Star Wars Q&A: Star Wars Vehicles, The New High Bar of Failure, and Classic Toys

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 4, 2018

1. A look a t Box Office Mojo shows that The Last Jedi is underperforming The Force Awakens by about 264 million, based on both film's four week totals.

I have not found any statements from Disney addressing this. Have you?

Will Disney admit mistakes and/or address the dislike many fans have for the TFA as they prep EP9?

Or will they “George Lucas” fans with a fat middle finger and give us another Phantom Menace?

It's difficult to call a movie a "failure" when it's the #1 movie of last year, with more than $1 billion in ticket sales in under a month. Why would Disney make a statement saying it made a bad move when it clearly raked in a ton of cash and its competition would likely commit heinous crimes to have that kind of failure? A "failure" that, in under a month, made more money than Rogue One in its entire run?

In the movie business, studios do not address failure. It's sort of like how toy companies don't make a press release to tell you a line is dead - it just goes away. With Warner Bros.' Green Lantern, they decided to announce a sequel when the movie was clearly failing to make an impact, possibly as a PR movie, possibly because they really thought it would find an international audience. It did not do well. Its toys did not do well. It was a failure that made $219 million - a lot of money, just not by these standards.

With Star Wars, the franchise tends to have a cycle of diminishing returns. When something goes away and comes back, it does better - The Empire Strikes Back didn't make as much as Star Wars, Attack of the Clones didn't do as well as The Phantom Menace. The Force Awakens, like The Phantom Menace, had over a decade of breathing room since the previous installment. When it comes to movie tickets and toys, there's a lot of benefit to always leave them wanting more. The current regime is leaning on the lever a little too hard, with constant launches diminishing the importance of a new release. It doesn't matter if you like the new movie or not - there's a real sense of "Oh geez, another one?" every 6-12 months.

Marvel gets individual film titles. We go to the theater and say "One for Star Wars" again and again - there's no pretending it's something else. It's more of the same.

I know I saw the last two movies in theaters three times each - but I only saw The Last Jedi twice because I can wait until March to see it again when I buy the Blu-Ray. I assume other fans are in the same boat, and I don't think any non-hardcore fan adult is going to see a movie multiple times a year, ever year. That kind of thing is unusual. I can tell you right now, I don't assume I'll see Solo twice in theaters just because the Blu-Ray will be out before Santa shows up.

J.J. Abrams will probably hand in a sequel capper that undoes something or other with "a certain point of view," or just upends everything to make another trilogy possible with another cliffhanger. This is a creative person who doesn't rock the boat, and inspiring fans to reckon with things like an aging hero usually does good for the franchise. Kirk needing glasses in The Wrath of Khan adds texture to a series that needed some direction - Star Wars can't rely on Luke forever, and sadly now it can't really rely on any of the original cast in a heroic action role. It's always depressing to see your heroes get old and die, and it's doubly unfortunate that there's so much money in movie franchises that trade on your memories to kill your heroes. But that's how you keep these things going, and Star Trek fans aren't all over the whole Kirk dying 25 years ago thing.

The toy line was already doing poorly before the movie came out - the toys were on clearance in early October. I think we're suffering from too much too soon, and while I liked the movie - and most of my friends like the movie a lot - I see some people do not. The annual release schedule is excessive, but taste is taste. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn't. The Empire Strikes Back was a polarizing movie with fans in its day, and the prequels were the only thing that made people stop complaining about Return of the Jedi. I've seen this sort of thing before, and when we're ultimately analyzing movies originally engineered for young boys that contemporary adults rejected and young audiences embraced, well, I don't know what to tell you. Love it, hate it, stick around, move on, do what you like. If Star Wars takes a nap for 3 years between movies, I'd be exceedingly happy.

From where I sit Hasbro needs to give its line a little more support, Disney needs to narrow the window between toy launch and movie launch by at least 6 weeks, and everybody should find a way to stop a toy line from ending the day a new movie hits theaters by choice. The Force Awakens could have kept going - there were/are plenty of main characters that could have been stamped out were it not for the then-surprise delay of Rogue One.



