To Buy or Not to Buy? International Toy Fair 2019 Impressions

– Guest Post by Toytooine

February 14th has come and gone again, the season of love; and for us fans of an aggressively branded property, it marks the return to our first love – spending gobs of money on useless crap! Yes, every year around this time the icy cold of New York unfreezes for just a bit for all our favorite toy companies to come together and show off their upcoming wears for the year. Essentially, Toy Fair is a big ol’ convention for the toy industry to remind the retailers (and us!) of all the exciting stuff we can look forward to buying in 2019.

I low-key have looked forward to this show popping up images online for years and years now. Mostly, you can envision what the companies are going to show off, but every once in a while you get some surprises. Hey, remember that giant 6-foot Sail Barge they showed off last year? You just never know.

Now, before y’all get too excited, it’s much too early for Ep IX merch, so none of that was shown off. However, you can bet on an avalanche of plastic goodies in the stores as the new theme park opens and the movie draws closer. For the time being, we are looking at merch from existing material, which is A-Ok by me. In addition, since collecting is a money game, I figured I’d critique the reveals in the best way these companies know how – will I buy it? Besides, it’ll be fun to see how much money I’m about to sink this year.. right?

So, did our licensees bring their A-game to the Sabaac table, or can our disappointment in their performance not be overstated? Let’s take a look…

HASBRO

Star Wars Lightsaber Academy – Lightsaber role-play toys are basically the bread & butter of the Star Wars toy market. As such, they are pretty ubiquitous and it’s hard to find a fan or kid who hasn’t owned or played around with one over the years. You gotta keep doing things to make the same basic toy new and interesting so it seems this year, the answer is motion tracking.

Download the Lightsaber Academy App and you can get training lessons and goals to complete with your lightsaber. The pricier models have motion tracking in them to give proper feedback to the app.

Now, I am of two minds on this. Role play items do great when enhanced with features like lights or sounds. And a lightsaber makes a great prop for games and lessons. However, I’m not sure how many casual kids or fans will go out of their way to download some basic app games. Based on Hasbro’s Force Link app experiment last year, it seemed most just didn’t bother and played with the toys on their own. It was a lot of extra steps just to play with a toy that you can essentially have fun with out of the box, sans app. It is creative, and I hope I am thinking wrongly and kids will have a great time.

App aside, I do have some gripes that modern lightsaber toys have been hitting. These appear to have the same problems, though with limited pictures we’ll have to wait till they hit stores to see if these fears are founded. The proportions appear wrong on most current saber toys. The hilt should not be so long compared to the stubby little blade. I get that these are for kids, but this was not a problem years ago. Even more egregious, we have telescoping blades, which are the most fun ever. However, most of the interactive sabers do not fully retreat into the hilt! This may seem like a nitpick, but that’s literally the one thing lightsabers are known for. If you have a telescoping feature, but it still leaves half the blade sticking out, what’s the point? Again, you can buy cheap lightsabers at the Halloween store which do not have this issue. Hopefully when these hit stores, they will look much better than past attempts.

Will I buy it? No, I’m not really in the market for role play, unless the app has Doug Marcaida telling me my blade will keel.

It will KEEL

The Black Series – Nothin’. We got nothin’. Apparently, they announced that a lot of the focus will be on IX, so none of that will be shown until later. However, that seems SLIGHTLY disingenuous since they showed off a decent amount of Vintage Collection toys, which should have the same issue. So maybe 6’ scale is taking a break until Ep IX merch hits? Either way, they mostly showed off toys that haven’t hits shelves yet, though we have seen them at shows before.

Our only new figure reveal was Ep 1 Obi-Wan, which looks so Wizard! Star Wars Celebration will feature an exclusive Obi-Wan and Darth Maul on throwback Phantom Menace cards, so you can party like it’s 1999! Unfortunately, Kittster’s right, TPM figures will definitely sell out this time! Not to worry, both Maul and Obi-Wan will be released in normal packaging later this year in stores.

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The other odd announcement is a new scale and line: HyperReal. I’m only putting this in here because it has been listed as “Black Series” by multiple sites. This will be a new 8” line of premium figures with only 1 or 2 releases a year. These will set you back around 80 bucks and be more in line with Hot Toys or Mezco 1:12 Collection in terms of quality. At the show, they let attendees take a look at the articulated metal armature that will be the skeleton of all the figures, with rubber “skin” going atop. This is a feature that Hot Toys sometimes uses to get a sculpted figure with no noticeable joints or seams.

First on tap is Darth Vader arriving early for the 40th anniversary of ESB, with all signs pointing to a Bespin Luke showing up next. I think with a lot of companies like Mezco or NECA leaning into the adult collector premium market, this is a decent move on Hasbro’s part and the Vader looks impressive… most impressive.

