Q&A: TIEs, Action Fleet, and Star Wars Ships

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 14, 2018

1. 1. So, you probably knew this one was coming: I often read, and respect, your analysis as to Hasbro's cost when it comes to making vehicles, and why it is unlikely many of them would be made due to factors associated with production costs, materials, overseas labor, transportation, things of that nature. Yet, here we are, and thankfully so, given the option by Disney, to purchase a large Sandcralwer with electronic lights and sounds, including an electronic elevator, interior and exterior sounds, pain deco that is amazing and costs a decent amount of money according to everything I have read, and so on. Don't get me wrong, I love Hasbro, and I have 3 of the sail barges coming in, but how can they not take this as a cold slap in the face by Disney? As a consumer, I began to wonder if the license would be better served in someone else's hands (not that I am pro-Disney, I actually hate them as a company right now for what they did to the sequels). Back t my point, perhaps the costs associated with production have more to do with hidden costs such as licensing fees rather than production costs (I know licensing fees are part of the deal) - but I would like to get your take and where you stand on whether Hasbro is best suited for the SW license, or whether someone else should take over?

Different companies have different requirements and priorities - while Hasbro is a more experimental company in terms of product at the birthday present price points, they're pretty conservative when it comes to numbers. They usually need to sell a lot of something to warrant the cost, and the Sail Barge is a freak exception when compared to decades of precedent. The next close thing is the Rogue One Imperial Combat Tank. Some of Hasbro's bigger efforts have more paint than they need, too much detail, and a whole suite of moving parts - this adds to the cost and doesn't impress the average buyer. The Rogue One tank is beautiful - but it's not big. If the last 10 years of toys at retail have revealed anything, people would rather have a big box that looks cool than the most gorgeous toy ever made, and this Sandcrawler absolutely seems to fit that description..

The Starspeeder 1000 is a similar item - it's Hasbro-scale, big, electronic, and surprisingly cheap - even when compared to Hasbro product sold at the parks. We don't know Disney's motivations or how the money shakes out. Disney needs to make money, and no doubt does - but are these big items loss leaders? I don't know. Does Disney accounting have to pay a check to Lucasfilm as its own subsidiary? I don't know. What kind of retail margins does Disney parks work on? Do big items get sold at a minimal markup to serve as a sort of "ad" marketing the other park product - people look at the big bulky thing they won't want to take home, but parents just buy the overpriced t-shirts? .

We do know Hasbro needs to sell a lot of something to pull the trigger. With the Sail Barge, they ran numbers and not only presold 100% of the run, but pre-charged for it. That's unusual, and an extremely risk-averse move. We know Hasbro has to pay Lucasfilm a cut, and that percentage supposedly increased in recent renegotiations and I've heard rumblings that a Disney Tax may have caused another slight increase. When Disney makes the product, they negotiate their license rates, they already own the stores and have some pretty sweet freight deals, plus there's no question of real risk. Hasbro makes an item and counts on its customers - Target, Walmart, online shops - to buy. Disney dictates what the parks will take. .

The Sandcrawler is big, but not huge, and I don't yet know how durable the thing is since I don't have one in-hand. Theme Parks are covered in a reality distortion field in which people pay fifteen bucks for a fancy soda cup, so it might be easier to sell a $100 toy based on a 41-year-old movie that is a big box on wheels with lights in it..

Hasbro probably could make something like this, but there's so much I don't know - like Disney's deal with factories, the licensing fees (if any), and the actual features. From the few photos I've seen, it looks like Disney made a very big and cheap toy. Lights are cheap. Plastic is cheap if you design it right - if you minimize moving parts, and engineer to maximize your tooling, you can make a 48-inch figure for $100. We've seen what you can get away with and still have an impressive piece, if that's how you decide to do things. I see a lot of hollow space, minimal interior decoration, and figures that look almost like bootlegs of Hasbro's product..