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2. When is the last time we had a Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter for the 3.75 inch line? When Rogue One came out we got brand new vehicles, a U-Wing and a Tie Striker. I really do appreciate new fighters, it is the sentiment of my childhood in me and how my son plays with the original Tie fighter and X-Wing that makes me want to request for those fighters. Do you believe that Hasbro had an opportunity to also produce those iconic fighters(Tie and X-Wing) in the 3.75 inch line with the new fighters from Rogue One? Now with the new Han Solo movie coming out will Hasbro get another chance to give us the original Tie fighter and X-Wing, with new fighters from the movie, and the BMF? Does Hasbro's budget restricts them from making only a certain amount of vehicles or is it possible that they could make these iconic figures with new fighters, what do you think?

Last year we got a new ("new") TIE Fighter at Walmart for The Last Jedi, repurposing the The Force Awakens toy with added Force Link chips. Similarly, Toys R Us got a redone Poe's X-Wing with a booster and Force Link sounds - which I don't have at this time, so I can't vouch for other differences.

I was really surprised we didn't see small X-Wing and TIE Fighter vehicles around 2012, when Hasbro was doing those nifty downsized vehicles. The Kenner-sized toys we got for the sequel movies were a surprise to me too, as I thought we'd see something downsized.

I'm not expecting a lot of classic-as-classic vehicles for Solo, mostly because Hasbro hasn't done a lot. I don't know if it's Hasbro's doing or Lucasfilm's choice, but I will say that Hasbro would probably make a ton more vehicles if the money was there. If you recall the prequels, we got precious few vehicles near the end. Attack of the Clones gave us 5, Revenge of the Sith offered barely more than that until Hasbro started making everything in the "classic" ranges in 2006. Hasbro is a billion dollar company with a significant development budget - they decided to use that budget to make electronic Porgs, die-cast metal figures, Forces of Destiny, the new Galactic Heroes, Nerf blasters, and other things that weren't a part of the original or prequel trilogy lines. Their strategy is to diversify their portfolio and broaden their customer base, rather than focusing almost exclusively on boys ages 4-11.

I'm sure we'll see more vehicles for Solo, but the current crop of people making the calls for Star Wars toys are clearly not aware of what made a collector or what may make a new one. (Outside the 6-inch action figures, other than being a little repetitive it's a well-curated cast of characters thus far.)




3. do you have any expectations for this year's NYC Toy Fair in regards to TVC? Any chance that Hasbro might surprise us with some unforeseen throwback TVC goodness considering this is the 40th anniversary of Kenner's 1978 line? Perhaps a Blue Snag reboot or a Fett mail-away?

Hasbro has given us two Boba Fett mail-ins since 2010, and I would be surprised if there was a third - mostly because mail-in figures are kind of a thing of the past. They worked as a promotional vehicle, and as a way to get stores to unload old product. This wasn't a gift - this is a marketing effort to help stores unload 5 old figures so an excited child can get one new figure by mail early. Hasbro charged us for the past several mail-in figures, and when pressed they said that the budget would probably be better used to just make more individually carded retail figures instead. Mail-ins are an expensive proposition.

I don't think you're going to see any classic trilogy freshness this year unless there's a big surprise in the form of a new TV show before the end of the year. Anniversaries of things that aren't the original thing are rare. Deep Space Nine just turned 25, we got nothing. I can't name anything for a single Return of the Jedi anniversary. Anniversaries are meaningless other than as an excuse to run a marketing program, and after having just done a 40th anniversary toy line across many manufacturers (which, overall, sucked) they're not going to do a "real" 40th anniversary line. Heck, I'm fairly sure the only reason we got last year's 40th range was as filler.

It would be absolutely lovely to see something - anything! - from the old days in the new The Vintage Collection. To date, it seems Hasbro and/or Lucasfilm only want to approve repeats and that's just depressing.



