After nearly a year without new toys on the shelves, Star Wars collectors are seeing the first waves of new products. However, the introduction of 6-inch figures, a schism in 3.75-inch figure lines and the debut of interactive Angry Birds toys have led to speculation on what the future holds for Star Wars collectors.
We spoke with John a.k.a. EngineerNerd from the Action Figure Blues Podcast about his collecting habits and insights into how Hasbro’s changing approach to Star Wars toy production might affect Star Wars collecting and the industry, itself.
Boba Bounty: How did you got started in collecting Star Wars? If you began with the vintage Kenner figures, what kept you going when the line reemerged in the 90’s?
EngineerNerd: I think I’m in the same boat as a number of older collectors. I was around 6 when the first film came out and it really captured my imagination. My first two figures were the 12-back Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. Star Wars was “the thing” I was interested in until the dreaded “girl years” so many of us experienced. I didn’t have all the vehicles and playsets, but as a kid, my Darth Vader Collectors case was overflowing with all the figures up to the 2nd wave of Return of the Jedi.
Like most folks who reconnected with toys in the 90’s, I think the POTF2 figures came along at just the right time. Folks were nostalgic for Star Wars and guys like me now had disposable income. At the time they came out, I had been picking up the odd Playmates Star Trek figure here and there, but Star Wars would soon take over collecting for me. I was trying to hunt down every figure for a long time. I’m a loose collector, so I didn’t care about package variants. However, I really wanted to build as much of the Star Wars Universe line as I could.
BB: The AFB podcast provides a platform to discuss upcoming toys. Has this affected the way you look at action figure lines? Do you look at/for different things than before you reviewed them in a podcast?
EN: If anything, I’m more open to other lines than I was before. I’ve always dabbled, but I’ve really gained an appreciation of different things.
We’ve been fortunate to talk to a number of different guests from the toy and statue world. Each of those guests has taught me something new about the industry. I’ve noticed I’m a lot more forgiving than I used to be when I write a review for TVandFilmToys.com now. I think this stems from getting to know that behind each toy on the shelf, there are people who worked hard to bring it to market. It might not be what they intended, have all the features they wanted or paint applications, but they worked hard to make us happy. Each of these people works hard to try and make us happy, and for the most part, their efforts go unrecognized.
I think putting names and face with the folks behind the toys really does humanize the whole process. I know I don’t like it when folks criticize my work when it’s the best I can do with what I’m given to work with. I think all of us need to keep that in mind before we speak ill of an action figure or statue.
BB: Does podcasting on toy collecting results in a greater awareness in trends or patterns in the toy industry? Do action figures seem to be headed in any predictable direction, whether it’s how they’re articulated, sculpted, scaled or inspired from?
EN: The thing I’ve noticed myself getting hooked on is blind boxed/blind bagged mini figures. It’s odd, but when I see the news for a new line of these kind of things, I’m instantly fascinated. I’m not sure if its cuteness or size, but I just dig that stuff.
I think Funko’s Pop Vinyl series has managed to tap into that. They really are looking for niches to fill in that line. Where they may not make every character, their sheer number of licenses means there’s something from them for everyone. I think folks also look at those types of items as acceptable desktop items at work. Keep a Luke on Taun Taun action figure on your desk, and you’re the weird guy in the office. Pop Vinyl of Ghost Rider? Nobody even notices. I really think if Hasbro were doing Muggs now, it would be more successful.
Most people talk about the focus being between kids and collectors, but I think the minifigures and small urban vinyl type items service a third group I’m going to call “casual adult collectors.” This is a group that wants to collect something that isn’t so kid oriented it’s obvious, nor do they want to pay out the nose for a decent representation of their favorite characters. I think this is the group we are going to lose to other interests.
The thing I don’t get is the lowered articulation for “kids” toys. I don’t know if we’ll see it reversed, but if you listen to folks who collected GI Joes as a kid, you’ll hear one thing. They liked them better than Star Wars figures because they moved better. Hasbro can say it’s what kids want, I think we all now it’s a cost thing.
BB: For a while, collector’s didn’t have much new to look forward to in stores. How do you think this affected the hobby? Do you think this drought was felt the same by U.S. collectors versus the International fan base?
EN: Without a doubt it affected U.S. collectors. You never used to hear about folks ordering cases before did you?
I very rarely buy online. I want to go hunt down action figures. It’s just the kind of collector I am.
Unfortunately, this is probably what caused my interest to wane in Star Wars collecting. Some waves you could only buy online or were barely shipped. There were a number of figures I was really interested in that I never saw. The Gamorrean Guard, for example. I would’ve snapped him up in heartbeat. And this isn’t a new problem. The red space suited alien from Episode 1? Why can’t I remember his name? I didn’t see him and don’t have him. Cripsy Anakin? Only saw him once at a comic store and a kid was buying him.
