This week, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is on my mind.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars fills in the gap between the last two installments of the prequel trilogy. I had a few issues with both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but this series helped to smooth things a bit. It doesn’t make those two films perfect by any means, but it helps. It also gave me Ahsoka Tano, one of my favorite complex characters in the Star Wars mythos.
The show started with a theatrical release of the first few episodes in August 2008. On its own, that movie isn’t particularly good, but the series was phenomenal. It ran from 2008 to 2013 on Cartoon Network, then had a limited revival in 2014 on Netflix. Series supervising director Dave Filoni worked with George Lucas to understand the heart and soul of Star Wars, making this series one of the purest expressions of the franchise in the period between the prequel and sequel trilogies.
If you haven’t had the chance yet, I wholeheartedly recommend the series. If anything, start with the first season, then watch the theatrical movie before proceeding into the rest.
The show finally wraps up with the seventh season, which premieres on Disney+ on February 21, 2020.
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
One of the holiday season traditions in my household is the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar. These boxes contain twenty-four unique small builds, many of which are abstract, along with exclusive mini-figures and whimsical winter-themed spins on Star Wars staples. Among my favorites over the years are the winter Chewbacca, the rebel pilot snowman, and the AT-AT and R2-D2 pair with reindeer antlers.
This year’s box spanned the Skywalker Saga through The Last Jedi. A couple of my favorites were the X-Wing build and the mynock, the latter being a unique approach to the advent calendar.
As you can see, the day-to-day images are posted on my Instagram account. Feel free to follow me there for whimsical observations, tons of pictures of my dogs, and this annual tradition.
I hope this holiday season finds you and yours well. Stay warm, stay safe, and see you next year.
All That Glitters: The Skywalker Saga Commemorative Figures
With the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this December, the nine-episode Skywalker Saga is coming to a close. To celebrate that milestone, Hasbro announced a set of gold-painted 3.75″-scale action figures, released in two-packs (and one three-pack) to commemorate each film, and exclusive to Walmart stores at $14.99 for each pack.
The original trilogy is represented by Darth Vader and a stormtrooper, Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca. The prequels are represented by Yoda and Darth Maul, Mace Windu and Jango Fett, and Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The sequel trilogy gets the expected players of Finn and Poe Dameron, Rey and Kylo Ren, and the trio of C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8.
It’s an admirable attempt by Hasbro, but it misses the mark because the figures aren’t particularly special. They’re just repaints of previous releases, many of which had been seen several times before and/or were exclusive to a single outlet.
Starting with the Prequel Era figures in the line—
All told, these Prequel Era figures have appeared multiple times before:
Era of the Force Target 8-pack (2017) – 3
The Last Jedi Collection (2017) – 1
Rogue One Target 8-pack (2016) – 3
The Force Awakens Epic Battles (2015) – 5
The Force Awakens Collection (2015) – 1
Saga Legends Collection (2014) – 2
Saga Legends Collection (2013) – 4
For the Original Trilogy Era figures—
The Skywalker Saga Stormtrooper is a repaint of the 2016 Rogue One series Stormtrooper, which was an all-new sculpt. Collecting site Jedi Business (whose extensive database was immensely helpful in the development of this work) speculated that it was a repaint of the Mimban Stormtrooper (minus the cape) from the 2018 Solo: A Star Wars Story line, but the Mimban helmet sculpt was different. It is possible that the gold Stormtrooper combines the two figures into one for this release.
Along those same lines, both the gold Darth Vader figure and the gold Princess Leia figure are repaints Solo: A Star Wars Story line. Both Darth Vader and Hoth Leia were original sculpts for 2018.
The Skywalker Saga Han Solo figure originally comes from the 2015 Saga Legends series, and was an original sculpt for that line. The gold Luke Skywalker was also an original sculpt for 2017’s The Last Jedi collection. Luke was included in a Target-exclusive three-pack with Emperor Palpatine and an Imperial guard.