With wonderful proportions and show reports of successful articulation, this could be a real winner on the display shelf. I am very curious to see Bespin Luke: can they stick the landing with an equally successful human likeness? Really looking forward to reviews when this comes out.

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8 inch scale is really weird though. I’m not sure why this was chosen as I can not readily think of another action figure line that it would be compatible with. For reference, Disney’s larger Elite Series is only 7” scale. So this line may really struggle as many collectors who want classic characters likely already have characters in other established scales. It will, however be great for the casual collectors who just want one or two characters to go on their desks.  

Will I buy it? If I come across some of that TPM goodness at Celebration, I’ll snag it to go with my POG collection. The HyperReal is just an extra scale that won’t fit in on my shelf, so I’ll pass. As for what we already know is coming, I’m cutting down on Black Series this year. I’m probably the only freak who is just interested in Vice Admiral Holdo and no other figures. Oh well.  

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The Vintage Collection – This is where the fun begins. It seems like a good chunk of time without a Star Wars movie has been good for the creative juices at Hasbro this year. Right off, we are getting quite a bit of Return of the Jedi love. Likely, this is to coincide with the aforementioned GIANT FREAKING BARGE coming to backers this year. Speaking of, the Yak Face that comes packed with the barge comes with an exclusive cup accessory, we discovered. So, fans of teeny, tiny, little plastic cups rejoice!

At most major retailers it looks like we’ll be seeing a new and improved Jabba’s skiff, which collectors have been asking for basically as long as I can recall. The old mold was under-scaled and couldn’t display all your figures properly. On top of this, it has a little sandy Tatooine base to float on, which it just a nice classy bit of detail. The price is great, so it seems Disney/Hasbro learned from last year’s 80 dollar Jedha tank. Really? You didn’t want to drop a Benjamin to buy a plain looking, tiny box with 1 minute of screen time from a 2 year old movie? Whaaaaaa?

To go along, we’re getting a skiff guard 3-pack, which is sadly mostly repacked figures. Great for those who missed them. But for me, wanting the all-new Vedain, it looks like I’m saddled with 2 duplicates. Anyone want 2 skiff guards?

Walmart’s got 2 exclusives, but it’s Walmart, meaning we’ll never see ’em. We have a new Skiff Guard Lando (I told ya there was a theme) and a pretty darn impressive Jabba’s Palace playset with removable Carbonite block. This blew me away, never would I have thought Hasbro would invest in a fully sculpted diorama like this. This also comes with 2 repacked figures, and I just wish they would have done something to get a different character we don’t already have in there. At least Han with an untucked shirt for us movie continuity fans! But I’ll gladly give away two toys to get this big ol’ display piece.

Will I buy it? It’s 3 ¾” – gimme ALL THE THINGS please. I will be passing on the skiff as I just have no room in my life for vehicles right now, but RotJ is my favorite movie, so all my new skiff dudes and palace dudettes will be living in that new play-set. Mark. My. Words.

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The Retro Collection – A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. So, it looks like Target will be carrying a limited line of action figures based on A New Hope. More specifically, re-releases of the original figures from 1978. We are getting a selection of Luke, Vader, Han, Leia, Chewie, and that Stormtrooper who hits his head on the ceiling and they kept it in the movie. These will be on replica card backs with faux scratches and wear & tear.

This line has a lot of collectors divided. Some are turned off by the fact that they are re-releases of figures they already have. Some feel this may ruin the value of the older figures and accessories if they are just pumped back into circulation. I’m pretty much of the opinion that value is only based on the value you give something. If you want to buy a toy, get it because you want to buy a toy. If you want to increase monetary value, maybe playing the stock market is a better hobby for you.

It is a bummer that these are not all new characters, but it’s not like everyone was a youngling in the 70’s, dude. I know for me, I grew up in the 90s. Before I had internet, I only knew of these figures through ancient myths and legend, so its a real dream come true to own these classics. Plus, its kind of nice to see them going back to the originals one last time before the presumably last Episode in the Skywalker saga.

On top of this, we are getting one new figure in the form of retro Grand Moff Tarkin! He comes packaged with a re-release of a vintage Death Star board game… for some reason… but who cares! This is actually a figure collectors have been waiting for nearly 40 years now. Back in the original toyline, one of the only major players missing was Tarkin. Kenner planned a sequel story dubbed The Epic Continues with Tarkin returning somehow. His appearance was mostly to finally get a Tarking figure out, but the toy line was scrapped.

Now all these years later, here he is! It’s true – all of it! But for real, please buy every Tarkin you can. I need them to finally release an Atha Prime from The Epic Continues…

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Will I buy it?  “I’m gonna say yes – Hell yes.” – Sir Nicolas Cage

Hasbro Misc. – Well, we saw some of the Micro Force series 2. Those are the little squishy figures that come packaged in little lightsaber tubes. They are cute enough, but nothing to get excited over. You can mostly just get the Santa porg from the Advent calendar and call it a day with this line.

