Q&A: Star Wars Toys, International Stuff, and Ladies in Plastic

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 21, 2016

1.When is the Revan/Sabine Black Series wave supposed to be released (roughly)? I haven’t seen anything listing a date, and Entertainment Earth doesn’t have a preorder up yet.

I'm not sure what's gag order and not, but there are some things Hasbro neglected to make explicit - specifically, the intention is for all new Hasbro Star Wars to be held for or after the Rogue One launch campaign(s). So if you think you're gonna see it this month, you're not. Disney/Hasbro/Lucasfilm are currently conspiring to keep all items on a schedule, so even non-new-movie product (and there's a lot of non-movie product) plays by the rules of a Movie Launch. It's a little silly, but I've always said street dates of any sort are sort of insane for toys. It's marketing for the new movie - and you've got fans dying to read information about what toys to buy. As a fan, I don't feel Hasbro did anything to really announce formally or informally their plans for last year's movie - if you didn't buy it and find it, you had no good reference for the line's direction. Like right now, we have no reference for the next line, and even simple things like the "secret" date for the upcoming line are closely guarded secrets. Who benefits here?



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2. Hasbro, mmmmm.... What ever thought process is going on? The vintage figures/vehicles obviously the best, but now? well TFA figures are good, but release dates, resourcing just a nightmare! The new Nerf falcon, BMF, at least give us something inbetween? It appears they are making smaller cheaper items but still charging premium! Excuse?
We don't need another kylo, Finn, Rae with a different face either or a bit of snow on their shoe! Cashing in on the collector? Give us something new! It would be so bad if they weren't £10-15 pound each! Anyway where is next BMF? SAILBARGE! are we ever? So many opportunities, why not keep a poll going and ask the consumer?
1. Sailbarge
2. Sandcrawler
3. Playsets
3. New figures
So many!....,
Also exclusives, why make a few and then having to find on eBay and get robbed, hasbro come on sort it out

For the sake of this question, let's assume I'm referring to 3 3/4-inch exclusively. Also, Hasbro has basically taken the 3 3/4-inch line and redirected it toward kids (at least for now).

I have been accused of "making excuses" for increasing costs on toys, while Wendy's and McDonald's raise prices of items on their formerly 99 cent menus. While In-N-Out Burger's prices creep up. While oil prices change. As we all age, we gain some insight - we have the ability to see that some things were cheaper when we were kids. What we don't see is what our parents told us, like "candy bars were a nickel in my day" or "you could stay at the movie theaters all day and watch the same movie over and over again without being thrown out." It wasn't part of our life, so we don't see it - but inflation is real and things like cars, toys, and the like do get more expensive with time. Oddly, video games tend to remain about the same price (games, not consoles) and comic books began commanding premium pricing at the same time as basic pricing (in 1991, comics could be $1 or $2.99) so today's normal price of $3.99 doesn't seem all that outrageous.

The Vintage Vehicles weren't that great. (Assuming you mean 2010+.) They were mostly repackaged vehicles or variations of existing, non-vintage vehicles - it was what it was. A nice package variant. As far as figures go, prices started creeping up during Vintage, capping out in The Black Series, and orders from big stores didn't go up. Interest diminished, the assortments didn't give kids or collectors precisely what they wanted, and the end results were cheaper, simpler, more mainstream character choices. This is life. Is it good? Not really. But we're dealing with the fallout of post-post-prequel economics.

You want a Sandcrawler? Go buy the 2004 one. I did. Sail Barge? Get over it, or pray for a new Jabba movie. So far we've seen no evidence Lucas/Disney is letting Hasbro do 3 3/4-inch genuine newness based on The Clone Wars or the classic trilogy, save for a little bit in a couple of exclusives. On the whole, it's all Rebels and New Movies - which could change. We haven't seen the lineups, and that's largely by design.

