Hasbro held a Question and Answer session at Wizard World Chicago featuring representatives from G.I. Joe, Transformers, Stikfas, and Star Wars. The Star Wars team was represented by Director of Marketing Andy Espenshade and Principal Designer Mark Boudreaux. We consolidated the Star Wars questions for your reading pleasure.
Q: Seeing the amount of Episode I stuff that was on the 50% off shelf, have they done anything with the production numbers for Episode 2? The exclusives seem to be less and less available to the general public as a whole and you have to go the secondary market. Is there anything being done with retailers to take care of that problem?
Andy: For Episode I, it's been 17-18 years since the last movie. It was really hard to know what to expect because no one knew who and what would happen. We certainly don't want to leave the marketplace empty and we are aware what happens with the secondary market. Obviously, we all overshooted a little bit. We knew with Episode II we had to improve the pricepoints, for example, and you can now find the figures for $4.99, which I think is a big improvement and something people are really happy with. We tried to improve the value. Put play features in there for kids and do things we have never really done with the 3 ¾ inch scale. From what we've been hearing, these have been positive moves. Again, having everything we learned from the previous movie really helped us out in changing things a lot.
In terms of exclusives, we've been working really hard with the retailers to make things more available to the general public both in their stores and on their websites. As an example, Target had some really good exclusives the past year or two and people have been having a real hard time finding them if there isn't a Target nearby. So we've been working with them to make sure Target.com offered the exclusives online. The way we treat exclusives are "let's give it to them as a good customer and partner and actually make it a positive for us, the retailers, and collectors". If the item was available and spread out to all consumers, then there may be only 1 or 2 available in each store. Where if we do it as an exclusive and Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys R Us are willing to take on that much quantity, then instead of 1 or 2 they can get 5 or 6 per store. So we are working with them to make it actually a better thing for collectors. The secondary market doesn't help us and it doesn't help you. So our mantra you may have heard before is we want every toy we make for whoever wants one and actually get one.
Q: The Fan Club doesn't really offer exclusives that a fan would like. What's going on with Jedi Points?
Andy: We have been working with the Fan Club and other retailers for exclusives and if we feel they don't order enough to satisfy what the demand is going to be, then we work to make them available to the Fan Club. We are also working on getting dedicated specials for the Fan Club where items can be easily available through them.
Jedi Points is something where we can never go backwards in time and find this great idea we can use points for and knowing people have had them for awhile. We do have some ideas for Jedi Points. Don't throw them out just yet. There's a few things we're working on. It's just a matter of ironing out the details. Hopefully, we'll have something in the next few months.
Q: Are the problems with Jedi Points financial or licensing issues?
Andy: A little of both and also trying to find the right thing to do. There are licensees for a lot of different products. We'd love to have, say, t-shirts. Say 500 points to get a t-shirt which is what other companies do with their point programs. But there are other licensees and we don't want to eat into their business. So it kind of restricts what we can do. We're looking at more toy based things. No definite plans right now but once we have them, we'll be happy to communicate them.
Q: When will the clone pilot come out?
Andy: Very soon actually. It ships in September. It will be the pilot with the yellow striping and a different shaped helmet than the current ones that are out there. If you look closely at the Republic Gunship that we have on display versus what you see in the movie version, there are actually 2 ball turret cannons that are added to the film that weren't in our regular version of the toy. But if you buy the pilot figure, the ball turret cannon actually comes with the figure, which is a nice way to complete it and a good solution we came up with.
Q: The box for the Republic Gunship also anticipates a speederbike. When is that coming out? Also what can you tell us what we can generally expect over the next year or two.
Andy: There's a speederbike which will be coming with a clone figure as well. The scene was actually cut from the film. It's going to be a Deluxe figure which will cost around $10. But you'll get the Clonetrooper as well as the speederbike. It should also be out around September. It will be an all white clone trooper where the pilot will be the yellow version.
