Q&A: Star Wars Playsets, Retro Marvel, and Aliens

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 16, 2021

1. Hasbro recently gave us the Bespin Carbon Freezing Chamber Playset with a carded Stormtrooper figure, and a Tantive IV Playset with a carded Rebel Fleet Trooper.

Both figures have been released before.

Why can't Hasbro give us an Emperor's Death Star Throne Room playset? With it, they can include the Imperial Dignitary collectors have been asking for.

This playset would seem more fun than the hallway, doors, and floor we got with the Tantive IV.

Plus, it could be slightly altered to work for Episode 9.

As a kid, we were always looking for something cool like the Throne Room, Cantina, and Jabba's Palace, but never did we say, "Gee, I wish we had a hallway and doors playset!"

It took decades to get a really good Bespin Freeze Chamber set for the 3 3/4-inch figures - and let me tell you, they had some stunning playset prototypes over the years that went above and beyond what Sears Kenner Cardboard exclusives we saw in the 1980s. Asking why Hasbro won't make a big playset with specialized parts/pieces and a newly-tooled figure... I mean... you know the answer to this question.

I don't think "it could be slightly altered to work for Episode 9" is the benefit you may think it is. It is kind of remarkable just how much of a thud that movie was among many fans - some liked it, some were OK with it, but I don't think I've heard a movie inspire fewer collectors, and I don't think many left the theater dreaming of toys of what they saw on the screen. Maybe it's the generations passing, maybe it's just the quiet acceptance of what the line is now... but a playset? Without a proper Kylo Ren, or Emperor, and a Rey that's out of production and expensive? I wouldn't bet on it.

I was kind of surprised that Hasbro gave us the Jabba's Palace Alcove in 2019 and then two playsets in 2020. As of right now I don't know of any planned for 2021 - I assume the Tantive IV will hang over a bit, and maybe we'll get something next year. This format is something they seem to be playing with, and we really don't have a clue how Hasbro sees it yet. Will Hasbro build on the Jabba's Palace Carbonite Alcove? Or is the future just playsets where they engineer one thing and can let fans expand it by buying as many as they want to build out a scene? (Or both?)

Playsets as a toy for non-toddler kids are over. I mean, seriously over. There might be a kid Batcave now and again, or stuff for the PJ Masks set, but the traditional action figure playset has been on a steady decline for years - vehicles, too. The Emperor's Throne Room is just one of many scenes we don't have as a playset. They're not picking on the Throne Room - there also has never been a Takodana Castle, anything from Rogue One, the Fromm Gang hideout, most of the sets from the prequels, and so on, and so forth. I would've loved a vehicle/playset of The Invisible Hand, or Palpatine's office, Watto's shop/junkyard, Kamino, and just so many environments - but it wasn't mean to be, and likely, this one won't either.

What we're seeing now likely has to do with smart price points, and selling you an army builder (which helps them increase the price of the item) with a playset that is effectively a construction kit. Maybe Hasbro will do something from Return of the Jedi in a more meaningful way some day - or not. I wouldn't rule out Jabba's Palace getting more pieces thanks to The Book of Boba Fett (or at least, the teaser scene) in the future either. I'd still bank on any new playset likely coming from an anniversary, a HasLab tie-in, or a current/recent piece of media.



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2. Question - the Marvel Retro line is knocking it out of the park, not just with the clean and colorful design of the figures inspired by iconic 1980's versions of Marvel characters, but by the quality of the packaging - from the thickness of the cardbacks, to the vintage style slim bubbles, to the clean, crisp, colorful graphics that are not obscured with gigantic stickers proclaiming RETRO. The Star Wars retro line packaging is, frankly, trash - but it's clear that Hasbro can make truly collectible retro style figures when they put their mind to it. So WHY the horrid attention to detail on packaging for items that are clearly being conceived for and marketed to nostalgic adult collectors?

Licensors have a lot of say about how their products look between style guides, or certain needs of the market. It's also important for some to distinguish an original from a reissue or copy at a glance - which I suspect is a big part of what drove the Star Wars look. (Also if you've ever worked in consumer products, you know sometimes someone in charge of approvals has an opinion and he's not going to change it.)

Conversely, others may have other perspectives. I haven't had a chance to speak to anyone in Disney Licensing/Marvel/Lucasfilm who stamps approval on templates, but I have seen enough style guides over the years and have heard about/been in fights with people about how something should look to know that you can't always get your way. Marvel isn't trying to compete with/remind people of a classic specific toy - it's a weird little designer thing, and I would bet it's being done so Hasbro can avoid a conversation about subleasing this part of the license out. (And, I admit, it's pretty darned cool despite there never actually having been Kenner Marvel toys.)

