Monday, January 6, 2014

"Rebels" May Help Hasbro Out of Its Action Figure Rut

Just in the nick of time, Hasbro jumped through the closing blast doors of 2013 and released a photo from its upcoming Star Wars Rebels toy line.  Not surprisingly, it is the figure of the previously announced character known enigmatically as "the Inquisitor".  Here is what Hasbro and Starwars.com had to say in their announcement on December 30th:
The Inquisitor, the Empire's Jedi hunter and a major new villain in the highly anticipated Star Wars Rebels animated series, was unveiled by Lucasfilm at this year's New York Comic Con. Today, StarWars.com is excited to present the official reveal for the character's first ever 3.75-inch action figure from Hasbro.
The figure -- the first to be seen from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels Saga Legends line -- features five points of articulation, show-accurate accessories, and is sculpted in the art style of the series. Look for the Inquisitor and the Star Wars Rebels Saga Legends line to hit store shelves in fall 2014, and stay tuned for more Star Wars Rebels toy news from Hasbro at international Toy Fairs and here at StarWars.com.

For those not up to speed with the Hasbro toy world, there are currently 3 lines of action figures to choose from.  "The Black Series" (6" at @$20 per figure), a smaller "Black Series" (3 3/4" @$10 per figure, and the "Saga Legends" (3 3/4" @$5-6 per figure).  The two "Black Series" lines are aimed at collectors, as the figures feature a higher attention to detail, multiple points of articulation, sleeker, less "kid friendly" packaging, whereas the "Saga Legends" line seems to be aimed right squarely at kids, featuring roughly 5 points of articulation, a limited amount of weapons, and a smaller variety of minute details.  

Many in the collecting world seem to despise Hasbro's direction with the "Saga Legends",  blasting any comment thread they can find about how much they dislike the 5 points of articulation, or "5POA", as they've abbreviated it.  I, for one, applaud this new direction for Hasbro and Star Wars action figures.  Many fans and collectors my age, let's just call us "OTers" that actually played with the original 70's and 80's Kenner figures, and then got pampered in the last twenty years since Hasbro brought back action figures.  Hasbro made more and more elaborate figures with ever increasing costs which got passed along to consumers, so much so that it priced out it's original, intended audience: kids!
Starting last year, it seems Hasbro has attempted to right the ship, and make these action figures into toys again.  I personally have bought more action figures from the new Saga Legends line than I have in the last 2 years.  These toys take me back to being 6 years old, where it was OK to shove one in my pocket on my way to wherever I was going.  Lucasfilm seems to be in collusion with Hasbro in regards to Star Wars Rebels and what may be in store for its toy output.  

One of the first images we had from Rebels, was that of Imperial TIE fighters.  These TIE fighters were not the same as their silver screen counterparts.  The TIE's wing panels for Rebels are much more in proportion to that of the old Kenner 1970's toy version of the space craft.


 At the New York Comic Con, Pablo Hidalgo in his Rebels presentaion announced that one of the vehicles to be featured on the show had until now only been seen in the Star Wars canon as a Kenner toy.  The Imperial troop transporter.

  


All Hasbro has to do is dust off those old molds, and put them in shiny new Rebels themed packaging and what's old is now new again.
The creative use of old molds seem to not be limited to only action figures.  Although not announced, it seems Hasbro could get some use out of an old roleplay toy used in the Clone Wars toy line.  A lightsaber toy meant to be attributed to General Grievous, yet oddly was never actually used in the Clone Wars animated series, bears a striking resemblance to the double-bladed lightsaber wielded by the Rebels villain the Inquisitor.

With only some minor tweaking and a change of blade color and, again, you have a new toy for fans of Rebels.

Now, it could be argued that Lucasfilm is not doing this with Hasbro in mind, and that could very well be, but with Toy Fair coming up soon we may find out just how much we can look forward to.  Producer Dave Filoni and many working on Rebels grew up on those toys and tying those designs into the new show might simply be a touchstone for us nostalgic folks, so we can identify with the new series.  I think the evidence is pretty compelling though, and Hasbro certainly needs the shot in the arm that a new TV show and a new cast of characters can give a toy line. Hasbro has to be happy with the fact that they can have the toys pre-designed and ready to go into kids' hands, not adult collectors. We need to remember that these are toys first, "collector value" should become a four letter word.  I really hope to see kids carrying around Rebels toys, and have their own adventures in a galaxy far, far away. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

It Was Unavoidable-- Marvel Takes Reigns from Dark Horse


Dark Horse has lost the rights to produce Star Wars comics, they now belong to Marvel Entertainment. Marvel, like Lucasfilm, is owned by the parent company of Disney.


Much more so than prose novels, comics were always my thing.  While I still collect them from time to time, Marvel, in general, was my least favorite publisher.  I was  DC guy.  The near god-like heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman appealed to me much more than the more down to earth heroes like Spider-Man or Captain America ever would.  The one thing in my youth that did draw me to Marvel however, were the Star Wars comics they produced in the late 70's and early 80's.  I most vividly remember the covers to the Return of the Jedi adaptation. 

A simple trio of characters in front of a star field somehow gave me a dire need to open up the comic and just bask in it.

There are also some very bad things associated with the Marvel stewardship of the Star Wars brand, in particular Jaxxon the green rabbit creature that is much maligned. Critics of the news that Disney has shifted the comic book rights under back to Marvel, immediately jump to the conclusion that we're going back to the bad 'ole Jaxxon days.  However this is not the same Marvel that existed back in the 70's and 80's.  Marvel now has an amazing stable of talent, both writers and artists, many of which I would LOVE to see create new Star Wars content. For me, the list begins and ends with Chris Bachalo.  

As far as stories go, I personally am a proponent of there being a new blank slate as far as EU to come (more on that in another time).  While certainly a possibility, I don't think Marvel would continue the storylines created at Dark Horse. What would be a wonderful, albeit a pipe dream, but Marvel could take the initiative to re-work old stories to fit into the new Disney continuity.  What we are likely to see is a series based off of Star Wars Rebels, and then a slow trickling out of series after each movie, perhaps to expand upon the events within the movies, as opposed to whole new adventures starring those characters.  Marvel and Dark Horse both fell into that pitfall before.  The comic books that take place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back by Marvel, as well as those surrounding The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars by Dark Horse have now largely been retconned (Durge, and Ki-Adi's wife and family for example).  I have to believe that Marvel as well as Lucasfilm would take these past missteps to heart when deciding the franchise's new direction in comics.

While yes, Dark Horse losing the licences is a sign of Disney's grand corporate strategies, we shouldn't put on our rose colored glasses just yet, and let Dark Horse off the hook.  Aside from the Legacy series, Dark Horse's Star Wars output in recent years has been pretty lackluster.  The myriad of Darth Vader mini-series, series taking place 20,000 years in the past, and Brian Wood's "Star Wars" flagship series that feels so off the mark, it did little to spark interest in the comics arm Star Wars.  It's almost as if they were trying to lose the license. Face facts: Dark Horse has been spinning its wheels.

So let's look to the future, Marvel may be able to get some traction going to get people to take Star Wars comics seriously again, perhaps in this new generation of fans some wide-eyed kid will walk into a comic shop and have the same reaction to a Marvel Star Wars book that I had when I first saw Dark Empire in those dark days of the late 80's early 90's.  Marvel has the talent, and if the Force isn't with them, Disney certainly is.