Q&A: Star Wars Selling, New Droid Parts, and Droids Cartoon Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 10, 2021

1. HI Adam. In a recent column, you described Hasbro as being very happy with how its 2021 product has sold through.

With how little Star Wars product exists at retail over the past year, how can Hasbro characterize that as a success? Or were you referring to Hasbro's other brands outside of Star Wars?

In my experience, I am not seeing a store receive a wave of figures and immediately selling through that entire wave, followed by a quick re-stock. I see no new product for months on end, and I know I am not alone in that assessment.

This isn't another "why does distribution suck" question, but more of an exploration over what Hasbro considers to be a "successful year" in one of its brands. I don't think many of your readers would complain about the quality of product Hasbro produces for Star Wars, but the combination of Hasbro considering itself successful with empty retail shelves nationwide is a strange pair of thoughts to reconcile consistently.

Glad you asked! "Success" does indeed vary depending on who is defining it. I've spoken with people who see "success" as "just a little bit of product on the shelves" - not enough to go on clearance, but they wanted it to basically sell through at full price. I've spoken with others who have said a "successful" toy line is one where you can predict the exact number the market wants... and then underfill it by maybe 5%. And others still have a certain return-on-investment target they want to hit by selling X% at full price and Y% at closeout, giving them the lowest price per unit to manufacture while hopefully not devaluing the product itself. Every toy company has different goals, but very rarely is it "fill every last unit of demand."  You want your stuff to sell with few unsold units.

Right now the toy market for Star Wars has American big box toy shelves for Hasbro largely barren. Hasbro is shipping product, and it sells immediately. By most definitions, this is considered a success - if you're selling every unit you can make within hours at full price, that's good. You're not stuck with stale product. It sold. You win!

As collectors, we're perpetually unhappy. I've answered Q&A questions since the end of the 1990s and people declare any figure they see once or twice after purchase a pegwarmer, an epic failure taking up space that could have gone to the next wave of figures that they want to buy. This hasn't changed much. Right now you probably need to shift to online purchases if you aren't the kind of person to grab the couple of cases a store gets through frequent visits and/or dumb luck. (There is one particular store at one particular time on one particular day of the week that has proven effective for me for the past several years. But not always!)

As to what you see, you're one person. If Hasbro gets a case of The Black Series, that frequently means one collector could buy 8 figures on the spot and leave zero evidence to another collector that there was anything to miss. Stores tend to order product with the intention of having something on the shelf - but someone buying all of it isn't really a problem if you are a store and your goal is to get and turn over inventory as quickly and frequently as possible. Even I am missing things now - and not by choice. Is it irritating? Yes. But is it a sign that Hasbro is doing poorly? Most definitely not.

Target and Walmart could order more. Hasbro could bring back more older figures in new waves (which I am surprised they haven't done for the likes of Mando and Boba Fett.) While collectors may be unhappy about distribution - because it's always about distribution, isn't it? - many items are available for a second run. Not all. And not all yet. But sometimes patience pays off, and I would say that if every last unit of product you sell sells immediately and at full price, it's hard to call that a failure.



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2. Disney continues to release 2 or 3 new Droid Factory R2 units every year.... and even hit us with an awesome 4-LOM recently. But are the build-a-droid protocol droids basically dead at Disney? I've seen scuttlebutt that they were significantly less profitable than the R2 units--but can you confirm or deny these rumors? Seems to me there are a wealth of humanoid droid types that could still be exploited for Droid Factory--just wondering if that is a pipe dream on my part due to past poor performance.
--yoyoma 87

There are lots of droids that could be done again, but sometimes you're dealing with the whims of executives. If the parts they have are bringing kids in and they're selling at a healthy clip, why make new ones? Zero children and very few collectors will buy every last part and piece from those bins. Once you hit a critical mass, you can probably coast for years. Why change anything if what you have works?

