Q&A: Too Many Happy Returns, Star Wars Lost, and Vintage Re-Redux

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 22, 2017

1. Just read another one of your columns. Something you mentioned was how we are in an era of sort of disinterested collectors and diminishing returns on SW TV series. I can speak to this, but wanted your take; do you think that the disinterested collectors exist because they are demoralized by Hasbro's inability to keep a decent line to support the different SW media? What I mean is, we have movies coming at us more than ever before along with television series. Even if producing only figures, Hasbro can't keep up, much less go back, and revisit older SW films. Look at the figure selections we receive for Rebels; virtually nonexistent. When is the last time we got a decent selection of Clone Wars figures, been forever? When is the last time we saw a decent selection of OT characters, well, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away! Even if you want to go to what they focused on: Rogue 1, TFA & TLJ, you get 2-4 decent waves, then done! As you would testify, 2-4 waves in no way support all of the potential characters to plastic selections for each film.

Since the dawn of the prequels - or really, the "anything not original trilogy gets a toy" - we've had schisms. Some people even broke off because of the Ewoks. No matte what Kenner and Hasbro might do, some fans won't want the new thing, because there are other old things still unmade as toys. I think this is what gave the brand its longevity - we're always wanting more, and we usually get a slow drip of things many of us really want between films. And that stopped around 2015.

Right now we're in an era where the toys don't serve the ongoing fandom so much as the marketing for the new movie. My introduction to Rey was an action figure - I didn't know anything about her, other than she was on my desk. Jyn Erso, same thing there - and while I dug them both, I didn't wind up getting a cool Cassian Andor in Imperial Officer disguise figure, or any of dozens of droids, because of Disney. Every year there's a new movie, so their own initiatives like Star Wars Rebels get lost in the shuffle and people may get exhausted. Action figures for collectors (and children) usually succeed because either it's an amazing toy (this has stopped happening) or because they love the character. The way things are now, most figures you see for sale are unknowns. It's hard to get excited for things we either already have (lookin' at you, new Pilot Poe Dameron) or things that are a complete mystery (Rose Tico). If you want excitement, throw me something I can recognize that hasn't been done as a toy yet.

Hasbro has probably moved beyond The Clone Wars outside of droids, and Disney is probably your only hope there. Rebels has proven to be light on droids, although I hope we get some more of the Imperial robots we've spied in the series. Your question is basically where I'm going with this column every week - the endless pursuit of brand-newness is sort of alienating. After each prequel, we settled in. We realized we wanted Ben Quadianaros, or Coleman Trebor, or Tri-Droids. Little things would pop up and we'd look forward to that Commander Bly figure just like we would a new Cantina alien. It was really exciting to go to a convention and see Hasbro reveal things we could applaud because we recognized them, wanted them, and didn't already have them.

This year, we got to see (admittedly nice) new Probe Droids, Wampas, Hoth Leias, and things we've had. Things we've had a few times over. Things we can buy on eBay. I would argue the most exciting 3 3/4-inch figures we've had in the new line's launch were Luke Skywalker (since we expected we'd get him in 2015), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (because it's a really good update of someone we haven't had for a few years.) Nothing is truly bad, it just doesn't build on our hopes or expectations the way Hasbro did from 2006-2014. Seeing things - even things I think were kind of doofy like Darth Plagueis - that were new made people happy. I was delighted by new Nikto figures, just as some people were thrilled to see another new Padme figure. That level of familiarity is what brought me to buy the line in the 1990s, and while I will always want new figures too it's more exciting to get things I recognize rather than a thing I buy because it's merely there. I'd love nothing more than to see the next Force Friday be completely recognizable (but new) toys.

I think most collectors have many reasons to quit - too much stuff, too much responsibility, too much stuff that isn't what they wanted. I know more than a few collectors who pulled back to original trilogy only, and they're probably the happiest of us right now because their expenses dropped significantly while I ordered a Snoke with a big chair and feel stupid for doing it.



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2. You mentioned in last weeks column a undproduced Rebel Flight Deck playset with figure which is the first time I've heard of such a thing. Is there photographs out there of this and was it meant to represent Yavin 4? I know there's lots of resources to find unproduced prototypes and anything else from the Kenner era in book form and online. Is there a similar resource for the modern line up of figures and all that goes with them online or as a book? If this does not exist maybe you can write it?

The 1998 line from Kenner was the first year we got to hear about concepts that never made it out. I've never heard of anyone seeing the Rebel Flight Deck, and like Wedge's Flight Controller it may have never been developed. Princess Leia was to come with a Complete Galaxy Hoth globe, and while a test shot did leak out it seems it may have been incomplete. Were the Rebel Flight Deck to come out, it would've been cardboard - just a foldable paper thing, not a full-sized plastic play pavilion.

