Q&A For September 19, 2005
1. "Star Wars was clearly going to be a vehicle - and accessory - driven line". Steve Sansweets words when describing the thoughts of the original Kenner designers as they conceived the 3 3/4" scaled Star Wars line in the late 70's. (from Sansweets still fantastic 1992 'Concept to Screen to Collectable' book Pg64). As an adult looking back to those vintage days I remember most fondly the vehicles. Sure the figures started it all for me like they did for most, but once I got that Millennium Falcon at Christmas time I felt the need to own every character that had ever stepped even remotely near the Falcon. Figures that at first I maybe wasn't too bothered about suddenly became 'must haves', as soon as I realised they interacted with my new favourite toy. The same with playsets, but often even more so as they tended to need some serious army building to properly populate them.
So my question is, does it concern you that without any vehicles (and even more sadly, without any playsets) being released next year that this, 'vehicle driven' line may ultimately be doomed!? My own person market research continues today with an absolutely packed Arena Playset and Republic Gunship! But without the driving force of a new Skiff or (I whish) a Blockade Runner, will there really be much excitement over random OT figures being released all on their own?
Star Wars as a fan-driven phenomenon has been around since 1977 and since then, we fans have been paying very close attention to everything happening with our favorite franchise. It's not difficult to pull out quotes to prove or disprove anything you'd be so inclined, as you can see here.
The toy industry of 2005 and the toy industry of 1977 are very different things. In 1977, Kenner came up with a few vehicles and since it was all brand new, they could get away with a little more-- fans were seeing everything for the first time and you didn't have to bank on nostalgia, the likes of Wal-Mart wanting to keep a number of low-cost items around, or an adult collector base of (forgive me) cheap whiny clearance bottom feeders. (I'm one of them in many respects, so no offense intended to any of us. Hell, I bought most of Xevoz at two bucks a whack and a number of Transformers at 60% off... sometimes, it's how I roll. But I digress.)
In the original trilogy, you had hundreds of thousands of kids (and adults, but mostly kids) foaming at the mouth for Star Wars. It was a great gift-giving item, and it didn't have to compete with video games as much, or the home video market, iPods, GameBoy Advance/SP/Micro, and tons of other things kids want. Today, kids have very short attention spans when it comes to movies, and store buyers have even SHORTER ones. I can guarantee you that the short-sighted buyers from the big 5 are looking at Star Wars as "yesterday's news" as we speak and will be giving it a teeny tiny little ghetto to live in for most of 2006 unless Hasbro has some grand new theme like Clone Wars to draw from again. 2006 vehicles will probably be super light, and it's because fans won't buy them, stores are afraid of them, and because Hasbro can't get as much mileage out of them as they used to. It's not like 1978 when they could (and would) sell the same Falcon for nearly a decade, today everything needs to be refreshed, repainted, and repackaged while before only a couple of vehicles would ever see a face lift. (And as far as playsets go, Hasbro's been rehashing from the get-go. Example 1: Droid Factory, 2 Jabba's Dungeon playsets. Example 2: Land of the Jawas, Hoth Ice Planet, Rebel Command Center. And of course you all know about the TIE and X-wing Fighters changing a bit mid-stream.)
Star Wars is very much about the vehicles, but the American toy market is about low-cost high-profit items. Hence, Titanium. This is Hasbro listening to fan's requests for ships. You may say "what the hell is this?" and as such, I agree with you. But on the whole, big ticket toys aren't being given the proper push these days Short of Bratz, I can't name very many major toy line toys with a big ticket kid-aimed item upwards of $100. For Revenge of the Sith, Hasbro's biggest and highest price offering for the action figure line is the Millennium Falcon in a new box.
