Q&A For October 17, 2005

 

1. Are we getting two different sculpts of the upcoming Blue 501st Legion trooper?? The 3 figures in the Jedi Temple Assault battle pack appear to be repaints of the #06 Quick Draw Attack figure while it's rumoured the basic carded Tactical Ops Trooper is a repaint of the AT-TE Tank Gunner. So will we have 2 different sculpted versions?
--Dan2ine

As of today, there are most certainly two 501st figures based on different sculpts. One is the Kmart Jedi Temple Assault set, where all 3 are redecorated #6 Quick-Draw Clones. The other is the individually carded trooper, which is based on the AT-TE Gunner. A third sculpt was shown at San Diego Comic-Con, but as of yet, its future (or place as merely a mockup) has yet to be revealed.

2. Have I missed the ROTS Bust-ups, or have they not been released yet?
--Ryon

Not out yet. Not sure why not, but hey, gotta have something to tie in to the DVD release, right?

3. Number 1. Does K-Mart get their 'Star Wars' items early. Because during summer 2004 they VOTC Obi-Wan and Han Solo.

Number 2. When will Hasbro understand that a lot of us really want EU figures. (If they do, I hope they make Anakin Solo because I'm dying to have one of them) Just because the first EU line didn't work out doesn't mean a new one would be horrible.
--Ty

On #1-- no, stop asking. On #2-- no, stop asking.

Seriously, Expanded Universe isn't a good idea for a whole line. It just isn't. It's a phenomenal idea for a few figures here or there, as it has been since the one time Hasbro has had a de facto EU line in 1998. Since then, we've received an entire Clone Wars line, numerous conceptual design figures (some of which were even intentional). We've received a few figures from the abandoned "Jedi Quest" project. I see a McQuarrie Stormtrooper in my stash, and numerous figures based on abandoned concepts from Episode III. In short, you people need to start being more specific what "EU" means to you when what you mean is "I want figures from a novel which twelve people who may buy toys read and for which no recognizable character designs exist and to top it off I will not be happy when I see a figure that doesn't match what the guy looks like in my head."

I don't mean you specifically, of course, when it comes to the above litany of likely complaints. But you have to remember that the popularity of Star Wars novels, comics, and games represents a divide in the hobby. Believe it or not, people collect the "Expanded Universe" as everything BUT toys too-- people who read the books and play the games and own, maybe, two or three figures. Tops. This is a tricky area, and I personally think figures based on the books is a horrendous idea unless the figure either has a recognizable look (i.e., Thrawn, Mara Jade, Nom Anor to some extent) or is from a visual media-- like games, or comics. (Or the cover of a novel everybody read.) Not every character lends itself to an instant figure. Take the Arcona from the Cantina. Good ol' Hem Dazon. He's just a head, you know. (Well, in the Holiday Special, they had his mask on an extra in the background, but technically, that ain't him. Or maybe it is. Who the hell knows.)

I want to know where I can get a Mara Jade that doesn't suck, a Thrawn that resembles ANY visual representation of the guy, an EU Leia that's pregnant-- as she was in Dark Empire-- etc. It ain't easy to do these well, as you can see, but so far I'm happy with what I have and I'm crossing my fingers that we continue to see more.

Not counting the recent rash of characters from Revenge of the Sith that never appeared on-screen, there's a good selection of non-movie figures out there. Here's a short list off the top of my head since 1995: Prince Xizor (two of him), Dash Rendar, Chewbacca in Snoova disguise, Wookiee Scout Roworr, Luke Skywalker in Imperial Guard disguise, Swoop Trooper, concept Rebel Scout, concept Hoth Pilot, concept Bespin Pilot, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Dark Empire Luke, Dark Empire Leia, Clone Emperor, Imperial Sentinel, Spacetrooper, Darktrooper, Kyle Katarn, Concept Stormtrooper, Darth Maul (comics), Darth Maul (armor), Darth Maul (concept robes), Obi-Wan (snow suit), Obi-Wan (training armor), Qui-Gon (training armor), Asajj Ventress (two versions), Durge (times two), Clone Wars Anakin (times two), ARC Trooper, ARC Trooper Commander, Saesee Tiin Pilot, General Mace Windu, General Kenobi, Swimmin' Kit Fisto, General Yoda, and I'm probably forgetting a few.

