Monday, September 11, 2017

Toy Stories – Star Wars: The Last Jedi Force Friday II

By Dave

Force Friday II – the big launch for not just Hasbro’s, but everyone’s products for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – happened while I was at Dragon Con. To be honest, I didn’t care.

I won’t belabor the point because I’ve discussed it many times before, but Hasbro isn’t focusing on what I collect right now – 3.75” figures with more than 5 points of articulation. That scale is now aimed at kids and their parents, which I understand. I’m not interested in the 6” Black Series because to me Star Wars figures need vehicles and two a year isn’t going to cut it.

Of course, I made that decision before Hasbro cheapened their 3.75” vehicle production to the point where I would end up buying zero per year.

In my mind Force Friday II wouldn’t have anything for me and my son wouldn’t mind waiting a few extra days to go and check everything out. So on Monday afternoon when I returned from Dragon Con we hit Toys R Us and Target just to browse and see what was there. Little did we know we’d both get caught up in what I think was the most successful Star Wars launch since 2008.

Looking at what was offered, it seems to me that Hasbro learned a lot of lessons from the Force Awakens and Rogue One toy lines. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a company turn around in quite this way. From the variety of the offerings to the actual quality of the products Hasbro’s toys have shown massive improvement.

Of course, JAKKS Pacific and other license holders had plenty of products available, but they’ve actually been doing a better job of what they do than Hasbro has for the past few years. JAKKS in particular has been getting better with each movie.

But Hasbro will always be the king of Star Wars, so let’s take a look at the stuff that we simply couldn’t pass up.

6” Black Series Grand Admiral Thrawn

Technically the first Force Friday II product I picked up was the Black Series Grand Admiral Thrawn, which I found at Walmart the Wednesday prior to the September 1st launch.

WARNING: The following is my personal opinion and should not in any way impact your own enjoyment of any toy line.

In general I find the Black Series to be terribly boring. Most of what comes out is stuff we’ve seen before and there are so many humans. Rarely do we see anything exciting like wild new aliens or droids and, as I mentioned above, vehicle releases are rare. And you’ll never see a 6” scale Slave I or Millennium Falcon. But I do pick up the odd figure here and there when it’s a Mandalorian or a specific character that I have strong feelings about. So when I saw Thrawn at Walmart I threw him in my basket, assuming that I would not be walking out of the store with him.

Then the figure scanned just fine and I completed my purchase and walked – somewhat more swiftly than usual – out of the store.

I haven’t opened Thrawn yet, but like most Black Series figures he looks exactly like he should look.

3.75” The Last Jedi from Hasbro

Last Monday my son and I set out for Best Buy to pick up the new horror and sci-fi-themed Best Buy exclusive Madballs.  If you follow me on Instagram you saw them. They’re wonderful, but more on them later.

While we were out we figured we should go ahead and check out the new Star Wars stuff. He had already perused it with Mrs. Troublemaker while I was at Con, but had been waiting for me to really check it out. Our first stop was Toys R Us because they almost always have the best and biggest presentation.

I was a little surprised that it wasn’t up front. Last Monday the main feature was some other Hasbro product, though it’s changed to the LEGO Ninjago Movie since. But once we got to the Star Wars section it was impressive. Lots of gleaming white packaging with shapes and graphics very different from the Force Awakens and Rogue One stuff we’ve been looking at for so long. Plus, everything was actually well stocked. Now, I don’t know if this was due to more foresight on the parts of Toys R Us and Hasbro or if everyone was as disinterested in the launch as I was, but it was great to feel like there were actually interesting items left to look at and not just five hundred Constable Zuvio or Imperial Air Traffic Controller figures.

The Figures

Okay, so there were basically just a bunch of humans.

But as limited as the articulation is on this newer generation of 3.75” action figures, the detail and (usually) paint has been excellent. In some cases the basic figures even look better than the Walmart exclusive Black Series that I’ve been buying. I’ll show you an example of this later.

There were new versions of Finn, Poe Dameron, and General Hux that looked better than previous releases and were different enough to seem fresh. I bought Hux because I don’t have one (they didn’t make him in the WE Black Series) and he comes with a Mouse Droid, which I also don’t have.

This is important.

The new basic figures don’t come with crappy build-a-weapon parts or massive non-movie weapons that they can’t hold. They come with accessories that make sense and Force Link capability – more on that later. As a carded presentation I suppose they’re less impressive than what we’ve gotten for the past two years, but also less insulting, which I appreciate. Throwing a Mouse Droid in with Hux and a Porg in with Chewbacca is infinitely preferable to a big, stupid rocket launcher that doesn’t exist in the movies.

There were also new characters, and this is where Hasbro got me. I love pilots and flight crews. I think the excellent Rogue Squadron books caused this. But I’ve always bought Rebel pilots whenever I could. So when I saw Rose and Paige I was excited.

Yeah, most of these characters are ones we’ve seen before, but everything about the figures felt fresh enough to me to leave an overall good impression of the launch. Just to be thorough, here’s the list of what was available:

Chewbacca w/Porg, Resistance Tech Rose, Resistance Gunner Paige, General Hux w/MSE droid, Rey (Jedi Training), Kylo Ren, First Order Stormtrooper, C-3P0, Finn (Resistance Fighter), Poe Dameron (Resistance Pilot), and two 2-packs with Rey and a Praetorian Guard and Han Solo and Boba Fett from Episode V.

The Rey in the 2-pack seems to be identical to the single release, but Hasbro is wary of social media hashtags now, so I understand. Additionally, three single-carded female figures is nothing to sneeze at. I’m sure certain outspoken individuals are working on blog posts full of praise as we speak.

