Every year, I write a “state of” post on Star Wars merchandising, including observations on successes and failures to work in progress. This past year, I mentioned Hasbro’s Star Wars product release with Disney’s content release strategy compared with Hasbro’s MCU product. Whereas WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and What If…? waves were ready to go at retail either shortly after their respective show releases or during, Star Wars is often 1 – 2 years behind. And since Hasbro has the license for both Lucasfilm and Marvel, all red flags point to Lucasfilm. Either the Star Wars arm of Disney is too protective of sharing concept art for product development, or they just think collectors’ interests will hold for two years. They could be grossly underestimating the value of fans’ ability to purchase products close to release, but Disney executives are not stupid. Their executive ranks are filled with MBA graduates.
Reuse and Repaints
There are two major ways toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel profit from already produced figures: Mold reuse and repaints. Mold reuse, which is repurposing existing parts of one action figure to use for another, allows for faster production to market. It is how collectors got Bo Katan and Koska Reeves so close together and how collectors are finally getting a character like Aayla Secura (because a Hera Twi’lek head mold now exists). The figures are not always completely accurate in detail, but for a $25 MSRP figure built for mass distribution, it is not bad. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a Hot Toy for detail accuracy.
Repaints also help with different versions of the same characters. The most common repaints for Star Wars Black Series are for troopers. Whether for Clone troopers, Stormtroopers, or First Order troopers, repaints are a part of every wave of figure releases.
Hasbro is nowhere near the only company that does this. Funko Pop! lives in the repaint space and does quite well, which brings us to the bad part of all of this. These also encourage lazy repacks and abominable repaints. Repacks like the 3.75″ DROIDS C-3P0 from older molds/poorly made figures rely solely on the packaging for collectors to give up their money. For repaints, the holiday troopers that came out in 2020, the credit collection, and The Vintage Collection gold figure repaints are all objectively abysmal.
Expectation versus Reality
But after a few good waves with new characters, Hasbro dropped a release notice that blew up the collector-verse: A comic line Black Series Black Krrsantan. Collectors were probably expecting a figure closer to the massive Wookiee on their TV screens in The Book of Boba Fett, but what they are getting (for a price of $24.99) is a repaint of Chewbacca.
To add insult to injuring (and just bad optics), you can see immediately why this product release was a mistake because the case includes a picture of the hulking, intimidating figure next to its lanky repaint. This comic line for the Black Series was announced with a full product line in early 2021 and featured releases from canon and legends. The artwork usually features the character’s first comic appearance, and for Black Krrsantan, that is Star Wars #20 (2015). One could argue that in other issues that Black Krrsantan appears, he is drawn more like a black Chewbacca. However, in his first appearance (which is right there on the product) he is far from the figure Lucasfilm/Hasbro is asking collectors to pay for. This is a visual representation of the proverb “trying to have your cake and eat it, too.”
So who is to blame for the epic fail of the comic-based Black Series Black Krrsantan? Lucasfilm is heavily involved in the development and production of their toys so an executive green-lighted this. But someone at Hasbro also thought it was a good idea to do a repaint of Chewbacca and call it Black Krrsantan, despite the obvious size difference.
Meanwhile, repaints and reuses (while also overused) serve Marvel/Hasbro well in getting products on shelves promptly. The Wanda and Falcon toys with their new costumes were ready for the demand after their series finales. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness toys are already on the shelves despite the film’s May release date.
Unlike the Marvel and Hasbro team, Lucasfilm and Hasbro appear to have no clear strategy for product release when it comes to character reveals in their Disney Plus shows. Like I said, this probably has more to do with Lucasfilm than Hasbro. However, add in chaotic production and shipping schedules aided by the third year of the pandemic, and it is the perfect storm for both brands to look bad.
Expectation versus reality is too real for toy collectors, but there is also value in waiting. Hasbro waited almost a year to roll out Grogu merchandise after the character exploded into pop culture in The Mandalorian. People waited for the official merchandise, and Hasbro (and Disney) still made a lot of money. Black Krrsantan is not on the same level as Grogu, but he is now more popular and will make more appearances in live-action (you don’t go through the trouble of creating those practical effects for a one-show use). And he is a character made to be made into an action figure (complete with all the accessories). But marketing decisions like this can slow the momentum of a character’s popularity with fans buying merchandise that does not have Grogu’s face.
Ultimately, this is a figure release made (like that DROIDS C-3P0) to sit on a shelf in its packaging. Collectors that are angry about this release will do one of two things: Speak with their wallets and not purchase, or complain while simultaneously entering in their credit card info for preorder. That seems to be what happened with the holiday repaint troopers because we are getting more of them. Hasbro will eventually release a more live-action accurate Black Krrsantan further down the line. But Hasbro/Lucasfilm should have taken a page from either one of their old playbooks: Work more closely to get an accurate product out in time like the Marvel team or wait it out like the Grogu merchandise. Here’s hoping that the second time is the charm.