The gold Chewbacca is one of the most recent re-releases, coming from the Galaxy of Adventures line in 2018. That figure was minor reworking of the Chewbacca from The Last Jedi, which was original to that line.
Counting up previous appearances, it’s a far smaller list for the Original Trilogy Era figures:
Galaxy of Adventures Collection (2018) – 1
Solo: A Star Wars Story Collection (2018) – 2
The Last Jedi Collection (2017) – 1
Rogue One Collection (2016) – 1
Saga Legends Collection (2015) – 1
It’s interesting that the majority of this set comes from late-2017 and 2018 releases given that Hasbro posted significant losses for that year.
The Skywalker Saga Kylo Ren figure comes from either The Last Jedi or Solo: A Star Wars Movie. Similarly, the Skywalker Saga R2-D2 figure comes from either The Last Jedi or Galaxy of Adventures. In both cases, the latter figure is a rework of the former, but they are virtually identical. The gold R2-D2 does not appear to come with the booster rockets from either of these prior releases.
Since the Sequel Trilogy Era figures primarily stem from either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, there’s no need to tabulate them like the previous eras.
It’s evident that there is nothing new nor remarkable about this action figure line. It is a figurative warming up of the leftovers with a new presentation.
I’m trying to avoid the cynical opinion that it would be better to pick up each figure on the secondary market along with a can of gold spray paint. It might be easier given Walmart’s track record with toy exclusives. But, I digress.
While priced lower than current 3.75″ Star Wars figures – a new figure runs nearly $13 today – it’s apparent that the target audience is adults. These are meant for mint-on-card display or for unboxing and standing on a shelf. I can’t imagine a kid choosing a gold version of their favorite character over a more true-to-screen painted option.
Since these are geared more for adult collectors, Hasbro missed a – ahem – golden opportunity to engage the Black Series line and produce a truly remarkable tribute to the movie saga’s milestone. Think about it in terms of who is missing in this set and what holes currently exist in the Black Series line.
How would I have constructed this tribute to make it more meaningful while saving some production costs for Hasbro?
To start, where’s Padmé? For either The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, I would have included her. As the mother of the Skywalker twins, it is a crime to not include her in this tribute to the Skywalker Saga. Additionally, she was at her best as an independent leader and fighter in the first two prequel films. Padmé has only been in the Black Series once and that was in her white bodysuit from the Geonosis scenes in Attack of the Clones. I would have considered including Padmé from the Battle of Naboo in The Phantom Menace.
To accompany Padmé, I would re-release the Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn from 2017, but I would include a soft-goods Jedi robe and poncho combination. Those elements would have been great additions to the original bare-bones release.
Moving to Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku is already rumored for a 2020 release, so just move that figure up in the pipeline. Yes, Darth Maul was far more flashy, but Count Dooku was more manipulative and engineered the Clone Wars. Plus, he was portrayed by the legendary Christopher Lee. To complete the pair, add in Yoda with a cleaner robe and reworked face from his first appearance in the Black Series line, lining him up with the climactic duel from the second prequel episode.
Revenge of the Sith is easy. Palpatine/Sidious has appearedtwice in the Black Series line, both from Return of the Jedi. It would be great to see a figure from the moment when Palpatine reveals himself as a Sith Lord just before executing Order 66. To offset the new figure, add in Obi-Wan Kenobi from the same film. That particular character has been releasedtwice in the Black Series, but it was the same figure each time. Not only did Hasbro neglect a soft-goods robe, but the face sculpt was terrible. Using the lessons learned with the recently released Clone Commander Kenobi and the upcoming Attack of the Clones Kenobi, Hasbro could easily correct the sculpt and offer a much better figure.
When looking at the Original Trilogy Era, things start getting tricky. Luke and Vader have been released several times, and both Han and Chewie aren’t as dynamic when it comes to wardrobe changes. This is where Hasbro has to get creative.