Between us, we went home with Chewie, Rose, Paige, Hux, and the Rey/Praetorian 2-pack. I was tempted by the Poe figure because it really does look much cooler than the last ones and I almost grabbed the Han/Boba 2-pack. But I wasn;t trying to break the bank.

Much to my surprise, I found one additional figure at Walmart days after this visit – Luke Skywalker (Jedi Master). He looks great. I grabbed the only one they had for my son. He was thrilled to see it. Luke has always been his favorite.

The Other Stuff

Most exciting, however, was the presence of creatures and new, cool-looking vehicles, none of which were repackaged toys from prior movies (though some were new versions of old favorites, which I love and will get into in a bit). Hasbro really shit the bed with those Force Awakens repacks in the Rogue One line and I hope they never do that again.

Instead we got an all-new Imperial Probe Droid (with a new Darth Vader) and a Rathtar (with the strangely absent until now Bala-Tik), the latter of which had been sorely missed from the original Force Awakens line. I’m glad to see Hasbro putting some variety into the assortments and giving us familiar things to spice up the selection of a bunch of stuff we know very little about. The Probe Droid is nice to see because I think it’s been close to a decade since we got one.

There were four larger vehicles available – Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer, a Resistance Ski Speeder (the things from the trailer that were racing across the desert), a Police Speeder that I thought looked stupid, and a new model Resistance A-Wing.

The A-Wing is one of my favorite Star Wars vehicles, so I bought it. It doesn’t have a giant handle under it or Nerf darts and it looks great. I know this line is for kids and that Hasbro probably felt like those kinds of features were good ideas, but when I was a kid anything that altered the aesthetics of vehicles bothered me and my son is the same way. We want the toys to look like the movies. And I think the majority of kids feel like that. If we want Nerf guns, we’ll go and buy Nerf guns.

And by the way, I think Nerf-firing Star Wars blasters are fantastic. Especially the ones with the glow-in-the-dark darts.

We brought an A-Wing home, but that was it. I’m going to wait for sale prices on the Ski Speeder and the TIE Silencer.

Finally, right before we left Toys R Us we found the big, ultimate, wowsa-wowsa bad boy of the new line – the BB-8 2-in-1 Mega Playset that transforms from Poe Dameron’s lovable little ball droid into what is presumably Snoke’s flagship, the Mega-class Star Destroyer, The Supremacy.

Me and my son were both very impressed by this. It’s $200, which is steep, but it looks like a lot of fun and IT’S A PLAYSET.

Sure, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman and Justice League and a few other brands have managed to release much larger playsets for roughly half that price. But this is STAR WARS. And to be honest, this thing looks much, much nicer than those, even if it is smaller.

Also, it comes with what is, so far, the only Snoke action figure.

Also also, it comes with a Force Link thing. Which I will address now.

The Force Link Thing

So this is the new gimmick that unifies the new toy line. Each of the figures, vehicles, and creatures has a chip embedded that activates sounds from the Force Link “wearable technology”.

One of these is included with the Mega Playset, but you can also get one for free when you buy the new $29.99 Kylo Ren action figure that it comes packaged with.

I’m sure that’s how Hasbro wants us to look at it.

Thirty bucks is steep for this thing. But it’s fun and it works… okay. The sound isn’t great and there are no means to update it, which is weird in this day and age, but it’s rewarding to move the figures around and get voices out of them. I like the gimmick even if I do think it needed a little more time in development. Almost twenty years ago JAKKs Pacific released a talking Stone Cold Steve Austin that could be updated to say new things via the internet, so it seems a little ridiculous that this modern Hasbro toy can’t do the same.

What this means is that every sound this device will ever make is already pre-loaded and that some dedicated gizmo hacker has already cracked it and heard all of them.

Functionally the Force Link leaves a bit to be desired, but idea-wise I’m going to chalk it up to a win. It’s a much better unifying gimmick than the build-a-craps and it does add some play value to the figures and vehicles without screwing up their aesthetics. I highly recommend you buy one and play around with it once they’re piled up in clearance bins for five bucks. Plus, you’ll get a new Kylo Ren!

One Last Thing

When I work night shifts I tend to stop at Walmart on the way home in the mornings. I hate Walmart and try to not shop there, but sometimes they either have exclusives or they’re the only place open when I need something. But for the most part I’d rather pay a few dollars more to buy stuff anywhere else.

Anyway, I stopped at Walmart the other morning to get some necessities and of course had to look in the toy aisle. It’s what we do.

That’s where I found the basic Luke Skywalker I mentioned above, but also four huge surprises that I wasn’t expecting:

I didn’t think we’d see any new figures in this style until next year’s Vintage Collection relaunch. I don’t know if there are more than these because these were literally the only ones out. No duplicates or other characters and believe me, I looked.

In this instance I didn’t expect to have any trouble buying them, but when I got up to the counter they didn’t show up in the system. Normally that would be the end of the story, but the wonderful lady running the checkout manually entered them for me.

And yes – I was honest about the price. To the best of my knowledge, anyway. If they’ve increased from $11.97 I don’t know about it. Of course, they could be less, but probably not.
If you can’t quite tell, those are Jedi Master Luke, Resistance Tech Rose, Stormtrooper Executioner, and Elite Praetorian Guard. There are slight spoilers on the packaging and of course, the very character selection could be considered a spoiler (Rose? Really?), so I won’t go into further detail.

Traditionally the Walmart Black Series waves have consisted of four figures, so this might be it for now. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that I prefer my son’s basic Luke to my Black Series version:

Oh, well.

P.S.  - I also bought the Leia and Phasma books! Hopefully I'll have time to read 'em!

If you enjoy Star Wars, toys, or Needless Things you might enjoy Huge thanks to our excellent Patrons Zack, Gary, Lucas, and Beau!

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