Q&A: Star Wars Vintage, Giant Vehicles, Black Series, and One Simple Trick to Kill 10 Minutes at Work

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 29, 2014

Who's ready for Q&A? Hopefully you, because we're doing that now. Let's talk about China and manufacturing some more! And then new, giant vehicles - who are they for, anyway? And aren't we due for a return of Vintage? Well... yes, but maybe not in the near future. Also, don't forget to send in your questions for next time. Read on!


1. How much has China’s growing economy burgeoning middle class (and with that higher for so many citizens) impacted the quality of Hasbro toys?

Five points of articulation is one thing. Poor paint jobs, shoddy plastic and the same vehicles made from a reduced size mold is pretty frustrating.

Should fans just blame Hasbro or are economic factors really hurting Hasbro.

Clearly the Rebels cartoon shows promise with new characters and a couple of vehicles for the action figures.

What is your take on China’s impact on our toy collecting.

My feeling from many conversations I've had with many manufacturers is what we're seeing is something of a market correction - fans have asked for figures with twice the complexity for no price increases, and we pretty much got that. The only toy line I follow that seems to be able to really maintain a price point is Hot Wheels, we've seen LEGO offer less for more and Transformers has been adding deco and articulation without raising the price too much. The $15 toys of 2000 are roughly the same size as the $20-$25 toys of today, but them's the breaks - price increases are a real thing and the $2ish figures of 1978 were $5 by 1995.

China's labor pricing - and of course, raw materials, oil to transport the stuff over from China - help keep the prices going north. Back in 2000, the super-duper-articulated Spider-Man Classics action figures came with giant display stands and comic books in some cases - and these things were six bucks. Today, Hasbro makes figures of roughly the same quality - improved a bit, obviously - but with no comic or stand (but often a build-a-figure part) for $20. That's a triple price increase for what I would say is overall an improvement, but not one that makes the figures seem like a great value compared to other Hasbro toys.

Most action figure lines are more expensive. McFarlane's figures are smaller and cost more than they used to, the TMNT lines are $10 for a basic figure nowadays and are reportedly numero uno for boy's action toys, and most companies can only get costs down thanks to insane simplification or weak margins. Action figures as a category are bleeding a slow death with fewer collectors staying on board and - if I may be so bold as to make this observation - it seems post-Trilogy kids don't have the "collecting bug" that got to Gen X-ers as a whole. People buy digital comic books, don't necessarily want CDs or records, and are often looking to de-clutter life. Toys are one of the most significant sources of clutter you can get, and this reduced audience - fewer kids, fewer teens, and collectors aging out of toys and into mortgages - doesn't help. When I used to go to Star Wars events for media and collectors 10 years ago, I was the youngest person there. And today? Quite often, I'm still the youngest person there.

Now, that's why things are more expensive, or have fewer parts. Why do the paint jobs look weak? That's largely human error. Some figures had bad paint masks, or just weren't done as well as they could (or should) be. Hasbro has tried new factories (and I confess, the last I had actual confirmation of Hasbro trying a new factory for action figures was 2008 - I don't know if the current one is new or not) and sometimes the results aren't great. The 2008 Indiana Jones line was from a new factory and anyone who bought those could tell you the first couple of waves was largely a dreadful exercise, but by the line's end they were making some of the best figures ever put out by Hasbro at the time. (I'd argue things still got better between Star Wars and G.I. Joe in terms of the ceiling they could reach.)

On paint? That's something there's really no excuse for - iffy work is iffy work, and increasing the number of applications of paint just increased the number of opportunities for error. The factory just needs to have its expectations set and Hasbro may need to communicate expectations, as these things can happen.  It's possible the current class at Hasbro is going to be re-learning a few old lessons, like how red vac-metal flakes off like a crumpled leaf or how painting a light colored paint (like white) over a dark colored plastic (like a red) doesn't always yield the best results.  Or perhaps it's a new factory - as mentioned above - needing to ramp up. (In which case, they did a nice job for a start.) Or I could just be a snot - but there are a few, avoidable QC issues popping up in various Hasbro boy lines now that aren't a cost issue, they're just design issues or QC issues.

One last tangent - love them or hate them, it's worth noting that we have 12-inch action figures on shelf today for $9.99. Yes, I know the quality isn't super high - but back in 1995, we had 4-inch figures for $5... this sort of thing was rare. Kenner and Hasbro experimented with 12-inch figures quite a bit over the years and they were rarely $10, so if nothing else products like this show that they're thinking, they're trying new things and new techniques, and that things could continue to change with the economic situation of raw materials and labor on the rise. We've been fortunate - extremely fortunate - that our figures have been hovering around $7-$10 for nearly a decade.



