Q&A: Star Wars Playsets, The Death Star, and Online Stuffs

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 8, 2017

This week in Q&A - Classic Playset Connectivity! Oh, 2002. We miss you. And Death Star playsets. Shuttle happens. Also online shopping - you know I love it.

And send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. In the aftermath of Force Friday II I was able to buy a complete 2002 Attack of the Clones Geonosis Battle Arena for way less than I ever expected.

There were quite a few deluxe figures that included additional parts to expand the Arena and Droid Factory. And I remember from the original PR photos a few accessories were left out of the final release. Some or all of those were released later on. Do you know what other toys include pieces to enhance the Geonosis Battle Arena?

Attack of the Clones sure was peak "things that connect with other things." That arena could connect to the Deluxe Super Battle Droid Builder, Padme (Droid Factory Chase, 2003), Deluxe Yoda with Force Powers (and factory base), Deluxe C-3PO with Droid Factory Assembly Line, and I guess, sorta, the Flying Geonosian with Attack Pod. Which does not attack, at all. This is just off the top of my head, so I may be forgetting a few - you might also want Wat Tambor and the Geonosis War Room Screen Scenes next to it, depending on your tastes.

Fans may remember that year also had the debut of the Republic Gunship vehicle, which had pilots with add-on gun turrets for five bucks a pop. It was a brilliant way to spread out the cost of an expensive vehicle or playset, while also giving figures more added value. Ultimately you paid $40 for the Gunship and $5 each for 2 pilots with 2 turrets... so it wasn't a $50 toy. It was a $40 toy, with drivers sold separately. I wish more companies would embrace this, rather than cut features just shuffle them to other toys so anyone that buys deep into the line benefits.

Granted, that would mean that figures come with decent environment accessories, and it would seem that Hasbro has abandoned that conceit with the advent of the Disney era. (And, to be fair, probably around the time The Vintage Collection started.)



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2. Adam, I think my previous question about the Kenner Death Star was misunderstood.

Why, from 1995 to 2008, a time range when large ships and playsets (Geonosis and Mustafar, for example) were made, why wasn't the Kenner Death Star or even the Palitoy one made of cardboard revisited? Potf went back to many if not all of the original vehicles, but never the Death Star. Was the mold lost to the ages?

The first thing to remember is that once you look at the ship of Theseus that is Kenner and Hasbro, people get replaced and the collective whole can forget things. There are few lifers on the team, and some products are just old - maybe it's safety, or value, but the only Death Star playsets we got were 2 new small molds around 1996 - the Detention Block Escape and Death Star Chasm.

Kenner did make more than one prototype or mock-up for a Death Star and other environment that would make you crap your pants. (I cannot confirm nor deny the pants-crapping I may or may not have done.) The mold itself may have been lost or damaged, and the design of either would not be pretty impressive by modern standards - big sheets of cardboard simply aren't meaty. The big plates may have not passed various "drop" tests for safety. And I can't imagine anyone in the USA at Kenner was considering reproducing something made for the European market decades earlier, simply because they may have never seen one, owned one, or even worked on it. Out of sight, out of mind.

What isn't surprising is that none of the original Kenner playsets were revisited for the modern era - those original Kenner molds never saw a return in the 1990s or beyond for Star Wars. Those old Hoth, Endor, Death Star, Cantina, Jabba's Palace, and various cardboard playsets just never made the cut for the modern era - and we may never know if they were seriously considered. Compared to the vehicles, aged samples didn't seem to age well and the common wisdom of the time was kids wanted figures, and they wanted vehicles. Playsets were more of a big gift, and not something people actively wanted to buy. (Remember, we're exceptions to the rule.) We don't know if they survived, and depending on who you ask a lot of the modern-era vehicles were retooled or new tools based on old vehicles - I've heard both from people and I have no idea what is actually true. (Or if, perhaps, both are true.) I assume the Imperial Shuttle must have been mostly the original tool thanks to its un-updated foot pegs and 1983 dating.