You can blame this on a variety of things, but given it's a movie year, you might say "oh, there should be a new giant ROTS ship toy." I agree, and I think Hasbro missed the boat by not putting out a Blockade Runner. But beyond that? They gave us a lot of "new" product-- 4 ROTS mold Jedi Starighters, 1 AOTC mold Jedi Starfighter, the ARC-170, the Mustafar Playset, Wookiee Helicopter, Boga, BARC Speeder, AT-RT, giant wing TIE Fighter, redeco Gunship, and a number of things that might qualify as vehicles had they not been packaged in absolutely huge Deluxe figure packaging. So, this year, that's about 13 things that inarguably count as unique, different vehicles and playsets. While I want to see more too, let's compare it to the entire run of the 1970s Star Wars line. They got the TIE Fighter, Patrol Dewback, Landspeeder, X-wing, Millennium Falcon, Imperial Troop Transport, Sandcrawler, RC Landspeeder, Vader's TIE Fighter, Land of the Jawas, Creature Cantina, Death Star Space Station, Sears Cantina Adventure Playset, and a few other items that may or may not count depending on your POV. So for 1978-1979, Kenner cranked out 13 vehicles/playsets, give or take a few. And in 2005 alone, Hasbro gave us 13 vehicles/playsets. Sure, some are repaints... but that's how things are done.
(And a tangent-- feel free to skip this-- 2002. Anakin's Speeder, Zam's Speeder, Obi-Wan's Jedi Starfighter, Reek, Acklay, Geonosis Arena, Slave I, and that's it. Well, and the TRU X-wing and Landspeeder. 9 items. That's your vehicles and playsets menu for 2002.)
The big disconnect is the lack of high dollar items and as far as Revenge of the Sith goes, a lack of important vehicles. Back in the 1970s, there were many more large toys and large playsets, helped in no small part by each and every one of those 13 Kenner toys having a fairly significant role in the film except, maybe, the Dewback and Sandcrawler. They didn't make an XP-38 Landspeeder, or a Y-wing, or a Blockade Runner, Star Destroyer, or any of a number of vehicles until the sequels. For Revenge of the Sith, aside from the large Clone vehicles which you saw for eight seconds, what big-deal gee-whiz things do you really want to see made as toys? It's POSSIBLE you could get a neat cross-section out of the Invisible Hand, but they cut the fuel tanker scene and a few other bits that would have made for great toys. The Blockade Runner is a maybe due to the fact it's recognizable and carries a lot of core figures. But the problem I see is that there isn't a big signature vehicle where the action is, nor was there a set centerpiece like the Cantina. You're just looking at a movie that, aside from the love given to some certain white armed death squads, wasn't really designed for toys so much as it was for action figures. (Not intentionally, of course.)
If Hasbro wants to make Star Wars a see-all and be-all line for kids, they've got a lot to do-- like get kids in to the worlds of Star Wars with things like playsets and vehicles, but more importantly, by getting the damned figures out. I saw the first Anakin in weeks recently, and short of Neimoidians, there aren't a lot of "collection 1" type characters for the kids. Padme's role in Revenge of the Sith was bland, and therefore girls aren't asking for her (of course, we collectors are another matter entirely.) Vehicles and playsets are immensely important to kids, but adult collectors that buy stuff and leave it in the box are such a different beast that it almost doesn't matter what Hasbro makes. If collectors are happy to buy repackaged figures, closed-box vehicles that they never open, and refuse to complain when a big playset can't even hold together properly (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, MUSTAFAR!!!!), then action figure sized vehicles and playsets simply do not matter anymore to the bottom line of the health of Star Wars: The Toy Property.
...and personally, vehicles are what have me the most interested in Star Wars right now. I've dug out most of my POTF2-current stash and have them out so I can see them. Even the Cruisemissile Trooper. I've found my Kenobi Jedi Starfighter and am waiting on pins and needles for the correct labels, and I'm simply adoring my new giant winged TIE Fighter. And let me tell you, I'm absolutely nuts over Plo Koon's fighter-- if I can find one. I want more vehicles, but I have to confess that despite my desires for those awesome chrome Naboo cruisers that Padme has in AOTC and ROTS, I'm not sure if fans want them enough to make a big stink over it. Because fans are quite complacent as of late.
2. what are the chances of seeing CZ-3 in figure form? Also, how well did the Saga deluxe assortment do for Hasbro? The Jabba's denizens were easily sold out, Jabba and Wampa did well from what I'd seen (even if KB recently had many of them) and Reeikan briefly pegwarmed. Did it do well enough to warrant another go-around in a non-movie year? (probably best chance to see Hermi Oodle!)
