Q&A: Star Wars Vehicles, Figure Findings, and LEGO Brick Stuff

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 4, 2015

1. While I enjoy your Figure of the Day column, I'd like to know what your overall thoughts are on the Force Awakens vehicles. I read some reviews on Amazon regarding the 3 3/4" X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and Speederbike, and the grand majority were scalding to say the least. The criticisms ranged from bent/warped wings, rubberized plastic, crooked cannons, bad paint applications, and figures that don't fit in the vehicles.

I understand that the increasing prices in this line (and toys in general) are tied to the increased pay of foreign workers who make the toys and the rising costs of materials, but do you believe the overall quality of the new line is poor when compared to the 3 3/4" Star Wars line from the last few years? If a figure that came with a $50 vehicle can't even fit in the cockpit, then the line is in serious trouble indeed....

The bag, she is mixed. In both variety and execution, I can say I am not impressed by any of the all-new vehicles we've seen so far - they all feel like twists on things we already have, largely as good or slightly worse than previous releases. Of those I have played with so far (at press time: Y-Wing Scout, Rey's Speeder, Elite Speeder Bike, Assault Walker, X-Wing, TIE Fighter) I have not had blockages getting the figures in the vehicle. They may not fit easily, but they do fit. If I can close the canopy, it fits - even if it's a preposterously tight squeeze (cough, X-Wing).

The TIE Fighter is my favorite so far because they crammed it so full of play features that I feel it deserves credit, despite a couple of plastic issues knocking it down to less-than-exceptional for me. (Rubbery warped wings, rubbery chin guns. Or perhaps "gunticles.") The new TIE is bigger, blacker, shoots rockets, and seats two figures - plus it has gun storage, a feature I've been clamoring for over the years and love to see on a toy. After the really decent execution of vehicles for Rebels, it's a little frustrating to see something be less than great. The Inquisitor's TIE was pretty great - jointed wings, firing rockets, decent proportions - but many fans are allergic to television toys. They shouldn't be. Features pistol storage, two firing rockets, and blast-off wings. I love the wings, but I hate the button placement - Hasbro moved them to the bottom of the pylons, so the 30+ years of training we have picking these up from the bottom has now been rendered a booby trap.

The X-Wing is a real mixed bag. The canopy is a waxy plastic and the whole thing feels faded and porous, for lack of a better word. Waxy and airy, it's a vehicle that I assume was victimized as a result of toy safety standards and a rushed development time. The nose cone does pop off easily, but not so easily it has ruined my fun so far. The cannons are warped, but can be fixed with boiling water. The firing rocket works like a charm, and the wing mechanism is a little stiff but works more or less like the 1978-2004 versions of the mold - plus BB-8's head is jointed, a nice touch. I can get the included Poe figure in there, but it requires more fidgeting than I feel was intended - if you slide the figure in and lean him back, and repeat this, the cover will close. Other figures merely fit, but Poe Dameron's wide arms and bulky proportions do not mesh well with the vehicle - he will fit, though. Features opening and closing wings, seating for one, and a launching torpedo.

The Elite Speeder Bike is a retool of the Toys R Us exclusive ROTJ bike from a few years ago. There's nothing wrong with the bike aside from the thoughtless lack of a stand, or legs strong enough to stand up. The figure's legs aren't ideally suited to the vehicle. I'd shake my finger at compatibility more than either the vehicle or figure itself - basically, it's undercooked. I can get him on the bike, but it doesn't look or feel as natural as other toys we've bought.

The Rey Speeder works just fine with the figure - she sits, no problems. The vehicle itself is largely constructed well, feels sturdy, and has a fun action gimmick in a pop-up rocket launcher that I have no doubt makes no appearance in the movie. It's clever, but for $25 it needs to do more - the "storage net" having removable debris would be great. The on-board rifle storage is a huge plus though, as I love anything that makes it harder to lose a weapon. Other than the firing rocket, the ship itself offers little play value.