You want playsets? The last new ones were the Sarlacc Pit and the Lars Homestead - little tiny scenes. Before that, it was Mustafar. Heck, I'd go as far as to say none of the playsets of the modern era were particularly great - maybe Geonosis Arena, but everything else was a little flimsy. I'd go on as to say the same is true of the 1970s and 1980s playsets, save for the Ewok Village and Death Star Space Station playsets. We got two mighty impressive playsets during the old days, and I'd argue only one great one in the modern era. Mustafar isn't terrible, but it's not mind-bendingly cool. So over 40 years, not counting vehicles, we've had 3 really top-notch playsets. 4 if you want to count the good (but small) Dagobah from 1980.

Big stuff is pure Movie Year fodder. Last year, we got two big things - a new Millennium Falcon and the big giant 6-inch TIE Fighter. Hasbro can only put out so many items above the century mark that the fandom can absorb, and it looks like they didn't like those - and like it or not, the Sail Barge isn't omnipresent enough to warrant a toy without a media tie-in. Nag the Rebels people. Jabba's Palace and Entourage ain't the Cantina, and the only Cantina we've had in the last couple of decades are bar stools and a counter or the cardboard one.

You want new figures? You're getting new figures. You're not getting a ton of them, but with a new movie each year that's probably for the best. Marvel tends to cap out at 3 waves per movie, if that - most do 1.

What you're seeing now isn't what collectors may ask for, but it's consistent New Movie Year behavior. In 1999, we had under 10 new "classic" figures - of which one was genuinely new-to-plastic. In 2002 we had a few, including Fan's Choice Ephant Mon. (That was a bit better.) 2005 was primarily Hasbro excising old molds and designed figures in the first chunk of the year, with all new movie for the back half. That's kinda the way these things usually go.

Hasbro did do a Fan's Choice poll recently, which got hijacked, and well, what a poor outcome. Collectors aren't the main consumer - kids and families are. Do you know what sold best during the last movie line? Lightsabers. Do you know what sold second best during most of the prequel lines? Lightsabers. Action figures are still hot, but lightsabers are where the money is in the mass market toy world. Collectors aren't exactly replicating fast enough - we age out and new kids don't come in to replace us because it is impossible to collect them all if you start today. The 3 3/4-inch action figure paradigm has been kicked around a bit and thanks to other alternative products and scales - LEGO, statues, busts, whatever they're doing in Japan now - it does not hold the monopoly over being the primary Star Wars collectible that it was in the 1990s.

I was able to find all exclusives at retail (except the online ones) eventually. (Again, I'm in the USA, exclusives are developed for the US market in mind for most global toy lines.) Walmart had multiple shipments, and so did the Snowtrooper Officer at Toys R Us. I won't back you up there - most exclusives hit and rot, but few are big successes and if you miss some you can either keep looking or order online. Or another shipment may come your way. Your being in England, I'm ignoring, because I don't really have any skin in the overseas markets. If I want to collect German or Japanese toys it's import-or-bust - until the number of collectors (not fans) increases overseas in a big way, I don't expect things to improve. If some ship, that's great! If some don't, well, that's sorta how things go and it's not wonderful. The worldwide toy economic breakdown is pretty bleak if you see the numbers, and with any luck someone authorized to write those will share them. (It ain't like the International Box Office. Well... depending on how you frame it, it can be.) Things aren't going to be spectacular for 3 3/4-inch action figure collectors until another country - China? - gets a taste for the stuff in a big way.




3. Do you think the "Where's Rey" campaign will have any real effect on Rogue One and Jyn Erso merchandise, or is there not much there to really change about the approach? You've mentioned that the way the TFA was marketed (and the spoiler-zones Hasbro had to work around) had more to do with her shortages than anything, and Jyn has been clearly labeled as the "lead" this time around. That said, could Rey's popularity give Hasbro a little more confidence in Jyn? Has too little time passed between TFA and Rogue One for it to even matter yet?

Yes, that last one. But as of my writing this, remember - the Rogue One line is still under wraps and it was in some stage of development since (at least) Spring of last year.

