Q&A: Star Wars Subscriptions, Vehicles, and Smaller Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 26, 2017

1. This is more of an extremely late plea than a question and I'm hoping the people that matter at Hasbro will see it. We've seen at least some of the 40th anniversary offerings Hasbro has on tap, but the absence of one thing really has me kind of surprised. This seems like the perfect time to release an all new TIE advanced for Darth Vader. He had an appearance in Rogue One (albeit without his fighter,) he has been seen with his fighter in Star Wars Rebels, and this is, afterall, the 40th anniversary of our first glimpse at his ride of choice. Not only is the latest version extremely dated, but it hasn't been released in many years. Having a TIE advanced in the same kind of scale as the great TIE fighters we got in the 2000's seems like a sure fire hit with collectors and kids. I guess I need to throw in a question here, so what do you think the chances are that Hasbro is holding out on some major surprises for us for the 40th anniversary and what would you really like to see in those surprises? I'll save the appearance of the TIE Defender in rebels for a later question, but I'd like to throw in that I would buy a squadron of these and have felt that way since the game TIE fighter came out back in the 90's.

Brother, you ain't kidding about the "late" part! (In all fairness, this was sent prior to Toy Fair this year.) When Hasbro develops a toy line, it's usually locked down 18 months before you see it on the shelf. If Hasbro doesn't already have a Darth Vader's TIE Fighter in production - and one has been rumored for nearly a decade - it ain't gonna make it this year. At this risk of raining on your parade... oh, let's be honest - that's what I do. Not happenin', dude. We haven't had any classic vehicles in circulation that weren't repacks since 2013, and I'm scratching my head to remember the last time Hasbro gave us an all-new 3 3/4-inch scale vehicle mold. The Cloud Car, Snowspeeder, and AT-AT of 2010 come to mind.

If the TIE Advanced mold was actually tooled, you'd probably have seen it somewhere by now. Hasbro rarely (but not never) tools a toy and hides it away forever - and I think the last release of the 1997 mold, with its updated deco, was probably 2010 or 2011. Darth Vader is Hasbro's Star Wars cash cow, and as you've seen he's getting some real love this year - but not a vehicle. At least none we know of, but I'm working this from the angle of "we ain't seen nothin' and we ain't seen no evidence Hasbro will ever do classic vehicles for collector-era movies again." Doesn't mean we won't - it's just that after two years, all we have seen are repackaged vehicles. And even those are scarce.

If (big if) we got one, odds are it would be underwhelming and expensive - if you want something big with lights and sounds, it's going to be $50 or more. Hasbro could probably deliver a $20-$30 one similar in size to the underappreciated but very cool Inquisitor TIE Fighter from 2013, but given inflation in manufacturing and Hasbro's recent proclivity to bundle a figure with each vehicle and raise the final retail price by $10, meh. I hope if Hasbro does do new vehicles they'll start with something really new, but if they didn't crank one out to tie in to the appearance of the ship on Star Wars Rebels I'm guessing we won't see it until it shows up in a movie.

...and if the rumors are true about the Han Solo spin-off actually being expanded to an entire trilogy? Well, maybe you'll get lucky for the 50th anniversary. You'll see more Vader figures and Vader lightsabers, but unless Toys R Us has a burning need for another exclusive vehicle I just don't see it happening in the 3 3/4-inch size. Or 6-inch size. And hopefully we won't see another new mini scale introduced... i can't take it at this point.



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2. I was wondering about toy subscription services. When Mattel started their service, they were building the figures exclusively for the subscribers, and used mostly viral and conventional media to get at least a minimum number of subscriptions to produce their product. I also recall that another company that was doing a "one of each figure" for certain toy lines. I was curious as to what factors caused each company to discontinue this service. If Mattel, or even Hasbro, were to start a subscription service for any toy line that is currently in production and have the service include all of the possible store exclusives, as well as any exclusive from toy fair, sdcc, and nycc, how well do you think such a service would appeal to collectors?

The "one of each figure" club experiments all basically failed on some level. Hasbro tried it in 2005 for Revenge of the Sith, and Brian's Toys put it together themselves later - but I don't recall hearing much/anything about how that went. Even Mattel's own line was - if you ask me - something of a conceptual failure because if you have convention exclusives or occasional "chase" releases, you're not delivering on the promise of "one of everything."

