Q&A: Star Wars Vintage Redux, Midnight Madness, and Import Pricing

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 23, 2015

1. Is not that I drop the ball but I am a father of two beautiful children and they love going to Toys'R'Us, Target, Walmart, and Kmart. Is just seeing their faces when a new toy comes in and they are jumping with joy(literally). My daughter keeps reminding me about Ahsoka Tano, Lumat(She loves Ewoks), Emperors Royal Guard, and Obi Wan Kenobi from the Vintage Collection Wave 7. The rest of the wave she is not into them. She loves the Clone Wars so that is why she especially loves Ahsoka Tano and Obi Wan Kenobi. She is into Return of the Jedi so she loves the Ewoks and she thinks the Emperor's Royal Guard look cool. We went to every Toys'R'Us, Target, Walmart, and Kmart in the Tristate area and even travel to Rhode Island. Nothing was found but old vintage collections waves 1 or 2 and we did this on a regular basis. So those figures is what my children want, can you do me a favor. Can you let me know if these figures have a chance of being rerelease in the future or can you please talk to somebody in Hasbro about how we could have these figures rerelease?

It's absolutely worth reminding people that if you live in an area where there are no new toys - or, more likely, if someone routinely beats you to them and you have a limited selection of stores - you're on the internet. There are internet exclusives. And when there are shared/internet exclusives, sometimes you're in no position to be picky.

I get questions like this from time to time. MM is a long-time reader since at least 2009 who was probably around when the announcement of these being online exclusives was made, and was probably around when Amazon was blowing some of them out for as little as $4-$8 while some of them were $20. (If memory serves, the Republic Trooper and Royal Guard shot up to $20 fast while the others hovered around or below $10 in short order.) There's really no way to sugarcoat this - you had a chance to pre-order, and you had a chance to buy several of them below cost. You've got eBay, Amazon, collectible shows, Craigslist, online resellers, and so on - these figures are well within your grasp, and have been at lower prices over the years. While some figures go down over time (i.e., anything on a new movie launch day) others tend to go up (i.e., anything from a "final wave.") This is more or less common toy fan wisdom, so if you didn't know it previously I'm happy to share it now as a reminder to everybody for the next few months. It's that last wave of The Force Awakens stuff that should concern you - not the "midnight madness" launch stuff which will be on Craigslist and pawn shops in two to five years.

As someone who was a kid during the era of Star Wars being totally dead - meaning garage sales, mail-order publications, and dumb luck at collector shows - I know what kids are going through. Near the end of the line, my parents had to be cajoled into ordering some sets from the Sears or JC Penny catalogs. Of course, the big difference between now and then is you've got access to new figures every few months, sometimes online, and a lot more news. The final wave of Vintage was publicized as a shared, online exclusive. Lumat sold for as little as four bucks on Amazon, so even with shipping it would be cheaper than the $10-$12 at a retail store. You could have had it. If you've got an arbitrary line to draw in the sand about wanting to find stuff in the wild, well, that era is over. Sometimes you find stuff cheaper online than in stores, or more easily. If you can get a figure sent to your house for less than it costs in a store, and you opt out for one reason or another (and if for some reason you don't share your credit card online, that's valid) - this can happen.

We do not know the future of the line. Straight-up reissues are pretty uncommon since 2012, we got a few in The Black Series but your chances of unchanged reissues - especially on the same packaging - would be very low. Even today I hear from fans who, when presented the opportunity to buy a figure online at or below SRP, don't. I don't understand it. I am baffled, frankly, because the only reason I usually won't order online is due to costs. With a new TV show, a new movie every year, and a forward-thinking attitude it seems unlikely that we'll see a reissue of much of anything. Obi-Wan Kenobi got a second lease on life as a Saga Legends figure last year, with less articulation on fundamentally the same costume. That's what I'd expect out of a new Royal Guard.

The good news is that everything is available. It may cost more, but you can get it. You can also monitor the prices on eBay. We know more Ahsoka figures are coming - at least two are confirmed as of today - and there are times where the collector market hurts the kid market. (It happened with the first Ahsoka in 2008.) Entire cases of this wave were available for as little as $120 and if you bought all 12 figures on Amazon as singles, your total would come to about the same. Sometimes it pays to play chicken with the market, and sometimes it doesn't - this also happened with the final wave of Legacy in 2010 (another shared exclusive) and the last batch of The Clone Wars in 2009 before the packaging refresh. If you see a major rebranding effort, don't dawdle on the final wave. Especially if you know it's going to be shared or online exclusive, there's really no reason to sit and wait as online shops are selling out.