After a while of not finding figures I was interested in and only finding “new” versions of one I already had, it became harder and harder to stay interested in Star Wars collecting.
BB: What are your thoughts on the Black Series? Has your opinion evolved from its first announcement, to now that they’re finding their way to collectors?
EN: LOL, this is a setup right? I was pretty outspoken on the idea I didn’t like the 6-inch series from when it was announced. I said so on the podcast, it was interesting because four of us were on that episode and two liked and two didn’t. On episode 82, Ben and Scott are reviewing the first four figures. I was asking questions; maybe it changed my thoughts about the line, but not my desire to collect it.
I will say they’re good looking figures. I think they are a shade off from being called great. For folks like Ben and Scott, who collect other 6-inch lines, I think it’s great. Folks have wanted this for years, so it’s good to see people getting something they wanted. I would imagine that some lapsed Star Wars collectors were stirred up by it as well.
For me however, I just can’t stray from the smaller universe I’ve been building for 30+ years. With the small army of figures I have, I could put together a display of almost any scene in any of the films. It would take me years to get to that level with the 6-inch line.
Also, they are going to look like oddities in my displays. I don’t generally collect 6-inch figures, so a few are going to stand out as odd balls.
As for the 3.75-inch side of the Black Series, I haven’t seen anything that has just blown me away. It’s just a continuation of what was out there. Sure it’s renamed. But I don’t see anything special making me want to purchase any of them.
BB: Do you think Hasbro is consciously catering to both, adult collectors and casual consumer, by focusing one line on super articulation and the other, according to Hasbro, focusing on sculpts and limiting articulation? Would this be a good move for both Hasbro and collectors?
EN: Personally? I think it’s a mistake. If you look at a number of previous lines that have tried to do this, they never seem to be really successful at doing both. Look at Pirates of the Caribbean, Dark Knight Rises, Green Lantern. It just really divides folks up into what they collect. I fear with this division, the collectors will only scoop up the higher end stuff and leave all the kid stuff.
We’ve heard the margins aren’t as good on the high end figures nor do they sell in line sustaining quantities. The kids are going to look at the lower end stuff and know that it’s “meh” and pass it by. Stores will be stuck with kids’ Star Wars toys clogging shelves and not want to order either.
When I think about all the stories I’ve heard over the years of kids and parents enjoying Star Wars collecting together, it makes me sad to see the split happening this way.
BB: What direction would you predict Star Wars toys going once the sequel trilogy debuts?
EN: Folks aren’t going to like my guess. Fewer of what we term action figures. A few to keep collectors interested, maybe double the Black line numbers for one year. Few if any kids’ figures.
Instead, I think you are going to see lower end non-articulated figures that are interactive in the way the new Angry Birds Telepods are. I’m really guessing they are using that as a test bed for the technology. I’m basing that on the release of the birds, Disney Infinity and the success of Skylanders.
It’s been more than 30 years since Kenner released its first Star Wars figures. There are lots of fans who still hunt down these vintage figures.
There are plenty of challenges that come with being a vintage collector, so for our second part of our “Let’s Talk Toys” series, we spoke with toy collector and YouTube reviewer, Darth Bools.
He discusses what goes into tracking down vintage figures, what’s important to know going in and what he loves about the line.
Boba Bounty: When did you start collecting Star Wars toys? What was the first line you got into?
Darth Bools: I first started collecting Star Wars toys when I was around 4 years old around 1989, after I received all my older brother’s vintage Kenner figures.
BB: How did you get started collecting vintage figures? Do you get a different thrill from scoring from the vintage line than you do modern figures?
DB: I first discovered Star Wars in the late 80’s. At the time vintage stuff was the only line available. My brother gave me all his figures and watched the movies with me. We looked through his old Kenner stuff and I immediately fell in love with the movies and the toys. I definitely get more of a buzz picking up vintage pieces. I love the modern stuff too, but you can’t beat the feel and the buzz of acquiring a vintage piece you’ve wanted for years and finally having it.
BB: What are challenges with finding vintage figures?
DB: The biggest challenges I’d say are the obvious things, such as condition of the pieces, be it loose, carded or sealed. Also, finding them complete with real their original accessories. A big issue these days is the legitimacy of a piece, especially buying online like through eBay. You will often find re-cards or repo weapons sold as the real thing, which is very annoying for vintage collectors. Always know your stuff before buying online.
BB: What is special about vintage figures that still capture the hearts of collector’s today?