For A New Hope, I would use the 2017 Black Series Han Solo that included the optional black-gloved pilot hands. This time, I would also add the headset that he wears while piloting and fighting in the Millennium Falcon. I would also re-release the 2014 Chewbacca, but include a dejarik table if possible. This would be a large money-saving release for Hasbro so they could channel funds into new sculpts and remasters for this line.
The Empire Strikes Back contains one of my favorite costumes in the Star Wars films, so I’m a little biased here. The Black Series needs Bespin Leia, burgundy and white gown, in soft goods. No question. Back that up with a slightly different Darth Vader than we’ve seen before by tapping into the Dagobah cave trial. Using previous releases, Hasbro could remaster Vader slightly to align the costume to the film. Then create a damaged helmet with Luke’s face as an alternate head, making the figure serve two purposes as either Vader or Force-vision Vader.
For Return of the Jedi, I would start with the forthcoming Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight figure. It’s a great update to the previous release with the addition of a soft-goods robe, but I certainly have issues with it. Primarily, it needs darker hair and robes, a better face sculpt, and an extra lightsaber hilt to clip to the waist.
To cap the original trilogy era, Hasbro could make a special effort for this commemorative set and include the Sebastian Shaw version of Anakin from the pre-Special Edition versions of Return of the Jedi. It’s a deep cut, but a good one. That character has appeared as an action figure three times – 1985, 1998, and 1999 – all of which were in the 3.75″ scale.
A really bad version of the Hayden Christensen Force ghost debuted in 2007.
The sequel trilogy era is much more difficult in terms of originality.
For The Force Awakens, I’d go with a remaster of Poe Dameron from the Escape from Destiny 2-pack. It captured his look from the opening sequences of the film, but it needs work on the face sculpt. For some reason, Hasbro can’t adequately capture Oscar Isaac’s features in plastic. I’d also add a re-release of Finn, either as FN-2187 or in Poe’s jacket from later in the film.
For The Last Jedi, that has to be a re-release of the Walmart-exclusive throne room Kylo Ren (with removable helmet and soft-goods cape) alongside the Crait Base Rey. Rey’s soft-goods clothing would need to be cleaned up quite a bit for this release, so that’s where I’d spend most of the time in remastering this one. Plus, you know, this duo will certainly make the Reylo shippers happy.
Anyone who follows me on social media already knows of my disdain for that couple.
Finally, since we don’t officially know that much about The Rise of Skywalker, I’d follow Hasbro’s lead here with the three droids: C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8. I would avoid the “red arm” variant on Threepio, and I’d also use a clean version of BB-8.
The Phantom Menace: Padmé (Battle of Naboo) and Qui-Gon Jinn
Attack of the Clones: Count Dooku and Yoda
Revenge of the Sith: Darth Sidious and Obi-Wan Kenobi
A New Hope: Han Solo and Chewbacca
The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader (Cave Vision) and Bespin Leia
Return of the Jedi: Spirit of Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker
The Force Awakens: Finn and Poe Dameron
The Last Jedi: Rey and Kylo Ren
The Rise of Skywalker: C-3PO, R2-D2, BB-8
This lineup covers the spectrum of the saga from the origins of the Skywalker line to the potential end as the nine-episode arc closes.
Honorable mention ideas include a Yavin Throne Room 4-pack with Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie and something with the twins from the end of Revenge of the Sith. The latter would introduce the Organas and the Lars, each with swaddled infants as accessories, but the new sculpts would drive the cost. The Throne Room set would also be cost-prohibitive.
As far as cost is considered, Black Series figures typically sell for $19.99 each, though Walmart often prices them between $15 and $18 each. With that and the cost savings from reusing existing figures in mind, Walmart and Hasbro could easily move these sets for around $30 per box.
Again, since the gold figures are obviously geared for adult collectors, I built this hypothetical model toward adult collectors.
Thought exercise aside, the point here is simple: Hasbro took the easy way out with a milestone commemorative action figure set. After 42 years and nine films – not even counting the piles of books, comics, games, films, and animated series – a major player in pop culture is coming to a close. The fans deserve so much more than leftover and poorly-selling figures with bad paint jobs.