You can still get Lumat for as little $13-$20 on eBay. A new pressing from Hasbro would cost at least $13. I suggest you start watching auctions, and bidding when the price is in the range you deem acceptable.



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2. Do you have any insight as to availability of those nifty Tamashii Movie Realization 6-inch figures? Wondering if there might be a U.S. distributor eventually that could make the price a little less painful. I've bought weird expensive import stuff before thinking I'd never see it again, only to later find them available at half the price after some U.S. entity picks them up. Whatcha think?

Japanese collector figures tend to be expensive. It's not just importer mark-up, but the actual wholesale price that means you'll be paying more. There are indeed US distributors, I believe Bluefin has the rights to much of Japan's BanDai offerings here in the states. This may help with shipping, but they're still going to be $80-$90. Buying it from stores like HLJ.com would set you back around $70 before shipping from Japan. Due to the nature of what these are - limited release items, with high prices, which may be partially designed as so not to step on the size/price points at Hasbro - you're going to have to pay more for them.




3. I am a high school teacher I go to bed early. Just to clarify, is Force Friday at 12:01 a.m. Thursday night into Friday morning. That is what common sense tells me, but I am not sure I want to stay up all night Thursday with a school day in the morning. As someone who watched the original trilogy in theaters and had Kenner figures in 1978, I am not sure I can stay up. What is your advice?

As people, all we have is our time. Sure there's money, but the only currency that really matters is what you choose to do with the hours you have that are truly yours. Not sleeping, not working, not stuck in traffic. What can you do to make your life better? Or someone else's? Do you wait all night for the fancy hot dog place, or just go to the store and buy an 8-pack that you can eat immediately?

When I was in college in 1999, I went out to the Toys R Us in Tucson mere hours after coming home from Celebration to see what the lines looked like. And there were news crews. And the line wrapped around the building. It was something of a circus and free marketing for The Cause. Back in 1999, I was OK with that - most of my life, I saw Star Wars as a thing most people forgot and didn't care for, so hey - anything to raise the awareness for my favorite thing.

In 2005 I overheard numerous less than complimentary comments from store employees that made me less than happy to patronize their stores. I don't expect everyone to be a fan but there's an old Ferengi saying - "Good customers are as rare as latinum. Treasure them." As the first generation of fans gets older, they're a lot more like you - responsible. Nobody who was a die-hard old-school fan in the original Kenner days is in their 20s anymore, as the last real Kenner figure came out in 1985. You have to make decisions. Do you stay up for toys? Or perhaps shop online? Or during lunch the next day? There's one strategy that always works - vote with your dollars. (Also, your sense.)

In 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2008 there were big figure launches with midnight sales and a fair amount of pomp, not so much circumstance. Today I can get a lot of those figures quite cheaply - subsequent waves, not so much, but many of those launch figures are common and cheap because of the ill-informed fly-by-nite investors or collectors who don't want to keep up with it. So it gets dumped - you can find those action figures at all sorts of places. I frequently see Star Trek and Star Wars figures from the 1990s and movie launches at a local record store chain, even - ahem- rare figures like the "limited" 50,000 piece Lava Reflection Darth Vader can be had below cost now.

If this launch follows the history, figures will sell. Vehicles won't. If it follows the secondary market trajectory, historically vehicles climb in price first because nobody buys a $100+ vehicle to sit on and flip. A $10ish action figure, on the other hand, takes up little room as an "investment" our souvenir, whatever the case may be. If I were you - and I'm not, so do what makes you happy - don't go to a midnight launch. But do go out the next day before or after work, scope out the vehicles, and buy anything you might wish to procure. The figures will likely be sold in complete collection lots on Craigslist many, many times and you can save some money in the process. If you're a LEGO person, buy the LEGO. If you like a non-figure segment, it could probably benefit from your support. Action figures? Don't worry about the action figures from wave 1.

I don't plan to go out at midnight for the launch unless someone announces/confirms availability of an exclusive on launch day. Normal stuff will be out. I go to toy stores 5-6 days a week to keep up with stuff, so I've got little incentive to make a special trip when I'm up working on Figure of the Day, 16bit.com, and Q&A before bed pretty much every night. It'll still be there. If I miss it, I can wait to buy someone's stuff as they quit later. We've got thousands of these things. I detest waiting in lines for hours with crowds picking over toys so densely packed I can't see what's even on the shelf, especially when the reason I go out late at night to look for toys is because nobody else is there. I'm not looking for a fight with my fellow fans. I'm a good customer, and I don't want to go to the trough. I'll wait to see the aisles.