The Arena Playset is also due around fall. We were hoping to have one of those here today, but it didn't make it in the mail, so hopefully tomorrow. It's a lot of fun. It's the arena scene from the last 40 minutes of the film. On one side you get to bring out all your figures in there from the arena. On the backside is the droid factory and the containment cell from which Obi-Wan was held captive. We're expecting it to be around $40, same as the gunship.
We got new waves of basic and deluxe figures coming. The Unleashed figures we're really excited about, if anyone has had a chance to see those. They're artistic interpretations and the essence of the character. Something which we've never done before and a little bit edgier than our traditional figures.
Mark: We've got the 12" Electronic figures coming out for the holidays. We'll have Obi-Wan and Jango Fett. The "Try Me" package actually has an attitude sensitive switch. On shelf there will be 3 modes and on shelf there will be a "try me" mode, where you can go through the entire sequence. Like Jango Fett will have the blaster firing and also the sequence of his jet pack sounds. Even while you have the toy in the box, you can have Obi-Wan and Jango Fett fighting each other. Grunts and groans and then you have them bashing each other. So it's a really great way to show how cool these toys are right on the shelf. Then when you bring them home, put them into their secondary and tertiary modes where the electronics become fully activated. So you really get the full sense of play. You can control exactly what you want to, whether it's the weapons system or the jetpack. On Jango Fett, the jetpack has the attitude sensitive switch. So he'll take off. He'll cruise. He'll bank right and left. His thrusters will light up and then will turn off. So everything is sequenced really nicely, same with Obi-Wan. For us older collectors, it will still be a real great toy because we kept the authenticity and everything else. But for the kid's side, it's a big clunky and beefy toy in a great way where they can really battle them together.
You can tell Mark's been spending a lot of time with these and our other toys.
Mark's been designing toys since the very beginning. Since 1977.
We're also releasing a new line of Action Fleet vehicles this month and a fully operational R2-D2. I don't know if people had a chance to see this or not yet. But it's a really great toy. Unfortunately, we weren't able to use him within the confines which were allowed us today. It will retail for around a hundred dollars and it's a real working droid. He comes to you, follows you around the room. A satellite locator actually allows him to find you and track you around. He even comes with a beverage holder. It's a teaching toy so you can instruct it to get your non-descript beverage to your Lazy Boy. (laughter)
Q: How about a working jetpack?
Andy: Ahhh we can make him fly but we just can't make him land. (laughter)
Q: Why did you decide to mix older Classic figures with Episode 2 characters in the new line?
Andy: We wanted one unified line look to the brand. Last time, we had the Episode I figures in the Darth Maul package, then we had the classic figures in the green which didn't mix. We had a hard time looking for retailers to order both mixes. At first, they only wanted Episode I and there were all these great classic toys that they didn't want to order because they were focusing on Episode I. Then, that kind've switched the other way. So with this new blue Saga line look, it's got the hand on there with the lightsaber which stands for all movies, and above the character's name we put which movie they were from. Because we listen to what fans are telling us all along. We knew they wanted to see the new Episode II characters from the new movie but didn't want us to forget about the classic characters. The Fan's Choice figure that we're doing, for example like the Ephant Mon we're coming out with, and other stuff that we're coming out with like the Cantina alien Djas Puhr. It allows us to have them all out there at once in one line to make everybody happy without making it hard on the retailer to try and order two different things.
Mark: On the design side of things, that really helps us out a lot too. It gives us a blank slate, if you will, where we can highlight the Episode II during a movie year but, as Andy said, go back and do the appropriate classic characters, which are the characters us older folks grew up with. We are constantly looking each year to see what is the appropriate character to bring forward or update. Like redo one from back in the seventies or if he really needs to be done like Ephant Mon. Or bring back a character from the nineties that we did that we can update. We're always looking to see what makes the best sense for our product line for a given year.
Q: Is there any chance to do more Expanded Universe characters like from the New Jedi Order?
