Q&A: Star Wars Tooling Magic and Retro Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 1, 2022

1. I have seen several folks on various sites say things along the lines of "Hasbro makes x for Black Series. They can just take that design and scale it down to make that character for the Vintage Collection." I know that's not how the physical tooling works. But does the tooling design process work that way? Can a BS mold design just be scaled down to VC size?

The claim seems overly simplified to me.


You can't just shrink a mold or a figure and call it a day. While it is possible a single digital sculpt file could be adapted for both 3 3/4-inch and 6-inch scales, tooling's another matter entirely. It's a big steel mold and once you can't cut steel, shrinking or enlarging it simply isn't possible. The plastic tolerances are different for different sizes, with different articulation, different levels of detail, different paint masks, different accessories... it's different enough that you have to do a lot of work. And it's expensive.

If you were Hasbro, you could probably take that digital sculpt asset and hand it to someone to tear apart to make other digital assets for fully-articulated figures in both sizes, as durometer may dictate different thickness requirements or other changes, and then those new digital assets could be used to create two separate tools because things like the laws of physics deny us the shrink rays we have always wanted.

If you pick up a recent figure that exists in both lines - let's say Bo-Katan Kryze - you'll notice a lot of similarities. We've seen a lot of figures where the same figural digital sculpt is used by multiple manufacturers for tons of scales, like Star Wars Rebels Kanan Jarrus. The same design for the animated-style figure was used by Hasbro in 6-, 12-, and 3 3/4-inch sizes as well as Jakks Pacific for its 21-inch figure. Each one is a little different, as each size has slightly different articulation, or screw holes in the back, or other elements that distinguish one from the next. If you just used the same tooling, you wouldn't also have the screw holes. Or size. Because you can't just upsize or downsize tooling.

Translating a digital sculpt file to physical steel tooling is not an automagic process, you actually need to cut up the sculpt and put in things like pins, pegs, or other elements which differ by scale. Sometimes other changes are made for no obvious-to-me reason. For The Last Jedi, 3 3/4-inch ForceLink 1.0 Rey was made in two different factories - her single carded 3 3/4-inch figure was stamped out in China, while a 2-pack with her was manufactured in Vietnam. Each has slight differences in detail and texture, plus other little changes you could see if you compared them. They could've just stamped out the same tooling twice for this one and moved her, but didn't. They made a whole new set of tools and the end results are barely different. And that's for a situation that called for identical tooling, there was no reason to change it, but the factories interpreted the directions differently.

If you look back at that Kanan figure, it's worth noting there was a $5 6-inch figure, a $6 3 3/4-inch figure, a $10 12-inch figure, and a $20 20-inch figure, all with surprisingly varied articulation and features. But it's all from the same reference material with pretty much the same pose. Costs and features vary, and the calculus by which they are decided are not shared with mere mortals like myself.

It's also worth noting that Hasbro is making good money selling through reissues of figures from 10 years ago at a substantial mark-up. They don't wan to invest in new The Vintage Collection tooling if there's still a healthy market for the toys they've already designed, but, of course, they will do new ones to meet needs of the market. (For example, those Bespin Guards are going to bring back some people who quit, and the many reissues will bring back people who missed figures last time.)



Ad: Order Toys at Entertainment Earth!
Get Free Shipping on Orders $39+ with code SPRINGFREE22
Black Panther Marvel Legends Legacy Collection 6-Inch Action Figures Case of 6 Transformers Optimus Prime Converting RC Vehicle Spider-Man J. Jonah Jameson Pop! Vinyl Figure - Entertainment Earth Exclusive Transformers Generations Selects Legacy Voyager Cyclonus and Nightstick - Exclusive G.I. Joe Classified Series 6-Inch Action Figures Wave 10 Case of 6 Thor: Love and Thunder Mjolnir Electronic Hammer Prop Replica Thor: Love and Thunder Marvel Legends 6-Inch Action Figures Wave 1 Case of 8 Star Wars The Black Series Archive Action Figures Wave 3 Set of 4 Star Wars The Vintage Collection Remnant Stormtrooper 3 3/4-Inch Action Figure Army Bundle of 8


2. In 2019, we had the Retro Star Wars line; in 2020, Empire, then 2021 saw a jump to The Mandalorian.

This year we have another Mandalorian Retro line. Did Hasbro forget the Jedi Retro line?

With their commitment to plastic-free packaging, I wonder if we won't see the Jedi line with bubbles.

