Q&A: Star Wars New Old Figures and Distribution Issues... Again

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 25, 2023

1. So, Stan Solo has done much to rekindle my interest in never before made Star Wars retro. Any hopes Hasbro starts revisiting Star Wars retro more in some capacity?

While it's easy to say "Hasbro should do more Retro" - and I agree! - they're doing quite a bit. Hasbro only has so many resources to split between Vintage, Black Series, Retro, Mission Fleet, whatever kid lines they're running, and of course their other licenses and brands. This year alone, Retro has - that you know of - the Amazon Bounty Hunter wave, the ROTJ wave, the Book of Boba Fett wave, part 2 of the Star Wars 12-back wave, at least retro proto Mando, and I might be forgetting some. It's June, so more may be announced - still, that's close to 20 we know about. That's pretty good! But obviously, they missed a big section - the old movies.

Hasbro released a grand total of two new movie mold retro figures since 1985. Two. Stan Solo? More than two. Fans will always ask for more - that's our nature - but the fact Tarkin and Snowspeeder Luke have no peers is kind of disappointing. I'd love a new Cantina alien, or Darth Maul, or Vlix, or even a retro Rey would be pretty cool. Eventually. After Vlix.

Given how many original Kenner action figures are left to be remade, and how many figures would be cool to make in this style - J'Quille, Piett, more Droids, I could go on - I hope we see them start to do more. The 6-pack of Star Wars guys is probably the way to go, because not only do the figures get a little more protection but also they can force you to buy one or two weird ones and avoid pegwarmers. If they put out a set of (say) Han in Carbonite, Amanaman, Yak Face, J'Quille, Giran, and Rancor Keeper, that may actually sell well. (Yes, I am advocating tricking people because nobody wants the human Rancor Keeper reissued when you can get the old one on eBay for pretty fair prices.)

Like always, I'd advocate people make a fuss. Retro are probably Hasbro's least-loved (internally) figures from the bean counters, because a) smaller audience, and b) lower price. I'd love to live in a world where they put out a 6-figure boxed set for $70 or so every month, and hopefully really start to dig deep in original trilogy new guys. Well, maybe not to deep. But it'd be nice to have more than the two they manufactured.

I'd be over the moon if they could get us a new retro vehicle - or a good remake of an old one - but I don't think it's in the cards right now. Maybe if Retro makes it to the 50th anniversary... where the original kids will be 60 or older. You know, when it's too late.



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2. Please explain to me what is going on with retail. I know it's old school to walk into a store and walk out with a Star Wars 3.75” action figure, but why on Earth would they keep the shelves empty on purpose? You cannot tell me this is still a distribution problem... EVERY other toy has stuff on the shelves. I've had people tell me that stores get a box here and there and one collector buys it all... but I'm in multiple stores too often to NEVER see something... anything that indicates that product was there. I could have purchased every figure from every other toy line the last 6-7 years in the store EXCEPT Star Wars... the only one I bother with. What gives?

So in 2020, there was a pandemic, and as a result a lot of people freaked out and spent money to prove life had meaning, or that they had some control, or something. This meant a lot of parents bought their kids toys because they couldn't see their friends, or go to school, or have a birthday party. A lot of collectors also picked up things they wanted - old records, old video games, old toys, and of course new toys as pre-orders went up. Sales on toys really shot up, so all the toy companies said "hey, we should fill every order we can" during an era where I would argue the level of entertainment and character selection was not its very best. (The actual quality of the figures, though, is generally excellent.)

As a collector of other lines I very much doubt you could find everything - a lot of stuff is in short supply. There are Jurassic World dinosaurs I've rarely/never seen, Transformers that seem to get sluggish distribution, and I assume there may be some G.I. Joe figures I've never seen on a shelf anywhere. Star Wars has had some waves that were de facto online exclusives, and with 8-piece cases of The Vintage Collection figures a single collector can snap up an entire case in a day. So if Target put out a case at noon, I could show up on my lunch break and say "hey, two of each, score" and buy them clean out. This is nothing new - I've personally witnessed this many times over the last couple of decades by hitting the same store three days in a row and see the shelves go from empty to full to empty again. For long-time readers, this is standard "distribution sucks" discourse. We are always aware of figures that our peers have, that we don't, because store X got theirs first or because they all went online or because some goober is scalping everything. That is the way of things, and short of making too many (see: Reva) or switching to an online-only pre-order-only model, this is going to keep happening.

I don't think that it's old school to expect to be able to go to a store and buy a toy. I think that's one area Hasbro (and others, they're not unique here) really dropped the ball. We're told kids don't want toys, but if you go to the toy store, what do you see? Probably not Bumblebee or Optimus Prime. Probably not Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Mando, or Ahsoka. Probably not the current hit wrestlers. Good luck on Spider-Man, Batman, or Ant-Man. Heck, even Mario is in short supply much of the time - the main guys are popular, sell, and are probably characters with unlimited demand. The smart money would probably be to flood the stores with recognizable gifty figures and a handful of tertiary characters. Back in the 1990s, Kenner's cases of Batman toys were usually 24 figures. 22 of them were Batman or Robin, and the other 2 were one-per-case villains or maybe Batgirl once in a while. And things sold well, in huge numbers. It might be something worth revisiting.

