Galactic Hunter.com's Star Wars Q&A with Adam Pawlus
September 8, 2008
1. Given your knowledge of the action-figure retail world, would you hazard a guess to say the animated Clone Wars figures are selling a) better than the 'real' sculpt style, b) about even, or c) worse? I know it's hard to tell at most retail stores because they are all lumped together and stores (at least in my area) seem to have been shipped a *lot* of product (six weeks after the lines came out, you can still pretty much get any figure from Clone Wars line 1, the first two Legacy lines, and the Saga Legends first line; in fact I've seen first day of issue stickers loitering around even this week). Did Hasbro release too much product at once, and has that helped or hurt the Clone Wars line, do you think (I know there's intended support through next year, but then there was for Indiana Jones too and that line has *tanked* at retail)?
I'm beginning to wonder if (what I perceive to be) a growing (and wholly asinine) aversion to the prequels isn't the cause. [snip] People are going to like what appeals to them. But it really feels like people are closing their eyes -- and minds -- to prequel stuff merely because it is prequel stuff, which to me seems, well, kind of stupid. SW is a BIG playground now and we all have areas that don't really grab us (I find most of the novels are pretty bad personally), so maybe this is just the whining of someone who thinks he's seeing a backlash against a part of SW lore he really likes (for the record, I really enjoyed Clone Wars and have seen it twice, can't wait for the show).
The anti-prequel question is a bit of a doozy. I'm a big believer that most franchises have a sort of magical property about them that causes the real feelings toward one story to be transferred to a later installment. For example, the box office success of The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels all came from the first strong film. Ditto the merchandise-- the reason POTC2 had such great toys and strong purchases were because of the love for the first picture. In this case, a lot of people hated the prequels but stuck out the movies-- and now that the story of the movies is over, a lot of the indifference or general distaste of the Old Republic is being fueled into The Clone Wars. Which, as far as I can tell, isn't entirely fair given that the cartoony movie didn't strike me as quite as indulgent as parts of the prequels.
I've seen no evidence that Star Wars toys are hurting in any way. LEGO and Hasbro products seem to be doing just fine, but the edition sizes on recent Gentle Giant and Sideshow items (really, over the past year) lead me to wonder what the heck is going on there. It's entirely possible that the success of Star Wars is largely driven by kids, because, let's face it, all we collectors do is complain. We don't typically go on forums and say things like "this new C-3PO figure is entirely wonderful!" And those prequel toys are selling to somebody.
Regarding product availability, what we're seeing here is fairly normal for a "launch." In 1999, with the exception of Darth Maul, those initial Episode I figures were widely available. Ditto 2002's Episode II line's first wave, and much of the first few waves of Episode III in 2005. Sure, some figures were popular, but a very short toy run could usually yield the entire first couple of dozen figures with limited problems. It would seem that the first day of issue stickers-- a really bad piece of marketing in light of the hundreds of dollars of new product, especially given that a sticker does not a "first day of issue" make-- continue to trickle in. I don't know if you pay attention to assortment breakdowns, but no single case has more than 4 first day sticker figures in it. So if anything, there's a certain level of BS/marketing to it, but those terms tend to be pretty swappable. (And I say this as someone in marketing.)
Star Wars was and continues to be a largely kid-driven franchise. It's just that kids grow up-- the reason it's so big today is that the children of what may be referred to as Generation X grew up and came back to it. It's hard to tell what today's kids are going to do, but it's entirely possible they'll grow out of Star Wars (like so many of us did from 1985-1991) and come back some day. Of course, Star Wars went away once, and it hasn't yet done so again. The toy line is consistently successful, the sheer quantity of product each year is gargantuan, and complain as they do, collectors still line up to buy.
I can't say I blame fans for hating on the prequels, or even the TV show, as long as they took the time to see it. The strangest reactions I've seen to the new Clone Wars project are something like this: "Lucas sold out. I'm not going to watch this cartoon crap, I'm just going to buy the toys."
...I'm a firm believer that there's a very large part of the fan base which will buy absolutely anything Hasbro cranks out, without exceptions. This isn't a huge number, but the number that'll buy every basic action figure-- I believe-- is pretty big. Backlash or no, we're in a hobby which survived Hurricane Episode I, several off-years, and countless competitors. No licensed movie figure line has lasted forever, but history shows that a lot of brands will go on even if the fans shift. Someone's going to buy this stuff no matter what we think.
2. How long do you think Hasbro will do the build-a-droid pack Ins? It seems as though continuing a program like that would force people to buy the whole wave, Right? I'm still debating whether it's worth it. I don't know how many times they can get me to buy repacks or repaints of figures i already have. Plus I'm not sure i want to collect figures from comics and other sources besides the movies and TV shows
I was also wondering since Hasbro has stated in recent Q&A's that the animated and legacy figures are going to remain separate (which is fine by me!) Do you think this will spawn 2 types of collectors.