I had three other topics here this week and new stuff just keeps coming up - like on Facebook post of an image gallery on Thursday afternoon. And a lot of questions come in to the effect of "can you talk about ____ yet?" and because of my day job and there being no official announcement, it would not be prudent to do just yet. There may be a September 4 Q&A special. (Heck, I don't know the definitive answer to some of these yet, it's possible neither does anyone outside the Hasbro/Disney camp.)

Two weeks from now you will most likely have seen - and bought - figures from a brand-new movie that is the first to actually advance the narrative beyond Yub Nub in decades.

One thing people asked is if everything that's coming in September has been seen yet. The answer is probably no. Hasbro's big movie pushes usually sport multiple waves of product and exclusives, if The Avengers: Age of Ultron is any indication. A bunch of under-advertised exclusives popped up, and some still aren't even out yet. Plus there's the whole Playmation thing, which I don't really get, but I'm old.

So because of the lack of information, I don't know for sure what they're going to share, or what's going to be discovered by you stumbling on it. Or if all bets are off 9/4 and we'll see 100% of everything released for the year, including announcements of hypothetical exclusives in a massive PR dump. I doubt we'll see a jumbo .zip on an FTP site with all the data, but you never know. At this point they'd be wise to hit the ground running.

It's a different way of doing business. On one hand, this sucks! When you have toys coming out, why not share the information with an eager, receptive, and potentially enriched audience? On the other hand, there is one tiny advantage this time - we're getting the toys way, way ahead of the movie. In 1999, we got toys about 3 weeks before the movie. In 2002, we got Attack of the Clones stuff about a month early - Revenge of the Sith was nearly 2 months in 2005. The Clone Wars toy line was out about 3 weeks before the movie hit theaters. For The Force Awakens, the toys are September 4 and the movie is December 18. That's more than 3 months - while not unusual elsewhere in the toy business, that's almost unheard of for Star Wars. The mystery remains obnoxious, but that means Hasbro does get three whole months of selling toys - potentially more than one wave of toys, if previous movies are to be considered - before you buy your movie ticket. Which is actually pretty savvy business.

The licensees aren't dumb - they know you want to see this movie. With three months of availability, those comics and tie-in novels are going to be a heck of a lot more appealing as people see them in airports and elsewhere, rather than just being able to see the movie and thus end the anticipation. This big selling window gives the movie merchandising a potentially longer selling window, because it seems to be more front-loaded these days. It's not like Ant-Man has a lot more coming... but then again, this is a much bigger deal. Or rather, it could be - one Star Wars movie could generate as much licensed cash as a year's worth of Marvel movies, but we'll have to wait and see how it shakes out.

We're in uncharted territory here. Since Revenge of the Sith, movie-specific tie-in lines have gotten to be a bit shorter. From launch to its branded demise, the final prequel had about 6-8 months - depending on where you shopped. The Phantom Menace's line look had about a year, while Attack of the Clones' wonderful blue cardbacks stuck around for two whole years. The recent Transformers movies have seem lines exhaust themselves in a few months, under a year - and it's rare that any movie-branded Marvel stuff lasts 12 whole months before clearance. Because of the post-Christmas Clearance, The Force Awakens could be swept under the rug as early as January as stores make room for the 2016 movies like Batman v. Superman and Captain America. Regardless of how kids, collectors, new fans, old fans, parents, or gift-givers see the line its days are numbered. Hasbro will most likely have a Rogue One launch in September 2016, and before then they also have to launch another new line of Transformers (if BotCon is any indication) and some Dr. Strange toys in there too - plus refreshes to existing Marvel and Transformers lines. The shelf life for a toy was as long as two years in the 1980s - some 1970s toys could last even longer than that. In the 1990s it was usually down to about six months. With Star Wars, it's starting to look like a lot of toy lines get one or two shipments before disappearing - with a few exceptions. (Big launches being an exception.)

There is a historical pattern of how things are likely to go for The Force Awakens and that's how I'm going to operate. Some of the 1999 Action Fleet got expensive, because a lot of us skipped it due to action figure budget reasons. LEGO is in the same ballpark. Some vehicles got expensive and some were blown out - and some were repainted and reissued to the bargain bins over several years. We also saw the Unleashed line launched in 2002 to howls of anger, only to become something of a darling and mourned widely when it breathed its last around 2008. We've seen lines come and go, and since the last movie we've seen a decline of the 3 3/4-inch format across the board - it's no longer the inevitable darling of 2008. 6-inch and 12-inch figures continue to do well, and collectors aren't enough to keep it afloat. Remember this when it comes time to buy presents for birthdays and holidays for Star Wars fans. Thanks to vehicles, we'll probably see 3 3/4-inch figures for quite some time. I assume. I mean, it's not like you can build a complete line on 6-inch vehicles.

--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.