So, at the beginning of 2014, where are we on Star Wars Black 6″?
Before I begin, let me state something: I’m not that worried about the line. I think sometimes collectors overthink this kind of thing. Star Wars is a big, recognizable brand with a new movie coming out in less than two years. The hype will be unimaginable eighteen months from now. Captain America 2 and the Amazing Spider-man 2 will probably not be as successful as the new Star Wars movie (the first one, at least), and both of those films just received a great wave of 6″ figures. Hasbro has not abandoned the format for Marvel, and I see no reason why they’d turn around and drop it for Star Wars when we’re not even a year in.
But that doesn’t mean I think they’re handling the line perfectly.
Sales: The first wave seems to have more or less sold out at brick and mortar retailers over the course of the holidays (although not online). That leaves wave 2. Boba Fett is very hard to find, proving there isn’t anything inherently unpopular with the scale or design. Han Solo is also selling fairly well. Greedo and Leia are pegwarming. Nonetheless, collector concern over the pegwarming has, I think, been exaggerated.
Character Selection: Why are Greedo and Leia pegwarming? Greedo is an obscure character who dies after less than five minutes of screen time. Leia has been considered one of the weakest figures in the line by many collectors and has the additional problem of being a female character, who, sadly, never sell that well (unless they’re shortpacked).
The bigger issue with character selection is the rumored wave 4: Prequel Anakin Skywalker, Prequel Obi-Wan Kenobi (a carry-forward from wave 3), Prequel Clone Trooper, and Chewbacca. The USA Today article about Star Wars Black last year contained the following line: “Hasbro will primarily draw characters from the original Star Wars trilogy of films while also bringing in key players from the prequels.” I don’t think making three out of four characters in a single wave – with one a carry-forward figure from a previous way – from the prequels is really in keeping with the spirit of that claim. Kenobi could be the new Smash Blade He-Man.
Now to be fair, Hasbro hasn’t officially announced what wave 4 will comprise, so this is all speculation – and I sincerely hope they make some change, even if it’s swapping out a Stormtrooper or Boba Fett for that Kenobi. And the rumored wave five – which would consist of some mix of Darth Vader, Jedi Luke, C-3P0, and a TIE Pilot – will sell just fine.
Case Packs: Part of the reason for those figures pegwarming is the case ratio. There are as many Boba Fetts as Leias. That’s weird. Hasbro has to know Boba Fett is going to sell better than any figure, much less a female figure.
I’ve thought of a few reasons why they would move forward with this case ratio, and most are related to external concerns: for example, maybe the factory wouldn’t produce any figures unless orders for each figure had to hit a minimum number, and it was too expensive to go over that number for any of the figures. Or maybe Boba Fett, with all his details and accessories, is much more expensive to produce than Leia.
Other possibilities: many have wondered why we didn’t get a second Stormtrooper in wave three instead of an extra Han Solo. One obvious answer is that the big-name characters tend to sell better, but another possibility is that parts of the Sandtrooper/Stormtrooper mold are currently being used to produce the “SW 6″ SANDTROOPERS (Multiple Listings)” from the Jedi Defender rumored list (possibly with new pauldrons, such as white or black, and maybe no sand-blasted paint apps). The Boba Fett molds may be in use for a retooled ROTJ version, or Jango Fett, or maybe, say, a Jodo Kast SDCC exclusive (yes please!).
Better case packs: There are a few aspects to this. First, Hasbro should probably create larger case packs with a better character ratio. As an example for wave 2, you could have a six-figure case pack, with two Boba Fetts, two Han Solos, and one each of Greedo and Leia.
Second, Hasbro needs to drop this terrible new idea of carry-forward figures. If they’re going to stick with a four-figure pack, at least make it possible for collectors to get the whole set (and only that) by buying a case. As it stands now, they’re screwing both retailers (who end up swimming in the carry-over figure) and collectors (who either have to haunt stores for the three figures they want, buy a case online and get a figure they don’t want, or pay extra online to get only the three they want).
My third suggestion I’m less sure about. I think offering cases of army builders like Stormtroopers would work well for online retail, but I’m not sure it’s something they could reasonably afford to do for meatspace stores. The question is whether Hasbro can actually split their production and distribution like that and still make a profit. I’m also skeptical that army builder case packs would prove as popular as collectors seem to believe they would. I think this may be one of those situations where the collector community is a bit myopic. Nonetheless, the Sandtrooper did sell very well both online and in stores, so it’s possible that Stormtrooper case packs would do very well.
Character Selection: This is simple – keep it to no more than one prequel figure per wave. They’ve already produced the most-wanted prequel character (Darth Maul). Other decent bets are Jango Fett, Clone Troopers, Commander Cody, Aurra Sing and General Grievous, and then maybe some of the lesser Jedi, but all of these characters will be much more tolerable if they’re the only prequel figure in the wave. That said, I suspect Jango Fett and General Grievous might sell better than Greedo.
Pegwarmers: There was a relatively easy and obvious way to improve Greedo and Leia’s sales: better accessories. Greedo could have come with the table from his and Han’s infamous showdown (like the 3¾” Pons Limbic), or a cantina seat, or some sort of blaster effect. Leia’s even easier: she could have come with an articulated Salacious Crumb. It’s character- and outfit-appropriate and makes even more sense if the rumored Jabba the Hutt set is coming – it increases Leia’s value while helping keep down the cost of that set.
If I may add one final note: no doubt Phil Reed of Battlegrip will find this post interesting. One thing I wanted to reiterate is the definition of “success” that he and I more or less agreed upon: “Original Twelve (+ Boba Fett).” If Chewbacca is indeed in wave 4, that means we’re already more than 1/3rd the way there; if the JD rumored list is true for 2014, then with the addition of Jawas, C-3P0 and Darth Vader, we’ll be at least halfway there by the end of the year.
I’m feeling decent about the chances of getting them all. But If I’m wrong, I suspect I’ll get screwed over by either the Sand Person or the Death Squad Commander. What the hell were they doing in the original twelve figures? The Sand Person I kind of get, but Death Squad Commander? Before Greedo? Or a TIE Pilot? Or, I don’t know, maybe a main character like GOVERNOR TARKIN? Really, Kenner? Frankly, if we get everyone but the Death Squad Commander, I’ll still feel like I was basically right about the line’s success.