How long before people stop belly-aching about the stylized look of the animated figures? Clone Wars is here to stay and has a long way to go before it ends right? With the release of the cartoon network preview the other night I'm baffled at the lack of excitement for this huge venture Lucusfilm and Hasbro are about to take us all on? I'm Excited are You?
Right now the build-a-droid line looks like it's going to have a healthy 12-18 months of production, so right now I'd be surprised if it doesn't last until near the end of 2009. Hasbro might change this depending on sales and new cost factors, but if history tells us anything is that Hasbro won't keep it around forever.
While the Animation and Real/Other lines are separate, I don't know if it will split the collector base too much. I see a lot of people break down and buy into the toon figures because they want to buy something and no new "movie" figures are available, or because they heard some figures like R2-D2 are awesome. (He is, by the by.) As long as Hasbro keeps cartoon characters out of the realistic line, there's a very good chance both could thrive or at the very least co-exist for a while. Collectors seemingly embraced the cartoon line, with only 8 figures out there they seem to be doing just fine.
As far as complaining goes, never. A lot of collectors are pretty focused and anything that isn't what they love is going to be the target of much malice. You'll see the same thing in competing home video formats, video game consoles, and anything else that fans could argue over. Fan interest seems to be a little tepid, but that might have to do with expectations or people going into this not wanting to like it. I'm just a curious fan-- I'll watch something even if (or especially if) someone tells me it's bad. I just finally saw Star Trek Nemesis, for example. It's entirely possible fans will warm up to the show, but I'd be lying if I said I was crazy about the two separate lines-- I'd personally rather just see one, even if it meant shelving the classic movie figures for a while. Do we really need to have cartoony and real clones on the pegs next to one another?
...but to answer your question, I'm all about the TV show. It's a great medium, even if its golden age is behind us, and seeing the saga on TV could be really fun. And if an episode sucks, it's only going to be another 7 days until the next one. As someone who has watched many episodes of Star Trek, I can say that I wouldn't get your hopes too high-- even a beloved franchise can have multiple rotten episodes. That's no reason to knock the entire series, but it is worth mentioning that a 10-20% suck rate shouldn't be a big surprise on a good weekly sci-fi television program. especially if it skews young. (Plus we've had dozens of great [and awful] comics, games, and novels, so I'm expecting a mostly good mixed bag here.)
3. Also, some of the figures I have said first day of issue with the blue foil star wars logo. Will these be rarer than the non foil logo ones? Does it matter?
The intent of those "First Day of Issue" stickers on the first 8 The Clone Wars and first 12 The Legacy Collection figures were to drive sales and create a little extra buzz on an already buzzworthy line. It seems that under 20% of the production of each figure so far has the label, and it might be closer to 10% or less. The real question, which you asked, is if it matters-- I'd say probably not. Typically these "Ultimate Galactic Hunt"-style chase figures do well during slower seasons, but in the midst of a big push, they get lost in the shuffle. Many fans just don't care, and history shows us that this sort of thing doesn't generally have a lot of lasting interest with fans. By the time the next few waves hit, these will likely be forgotten.
If you think they're cool, I'd suggest getting a set. If I was on a budget and I could only pick one or the other, I'd skip the first days so I would be able to have a uniform looking packaged collection-- I'd want a uniform look, but that's me. Since it's just another figure with a sticker on it, it's a great way for the manufacturer to convince you to buy the same product again with minimal changes.
4. I recently picked up the Durge/ Anakin Comic 2 pack and was initially impressed by the Durge figure (not sure why). It sparked in me a desire to go back and pick up the other incarnations of Durge as I have, until the last year or two, been strictly an OT figure collector. I bought the original Clone Wars carded Durge as well as the Deluxe Durge with bike. I haven't had the opportunity to get a good look at the Deluxe (it hasn't arrived yet), but today I received the single carded figure and rushed to do a side-by-side comparison of the two (old and new) versions. At first I thought that the new version borrowed parts from the older version since some of the basic features are pretty similar. I was disappointed by this until I took a closer look and realized that the new version is not only all-new but, sculpt-wise (IMO) not as detailed as the original. The original has more paint apps and added details that the newer Durge is lacking. The 08 Durge is pretty plain in comparison and missing some of the oomph that the older one brings to the table. Sure, the newer figure has some more articulation (although there are no knee joints) but I am a bit surprised at how much cruder the newer version looks compared to the older Durge. I am not an EU guy and have therefore only seen the character in the Cartoon Network Clone Wars series as well as the comic book packaged with the 08 figure. Still, it just seems like the older figure packs a better punch. Is the new one more accurate in all of its ...blandness? Where does the Deluxe figure rate compared to the other two? Your thoughts?