DB: There are so many things that make them special! You have the nostalgia factor, wanting to own something you once had as a kid. There is an unexplainable feel and vibe that this stuff has, like the fact its part of the history of the movies and toys. I can’t quite describe it, but looking back now, the whole lack of articulation made them better, they just scream retro and vintage. The vintage Star Wars stuff goes hand-in-hand with the Original Trilogy. It’s essentially an extension of itself. Nothing could beat the feel of the vintage Kenner line; it will always remain a league of its own compared to modern lines.
BB: What’s your favorite vintage figure? Is there a toy in particular that continues to elude you?
DB: Very hard question. I really do adore the whole vintage Kenner run, but if I had to pick a single figure, I’d say the original telescoping Luke Skywalker. It’s such a lovely figure and a great representation of the look and feel of the vintage line. The one piece to elude me till my dying day is the same as nearly every vintage Star Wars collector, the beautiful prototype rocket firing Boba Fett. I would sell a couple of limbs for that piece!
BB: What would you recommend to someone starting a vintage Star Wars collection?
DB: For any first time vintage collector I’d start with loose figures and work up from there. Mainly just get the things that really appeal to you, the pieces you want. Just be mindful, when buying vintage, to do your research on pricing and legitimacy of its authenticity. There are a lot of sellers putting prices too high or repo pieces. A good place to go is BriansToys.com, which offers a lot of vintage stuff and the prices are usually the average of what you would expect to be paying. They are a good pricing source guide.
BB: Where are the best places to find vintage Star Wars toys?
DB: EBay is great for finding a lot of vintage stuff. You can often find things you’re looking for on there, but as I said before, be cautious and do you research beforehand. Conventions are also great for finding deals from reputable dealers, as well as networking with them by chatting and getting their business cards and info for future purchases. If you’re lucky, like me, and have a vintage toy shop close by, they are always killer places to find rare vintage, very cheap.
BB: What’s the biggest difference between vintage and modern Star Wars? Just the articulation or is the difference more about nostalgia?
DB: Obviously there are major differences in molding and the tech used to produce these pieces. As I previously said, it’s mainly the look, feel and spirit of the items and their eras that make them different. They’re all part of the thing we love the most and will collect them as they continue to evolve over our life time.
BB: Anything else you’d like to share?
DB: All I can say is, collect what you love, keep collecting and, “May the force be with you!”
I’ve always seen action figures as more than just toys – I see them as pieces of art. Some artists have taken this view and expanded upon it, by creating amazing works of fine art, with vintage Star Wars figures as their muse.
One of the most recent artists to catch the eye of Internet reporters is Swedish-based painter Mats Gunnarsson. He is an oil painter, who has become keen on using the Kenner style action figures as the subjects of his paintings. Gunnarsson’s recent life-sized painting of Boba Fett is making its rounds on Star Wars sites earlier this week.
Even more impressive, is his portrait of all six bounty hunters from the Death Star’s bridge in Empire Strikes Back. Gunnarsson’s paintings captures the details of the sculpts, as well as uses light to present an almost life-like quality to the action figures.
San Fransico-based artist Rob Burden is another painter who uses vintage toys as the subject of huge portraits and murals. Earlier this year, he began a Kickstarter project. Burden set a goal to raise $24,000 to finance two Star Wars mural paintings – he exceeded that goal last month, the Kickstarter raised, to date, more than $34,000 – stretching his aim now to three giant murals.
Burden’s two oil paintings will be 10-foot x 14-foot – his largest projects tackled. The central character in one of the paintings will be vintage Boba Fett, who was chosen by contributors after a poll was taken. He previously created three 114-inch tall paintings of Threepio, Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper – funded from a $4,000 pledge.
The majority of Star Wars collectors are familiar with the storied past of Boba Fett’s action figure. The vintage Boba Fett was released as a special mail-away offer in 1979, originally advertised as including a rocket firing jet pack – a promise never fulfilled, as the feature was cancelled due to safety concerns.
It’s been rumored that shortly before the figure’s release, there was a court case involving a young boy choking on an accessory from the result of a similar firing action. Presumably, the news was enough to result in Kenner pulling out from their plans.
Boba Fett is one of the top five best-selling action figures in Star Wars collecting, according to many reports. We could argue the various reasons Boba Fett toys sell so well, but it’s all subjective. I have to say though, out of the dozens of Boba Fett action figures I have – the vintage figure is one of my favorites.
The sculpting of action figures has evolved greatly over the years, but the simple, yet elegant mold of the vintage Boba Fett, still enchants me. Earlier this year, Gentle Giant released a 12-inch jumbo sized version of the vintage Boba Fett. They re-wrote history a bit, as it is actually the rocket firing prototype – which never made its way to the general public, and is only available in a small number, however many prototypes were made, at high prices to collectors.