This was Hasbro’s moment to prove that they respect the franchise and the community, but they fell back into the same old routine that promotes maligned distribution practices and overpriced products. They could have offered Star Wars fans something amazing. Instead, all they did was prove Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice right.
All that glitters is not gold.
(Once again, collecting site Jedi Business and its extensive database was immensely helpful in the development of this work. I am grateful for the Jedi Business team and their hard work in cataloging and reviewing modern Star Wars figures.)
Debrief: Dragon Con 2019 Atlanta, GA – August 29 through September 2, 2019
Dragon Con 2019 is in the books! I had a better time this year despite the larger crowd numbers. It’s hard to predict how the crowds are going to ebb and flow from year to year, but you could feel the 85,000 attendees like the pulse of the con this year.
We also did tons of good works this year for the Atlanta chapter of the American Heart Association. $110,000 is a lot of money, and I hope it goes a long way to helping a good charity with a good mission.Read More »
I don’t talk a lot about my toy collecting hobby except when I’m hanging out with Michael French and the RetroBlasting crew. I had quite a few toys as a kid, mostly consisting of small LEGO sets, die-cast and plastic military aircraft, and a plethora of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I had a couple of playsets – specifically the 1979 Hot Wheels foldaway service center and the Racing Champions SkyBirds USS Enterprise aircraft carrier – but playsets were bulky and expensive, so most of my play time was emulating car jumps from ’80s television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy on the living room furniture.
I still have the Enterprise, though it is well-loved and the box is hanging together by a thread. I wish I still had the service center playset.
My sister and I got part of the first wave from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line circa 1988, but we were limited to the four turtles, April, and Splinter. I remember the weapons being easy to lose and our enemies being invisible forces hiding around the couch. The Foot Clan are sort of ninjas after all, right?
My grandmother found two G.I. Joe figures in her neighborhood – a 1983 Blowtorch and a 1984 First Sergeant Duke, both stripped of accessories – and she kept them for me to play with at her house. I literally had no idea what they were until last year when I recognized them in Michael French’s collection. I also had a few vinyl toys like Gizmo from Gremlins, one of the small the LJN E.T. figurines, a Playmates Darkwing Duck figure that I won from a local TV station, and a whole bunch of things over the years that I know I’m forgetting about… but the point of this introduction is that I didn’t have access to a lot of action figures when I was growing up.
When Hasbro acquired the Star Wars license in the 1990s and released the new Power of the Force (POTF2) line, I spent a good portion of my salary as a part-time elementary school custodian on picking up everything with a 3.75″ figure in it. Part of it was the ignorant belief that these toys would be just like the vintage Star Wars line and be worth gazillions of dollars within the next twenty years. The other part was a self-taught course in budgeting, bargain hunting, and personal responsibility.
Long story short, I stopped collecting one of everything mint-on-card around the same time that Attack of the Clones came out. I finally picked up my collection from my parents a couple of years ago and started paring it down. The philosophy was simple: Those toys were doing no one any good inside giant Tupperware totes, so I needed to enjoy them or get rid of them.
I decided on both. I chose certain characters to keep for future display and the rest have been trickling onto eBay ever since. (Check the Tip Jar page for the link.)
To that end, I was pretty excited about the action figure news from Star Wars Celebration 2019. When they came available on Hasbro Pulse, the toy company’s online shopping portal, I jumped on the chance to order them.
Let’s take a minute here to talk about my experience with toy collecting and shopping.
Since 1995, I have enjoyed the toy hunt. It’s a sport that involves bouncing from store to store, walking the aisles, and hoping that the figures you want are dangling from the pegs. Before the internet was so widespread, it was a test of patience and luck amplified by magazines like ToyFare, which was Robot Chicken before Robot Chicken was Robot Chicken.
