Q&A: Star Wars Video Game Toys, Birds, and Sequels vs. OT Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 20, 2014

You want answers for your questions? You want questions for your answers? Q&A is back and Comic-Con is mere days away. What can we expect? Probably more questions, but for now let's talk Original Trilogy toys in a sequel series world. Also, birds, and what is for them. What does the future hold for interactivity and action features? Well... that's tough to get at, but we can analyze some trends.

Also, don't forget to send in your questions for next time. Read on!

1. Episode III product took Original Trilogy toys off the shelves for a year...and was considered a big success.

So speculate away: How heavily do you expect the Episode VII push to invade the Black Series 6" and 3 3/4" lines next year? (And Mission Series and Legends for that matter.)

Let's see!

1999: The Phantom Menace took original trilogy away for months - I believe the Power of the Force Flashback Photo Anakin Skywalker wave hit around February or March, TPM hit in May, and the next new wave of CommTech Power of the Force was September or October. I may be misremembering - but there were about a dozen CommTech figures over the course of a year for "classic."

2002: Attack of the Clones had a preview wave and a few waves focusing largely on the new movie, but by May 2002 we were getting figures from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi once again. I'd say for a movie year, it was pretty balanced.

2005: Revenge of the Sith main line booted any non-ROTS toys, but Battle Packs, Evolutions, and Exclusives allowed us the first big-wing TIE Fighter. Most of the original trilogy toys were repacks outside Evolutions, though, save for a few straggler exclusives once March/April kicked off with early broken street date product.

2008: The Clone Wars was launched alongside the big Millennium Falcon, a wave of deleted-scene Return of the Jedi figures with some new obscure guys, and more. This was pretty spectacular.

2012: The Phantom Menace 3-D Relaunch! We got a lot of TPM product, but precious little else - a few stragglers like light-up lightsaber Darth Vader, grappling hook Luke, and such came later, and subsequent vintage 2012 waves focused on the whole gamut of the saga. So this is also pretty spectacular.

Based on a leaked list for Mission Series/Saga Legends, it appears it will be heavily Rebels in 2014 with some more classic guys. I would expect the movie to follow a similar pattern - Hasbro can bring back (or bring new) versions of famous ships and figures because they likely will be on-camera in the new flick. Disney seems to be focusing on Star Wars now with the rest leading up to the new movie - I would assume Hasbro would be wise to do a similar approach, because there's a great chance to milk the last few years by offering classics to kids who have never seen them as we lead up (and into) the new movies. Leia hasn't been around much the last few years, nor has Chewbacca (outside Mission Series). If you were born in 2008, you're 6 now - and a lot of major trilogy characters were never on-shelf in your lifetime.

It stands to reason Hasbro would put out R2-D2s, Chewbaccas, Leias, Han Solos, Lukes, and major vehicles in the next year along with the regularly scheduled Darth Vader figures, plus Stormtroopers for Rebels. We will see Hasbro put out 6-inch figures for the new movie unless they decide to kill it - unlikely - and I expect more Mission Series for the new movie too. But I would expect a big emphasis - perhaps 40-60% - on the new movie, if not more.



Pre-Order Your Toys at Entertainment Earth!
Star Wars Black Series Boba Fett 6-Inch Action Figure Star Wars Black Series Speeder Bike Vehicle Twilight Zone Kanamit In Work Uniform 3 3/4-inch Figure Back to the Future Marty McFly ReAction 3 3/4-Inch Figure The Twilight Zone Bob Wilson 3 3/4-Inch Action Figure
Coming Soon to Entertainment Earth!


2. Four Horsement bird warriors [Gothitropolis Action Figures from Kickstarter]. Been checking the site store a couple times a week. They originally said these may hit in June. Any thoughts as to an actual time frame from your perspective?

According to their forums/facebooks, the latest update was a July ETA and as of yet I have seen no packaged samples - but in the last few weeks we saw what seem to be final production figures. With any Kickstarter I would suggest padding 1-2 months to whatever date the creators tell you, and as the Horsemen make great products I would be negligent in my duties if I said they were fast shippers. They're a small operation, so if the figures arrive in the USA in late July, they have hundreds of boxes to get out. If you supported the Kickstarter, you should be first in line to get yours. If you didn't? No need to check the store twice a week - but do check their homepage for news of landfall and an actual pre-order date. They're not shy about announcing when new products go on sale, and at this point I assume August would be optimistic.

The last round of Four Horsemen figures, the Power Lords kicked off May 23 with pre-orders. Club Members got priority, and their shipments started arriving the last week of June and first week of July.




