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  1. #1

    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.
    Tommy, close your eyes.

  2. #2
    G.I. Joe and Transformers have a cheaper bottom line...

    As Hasbro owns those lines. And there's no likeness rights for the most part.

    With Star Wars, there's a lot of fingers in the pie taking a cut before anything else.
    THE SPY. THE SPACEMAN. THE GODDESS. THE ROBOT. THE GORILLA.

    AGENTS OF ATLAS - Returns in Early 2009.

  3. #3
    If SW had a S.L.J.-version John Shaft character figure, I'd be getting it. :shutyourmouth:

    I just think that without legit "new" figures (i.e.: from the new film, should it ever even be made), Star Wars is running on empty. You can only release the same figures so many times.
    "May the 4th be with you?" "Why yes, thank you for asking."

  4. #4
    Actually, Beast, I specifically mentioned that. But, to use the pie analogy, G.I. Joe is a shriveled-up overcooked Personal Pan from Pizza Hut, while Star Wars is a huge 30" deep dish from a Chicago pizzeria. Even if Hasbro only got one slice (which I'm sure they get plenty more), it's still more food (or money) than they do from the G.I. Joe pizza.

    Also, every Retaliation package uses The Rock's likeness, whether he's in the box or not. He's savvy enough that I can't think for a second he doesn't get a nice kickback from that. The wave I mentioned also includes figures with the likenesses of The Rock, Channing Tatum, DJ Coltrona, and possibly Ray Stephenson (I have no idea if he gets a royalty from a figure clearly intended to be his character, but wearing a mask). These may pale in comparison to likeness rights for Star Wars, but they do exist. Channing Tatum in particular, though he might not be hugely expensive (I assume he signed his deal with Hasbro prior to the last movie, before he became a big star for no apparent reason), has had three figures in the current line despite anyone who's seen the movie or read spoilers knowing that's almost more figures than minutes of screen time.

    Transformers uses most molds twice as a cost-saving measure, which is one way they can produce more toy for the buck. However, I doubt Metroplex will ever see wide release repainted as another character, or even as himself. I don't have him, but the reviews are at least fairly positive, so I have to assume he involves a ton of independently moving parts. His class of figure has never even existed before. Why does he cost the same as a toy that retailed for $30 a decade ago with only minor changes, licensing fees or not?

    I have a feeling you're going to read my comments as negative ranting about how much Star Wars sucks, but that's not the case here. It just seems like Hasbro responded to the buyout and announcement of the sequels--the highest interest in Star Wars in years--by saying, "We're going to make an awesome new collector-friendly line of figures," then doing the opposite. Why not, for instance, release an "Ultimate Darth Vader" that completely trashes all previous versions, then re-release it occasionally instead of constantly putting out new Vaders?
    Tommy, close your eyes.

  5. #5
    Well, if you only consider the 3.75" Black Series line, then it would very much look like Star Wars was getting the shaft. However, taking into account the new 6" line and the 5-POA Saga Legends line, I think there are a lot of exciting things happening in the Star Wars toy line. In fact, 2011 was the worst year of Star Wars collecting as far as I was concerned and, after getting Kithaba in 2012, I was ready to hang it up once TVC was done. However, these two new lines have reignited my interest in Star Wars on the same level as what POTF2 did back in 1995.

    While it's true that Hasbro seems to be just phoning it in on the 3.75" super-articulated figures and they are some of the worst product they have ever offered, I think there is still plenty to be excited about.

    As for GI Joe, didn't that movie get delayed by a full year after the toys were already in stores? So, you could just be seeing a year's worth of backlog flooding the shelves all at once, giving the illusion that Hasbro is paying more attention to that brand.

  6. #6
    I would say that 2013 has so far been the absolute worst year for Star Wars 3 3/4" figures. (2012 was pretty awful as well, and nobody could find anything, but at least they were making a fair amount of new figures.) There have been serious issues with the line for a few years now in addition to new problems that crop up unexpectedly. There are multiple factors to consider here - some of which are Hasbro's fault, and some of which are not.