The biggest problem I have in the internet age is distribution. I watch the news about new Star Wars and Marvel releases, but I often have problems finding the figures after the published release dates for each wave. Some of them – usually the ones that I don’t want – have flooded the toy shelves, but others never materialize. To wit:
I bought the Black Series Captain Rex at Toylanta 2018 because it never arrived at the mass of Walmarts and Targets in my area. It was found en masse at Ross stores in the first quarter of 2019.
I found one of the Ahsoka Tano releases at my local Target. The rest were eBay and Amazon purchases.
The Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn only appeared at the ThinkGeek store that is nearly an hour away.
I finally found the Black Series Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus at Five Below, a local discount store, well after Rogue One hit Blu-ray.
The Walgreens exclusives are hit and miss.
The GameStop exclusives are consistent and readily available. They also have new waves earlier than most, but they’re also more expensive.
In the week or two before the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, I found zero Legends hero figures on store shelves.
Walmart’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Binary Mode figure, never arrived at the five stores in my area. Instead, a friend and I both paid nearly double the shelf price to order them internationally.
Target’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Starforce figure, materialized months after the movie premiered. A friend who works at Target later elaborated on the problem: The box of four figures all comes in under the same number. They don’t know until they open the box which figures are in the batch, or which box has the exclusive figure. This is determined at the manufacturer level, not the store level.
I think a lot of this has to do with supply and demand. Hasbro puts a lot of figures on shelves at once, and not all of them sell at the same rate. But, since a store cannot just order more of the high demand ones and less of the low demand ones, they’re hesitant to put more undesirable products on the shelf just to move an extra item or two.
For some reason, the DC Comics figures are usually on time and in the right proportions to minimize stock on clearance shelves. Figures for Shazam!, Aquaman, and the new Multiverse line are on shelves and moving at a decent pace. Very few of them even get to the clearance aisle.
The exceptions, of course, are the Multiverse figures from the time of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s theatrical release. Those things breed like roaches on the pegs, and not even a rock-bottom clearance sale could move them out of one South Carolina Walmart that I visited.
The McFarlane Toys Game of Thrones line is another shining example of success: There are very few left on the pegs, and I have seen none of them on clearance. The majority of the peg-warmers are Jon Snow figures. Arya Stark has (fittingly) vanished into the night and the Night King is a lonely spirit if you can find him.
It’s obvious that the problem is with Hasbro.
I’ll come back to that later, but it’s a problematic statement to make in some collecting circles. Michael French regularly and objectively makes points like these and many others, and with similar regularity, he gets attacked by collectors who think he’s just out to take down a major toy manufacturer. Except that critics have nothing to gain from making these arguments, and we’re certainly not competing for any kind of market share.
We’re not even in the same market space. Michael reviews toys and pop culture on YouTube, and I review pop culture in writing and podcasts.
But, I digress.
I was excited about four of the figures announced at Star Wars Celebration 2019 that were available on Pulse. My wife is ecstatic over astromech heroes, so the Black Series Chopper (from Star Wars Rebels) and the new dingy Vintage Collection R2-D2 were easy to say yes to. Ezra Bridger (Rebels) represents a large hole in my character collection from that fantastic series, and I am one of “those fans” who actually liked The Last Jedi, so the astral projection form of Luke Skywalker was nice to see. When they came available, I decided that it was a win-win: First, since the figure waves are unpredictable in stores, it guaranteed that they would come to my collection; Second, it offered me a chance to try Hasbro Pulse.
(Aside: The Star Wars Rebels Black Series line still has a huge hero hole with the absence of Zeb Orrelios. I’m also holding out for Ezra and Kanan from the later seasons. I think Kanan became a far better character after he lost his eyesight.)
I got notified that the figures were shipping, as promised, in the first week of July. The Black Series figures arrived first, followed by the Vintage Collection figures soon after.
There were quite a few advantages to using Hasbro Pulse. The pre-order system was easy to use, and they limit purchase quantities to prevent people from gaming the system and scalping fellow collectors.