Hasbro really hedged their bets with the last movie. In 3 3/4-inch, Finns, Reys, and Poes all shipped at the same ratios in their respective cases. As did Darth Vader, Sarco Plank, and lesser characters. It was certainly a bold move, but when you had no idea who the "hot" figure was (other than Kylo Ren) it was a smart move. It was not one that could guarantee success, but to people who haven't seen the script making toys for people who buy toys blind without seeing the movie, it was prudent. (It'd have been more prudent to include Han or Leia or Luke from the offset, but I digress.)

We saw Jyn as the debut figure for the new movie, and based on the trailers she's probably the only action-seeker that we can reasonably expect at launch. (I doubt Mon Mothma will get a new figure, but I don't know.) We know Jyn has more than one outfit, but how about more than one figure? I'm not expecting a lot of women in the line - just an increased focus on women in a lead role, thanks in no small part to the continued success of more women fans and a lot of success in licensed apparel like Her Universe. Follow the money, as smarter men than I say.

Everybody does their best given the situation - the real test of the future will be how women play out in Hasbro's Episode VIII product line given the larger cast. Rogue One figures were in development before The Force Awakens toys hit, so they can't really react to the lessons the movie brought out for this year. A new figure from the ground up takes about 18 months to deliver. But next year? That's when we'll see what they figured out as a result. Everybody could probably take something different from the movie line, and I would hope it would be "toys must be in a movie and not off-camera designs" and "let's put out more core characters in assortments, and also more droids and aliens, because Funko's line is more diverse." (We really didn't get enough from Maz' place on Takodana.) By and large, what Hasbro learned from The Force Awakens was "we sold a ton of everything and what we did mostly worked."

I mean, we're still figuring this whole thing out as an industry. Ghostbusters being a fine example - Mattel produced a boy's line starring women and sold in the boy toy aisle. Is this the best move? Probably not - but I don't know if Barbie or Monster High-style dolls would have been, either. It's time to experiment and try new things. If little girls are buying lightsabers and action figures, Hasbro has an incentive to try something new. Granted, there were a few dolls for Episode I a long time ago but I don't think you can blame the idea or the execution for those being clearance fodder. As long as Disney and Lucasfilm are more transparent about who is important and why - so toymakers can develop its product accordingly - I'm sure it'll be better next time. But not this time.




I had a thing here I had to rewrite due to a leak. So, lots of things leaked - perhaps you saw some pricing on some items. This is, sadly, where things are going - what the diminishing collector class of the 1970s-1990s wants (more Original Trilogy, big stuff, super articulated) and what the current market wants (roleplay/lightsabers, 6-inch figures, new movies and main characters). We're seeing a lot of conflict with what makes sense and what we want. For example, Hasbro - as of this month, with Kenner - has had Star Wars toys in circulation for 21 years. Some of us have storage units, basements, spare bedrooms, and offices filled with them. And some of us are selling those things off. For these reasons, there's a near limitless supply of mint in sealed box 1990s vehicles that can be had on Craigslist or eBay or Amazon or even comic shops for a decent price.

With few exceptions, it may not be in Hasbro's best interest to make new ones without some drastic change. The Millennium Falcon (even the older, smaller one) got real expensive, so it makes a lot of sense to bring it back. New vehicles from Rebels are a smart fit, thanks to their smaller footprint and original designs. Classic AT-ATs for 3 3/4-inch figures are around $200-$400 on the secondary market of Amazon, and the new one - with new iPhone tech, walking motors, 3 exclusive figures, a zipline, and a removable cargo unit - costs a heck of a lot more than the $120 jumbo one from 2010. Is it fair? Those extra motors, parts, and pieces cost money - as do the figures - and deco - and, I assume, you've got inflation and (I assume) a small Disney tax which seems to make almost every toy cost a tiny bit more. I don't know this to be fact - it could just be inflation.

