We asked the Hasbro Star Wars team about their plans for the Vintage Collection, innovations in the Black Series, updating the original 92, and more.
We spoke with two members of the Hasbro Star Wars team: Joe Ninivaggi, director of marketing, and Steve Evans, design director.
TFG: Thanks for taking the time with me. Of course, as a collector, the return of the 3 3/4” Vintage Collection is very exciting. What made now the right time to bring it back, and to mass retail?
JN: I think you made it now, to be perfectly honest. I think the fans—the passion and the screaming for it for as long as it’s happened. We were just saying, Steve and I worked really hard to bring this back and we’re fans of it as well and we’re just thrilled. I think it’s the combination of the demand and the desire for it, and also this new generation makes it really interesting, like, to see new movies on vintage cards—Force Awakens, and Rogue One, and Last Jedi. It’s an exciting time to go be able to do that. We have enough of those kind of characters to do, and then, of course, continue the classics that we still have to get out there and that fans are asking for.
TFG: For sure. And it will be continuing along and supplementing the 5POA line, right?
JN: Yes. It’s not replacing that.
SE: Yeah, we should clear that up, because I’m reading some things in the forums where people are saying, “Why are there still five point of articulation? I thought we were going to super articulation.” No, they’re independent of each other.
TFG: Okay. And in terms of number of releases, is it going to be kind of similar to the Walmart Black Series line, like just a few a year?
JN: No, it will be more than that, yeah.
SE: It’s not gonna be like 60 or anything like that, but we’re aiming for more than we had in the Black Series super articulated Walmart [3 3/4” line]. And it relies on people like you to get them and build the collection from 116. And the more momentum we get behind it, the more we can do with it.
TFG: Okay, great. And for some of the collectors who open them or already have the figures, is there any chance that some of them might be updated? Like Rey without her gloves, maybe, or Kylo with an alternate unmasked head?
SE: I can answer. So, it’s probably not the answer everyone wants, but when we do what we call a pack refresh, the way that we work the process, the item has to stay essentially the same. So, if I even change gloves, that means I would give up doing a new figure. So we’ll keep those as they are.
TFG: I’ll keep the gloves. I know people have asked, but this would be a good opportunity to update the unmade vintage figures, like Imperial Dignitary or Power Droid, maybe? Maybe?
SE: That 92. The 92.
TFG: Yeah, right? There’s just a few left, like the Bespin Guards with the mustache, that sort of thing.
SE: All I’ll say is I’m very aware of what’s to do, and I’m very eager to do them.
TFG: Okay, great news. In addition to the great Rogue One tank, will we be seeing any more repacked or repainted existing vehicles similar to the AT-ST that was just released in Black Series?
JN: Yeah, we’re talking about doing that, definitely.
TFG: Okay. Blue Rogue One X-wings—if that’s not on your to-do list, please! Please![laughter]
SE: I like that one. We’ll have to do that guy. What’s the guy’s name? I forget, Blue Leader.
TFG: Blue Leader? General Merrick.
JN: There you go.
SE: Thank you. He’s cool. I like that guy.
TFG: He’s awesome. And the body already exists, just put it in blue now.
SE: There you go.
TFG: So for the Black Series 6”, a lot of the prequel characters and Clone Wars characters have been great additions, like Qui-Gon and Captain Rex. Will we be seeing more of those prequel and Clone Wars characters going forward?
SE: Yeah. 2019 is 20 years of The Phantom Menace. We’ve been talking about it a lot, actually, at this convention. The love for the prequels has kind of gone through this sort of—hate has kind of gone into, like, love again. There’s a lot of memes out there, and Hayden Christensen had a good response when he made an appearance, I think it was at Celebration. We’re seeing a little bit of love coming back for the prequels, so we’ll share some love on that, I’m sure, going forward.
TFG: Awesome. Speaking of those, Qui-Gon has those separately sculpted eyes, which we’ve also seen on a few Marvel Legends figures. What was the thought process behind that, and might we see more of that going forward?