While I hear that Deluxe figures (and by extension, the Ultras) do well enough, there's no evidence that they're coming in 2006. Rieekan is an odd duck, mainly because he eventually sold out, but he may also have been responsible for cases of these assortments getting dumped at Kay-Bee. Just looking at him, it's painfully obvious he's not a good deal-- there's no reason that screen couldn't have fit, in pieces, into a basic Saga bubble. Hasbro has enjoyed much success from $10 price point action figures, but a look at your local stores now can prove that they haven't figured out exactly how to make them work perfectly with unsold Vintage Lando figures, tons of Stass Allie on her Speederbike, and so many transforming Palpatines that you could kill someone with them.
CZ-3 is, like many droids, on a lot of our want lists. Frankly, I hope Hasbro does more "Jawa and a droid" sets like the Jawa/Gonk set from 1999 and includes the likes of CZ-3 and R5-D4, but there's no evidence that this is in the cards.
3. Is the electronic Darth Vader lightsaber
scheduled to continue shipping?
Yes. Lightsabers come and go, and the Mace Windu and Count Dooku ones were out of rotation for quite some time-- but it's a cycle, so you can see more of these soon if you're not seeing them right now.
4. With the release of the new TIE Fighter, I was wondering why Hasbor
doesn't re-release the TIE Interceptor with the new resculpted rear
engine. I don't even think they have to make the wings larger so they
wouldn't have to put any more work into it. Just use the new cockpit
and keep the wings from the TRU exclusive. Then we would finally have 4
fairly movie accurate TIEs.
Odds are it's on Hasbro's list of possibilities but nothing has been made public. It'd be a great move, but in a lot of areas, the TIE Interceptor sat for weeks before clearing out-- so it could go either way. I personally would love a shot at another Interceptor for about $30...
5. I'm not sure if anybody's been connecting the dots out there recently, but there is a perfect storm brewing in the peg warmer department, and his name is Nemoidian warrior. I'm not talking VOTC Lando pagwarmer, or even OTC Lobot pegwarmer leagues - this is a peg warmer like I have never seen, an "ultimate" peg warmer - dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens every store I go to, it's sheer numbers shaming even the Episode I era peg warmer ranks. What creates the ultimate peg warmer - obscurity of character? Bad sculpt? Misguided army builder idea? The obscure Mustafar sentry's doing well and Saga's Throne Room Luke sold out, so there's more to it than that. What did Hasbro do wrong, and shouldn't they be warned before they release a redeco of a figure which appears destined to join plush ewoks by the millions in Hasbro's landfills?
The funny thing is that this figure shipped fairly conservatively, at about 1 per case in most assortments. Very few cases had two of him, but it turns out that people just didn't want to troop build this figure for reasons unknown. I know I didn't buy extras of him, I've only got one open one on display right now and really don't know if I want another. And yet, I'll be getting a silver one shortly... grumble? Yes.
The figure just never really took off, and it's too bad really-- he's neat. He has a good sculpt and a nice hat you can take off, but he is cursed with a single giant stupid gun. I'd be a bit more forgiving if he came with a smaller gun too, but well, these things happen. More than likely, he's destined to be clearanced out (like the entire Saga/Clone Wars line at the end of 2003) and if you don't see him for $1.44 before the end of January 2006 I will be shocked. I don't ordinarily advocate waiting to buy more of something on clearance, but let's be realistic--
6. Me Epic Force Vader and my POTF vader with removable helmet are going through a transformation. Their sabers are turning pink( epic ) and clear ( potf ) they are not in direct sunlight or under a direct light. Will the others I have out turn to the light side? Shall I take them and pack em away?
Sometimes it's not just light from the sun, but ANY light-- artificial included. There's not a lot you can do in some cases, other than understand that aging happens and discoloration comes with it. (If you have the means to paint or recolor them, you may choose to do so.) My Removable Helmet Darth Vader from 1998 turned clear while on display in my college dorm room, but stopped as soon as I packed him away-- I blame the plastic mix and lights in the room. So, be careful, and avoid all light.
7. i was wondering with the arrival of the covert ops clone, and the chances of
more EU troopers, like the Clone Commandos figures from the republic
commandos game. Also are there any plans of releasing say the Galactic
marines or any of the other speacliased troopers.
Personaly i would love to see troop builder sets for different legions for
EP3. I mean how cool would a 41st Elite Corps set be.