That's almost 40 right there. 40! And I'm not including any of the fancy "cut from the movies" figures in this tally either, nor am I mentioning the all-new sculpt animated series figures.

I firmly believe that the Expanded Universe is a great place to start picking "new" characters. Since Sora Bulq was actually designed for use in Attack of the Clones, well, why not? And what of Quinlan Vos? He kinda had a cameo in the first prequel. So there's lots of potential in characters with a slightly more striking design that can't shock fans. Of course, I'm biased-- if Hasbro said they'd make a series of repaints-- REPAINTS, mind you-- to make characters from the Marvel Star Wars series, I'd be pushing over little old ladies to get them. Or new sculpts. Lumiya? Kiro? I'd go nuts. Fenn Shysha? Sure! But like most fans, I've got my favorites and you no doubt do as well, thus making it tricky to pick a "classic" EU character to make into a toy. While some of you may go "yes, I know of the characters Adam speaks of," I'm willing to bet a good chunk of you are wondering what the heck it is I'm talking about. And that's how I feel about some properties like KOTOR, and it's hard to convince Hasbro (and buyers) that figures from a game that not everyone has played all the way through, or a book few have read, etc. is a great idea.

Likewise, Marvel Comics' original Star Wars characters may not be great either. But I assure you that the fervor I would put out there for Lumiya would eclipse KOTOR's fan base's interest in figures. (Seriously. I'm CRAZY! Booga-booga.)

As far as the first EU line not working out, there's a few ways to look at this. Hasbro said the line failed because the figures didn't sell well. And it's true-- from a certain point of view. Those figures came out right as the line was taking a nosedive at retail and stores were blowing out old figures and stores had a massive glut of product to unload. As such, orders were low-- and they didn't sell well... to Wal-Mart. Fans ate 'em up, and many fans (myself included) never saw these figures at retail. Some stores (like Entertainment Earth) never even got their full orders-- the whole backstory of that 1998 line and what really happened remains a mystery, but it did prove fans care, and the going rates of those figures on eBay proves fans want them. But keep in mind-- those were very Toy-Safe Choices. People knew and loved Thrawn. Dark Empire Luke was my #1 choice for seeing production since I read those comics in 1991, and in 1998, hey, I got lucky. KOTOR is still pretty new-- and has nothing to do with the saga of the Skywalkers, which makes it a bit of a distant choice. Although with the new KOTOR comic, the interest in the characters could blossom, or bad comic sales could show that nobody cares about them outside video games. It's something people will have to wait and see.

It's going to be hard to get fans behind certain characters... not impossible, but seriously, this is not the best forum to ask for characters from novels, or games not focused around the movies. I will gladly lend a sympathetic ear for fans wanting Sharad Hett or Hett Jr. But as far as the rest? I don't believe ANYBODY "deserves" a figure. (But if I did, they'd be characters that had speaking roles in 1 of the 6 movies or one of the remaining unproduced "vintage" characters.) Sure, Anakin, Jacen, and Jania are Han & Leia's kids, but honestly... so what? It's not like they're some totally recognizable non-film design like Obi-Wan in Clone Armor. (And it's not like that turned out as planned, but I digress, and next...)

4. when are the SamÕs Club exclusive Mustafar playset and exclusive Arc-170 likely to hit?
--Fin

Warehouse stores are tricky, but there's one thing you can do with them that you can't elsewhere-- ask. While I am not personally a member of Costco or Sam's or the rest, my parents were, and I found out you can just go up to someone and go "hey, I heard you were going to carry some X, when are you expecting that?" And if it's in the computer, they'll let you know. As packaged samples have surfaced I'd go with either "very soon" or "alongside the DVD."

5. With the revamped OTC line due in 2006, have you seen any indicators that more figures will be offered up from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones (other than Maul and Jango)? I understand people have reservations about the prequels, but there are still so many great characters that havenÕt been done yet (including the Lars family, more Pod Racers and droids)?
--Robertson

I have yet to see or hear of any Prequel characters in 2006 beyond Hasbro's comments on Commander Cody and possibly Entertainment Earth's Astromechs (as 4 were prequel droids) if those end up being pushed back to January. But there is supposedly a Battle of Geonosis wave and I think I heard Naboo too, so I'd be optimistic.