From the pictures, my first impressions are that it looks like a $100 toy. Hasbro's 2004 Sandcrawler looks like it might be painted better. Disney's 2018 Sandcrawler seems hollow, simple, and it looks cheap - but it's big, and a big box impresses people a lot more than a genuinely amazing product. (See: Titan Hero Series.) If the Sandcrawler had a bunch of stalls, stations, walls, and places to put stuff that would raise the price considerably. They made it cheap - and fans seem to not only be OK with it, but they're actively embracing it. The Sail Barge could just as easily have been a big, hollow thing with space for figures and a couple of platforms, but it wasn't. Hasbro has given us $10 12-inch figures, and those sold very well - had the Barge been a little smaller and devoid of fancy paint deco, cloth sails, and a gorgeous sculpted interior, we probably could have had it a lot cheaper. The Sandcrawler was not designed with the high-end picky collector - or crowdfunding - in mind. I may feel differently once I get one in my hands, but it looks like $100 is reasonable.



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2. I appreciated it when you mentioned the small plastic Star Wars Action Fleet (Galoob) line of vehicles a couple of weeks ago in your column. For their size, the amount of detail, features and durability is very impressive. I've also collected some of the "ALIENS" ships/vehicles from the line, as well as "Battle Squads" with Military Aircraft/Tanks. Always a high quality standard is achieved. I hoped Hasbro could have re-issued the Fleet with ships/vehicles from the Clone Wars and Rebels, with a colorful window display box.

They were great, but Action Fleet has always been a canary in the proverbial coal mine when it came to rising costs. The $10 vehicles were the best - opening cockpits, display stands, action features, and figures - but we saw things change. Battle Packs dropped a figure to keep down costs. Between the classic trilogy era and Episode I, we saw them drop a figure from the vehicles to keep the $10 price point. For Attack of the Clones, most of the action features were removed, and the figures were done away with completely. And that was the end of that.

These were some spectacular toys and an area more fans should have collected - but like many things, they were too beautiful to live. A reissue today would mean higher prices, fewer features, and possibly concessions like no stands or less deco. It would not surprise me if Hasbro (or a future license holder) went back and tried to do something new like this, but Hasbro saw its Titanium Series Ultra line of die-cast metal ships as a successor. Fans didn't, despite being mostly the same size. The notion of a really good, sturdy $10 ship with moving parts and figures will likely never grace our realm again.

Micro toys can and probably should make a comeback - we've seen Polly Pocket get bigger over the years, MicroMachines had a couple of failed comeback attempts, and I haven't heard from Mighty Max lately. Playmates did some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles minis that seemed to come and go rather quickly, with spotty distribution. Given Star Wars isn't in the best of shape right now, I'd say your only hope would be a theme park item. Especially if Mattel is driving vehicles now. 1990s nostalgia seems quite delayed, Jurassic Park is only just now picking up, so maybe, just maybe, you'll see something in a few more years. I wouldn't hold your breath.




3. Hi Adam. After seeing the two TIE fighters that are starting to hit shelves, I was wondering why Hasbro did not do instead the TIE Brute as seen in the Solo movie. With a few special modifications on the classic TIE, I really believe they could pull it off. Also, instead of a plain vintage Walmart TIE, why not make it Iden Versio's Inferno Squad TIE from Battlefront II. I know I missed my calling not working for Hasbro as their idea man.

On a side note, what's up with KB Toys resurrection?! They made alot a noise early this year and now you could hear a pin drop. Opening this Christmas? I seriously doubt it. I fear something terrible has happened and they don't want to tell us. Hope will not save them! Thanks for reading my rant!

Hasbro is at the mercy of Disney's reference material - we don't know if Hasbro made the call, or if Disney just said "We're doing TIE Fighters, so do some classic TIE Fighters. It's close enough." Those conversations do take place in this world from time to time. It's possible the final designs weren't available, or they were intentionally held back so there would be a "surprise." I think this is silly, as are all the spoilers about so many of the things. I'd rather be excited to see something than blink and miss it. But I digress.

"Why not make it from a game?" Not everybody plays the games - going with a new or old movie is always a safer bet. Over the years we've found the collector is not necessarily the gamer, or the reader, or the watcher of cartoons. I don't disagree that it's odd to have a cool new crashing TIE Fighter at a low price at the same time as a redeco reissue for $80, though, when the two are visually similar. I would not have gone with a game-specific deco, nor would I have supported it in a big way if that's how they went during a movie launch. If it was a GameStop item, hey, sure. That's a different beast. I don't put a lot of stock into games that are less than half price in under a year which also supposedly didn't sell as well as anticipated.