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We're only a few hours away from the Solo trailer as this goes live, and my wild speculation that the movie would be delayed appears to be wrong. (Of this, I am glad. Also there was a tease during Sportsblast 52. I caught it online as I am unfamiliar with the particular event to the point where I couldn't tell you who is playing, but I digress.) This is probably the closest-to-the-vest we've seen them play with a new non-free-TV Star Wars project in some time, especially when you consider that we saw clips of Star Wars Detours at Star Wars Celebration a long time ago. It's unfortunate that NDAs and fears of never working in this town again will keep us from hearing about the original footage and various tales of mirth, but hey, at least it's still coming and didn't get canned like the movie which Rogue One replaced.

So what do we do while we wait to pass harsh judgment over a thing we won't actually watch until May? Let's look at the cheapo toys we ignore. Walmart and Lanard toys are buddy-buddy. While Hasbro stopped G.I. Joe from continuing, Lanard Toy seems to continue to do well with The Corps, which now have not only new sculpts, but work by the Four Horsemen. (Ex-McFarlane Toys, indie toy darlings.) These figures come 3 for $5, often with a small vehicle, and about 14 points of articulation. Since last year, we've seen them start to tackle licenses in those quasi-Joe format with Kong Skull Island and now Rampage The Movie. I hope that the irony of The Corps and G.I. Joe both having The Rock action figures is not lost on anyone.

I saw the new Rampage: The Movie toys in stores a couple of weeks ago and kept looking them over. Rampage The Movie is based on the old video game, with redesigned monsters attacking the city. It's like three Godzillas in one, a western Kaiju picture in an era that seems increasingly receptive to such things given Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. The idea is this: some animals get hit with whatever the new mutagen is, giving us towering monsters in the form of an albino gorilla, a be-tusked dinosaur-like alligator, and a fantastical wolf that looks like it could serve as a steed in high fantasy. The toys are huge, and cheap. If you compare these to a Hasbro or a Mattel or a Funko product, prepare to be amazed.

I picked up the set with Big City Brawl Lizzie, as I couldn't take my eyes off the 3 3/4-inch human-and-monster set. It was $15. The human figures are about on par with the early 2000s G.I. Joe action figures - good paint, not necessarily any great hip articulation, and a better-than-it-could-be human likeness. They look a lot better than the Chap Mei/Toys R Us Animal Planet toys, although those are pretty good too. The paint job on Lizzie is superb, although the glue is a little sloppy in spots. The creature is sturdy, heavy, and measures over 20-inches long. He (she?) has huge tusks and tons of spines and spikes, reminding me a lot of the Dino Hybrid wing of Jurassic World. The mouth is big enough to cram a figure in, but not all the way. With a jointed tail and legs, I'd say it gives Hasbro's beast toys a real run for their money even if it does have a few overall imperfections.

Seeing Lanard doing more licensed lines is a fascinating turn, particularly given that they seem to be serving as a house brand for the retail giant (as well as Kmart in Australia, Smyths, in the UK.) We've seen Mattel, Funko, and Hasbro do things more geared toward collector tastes and that generally means improved deco, increased sculpt quality, and much higher prices. Lanard cheaped out - and gave us something very good, and it's very cheap. I can't speak to its longevity, but given how few high-concept movies get a robust kid-focused toy line it's something you should watch.

Lanard also released a sub-line called "Jurassic Clash" overseas, which looks like they're cashing in on Jurassic World with a bit of Dino-Riders mixed in. I want these to hit the USA and I'll buy at least a couple on sight. The 3 3/4-inch format is alive and well, but in non-traditional places. I hope they get other licenses, I'm eager to see what comes of it.

If that's not enough, Lanard's giant Kong apes are at Walmarts for as little as $5 - I found one for $7. I also see The Last Jedi Resistance Ski Speeders for $9, which is just maddening as someone who works for a toy retailer for a living.

--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.