Q&A: Star Wars Stickers, Adam Driver, and Tooling Costs

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 3, 2020

1. You frequently state that tooling costs are a major problem in production of new figures and vehicles. My question is why can these not be produced using 3D prints? A person on Facebook has upscaled a Mattel Viper to be in scale with 3.75” figures for a reasonable cost. This done in mass production should drive the costs down.

In short, because the technology isn't good or cheap or fast enough for mass-production yet. It's slow and the quality is poor for toys. For statues or collectibles, it's still pretty weak - it's a different kind of plastic material and unlikely to be tolerable for most fans. You would probably be disappointed with the results, and Hasbro would be disappointed with the costs and production speed. Right now, it's still more cost-effective to do complex things with paint and moving parts in China. Most 3-D printed objects still require additional finishing by hand, so if you want something that's effectively a garage kit it might be pretty OK.

Tooling is a big part of the development situation, but so is the desire of the corporate partners of Disney, Hasbro, and Lucasfilm. Hasbro's a big toy company - its idea of "a small run" dwarfs what the indie guys could do in their wildest dreams. The likes of Mattel and Hasbro have thousands of mouths to feed, so when they make an item, it has to do a certain amount of business - or it wasn't worth their while. That number goes up and down depending on countless factors and whims. Each item needs to generate money, or serve a marketing purpose. "Because it's cool" isn't enough to get them to make us something - why else wouldn't we have a 6-inch Hammerhead by now?

I've seen a few 3-D printed items from Gentle Giant, Hasbro, and others up-close. The technology is getting better but the resolution is still pretty soft - look at the output of a 3-D print-on-demand service like Shapeways for some examples. It's a little fuzzy, a little blocky, and just not as good as what you can buy in a store. It's OK. Hasbro did some experiments with custom made-on-demand heads for its 12-inch Titan Hero Figures (Burbank Targets, the former Times Square Toys R Us, etc.) and while impressive that it exists, the quality isn't up to snuff with the mass-produced stuff. And it takes time. And it costs more, so they charge you for it.

Some rando on Facebook can make a few dozen of something in his spare time with his equipment because he doesn't have to worry about the safety of the material in the same way a toymaker does. And there's probably no packaging, no safety tests, no approvals, no breakage or drop tests, and so on. Maybe some day Hasbro can replicate figures on demand, but we're not there yet. I would bank on another smaller toy company succeeding in that approach long before Hasbro, Funko, or Mattel use 3-D printers on a large scale for a fully-manufactured mass-produced product.

The other solution - which isn't ideal yet because the Asian fanbase for Star Wars isn't huge - is the "third party" solution. Some companies can and do make items that look like - but are legally distinct from - licensed items. If you look at Hasbro's various Hoth, Endor, and Death Star playsets, very few have more than a passing resemblance to the movie locations. Nobody owns a copyright on trees or snow - but there are some elements which are debatable. Some fans have cranked out small runs of playsets without trampling on anybody's trademarks, much like Lanard's The Corps was a cheap "plays with" G.I. Joe toy line. Someone out there could potentially make really good items that aren't necessarily 100% true to the films and TV shows - it wouldn't do you any favors for a Razor Crest or a big First Order Star Destroyer, but you cold probably get some pretty decent chunks of Jabba's Palace or various Imperial trash compactors or conference rooms made. However, I am not a lawyer, I am only speculating based on what has and hasn't been squashed by the Mouse House so far.



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2. I love the Hasbro Star Wars Retro Collection figures and packaging overall, and I welcome as many reproductions and totally new figures in retro-style as they're willing to make. The only thing I find unfortunate about this line, other than some occasional difficulty of figures holding their weapons well, is that the big "Retro" stickers on the cardbacks aren't really removable (in my attempts at least) without really damaging the cardbacks. I'd love to be able to display these figures with their entire cardback art/photos visible, and I feel like the artificial aging on the cardback edges would still clearly indicate that these are not original 70s/80s vintage figures for potential secondary market sales.

Why do you think Hasbro decided to make the sticker basically non-removable?
-- Ryan

Hasbro and adhesive have had problems in recent years. I would bank heavily that the factories worked hard to ensure the bubbles were glued down tight also decided to do the same with the stickers. Those stickers are also there to make it a little harder to pass these off as the real originals - the artificial aging may not show up in an eBay auction's fuzzy photograph. (Of course, anybody that sees these things can tell you by changes to the name pill, the warnings printed on the box, and the bubbles that these are clearly not the originals.)