What stuns me is that we didn't get one during the fold-out cardboard playset phase with the Cantina and Jabba's Palace (and undproduced Rebel Flight Deck.)

I am also required by law to say that playsets are largely out of vogue, and it's a rare thing when any action figure line aimed at boys above the age of 4 can succeed. (This is why Imaginext and Super Hero Squad/Robot Heroes/Galactic Heroes can support them.) Hasbro has been saying, for years, such things just aren't really able to work in most years - there were some fascinating fan squabbles around the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie because they got a couple of items, and Star Wars didn't have any that year. Sadly, that's life - Marvel Legends doesn't have playsets, nor did DC Universe Classics. Action figure playsets are a rare treasure and the numbers rarely work out - the new BB-8 playset is cool, but let's be honest - they could've carved $30+ out of it by leaving out the Force Link band, and despite being nifty I don't think a lot of you are buying it yet.




3. So my question, are we moving towards a day where the majority of Star Wars purchases will be made online, i.e. Amazon, EE, Walmart/Target/TRU?

It seems, unless there is a "Launch event" i.e. Force Friday, products are hard to come by and find in-stores, but I want to state that I am specifically speaking of 3.75" and 6" figures.

I find, after Force Friday, you could find just about everything that was launched EXCEPT for the 6" and 3.75" figures (not to say you could not find them if you went to 5-8 stores). It seems like the new product swept in, people bought and now those coming in after have more & more difficulty finding what you are looking for.

Conversely, you can go on line to a variety of websites and purchase what you want (single figure, case or wave) for close to if now at retail pricing, without the hassle of driving around or finding 1/2 the wave and feeling disappointed

Now, I personally love "the hunt" of new figures BUT how long must a hunt last before you give up and just get it the easiest way possible. AND, if you don't find it, and did not buy online, then you may miss 100% (i.e. Wave 2 of the 40th 6" vintage figures)

Ships, multi-packs, smaller vehicles; these you can find. 6" figures, for all the B******G that people did when they came out, seems to disappear (Unless you are Rogue One figures from wave 1....wonder if Hasbro would take a page from Atari and bury them in a desert along with those E.T. Cartridges)

While more toys are being bought online than before, it's going to be a while until we get to the majority. Toys R Us, Walmart, and Target make up most of the major toy companies' business, so until they make the switch to mostly e-commerce it's still a brick-and-mortar world. The "clicks and mortar" model seems to be making inroads, and Amazon is a beast unto itself - but until we lose 2 of the 3 major players, I can't imagine online will be the main drive for overall purchases. If you're going to a kid's birthday party, a trip to the toy store is still a tradition. One that might end, like Saturday morning cartoons, but a tradition nevertheless.

Action figures - thanks to collectors - are always the hottest thing after any launch event. I'm seeing trickles of product in my stores, but I can get most (if not all) 3 3/4-inch product if I make a decent toy run, and I can usually find at least 3 6-inch figures with significant effort.

I'll generally order stuff from work (Entertainment Earth) because it makes sense for me - we usually get our first shot around the same time (or earlier) than everybody else, so if I remember to pre-order, I get my Transformers and my Star Wars before the big box stores do. I still hunt the stores every 1-2 days because a) I'm nuts, b) market research, and c) to get the rest of the exclusive stuff. I've found a lot of things months (in some cases, a year) after they dry up thanks to dumb luck and my willingness to go way out of my way at unusual retailers, but that's not for everybody. Usually people will cave in and order online if it's in stock at a price comparable to their local stores, and I'm no different - especially if that item is in short supply.

What surprised me the most was that during Force Friday weekend, I could find pretty much everything - the Target Stormtrooper Executioner, the Walmart Black Series 3 3/4-inch, even some of the second wave of basic 3 3/4-inch and Black Series 6-inch figures. What concerns me is how many of the big cardboard displays remained up, nearly full, and seemingly untouched each subsequent week that I visited the stores. A month on I started to see some dents in it, but it didn't seem to really sell down - and I get the feeling people didn't show up quite as much as the last couple of times. It would seem the era of the mass audience, the local news, and the collective retail sphere giving a rip about a launch may be over.




