Is Star Wars getting the shaft?
I know the title's loaded, and I'm not trying to start a flame war here. That's just the way I feel lately when I compare Star Wars to the other Hasbro lines I collect.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm about as obsessed with G.I.Joe and Transformers as with Star Wars, though I currently collect Joes more than the other two for a few reasons. And I look at the current Star Wars offerings that I have no interest in getting, vs. the new Joes that I do, and it's almost as if they're made by two completely different companies, not the same one (with some overlap in the teams, even, IIRC).
Let's start with basic figures (and by "basic," I mean the 3.75" figures with more than five points of articulation). Currently, both lines retail for $10.
With Star Wars: The Black Series, we start off with (and correct me if my numbers are wrong) a wave of eight "new" figures, with subsequent waves adding around four figures per wave. I put "new" in quotation marks, because they might be new sculpts, but there's not a new character until Darth Plageuis in Wave 3. The line is already centered heavily around Republic/Imperial army builders, with most of these being Clonetroopers. Most of the figures appear to be lateral moves at best from earlier versions, with Mara Jade being a huge step backward and the only clear improvement being Padme... who has an elbow joint cast in the wrong color plastic. The Biker Scout has a known issue with his mask warping in the package, and the packages are dull attempts at simple sophistication that, until recently, had widespread issues with the bubbles simply falling off the cards.
Turn to G.I.Joe. The latest wave is twelve new figures (and, yes, I think that may be an excessive leap to the opposite extreme). These are mostly entirely new sculpts; when existing parts are re-used, they're covered with removable webgear or painted so as to not be immediately recognizable. A few are updates from earlier sculpts of characters, with the new versions mostly being clear improvements over earlier ones (the updated Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Cobra Commander are largely a matter of personal tastes). The articulation blows anything from Star Wars out of the water; most figures now even have pivoting wrists, and some have additional thigh articulation or completely concealed rocker ankles; they're also consistently constructed, making customization rather easy. The number of accessories per figure is staggering, with some of the latest wave even including miniature vehicles. Two figures have interchangeable heads; the Crimson Guard even has stickers so you can customize his rank! And, while only a fool would argue the cards aren't hideous, they at least have been sturdy since the beginning and took someone more than five minutes to design. Oh, and the character selection? A few core characters, and all sorts of obscure and fan-favorite characters.
Looking at the vehicles, though there have been cutbacks in both over the past few years, you typically get twice as much vehicle for the same price with G.I.Joe. Joe vehicles almost always include a pilot or driver figure (which is inconsistent with Star Wars), and, while the Retaliation vehicles included limited-articulation figures similar to the current Saga Legends, the just-released Eaglehawk seems to indicate a return to the fully-articulated figures of the past.
And, although it may seem a bit less consistent to compare Star Wars to Transformers because the toys are less directly comparable, I read this morning that the latest TRU-exclusive re-release of the Republic Gunship, largely the same since its 2002 release, is being sold for $120. $120 in Transformers terms will buy you the updated Metroplex, the largest Transformer ever released, complete with electronics.
"But Star Wars costs Hasbro more, because of the licensing fees!" Yes, it does. But Star Wars has also been one of the biggest-selling toys every year this century, and the biggest-selling toy several of those years. G.I. Joe, on the other hand, as loathe as I am to admit it, is essentially a glorified vanity line at this point, selling almost entirely to adult collectors. There's also no independent 3.75" Joe line with limited articulation (and, presumably, a higher turnover and profit margin). It's a simple numbers game; the sheer quantity of Star Wars toys being made and sold should offset any additional design costs thrown into the mix. And, yet, when we get some awesome Star Wars figure, we're told that sacrifices had to be made in the rest of the wave as a cost-offsetting measure. So, with the far less profitable line (Joe), where is the cost cutting we should see to offset an entire wave of new, super-articulated figures with tons of weapons, exchangeable heads, stickers, etc? Why can the same amount of money buy you the latest release of a mold that's been put out fifty gazillion times and is familiar to kids from the recent Clone Wars show (not to mention the movies), or a completely new Autobot city that hasn't appeared in any medium followed by kids in over twenty years?
This isn't intended to come across as a love letter to G.I. Joe or Transformers. But, even disregarding the complete cluelessness Hasbro seems to have as a whole in terms of how to handle G.I. Joe at all, these two lines seem to have their act together. I'd love to see Star Wars handled the same way, and I can't figure out why it isn't.