With two major launches, The Clone Wars final season and The Mandalorian season two (not to mention catching up with demand from season one), it was a busy year for Star Wars consumer products. That is not likely to slow down as we also got announcements of more Star Wars content coming to Disney+ than one could ever dream (and maybe would ever want to dream).
When toy sales dictate Executive decisions in film and television studios on what content gets produced, they are important and connected to the overall health of the brand, so I wanted to take a moment and look back at the year 2020 as it pertains to Star Wars action figures.
For Star Wars, 3.75 and 6-Inch Scale are Still the Sweet Spot
Hasbro continued the Galaxy of Adventures line (which is a 5-inch scale and a more cartoonish portrayal of the characters) into 2020 but, save for the usually popular characters (Ahsoka, Maul, Clones, etc), the figures pretty much stayed on the pegs. And there is no word on that line continuing so far into 2021. Also occupying the pegs alongside them in retail was Mission Fleet, the 2.5-inch line that looks like Hasbro’s mini version of Disney’s Toy Box but included vehicles. The line, which was introduced at 2020 Toy Fair, focused on some of the more popular pieces of Star Wars content like The Mandalorian, The Clone Wars, A New Hope, and Revenge of the Sith. But that still hasn’t seemed to help move product. Maybe we will hear some announcements early this year, maybe we won’t. I don’t think collectors, or their children, care.
The Rise of Skywalker was Persona Non Grata…at least with Disney’s Partners
The last film in a nine-film saga and only 11 Black Series figures, three of which were new characters with lines (Zorri Bliss, Jannah, Babu Frik, and D-O). The latter, Babu Frik, and D-O were included with C3P0 and Rey figures. The others were troopers from existing molds, a Knight of Ren, a Rey, and Kylo. Vintage Collection didn’t fare much better with Rey, a different Knight of Ren, Zorri, a Sith Trooper, and a Sith Jet Trooper. Oh, and this was all in 2019. No 2020 releases post spoilers. No new Poe, Finn, or Rose, no old man Lando or Chewie. In fact, to get some of these characters closer to the 3.75-inch scale, one would have to buy the Disney Play Sets sold in The Disney Store and online. This is where 5POA is missed- to catch characters that may not be considered popular enough to move preorders but ones that would move off of retail shelves (even during pandemic times). There really is no excuse not to have Lt. Connix, a popular side character who has been in all three sequel films and happens to be played by the daughter of the late Carrie Fisher, in any 3.75-inch form. If Hasbro was still committed to 5POA, we likely would have all of the above. The only recognition that the sequel trilogy got was in Celebrate the Saga packs released in Fall 2020, the last from the traditional 5POA 3.75 figure line for a while and included mostly rereleased figures. Figure production is a direct reflection of priorities from Lucasfilm and, for now, they seem to want to move on from The Rise of Skywalker and focus on other Star Wars properties to sell toys.
Mandalorians are Gold, But Grogu is Platinum
Speaking of other Star Wars properties, one of the biggest new properties (in any franchise) is The Mandalorian. Voted as the most pirated series in 2020, the series has become a toy producer’s dream. Since The Mandalorian premiered, sales of the Mandalorian himself have been hot and hard to come by (the Force Friday Carbonized Target Exclusive was the hardest figure to come by out of that wave and has increased on the secondary market). Not only are there Mandalorians, which is basically a more effective Stormtrooper who has even more custom armor and accessories, but there is also the gift of Grogu. Formally Baby Yoda/The Child, Grogu was going to sell a lot of merchandise from the first time his face graced the screen in the first episode of The Mandalorian. Disney, not wanting to spoil the reveal, also didn’t let their merchandising partners go into production. A move that industry experts estimated cost Disney millions of dollars. That was rectified the following year in 2020 when you couldn’t escape Baby Yoda/Grogu merch. There was a spike in sales during the early months of the pandemic, including preorders for the hyper-realistic and to-scale Sideshow figure. Hasbro and Mattel also threw their hat into the ring with various price point versions of The Child. Mandalorians might have to carry most of the merchandising weight into season three as Grogu is off with Luke Skywalker and we’ll see where the focus lies but I suspect there will be more Mandalorians in the future for the show.