Gentle Giant digitally scanned an authentic Kenner prototype for its reproduction, featuring a J-Slot, one of the two firing mechanism types found on the prototypes – the second being an L-Slot. Usually when you blow something up, it becomes less detailed, but the Boba Fett jumbo action figure looks better than ever. It’s sleek, defined and pulls the eye in all the right ways.
Another 12-inch jumbo vintage figure was released for Boba Fett earlier this year, as a premier guild membership exclusive for Gentle Giant. This is the same mold as the previous version, but painted in its unfinished blue state. The deep red hue of the rocket, contrasts sharply with the light blue and is absolutely stunning.
The vintage Boba Fett will always be one of my favorite molds, as it’s not only just plain cool – but represents inventive toy design, captures a time in toy collecting and Star Wars fandom, nostalgia and most importantly – is simple – showcasing an era long gone.
Could Han Solo and Boba Fett be named couple of the year for 2013?
A few weeks ago rumors flew around the Internet about spin-off films featuring the smuggler and bounty hunter. Then at last week’s New York City Toy Fair, it was announced an exclusive 6-inch Black Series Boba Fett figure, toting Han Solo in Carbonite, would be available at the upcoming San Diego Comic Con.
(It has been confirmed Han Solo in Carbonite would only be available through the comic con, but it is unclear whether Boba Fett’s figure is also a special offer. Since he’s not been named in the first wave of figures in the new series, I’m leaning toward, yes.)
Hasbro also said it would release Boba Fett’s Slave I, with Han Solo in Carbonite, in traditional scale, as an Amazon.com exclusive this spring. The item is part of Hasbro’s Vintage Collection.
Additionally note, Boba Fett made an appearance in Dark Horse’s “Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin” #2, which hinted at future altercations between the smuggler and Fett throughout the story arc. Not to get off topic, but I’m still crossing my fingers the subplot will introduce a fresh angle to the two men’s relationship.
While it’s exciting to see new Boba Fett merchandise hit the shelves, I’m growing tired of how Hasbro executes the release of new figures and ships. Its common knowledge that Boba Fett’s was first offered as a mail-away offer through Kenner, and the controversial “missile firing action” tied to the toy.
If you take an inventory of past Boba Fett figures, quite a few have not been included in the base sets, but instead, have been obtained through special offers. Most often you have to purchase five Star Wars action figures and mail their proof-of-purchases.
Even action figures that aren’t mail-away offers are hard to find. Take for example the “Rise of Boba Fett” battle set, which included a young Boba Fett, Slave I in his father’s color scheme and a number of other figures and a star fighter. This set was an exclusive to Toys ‘R Us and not stocked very deep.
The Villain Set featuring Boba Fett, Snaggletooth and a Tusken Raider was a Target exclusive. There’s only a few recent examples of Fett action figures that have been found at multiple retailers and in decent quantities.
Due to the practice of releasing Boba Fett toys as exclusives or special offers, if you’re a targeted collector, like I am, this results in having to end up paying more in the second market. I hope that in future releases; if Hasbro continues to make it more difficult to grab Boba Fett merchandise they will at least execute their figure design in a new way.
Instead of another repaint of past figures, I want to see new accessories and molds. This is one reason I’m excited about the 6-inch Black Series action figure, and hope it will find its way into retail stores, rather than eBay or swap meets.
Hasbro appears to be putting a lot of effort and thought into the accessories in their 6-inch line. I’ve been musing upon what new weapons; items may be included in the Boba Fett figure. What are you hoping might be included with the 6-inch Boba Fett?
The first line of Star Wars figures my generation was exposed to was Kenner’s Power of the Force 2 collection, which launched in 1995. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who played with these figures while watching the original trilogy on VHS.
The toy line was given the name Power of the Force 2, because it was meant to be a continuation of Kenner’s toy line from a decade prior, before they stopped production due to small demand for Star Wars action figures.
Kenner re-launched its Star Wars line to test the demand. George Lucas was preparing to release the Special Edition version of the original trilogy, sequels were being rumored and Star Wars was showing signs of reviving in popularity.
Boba Fett was one of the first nine toys that were produced from this line, although three variations made their way to the market. The only differences between the versions were the circle design on Boba Fett’s gloves: the figure had either full circles or half circles on both gloves or a circle on the right hand with nothing on the left.
The figure was accessorized with a removable cape, jet pack and a large blaster rifle. Like most of the other early additions to this line, Boba Fett was sculpted bulky and only has six points of articulation. However, that’s not unusual for action figures of that decade.