Galactic Hunter.com's Star Wars Q&A with Adam Pawlus
August 18, 2008
1. In anticipating of the [recent] Clone Wars release, I do not see much marketing geared towards informing general audiences (i.e. non-SW fans) of Lucas' latest efforts-what gives? Granted I do not watch much television, but I would have expected to see more hype with the movie less than two weeks away. Am I a victim of my own aversion to non-interactive mass media or am I on to something here?
I think they're doing exactly what they want to do... from a certain point of view. The marketing machine has been cranked up to fairly under-the-radar levels, but the question is what exactly are we promoting here? That, I'm not so sure of. The film managed to boost the living daylights out of toy sales, so that was a decent success. I assume. It could just as easily have been that the market was starved for so long.
A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about the lack of posters and billboards, and I'd say there's two possibilities. One, that Lucasfilm has indeed dropped the ball and underpromoted this film. (Especially in light of this weekend's box office numbers.) Remember that this "movie" is actually just a glorified television pilot-- the original plan was to air a Clone Wars TV series, and the movie was crafted as a way to kick it off. So what I think may be going on here is that they're probably using the film to promote the television series, and the film itself doesn't necessarily need to make a splash (but anything it does make is gravy) and if it promotes the toys and awareness of the TV show and licensed merchandise, all the better. Lucas' camp seemed less concerned about their DVD trilogy releases, for example, than they were about their Lucasarts game sales. It's also possible it was a huge flop. As I do not sit in the Lucasfilm marketing meetings, it's tough to say-- if the movie really did only cost $10 million to make, the limited marketing and $15 box office gross is probably a good place to be.
If anything it seems like all the "movie without a movie" campaigns we've seen like Clone Wars (2003), Shadows of the Empire (1996), and the aborted Jedi Quest have proven is that you can make a big splash in sales, but you need a movie to make a huge splash. If I'm right, that means The Clone Wars doesn't need marketing, it is the marketing for the entire Star Wars brand in 2008 and 2009.
As far as the actual marketing-for-the-movie goes, I've seen a fair amount of PR-- which is marketing, but free, and that you get someone else to do for you-- surrounding the toy launch. Which generally gets the news to talk up the movie, but that doesn't seem to be the case this time. I've also seen a few TV spots and a very limited poster campaign here in Los Angeles. (Like, I've seen one poster in one mall.)
It's strange to see a Star Wars movie greeted by such total indifference. If you want an idea how little people care, take this into consideration-- Star Trek Nemesis had an $18.5 million opening. That's right-- there's more Trek fans out there who will support their favorite franchise than there are Star Wars fans. This is further driven home by the fact that Nemesis' box office was in 2002 dollars.
2. My question, briefly; have you discovered any way to reliably make either of the animated Grievous figures stand? Sure, Hasbro has given us other wobbly people in the past, but at least all of them can use a base -- not an option here. I'm getting tired of picking one -- or the other, the holo is no better -- up. Any hints?
Basically, you (and by you, I mean all of you, and me) are currently out of luck. It's always possible Hasbro will retool him with foot holes (it happened before with other figures) but who wants to re-buy Grievous? It seems to me your best bet is to prop him up or lean him against something. It isn't a solution so much as it is acceptance of a poor design, or at least a design that doesn't work too well as a figure which can stand up.
3. Hi. This might be a little odd, but I was going through RebelScum's archives to see what kind of holes there were in my collection, and I was wondering if I could get your opinion on a few older items:
-The Theed playsets; How much do they suck? Is there a price so low that they're worth it? Even a little?
-Episode I R2-D2 Carrying Case; Was that Destroyer Droid released in anything else?
-Episode I Flash Cannon; As far as I know, this is not seen in the movie. Is there something you know that I don't?
-Episode I Battle Bags; I was looking at these, and some of them are smaller creatures (pikobis, nunas, the fish), and I thought they were kinda neat. But I can't find anything on how big they are to judge if they're anywhere near figure-scale. Do you know how big they are?
-Mustafar Playset; Kinda the same question as the Theed ones. Suck/not suck?
Oy. Well, a good rule of thumb I tend to tell people is that if you don't feel an absence in your collection, there's no need to fill it-- there are thousands of dollars worth of goodies coming in the next 18 months, so unless you're itching to buy something you can save yourself some real money by not looking back.