    Character selection - I've stated before that the only new 3 3/4" figure released so far this year is the Seeker Droid from the Mission Series packs. Some of the figures from the Star Tours three-packs may count as well, but they're all at least based on previously-released droids either in sculpt or character selection. TBS wave 3 is the only wave with any real newness thanks to Darth Plagueis. Merumeru is new, but we've had several Wookiee warriors before; Neyo and Vizam are awesome-looking resculpts, but resculpts nonetheless; and Mace is a realistic TCW figure which didn't sell that well in its animated incarnation due to constant repacking. (And for the record, wave 1 has eight figures, wave 2 has six figures, and wave 3 has five.) But until then, we're stuck with pegwarmers like Biggs, Anakin, and the Biker Scout - figures that nobody was asking for and certainly didn't need to be packed two per case and carried forward into wave 2 (even if they're largely fine figures in and of themselves). This even applies to the vehicles, where we're seeing smaller versions of AOTC/ROTS ships and repaints of vehicles we've seen multiple times over like the Slave I, TIE Interceptor, Republic Gunship, and X-wing.

    Of course, the simplest answer for this one is that, in a "modern" line that's been running for 18 years, Hasbro has already managed to make (and repack, and repaint, and resculpt) every major character from the films. When the list of highest-profile unmade characters includes Kitster, Cliegg Lars, and Torynn Farr, that's a testament to the fact that Hasbro has pretty thoroughly mined the films already. Seriously, go watch any of the six films and count the number of "I GOTTA have that" characters you see. It also seems that slow-moving figures like Yarna cause Hasbro to believe that collector-focused non-"action" figures simply don't sell well, even though in that case there was of course an incredible amount of over-production. Hasbro has typically (not always, but most of the time) started a line with a wave of characters that they think will sell through to most audiences, then getting into more obscure characters later on while carrying forward the popular/main characters; stores have usually ordered the highest amounts of wave 1, with quantities dwindling down each wave until the final wave of a line is the most difficult to find. It just so happens that they picked a pretty boring group of wave 1 characters this time around.

    Of course, there are other Star Wars sources from which they can make figures. They've backed off from the EU since the glut of product in 2006-2009, blaming the failure of Comic Packs on people not liking the EU instead of the poor figure selection that started overtaking the line (not to mention weird exclusives like the infamous "Power Rangers Pajama Party" set or "TIE Fighter But This One Has The Rebel Symbol On It"). But the EU still remains popular, as seen in recent figures like Darth Malgus, Starkiller, and Bastila Shan being nearly impossible to find and selling for multiple times their price online - and as Mara Jade and Plagueis show, they're still bringing EU figures into the basic line. There's also The Clone Wars, which Hasbro did actually cover pretty well in the animated line for the first three seasons. I really hope they do more TCW figures in the basic line - even though they're doing a few in the Mission Series/Saga Legends lines, they're absolutely stupid not to do figures like Pong Krell, Bo-Katan, and cybernetic Maul as regular figures (or figures at all). The same Jedi we've bought multiple times aren't automatically made more exciting with the addition of wrist armor (*cough* Mace *cough*) but there were lots of cool, action-figure-ready designs in the show that could appeal even to people who have never seen the show, and I would much rather see any of the unique clone trooper paint jobs than another freaking plain clone pilot.

    It's also worth remembering that this year was supposed to see the release of AOTC and ROTS in 3D. Obviously, TPM 3D didn't exactly do gangbusters business and the tie-in products were massively overproduced, so Hasbro wisely didn't go all-out for the next two movies. Even though there's less product than last year, lines including Saga Legends, Mission Series, $20 vehicles, 12" figures, and store exclusives all skew heavily towards AOTC and ROTS. TBS mixes it up more than any other line this year, but of the 19 figures announced so far, seven are from AOTC, three from ROTS, three from ANH, one from ESB, two from ROTJ, and three from non-movie sources (with Plagueis first mentioned in ROTS and Mace looking not too different from his PT appearance). The extra AOTC product would make more sense if the 3D movie were still happening, but it's one of the least-loved films of the saga, and the line has featured characters from this time period (AOTC, TCW, ROTS) quite heavily for the last decade.

    ***

    I've already written a lot, but there are more factors I want to discuss here like manufacturing costs, packaging issues, Amazon's shipping, licensing fees, likeness fees, and an increasing focus on non-3 3/4" lines.

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