I don't believe Disney has ever really talked to fans - or anyone outside their company - about profitability of theme park merchandise beyond a "well that didn't sell" quip. The Protocol droids came later, and as far as I know the bin parts were never refreshed with new elements. Due to COVID-19, I don't know if there were plans to do so that were deep-sixed, or if they just felt they had enough parts to go around. I don't doubt someone's cousin has a friend that worked on something that told them, but see also Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend's balls. Clearly fake stories are believed by people, and repeated, quite often - in the 1990s I talked to people who swear they or their cousin or somebody got a rocket firing Boba Fett back in the 1970s.

I don't know how the factories charge Disney. I would assume the astromechs should be cheaper because there are fewer parts. From what little documentation I've seen, the price charged by the factory for one figure to the next in an assortment are usually surprisingly close if they are having similar amounts of complexity and the same scale. (And it doesn't always make sense, but factory's are gonna factory.)




3. Were you just a little bit (or a lot) disappointed that the 3PO and Boba Fett Droids figures look like modern sculpts as opposed to retro (or overtly cartoonish, like Clone Wars/Rebels/Resistance figures)? It made it easier not to care how hard it would be to get my hands on these but I think it would be pretty neat to see a vintage-style, cartoon color Fett, especially since the 1980's line's Fett was just the regular figure. I don't need a White Witch but it would be great to see that 2nd wave of vintage Droids figures (and Vlix) someday. Though of course, were I a Hasbro exec, I probably would hold off on vintage-styled ones and do modern first to maximize double dips. There must be more than just the two of us who'd go for a little retro set like they've done for Mandalorian.

Yes and no - I have my Kenner originals I got back when they were worthless as R2-D2 and C-3PO go, and... I would pretty much guarantee someone has been asking Hasbro for Droids figures of all kinds for quite a while. Many years. Many times. Many. Anyway. I'm glad they did them, and I'm glad they did something different too! These are all things I actually was pretty excited to buy - super-articulated C-3PO in yellow based on the cartoon I watched when I was a kid? OK. I'll take it. The R2-D2 and Boba Fetts are a nice bonus. My only complaint? No given release date. How old will I be when these things ship?

I hope they sell well enough to justify more, in other sizes and styles. Funko did a few Boba Fett figures in animated debut/Droids styling and I hope that everybody can do a lot more in the future. Since everybody pre-sold out online the first day, I'm not worried about there being obvious signs of demand for this kind of product.

Given the interest NECA has driven over the years in taking its very best modern sculpted figures and applying Kenner-style deco to them, I don't really have any problem with any way they want to give me 1985 Droids cartoon figures. (I even got the jumbo Gentle Giant ones!) I really do hope they keep doing more for as long as it makes sense - I'd get a huge kick out of seeing Vlix (and Kybo Ren, and KT-10) in the old Kenner style some day. I don't expect it is likely since after a couple of decades I seem to be the only one calling for it - but hey, you guys have social media accounts, you can speak up too.



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Another week! Hasbro's Pulse Con is coming up, and there are other new announcements nearby. (Real nearby. Stay tuned this week, I'll probably crank out another short ASWN checklist/newsletter with recent updates later this week.) I guess Antoc Merrick's X-Wing is out but I sure as heck can't find one yet. But I did find (and am playing) Metroid Dread which I can heartily recommend to anyone who enjoyed 3DS Samus Returns or who likes playing 2D games on modern hardware. It's fun. The scary/tension/freaky stuff hinted at by some of the pre-launch stuff is overblown, it is very much not a jump scare kind of a game. It's very good so far.

I also got a new wave of The Black Series which I'm opening as I write this. Koska Reeves and Tech are pretty amazingly good figures, obviously they aren't perfect but they're very good. (I'd say there is a good argument for Hasbro to make The Retro Collection the format-of-record, but I'm probably one of the only ones who feels this way.) Tech's helmet glasses hide his eyes, abut I absolutely love the costume. It looks like a design that's too good for the 1980s, but very post-Return of the Jedi in its look and feel. Koska is Bo-Katan with a new head and belt, which means she's great. Aurra Sing, General Lando, Q9-0 are also on deck for reviews in October (or probably November.)

See you next mission!

--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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