This week's column includes an editorial on the Titanium Series peg problem, a review of TAC wave 2, and Tycho sounds off about Hasbro's 3 SW Celebration exclusives.
Jedi Mind Tricks: Episode IV - That's Our Luke
- EDITORIAL: Whether or not you're a Titanium Series collector, you've probably noticed a problem brewing in that section of the toy aisle.
I personally love the Titanium Series 3" vehicles, they've got great detailing, features, and that magic heft that comes with the inclusion of die-cast metal parts. For those who don't know, the Titanium Series line is basically the new outlet for the Galoob-Micro Machines division of Hasbro, so they're developed separately from the main Star Wars line. As the Titanium Series line branches out into other fields, those too are handled by the Titanium Series team. The Titaniums' packaging has several unique elements to it: one is the large "Titanium Series" brand badge at the top with the franchise brand's name near the bottom, another is the unique rounded bubble-over-card shape of the packaging, and one more key aspect is that the art of the tray inserts - which cover much of the bubble - are each individualized to reflect the look of the toy inside; the unusual, eye-catching packaging has been a significant factor to the line's success.
The line started with Star Wars, then added the Battlestar Galactica license to the mix, and since both lines are similar in theme and have related appeal they ship together as a single assortment. Then Hasbro created the Titanium Series 3-inch Transformers mini-figures line, these are a separate assortment altogether but share the look of the Titanium packaging. The minute these hit stores, they started getting mixed in in the Star Wars pegs. Now Hasbro has added yet another new assortment to the Titanium Series 3-inch brand, the Spider-Man 3 license, and again we have a separate assortment number but with the Titanium packaging.
Last year, when Hasbro released not 1 but 2 different "Greatest Hits" lines of figures in the same packaging as The Saga Collection, it created peg-space problems at all the major retailers as store clerks and customers would mix those Greatest Hits figures in with the regular TSC pegs (and why not since they look alike and appear to be the same product?), but Hasbro insisted over and over that since those Greatest Hits figures shipped under a different assortment number that had its own separate place on store planograms, there would be no problem getting new main line TSC product to pegs. Collectors' firsthand experience said otherwise from all over the country, but Hasbro vigorously insisted that their plan was working even in the face of overwhelming empirical data. Was Hasbro right and the separate assortment numbers doing the trick? Hasbro seems to think so, they're even pulling the same stunt this year with the 30th Anniversary Collection's greatest hits line, the "Saga Legends" - the notion of which has sent dread into figure collectors across the nation who remember pegs bursting with pregnant Padmes and ROTS C-3POs (some pegs still are).
Now the Titanium Series line suffers the same fate, except where the TSC figure line's greatest hits entries at least were similarly themed and cross-interest product, the Titanium Series Star Wars line enjoys neither with Transformers and Spider-Man 3, and both of which so far have shown far weaker legs. Unlike the massive collecting community of the TSC line who all shouted in unison over the disasterous peg problem of its interloper brand, the Titanium Series line is a much more underground brand and the outcries have been fairly tame - it doesn't help either that at every turn with the complaints over the TSC line's similar issue, Hasbro staunchly denied the problem's existence leading to far more frustrating collecting experiences for all, boding poorly for similar complaints over the Titaniums. But Titanium Series fans are out there, the line continues to sell in the face of poor case assortments leading to pegwarmers of its own (which is an editorial for another time) and other licenses' assortments encroaching on precious little peg-space at all the major retailers. Among the current wave out now is the Battlestar Galactica modern Battlestar Pegasus, but due to pegwarmers and interloping brands this item is going on ebay for ridiculous sums, as much as 10 times its MSRP.
So what can we collectors do? We can try to straighten up the pegs as best we can when we visit a store, most of the Titanium pegs have their brand's names and assortment numbers on them even though the employees aren't always noticing, some stores even separate the Transformers and Spider-man 3 Titaniums' pegs from the Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica ones - but this is a battle we can't win without the support of at least the stores. More importantly, we can start telling Hasbro of the problem every time we see it - in-person complaints via mail and phone carry far greater weight than mere emails, Hasbro's customer service phone number is 800) 327-8264 - let them know what the problem is and how common it is in your area (I hit 5 stores yesterday and every single store suffered it), we may lack a powerful unified collector base but we can make ourselves heard. And finally, we can try to get the line's casual collectors, of which there are plenty, aware of the problem and try to convince them to be part of the solution.