And the future of KB Toys? Well, the industry people I talk with haven't heard anything - it's possible that a fellow really did get the trademarks (as he's good at it) and didn't reach a licensing deal with one of the pop-up toy stores. Ordering toys is usually done months in advance, so if nobody has heard anything yet you can bet either it isn't happening in 2018 or if it does, it isn't going to happen through normal channels.

The KB brand name is probably worthless to modern kids and maybe has a little clout with young parents, but it is what it is. After all the announcements on Linkedin, I'm sure the individual in question has expanded his social media reach when it comes to the announcement of future trademark acquisitions. Even if something did come of it, my expectations are consistent with any seasonal store - you put your forecasts in, and at best you'd see 1-2 waves of product. Unless you took on a lot of older closeout product, but Ross and TJX and their ilk probably have that covered.



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I loves me some toys, and it's interesting to see what the push and pull of the marketplace can give us. On one hand, Hasbro gives us some spectacular $20 6-inch figures with improving printed-on likenesses and some expensive-but-remarkable vehicles. (And a few dullards, admittedly.) Disney has done precious few genuinely new items, and by its fully-integrated approach of keeping costs down and all the work in-house the costs are, surprisingly for theme park merchandise, passed on accordingly. It makes little sense that we can get 4 droids for $30 or a hefty Starspeeder 1000 for as little as $60 when it debuted, when similarly sized Hasbro vehicles would cost about twice that. But here we are, with a bigger (but largely simpler) Sandcrawler hitting for about $100.

I'm cautiously interested. I've got the old Sandcrawlers, and while I completely understand new fans wanting a fair shot at the vehicle I don't know if the play value of the new edition is going to be much better than the original - I see a lot of empty space, the droid-sucker, a driver's compartment, and some added lights. The design looks simpler, particularly when compared with the bafflingly intricate Imperial Combat Assault Tank. Original trilogy vehicles make us happy, and even though some of the newer remakes of older toys do offer some improvements, not every single one as as good as they could be - but that's life. We get older, and new things have to compete not only with our fond nostalgia but also the realities of rising manufacturing costs.

I'm glad to see Disney tried something to build out the Droid motif, although more on-board storage would have been welcome. Their vehicle methodology makes a lot of sense, particularly given how many collectors leave toys in their boxes or only examine them briefly after obtaining them, to shelf or box them away until some day in the distant future. Simple might be the way to go - I honestly would have preferred Hasbro to have given us a bigger, non-electronic Millennium Falcon with a better seating capacity than the lesser Solo version that we did get. It does offer a few nifty play features, but at this point in toy history we should never look at a toy from 1978 as the superior release.

The future of the line is, as it has been, in question. We know Hasbro has Star Wars for Episode IX - and most likely for the balance of 2020. But after that is a question mark, and while I don't know that I would want the line to be exclusive to a theme park or a branded mall store. The diversity of retail options usually leads to some opportunities for one chain to pick up what the other ones drop. Not everybody carried all vehicles, or all assortments, or especially all exclusives. With more customers - as in, big stores and people buying things - we got a lot more great stuff. It's feeling increasingly streamlined, so seeing Disney do a few things Hasbro likely never would has proven to make for some interesting collectibles. Maybe we'll see some sort of Droid Factory playset next! It's not like there hasn't been a good precedent.

As far as "How's Adam doin'?" it's a little rough. I owe some people emails, and have been diving headlong into my Game Boy stash. (I want a bigger stash. Sell me your games. Or better yet, just give them to me.) While fun, it reminds me that there's a load of games I always wanted and never bought - and they're a little tougher to find now. Really I just want to have some dumb amount of money so I can buy peoples' collections and just play through whatever at this point. There are something like 2,500 of the buggers, and from the look of my closest local used game store, most of the ones left behind are derived from early 2000s Nickelodeon shows and other licensed fare. Like Star Wars. And they're not exactly always great. (I knew the original trilogy would be bad on Game Boy. Why did I buy them back in the 1990s?)

Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you're having fun. It's always a little weird to look at things and see a situation where things are as good as they've ever been, with a hint of a possibility that things could change real quick. Have some fun this week, is where I'm going with this, because we don't know when this unnaturally long-lived toy party is going to stop.

--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.