Q&A Zabrak Horns, Battle Droid Figures, Pricing, Licensing, and Grass Greenerisms

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 18, 2012

Which Battle Droids are best? Why, the cheaper ones of course! Would action figure collectors follow Star Wars to a non-Hasbro toymaker? And should you expect the Walmart-exclusive figures so show up as new Vintage repacks this fall? That's up to you, but we explore all this and more in this week's Q&A!

1. There are SO MANY Battle Droids out there. Which, in your opinion, is the "best"? Also, in case I decide to army build (should that upcoming troop carrier thang ever goes on clearance), which option will give me the most "bang for my buck"?

Let me break it down by color. If you want red, get the 2010-2012 Saga Legends Battle Droids set. Some of them have bad eyes, but some are actually OK. (Or, you can repaint them.) These molds are fully collapsable and super-articulated, plus the price is quite good-- you get two in a package for the price of one, and that's always a plus. Oh, and two display stands too. Hasbro really did a bang-up job on this pack, and it's a shame that they didn't also release a tan variant of it before the new, awful Movie Heroes Battle Droid.

Now if you want tan, you should probably grab the new Vintage Collection release. It's not cheap, but if you want a super-poseable fully-articulated mold, this is it. It's also supposedly more authentic than the previous releases, but there's a fine line between "good enough" and "perfect" which, given the costs, you may not want to bother with.

As bang for the buck goes, do not buy the Movie Heroes Battle Droid. It is the worst. It's one of the figures that were issued as a 2-pack from 2007-2010-- five joints, removable limbs. And it's $9. Terrible value.


2. I barely buy figures these days because they've just gotten too expensive. At $7 or even $8, Star Wars figures could still feel like an impulse buy. But at $10 a pop, you think much more about which figures you really "need" or which offer the best value. Do you get the sense that price has significantly pushed people out of the market or downsized their purchasing? Can Hasbro really keep raising prices by $1 every year or two like this and not have the segment collapse? Even with the increased prices, accessories have already been ditched and it seems articulation may be scaled back, too. If it really is getting this expensive to produce high-quality, collector-friendly figures, what does the future hold?

As I may have mentioned in the past, my chief concern is if kids will buy. Collectors, ultimately, aren't as important across the board-- if toys get too expensive for parents to pick up here and there, we're all going to suffer.

I believe the scenario you already described started in 2010. Hasbro said "Collectors aren't as interested in army builders," which is a half-truth. We totally are, but the $9 Clone Trooper and Sandtrooper in white are not compelling, or sufficiently different, to buy en masse. And as a result, well, you saw the pegwarmers.

I personally don't think $10 will kill the line. $15 will. But $10 isn't too outrageous-- Mattel warmed us up to higher prices with $15-$17 DC Universe Classics and $9ish Justice League figures, the former of which are gorgeous and totally worth the money and the latter of which are, arguably, not exactly value-priced. Hasbro has consistently kept $10 price points in its lines since at least 1996, with Deluxe-class Transformers toys reportedly their best-selling size, plus various incarnations of $10 Deluxe/Ultra/Vintage Star Wars figures over the years.

The real problem is how parents will perceive toys as they start to get as expensive as video games. You can get a decent Nintendo DS game for $20 or $25, or a really good one for $30 or $40. As entry-level toys approach $20, the video game industry could very well wrestle character toys for boys out of the zeitgeist and into the history pages. Toys will still have a place, but it could be in another form like MUSCLE men and LEGO and their ilk. Action figures in the smaller scale were created as "accessories" for more expensive vehicle toys, and today's action figures have few to no vehicles or playsets to encourage additional, more expensive purchases. (There's also too many damn figures.)


3. In your recent column you pose the question, will Hasbro renew their license the next time it rolls around? (When is that anyway?)

So lets say it flips to Mattel. Would they have to tool new molds for vehicles and such or does Lucasfilm own that kind of stuff... because it's, ya know, STAR WARS?
What does the Star Wars toy world look like without Hasbro? [edited for space]

As of right now, I believe that the license is scheduled to expire in or around 2017, which just happens to be when Return of the Jedi 3D would come out, if it comes out. I don't know at what point during the year, though.