The Titanium Series 3-inch Star Wars vehicle line is currently the only outlet for us collectors to get our hands on Star Wars vehicles anymore, those vehicles are iconic and exciting and unique, they should always be available so they can continue to be part of the fun of Star Wars collecting.
- COLLECTING LIGHTHOUSE: First up, the latest wave of Star Wars Transformers has been sighted at the big 3 retailers (Target, Wal-mart, and TRU). The wave includes 2 new vehicles - Republic Gunship / Ep 2 Clone Pilot, and Ep 2 Jedi Starfighter with Hyperdrive Ring / Saesee Tiin - plus a new repaint - Ep 3 Jedi Starfighter / Mace Windu. The line remains controversial with enthusiasts of both franchises, but these new entries look pretty decent.
· You may have noticed that the expected surge in TAC (30th Anniversary Collection) basic figures seems to have sputtered in the last few weeks. Target and Toys R Us stores have been seeing more and more cases of wave 1, plus the odd case of wave 2, but generally there's not been enough product to satisfy demand and pegs are picked clean within hours of being stocked. Well, except for Obi-Wan, R2-D2, and Mace Windu (in that order), who just aren't moving as fast as the other figures in the wave. Dilligence and patience are the collector's friends here, no modern Star Wars line after POTF2 has launched this softly and had its early waves stay that way for long, eventually the floodgates do open, but it doesn't hurt to keep asking stores if they have figures in the back either.
· The exclusive Order 66 2-packs have arrived en masse at Target stores, generally stocked on an endcap at the registers rather than on the toy aisle. At $10 a set, you get a main character and a "just-offscreen" repaint of an existing Clone figure in special cylinder packaging, not a shabby deal. In my neck of the woods at least, the only set that's been difficult to find has been #3, the Darth Vader/Commander Bow set, the rest have been not too bad. Like most Target exclusives, these probably won't be available for too long, so get them when you have the chance.
· TAC wave 2 is the first set of figures to actually come from the OT in this 30th Anniversary Collection - it is, after all, technically the anniversary of ANH first and foremost. It's an odd grouping of guys, and a short wave with only 5 movie figures and 1 concept figure. One odd commonality is the universal-jointed shoulders on Luke, the Rebel Honor Guard, and Concept Fett, all of which are hinged a little low so when you raise the arms it creates a small amount of gapping. There's also a packaging error on all the cards, where it shows other figures available on the card back, it lists wave 1's Obi-Wan as 06 when he's actually #05. The coins in this set are even more unrecognizable than wave 1's, Biggs' likeness is so far off I wasn't even sure it was supposed to be him until I read the name.
· · The Rebel Honor Guard is a boring figure with an "exciting" wide-stance leg pose, so of course in the movie and included movie photo he's not standing that way. He's got a ton of articulation, his face is alright for a generic guy although a little young, and his costume is fairly well detailed considering it's a drab green snorer. The holster on his right stows his rebel blaster (thankfully, the slightly larger modern version, but they widened the grip) and it faces backwards, so it's an awkward draw. The helmet is an interesting thing, it's got the clear black visor, I guess the idea is it's the same visor from the regular Rebel Fleet Trooper helmet but slid, this doesn't move and isn't that accurate, but it gets the idea across well enough. The helmet also has the side radio box, but no antenna, and on mine the left end of the chin strap won't fit in its slot and the glue meant to hold it there is barely a thread holding it in place. The pike is actually pretty cool, simple but a few sculpted details to make it not boring. Overall, this isn't an exciting figure, but it's alright as Rebel filler if nothing else, the only thing I think it has a hard time getting past is the dynamic leg pose.