To my knowledge there is no complete resource of unproduced 1990s toys, and I'm at a point in my career after writing daily in some years and a few times a week in others that I don't want to take on any new projects without a healthy advance involved. I'd gladly contribute to someone else's project, or post a link to such a resource if someone has a good one. Generally speaking Hasbro makes tons of concepts and very few ever get leaked out unless the product itself sees production.




3. Any chance the Black Series 3.75 Imperial Royal Guard is repacked into The Vintage Collection?

Yes! Hasbro actually is actively soliciting fan feedback for this line and would be very happy to bring back reruns - make sure you let them know. Bug other sites, start fan petitions, write letters to Rhode Island.

That would be pretty amusing - it started life as one of the final The Vintage Collection releases in late 2012, and Walmart's rerelease seemed to do just fine. Given how Hasbro seems to see The Vintage Collection as a "conversation" with fans about repeating more figures, I'd say it's likely to happen eventually. Doubly so if they show up in another new film.

Of course, there are no known plans for this at this time. Hasbro keeps referring to its new The Vintage Collection line, repeatedly, mantra-like, to the point where it's starting to creep me out, as a "conversation." (Toys aren't conversations. Whatever happened to do, or do not?)




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Thought experiments and wacky off-the-wall ideas are fun. I'll explain that later.

So this week, the big get for me was finding the Toys R Us exclusive Admiral Ackbar/First Order Officer 2-pack in an actual store. One had a rotten paint job, but the other samples on hand all looked great. I also got my Inferno Squad TIE Pilot, which I was surprised had a black Stormtrooper belt. Viva la difference.

I'm glad things are coming out, and I'm also seeing some of the wisdom of the prequel era. Having the toys previewed at Toy Fair, released in April or May, with the movie in May, that's a good idea. It keeps the momentum alive. The sneak preview wave? Also a great idea. The current way of doing things gives us a couple of months with our hands in our pockets looking at figures we did - or didn't - buy, wondering if we should care or not. With the prequels we had some pretty awesome new bad guys, because back then George Lucas was interested in giving us something new - he understood the importance of selling us toys. This is where I find this year to be a bore. A new A-Wing, a recycled TIE Fighter, and higher-price new vehicles with gimmicks that, while amazing, are poorly explained. On top of this, there's a three and a half month window between release and the movie - an eternity, and now we're seeing Target put stuff on sale because there's no forward momentum. A shorter window between release and the movie to promote the toys would probably help, as would a second wave of toys. Collectors will go chase things down if we have something to chase - the "main line" basically shipping that first weekend in September leaves us with a shrug as there were still 40th Anniversary and Rogue One items we wanted, or about which we were unsure what was happening.

Looking back at The Phantom Menace in particular, the roughly three week gap between figure release and movie was probably brilliant. People were foaming at the mouth for news, and the toys were right there at the point of peak excitement. Darth Maul looked awesome, and new Jedi and other characters at least held the promise of being revealed in just a few days. If you bought them today, you'd know more about them in under a month - the figures wouldn't have time to cool off, or get marked down. Now we're seeing an abundance of figures sit, because the hardcore people bought them immediately and everybody else is waiting and seeing.

There's also a sense of ennui surfacing in the press about the new movie. The trailer hit and didn't really inspire much other than a sense of whiplash about the nature of the characters and their direction. Instead of being left inspired or given a sense of awe, now all we want to know is what it was we just saw - was it honest? Was it a red herring? Misdirection and mystery boxes are a poor way to market a franchise with legions of loyal fans. Be vague, show us just a glimpse of something awesome, don't leave us wondering if it was a mistake to cast our lot in with this line.

The split upon split in the collector base - and now movies - makes it tough to get people on the same page. Disney and Lucas clearly want you to love and buy the new stuff. Older fans want the old stuff - kids want a mix, but mostly, they want lightsabers. The action figure is no longer the avatar of connection to a franchise, nor is the trading card, nor the comic book. With rising prices, there's less incentive to collect them all - and Hasbro's packaging does a poor job of inspiring fans to look at all the cool toys they could be buying next. I'm hoping I'll leave the next movie happy, or at least engaged. I'm reading the reviews of the new Thor and it sounds like it's fun but forgettable, a horrible fate for a piece of culture but an ideal way to get people to buy a few toys after leaving the cineplex.

The real irony is that Forces of Destiny - the Hasbro doll line - seems to be doing a good balance of characters, as it were, with classic and new mixed nicely with minimal prequel action. The collector lines and main boy figure lines pretty much ignore the old movies, and it's a real drag. There's a generation of parents who want to buy their kids toys that they always wanted, and that boat was more or less missed by launching too soon in the 1990s. I wonder if Hasbro really pushed a line to kids powered by nostalgia, how it'd do. I don't mean "vintage packaging," I mean "here's Luke and Leia and Han and a Landspeeder for your kids." Maybe the Han Solo movie will have some of that, but I assume we're more likely to see even more fans abandon ship out of principle, as Harrison Ford is and always will be Han Solo. Maybe I'll be wrong. I doubt it.

--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.