The Theed Playsets aren't especially good-- they're somewhat flimsy, and the exclusive figures aren't so great. I actually put off getting the larger of the two for years. The smaller one is pretty neat as a way to display a Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan, but they aren't really all that fun. I certainly wouldn't miss them if I never purchased them, but if I had to pick I'd buy only the smaller one.
The R2-D2 Carry Case is one of Hasbro's finer items. I'd actually say it's the absolutely best carry case created for the modern line that wasn't a vintage reissue, too. The little adjustable compartments act like a tackle box for storing figures, and the environment is pretty cool. Figure or no, I'd still suggest getting it. A slightly different ball Destroyer Droid was issued in a Clone Wars set with a "launcher." It's almost a shame Hasbro never reissued it, it's so good I'd like to suggest more fans get one.
The Flash Cannon... yeah, you can skip that. This is a big gun with a red light in it, and Hasbro thought it was worth $10. Is there any doubt as to why the accessory packs all tanked? There's a Gungan Catapult as well, and it's not so great either. Save yourself some money and pass on it. If you can get it for a buck or two, it's amusing enough, but I'd suggest you pick up a Flash Speeder instead. Unless you want to write a column where you examine and/or make fun of toys, it really doesn't serve much of a purpose.
Battle Bags may be neat, depending on what floats your boat. They're tiny, about the size of the 2006 bonus holographic figures. Because I'm enamored with fish and dinosaur toys, I saw these and picked them up on extreme clearance in 2000. There's no articulation and they're about as fun as those little figures you can use as cake decorations. I'd suggest getting them if you can enjoy a nice collectible figure that isn't a 3 3/4-inch scale item... although the fish come pretty close.
Hasbro's 2005 Mustafar Playset kind of sucks-- probably mostly due to safety restrictions and the kind of plastic Hasbro uses these days. One of the things playsets usually have going for them is play value, and this one is built around a single duel and a bunch of armored guys with buckets. You can connect some Battle Arenas and the Deluxe Darth Vader with Medical Table to it, but by itself it's just an OK toy. It's an OK toy, but I would be lying if I said I had a lot of fun with it. The giant pylons that stick out of it tend to fall off thanks to heat and gravity, so I can say you're probably better off without it unless you want to rig up some fishing wire to prop up two of its larger pieces. I personally think it's inexcusable to design a toy that, if left alone on a shelf, will actually fall apart over the course of a week or two. And that's exactly what this set does.
4. Did you get these new vehicles and put them together yet? I was very disappointed, for the cost, that these were not sturdier than they are. I had a heck of a time to get the legs/feet of the AT-TE to stay on the vehicle..everytime I move it one just falls off. Then I got to putting together the Millennium Falcon and one of the landing struts wont stay on. I tried it in different locations without success. All the others stay in the slots I put them in. Do you know if Hasbro would consider sending me a new strut to replace the one that wont stay in?
I did indeed get both, and with both, in the first day, I did suffer some issues of pieces falling off. However, after that, it really hasn't been a problem. If you do have a damaged piece, the good news is that Hasbro tends to be pretty great about replacement parts if requested through their customer service web site at Hasbro.com.
With my AT-TE, I found the middle legs falling off pretty constantly the day I got it. I pick it up, it falls off. I walk up the stairs, it falls off. However since then, I've taken it down the stairs, outside, shot a bunch of video of it, took it back in, put it on a shelf, moved it around some more, and had no problems. The legs are designed to come off so they won't snap (basically, we're seeing fallout of the infamous "drop test" that toys go through) and it seems like some units are more sturdy than others. Also, to employ an old joke, "Doctor, my leg falls off when I do this." "So don't do that." In the past few years we've seen Hasbro try to do more ambitious pieces, but the result is our having to be more careful. Two-piece lightsabers are prone to breakage. Additional articulation means small pegs which can cause arms to fall off. Big toys mean some pieces will have to fall off if certain levels of pressure are applied. It isn't 1983 anymore, and the things you can and can't do with a toy are largely dictated by those horrible parents and their congressfolk who deny us awesome toys because their stupid kid choked on a missile. (IT'S CALLED SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, PEOPLE!)
Oh wait, where was I?
5. Is there a rhyme or reason to which figures go together to form the [build-a-droid] figures? For instance, when I look at the ROTJ wave, it seems that maybe Hasbro has a pattern. Luke, Han, Chewie, and the Ewoks go together. Those four from the wave seem to be kid-friendly (not that there aren't collector friendly as well). The other four, Bane, Yarna, Ak-Rev, and the Removable Helmet Vader seemed to be geared towards collectors (although Vader is a kid favourite, collectors have been asking for such a Vader for a while now). Is this a possible pattern for upcoming astromech waves or am I just reading into this too much.