The various non-movie clones aren't being made because Hasbro is trying to give you Expanded Universe lovers a thrill, but because all clones sell and repaints are cheap. I can personally guarantee you that as long as Hasbro can repaint a clone and sell thousands, they will. If Republic Commando clones could be made by simply adding some purple to a mold that already exists, you would have them by now. New sculpts cost money, so repaints are Hasbro's best bud right now. If you want such things, as always, bang the drum and shout for your favorites, because while Hasbro will gladly give you a repaint, beyond that, it might take some convincing.
(Frankly, I don't blame them. In the sort term I like seeing black Clones.)
8. I've been reading your column for some time now and the subject of R5-D4
seems to be a recurring theme. It seems to me that a possible solution
would be to put two droids to a card - as has been done with Jawas,
Ewoks, & Ugnaughts. I imagine the theory against this is "why sell two
to a card when they can be sold separately for double the the profit?",
but I've noticed that after their initial appearance, many droids seem
to warm the pegs. Two to a card (in lieu of lame action features) seems
a good compromise to me!
In/around 2000, a rumor went around that we were finally going to get a two-pack of Imperial Astromechs. Astounding! Well, it would have been, but what happened instead was we got a 2001 release of R2-Q5, and a 2002 release of R4-M9-- so while the idea of putting two on a card isn't unthinkable, well, it may have almost happened before and since they can sell one just fine, odds are you will never see two droids in a single package.
Of course, a droid with a Jawa or some other figure? Anything is possible.
9. You say that we should let our retailers and hasbro know what we want, and that we should "vote with our dollars." How does one let the retailers know? Most of the people I would even talk to are so far down on the list in the store that they couldn't help, and anyone who could usually doesn't care. As for Hasbro, is there any way to actually get anything done with them, beyond just talking to customer service, who I don't think would care as well. And the voting with your dollars leaves us with a dilemma: If we want something, we should buy it, great. But what if its a situation like the E3 battle droids. I may want more, but I don't in any way want more of this sculpt. Protocol droids...I have 1 E3 threepio...should I buy more to get them to make other droids? To me, this seems stupid. If we boycott one figure because hasbro did a poor job, they stop making as many figures, but if we want anything done, it seems like we have to waste all of our money buying up
the retailer's overstock. Sounds Lose lose to me. I just don't see a way to actively let hasbro know that we really want without screwing ourselves in the process.
A large number of collectors-- not all, especially not you guys-- are ravenous, unthinking mobs ala the Blob. They just buy EVERYTHING and then complain about it. Voting with your dollars is really just a fancy way of saying "if something sucks, don't buy it." Or "if you like something, don't be a jerk and wait for clearance, pay full price because it's worth it." It's one thing if you're a young collector and/or not well to do-- but if you have the money? Don't be a chump.
Episode 3's C-3PO is a fantastic topic, because Hasbro stopped shipping him for a while. Hasbro also retooled numerous end-of-year assortments to include more C-3POs, so when you see cases of the Tactical Ops Clone Trooper, you'll probably see lots of C-3PO, too! I think he's one of the finest figures of the year, and I hope Hasbro does more protocol droids. One way of letting Hasbro know you like more droids is to go around and post on forums that this is something you want, another way is to buy similar products. Battle Droids have traditionally done well, and Hasbro tends to crank a number of them out in a typical year, 2004 not being a typical year. Astromechs are also supposedly much wanted by fans, so someone decided to stick his neck out and say "Hey boss, I want more Astromech droids, can I ask Hasbro for 10 of them for an exclusive?"
Clones are a fantastic example of what happens with a popular item. The 3-packs, individual figures, EE 4-packs, and pretty much every single Clone Hasbro made from 2002-2004 sold insanely well, so you're being rewarded with more Clones than you can shake a stick at for 2005. The EE Exclusive set did so well that Hasbro seems to be going "oh, well, let's make lots of these and make them for EVERYBODY!"
Sales history speaks volumes, and Hasbro sees what sells well and goes nuts with it. Usually. The fact they haven't drowned us in Stormtroopers is still something I don't understand. And the rapid sales of the Gunships in stores, on Amazon, and elsewhere might make Hasbro go "oh crap, we're missing an opportunity here!" Frankly, I'd love to see more Gunships hit stores, as long as they make that great Clone Wars space beast one. Man, that sucker is cool. Where was I? Oh yes. Dollar voting.