Would Mattel take it? Maybe, maybe not. It's my guess that if another company took it over, they would reboot it. "Continuing" it doesn't make a lot of sense as we're on the D-list and there are only so many characters left to make, and that's a small audience. If you gave the license to a small company, they might continue it as a low-run collector brand to be compatible with the Hasbro line. If you give it to a big company, they'll want to make real money with it and grab for the core characters. So what do you do? Hope Hasbro keeps it, or maybe Mezco/Diamond/Bif Bang Pow! gets it and continues the present style, or that it just dies. Depending on the nature of how the license was written-- and we don't know-- it's possible the tooling will revert to Lucasfilm, but I honestly don't know. It's also possible that the new licensor (whoever it may be) could pay Hasbro for the tooling, as I've seen that happen with other licensees in other types of licensed products in the last few years. It's not terribly cut-and-dry, particularly when some of Hasbro's "new vehicle" molds are based on designs originally sold in 1978.

I know it's unthinkable, but during my impressionable years Star Wars was effectively dead. There were no new toys from the bulk of 1985 until the crappy Bend-Ems around 1993, and if Hasbro didn't have the master toy license anymore I'm sure that would mean single-packed LEGO minifigures in dozens of styles every year, Funko Pop! Vinyl figures that aren't bobble heads on display bases, and maybe a line of figures similar in scale and scope of the DC Universe Classics or Masters of the Universe Classics lines.

...I would rather the line just die if Hasbro decides not to renew. It may sound selfish, but really, it's not-- we've had nearly or over 2,000 figures, depending on how you count, and there are so many cheap ones on eBay we could probably stand to take a few years to not have any new ones.

But as to what Mattel would do with Star Wars? That sounds like a good idea for a separate editorial. Let me get on that for you.


4. Is Hasbro still set to re-release all but a couple of the Discover the Force figures on TVC-style cardbacks? Based on rumor lists and other TVC numbering for 2012, it only seems like 4 of them will be released. Am I missing something? Do we know for sure which Discover the Force figures will truly stay exclusive to Wal-Mart's packaging?

Take this with a grain of salt, because my senses tell me this may not quite shake out as anticipated.

At NYCC, Hasbro's presentation said Aurra Sing, the Naboo Pilot, Mawhonic, and the Gungan Warrior would be making it to Vintage later this year. G8-R3 and Ric Olie would not be. My gut tells me that Hasbro may not rerelease these figures on a Vintage cardback because there's no need as market demands go. (Collector package variant demands, sure, but we've seen product back up on the shelves and various items delayed or outright canceled in the last year. A wave of repacks would be bad retail strategy.)

I am unwilling to wait to find out if the wave of repacks get delayed or canceled, so I just bought 'em now. I suggest you do the same unless you're only in it for the TVC-style packaging. I could be wrong-- I mean, I'm telling you that Hasbro said they would release these, I'm just skeptical and I may be crazy for considering this may even be an issue.


5. I have a question for you regarding Zabrak horns! Specifically, why is it that the Clone Wars Savage Opress action figures have nice, pointy, well defined horns, while any and all Darth Maul action figures(including the new Vintage Maul) have blunted stumps? I realize that Savage Opress let his 'grow out' and that Darth Maul supposedly files them down. Any reason for this? Thanks!

I have no idea as to why, other than when Hasbro developed the figures. The Movie Heroes Wave 2 Maul has slightly pointier horns and a really nice sculpt, so if you bought it and swapped heads with the Vintage figure you may be pleased with the results. My guess is it probably had to do with when Hasbro designed the figure in the first place, but that's just a guess Not a very good answer, I know. According to Clone Wars lore, Savage's horns were magically enhanced-- and just recently we saw that Maul's can grow out, but we don't know why they grew out (magic/age/neglect) and I do not believe I saw much about them being styled prior to The Clone Wars, although Hellboy does do that to his.

...I just did a quick bit of research on Savage, if you check "Monster" (season 3 episode 10) his horns are initially similar to Maul's (as seen in The Phantom Menace. The Nightsisters bulk him up, making him bigger, meaner, and, uh, is it too easy a joke of I say "hornier"? Because his horns are enhanced, you see. "Hornlier" may be better. In the latest episode of The Clone Wars, we saw a Zabrak character given a magical horn reduction-- no spoilers, but man, that was an awesome episode.