Hasbro could've just as easily put the sticker on the bubble (easy to peel off) or left the stickers off entirely. Hopefully they'll consider leaving them off for the next round, as they don't seem to be an element anyone has actually praised.




3. Toy Fair and home video have come and gone and I'm no closer to a Black Series Ben Solo. Do you think Hasbro is done with Rise of Skywalker or is this a case of them not finding out how the movie ended till we did?

With only one Knight of Ren, no Poe or Finn, no Palpatine, I'm not at all surprised the 6-inch line didn't get a second Kylo/Ben to fill it out.

The easiest answer is math. There are eight figures from The Rise of Skywalker in the main line so far, not including any exclusives. Eight. And two of those figures are the same as The Last Jedi figures with few to no changes. (And of those two, the Stormtrooper is debatable.)

I think that 2019 Kylo Ren pretty much has to exist because Lucasfilm insisted on it - the first 2015 The Black Series figure was a bona fide hit, but the two SDCC exclusive unmasked versions, and the retail unmasked version, and the three or more regular and exclusive The Last Jedi-derived versions, it's all a bit much. The reason you likely didn't get Ben Solo as a figure may well be glut, but also it's a less interesting version of a character with way, way too many similar figures in the marketplace already - and Hasbro had precious few slots for its preposterously small The Rise of Skywalker line as it is.

I mean, eight. By comparison, if we're being generous, The Last Jedi got about 11 main line figures and The Force Awakens got about 21. Of the Disney-era movies, I don't think anyone would argue, The Force Awakens got the best toy selection overall by a long shot. But they're all quite soft when compared to the prequels or original trilogy. There's just no corporate attention span at (fill in the blank for whoever made the calls here.)

If you really want a Ben Skywalker, I'd suggest making a fuss over it. Fan complaining can get a lot done, especially when the line's buyers would probably rather never see another Kylo Ren-ish figure as long as they live. I mean, we haven't seen Carbonized Kylo Ren yet so who the heck knows what the future holds, right?



Another week, another week. Today is May 4, the stupid dad joke that somehow evolved into a corporate shopping holiday. The new toys were mostly - if not entirely - announced last week, but at least Disney+ is dropping The Rise of Skywalker, The Clone Wars finale (or so I read), and The Mandalorian docuseries. Most previous years were built around non-collector consumer items or attempting to sell down the remaining products from the previous movie. And this year, The Rise of Skywalker was quickly excreted through the mass market system in favor of a much less interesting alternative - empty shelves. Or so I'm told, I've been to literally one Walmart in the last week and maybe two a few times in the last month and change. Between the weirdness surrounding the distancing and/or lack thereof, the lack of things hitting I need to chase down, and my increasing affinity to ordering toys from where I work, well. I'm good.

The Empire Strikes Back anniversary roll-out was indeed weird, thanks in part to shifting street dates and communications regarding those - you may recall some grocery chains put them out back in January and February, while Hasbro moved the date to April, with shipments coming in a bit after that. Now that some stores aren't necessarily restocking toys, it could mean stuff is piling up in the back or just not getting shipped out. I really can't say - I'd say ask your local stores, but they haven't been particularly chatty on a good day.

With the line in generally diminished shape and a lot of things moving online, it seems the only thing that might inspire panic in fans right now are the Retro Collection The Empire Strikes Back figures, which I only was able to get thanks to my pal Scott helping me out. (Thanks, Scott!) I should also point you to his new YouTube page.

After this? As of right now I can tell you there is no officially set-in-stone planned shopping holiday for the remainder of 2020. This doesn't mean there won't be one, it just means that if there is one, it has not yet trickled down to me. If they're planning a massive Mandalorian onslaught for the fall, they're keeping it quiet so far. Or, it's not going to be very big. After the last Force Friday, which wasn't a heck of a lot bigger than your average fall toy aisle reset, there's still hope.

Not to keep it too Current Eventsy but it's fast approaching summer here with 100 degree temperatures as the norm, which means I'll be staying in a lot more as that's typically what I do. I hope you're well, and finding all your stuff, and that your favorite places to eat are open or about to re-open. And if your local stores still stock standard Jolt cola you're required to tell me so I can check to see if they still have any here.

--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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