Q&A: Star Wars Vehicles, Articulation, Big Stuff, and Figure Features

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 28, 2016

1. I have gained newfound appreciation for some pretty slick figures. It wasn't until Sunday that I really understood about Seripas' pop-out arm weapons. It's not just that they extend out, but the buzz saw then swings into cutting position! Genius! (Issue with that figure - how does he hold his sniper rifle, other than poorly?) What with the little figure fitting into the head area of the robot, I love that figure.

And therein lies the problem with the current line; while I like a number of the figures, I don't love any of them. The new Ackbar looks nice, and there are some nice background characters like the Crimson Pirate and Quiggold. But the best figures now are basically commensurate with the solid figures from years gone by. Think the second Ugnaught in the Legacy collection, or Kitik Keedkak.

This isn't just a 3.75" thing. The 6" figures are starting to take on a kind of repetitive air. Now, if we got a 6" Amanaman, my mind would be blown. Even a Gamorrean Guard would probably knock my socks off. But what we have been getting is a steady stream of overwhelmingly humanoid figures, all of roughly the same height. Can't we get some Jawas, just for variety's sake?

I'm kind of curious what would be most exciting to you to see coming down the pike, although you tend to clam up after typing the four letters V-L-I-X. So I'll just note that a collector with whom I was chatting on a forum picked Admiral Motti. And had thought out why that is the best single figure that Hasbro could make. I was able to follow his or her logic, but the answer still left me totally agog.

One of the comments I've made that is frequently misinterpreted is that I find 3 3/4-inch super articulated figures boring. This is mostly because I can - and have - written reviews of a figure prior to opening the packaging, and then opened it, and checked to see if I had to change anything. When you can eyeball a figure, no matter how good, and know 100% of what you can do with it prior to opening the box, it's dull. I appreciate statues and busts, but I don't buy a ton of them for that same reason - I want to be delighted or surprised, not just go "well, there's another one of these."

This is why - for good or for ill - movie years are usually interesting. CommTech got a lot of flack, but it was magical - you could pick up a toy in a store, wave it over a kiosk, and it could talk! (Before Skylanders, this was a huge deal.) Attack of the Clones was basically an action feature randomizer - maybe you'd get a kick, or a magnet, or a head that comes off, or some other new never-before-seen feature. Revenge of the Sith brought us numerous leg-squeeze features like my favorite, with arguably the best call-out on the box of all time: "Wookiee Rage." 2008 brought us The Clone Wars with super articulation which, while not bad, wasn't terribly interesting. We knew what it could do, and the build-a-droids were fun and - without a doubt - endlessly more interesting than the strange build-a-weapon from The Force Awakens.

I'd love to see the figures interact with technology more - like some sort of database to scan a figure you buy and put it in a collection checklist online.

The delightful features we've seen in the past are probably done until a massive manufacturing shift, because most of us bought The Force Awakens figures are probably looking at the 3 3/4-inch ones as good enough for now - but we're waiting for better ones. I can't deny Motti is a great figure - it does something - but most new figures seem to be from movies and TV shows that we (and the designers) haven't actually seen yet, so they aren't given the hindsight we would have as a customer. How could you possibly have done Motti in 1977 (or even 1978) prior to seeing the movie, for example? Or 2002's awesome Bespin Luke, which featured the vane, a cut-off hand, a slicing lightsaber action, and other features for only five bucks? This is why I'm resigned to things like cost, "can stand," "can sit," and "can hold his or her weapons." There's really nothing Hasbro can't do there - those are the easiest things to ensure are implemented without screwing up the figure's authenticity to the story, which, well, that's a trip ain't it? Hasbro has to make toys that aren't necessarily spoilers now, and Disney will withhold - or push against - any figure that may ruin the surprise. We didn't have that problem before, we saw a Jango Fett with decapitating head before we saw the movie. I loved that figure and its many features, but could it be made today? I'd say not.

What they're doing now is acceptable, but could be better. I liked the engineering of figures in 2013 a little better (square crotch over skirt) - but that's me. If they could do something to make figures infinitely more conducive to being picked up and played with, I'd be excited. I pick up Transformers all the time to fidget with them, but Star Wars figures generally stay on the shelf unless they're VERY simple (and can be replaced easily without re-finding their center of gravity) or they have an action feature to mess with. So, I want an excuse to play with the toys - the 2002 line did it, but given the pushback against magnets in toys and action features in general, I don't know if the market would accept it.