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2. Who exactly is the target audience for the new large vehicles (X-Wing and Millenium Falcon) from Hasbro? You can't put any figures in the ships or even open them, so it doesn't really have any kid Play value, yet it doesn't seem to be something geared towards collectors. As a parent, I would never buy These for my kids and as a collector I woud never buy this for myself.

The first thing to remember is that not all Hasbro Star Wars toys are designed for the collector in mind. Hasbro makes some items assuming you shouldn't be buying them. And the collector who buys for their kids is still, at their heart, probably thinking as a collector first.

There are a few ways to look at this - the most obvious one is that Hasbro looked at the marketplace and saw a gap. Jakks Pacific already snagged away the 31-inch figure license, so now we're getting a 31-inch X-wing Fighter. For this reason it's really a kid item - low cost, big value, just like the 12-inch "Titan" figures that you all tell me you hate but actually tend to sell pretty well, particularly in Marvel right now. (Obviously this is finite, you can only sell kids so many giant Spider-Man figures.) So in short - it's a kid product. You wouldn't buy it for your kids? That's OK, my parents wouldn't buy me the Imperial Shuttle, Millennium Falcon, or other large vehicles when I was a kid in the 1980s. Too big, too expensive, too not-worth-the-money. (I went back to get them later, of course.)

It's a gamble - giving kids big, hefty vehicles to shuttle around hasn't been done much, and trying to find new ways to play with that vehicle form factor is tricky. If there was a 6-inch scale cockpit on that X-Wing you'd all be declaring Hasbro geniuses by now, but it'd also raise the cost significantly as hollowing it out and adding a cockpit means more pieces which means a higher cost. The current 31-inch X-wing seems to have been developed to fit a footprint (31-inch figure packaging size) and a price point ($40-$45ish). Like Star Wars Angry Birds, it's not necessarily meant for people who read (or especially write) columns like this one. I don't believe it has a grip for kids to hold on the bottom and fly it around, so I guess we'll just see how it works. From where I sit, it seems like the perfect thing to buy and hang from a ceiling in an office, kid's room, or display room - especially for the price.

The giant Millennium Falcon probably comes out of the same mindset but lacking concerns for box dimensions and probably price point. It looks like (I haven't seen it in person) the 2008 Legacy version minus the bells and whistles, but consider these factors. 1. We know this ship is in the new movie so it this works, they can probably sell it for another 8 years. 2. Most kids today do not have any Millennium Falcon toy - the last new version was 2008, sold in 2010, and cost almost $200. 3. Parents and aunts and people who buy toys for children will recognize it, see it as a big, lower-priced toy, and probably give it away for Christmas. (That is the fate of many toys.) I'm not saying it'll be the funnest toy under the tree, but it's a big toy in a big box of a big ship at (most likely) a not-so-big price. This sort of product - and these are products, made to generate profit for a corporation - has proven quite popular in the toy world as of late with bigger, cheaper, simpler figures. It could work. It might not. We'll have to wait and see how the market reacts. Compared to the pricing on the current vehicles you can get - smaller starfighters and super-expensive exclusive "Vintage" vehicles - these will look like absolute bargains to the non-collector buyer, and they'll be right.

On the other hand, the 2008 BMF is an awkward beast and more of a playset than a vehicle - once you get it on a table or shelf, carrying it around is kind of a pain in the neck. And I'm kinda tall with big long arms, as a toddler I'd probably trip and smash my face on this because I was prone to such things. So... we'll see! I hope these vehicles succeed because kids should play with toys and frankly, if I/you don't like them, not buying them will save us lots of money. I got a couple of Angry Birds items but have no desire to collect them all - not collecting them all is the secret to happiness in toy collecting. The other secret is being so filthy rich that you don't care about money, but I don't expect to suffer from that one any time soon.




3. Do you think that with the coming media in the next year, that the black series will go away, and be replaced with an episode 7 centric packaging or the reemergence of the vintage collection?

It will be back - it has to be back - but for Episode VII? That, I am not so sure about.