(Of course, Hasbro is responsible for creating a scalper’s market with super limited releases like the Retro Collection, but again, I digress.)
Pulse’s prices on the six-inch figures are comparable to Target’s price points – that’s typically between Walmart and Walgreens/GameStop – but the 3.75″ figures are closer to the Walgreens/GameStop level. At some point, I was able to get free shipping based on my purchase total, but nothing on the site indicates what that threshold is. I’m assuming that it is around $50, but it should be more clearly marked on the site.
The shipping boxes were fairly well packed and protected, but that also opens the door for the downsides to the Pulse experience. The first is that each figure was shipped its own box, which seems quite wasteful in terms of cardboard, packing materials, and FedEx manpower. There are pictures in various collecting groups from people that bought entire waves of new figures and ended up with plenty of spare beds for a clowder of cats.
There’s also a question of quality control. I’m not a mint-on-card/mint-in-box collector, but I’d be upset if I was since the Crait Luke came with a bent and creased card. Unless it rolled off the line damaged, which is a serious QC problem from square one, then it was bent in shipping.
(One more aside: It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a quality control problem given how many figures my friend and co-host Gary Mitchel has found that are in the wrong boxes. Unless Director Krennic has been moonlighting as a Scarif Stormtrooper, there’s no excuse for finding that many mispackaged figures.)
Overall, using Hasbro Pulse was a good experience. If there is another must-have figure or two, then I’ll probably use them again. But I have to address the elephant in the room here: The service does nothing to incentivize Hasbro to fix their distribution models. The company still makes money by giving collectors a faster, guaranteed avenue for buying toys, and they make even more by offering a $50 per year “premium” plan that provides free continental shipping, access to promotions and contests, and select extras at conventions and more.
Hasbro Pulse doesn’t fix the problem of not having new figures on shelves, nor does it fix the problem of supply and demand for store shoppers.
Hasbro could easily have it both ways. When I talk to toy collectors about their childhoods, most of their original toys were bought by their parents. I believe that Hasbro could bring back that feeling for today’s kids by selling the mainstream 3.75″ lines on store shelves and putting their more collector-driven lines on Pulse.
Look at the quality, the lines, and the price points. With their limited articulation and lower prices, the smaller scale figures are meant to be played with. The smaller figures are more timely – the shelves are filled with 3.75″ scale toys for recent movies (Avengers: Endgame) and television shows (Star Wars: Resistance) – and more accessible for smaller hands. This scale is built for impulse purchases.
The Black Series and Marvel Legends lines are designed for collectors. They have more articulation and posing potential, they have better paint jobs (in general), and they command the higher $20 price point. Hasbro Pulse is the perfect venue for more collector-focused offerings.
This is basic marketing. Build a supply, serve the demand. I don’t know many kids or adults who are excited about a comic-accurate Malekith, Black Bolt, or Namor. If Hasbro still wants to sell a piece of the premium market on shelves, they could limit them to the characters that kids see on screens. People will want a Spider-Man toy after they leave Far From Home: Make it easy to get one.
Or, even better, figure out how other companies are doing it right. Build a supply, serve the demand. Basic marketing.
Look, I’m far from a “Hasbro Hater.” Being critical about the company doesn’t mean that I’m trying to destroy them or that I don’t appreciate what they currently do. It just means that I’m a frustrated pop culture fan and collector, and if my discussions with other toy fans are any indication, I’m not alone.
I want to find the figures I want without resorting to discount stores or online scalpers. I want an influential and nearly century-old toy company to be better.
I want the collecting hobby to be fun, not frustrating.
Debrief: Dragon Con 2018 Atlanta, GA – August 30 through September 3, 2018
Dragon Con 2018 is in the books and, as always, it was a fantastic show. Crowds were a little lower this year, coming in at an estimated 80,000 against the anticipated 85,000. The vibe seemed a little off this year, but it still provided a chance to catch up with some friends and family.Read More »