SE: You might see more of it. It’s not like our standard way of doing things. The story behind that one is that Qui-Gon, Liam Neeson, has a very heavy kind of brow and a good, pronounced nose, and the area for printing on the eyes is actually quite small. So our regular attempt at printing, there was a risk of too many mis-registrations. So we said, “How do we solve that?” And one way was to take the face plate off, print the eyes, and then put the face plate back on. And it’s been used in other areas in other companies. We did it just for that one, and it’ll be case-by-case on our end. We may use it again if we need to.
TFG: Another technique that’s new is that new facial paint technique that we’re seeing with Rex. We know that’s gonna be on figures going forward. Might we see some, like, re-released Han Solo or Luke figures—older, refreshed figures with that [technique] to give them some newness?
JN: We’re certainly not planning to do that, but it’s an interesting idea. I mean, that’s something we could do in the future.
SE: I would have to look in the rulebook about repacks and things like that, but I’m very excited about that going forward. It allows us to better control the registration. For one, it helps us control authenticity, because it looks like—it is them. It helps with registration, which—I really want fans to be able to order online, when they don’t see what they’re choosing. It annoys me when someone gets something from an online retailer, gets it home, and it’s slightly mis-registered, they’re not quite happy. Having this, it kind of maintains that consistency. So I want to get rid of that uncertainty, now that we live in a world where you buy a lot of things online.
TFG: Yeah. I’ve seen a few Reys where her eye’s a little bit down on her cheek and it’s like, use the Force, Rey, come on, pick it up. Originally, The Last Jedi, the film, was supposed to come out in May this year when they announced it, and it got pushed to December, similar to what happened with Force Awakens. Did that make you rethink the approach to anything for this year, or did you get enough lead time that it didn’t really matter?
SE: There was enough lead time.
SE: We didn’t have to pivot or anything like that. That was pretty fluid for us.
TFG: Okay. We’ve been seeing more and more 3 3/4” items being made in Vietnam now as opposed to China. Is that due to the rising costs in China? Is that something we might see more?
JN: It’s just for us, it’s sort of diversification. We’re always looking for different vendors in different regions to diversify how we do our work. There’s nothing to read into with that, it’s just us diversifying our portfolio of vendors and partners.
TFG: Cool. So, Titanium Series is continuing with those die-cast figures from the 40th Anniversary and Force Awakens, but there’s no new titanium vehicles or helmets this round. Are those lines done for now?
JN: They are, yeah. We’re gonna rest those for a bit. We got a lot of vehicles out, and helmets. It felt like we’re at a point where—the demand and the response has been good, hasn’t been amazing. I think we’ve gotten out what we really wanted to, and now we’re gonna rest it and do some other new things. It may come back in the future. We’ll see.
TFG: Same with Micro Machines, I would suppose?
TFG: The other line we haven’t seen much of is Rebels. We got Thrawn and Hera in the Black Series, but there’s no new animated figures this go-round. Are those also done for now, now that the series is reaching its end?
JN: I don’t think we have any new Rebels, yeah.
SE: I don’t think so, no. We can pick and choose, things like that, so. Again, it also depends on what kids are playing with and watching and reacting to. The retailers help us with that in terms of what’s popular. They resonate nicely with collectors as the years go by. I’m really excited about season four, and finding out how it links into Rogue One. Very interested in that from a collector point of view as well, because as things get older, they get more classic. People say, “Oh, Rebels, if it finishes, we’re never gonna see any Rebels characters!” No, that’s not the case at all. It might be a year, two, maybe three years, but it just gets further ingrained in collectors. As you know, collectors don’t give up on the characters. If they like the character, it get deeper and deeper.
TFG: Yeah. Still waiting for some of those Clone Wars characters like Darth Maul with the robot legs.
SE: Right, exactly. There’s thousands of characters, so never say never.
JN: And we’re still looking at potential ways to get that Fenn Rau figure out with better distribution, because we know he was pretty short in the beginning of the year.
TFG: I see he’s coming through Entertainment Earth, which is great. I’ve got my pre-order in.
JN: Yeah, that’s right. Fantastic. Bistan, him too.
TFG: Another new exciting thing is Doctor Aphra coming in the Vintage Collection. Marvel has so many great characters in their new comic series. Would there be a chance we might see more comic packs return?