Buzz (as in, stuff I can't always share) had it that it was too hard to manage and coordinate - can an exclusive be an exclusive if you also offer it to a subscription service? In Mattel's case, there was also an intention of creating products to bring the "excitement of hunting toys" to online shopping. In the grand scheme of things the entire endeavor was a little silly, because it wasn't a very big market in the first place and it bled customers every year. Most of the details I will need to leave to current and former Mattel employees, but they wanted exclusives to be exclusive, and they wanted excitement. This is the company that handles Hot Wheels, after all.

The third-party subscriptions were at the mercy of Hasbro's often prickly assortments. Over the past 20 years, it wasn't uncommon for assortments to ship with 1-2 each of one new figure and 12-14 existing figures. If you're running a subscription, you're in trouble - to provide your clients a set you'd also have to buy dozens (hundreds/thousands) of additional figures. Had Hasbro sold figures in solid-packed cases back then perhaps someone could deliver it - but even now, when they do offer solid cases of some figures, they don't offer everybody. Even Hasbro seemed to struggle with this in their own service, hence including extras of random army builders as part of the proposed program. Which, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure actually happened - did any of you guys sign up and actually get figures from it in 2005?

Another issue for the big box stores was the competition. You may not know this, but stores track what you buy. If they see people regularly buying a G.I. Joe with a 20 oz. Coke or a pack of gum, they can profile you as a customer and find your value as a toy collector. You don't just buy a toy - you buy other stuff. Offering a subscription could create competition. I go to toy stores several times a week hunting stuff down, and I also buy food and detergent and other junk. I wouldn't be going to all those Walmarts and Targets (and the last Kmart) were it not for toys. I'd probably never go to Walgreens if it wasn't for toys. Subscription programs for collectors could cut in to the bottom line for some of these big stores, as foot traffic matters. They don't get exclusive products just to delight you - they want you coming in their store to look for unique items (and buy other stuff like toilet paper even if you don't find what you need.)

Right now the only company that seems to be succeeding with their own toy boxes is Funko, thanks primarily to making all of their own stuff and having a line so freaking huge that it's less about a complete set and more about buying a line you want to support blindly. I've had a lot of conversations with people at Hasbro, Funko, and Mattel on topics like this one - and other business concerns. Funko sees collectors and limited edition products as a big part of who they are and what they do. Matty Collector had about one and a half full-time employees with very little revenue compared to the rest of the company. Hasbro is a huge company where most items require very large runs to warrant production - if they divert resources to a mail-order exclusive it takes away from the products they can sell in to stores. These different perspectives are largely the result of the culture of the business - Funko's Brian Mariotti is an actual collector who wrote books about his collecting interests prior to the success of Pop! Vinyl. Hasbro and Mattel are huge companies with shareholders and shockingly large amounts of mouths to feed and sprawling campuses, plus other business interests. If Funko abandoned adult customers, they'd have little to keep them going. If Hasbro ignored collectors, they'd lose a small percentage of the business - and even then they might not. A lot of us might just switch over to the kid lines... I would.

Managing expectations - in life and in toys - is always the best thing to do. Never tell your customer "everything" or "always," and odds are you're going to have a happier customer and a successful business. Mattel and Hasbro tried to do a model where you get everything - and that's never going to work out. Funko just said they want to send you something cool every month - and I'd say Funko generally delivers on that promise with their box lunch.




3. I'm disappointed in Hasbro's reveals at Toy Fair - really nothing on the horizon for the SA Walmart 3 3/4" line except for a re-pack wave. I truly hope more new figures are coming in this line. My question is: will the new 6" Vader be available by itself, or only as part of that set with the figure stand? I certainly hope it's available separately.

The Vintage 40th Anniversary 6-inch Darth Vader is currently exclusive to the set. As far as I know there are only two waves and two assortments - so unless it gets so hot they hold it over for popular demand (and they should) you've potentially seen the entire line. The second batch is due Summer, with September set for The Last Jedi. There won't be room for much more.

The sales I see - I would argue due to character selection and momentum - favor 6-inch. 3 3/4-inch has (limited) potential if Hasbro gave it a little weight and didn't take it out behind the shed and shoot it immediately upon the release of each new film. There are a lot of great Rogue One pilots and aliens and droids left. There are a lot of obscure The Force Awakens opportunities too... like Leia and Luke. Right now the lack of vehicles and what feels to be a complete abandonment of enthusiasm and/or dictum from the licensor make it feel like the line has no real corporate support. I assume fan support is waning too, but this is sort of a chicken and egg situation. I've been saying 3 3/4-inch has been suffering since The Black Series brought us several boring and awful waves with few to no new characters or costumes. The $5.99 simpler figures would have been great if, again, anything in it was really new and available. We saw Jedi Temple Guards sell well, as well as some major characters. I'm just shrugging. It is what it is - I'll buy what I like and without a groundswell of demand from fans for more interesting stuff, this is it. I think it's a tremendous waste that the 40th Anniversary line didn't also bring back 3 3/4-inch 5-jointed $6 figures. Who wouldn't have loved those?

