. It doesn't mean it is not coming, but it's certainly not part of the plan made public or a big part of the discussions of how Star Wars will be sold from what I've heard.

I don't think I'm telling tales out of school by saying if you're expecting a massive launch on any specific movie loaded with the biggest toy line you've ever seen, maybe dial back those expectations a bit. With Solo and The Force Awakens, we had a lot of legacy stuff mixed in our new movie launch - and I don't think it benefitted from it. With The Rise of the Skywalker we are being threatened with product from three new franchises, and we know for a fact there are going to be new "classic" items mixed in too. Lucasfilm simply can't deliver a full experience for every one of its new entries - plus touching on old stuff - given the fact that a Star Wars toy movie launch in 2019 simply can't match the support of a big deal in 2015... or 1999.

I personally see small screen Star Wars as "long tail." Nobody cared about The Clone Wars on launch day, but kids liked Ahsoka once they got to know her. Two or three years later you saw some real interest in the secondary market, which means kids and fans were starting to realize what they missed. It would not surprise me one bit to see the kids of 10 years ago grow up to be their own kind of Star Wars fan in 2028, and then have their demands for their era of Star Wars products go unmet because there are just too dang many flavors of Star Wars now. If you get the lead characters for all of the characters from your show/movie/video game, that has proven to be quite a feat. It took Solo several waves to get most of the characters on the poster in plastic, and I would assume it will take years and a mandate from fans for The Mandalorian to get its due as toys if Rebels and Resistance are an indicator.



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2. The term "vintage" -- based on age or being first-of-its-kind? With Episode 1's 20th anniversary this year, it got me thinking that those toys are older now than the original waves of ESB (1980) and ROTJ (1983) were in 1999. Are we Original Trilogy era collectors so old that the Prequels are now vintage?

I didn't like the term of "vintage" being adopted in the 1990s. I certainly didn't like Hasbro applying it to new product in 2004. I also didn't like Hasbro using "The Black Series" on 3 3/4-inch and 6-inch figures... and props and other collectibles. What I'm saying is my opinion on nomenclature is historically of no actual value.

Specificity matters when buying and selling toys online, and things like "Vintage" and "Retro" are baffling. Fans used "Vintage" for toys from the 1970s and 1980s. And then Hasbro used it on and off from 2004-2019. And now Hasbro uses "Retro" for what fans called "Vintage" figure reissues. It's not consistent and I don't feel that a new fan would be able to embrace the hobby without a thesaurus and a few volumes of books explaining the thousands of figures out there.

For this reason I hope nobody starts calling 1990s Star Wars "vintage." "Old," sure. "Classic," fine. "CommTech," also good. I think that 1999-2000 line is pretty much universally regarded as Episode I among fans and resellers and price guides, which is fine. We don't need pedantry to confuse buying and selling, and I certainly don't think anybody should be changing the name of any line we've been discussing for 20 years and thankfully, nomenclature tends to more or less stick once it's applied.





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So! Word on the street has it Toys R Us wants to come back this year. Here's the thing - it's gone, it can't come back as you remember it. It could very well use the same logo and open in some of the same locations, but it is gone. Toys R Us was the Big Bad Wolf in the 1980s and 1990s as it blew into town after town, crushing its competition and doing away with small, regional, or local toy stores - of which there were many. I don't mean Kay-Bee Toys, I mean Toys By Roy and Little House Toys and a number of itty bitty toy stores I don't even remember the names of anymore.

With quotes of hypothetical new stores being about a third the size, and significantly fewer locations, we could be hearing a wish list more than an actual battle plan. It's kind of funny, and I wonder if other hobbyists were in denial like we are. The big record store chains fell like dominoes, with the likes of the Warehouse, Sam Goody, and so forth just evaporating. The big booksellers are mostly gone, with Borders, Waldenbooks, and B. Dalton long gone with Barnes & Noble still standing. Video game stores also suffered consolidation with GameStop buying the likes of Babbages, Software Etc. EB Games, Funcoland, and so forth, effectively eliminating competition in that space.

Nobody really wept for the collapse of those other businesses. Toys are weird because they're part of our childhoods and generally more of an impulsive, you-need-to-get-your-hands-on-it sort of item. All of retail in America seems to be following a similar pattern, with a lot of people buying online as a first resort while shopping options gradually roll back until the industry's own 800-pound gorillas suddenly become the underdogs.

So will it really happen?

With the proposed toy tax, plus not much known in the way of actual locations, and inconsistent reporting boasting anywhere from two to a half dozen to dozens of stores, I would say it's always a good time to manage your expectations. Good things take time - Walmart didn't dot the landscape overnight, Amazon didn't conquer the internet in its first year, and Toys R Us didn't slay all of its major competition in the toy speciality space up until about 10 years before it, too, kicked the bucket. Maybe Toys R Us will start fresh with pop-ups, or two stores that slowly grow over time, or absolutely nothing will happen and you'll buy all of your toys at Walmart, Target, online, or in Barnes & Noble since they have a surprisingly diverse selection of plastics.

The only thing I can say for certain after my many years of life on this planet is that the impulse to return to the past is normal, and probably not one we can pursue. We all want to turn back the clock to bring back the familiar things that made us happy, when life tends to take things away from us as time goes on. As much as you'd like to go home again, it'll probably be sold off, filled with strange furniture, and then you have to face up to the fact that it probably wasn't your home for years. That doesn't mean you can't build a new home, and I'd like to think someone out there will see value in a nationwide toy chain once again - even if it's a new firm with a new name.

Star Wars is on the decline, your Batman isn't Batman anymore, Atari is out of the console business (and yes I heard about the new console), and traditional toy guns are never coming back. Treasure your memories, hold your loved ones close, and enjoy what has already come to pass, because the future doesn't necessarily belong to us anymore.

--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, and we're down to 2 questions per week until we get overloaded with questions to re-expand back to 3 or more.



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