· · Han Solo - the coin says "Smuggler", the outfit is Millennium Falcon Gunner, since the Rebel Guard's coin title differed, I'll stick with the "Gunner" title. Han's body uses parts from the VOTC (Vintage-style Original Trilogy Collection) version but with a new head, arms, and lower legs. The likeness has some similarity to Han in the Falcon vs TIEs scene, but the figure's open mouth hampers that, makes it seem more cartoony; still, I think this likeness is a little closer to Harrison Ford's than either Vintage-style figure. The headset is not removable from the head, but is removable from the belt, they put a hole in the back of the belt to accomodate the comm-unit. The figure's got universal-jointed shoulders, diagonal-swivel elbows (the right arm is packaged rotated upside-down to get a 90 degree elbow bend), rotating wrists, standard waist & hips, universal knees. Ultimately, I am not totally sold on this figure, it's a tad scene-specific and the open mouth only worsens that, plus it suffers diagonal cut elbows which I usually loathe, but there's something about this figure that works for me better than I expected, he seems like the all-around Millennium Falcon pilot figure this way.
· · Here comes Luke Skywalker Yavin Ceremony, the figure most of you will probably hate. Early photos were really horrendous, the prototype looked like hell and the first production samples didn't fare much better, I'd say it's not quite as bad as those images led us to believe though. The sculpt is still off with a poor imitation of the loose hairstyle that widens the head and a not-quite-right face (it doesn't help Hasbro's defense that they slapped a huge movie version photo right above him on the card), they painted his hair a sloppy thick brown again, and his skin tone is a near-zombie white pallor, but I do see a Luke likeness hidden under the bad deco and odd sculpt choices. The outfit looks pretty decent and well-detailed, though the jacket's paint is a tad sloppy. The separate holster is pretty goofy, just mainly a tiny loop, if it weren't plastic I can't see how it'd work at all; and it's got the wrong gun, Luke's got Leia's sporting pistol there, not the Han-style blaster the figure comes with. The medal still doesn't show the details that well, but is a little nicer than the previous attempts at the accessory. Hasbro once again included the Darth Vader lightsaber hilt on his belt, lame. The figure sports most of the "super articulation" we've come to expect, the only thing really left out is a lack of ankle articulation (strange that Luke and Han both lack it); he's got big boots which look a little weird to me but he can bow forward thanks to them. Overall, the head's deco and sculpted hair that's an odd shape and too wide take away from what maybe could have been a passible Luke, and it's too bad as it dooms this figure.
· · The Death Star Trooper is super-articulated, has a removable helmet, a working holster with a stormtrooper blaster (which is the wrong blaster), and is quite large - I can't tell you more as I don't actually have him, he's the popular army-builder already.
· · Biggs Darklighter Rebel Pilot has a decent head sculpt, recognizable in and out of the helmet, and that's probably the most important aspect of the figure. The paint is a bit bold for a slight cartoony look, and the hair is painted sloppy, but it mainly holds up ok. The 2004 Gold Leader body is reused here and works for Biggs' height, but it's got very dated articulation which really hampers the already problematic, oddly-posed arms. The helmet is repainted from Gold Leader's, it's accurate but lacks weathering. The chest box is now glued into the chest, the rest just pegged so there's freedom of movement. I was able to barely cram this figure into the Saga X-wing cockpit with the canopy closed all the way, but the crap arm pose pushes him off to the side something fierce - perhaps this is Biggs asking Vader to wait, and how did that work out Biggs? Thankfully, his blaster is the slightly larger modern rebel blaster, not that noisy cricket the Rebel Fleet Troopers in the battle pack got, but Hasbro modified the handle to be wider. In the end, the reused older body's cruddy arms are pretty disappointing, but the outfit looks decent otherwise and the new head sculpt keeps this figure in the acceptable category.
· · And lastly, McQuarrie Concept Boba Fett is amazingly cool, very Star Wars (though I believe most of the concept art design used here is actually from fellow SW designer/illustrator Joe Johnston). His removable flame accessory is among the very few that actually come across right thanks to paint details, material coloring, and a good sculpt. The flame plugs into the left wrist gauntlet, and like most blast accessories, will sag over time. Both of the removable heads look cool on this body, the less-Fetty one sits a little lower than the other giving him a different look; the more familiar helmet's targeting scope is movable, but the other's is not. The blaster has a more simplistic styling that fits the concept art theme, it's shiny black with red and silver details, and fits smartly into the holster despite the unusual stock. The backpack is simple but cool, the hole on the figure's back is drilled off-center but it doesn't make much of a difference. The belt is a separate piece with a working holster. The stomach gun panel is weird yet nifty and comes straight out of the concept art, the torso lifts up on its peg to let the panel come down - the torso can come off the waist completely a little too easily which makes the belt losable, so watch that. Articulation is very good, nearly everything I'd want (again only lacking ankles, that's half the figures in this wave) and can take some pretty cool poses. Paint is simple but effective, there's enough gray among the white to keep it looking not too much like a clone/stormtrooper, but that was the point to begin with; on the back of his right shoulder is a proto version of his emblem. Overall, this is easily my favorite figure of the wave, and I'm sure it's going to be very popular, I know some folks don't care for these concept figures but I think this one is among the most fun and most Star Warsy of all time. Good luck finding it!