I'm curious if they'll once again skip the Jedi line for 2023 (the 40th anniversary) and dump a line based on the new Obi-Wan series?


I wouldn't say they forgot per se, at this point the absent things have got to be intentional. Hasbro took forever to even do retro (since the 1995 boxed set) and seeing them do any was kind of a surprise - if they want to wait for 2023 for Return of the Jedi, why not? If 2023 comes and goes with no Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, well, then they goofed.

Since 2023 is just around the corner I - again - assume we're getting some next year. We've got The Mandalorian wave 2 this year, plus a couple of exclusives. There's also a lot of room to dump more product announcements and/or pre-orders for items down the road, so I'd say sit tight and let's wait and see. I don't know of a retro Return of the Jedi wave, but it would seem short-sighted to not do it for an anniversary. They want to keep this particular style preposterously tight, and to be honest I can't fathom why. They could probably sell Darth Vader and Boba Fett all day long.

I'd love to see Hasbro skip individually carded figures if they're eliminating plastic bubbles, especially as more and more figures wind up de facto online exclusives. Take a look at this Montgomery Ward exclusive gift set - it's a bunch of figures in a white box with a sticker. It's elegant, and a real Kenner product design. I would hope we see more things taking cues from actual original Kenner packaging art rather than inventing something new, because once you aren't remaking 1970s or 1980s packaging, it might be time to explore other packaging styles that may be pleasing to older collectors rather than something that may inspire rage-quitting.

...but having said that, anyone who saw the original movie in theaters during its initial release is at least 44 or 45 at this point, and most signs point to figure fans aging out of this hobby as time goes on. I wouldn't be surprised if 3 3/4-inch continues to somehow succeed and yet also disappoint fans on the internet, as that has seemingly been the trend for nearly 27 years.





Become a Patron!

Special thanks to our generous Patreon patrons, especially: JT, Jared, Bobb, David, Galvatim, Christopher, Robert, Marco, Dan, Stephen, Matthew, Jayson, Todd, Kristine, and Mario! Thanks for helping us keep the servers on!



The streaming Obi-Wan Kenobi show is just a few weeks away, as is Star Wars Celebration, and... we're not hearing a lot about either. Or that Rogue Squadron movie for late 2023, for that matter. We know we've got two episodes of the Kenobi show dropping, but we haven't heard much about any of this year's summer convention exclusives. Most of the last several have been repackaged figures, which are thrilling for some fans and just another reason to question your life decisions for others.

Also of note, this will be the very first Star Wars Celebration after the debut of The Mandalorian. This is going to be, for many, potentially the very first time you'll be at a fan event with costumes or puppets from that show. I'm excited to see what kind of costumes we get, or are allowed given current safety protocols. (Can you wear a helmet over an N95?)

We should potentially expect some new dates for things, like perhaps The Mandalorian season 3, The Bad Batch season 2, and Tales of the Jedi which leaked so hey maybe that's something. But, you know, I wouldn't get those hopes too high. We're also still owed a date for Andor, as well as a few Marvel streaming shows, but that's not going to be at this event.

The big question I have these days is "new movie," which as far as I know has been radio silence which usually means something is quietly being shuffled away or delayed. Right now the release schedule/trash heap of abandoned projects includes Rogue Squadron (2023 with zero casting news and no updates in quite some time), the Rian Johnson trilogy, whatever Taika Waititi is making, whatever Kevin Feige is doing, and some of the probably-shunted ones like the Game of Thrones guys one. Was anything preconceived? Is there an artbook of the lost Star Wars we can someday see? Were they just announcing things for funsies? Hopefully we'll hear something at the Anaheim convention this week. Given that you can make a whole movie in 2-3 years (or less), I assume at least a couple of those projects just plain will never see the big screen.

With any luck we'll see something new and amazing from Hasbro, but the fanbase is increasingly splintered. No matter what, we're sure to hear complaints - I saw Boba Fett's Throne Room coming, and I was excited. (It's Jabba's Palace, so that's a big win for me.) Some fans want more game toys, while some want zero game toys. Some people are pretty happy to see Carbonized figures, while I think it's driving me away from being interested in the line. I love The Retro Collection new figures to death, and those who don't are totally wrong. You know how it goes.

After New York Comic Con last October, this is probably the next biggest American fan event - so hopefully it can launch safely and not be cancelled in light of some very significant COVID case surges in California lately.

--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.



I'm on Instagram! All Pictures from a GameBoy Camera.