The deluxe Durge with his bike is my overall favorite-- best helmet, best articulation, and best accessories. He also holds together nicely. The 2003 basic figure has this weird fleshy patch on his arm, likely meant to be his arm, which doesn't really mesh with the character's appearances in the various comics and cartoons too well. The 2008 figure looks a lot like the 2003 one, but with less detail, a smaller head, and... well, it just doesn't sing. And it should.
Accuracy is tough to read. The character looks different in each incarnation, as artists take liberties with the design. I'd suggest checking out some Internet pages on the character for reference, or if you really don't follow the comics, just pick your favorite. I'm willing to give a little in terms of detail if it's more fun as a toy, which is why I think the deluxe model is the best.
I would agree that the new one is cruder, and it certainly needs something to make it better. Fanboys and girls, hold on to your 2003 figures if you got 'em.
5. So what do you suppose is the deal with [these guys from Asia selling figures by the lot on eBay]? I know you've obliquely
referenced back-door factory sources for toys before, but I'm eager to
talk frankly. I'm not interested in tossing around accusations or
anything, I just think there may be a lot of conversation worthy
information implied by these auctions. I kinda feel like this guy is
getting some sort of unofficial factory output - most likely "off hours"
Might it be possible to guess mold usage from such a seller's available
At one point it seemed pretty telling that these individuals were picking up items from current production runs, but over the years it has been all over the place. They have sold G.I. Joes which never saw an official release, Star Wars figures from several years ago, and even upcoming items. There's no obvious pattern to the items being sold versus what will or won't come out, as these sellers have even sold kitbashed figures of their own designs which were never produced by Hasbro proper.
I honestly don't know what the deal is with them, but I'm wagering a guess that they're done in the off-hours from real Hasbro molds. That, or surplus product made for any of a variety of purposes, such as safety tests or items which were never completed. (For example, there have been cases of toy companies making too much product and not enough boxes, and those toys will end up going somewhere or being ordered destroyed-- and it's possible employees take them rather than have them ground up.)
I know Hasbro's official stance is "it's stolen property" most of the time when prototypes or anything that looks like it came from a factory is concerned, but that simply can't be true. Employees do get this stuff and sometimes sell it off. And if a factory sends Hasbro every piece it ordered and cranks out a few hundred extra for one reason or another, there's definitely some intellectual property rights issues here, but there's no guarantee it's genuinely "stolen" product. It's hard to get information out of these sellers for a variety of reasons, especially given there's often a bit of a language barrier in many cases.
Right now, I'd look at them as merely being interesting to watch for potential new unannounced products or shots at items I've missed-- seeing older molds show up for auction doesn't necessarily mean anything, for all I know someone bought a huge wholesale lot of figures, opened them, and is now selling them at a premium price as an army. (I've seen people pay more per-figure for a lot of unpackaged clones than they would for just one single packaged figure on a regular basis.) I wish I could say that there's something you can read into from the figures they sell beyond the obvious, but right now, I would be unable to see any consistent patterns out of these sellers' inventories.
Last week was pretty miserable-- thanks for all the kind words, by the way-- but I did manage to stumble on the Ewoks and Droids cartoon DVDs as a mall in Phoenix. It really is a shame these are essentially out of circulation, even though they are oddly edited together with stock footage from other episodes appearing in strange places. No sign yet of the live-action Ewok DVDs any more... but I'm still looking.
You may have seen my post earlier in the week regarding my initial impressions of the Toys "R" Us exclusive Lars Homestead set. My opinions on the topic of its value haven't changed much, but it is fun to mess with it. It's just ridiculously overpriced and has a much lower production quality than I've come to expect from Hasbro which, I suppose, may be my own fault. These little figures aren't all perfect, but I've never seen plastic this flimsy used on any of what I considered to be a collector-grade toy line. Having bought the cardboard sets, which I thought were fine, I found this to be more than a little disappointing. However, I have kept it within arm's reach while at home for a while and have been messing with it here and there. So don't not buy it just because I think it's potentially the worst value of the year outside the $13-$15 individually carded exclusive figures-- you might have fun with it. Just be careful, it's fragile.
I'd also like to add that I can't put down the Tobbi Dala and Fenn Shysa figures. These things are pretty amazingly great for repaints with new heads. That, and they also beg for their own vehicle(s), so here's hoping Hasbro cranks out some fun, angular, 1980s-style space ships with two seats in them. Or three. (And also, I'd like to see a Boba Fett based on the art from those particular issues...)
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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