This sort of thing can be applied to various parts of the lines, and sometimes it doesn't make sense. Hasbro says they won't make more Galactic Heroes vehicles because kids and fans aren't buying them, yet I find the exact opposite to be true-- the Falcon and X-wing sold right out, and even those dorky transforming ones sell well. Still, they look at the big picture, and they're skittish about making investments in things kids might not jump on. The Falcon and X-wing made sense because the molds were ready. And with that in mind, we should see the Naboo Fighter again someday. But it's all up to you-- buy high-dollar items (if you like them), make sure Hasbro knows you've got money that they're missing out on, and for crying out loud, BUY EXCLUSIVES. And then COMPLAIN they were hard to get. It's easy to convince someone to take on a vehicle if they think they'll have a problem keeping it in stock. *cough cough*
10. Is the Covert Ops Clone Trooper & the Utapau Shadow Trooper the same EXACT figure with only different packaging? Is ther any special mold or paint changes to the figures in the Jedi vs. Seperatist or Republic vs. Empire Battlepacks? What about the 501's Clone's that come with the K-mart or Target exclusive packs?
The Covert Ops and Shadow Troopers are different-- very different. Basically black/grey with different "camo." But they're differently painted.
The Battle Packs are slightly different. In Jedi vs. Separatist, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Mace Windu all have head swaps. Jango has one gun instead of two, Anakin's sabers colors are swapped from a previous release, and Maul is pretty much the same. Early shots of Republic vs. Empire makes it look pretty much identical.
The Target and Kmart battle pack clones are just repaints-- they're the only way you can get those molds in those colors, but there's no new molding and you can't get those figures in those configurations elsewhere.
Not often are there items so bad that they defy common sense, but hey, Hasbro and Shop Star Wars are a creative pair. Have you all seen the red Darth Vader Holiday Edition? Hoo boy. Not only is there existing, superior Darth Vader as Santa Claus art, but the only new thing they had to do to make this figure is to make a cloth hat and get some glue. The rest can be done with paint.
I showed this to my non-collector friends and the reaction was, as usual, quite amusing. The conclusion was essentially that this was a laughably bad piece that looked like its cardback was done by an old version of MS Paint. Frankly, I have a hard time arguing-- it looks cheap. It's probably just the digitally altered "prototype", but still. If you kick a dog, it gets agitated. And someone kicked a dog here.
Of course, this makes me want it even more. It's an utter train wreck conceptually and even better, there have been numerous precedents of Lucasfilm and Kenner REJECTING similar concepts. Cases in point:
In the vintage days, Kenner proposed red and blue C-3PO repaints, black Stormtroopers, and vac metal versions of the TIE Pilot and Royal Guard. Lucasfilm rejected the concepts with extreme prejudice. You can read about them in a couple of old issues of Tomart's Action Figure Digest.
Just last year, Entertainment Earth and I were talking about ways to spice up the Holiday Jawa exclusive and the idea of doing one bright red and one bright green Jawa came up (I believe from Hasbro), to further distinguish the exclusive from the normal products available. (For the record, the Sandcrawler came with two basic Jawas and the OTC Jawa repaints were similar, but better.) These were also rejected.
After three very good exclusives, why the sudden change? I'm baffled. I'm interested because of the high "junk" factor, and when there's something that looks horribly misguided, I simply cannot resist. Why not take it a step further? Like a candy cane lightsaber? Or perhaps festive red boots with white trim? Since we just got the baffling-but-not-entirely-unpleasant Lava Darth Vader, which was previously my choice for lamest item of the year, well, I think that sentence kinda got the point across without my having finished it. It might be more acceptable if we weren't also being forced to buy a ShopStarWars.com Star Case, as, frankly, some of us are buying these to open and have ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR THEM! I'd rather save the two bucks. Given that ShopStarWars.com has astronomical shipping and sales tax, which will probably add close to $10 on top of this figure, well, need I go on? It would hurt a little less if it were an item I'd actually want a few of, but holy cow, this is just a misfire on so many levels. (I mean, I'd take slowboat shipping if it meant lower costs. Some retailers online have done this and it is a nice alternative.)