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2. Have you seen these new Hasbro Marvel Animated figures? Seems like they have added elbow, and in some cases, knee articulation when compared with the animated lines from the past few years. (E.G.. Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble) Not saying "SA IS COMING BACK!!!", and I know it's difficult to draw any conclusions when comparing Hasbro Marvel and Hasbro Star Wars, but might this be a step in the direction of those who were asking for more of a middle ground between 5POA and SA? http://marveltoynews.com/hasbro-guardians-galaxy-animated-figures-released/z

I have, and it's interesting! Mattel, similarly, has 12-inch figures with elbows and some knees for around $10. Since the runs are much higher, the economy of scale kicks in. If Hasbro were doing Star Wars numbers from the 1990s, we'd probably still have these things in 3 3/4-inch figures. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also has things Star Wars doesn't, thanks to a massive kid audience who can absorb more movies and does what Hasbro wants us to do - buy more of fewer different items.

It's sort of like the classic Nintendo conundrum during the N64 era - Nintendo did some math and discovered that if they put out 10 games or 4 games, the average customer wouldn't buy more than a handful of games per year. Their budget only afforded them so much game money per year, so releasing fewer (better) games was the decision they made - and it worked. Making less, for a while, helped.

A big part of why Hasbro does things a certain way at a certain price is because that's what they feel like doing.

Hasbro changes its products to fit the needs of the market and its budget. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a day where Hasbro removes build-a-figures from Marvel Legends when the price demands it, or adds them to Star Wars 6-inch for the same reasons.

It's also worth noting that some - not all - of those 6-inch kid figures have added joints, and they're still pretty stiff. And there's not much variety. Each line serves a different purpose, and over the years some of the people in the business have pointed to things like size being less of an impact on pricing than complexity (assembly, paint apps, accessories, articulation, etc.) It's also worth noting that super articulated figures might not fly with kids when hands fall out of sleeves, a problem we've seen more than a bit. We don't know the full reasons why Hasbro does what they do, but take it from me as someone who has seen stuff on the other side - it's not a single hivemind. You've got hundreds of designers, all serving different markets and licensors, and those licensors or marketers change their minds as to what is the right direction on a regular basis. The factory may quote Hasbro a different price which changes the direction of a product. "Marvel does this, so Star Wars should do that" doesn't always apply. Heck, if it did, we'd have more interesting Star Wars figures years earlier because of what Hasbro did - more cheaply - for G.I. Joe in 2007ish.

Generally speaking, articulation comes and goes - and it goes in movie years. And we've got 5 movie years to go at the very least before Hasbro has to shift its focus to collectors, but then again they may never have to do that if a steady crop of kids comes up every year with parents who introduce them to the films. You can coast on lightsabers and make some decent money.

Having said all of that, Hasbro doing a cheaper, bigger Marvel figure with more articulation is just all kinds of maddening. Of course, G.I. Joe had more articulation at a lower price back in 2007 when Hasbro relaunched it, too, so I don't know quite how and when or why they account for whatever it is they do, or what milestones exist, or what.




3. Fall is rapidly approaching and I haven't heard a peep about the spin master bb-8 since toyfair. Do you have any insight as to whether this is still coming? I know spin master's Yoda toys got clearanced for next to nothing, but it seems like bb-8 is a much safer bet to succeed. I can't think of any logical reason for Disney to dictate withholding information about the release of a toy for a known and fan favorite character, but stranger things have happened.

At this time I am basically gagged regarding anything not in black-and-white on official channels, which is to say, I don't know and if I did know I couldn't say. Release dates are, strangely, also a closely-held secret for the new movie toys.

Your quote: "I can't think of any logical reason for Disney to dictate withholding information about the release of a toy for a known and fan favorite character." Well, for as long as I've been watching this business from a place where I could see release dates and announce dates, they've been doing this. Hasbro held back classic comic Marvel Universe 3 3/4-inch figures for an arbitrary street date when that line started, despite there being nothing new in it. Hasbro kept everything in last year's The Force Awakens line, even stuff we've seen in the trailer, even the myriad of classic characters - Jar Jar, Luke, Vader, Han, Yoda, etc. - that would appear in Hero Mashers 2015. They want to have some sort of unified presence, excitement for Force Friday. Does it make sense to the suits? Probably. Does it make sense to the consumer? No.