I'm very fond of the new Y-Wing Scout, even though it's basically just the old one with some new paint and 2 new inserts. The Clone Wars version lacked a back to the ship, which this one has. It also has a removable "booster seat" for Chopper, which is a heck of a nice bonus. Pilot Kanan fits in there just fine, but the controls were designed to fit super-articulated arms. It still closes with no problem, though, so I can't really fault it - it's gorgeous and feels like a lost 1980s Mini-Rig, especially in these colors. Dropping bombs, droid storage, and gun storage (not useful for Kanan but appreciated) are included.

I like the Assault Walker but I wish it did more. It's like an AT-RT, merged with a Segway scooter. It's not bad, but it doesn't do much - the figure stands on a big walking platform, and there are moving legs and moving guns. A firing rocket, seating for a second figure, or places to plug in "Combine!" weapons would have been appreciated. It's not terrible, even for the price given inflation - but it's hard to describe it as fun. I do appreciate that someone has come up with more vehicle designs to be compatible with standing figures, as not every one can sit well. Even the new ones. Which should not be happening in 2015.

I'd say it's a mixed bag so far. With The Phantom Menace we had a mixed bag at launch as well - I can't say the Pod Racers delighted me, the Naboo Fighter's saving grace was its unique form, the Droid Fighter trio was not quite interesting, and the Opee was pretty slick. I can't deny that I like that big fish and his chomping jaws. I love big weird creature toys, though, and that was an absolute (out of scale) keeper. So far the vehicles for the new movie trade on what you liked with older vehicles, so the only real crime so far is failing to completely improve on the original designs. The TIE would be perfect with better wings. The X-Wing... I assume we'll get a improved version for Episode 8 or 9. Right now I'm very curious to see how the final Millennium Falcon turns out, because that sucker is loaded with gimmicks and is priced accordingly.

What I want to know is, when am I getting a Luggabeast?



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2. You got me into collecting Lego Minifigures a few years back with your detailed reviews of them over at 16 Bit and on FF I saw blind bagged Micro Machines and then hit me! Why not blind bagged Star Wars minifigures like they recently did with The Simpsons?

Licensing - LEGO can't sell individually packaged action figures. In that size, in those materials, and at that price point, they compete with the license Hasbro has on the books. Now if for some reason LEGO decided tomorrow they wanted to do yarn or wooden figures, that could be possible - I don't know all the deals Disney and Lucas have signed. Also, deals can change. Just ask Lando.

This is the reason you'll see figures packaged with a few bricks to make a small build, or larger ones. It's a "construction set" and not an "action figure." This could change down the road, of course, as I'm sure people are hard at work trying to find a way to get LEGO Dimensions to expand to include Star Wars. Have you seen those things? $15 or more for a single figure with an NFC base and a few bricks - maybe $5-$7 worth of parts, give or take a chip.

Figures - action or LEGO - are sort of a fun side-effect of the toy business. They're basically accessories for larger toys, but fans really dig them and collect them. Toy makers want to sell you the big toys, but these cheap ones are hard to pass up - even if "cheap" is now $8 or more.




3. Having seen the early leaks of SW:TFA figures, I have a few questions.

1. Judging from past Hasbro Star Wars movie toy premieres, it's a safe bet that the hard ones to find this time will be Capt. Phasma, various Stormtroopers, and Kylo Ren.
With past toy premieres, many fans couldn't find Darth Mauls, or Jango Fetts, or Royal Guards. Hasbro heard the complaints, and answered that they didn't expect there to be such a high demand for them and promised more. This has occurred since 1999. Is there any chance that, for this release, there will be full cases of Troopers and Rens to stave off scalpers and ebay resellers?

2. In these early leaks, I saw no figures of Luke, Leia, or Han. Is this Hasbro/Disney trying to get us to like the new characters more before we get a chance to buy our childhood faves? Or maybe they're trying to hide something about their movie appearance?

3. These new 3.75 figures come with a part to build some larger item. Another marketing ploy? I thought Hasbro had given up on these gimmicky pack-ins. But at least they're not COMM-Tech chips.

As you no doubt noticed, I sat on Chris' question until more information was made public because, well, I work in this business. I can only say so much.