I would personally doubt that continuing to have a Spinal Tap-influenced brand naming - after all, could it get any more black? - would be difficult to keep alive beyond two years, and The Black Series would turn 2 years young around fall 2015. The big question in my eyes is this - will economic and market conditions allow for this line to continue? Mattel just let us know that Masters of the Universe Classics in its current incarnation will come to an end next year, and rising costs are frequently cited as a factor on that line's longevity. Since its 2008 debut we've seen the figures go from $20 to $27 in 2014. With Marvel Legends, we've seen this format - the super-articulated 6-inch action figure - go from $6 in 2001 (see: Spider-Man Classics from Toy Biz, which included display stands and full-size comic book reprints) to $15 last year to a whopping $20-$23 right now. Hasbro may discover American toy fans won't pay $30 for a 6-inch deluxe figure, or perhaps they'll discover that we totally will. We're paying $80 for 12-inch reissues of childhood toys, after all.

The 3 3/4-inch Black Series feels like a product type that is on borrowed time - six months between waves and few new characters, and it's still running? It's astonishing, and delightful to see we just got Toryn Farr (coming to Galactic Hunter this week, stay tuned) after all this time. However, it's also possible the entire brand will change. Hasbro's experimenting with a new line of $5.99 2 1/2-inch 2-packs for Guardians of the Galaxy - should this succeed, and at that price it should, it could come to Star Wars. If you can separate your feelings from the facts, the past year of this particular line has had precious little new to offer us - and we've still got 4 remaining unproduced figures from the abandoned Legacy line announced in 2012. I can't imagine that this brand name will stick around, even if this format managed to survive.

The return of "The Vintage Collection" in some capacity - specifically the graphic design capacity - is inevitable. Maybe it'll be for the kid line, maybe it won't - but it's too strong to disregard for long as it's catnip for collectors when used in moderation. We've also got six sequels, prequels, and side stories on deck and with that in mind Hasbro and Lucasfilm/Disney have a lot of pacing to do - "Vintage" looks are the big guns. They'd be wise to either use them for a launch or to hold them back if the market goes soft for the new film. Since I can still buy Vintage on-shelf at Walmart (wave 1 2012, of course) I would assume it's too soon to bring it back in 2015. I would bet money on seeing it before the license expires (sometime in the 2020s) but when remains to be seen.




Mailbag's empty! Again! Questions welcome.

I got two sets of Star Wars figures last week - the third wave of the 12-inch "shampoo bottles" and wave 4 of 3 3/4-inch Black Series. Guess which one I liked more?

The 12-inch Luke Jedi head sculpt is one of Hasbro's best efforts, and while I'm sure the stiff 7-jointed figure bothers some of you please remember that if I like something, I'll only like it more if you tell me you hate it. (See also: my Frank Zappa CD collection.) The outfit is pretty good, with shiny boots and a matching glove. The lightsaber isn't removable from his hand, but the blade sure is. I assume most of you will hate it, but I find it charming and I hope they keep making more. I particularly like the Stormtrooper, despite being slightly underdecorated. The blaster is removable from his hand, and if they ever got blown out for a couple of bucks each I'd buy enough of them to line my walls as some ridiculous army. It's not the best 12-inch Stormtrooper, but if I were looking to make an impressive display this would be my go-to. Very nice. Cheap.

Black Series: OK, so I'm happy Bastilla and Dak are back for those who want them. Nobody should have to shell out $80 for a standard retail release this quickly - I also half-expect Bastilla Shan to be completely worthless by this time next year, with the TVC version taking a hit on eBay and Amazon. Luke was better than expected, Yoda is... here, Toryn Farr is good, and the Snowtrooper is going to please collectors and picky people. I'll be reviewing the 4 new releases in Figure of the Day this week, because they're not bad. Luke may well be Hasbro's most ambitious effort even if he has a couple of snags that are kind of surprising. I doubt we'll see a finer feat of engineering in this line this year.

I can't remember if I mentioned this, but I got my ReAction Rocketeer a few weeks ago. The eye paint is a little uneven, but with the helmet on it's a damn fine figure. We're getting The Goonies very soon next as samples are starting to go out to media outlets - sure, the "Star Wars style" was somewhat out of vogue by 1985 but I'll take what I can get. (Besides, I loved the NES The Goonies II so hooray.) I'd be delighted to see low-run Star Wars figures done like this, particularly if Hasbro is going to throttle back the output of "collector" figures with mega articulation as we've seen this year so far. Back in years with 200+ figures, it seemed insane. Now? Maybe it's a good idea and a nice compliment to the 6-inch line for us older farts... particularly if the cost bottoms out around $10.

--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.