I've always felt - and as of now it would seem many don't agree - your best way to get fans excited is to present them something to get excited about. For example, I see no good reason why you wouldn't want to base your first wave of toys off the first teaser trailer, if such a thing were possible - and let a few of those out early. Why not put out some Rogue One Stormtroopers now? Let the army builders start and get a contact high for the new movie. Why not release Rey and Finn and Poe a little early - sharing their names would give fans a few more months to know the cast. I'm one of those weirdoes who enjoys knowing character names as early as possible, mostly because I don't consider anything that could happen in the first act of the movie a spoiler.

But, this is the business. Right now Mattel, Hasbro, and others are weirdly concerned with street dates, in some cases the toys will make it to shelves before an announcement of the date is permitted. This doesn't make a lot of sense, but in a big company with thousands of people, communications aren't always clear and let's be honest - big box store employees aren't paid enough to care about your carefully thought-out marketing plan. Doubly so if the shipping cartons feature absolutely no "on shelf" notices... and this does happen. And has happened. With some stuff I just bought a few weeks ago that can't be sold until later this week. It's an aspect of the business that I feel is a huge waste of everybody's time. Once the stuff is out there, sell it. Everybody wins. Once a toy is shown, give a price and release date. We want to know how much money to save to give you.




I just got back from San Francisco and boy are my legs tired. There are lots of hills between the museums, pizza places, Chinese joints, otters, and sea lions.

Things should get interesting for us this week - how interesting, I do not know yet. But we'll find out. Until then, I've been updating this side-blog I keep on The Outer Space Men as that is back up again. There's one new on on their official store, another one at a Star Trek convention this weekend, and another new one at New York Comic Con next month. And, presumably, a few more. I won't say these are the perfect Cantina filler, but they're the perfect filler for any dioramas you might make that tries to look like Star Wars comics from 1980 or earlier - back when creatures in the comics could just as easily look like something out of 1967. I'm a fan.

I'm back on the Star Wars Figure of the Day trail, just not every day. I could do 5 a week, but I also want to, you know, not be dreaming about this stuff again. I'll be doing these for a while until scheduling removes my ability to do so. I'm working on getting a few up a week, and if you've got requests for unreviewed figures please send 'em my way.

You will be pleased to know that the Star Wars Astromech Droids 3 3/4-Inch Figures - Entertainment Earth Exclusive (coughs please order and support me at my day job which I do to help finance projects like this one and future 3 3/4-inch exclusives) is being manufactured as we speak and someone was kind enough to let me play with a sample. On that sample - they DO have retractable third legs. They DO have opening sensorscopes. The compartment with the arm DOES open with a painted limb inside - they aren't glued shut like some older droid sets were. The box itself is able to be carefully opened and a tray of figures removed without destroying the integrity of the box.

Having said that, who all out there knows how I can make that box template into a massive life-size piece of furniture - some sort of figure shelf - at home? I'd love to blow that sucker up into a big wooden shelving unit with presumably glass shelves running through the body. I'm all ears, and am largely inept.

I started writing some reviews last week, because we're just about to see the return of Star Wars to toy aisles with Rogue One stuff. While it irks me that Disney, Lucasfilm, and Hasbro conspired to make this a seasonal line for a couple of years (or longer, we'll see) I'm glad we're getting stuff and, after 21 years, a little vacation won't kill me between movies. What is killing me, though, are the "combine" weapons. Given the price increases of The Force Awakens I've moved from "some of these are kind of neat" to "whoever greenlit this needs to be reassigned to coming up with new ways to have Baby Alive eat and poop out things." I had more of a tirade here but really, you've got your opinion on these too. The "toy" inventions of The Force Awakens were largely very weak, little of which seemed to draw inspiration from the source material. The exception, of course, goes to the vehicles which despite being non-movie were very off-camera-esque. I just want to never see those clip-on armor bits or bonus weapons any more.

There we go, much shorter. I think it's all for the best. See you next week!

--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.