3. I don't always agree with your sentiment, especially in terms of the new "Mission Series" being good. I think they are awful, but not for the reasons that I've seen given by others. My main objection is that it's a backward step. Batman and Marvel did it as well, where we see non-articulated figures representing an action world. And let me state for the record, I'm not an "articulation or nothing" guy. I loved the posed figures like Barriss Offee and the action features to a degree because they were a progression.

I don't have the answer to the next progression, but have you seen Disney Infinity or Skylanders? Kids play video games these days. I realize that Disney already has Marvel and Star Wars, but Hasbro needs to keep up, not step back.

I guess my question is this: Do you really see a future for non-interactive action figures? Simpsons did interactive with their playsets, Star Wars had Comm Chips that were interesting.

You don't have to agree with my opinions. That's why their opinions. I like things, and I'm excited to talk about them when a figure surprises me or makes me rethink how I have viewed this line over the years. The success of Mission Series has certainly shaken up my perceptions, and I appreciate that I also happen to like the figures. As such, it is my hope that you voted with your dollars and went with "nothing." Because, seriously, nothing makes me laugh harder than when I read "I hate this figure, it's terrible, I bought one to open and one to keep in the package but no way am I army building this one."

Interactivity! It's a trend, and since kids are into it I assume that this concept will be tried a few more times before going away or evolving. Maybe some day we'll have a game controlled by a Rock-Em Sock-Em Robot figural controller - who knows? On the whole, though, most parents do not want to buy their kids a $200 set-top box, a $75 starter kit, and dozens of $10 figures to play a video game. It's expensive, and kids aren't usually quite that spoiled. There will be a market for stand-alone toys for quite some time. If the ubiquitous iPhone/iPod didn't force every kid's toy in America to have iOS or Android functionality, then neither will this trend.

The revenue generated by Infinity and Skylanders is in the billions - but it required a company with billions in capitol (Disney being Disney, Skylanders being Activision/Blizzard) to realize this kind of toy/game synergy. Hasbro doesn't have World of Warcraft or Avengers money - its video game product usually ties in to another developer's games, or their games tend to be a little less cutting-edge. Furby Boom! last year was tied intimately to an iOS app, and most of what people are telling me is that the reaction was positive and the market wants more.

It's easy to forget, but Hasbro is already doing this with Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Go, and (presumably) Angry Birds Transformers. They also debuted the "Beam Box" as a low-cost alternative with a device that connects to a TV and scans in figures. It may not be what you want - but it fits the bill. (Bird? Bill? Yes?) Hasbro is clearly investing in this space to some extent, but not yet with action figures. Heck, nobody is really using traditional action figures yet in this space. Apps are very in, and traditional video games are starting to chafe against iOS and other ubiquitous phone hardware, too. That's why it's great to see something like Skylanders succeed - there are toys, there is a boost to game hardware sales, and kids are interested in figures again.

As we've learned last week we exist in a hobby where one size doesn't fit all anymore - back in the 1970s and 1980s, the go-to character collectible for Star Wars was the Kenner action figure line - 12-inch or 3 3/4-inch, depending on your tastes and when you were buying. (The 12-inch figures got popular and expensive first... then the 3 3/4-inch vehicles... then the 3 3/4-inch figures.) Now we live in an era where we've lived through multiple scales of figures, and in 3 3/4-inch alone we have 5-jointed, electronic, super-articulated, statues (much of 2002's "Collection 2" range), action features, magnets, etc. Because of the variety, it is increasingly easy to alienate people - we no longer all have a single definition, or example, of what makes a figure fun and desirable. So if you don't like Mission Series, hey, that's great - I think you're wrong because I like them and they sell, but that's me.

Interactive action figures are a thing that has come and gone, and will come again and go again. CommTech chips were allegedly a late-1980s G.I. Joe reject that got brought on to Star Wars - I'm still trying to confirm this. The Simpsons World of Springfield line required playsets that had built-in voice samples that were activated by a figure - so to keep the line going, you had to keep pumping out new playsets with each new wave. The vocal "midi" of the CommTech chips sounded weak, and the Simpsons method was cost-prohibitive. Even Mattel brought in electronic interactivity with the 2002 relaunch of Masters of the Universe, but nobody seems to remember this. Even back in the 1980s we had Captain Power, a line of action figures and vehicles that reacted to signals on a television set - and it seems that the curve of the universe tends to go against interactivity as it works with the figure itself. Most of the longest-running and largest action figure lines do not possess electronics at a large scale - electronic toys work, of course, but it doesn't seem to work out that way for collectors.