From where I sit, I think Hasbro is blowing/has blown more than a few promotional opportunities, as since right around the time the 6-inch line was introduced we've seen them forget to announce some figures were being made in their Comic-Con panels and other such promotional venues. I don't understand why they wouldn't so much as say "Oh by the way, this is coming" as they're very fond of giving a big announcement/slide for a product that's already on-shelf... and we did sit through a lot of chatter for Star Wars Angry Birds when that was generally not what people came for. Obviously Hasbro has to promote what Hasbro has to promote, but merely stating what all is coming in the next quarter would be very nice.




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RIP Bill Paxton, he of several amazing and iconic roles.

So I'm back from Toy Fair, currently coughing up all sorts of things as the reminder of just why I shouldn't be walking so much, talking so much, and freezing so much while not getting enough sleep will eventually catch up to me. It was a pretty good show - Hasbro had a nice item for the 6-inch line with its 40th Anniversary not-quite-Early Bird collection, although it seems that the main drive for the Hot Wheels line was a packaging refresh. It really would have been nice to see a little more on deck for such a momentous occasion, but given the rumors flying around concerning a theatrical rerelease (or lack thereof) it wouldn't surprise me if licensors are flying about as blind as Disney and Lucasfilm folks right now.

For my money, Super 7 and Jada Toys stole the show. Super 7 apparently reached in my head and pulled out everything I could want - Filmation-style 1980s He-Man figures. Kenner-style Planet of the Apes. M.U.S.C.L.E. figures for Mega Man, Aliens, more He-Man, Shogun Warriors, and other properties yet to be announced. Blind-boxed weirdo designer Kenner Alien figures. I was impressed. Similarly, Jada Toys had something new called "Nano Steel" which was developed while a certain famous toy guru was employed at the firm - the idea is these small, die-cast metal painted action figures would sell for about a dollar. There are playsets. They're not the figures you see at stores now - these aren't deformed or exaggerated, they're almost exactly like Kenner's 1982 MicroCollection line of Star Wars figures... which is the line that got me into the collecting part of this hobby. Those suckers were hard to find! Licenses so far include DC Comics, Marvel, WWE, and Harry Potter. Samples distributed at the show - that I saw - included Batman and the Suicide Squad movie Joker.

While I did seem some upcoming and fancy stuff, there wasn't anything Star Wars that I can speak to that really blew me away. That's in the courts of the respective manufacturers and/or Lucasfilm. There were a lot of items to see, but by and large the whole drought of spring will continue again. I love the new classic packaging, but as a one-off it is a little disappointing. I really hope Hasbro keeps this program going - even if it's just a wave or two per year, or even just for a limited rerun of "greatest hits" figures - to keep things interesting. It's not like I'd be upset to see Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, and Darth Vaders brought back into circulation now and again - the market never really did seem to get its fill of Darth Vader, although it looks like the price on Amazon is okay now, but I'd shell out a few bucks to get one on a new cardback maybe. Even Greedo. Doubly so if Greedo was given his Kenner-ish deco. Just throwing that out there, Hasbro.

So: Hasbro, good job on most of your wares. I really wish it was more clearly communicated what was going on with Titanium ships and helmets (for the record, I want more) as it was clearer than I'd like it to be what was going on with the figures (hey, they're pretty, but we've been down this route before.) Trends change, and some of you may remember a few years where the vehicle pickings were quite slim - specifically 2001 through 2006 - so we've seen the line change and recover before. I would say, however, that without loud and insistent fan demand for 3 3/4-inch (and purchase, repeated purchase), we'll probably only speak of that format's greatness in the past tense. I'm not saying I don't like what they're doing, but having had absolutely no new original trilogy 3 3/4-inch figures that aren't beloved astromech droids to look forward to for years? That ain't no good. But that's been the general issue with the Disney era - nobody seems to remember how important it was for all of us to know what our next fix was, and when it was coming. Keep the movie stuff secret if you must, but at least make a fuss over everything else so we know that we have a reason to go to stores and peruse your product for the next 6 months.

--Adam Pawlus

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