6. A recent development at Sideshow has me somewhat concerned about the distribution and pricing of their new SW 12" line. I've been collecting items from their Buffy line, sometimes buying the "Sideshow exclusive" version of a figure directly from their website and sometimes buying the non-exclusive version from other online retailers. With the most recent figure up for preorder, however, Sideshow has announced that it will be selling both versions from its website only (sorta defeats the purpose of "non-exclusive"). I didn't learn about the announcement from them but from a bitter e-mail, railing against the inevitable monopoly and price increases, sent out from the head of another online retailer from which I had preordered the item.
--Annmarie

And concerned, you may wish to be. Sideshow makes great stuff, but they're moving away from the distributor space and more toward "direct to consumer." This doesn't mean you'll get lower prices, quite the opposite: Sideshow will just charge what they perceive a fair SRP to be, and there's no competition. The good news is you know where to buy them and there are unlikely to be store exclusives. The bad news is that the whole line has the potential to be a store exclusive. To my knowledge, Sideshow has made no comment on if the 12-inch Star Wars line will be something they sell direct or something they'll share with retail partners, but either way, I expect lots of allocation and other annoyances from the retail side. Who knows. All I can say is keep your ear to the ground and here's hoping Sideshow has the foresight to not make these super-limited-- 12-inch sells, it just needs to be good and put out there for the fans to buy it.

7. Hasbro keeps saying vehicle are too expensive especially newer and bigger ones. Why not add some figures [say 5 army builders to a turbo tank or to Palpatines Shuttle], they can be repaints [cutting costs down] and say an exclusive one [making us want it more] and making retailers more comfortable with the idea?
--Zak

"Keeping costs down" and "finding a way to bilk fans out of buying more of something they have" are different things. The Gunship did OK at $40, but it did exceedingly well at $30, despite those two versions not necessarily appearing in the movies. Fans like modestly priced items and sometimes they suddenly decide they don't want it, then Hasbro's screwed. Getting the Gunship's cost down had to do with getting the electronics out and development costs down, packing it with Clones may or may not have helped it. It's hard to tell if a higher price point with a greater perceived value (but still a lower cost) would get fans giddy.

Vehicles aren't cheap. It costs millions to develop, tool, and prototype a large vehicle and you best be damned sure Hasbro wants to make ones they can reuse. Jedi Starfighters and X-wings can sell for years, because they can be redone in new flavors, they're cheap, and kids like them. A Turbo Tank is not cheap. And fans don't want a "cheap" one, they want it to be perfect-- and retailers don't want a "perfect" one, they want it cheap.

The problem comes from convincing stores and Hasbro that they can sell hundreds of thousands of this item and/or repaint it as a second product. I think Hasbro could probably do well with a slightly "deformed" $30 Turbo Tank but it might be a while. It's still a pretty obscure vehicle, like most spacecraft in Revenge of the Sith, it really wasn't prominent. It's not like the Pod Racer or Jedi Starfighter that gets tons of screen time, it was there for a few seconds and then gone.

This isn't to say "forget vehicles, it'll never happen." Blame the current toy industry-- bigger toys are a bigger risk and a tougher sell. Outside of Bratz, big giant toys are not exactly commonplace, especially in the boy action toy sector. Vehicles are one of the most exciting parts of Star Wars collecting for me and were one of the absolute best things about the vintage line, but obviously this is not the direction in which Hasbro wants to go. Which is a shame, because it's been 28 years since I first saw a Blockade Runner and my figures have never set foot inside a toy one. After I get a Blockade Runner, yeah, then I'd say we should start complaining en masse about the lack of other things. Except the V-Wing, we should have one of those now too.

8. the upcoming Han Solo in carbonite - Do you know if the carbonite block is a real-scan of the actual prop? as we know, Gentle Giant went through the Lucasfilm archive and scanned so many of the OT props, and I would love to see a 3 3/4" scale replica of this awesome prop! Also, what do you think the chances are of eventually seeing a new OT Grand Moff Tarkin with a scan of the Peter Cushing life-mask that was used in Gentle Giant's mini-bust used for a new 3 3/4" figure? And finally, where is the love for C-3PO? He is the ONLY OT main character who has yet to receive a figure with articulated knees! I would have considered the ROTS version to be the ultimate C-3PO if only his knees were articulated! Having been in all 6 movies, this is just very noticeably absent.
--Matthew

It's my understanding that, on the whole, the scans made by Gentle Giant were for archival and reference purposes. To translate an item to a toy, some features need to be exaggerated or sculpted so it works as a plaything. It's my understanding that the toy is not based directly on this scan data, but I could be wrong.