The Trooper Mold is Overused but Profitable
There were approximately 35 trooper figures between Black Series and The Vintage Collection released this year (including rereleases of past figures). There were rereleases for The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary, rereleases of troopers that also appeared in The Mandalorian, gaming troopers from EU and canon, etc. This all culminated in what can only be described as a dry heave of holiday colors over various trooper molds. The thing is, these Holiday troopers (which I discuss in more detail in my post here) also did well in sales (especially in preorders). This makes business sense as the molds are already there and troopers (and Mandalorians) seem to leave brick and mortar and virtual shelves faster, but creatively it’s starting to be an eyesore. These figures were not available everywhere, however, and this is attributed to another trend that has had roots now for years but has solidified to a set group: retail exclusives.
The Retail Space has Evolved for Exclusives. And Partnerships will Continue to Evolve.
Since two former toy retailer giants, Toys R Us and Kmart, are no longer in the United States and fan channels seemed to have stopped getting exclusive Black Series or Vintage figures, Hasbro has taken to divvying up exclusives between five retailers: Target, Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy and GameStop. And there were a lot of exclusives: Walmart got the ESB Retro collection earlier in the year, GameStop handled the gaming figures, both EU and canon. Target got exclusive rights to sell Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge merchandise that included Black Series figures and a Vintage Collection Millennium Falcon that also included several figures.
The Credit Collection was a five single-carded release of repainted versions of previously available Black Series figures. Per Hasbro, they were artistic interpretations of the characters seen in the artwork from the end credits of The Mandalorian season one and came with a collectible plastic Imperial Credit. The retailers which sold the Credit Collection figures included Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, and Target.
With Best Buy and GameStop reinventing themselves in the past years due to the decline of CD, DVD/Blu Ray, and physical game sales, selling exclusive action figures (online and in-store) has been an avenue for growth. In the future, it will be interesting to see if other retailers join in on Star Wars action figure exclusives (Barnes and Noble would make sense if Lucasfilm/Hasbro decides to immortalize The High Republic characters in figure form).
Clone Wars Demand Can’t Meet the Supply
If it was up to collectors, Walmart would not be given exclusives. They regularly delay and cancel preorders, they ship with limited protection and often arrived damaged for in-box collectors, and when they do arrive in stores, they have no purchase limits so are more susceptible to flippers. But Walmart is the largest global retailer with $510B in revenue (Amazon comes in second at $232B), so Walmart will continue to get exclusives (within and outside of the Star Wars franchise). However, Walmart should not get an entire exclusive wave related to The Clone Wars unless they can meet the high demand. One of the most popular animated series, which concluded early 2020, got a season seven Black Series line exclusive to Walmart that included four figures (Ahsoka, Maul Loyalist, Mandalorian Loyalist, and 332nd Ahsoka Trooper). Four of the most popular figures and molds from a popular Star Wars piece of content being sold at one retailer threw collectors at the mercy of either having to go into a store during a pandemic or hoping their online preorders weren’t canceled. If you did neither, you are now looking at spending between $35 – $50 per figure in the secondary market. Even without the help of exclusivity, Clone Wars figures are still hard to get their hands on: good luck finding Cad Bane at the original retail price. Not surprisingly, more Clone Wars figures are on the way (including Asajj Ventress and the members of The Bad Batch) in 2021.
Certain spaces and sets fit in with exclusivity: the Hasbro Pulse Exclusive Vintage Collection Clone Trooper pack and the Cad Bane Exclusive with more accessories and a droid seemed to work well-converting from convention exclusives to Hasbro’s online shop after all the conventions were canceled due to the pandemic. And, given that the timeline for the upcoming Disney+ show, The Bad Batch, takes place right after The Clone Wars, a lot of characters could cross over into the new series as well. If The Bad Batch is as big as a hit, then the merchandise from the show should be available to as many people who want it. We will have a better sense of what characters Disney, Lucasfilm and their consumer partners feel are valuable in 2021 with upcoming Fan Fridays and future conventions but here’s hoping there is a little more variety. After all, Grogu can’t continue to carry all the merchandising weight.