We're through the looking glass, people. Not us in Star Wars, we're basically doing OK. Seriously. I know there's a little grousing here and there, but as collectible action figure lines go I think we may have it the best right now. While Mattel is largely doing a good job with the quality of the bulk of its offerings, let's turn our heads back to Hasbro. Just last week, Hasbro announced it would be making a bunch of classic-themed Transformers toys. But here's the kicker: they're going to be exclusive to Asia. They announced a few Asia exclusives at Toy Fair, but now they're going to do a few more. I was under the impression that America had a monopoly on shameless nostalgia-whoring. (Also Japan, but theirs go through TakaraTomy and historically, and not Hasbro.)

It certainly does shake things up a bit. Plus as much as we complain-- and oh yes, we Star Wars fans do complain-- at least a big chunk of a popular, well-received line isn't being surgically removed from what was its core market and deliberately NOT distributed here in Hasbro's home territory. (I know some items can be regionally scarce, but things do show up on clearance and sometimes-- not always-- prices dip on eBay over a year or three and I consider that acceptable as toy collecting goes. I can wait out the market.) I understand some things just don't make sense for some markets, but wow. What does this mean in terms of the growth in Asia's toy markets? Are American toy makers going to be making all their money in Asia?

I realize this opinion may not be popular, but I'm still of the "it's probably better to not make a line than it is to develop it and only distribute it in France" persuasion. And for the time being, at least, it's good to see that there have been precious few items, save for the odd variant and a few tail-end items from Episode I, that Hasbro went out of their way to not sell here. I'm a Star Wars fan first and foremost, but I do dabble in other lines here and there. I've really enjoyed Transformers up until about the last year or so, and I'm really hoping we never see this happen to Star Wars. (And for the record, international folks, I'm not crazy about any line being specific to a region. But when a line doesn't get play in its home market, that's just sad. It'd be like if Microman came back and Japan didn't get any. That would be a crime. I'm used to toy brands made for Japan or England not coming to the USA, but this is a slightly different wrinkle.)

So yeah, there's your tangent for the week. I'm now a little nervous that a bunch of collector-friendly figures from Hasbro aren't coming to the USA. Call me a spoiled American if you want, but we all know what this really is. Treason. *jarring tone here*

I'm glad that the Legacy of Terror and Brain Invaders Clone Wars sets started hitting Marshalls and T.J. Maxx stores last week. They appeared briefly in Europe and as singles on eBay, but no US release seemed to be happening for a while. Thankfully they got dumped for an acceptable price, and I'm happy to have them and not pay $50 for some German import. All that means now is when (not if) the Battle Packs with the Royal Starship Droids and Mos Espa Race show up somewhere else-- clearly Walmart isn't taking their full runs anymore, which, well, that's OK with me. I just wish I knew before I paid full price for the late-2011 mini vehicles with Buzz and the ARF Trooper. Sometimes patience pays off, and I'm hoping it will for Transformers fans too!

--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.

Ownership of production materials

I think there's a section missing from the contract that I read, but all production materils belong to Lucasfilm and once the contract has expired or is terminated, they can ask Hasbro to destroy them and provide proof of the destruction.

The part that's missing could have to do with physical ownership of the productions materials reverting to Lucasfilm but I don't know. If that were to happen, then I guess they could move them to a new licensee for use.

Prior to CV I had read that Hasbro had inherited the Master Replica molds and production facilities for the FX lightsabers. At CV I spoke with Hasbro about this and asked if it were true that Hasbro had taken over. I got kind of a funny look and was asked where I heard that and then was kind of shaken off about the production facilities part but didn't really get a good feel about the molds and whatnot. I never really investigated it further since Hasbro was moving on to the removable blades and new hilts and it wasn't really important.

So, could go either way, but I'd bet that Lucasfilm wouldn't want to get into having to warehouse the thousands of molds Hasbro has made over the years while they found a new licensee and got them up and running. I think that it would be a different scenario than the Kenner vintage molds since Hasbro actually bought Kenner.