We have some possibly larger figures from the preschool line, Galactic Heroes. I literally cannot find any information on these toys aside from this brief mention on GalacticHunter.

I mean NES pilot Luke and sassy Chewie look interesting, but I don’t have much info on these. The proportions on most of them just don’t look charming enough to warrant a purchase beyond the figures you already own of these characters.

The big news here is that Hasbro has restructured a bit, collapsing their crowdfunding service HasLab and HasbroToyShop into one site, Hasbro Pulse. This will include news about all Hasbro products as well as direct-to-consumer shopping. It looks like they will be implementing a subscription service for toys as well, so collectors may need to be on the lookout. If you want to check it out or pre-order anything they’ve announced this past weekend, Imma just drop their link here.

LEGO

Action Battle – We have three sets based on the original trilogy with mini vehicles and bases. The gimmick here is that they all have big cannons and bright targets on them so that you can pick a side in an iconic battle and start playing target practice. I gotta say, this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I think LEGO just wanted to put out classic stuff and realized that they made all the Hoth and Endor stuff in brick form already. I don’t really know how making a tiny AT-AT and slapping a big bright target on it is going to grab folks who want to make these classic vehicles and scenes. And LEGO’s strongest suit is the building, not really gunplay.

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Resistance – This is a more straightforward release. We get two ships from the new show with some minifigures. The interesting thing is, we are really only getting Kaz from our main cast, and neither of the ships appear to be ones he flies. I want to assume LEGO is slowly rolling out sets from this line and will fill out the cast at a later date.

20 Years – It’s been 20 years of Star Wars LEGO! I’m old! To celebrate, it looks like they are taking some vehicles from across the movies and including a bonus minifig from the original Star Wars releases on a little display stand. You know, back when the minifigs were still all yellow. Nifty!

LEGO Standard – On display were plenty of basic style sets too. Don’t worry, LEGO is still rolling em out! Of interest it seems they are putting a little emphasis on scenes and moments in the films. Such as 3PO and R2 crashing down in their escape pod, or Luke and Leia swinging across the Death Star. Probably the simple stand-out for me is a nice little set of Rey and Kylo from TFA with the ground splitting between them.

Will I buy it? Nope. As much as I love LEGO and grew up on the stuff, I’ve been out of the brick game too long. There’s simply so much of it I can’t really invest in it. Gotta stick with figures!

FUNKO

Pop! Pez – Yup, the only thing revealed was Pez dispensers. I know Pez collectors exist, but this line has always seemed one of the lazier moves on Funko’s part. Stick the same Funko heads you’ve seen dozens of time before on a Pez. It is what it is. We’re getting Chase releases of Ponda Baba and Blue Snaggletooth as a throwback to the Kenner line, but at this point, that gimmick’s been done so much that it’s hardly worth a mention.  

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Will I buy it? No. I’m not a hater of the Pop! style by any means – I own tons of em! But I think at this point there is so much Pop! saturation that its starting to become white noise.

BANDAI

Movie Realization – This awesome samurai-inspired line continues with new sequel trilogy era baddies. These guys are a thing of beauty as always, and really just stand out in any collection. I know some of these new characters are pretty basic (cough Phasma cough) but the line remains consistent in its style and I’m just waiting on a Praetorian Guard at this point to possibly pull the trigger. Most everything else on display we’ve seen before or is already out for sale.

Will I buy it? Imports are generally out of my price range but I will own one of those character models someday… someday…

GENTLE GIANT   

The big news here is the long time prop, statue, and bust company has been bought out by Diamond Select. It seems for now, they will produce product as normal, but With Diamond directly in charge of distribution, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. DST has a decent relationship with fans, so hopefully they can take care of Star Wars going forward. They had some nice product on display including a Vandor-1 Chewie statue and a Crait Luke Bust. I’m a total sucker for grumpy old man Luke but he’s posed like he’s force lifting rocks – you know the one thing he was totally not doing in the movie. It’s a cool pose, just not really a good choice for representing the scene.

luke-4

Will I buy it? I dunno.. I kinda need those adorable porg bookends to hold my Constable Zuvio novel and Dune prequels.

OVERALL

I’m pretty happy with what we saw, while obviously limited by the lack of EP IX merch. The strong RotJ showing was amazing. I need that retro Tarkin in my life. That may be my MVP for the show. My one main disappointment is the lack of certain characters from Hasbro. I’m talking those 3 ¾’ essentials like Cliegg Lars, Cruisemissile Trooper, Holdo, Cruisemissile Trooper, the Tonnika Sisters, and the Cruisemissile Trooper. But, with what we’ve seen, I’ll be a pretty happy camper for the time being.

TL;DR – Toys are fun. I like em.

What toys are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

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