At this year's Comic Con International in San Diego, we were given the opportunity to interview the heads of Hasbro's Star Wars brand, Derryl DePriest and Jeff Labovitz. The 10-minute interview was packed with conversation despite the Hasbro booth being a madhouse, to one side of us was Ray Park signing autographs to a giant crowd, the other side was a group of costumed Star Wars characters with the life-sized Han Solo Carbonite, and in between was the giant Angry Birds Star Wars 2 Telepods interactive display. But Derryl, Jeff and I powered through the distractions and insanity, Jeff displaying an especially deft manner when a convention-goer tried to hand Jeff a camera to snap a photo during our interview and Jeff shut that down without missing a beat. So here are the fruits of those labors.
JEDITRICKS: Alrighty, so-
DERRYL DePRIEST: Come in close over here, let's step away from there, yeah.
JEDITRICKS: Okay, so I'll with start with-
DERRYL DePRIEST: We can talk about secrets this way.
JEDITRICKS: (Evil laugh). Class 1 fleet vehicles and 2 figures. Are those gone or are they on hiatus?
JEFF LABOVITZ: Yeah, so we phased them out because we introduced the new line of vehicles for 19 dollars. We took the... as you know, the larger scale 3 3/4" vehicles were becoming a tough price point. So Mark Boudreaux, in all of his wisdom, created this smaller, tighter line for 20 dollars. So that's really solving that solution for kids. A great vehicle play, their scaled really well for the figures. So there isn't a need for that lower price point vehicle.
JEDITRICKS: What happens to smaller vehicles then? Do they just become exclusives or do they just kind of phase out?
DERRYL DePRIEST: Yeah, so they can, they'll be available for exclusives and we don't preclude their return, someday, to the line. The focus right now though is on just those great 20 dollar vehicles. All the hero vehicles.
JEDITRICKS: Ok, so that actually reminds me. The current class 2 fleet, you guys have, you know, decades of vintage class 2 library going back a long time. What's going to happen to those molds and is there any chance of seeing continuation of that quality and size and detail even if it's exclusives or something else?
JEFF LABOVITZ: So a lot of those vehicles we can pick and choose from and continue them as possible exclusives in vintage series packaging. So we can make a lot of use out of a lot of that tooling by sprinkling those in throughout the line.
DERRYL DePRIEST: Absolutely, and another example of that is what we're doing with Toys R Us with the Republic Gunship. That piece meets the needs and collectors alike. So we'll keep that going.
JEDITRICKS: What about that style for new vehicles though?
JEFF LABOVITZ: The larger size?
JEDITRICKS: Well, it doesn't have to be larger size, just larger than the current line... you know, the class 2 from 2 years ago.
JEFF LABOVITZ: Yeah, for the time being, for the foreseen future the vehicles for 20 dollars will be about the size of the ones that are out there now, over the next couple waves.
JEDITRICKS: Okay, so that's what we'll be seeing.
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's a very kid-friendly, mom-friendly, dad-friendly price point. Let's kids get into the world of so critically important vehicle play for Star Wars.
JEDITRICKS: Switching gears a little, you guys showed off one of your new Saga Legends: Mission Series, the Darth Maul figure. Are there going to be other... is that going to open the door for Clone Wars, realistic or non-realistic, like Pong Krell or even Spider Maul?
JEFF LABOVITZ: No, there won't be that many sprinkled into the line, just one or two, and just the big, heavy-hitter, A-listers. So we'll be focusing on the best from the saga.
JEDITRICKS: Ok. This is a hypothetical question, with Star Wars Rebels, the new animated show coming out next year, a little more than a year, would you guys, if it was only up to you, decide to do them as animated figures or as realistic figures?
DERRYL DePRIEST: Well, we're working through Lucasfilm on that right now. So those decisions, we're not gonna talk about that-
JEFF LABOVITZ: Yeah we haven't really, we can't really talk about the-
JEDITRICKS: That's why I framed it as a hypothetical, we know you can't talk about it in literal terms.
JEFF LABOVITZ: We love the idea of a new show. We're excited about any new entertainment opportunities.
JEDITRICKS: You guys showed off the new Mara Jade figure. When that was originally polled it was shown as Mara Jade Skywalker in her green Jedi outfit and it won under that. But when you guys showed it off, it's her classic catsuit that has already had 2 figures done of it. Is there any chance of seeing the other version of it done in the near-ish future?
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's not in the plan right now
DERRYL DePRIEST: Probably not.
JEFF LABOVITZ: Not in the plan.
JEDITRICKS: Why did it go this way then? With the classic catsuit?
JEFF LABOVITZ: It won as the Jedi outfit, right?
JEDITRICKS: Yeah, definitely. The green Jedi outfit was definitely the winner.
DERRYL DePRIEST: Our design team made a decision that the best Mara Jade, that they felt that they wanted to do was this version. Which is the ultimate version. It's a decision that they basically made. We understood that there would be a little bit of fan questioning on that. It was something that was discussed at the time but we let them [the design team] win out because they felt that they could deliver that figure the best.
JEDITRICKS: So, some figures from early this year and a little late last year in the Movie Heroes and Clone Wars line, including light-up Anakin and SandTrooper, blast-apart Battle Droid, etc. Are we going to see U.S. release of those at all, in any- none at all?
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's unlikely.
DERRYL DePRIEST: It's unlikely. Though, we're doing with the Darth Vader Evolution pack this year, we're using that same light-up figure [Derryl means the Birth of Vader pack]. It's possible that those figures could be candidates for future packs. Right now they're not in the works. We wouldn't leave out any possibility. It's just like all of our vehicle tooling will exist and will remain in rotation as something that we can use to fill out a pack. But right now they're not in the works.