SE: There’s no plans for comic packs per se right now that we’re looking to announce. Again, it’s sort of a stock answer, like never say never, but I want to focus on the Vintage Collection for a while and get that up and running, get that good and healthy, before we get into comic packs.
JN: But comic book characters will definitely always continue. You may see something coming soon on that.
SE: When someone like Aphra comes through—I know she’s a fan vote, which actually proves that she bubbles up amongst everyone else there. We won’t ignore that just because of the publishing format. We look at everything.
TFG: Okay, great. I want to ask about the playset. I’m very happy to have a new playset this year, the BB-8 [2-in-1 Mega Playset]. So what was the thought process behind turning it into a BB-8 as opposed to a Star Destroyer or Starkiller Base or whatever?
SE: So, playsets are an interesting topic. They’re usually big, with a lot of plastic in it. They usually take up lots of space at retail. And it shouldn’t always be about plastic, it should be about play. So we did some research with kids and parents, which the five points of articulation is tied into that. This whole idea of, “I want my kid to tidy it away when he or she’s not playing with it.” So we thought, well, what if we had a little BB-8 room pal that could make noises down there, but when the kid wants to play they can open it up. As long as we remove BB-8’s shape or personality when it’s openend up into a playset, we feel like, yeah, it’s cool, that’s fun. So it helps with the messaging, it helps with saying what it is. If that’s a way to get playsets back into the world, I’m happy to do that. I’ve said it before, I’m a big proponent for playsets. I think the world is as important as the characters and the ships, and this is a great way of getting that back in there. So keep buying it! I want to make more playsets!
TFG: For sure. It’s also great to see some of the creatures like the rathtar and the wampa come back into the line, because it builds out the whole universe.
SE: Yeah, absolutely. That goes to prove, never say never, like the rathtar. I think someone said, “Oh, you took two years to do that.” And I’m like, “What if we never did it?”
TFG: It took 20 years to get Tarkin back in the day. With the rathtar and the Rogue One tank, there are these things in the movies that it’s great to get out.
TFG: So, I want to ask, for the 40th Anniversary line, most of those [6” vintage carded] characters also came out in the box, but some of them didn’t, like the Jawa, Star Destroyer Commander, R5-D4. Do we know if those are coming back out in the box?
SE: Any of the new figures in the main line, they will be released in the black and red box. R5-D4 will not, and nor will Luke—the shiny exclusive [from Celebration Anaheim] will not come out. But Vader, Jawa, Tusken Raider, and the Death Squad Commander will hit in the black and red box.
TFG: Okay, cool. You haven’t included anything this year in terms of Nerf darts in the vehicles, which I thought was fun, but I know sacrificed some of the accuracy of the aesthetics. How did you guys kind of balance including that playability with the aesthetics?
JN: For our five point articulated range, they are very much kid-targeted. We want to make sure they’re something a collector would want and display, especially when it’s a new vehicle that hasn’t been available. But it’s a great, toyetic property. To be able to fire a dart—a lot of the projectiles you see, they fire a couple feet and then they fall. Those Nerf darts fire clear across the room. So it’s really cool for kids and a great experience. Totally heard the collector community loud and clear. We’re not including it this year. It was something that we did for a bit. We loved the results. We’re happy we did it. But now we’re really on to Force Link as our main sort of innovation for 3 3/4”.
SE: Let me add to that. Rogue One was a war movie, and it’s about firepower. It literally is about firepower, so we thought it was a good story vein to go down. Last Jedi, it’s a different type of movie. It’s a tapestry of backstory and backgrounds and understanding who the characters are. Nerf wouldn’t work for that, whereas Force Link does work for that. You can tell stories with that.
TFG: There’s not a scene in the movie where Rey deflects Nerf guns with her lightsaber?
SE: Not that I know of.
JN: Cutting room floor on that one.
TFG: Wait till December, I guess.
SE: We try and make it appropriate to the movie.
Thanks to Steve Evans and Joe Ninivaggi at Hasbro for taking the time to answer our questions, thanks to Alyssa Hackmann at Litzky Public Relations for arranging the interview, and thanks to the Hascon team for providing tickets!
Be sure to visit our Photo Gallery from the event.