Another thing that may help - and will never happen - is to embrace two-packs. Manufacturers can save a lot of money by putting two toys in one box - reduced freight, reduced packaging materials, reduced handling fees, and a pretty quick increase to their bottom line. I'm kind of surprised we don't have a kid line that's something like "Luke vs. Stormtrooper" or "Boba Fett vs. Pyke Trooper" or whatever makes sense because you could probably charge $20-$25 for a couple of figures and force collecting on people. Amazon got some of this with their retro Bounty Hunter 2-packs, except Hasbro charged them more instead of less, which is not what we saw when we got those Comic packs 15 years ago or those Mission Series 2-packs about 10 years ago.

As a manufacturer, your goal should be to almost fill demand on all collector product. If you make too much, that extra will go on clearance and poison the perceived "rarity" that causes collectors to buy things at regular price. If you don't make enough, not only do people chase it to flip but many people also buy stuff they don't want because it's scarce. It's weird, but we've seen it - heck, we've done it. I don't know where the balance is for Hasbro right now but I assume there's also a retailer issue - tying it back to the pandemic - because they all marked a lot of stuff down, and had a ton of stuff sitting unsold in their warehouses. According to most reports, Mattel, Hasbro, and others are sitting on tons of toy inventory - nobody wants completely packed shelves right now. Except maybe closeout guys who get the stuff at rock-bottom prices.





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As we may be sleepwalking through more streaming shows (Secret Invasion is rated ZZZ), we also got word that Paramount+ is pulling down Star Trek Prodigy. A small selection of figures were manufactured [buy at Entertainment Earth] [Also Amazon], but you won't see them at most big box shops - or any, as far as I've seen. The sheer abundance of nerd-related entertainments is kind of preposterous, where we went from having 1-2 superhero movies per year in a good year to having so much Marvel stuff per quarter you can ignore it and do just fine. Seeing Paramount+ pull down one of its Star Trek series seems bad given how high hopes they had for it in terms of getting kids into the series, but that seems to be one of the big problems with streaming in general. There's a lot of C+ material, and precious little of it tends to be a massive, breakout hit to the extent of the first couple of seasons of The Mandalorian.

I would argue "less is more!" because when you have one Marvel thing a year, or one Star Wars thing every few years, it's a genuine event. People will make time to check it out, spend months talking about it, and even plan around its launch so they can be there to see it as soon as possible. Nobody does that with streaming stuff - not even Disney, who doesn't have a release date decided for most of this stuff until late in the game. It's difficult (if not impossible) for LEGO, Funko, Hasbro, and the rest to coordinate their marketing plans when the house of mouse, and the big mountain company, and all the rest just kick the can down the road if a show isn't quite done or they feel like they need to readjust launch dates in order to bolster subscriber goals. Or whatever it is they're doing in there. Movie release dates being more or less in stone also seems like a thing of the past, and hopefully they get their acts together when it's time to do another Star Wars movie lest we have fizzles like we got for the Ant-Man and upcoming Marvels toy launches. Which you probably don't really remember much, and that's the point. You have to do something big that makes a good impact - Jurassic World continues to do great business with non-movie toys because they're, on the whole, fascinating little things. If Star Wars does a half dozen figures and calls it a day, there's no collection. There's nothing to collect if it all fits in a shoebox.

While I enjoyed season three of The Mandalorian, it lacked urgency and felt very detached. I can't quite put my finger on it, but when you have shows that increasingly feel like they're going through the motions it's pretty easy to check out. Strange New Worlds certainly feels like it's delivering on the promise of an old-school show for the modern era, but it seems very little exists to make a splash anymore. Most franchise shows exist to promote other franchise shows. I'm still very slowly getting through Star Wars Visions season 2, which I have to say, I kind of hate how samey it tends to get much of the time. Gorgeous art. Wonderful animation. And about half the stories are more or less a riff on the same Jedi vs. Sith thing.

Maybe I'm just getting old - a lot of this stuff just isn't doing it for me, and the rapid pace at which Disney changes gears doesn't give me much chance to rethink it or change my mind. I'm not seeing a lot of Ultimate Guides anymore, or decently sized toy lines with a vehicle or figure selection big enough to really reexamine what it is I just saw. These things come, go, and it's on to the next thing, and if the next thing is less interesting, why are we still doing this?

Semi-related, Most Major Studios to Skip This Year’s San Diego Comic-Con. I'm told Hasbro will have a presence (exclusives/selling unknown to me) and I assume we'll still see the big giant Hasbro and Marvel and Star Wars booths - but Sideshow is out. I've been asked if I might do one of the panels there, so you know we're in trouble if I'm at all a reason to come out and see a convention. Hopefully somebody comes up with something fun, but the recent slate of movie date delays makes me think we may have gone over the top of the hill for peak Gen X/Millennial pop culture nostalgia and the kids of later generations just don't have the power/interest/fanaticism to make Shrek or the Pixar ouvre into the kind of cultural dynamo that just sort of takes over forever. So we gets remakes of remakes, reboots, and a lot of bland content instead of a blockbuster movie event that just sets the tone for an entire summer. It was silly in 1989 when we got Prince doing Bat-Dance on the radio, but people liked it and it was a whole thing. And in 2023, The Flash sort of limped into theaters and probably is doing as well as it's doing (not very) on the strength of the fact people loved Michael Keaton 34 years ago. The Blue Beetle is also coming out, which I assume is going to be a wet fart in terms of pop culture.

I'm crossing my fingers something weird, or new, or surprising comes up at Comic-Con in a few weeks. I know it's hard to write a good show, but very little of what we've seen lately seems likely to be remembered - especially given how much of it is being delisted and memory-holed. I wish us all luck, especially those of us in the pop culture business as this weird jumbo jet probably continues its descent and increasingly fleeting entertainments rise (and fall) in the world of streamers.

--Adam Pawlus

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