With Skylanders, Disney Infinity (now with Marvel), and the upcoming Nintendo Amiibo line you've got mostly painted statues that unlock stuff in games. The game is really the key thing here - they could just as easily have put RFID chips in trading cards, or Taco Bell packaging. The figures themselves are really not toys in the traditional sense in most cases, they're statues or PVC figures. This is more or less the next step in "Collectible Figures," the kind of thing Applause, Comics Spain, or their ilk cranked out in the 1980s and 1990s. Any company could integrate these chips in any toy, but we're just not seeing it yet - I'm sure we will, but timing can be hard to coordinate. Hasbro's toys and the video games based on Hasbro toys do not always come out at the same time, and a delay of a year for a game may not be a big deal... for the game. If toys are involved, that can become a problem real fast.

To be honest I don't see much of a (collectible) future for Skylanders in the near-term if and when the fad aspect of it ends - when kids move on, the figures get dumped at your Play N Trades or GameStops or pawn shops, and while odds are kids will come back to collect them as adults the functionality will no longer be viable for most. They'll have moved on with new game hardware, or perhaps future generations of game hardware will include built-in detecting functionality out of the box. Generally speaking you could count on kids returning as collectors 10-15 years after a line starts - so in 1992, you had a healthy return to Star Wars, and Nightmare Before Christmas has indeed been pretty steady since its inception (also: weak start), and even the NES saw its boxed, sealed games become a hot ticket a few years ago.

Interactive figures are a gimmick. With Skylanders, it's a video game where the gimmick is that it's controlled in part by a toy. I suspect the two will merge in more meaningful ways down the road, but right now all they seem to be doing is integrating a collectible component as a way to get more revenue from a game - not that there's anything wrong with it, but it by no means makes the toys any better.




With new sculpts appearing in the Black Series 3 3/4-inch line (as many of them have been held back from a 2012 announcement) it would seem the plate-spinning era has finally come to an end. We're about to see Rebels take off, which will hopefully give the line a much-needed shot in the arm in the way of new kid fans. The last really big launch was 2008, and that was a whopping 6 years ago - a lot of those kids may have aged out of toys, so they're ready for something new. Or looking at bare shelves, maybe anything would suffice, particularly if Guardians of the Galaxy isn't a huge hit. (I hope it will be.)

It feels like The Clone Wars remains an untapped well of great toys. Droids, Mandalorians, Jedi, Clones, Starfighters, freighters, and so much more are still waiting to be immortalized as toys or collectibles, but for those of us who are truly old, we remember that much of the original Star Wars took quite some time to transition to toys. By the time The Empire Strikes Back hit in 1980, we had 20 figures based on that movie. We got a couple more as the line went on, but major players like the Bantha and Grand Moff Tarkin would take 20 years after the movie. Heck, there are still unmade Cantina creatures and we've got a few of those guys rumored to be showing up in the near future. I assume that, as time goes on, the Hasbro teams will sneak in new versions of those old characters.

Thankfully Hasbro has largely rewarded those of us collecting over the years, but things have been a wee bit slow lately. Genuinely new characters are a rare thing, which is why I'm bonkers for Rebels. 5-jointed, new characters? New vehicles inspired by things like Kenner, concept art, and West End Games? This is, to me, another instance of things that make collecting worthwhile. I was similarly pleased with the meager offerings for The Force Unleashed, which were fun even if there weren't an abundance of them. I am totally into a world with more Jedi, troopers in helmets, and what seem to be some of the most legitimately interesting vehicles since Return of the Jedi. Heck, maybe they can weasel in a "Walrus Man" figure to satisfy the dual fandoms of The Clone Wars and old-school Kenner.

Obviously things aren't the one-size-fits-all styling of the 1990s, which I think may be more of a problem than most of us would care to admit. Multiple licensees for statues, or 1:6 scale figures, or other items seems like you're creating a marketplace with too much competition for similar products. While I know some collectors demand "collector product," some lines have really thrived while focusing primarily on children - the current incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being a key example. Heck, there are LARPer Turtles now. The line is a little smaller than many of Hasbro's key lines, but you also get a nice selection of vehicles plus a few gift sets and other one-offs. Hopefully the new TV show and excitement from the movie will cause Star Wars fans to light up and jump on board once more, and I'm really quite thrilled to be inching closer to getting my hands on some of those new ships. Hopefully kids will be on board, too, as it has been quite some time since we got totally new, never-before-seen vehicles in this line.

--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.