I will say this-- I absolutely LOVE the greeting card that comes with this figure. If it was a poster, it alone would be worth the price of entry. If the figure set represented what we got in the card, I'd be gleeful. I've not seen it before and I totally dig it. (Does anyone know if it's LFL's 2005 card or did I just miss this one?)
And don't get me wrong-- I'm all about the repaints. K-3PO? Love. Clone Troopers of all races and creeds? Absolutely. Astromech Droids? Yes. Heck, if Hasbro cranked out the all-white Darth Vader from Return of the Jedi Infinities I'd be nothing short of giddy. (I loves me my comics.) It's just when Hasbro releases a product with no real precedent, it gets... confusing. Sometimes it works, when they're obviously soaking in the rich air of all things Star Wars. I'm an unabashed fan of Mini-Rigs, those oddball vehicles from 1981 or so through 1985. Odd as they may be, they work for me-- even their spiritual successors, the Episode I Invasion Fleet vehicles, more or less work visually. You can put 'em on a shelf with your other toys and they belong. There's odd ducks, to be sure-- the Cruisemissile Trooper is still a baffling item that to this day, even after having talked to the developers, I just don't get it. No offense intended, of course, it just doesn't work for me, your mileage may vary, and it breaks my #1 rule of what makes a cool vehicle-- the ability to insert and remove a figure inside a vehicle, to me, is necessary for it to function as a "toy." That's another reason I don't like Titanium. But I digress. Much like the Cruisemissile Trooper, a Red Vader doesn't really have much precedent other than "unusually colored exclusive repaint." If it existed in a piece of concept art, George's notes, or some *thing*, it'd be cool. I'd be happy to see it. As you can tell by the massive amount of text devoted to this one product in this column and on forums and no doubt in other columns as well... c'mon.
Am I wrong here? I'm not sure. Are fans out there interested in this piece because it's similar to the Lava Vader which they may have missed? Or is this too much of the same thing? I'm quite curious to hear what you cats think. I'm not huge on complaining about things at length in public these days, but boy howdy, when life hands you lemons...
So for the record, we've got two carded Silver Vader figures, this new Red Vader figure, and as of yet, absolutely no holographic Vaders. Awww.
So. What does all of this mean, you ask? Is there anything you can do? Well, the problem is that Hasbro's Star Wars team has a new chief, and all these goofy repaints are experiments. And we're buying them all. It doesn't matter than 1998's Expanded Universe figures sold out immediately at retail, if Hasbro had a hard time selling the assortments, and it doesn't matter that figures like Lava Darth Vader sold through a whopping 50,000 units when a figure like this Xmas Vader is likely to be a much smaller run. As long as you guys (and me guys) keep buying $15 repaints that you don't even like, they'll keep doing them. It's even going to work well for Hasbro for a while-- the problem is the hardcore one-of-everything collector is an increasingly endangered species these days, and these items are going to kill off more and more of us. I'm still a member of the club, but it's weird to be in a position when you pay a high sum for a figure that you are buying because it sucks so bad, it's just so damned funny that it EXISTS that you simply have to have it.
So what I'll be doing is taking one of the spare Vader figures in my stash and doing him up like the UK Marvel Comic cover where it has Vader in a Father Christmas getup. How hard can it be to do myself? Surely I can get the necessary crap at arts & crafts
hellhole superstore Michael's. I'll keep you posted on the results. And if anyone thinks it'd be fun for everyone to make one and send in a picture just to give people an idea of the figures they can make themselves for a fraction of the cost, let me know, I'll look into it.
(For the record, I fully understand the idea and concept as a cost-cutting measure, and I support Hasbro's need to repaint molds in order to make money. I also know that this is the fifth different incarnation of this mold and now it's parody time. [For the record: POTJ Electrocuted Darth Vader, Saga Gift Pack Imperial Forces Vader, OTC Hoth Snow Cape Vader, Silver Vader #2.] It's just that this is too absolutely ridiculous to NOT become a topic of conversation. And kudos to all on the development of a product that just inspired way too much free press. Look at me, I can't shut up about this.)
For next time, just email me with your question and I'll put it in queue. (If you do not put "Q&A" in the subject line I cannot guarantee it will get through due to the high volume of spam these accounts get.)
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