Monday, May 7, 2018

Star Wars Toys: Bigger and Better(?)

By Dave

I missed May the Fourth Be With You by a few days, but I want to write about Star Wars toys.

I posted the above photo on Facebook on the Fourth and our pal, Head of Research Ryan, left the following comment:

“I see you creeping more and more into collecting the 6” line.”

He’s right, and I’m going to tell you why.

When Hasbro first revealed the 6” Black Series on January 29th, 2013 on USAToday, I had a lot of feelings about it.

I felt a little betrayed – I had been collecting 3.75” Star Wars figures for essentially the last thirty-four years and I knew there was a chance this new collector-demanded style would damage my preferred scale. The smaller figures had already seen a downturn in production, and while that historically had happened every once in a while, the introduction of a new collector-oriented line not in that scale didn’t bode well.

I was also intrigued. Once the figures hit retail in August, I bought a few – R2-D2, pilot Luke, a Stormtrooper, and Han (I think). My intent had been to review them, but the aforementioned Ryan – credited as “Evil” – stepped up to take on Artoo and Luke. I liked them but didn’t love them and sold whichever ones I had bought on eBay. This new scale was not for me.

I also felt doubtful. In all honesty, up until The Force Awakens, I still didn’t believe that Hasbro intended to support this new Black Series fully. Distribution never seemed great and there were always one or two figures that nobody seemed to be able to find. Like, to an even greater degree than regular toy lines.

You guys know how much I’m still out there looking for toys all the time and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Boba Fett and Jango Fett at regular retail. Boba Fett – one of the franchise’s most popular character designs.

But with The Force Awakens’ Force Friday launch it became clear that the 6” scale was not only here to stay, but was the only source for collector-quality figures.

This was when I sort of gave up on collecting Star Wars toys (but not really).

Two of the most important things to me about Star Wars toys are the vehicles and the deep cut characters. Some may complain, but I have always loved that I can get weirdos who had half a second of screen time like Bom Vimdin, Hermi Olde, and Willrow Hood. With the higher price points and the staggered releases of the Black Series, we will never see the depth offered by the 3.75” line.

I also assumed there would never be creatures and vehicles; at least, not for a reasonable price. I was wrong about that, but not in a way that is good news for Hasbro (or collectors). So far all of the 6” Black Series vehicles have appeared to me to be massive failures. I could be wrong – I don’t know what constitutes success in Hasbro’s eyes, but when their $175 TIE Fighter was readily available for a s little as fifteen dollars and I was able to buy both Rey’s speeder and Luke’s Landspeeder for ten bucks each without even hunting, I think Hasbro has a problem.

The creatures seem to do better, but I say that only because they seemed to hit in smaller numbers and never made it to clearance that I saw. Now we’ve got the Dewback, which seems to be sitting on shelves at sixty bucks and also seems to me to be hilariously tiny.
As you can probably tell, I have a bit of a bias against the 6” Black Series.

I have been, however, picking up figures here and there. Like I said above – I couldn’t pass up those vehicles for ten bucks each. I also grabbed the 40th Anniversary Vader set for five bucks. I’ll even buy certain characters here and there for full price – Thrawn, any Mandos, Jaina Solo just because she looked so good. I grabbed a Leia at GameStop for six bucks.
Where I really faltered was with the Last Jedi exclusives.

Luke was the one that got me. A lot of factors went into the purchase – love of the character, desire for new Star Wars toys, the seeming value of the set. He just looked good in the box. And I liked the landscape piece. It was all downhill from there.

GameStop put Snoke and his throne on sale. Call me weird, but I liked Snoke’s characterization a lot and that throne looks awesome.

Next up was Rey. That Crait base is striking and the figure looks much better than the regular release.

Finally, Kylo Ren and the floor of Snoke’s throne room (which connects to the throne and looks great) arrived at Walmart (blech) just a few weeks ago. I paid full price for that one just because I had been waiting so long and because Walmart is such a shit show you never know which exclusives are going to stick around or even show up at every store. The one I pass on my way home from work had six and for all I knew those might be the only six I’d ever see (this proved not to be the case).

Now I’ve got my little display of Last Jedi exclusives and I like it. I don’t feel any desire to pick up the other characters, not even the Praetorian Guards and not even on clearance.

Let’s get back to that Jaina figure, though.