- TYCHO'S MOUSE DROID REPORT: With the announcement of there being several Celebration 4 exclusive items in the Ralph McQuarrie Concept Figure lineup, I couldn't help but feel some anger well up inside me. Not because I want those figures and can't live without them, mind you, but because of how their very existence will create the worst sucker-bait in the history of the 3 3/4" part of the hobby.
Concept R2-D2, C-3PO, and Luke Skywalker are part of a collection that many (myself NOT included) are really enthusiastic for. In the past, Jorg Sacul and Celebration III Darth Vader were stand-alone pieces you could live without if you weren't suffering from the worst completist syndrome. Not so, this time around.
There was hope that all 3 figures would at least be summer con exclusives, turning up at Comic Con, Wizard Con, and on HasbroToyShop or ShopStarWars for a reasonable price and quantity purchased limit so everyone can get one [sadly, Hasbro's confirmed this is not to be the case -JT]. "Exclusive" and "Restrictive" are two different descriptions for a collectible with limited outlets.
Well, my estimate of how worthwhile it will be to scalp these figures, or eBay them, fortunately doesn't make it fair too well for the exploiters in the hobby. It'll be nearly $1,000 for the hotel for 5 nights plus money for parking, food, admission - not to intentionally think of that last. Sure many scalpers live in LA, or even live in their cars probably. But these figures might only fetch as much as $150 maximum, if you judge them by way of the 1997 Special Edition Theater Luke - of which there were likely a vastly smaller quantity prepared (the first 50 in line for the first evening show at each participating theater got them). So a scalper might just break even - might. In the case of the McQuarrie figures, Hasbro has to make enough and sell enough to justify their creating the molds according to their business model (which explains why we don't have a Sailbarge whereas Zizzle's Pirates of the Carribean has the Black Pearl - so Hasbro says).
With the Fan Club Store being open 24 hours, these figures won't be that rare. Perhaps they'll only garner half that previous price guess on eBay and wind up being sold at Star Tours as well (OK - so not with the nifty special coin you can decorate your little play album with - re-read with heavy sarcasm please). [editor's note: sales of the droids set are being limited by how many days' admission your pass is for, 1 set per day purchased so if you buy a 3 day pass you can buy 3 sets, and the pass is physically altered when you buy them -JT]
Myself? I'm fairly certain I will not attend C4 in spite of being a veteran of the past three Celebrations in Denver and Indianapolis. I'm just not feeling it this time. Perhaps since there's no movie, and the TV shows have progressed to almost nowhere. [More surprising since Tycho lives just 150 miles from LA where the convention is being held -JT] As to the figures? I'd open them and use them for diorama fillers in Mos Eisley, Coruscant, and Bespin. But maybe by the time I'm setting all that up in a few years or so, the price for these figures (especially someone selling them loose) will have taken a tremendous fall. But I'll pay $10 a piece for them this year. Any offerings?
- FIN: And finally we come to the end of another entry of Jedi Mind Tricks just as your taxes are due. I want to thank you for reading this column, but my accountant says I'd need to itemize that, and my box of receipts is overflowing already. Please feel free to leave any sort of comments / questions / fawning adulation in the Comments System, or in this column's forums thread. Until next week, remember: the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!
- PREVIOUS COLUMNS: Episode I - 3/26/07; Episode II - 4/2/07; Episode III - 4/9/07
note: the opinions stated in this article are not necessarily those of SirStevesGuide.com or its owner. JediTricks has bought so many figures, it seems as if time itself has become cyclical and restarted on him.