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Space! The final frontier. This is the monologue you won't hear at the top of the two new shows competing for your love, Star Trek Discovery and Orville. I've tuned in to both to see them flaunt expectations and dump on them. Seth MacFarlane's cosplay as Captain Kirk gave us a colorful show that's not unlike TV Land's original programming - a very 1990s feeling sci-fi show with cheap sets and a few really clever pop culture references. It's not a comedy - rather, it's Seth MacFarlane's original sci-fi show. It's spiffy and fun, colorful and corny. If you grew up in the 1990s Trek world, and you aren't allergic to anyone on the show, it's positively worthwhile and a real treat. It's the ReAction figure of television shows - it's new, but it captures quite a bit of the feel of the past. It's also free of baggage in a way that so many of our favorite franchises aren't. It's not like Star Wars can proceed without being weighed down by movies, and now TV shows, comics, and novels (which I assume will be increasingly ignored.) The Orville just gets to be its own thing, and here's what really stunned me - I polled a lot of friends, co-workers, and other folks and not one person who was willing to sit down and watch it hated it. It may have taken 2-3 episodes, but it seems that it's a perfectly entertaining show with a Bridge set that looks about as durable as Gene Rayburn's The Match Game. Aside from that, it has considerable charms and I'm pulling for it to last 4-5 seasons.

Star Trek Discovery is a completely different beast, beholden to nearly a thousand installments of America's favorite sci-fi franchise 51 years running. On top of that, it's a prequel - and a sequel. It has to balance being futuristic without trampling the retro-futurism of the original series, winking at us with things that, while interesting and fun to see, may weigh down the story. Three episodes in we've got great characters, bland uniforms, expensive sets, and seemingly consistent charms with the franchise thus far. Michael Burnham is a human raised by Vulcans, giving us our lead as a Spock stand-in with a different set of ethics and standards. We get to meet a wacky cadet, a skittish alien, and a lot of super-smart space-science staffers. We may have seen more non-humanoid creatures in three episodes than we did in many years of classic 1990s Trek, but there's still question as to what the show will become, what format it will ultimately take, and if this is indeed the classic galaxy as we knew it, wrapped in streaming prestige and higher budgets. Star Trek never looked so expensive, and these two shows show that you can capture the feel of a classic without its trappings if you so choose. You can also transcend those limits to show something new, but not necessarily compatible, with what has come before.

I'm generally pretty open when it comes to sci-fi on TV. It takes a lot to lose me - unlike superhero movies. If you're allergic to Trek, avoid both shows - but if you have fond memories of watching either series with your family or friends 20-30 years ago, you've got two really good options for more chewing gum for the eyes.

Rebels is about to wrap up, and post-Rebels is... I don't know. We've had diminishing returns on Star Wars television properties to the point where I almost don't know why they bother. We may not be in an era of universal toy collecting anymore, but there are so many wonderful things on television that it's a great time to be a fan of these things. Assuming, of course, you can wait a decade or three for someone to make product when it's retro-hip.

Speaking of retro-hip, Blade Runner 2049 was enjoyable... and that's kind of a hard thing to get out of a movie that's over 2 1/2-hours long in an era of franchise bloat. Every few months the cape film genre asks us to sit down for another two hours of fights, flights, and tights, so getting to see spinners and synthetics was a nice chance of pace. It's also one I hope they never do again, just because some things are best left as they are, to the ages, without revisiting. As I write this I just saw a teaser for next year's The X-Files return and boy howdy does it look dull. But that's where we're at now - they're going to keep feeding this stuff back at us, forever, and sometimes we'll get a good one and most of the time we won't.

--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.