Also, could you speculate on where Hasbro seems to be going with the 2009 Battle Packs. Are we (hopefully) going to see more "Mini-Rigs" with three figure Packs?
The entire build-a-figure concept is done largely to encourage fans to buy deep into the line, and to keep collectors buying them all. As such, I'm sure much of the distribution of who gets what is done to maximize purchasing. I don't necessarily see a pattern-- Luke, Han, Chewie, and the Ewoks are more an example of "one of these things is not like the other." I'm not sure kids are really interested in Ewoks any more than they would be in Bane, as he's a weird looking guy and the others are angry little teddy bears. If anything, I'd say Hasbro may be doing this somewhat randomly, or in such a way that it might get fans to buy one figure that they wouldn't otherwise just to complete the droid. (Or would give them a piece of droid so that they would be likely to seek out the rest.)
With the Battle Packs, it seems Hasbro has decided that this is a great avenue for bigger pieces-- scenery, Deluxe figure reissues, and so forth. The new footprint certainly allows for it, and at Comic-Con they made it known that they feel this is the best way to pack out smaller vehicles. (I can see that. I'd rather have 2 bikes with pilots for $20 than 1 for $13-$15.) I don't know how many mini-rigs we'll see, but we're certainly going to see more in the way of movie vehicles and probably cartoon vehicles too. Here's hoping for some of the Rebel speeders from Marvel's Star Wars #55 and any of those vehicles we saw on the Droids show.
Currently, the plan calls for one of the Rebel transportation units from Yavin IV in the original Star Wars and a lot of Speeder Bikes. Beyond that, nobody's quite sure yet. Market forces tell us that Hasbro can package a Clone Trooper with pretty much anything and see decent sales, so I'd be surprised if Hasbro doesn't crank out new, small clone vehicles as time goes on.
What the heck happened to Star Wars? Did everybody have plans this weekend? Was the non-marketing machine too weak? Was it the typically slow August box office? By now, you've no doubt heard that not only did The Clone Wars not do too well this weekend, it came in at #3. Apparently more secrecy, very little hype, and no billboards aren't a good way to market a movie that the critics decided was worse than The Phantom Menace, which is something I have a hard time agreeing with. With a $15 million take, that means you can probably estimate that between 1.5 and 3 million people paid for admission to the film. (I'm part of the problem, someone gave me a free ticket to see it last Tuesday.)
The previous three prequels had massive hype surrounding their trailers, giant conventions surrounding their launches, and a pretty decent marketing campaign-- nothing huge, but something. This time around, it seems the only thing we got was another inane midnight toy launch. (Have you guessed I'm sick of those?) It really is amazing what a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago this month, we were all just starting to see leaked, unpainted test shots of Darth Maul. About seven years ago, some people leaked several storyboards for Attack of the Clones to some FTP site and I went through them like a crazy person. For Revenge of the Sith, even though we knew of the climax since 1983's Return of the Jedi novelization, we still looked for tidbits and hints before the film's release. I think that the leaked trailer from Poland was the only non-sanctioned leaked information we saw from this project, and that was greeted by nearly deafening silence.
The reaction to The Clone Wars, minus the midnight stuff, seems to be about on par with the 1985 cartoons and the first Ewok flick. Some of the hardcore are interested but ultimately it seems nobody really cares. I wonder what this means to Hasbro, given almost all their licensed movie toys have flicks which do $100 million or more at the box office, and I'll be amazed-- like, I'm almost willing to make a bet-level of amazed-- if this movie can pass $30 million at the domestic box office. I'm even seeing a lot of fans on the forums say stuff like "eh, I'll wait for the DVD." Wha? I'll wait for the DVD? This is the same fanbase that gave the Star Wars: Special Edition $100 million back in January 1997. This is the fanbase that made huge deals about seeing movies at the theaters and what an important even it is to go see it with your fellow fans. This is the same fanbase that, for reasons I didn't get then and still don't get now, camped out in front of movie theaters for crying out loud. I've often said Star Wars fans are somewhat unpredictable, and I have to say in a way it's good to be reminded of that from time to time.
Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with "Q&A" somewhere in the subject line and hopefully I'll get to yours in the next column!
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