A new ANH Tarkin? Well, I asked Hasbro a few months back. And don't hold your breath. I believe the exact answer was "didn't we just do a Tarkin?"

As far as C-3PO goes, I believe I heard the lack of knees had to do with paint scraping-- but obviously, a non-chrome one would be a different beast. As a figure, he does well, so maybe some day we'll see one. The Revenge of the Sith one was a huge hit despite offering nothing beyond a good sculpt, so at some point there's bound to be an "Endor God" version or something to satisfy your needs for knees. And frankly, it hasn't bothered me too much-- it's not like there's been a Yoda with knees, an Emperor with knees (from the Trilogy, anyway), and numerous core characters in key outfits with knees. (Although Luke has most of the major bases covered.)

I'd love to see Threepio (haha, See Threepio!) with knees, or wrist joints, or any increased level of articulation. And if Hasbro's reading, I think it's something to consider-- after all, a super-poseable C-3PO body lends itself to numerous repaints which we would gladly buy as fans, right?

9. You've talked before about how stores like Target, or even online retailers like Entertainment Earth can ask Hasbro for exclusives. Well, let's say, hypothetically, a Star Wars collector wins the lottery. What would happen if they went into Hasbro and basically said: "Hey, here's 2 million dollars. I want a Tantive IV ship/ playset. Two of them, with a box and full box art. Then, destroy the mold." Would Hasbro do something like that, for a private collector who had an insane amount of money to spend? It'd be like an exclusive, just a very, exclusive exclusive?
--RJ

This is something I've been trying to figure out, and it's my understanding that if you have a Hasbro account and can buy and move enough units, they'd do it. If they thought your doing this would result in a situation where a number are destroyed or something that plain just didn't sell and made the brand look bad, I sincerely doubt they would take the project on. I've heard some nifty ideas not get approved because they were not perceived as things that would uplift the brand, and obviously, it's important for Hasbro to make Star Wars appear as an "A" property instead of as some albatross hanging around their neck while they wait for their own properties to mature and result in big sales numbers.*

But if I won the lottery-- yeah, I'd try to find out. Give me $100 million and I'll show you someone subsidizing exclusives and making lots of donations to Toys for Tots. (As I am not good with massive amounts of money. Or at least, I dunno if I would be. I need someone to give me the chance.) If you went to Hasbro with enough money to finance the development and pay for 20,000 units? They'd probably listen.

*-- Insert snarky comment on the red Darth Vader here. Insert a second about the price after taxes and shipping. But I digress, again.

10. With Sideshow getting the 12" figure rights it got me thinking... why can't Hasbro grant another company the right to produce playsets and dioramas? I'm sure many people would be willing to buy a Death Star or Hoth playset for a few extra bucks due to the decreased level of production as long as it's compatible with the 3.75" figures. And, I'm sure there would be companies hungry to get the rights. What's your take?
--RoswellSun

Well, it's sort of being done. Retrobilia, a UK-based company, has produced a "Pride Displays" diorama based on A New Hope and the old Kenner toys. At Celebration III, they indicated they may do some from the prequels with action features some day. It's a very real possibility, but like anything, are the fans there? There's only 5,000 of their first diorama (which sells for $55-$70) and those things are far from being a huge sell-through so far. Granted, most fans don't know it's out yet. But there it is.

I think there's a niche market here to be tapped, but as mentioned earlier, big toys cost big money. If you want something big and cool, it's going to be just as expensive if not more than a Hasbro item would be, of course, if someone could make 5,000 really nifty figure-compatible Death Stars and charge $200 for them, odds are the market would eat them up.

But anyway, on the Pride Displays thing-- I got a look at a sample of one and it's pretty neat for what it aspires to be. But it also proves that product costs a lot of money to develop and fans aren't exactly throwing their money at it, which is a shame, because if this inspired some completely NEW playsets not meant to remind us of toys we had as kids, we could be in for some top-notch items. The whole concept reeks of potential, but, sadly, it's not an immediate runaway success. (Although for $55 shipped, if you've got $55 to blow, there are worse ways to spend your money-- it's a really nice looking display piece.)

FIN

Oh, and read this. It's funny because it's true.

I'm working on the Revenge of the Sith DVD review and there's a lot of stuff on here nobody else is mentioning... so it should be a good review. More this week, I think.

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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