The Star Wars design is, based on no specific information but similar conversations I've had over the years, due to licensor approvals. The linguistic thing is probably Hasbro, but if you look at Hasbro's other retro lines you'll notice no wear and tear and a generally truer-to-the-originals line look. (The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Transformers at Walmart are a great example.) "It is what it is" is an unsatisfying answer, but not everybody wants to spend a day arguing over some details which ultimately don't matter when it comes to the most important issue of all: if these things will sell, and they sold out, and they could probably sell even more since demand wasn't close to being met.

One of the more heartbreaking things I've found from going as a kid writing on the internet in the 1990s to an adult today is that there are a lot of things that mean the world to me, but not to the people who make the stuff. They've got a hundred items to finish and approve by 5 PM, and getting details I might want correct - when someone else thinks their way of doing things is correct - may not matter, particularly when the item in question is the hottest thing in the world and there's demand left on the table anyway. We still get some amazing stuff - but sometimes you just have to finish a project and move on to the next thing. But then again, Lucasfilm also sold officially licensed "Pull My Finger" shirts with Yoda on them, so what do I know about how they think?




3. Why does hiya toys sell aliens figures with premium articulation, but they don't have (seemingly) the right to the majority of the movie characters, but super7 makes all the colonial marines alongside Newt and Ripley, but at 5 poa?

I could ask the same question about super 7's other lines; wouldn't they sell more units with better articulation?

This is an area I've been wondering - what's up with Alien toys? I haven't worked on the license nor has anyone with the contracts been chatty. Lanard has a bizarre line of figures at Walmart that are all in Crayola colors, nothing matches the films - and they're cheap. I was speculating this might be a special slice of the license, and the same may be true with Hiya's offerings to distinguish what they do from what NECA does. There are a number of ways you can divide up a license - value/dollar/mass/specialty, movie/game, collector/kid, size, price point, and so on. Super7's ReAction figure line is its own beast - you could argue it, like Pop! Vinyl, is a specialized collectible designer format - you could also argue it's just a 4-inch figure at $18. It's up to the lawyers, and every company acts a little bit differently with this kind of thing. Some don't mind a little friendly competition, like DC. Batman has a ton of similar items on shelf all at once, with similar prices, and similar sizes.

Some licenses also limit what you can make - for example, a license can be for a movie, and for a character, but not for an actor. (Remember those McFarlane Toys Movie Maniacs figures in the 1990s, with stunning sculpts but weirdly inaccurate heads? Well, there you go.) Sometimes you have the rights to make Doc Brown, but you don't have Christopher Lloyd's likeness rights - because the contracts weren't written to include them, because nobody thought you would ever make toys. This sort of thing has come up, with some lines you've seen, and some you haven't heard about. It's a weird quirk of the business with stuff that people lacked foresight to sign the waivers. Mattel famously had to chase down Bill Murray for Ghostbusters, who previously didn't sign anything allowing his face on a toy for Ghostbusters. Or so it had been relayed to me. It would not surprise me if The Real Ghostbusters was created not just as a TV tie-in, but a clever work-around for such things.

Super7's license seems to cover retro-style figures from the movies. Would they sell more figures if they were something else? Maybe - but Super7 wants to make Kenner-style figures, and also Matty Collector-style figures. Right now they're not in the super-articulated 3 3/4-inch business.

I unfortunately can't give you a direct answer - but based on the diversity in Alien (and Predator) offerings I would wager that there's something contractual going on. If anyone out there can confirm it, I'm all ears. I've heard so many stories as to why you can or can't do something, and it usually always has to do with someone not being paid.



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Be sure you send in your questions for next time. The mailbag is out of on-topic questions, so if you got some, send some in.

So whaaaat's going on...? I guess Target may or may not be putting its 6-inch The Clone Wars exclusives out any day now. I've not found them yet. Onell Design has a new Glyos drop this week. They do some pretty good stuff, if you like 1980s and 1990s-style toys. Danny Elfman's new solo record comes out in a few weeks... uh... I can't say it's been a supremely exciting time.

Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022 got moved up to May 26 of next year - which is nice - and I'm told the current mask policy is you can't wear helmets that cover your face because they have to see the mask that's covering your face. If I understand this right. It's a weird thing - costumes have a rocky history (pun intended) with Star Wars Celebration, notably since they wanted to ban them back in 1999 due to it being weeks of the tragedy in Columbine. But I digress. There were a few small cons last year that allowed costumers, and the whole masks-with-costume thing just doesn't really click with Imperial Officers or whatnot. But on the bright side, I assume any and all policies will change multiple times in either direction between now and when the convention is probably canceled.

The Bad Batch continues to be endearing, and we got to meet Admiral Rampart. Who is certainly a curious choice to pick as an action figure, but hey, if he shows up in stores and you can actually find one, that would be a lovely change of pace. I don't know exactly where the show is going, but it's better than Resistance and it looks as good as The Clone Wars. I'm also pairing it with Ewoks as a late-night Thursday adventure hour, as there are no Droids streaming just yet. (I recommend both.)

--Adam Pawlus

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