JEDITRICKS: Some collectors are worried that the 6-inch line might cannibalize resources, financial or design, or just attention from the 3.75-inch line, which has run a long time. For people that aren't going to be invested in the 6-inch line, are they still going to be looking forward to a robust regular line of The Black Series and beyond?
DERRYL DePRIEST: Three and three quarters, and that's why we have both lines out this year is to really, first of all gauge interest and demand on a totally new collectable scale in 6-inch. But also satisfy those fans who have been with us a long time in three and three quarters. So we're actually going to learn a heck of a lot in the next six months or so on what fans are telling us in their interest, or relative interest, in one or both or neither of these lines. So the future down the road, that has yet to be written, that has yet to be mapped. But we believe very strongly that we've got a strong fan base in both scales who will show us that the future can be in one and both of these.
JEFF LABOVITZ: And one doesn't preclude the other, so there's plenty of room to do both, there's certainly not a resourcing
JEDITRICKS: There's a wall between them budgetarily, then, right? Like, one budget's not going to suck energy out of the other budget.
DERRYL DePRIEST: No no no no no, not at all. They're treated as separate lines. The future of all our lines are really dependent upon the performance that is near-term and ahead of us. And resources are assigned based on that. Assuming that we're not selling to the same audience and stretching the wallets of the same customers who are forced to make a choice - assuming that we have found a vibe for a new line - then it shouldn't be an issue continuing both.
JEDITRICKS: So, changing gears again, the Naboo Fighter from last year's class 2 vehicles looked like a really great piece but a lot of collectors missed out on it because of just distribution issues, is there any way we might be seeing that in the near future?
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's not planned but we are anxious to try to get that one back out there. We know that that didn't get into all the hands that it needed to.
DERRYL DePRIEST: That's on the short list of ones to find a willing retail partner, say for an exclusive.
JEFF LABOVITZ: It'd be a great exclusive.
JEDITRICKS: Definitely. This year we have a repainted Slave 1 and a giant AT-AT but, of course, we don't have a new-mold big vehicle. Is there a future for new molds in this line still, of that size? And secondarily, was the MTT's performance an issue, whether it was negative or positive?
JEFF LABOVITZ: No, the MTT did well for us, and with all the entertainment coming there's got to be room to do some nice big vehicles in there. We love that scale, we love the heft of them and the great play, so I don't see us walking from that any time soon.
DERRYL DePRIEST: Not at all, and if anything this year is one of the quieter years for Star Wars entertainment so it didn't make sense to kind of die on the sword with a large vehicle here so it's just a matter of time. And, if anything, Star Wars over time has proven itself to... that that large vehicle is a core part of any year with a big entertainment story.
JEDITRICKS: Thank you. So on Darth Vader figures for three and three quarter, the past five years or so there has been a change in the soft goods materials to something that I like to refer to as "chiffon". It's see-through, it's gossamer. It doesn't really convey the sense of body that the rest of the figure carries. Other characters using black outfits like the Emperor, they don't have it as bad as that. Why is that?
JEFF LABOVITZ: I don't know.
DERRYL DePRIEST: I don't know, what I will say is that sometimes our soft goods can be inconsistent and change because it depends on sourcing, right? What material is available from our suppliers at any time. It's not always entirely predictable or it will be a guarantee the same material will be used on every batch. So really it's a little bit of an uncertainty. If a change was made I'm sure it was the intention of producing great aesthetics, like the figure looks good. Without really worrying whether something is see-through or not because we don't think kids will really pay that much attention.
JEDITRICKS: The thing is, also, it doesn't pose well because it's so light it comes up. But that's secondary, sorry. So, before the public announcement of the 3-D releases for Episodes II and III being shelved, did you guys know that you were going to have to pull your line or change your plans over that?
DERRYL DePRIEST: Before we knew.. That's impossible to answer.
JEDITRICKS: No no no, what I mean is, before it was publicly announced
DERRYL DePRIEST: Oh, before it was publicly announced.
JEDITRICKS: Did you know or were you already planning to scale back or..?
DERRYL DePRIEST: Actually we did very little to change our plans. (laughs)
DERRYL DePRIEST: Yeah. So once... we had already designed a line around the heroic moments of, largely around Episode III-
JEFF LABOVITZ: And Darth Vader.
DERRYL DePRIEST: And Darth Vader. So it's the story of Anakin to Vader. Once the news came out and Lucasfilm told us. We looked at our line and said these are really-
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's a great line!
DERRYL DePRIEST: -some fantastic items that we've never done before in Star Wars and we're always looking for the stories. Like the Anakin to Vader 12-inch figure is an amazing figure. And so too is our roleplay. So we really went forward with confidence and we said Darth Vader is the most iconic villain. He's wrapped around the product line, the line is built around him. We feel good about our line going forward. So really it didn't change our plans much at all.
JEDITRICKS: So you guys have interplay, like Skylanders, with your Angry Birds Telepods. Any idea if you might want to do that with your figures as well?
JEFF LABOVITZ: Yeah, the future is wide open for Telepods. Angry Birds Star Wars 2 is just the start, so we can definitely envision a scenario where the technology is intertwined with figures, vehicles, you name it. Anything.
DERRYL DePRIEST: Anything, it's a great platform for Hasboro.
JEFF LABOVITZ: It's an elegant, simple technology that let's you merge the best of both worlds.
DERRYL DePRIEST: Excellent Question.
JEDITRICKS: Alrighty, Thank you.
And that's it. Thanks to everybody at Hasbro and Hunter who made this interview possible.