Andy: There aren't any plans right now, but it's something we definitely continue to look at. We're focusing on Episode II right now and some classic with the new movie being out. Episode III not being until 2005, we're finishing up what we have planned for 2003. There's still some Episode II characters and some classics as well. But looking into 2004, there's no definite plans, but we're continually looking at things, especially when we hear it from more and more people. There's certainly an opportunity for us to go there in the future.
Q: Are there any more plans to make more versions of Amidala?
Mark: We always take a look at what's the right mix. Star Wars is about heroes, villains, and droids, so we want to make sure that we take a look at what makes the most sense. For Episode II, Amidala has a lot of costumes and we take a look at what makes sense. Going forward, looking at different ways and various mixes of these characters. I can't tell you what we specifically have planned. We plan on doing Star Wars for a few more years, and with all you guys' support out there for the line, that's the best way for us to continue the development of new Star Wars.
We have the Fan's Choice specials that are there. As long as those continue to be well supported and well received by our fans, we love doing those. It's a great way for designers to get their favorite figures sometimes because we do put characters in that we think people are going to like. Then you get the alternate say on which of those five figures you want to see made. Please continue asking us those questions about characters. When we hear from you, we will try to look into it as best we can.
Andy: On Starwars.Hasbro.com, we've done five characters where you decided which figures we should make. The Stormtrooper from the McQuarrie concept drawing was just selected as #5.
Q: What can you tell us about the Silver Anniversary R2?
Andy: It will be in the same black and silver packaging that you saw with the Toy Fair Vader. It will be a Toys R Us gift with purchase which I believe starts in late August. I believe it the purchase requirement will be between $25-35 which won't be all that high. It's a completely vacuum-metallized figure like the Vader. It's all silver with some blue decoration on it as well. People have come up to us and asked us about quantities they read on the internet. I can tell you those quantities are way low and incorrect. We don't have official quantities available but they won't be as low as those numbers I've seen quoted. I do not foresee a problem for people to get it. Everyone who goes to a particular retailer to get a figure should be able to. It will not be as limited as the Darth Vader figure, which was never meant for general sale.
Q: Why do the new Episode 2 toys have a lot of limbs falling off? What's the real story about the Luke Bespin variations?
Andy: In the movie, there happened to be a lot of limbs that were lost and heads that were lost. It's part of making the figures accurate to the films and we thought collectors would find really cool.
Luke's one of my favorite figures of the new year. The deco and sculpt on that figure is great. It takes about a year to 14 months to make a figure. We talk about figures we haven't done in awhile and someone threw out Bespin Luke. We thought it would be a great idea if he came with a removable hand. At the same time we were creating a lot of Episode 2 figures where we were using magnets to recreate The Force. So we decided to have Luke come with a magnet feature for his wrist. So when we saw the first shots that came from the Orient, we said "It doesn't really make sense to use The Force to get his hand back". There was also a concern that the hand was such a small part that it would be easy to lose. So we made a decision to change it from a magnet into a post. By the time we changed the part, they were already into production, so the first few production runs got out with the magnet.
The bloody part didn't really have to do with the violence issue, but putting out the best toy. As far as blood on the wrist goes, since we all know that lightsabers cauterize wounds instantly, it didn't make sense to make it bloody.
Anytime you see variations like that, ninety nine times out of a hundred, it's in the interest of making the best toy. As we find stuff working and not working, we'll make the appropriate changes. We all preferred a mole on Amidala's face, but it was coming out like a big birth mark during production. So rather than have a toy that doesn't really look good consistently, we decide to remove it completely. That's why you see some have it and some that don't have it. It's not us saying, "Let's make this many and switch it", but it's more in making the right toy.
Q: Why do your prototype samples look so well done and the actual production figure look mediocre?