The face on this one is tremendous, one of the best I’ve seen at this scale. Not only is the sculpt on point, the new face deco process Hasbro is using on the Black Series and on Marvel Legends is yielding some great results. The rest of the figure is really slick, too, and despite the all-black color scheme it’s pretty satisfying to look at. I didn’t particularly need a Jaina Solo in this uniform in this scale, but she is one of my favorite Star Wars characters and Hasbro did a great job.

Which brings me to some other Solos, specifically the Solo: A Star Wars Story wave of Black Series figures.

Lando got me first. Donald Glover as Calrissian looks like the coolest thing in a movie chock full of cool things and I wanted a figure as soon as I could get one. He’s got the new face deco technique and looks amazing.

That Chewbacca is a Target exclusive that was released on May the Fourth. As soon as I saw Chewie in his goggles in the Solo trailer I knew I’d want a figure of him. I also dig the new (old) bandolier. When I saw this release, it went on my list of Black Series toys to buy. I stopped at Target on the way home from work, they had plenty, and I grabbed a new (old) Han Solo to go with him because I’m actually pretty excited for the movie and this Han looks great, even if Arben Erbenbern doesn’t look or sound much like Harrison Ford. If the movie’s good enough and if he’s charming enough it might not matter.

Buying these two was breaking the seal in a way that my previous Black Series purchases were not. Up until now they’d been specific characters or clearance finds, but these two were straight-up MSRP purchases that I just bought because they looked great. I’m not necessarily excited that my first Black Series Han is Allen Emmerich, but it’s not like the others that have come out have resembled Harrison Ford any more than this kid does.

I’m not going all-in on the Black Series and it’s not supplanting my 3.75” collection – Lord knows I’ve got a five hundred freaking dollar Sail Barge in my future, so now is not the time to switch scales – but I’m a little more open to the line now that the quality has improved and it has become apparent that the new films are not going to see as much support from the 3.75” toys. I could see myself buying a couple of figures per wave, and maybe even getting really invested if Hasbro decides to go back and redo some of the older releases with this new deco process.

Heck, you know I’ll buy a box set of bounty hunters if they release it.

I’ve also pretty much accepted that my vehicle rule no longer applies. Aside from the incredible Khetanna vehicle/playset, Hasbro has lost interest in offering 3.75” scale vehicles that appeal to collectors. I’ve actually liked a few of the things that have come out over the past couple of years – Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer and the new A-Wing are solid and Han’s speeder from Solo looks good – but they’re all expensive toys that feel cheap. It would take a whole post to explain the situation, but believe me when I say these recent vehicles are a sad descendent  of what we had just a few years ago.

Hasbro is trying. I’m not trying to knock them, necessarily. For years now the word around the plastic campfire has been “toy production costs are skyrocketing”. That’s why we’re getting smaller, poorer quality stuff at twice the price. But Hasbro has been experimenting with different features and levels of quality to try and find a solution.

Their new Millennium Flacon for Solo looks pretty terrible to me, but it represents Hasbro attempting to find a new middle ground of play value, movie accuracy, and consumer-friendly price point. Remember – the last time the legendary Big Millennium Falcon was at retail it was $250 and that was six (I think) years ago. After that they tried the one that didn’t even hold figures, then the playset version for The Force Awakens that was mostly lame and cost almost as much as the BMF did the first time around in 2008. My point is that times are tough and the folks up in Pawtucket do keep trying.

But try as they might, Hasbro just can’t supply my Star Wars fix like they used to. The glory years of the 2007-2012 3.75” toy line are long gone and they’re never coming back. The new Vintage Collection was dead (to me) before it even hit retail, with the first wave offering a combination of Black Series figures that can still be found at certain Walmarts for four bucks or less and… well, Snoke.

Side Note: The only good news about the 2018 Vintage Collection is that they seem to be showing up everywhere and they also, for some reason, seem to be selling. I’ve only seen full sets a few times and most places just have one or two figures left. I don’t know why people are buying them,  but they are.

I suppose I just assumed that Hasbro would continue supporting movies with +5 POA 3.75” figures until the day I dies, but between the Black Series and their admittedly good 5 POA line, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Unless the Vintage Collection gets a whole lot more compelling with future waves, Star Wars simply isn’t a brand I’m going to be as consistently excited about as I used to be. But that’s okay. There are plenty of other toys out there.

Have you seen that new Jurassic Park line?!?

You can follow Dave as Phantom Troublemaker on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for all the latest on pop culture!

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