#1 - Obviously we're passed this point but you can see some stores do sell figures in a way that indicates solid packs may be available for some figures like Phasma and Kylo Ren. They have not, as far as I can tell, necessarily started shipping yet but this could change soon. The 2-packs are getting a slow roll-out as well, I've only just started seeing those and they don't seem to be everywhere yet.

#2 - So far, all we have are "classic" versions of Han, Leia, and Luke. It's possible (likely) we're getting some of that Abrams charm which is denial of things we know to be fact, after Star Trek Into Darkness' denial of Khan in that movie we now know that we can expect that there are secrets and there are "secrets." The appearance of characters other than Han and Chewie may be intended as a surprise, despite the fact a lot of stuff has gotten out so far for some of the others. Unfortunately, logic and reality do not always correspond with the wishes of a licensor, so if someone at Disney/Lucas said "We don't want anything out until later" them's the breaks. I don't doubt they're holding them back until later to have something for fans to covet closer to movie (or home video) time. All I know right now is what you know, and that means we don't know.

#3 - Expect gimmicks to continue. Hasbro has to come up with something to keep the line "fresh" (or find a good reason to increase the price in a movie year) and this is what we're getting now. For those keeping track, 1999 got us CommTech Chips, 2002 brought in action features and magnets to numerous figures, 2005 continues action features and display stands, while 2008 opted for near-universal super articulation plus build-a-droid pieces. It's a shame the 2008 gimmickry wasn't tried with a more popular movie launch. Of all the features I do not understand the ire CommTech receives - technologically it was a fascinating idea and some of the first NFC products most of us ever saw. Also, if you hated the tech (and most did) you still got display stands - plus it made for a phenomenal in-store demo idea. "Pick up this figure, take it over here, and wave it and something happens" is utterly brilliant. Skylanders employed a similar (but arguably more compelling) in-store demo, and I hope that we see something like that brought back down the road. I dug the action features, I loved the magnets, and I can't think of a bad thing to say about free droid pieces. But the guns? Right now, I've got no sense of humor about the guns. I figure five years from now I'll say "Oh that was interesting, it's not every day Hasbro creates something new on their own." But right now I've got this hideous shield and mortar thing made of Kanan, Ezra, and Sarco Plank's bonus guns and mostly I feel shame.

I have no idea what Rogue One's gimmick is, I hope it's "let's make the figures $6 again" with fewer bonus parts but that's where I'm at as a collector. If we can't get something revolutionary or fun, at least cut the price a bit. I still find CommTech a useful thing as (worst case scenario) it was Hasbro's first-ever Star Wars display stand, and it did something new and nifty. I'd love to see that happen again, be it with some sort of phone app or a game console. I mean, could you imagine a read-only Amiibo chip or some such in there? Hasbro is in a position to make something really compelling - pending cooperation with their corporate licensors, which is really the problem. We've developed such a spoiler-phobic world where "surprise" is valued over everything else, and it's kind of silly. Now we have to deal with toy universe bonus gear that (let's be honest) no collector today would have asked to get, even if some are kind of cool, we'd have been happier with building a trooper, or a robot, or maybe a bonus weapon. A bonus "Command" figure, or a Micro item, or something that you can add to a vehicle could have been compelling and exciting but the real takeaway is this: it doesn't matter. Most stores are sold out of everything so the message Hasbro receives is "Heck of a job" and it's just rampant success. Which I cannot say for some other licensors with toys that will remain nameless because I'm a nice guy.

I personally don't see the reason to do gimmicks unless you're doing on-pack "TRY ME!" or heavy TV advertising. The weapons have no names, and we can't even discuss them as a branded entity. I just call them "COMBINE!" weapons. If Hasbro called them Com-Gear or Gear-Tech or something or other, that might help - but without a name I suspect these will fade into the background immediately upon being discarded as an integral part of the line. No child and I assume few adults will pick these up and go "Well, this one has a green buzz saw, let's buy this one."




I got nothin'.    Target's BB-8 remote control toy from Hasbro is making the rounds at $80, Sphero's model is about $150 when you can find it and now Barnes & Noble seems to have them.   Keep the bookseller in mind when making your rounds!

--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.