Andy: We do create those by hand in-house and then we send it to our manufacturers and they use that as a guide. So you're seeing nice hand-painted samples all the time. I think that's pretty common across the toy industry. And then when you get into production, which brings up another question when there's only one figure packed in a case, it's because of a learning curve associated when we start production on a figure. A lot of times what you're seeing are a lot of early samples which haven't got it right just yet. It's something which we work with them to approve. We see samples starting production we'll say, "The eyes aren't right here", "This paint isn't right". That's why a lot of the variants you see is because we try to get the product to the shelves as fast as we can and make you happy and get them to you. It's a learning process and that's why you see variants.
Mark: We spend a lot of time on those and we want to take the position of making it as good as we possibly can. A lot of times we send e-mails back and forth in the middle of the night, sending photos back and forth to our vendors in the Orient. There's a little bit of a language issue that happens sometimes and so we try to do as many digital images as we can when we're talking back and forth. Suffice to say, I guess it's because we're trying to make the product the best we can. Sometimes that does mean a few variations, and as Andy mentioned, some of that production doesn't pack it out until we can make those ultimate corrections. But it's because we care.
We spend a lot of time as designers working on this stuff, and we want this stuff to look as good in package as you guys do. It's quality control and sort of our dedication to the line that really keeps us after the vendors in the Orient. They do a great job. They're making millions of figures, and I think if you look at all the millions of figures, the production and the work that they do is quite good.
Q: Any chance for a Mara Jade 12" doll?
Andy: If we were to do Expanded Universe again I think we'll do it with the 3 ¾ inch since it's the gold standard and has a heritage of 25 years. But for 12", we continue to look at new action figures there as well. We're putting the final steps on the fall assortment and some new ones for Spring 2003. But as long as people are asking for it and there's some interest, we'll continually look into it and that's the direction we'll go in. So we'll certainly take it under consideration.
Q: Are you guys aware of the petition to make a Bespin Ice Maker Guy Figure?
Andy: We're getting pretty obscure when it come to the Bespin Ice Cream Maker. That's about as obscure as you can get. We do keep an eye out at what people are saying, and as Mark mentioned before, we really do care. We do keep our ears to the ground, so to speak, and our eyes on the internet to see what people are saying about different things, and we'll take it under consideration. To be honest, we may hear a petition for one thing which may or may not be into consideration, but it's always nice to hear what people want to see. That may help something get into the next Fan's Choice selection, where we really get a good idea about how many people want to see it. It's pretty obscure with that Ice Cream Maker Figure. I don't know if we can find enough reference. (laughter)
Q: What's the deal with the Jorg Sacul figure? Are you planning on re-releasing older exclusives like the Skiff?
Andy: It was clearly communicated to people that the figure will only be available at the convention. As much as I'd love to make that figure available at a fair price instead of people going to the secondary market, there are legal ramifications. Since it's been explained to people that way, a lot of people traveled all the way there with the understanding that the Celebration II will be the only place they can get it.
As far as the Skiff, the retailer reached this agreement with us to take this product under the understanding that it would be an exclusive for them, which forbids us from going back and doing it over again.
Q: Whatever happened to your Portrait Amidala dolls? Wasn't there supposed to be a fourth Celebration Gown doll?
Mark: I wasn't directly involved with that product, which was very nicely executed. I'm not really quite sure what happened to the figures towards the end of the assortment. There isn't really that demand which makes sense for us to continue with the fashion dolls. What makes sense for us right now is to continue with the traditional 12" line.
Q: Why are the newer figures so preposed?
Andy: We try on each figure to have the right balance of decoration, articulation, and features which make sense for that character. Once you put certain costs into one area, it may hinder another area. We try to make sense for that figure for that scene. We do have some figures coming out with new versions of characters for 2003.
Mark: We are always looking at techniques and ways that we can have the articulation. As Andy mentioned, we all want to put 50 points of articulation on a figure. But we wouldn't want to do that to every figure and lose that particular uniqueness of that character. We don't want him to lose or she lose what makes sense for that particular person in the film. We also always try to hide the articulation as best we can. We're a little more sensitive on where we put cut lines and we really do try to hide them.