The 3 3/4-inch line was originally designed for children, and some of those children grew up and came back in the 1990s. At which point, more children were buying, too. The trend continues - kids do keep buying this stuff when the right characters are available with the right marketing push, and vehicles do, too. Collectors don't always love what comes out (see: Ahsoka, Jedi Turbo Speeder, AT-DP) but kids tend to dig the new stuff and the secondary market reveals that kids can drive sales where Hasbro missed the boat - Chopper, specifically - and kids who wanted and missed a vehicle can do a lot to drive the price up over time on the likes of Amazon.

Of course, this doesn't mean much other than we get a glimpse of a market where people may be willing to pay more if they aren't hardcore, long-term fans of this stuff. Those of us who have been here for decades at first bristled at any firing rockets on our toys, so things like Nerf darts - even hidden or removable ones - seem to still rub some of us the wrong way. But for kids or parents? Those are selling points, at least on paper. It doesn't hurt to say "OK, we know this is expensive - so we threw in this branded rocket launcher, a pilot figure, and it does more than just look cool." Collectors, in many cases, just want a model - Hasbro still has to deliver a toy. If the collector market were big enough, we'd have our Sail Barges and Death Stars by now.

From how last year played out, I would say the best thing to do is bring prices down and focus on the a) new movies and b) classics. Reissues start to make people angry, not focusing on what's popular on TV makes people confused, and it doesn't matter how amazing something is - people don't want to pay $200 for a box so big it might not fit in their car. I mean, seriously - will that TIE Fighter fit in the average trunk? And by average, I mean "a trunk that isn't filled with tons of your life's debris?" These are things we as collectors don't consider, and apparently Hasbro didn't either. Then again, I had a phase of my collecting years where the vast majority of purchases I made had to be done via bicycle, and let me tell you, it was awkward getting the bigger things home. A big giant TIE Fighter would be beyond the realm of the possible at that point.

Kids, not adults, ultimately drive the vehicles. Vehicles tend to be one of the first things to shoot up thanks to collectors not buying extras to sell like action figures. Vehicles tend to be skipped by collectors because they aren't cheap. Most of the big vehicles do languish a bit, but for Christmas we see sales pick up. What I'm getting at is that if Sphereo got $150 for an iPhone/Android BB-8, a giant walking AT-AT that works with iOS isn't exactly a big stretch at twice the price. Maybe people will bite... maybe not. Most of the problems don't come down to "How good is this item?" but "Did Hasbro make the right amount given the potential number of customers?" That's a challenge none of the armchair toy executives, or even people in the industry, can easily predict. That number could be high, it could be low, and it's really tough in the retail business to determine the correct number of an item that is based on the popularity of a franchise, and an installment, which is being supported sight-unseen. It's hard enough to figure out how many batteries to stock.

From the perspective of a mom or a dad, a modular projectile - like a Nerf dart - allows the regular people of the world to buy a toy and just buy off-the-shelf replacements for lost rockets. (This is a good thing.) Hasbro has done a pretty good job of keeping some of these optional (hidden) or removable, at least I have yet to see a Star Wars toy where the Nerfy integration presented a legitimate eyesore or prevented proper functionality of the toy in some other way. We've all got different opinions of what's good - for example, I'd rather they ditch electronics completely in favor of a weapon/accessory storage compartment or more seating for figures, but that's me. I also don't want a suite of Bladebuilders lightsabers that can screw together, but they sell, people love 'em, and they're making Hasbro money so we can have other things in this line. So. Sure, whatevs. Go for it. I've had years of toys with rockets that are easy to lose or mix up, so I don't have a big problem here. Granted, I love vehicles and will support the weirder ones - as long as they focus more to what happened on the screen first and foremost. I don't have to love all the action features, but I'd rather the toys we're offered be from the movies and TV shows we like first. After we get our Luggabeast and our Rathars, sure, then make up some new goodies. I'll be waiting.

--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.