Once a seemingly bulletproof brand, the now Lucas-less Star Wars seems to be floundering without a clear vision. Determined to seek a new audience, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, cocksure over the success of The Force Awakens’ box office, told the New York Times, “I don’t feel that I have a responsibility to cater in some way. I would never just seize on saying, ‘Well, this is a franchise that’s appealed primarily to men for many, many years, and therefore I owe men something.'”
It’s incredible how quickly tomorrow’s burgeoning revolution can turn into today’s wet fart. While there is no doubt the new films have probably picked up new fans, it seems counter-intuitive to engage in language that antagonizes and insults fans who have long supported the films, and more importantly, purchased the merchandise. The danger of breaking a fan’s collecting habit is that once it’s gone, it’s very difficult to lure them back, and if the new audience you’re courting doesn’t materialize, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. A “We don’t want you” attitude toward an existing fan base is especially detrimental to the many, many companies who have purchased licenses to produce Star Wars toys and products.
Enter Hasbro, long-time producer of action figures and toys for the Star Wars brand. Since 1995, Hasbro has enjoyed a profitable relationship with Lucasfilm, producing action figures that began with the well-received Power of the Force line. For almost two decades, Star Wars once again ruled the highly desirable category of boys’ action, from the much-maligned prequels to the well-received The Clone Wars TV series.
Generally well-received, Disney’s first Star Wars film, The Force Awakens,
seemed to suggest the franchise was going to enter a new golden age. Collectors snapped up the initial assortments, and once the film hit, parents who were late to the party struggled to find figures of the film’s lead protagonist, Rey. This led to an erroneous assumption that the figure was underproduced, and launched the #WheresRey hashtag on social media. Production and distribution eventually caught up to demand, and enough Rey figures were produced that every kid (and every collector) could have multiple. Slowly, that initial panic over there not being enough figures to go around led to an over-saturation of toy product, and Star Wars began to find itself exploring a bold new galaxy it seldom had before… the discount chain.
Fast forward to The Last Jedi. Despite many critics and friendly review sites hailing the film as the second coming of The Empire Strikes Back, fans and general audiences were quite divided on the film, and voiced their feelings (as fandom often does) on social media. Perhaps caught unaware after the largely positive reaction to The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Lucasfilm reacted the only way entertainment companies seemed to know how in 2018… by denigrating the fandom who had long poured money into their coffers.
Which brings us to the present, as Hasbro, still smarting from the retail failure of their Last Jedi and Solo lines, and the Forces of Destiny hitting the clearance aisle along with every other Star Wars branded item imaginable, launches it’s new line of Star Wars: Resistance figures.
Based on the latest Star Wars animated series, Resistance follows the trials and triumphs of the titular heroes of Disney’s trilogy, and has been received with the level of fan indifference you could probably expect at this point.
Resistance may well be a solid show; I admittedly haven’t seen it, and I don’t know anyone who’s talking about it, but it faces the uphill battle of being released in a climate where a large percentage of their fan base is disinterested at best, or outwardly hostile at worst. It doesn’t help that Resistance is set in perhaps the least popular time frame in the franchise, where a watered down rebellion is fighting a fourth-rate empire that The Last Jedi made look more like the Keystone Cops than a credible threat. Resistance could well prove to be the series that fleshes out the conflict in the films the way The Clone Wars did for the much maligned prequels, but the brand is so embattled at this point that even the news of a second season dropping hit with more of a wet thud than thunderous applause.
Another challenge Hasbro faces with Resistance, and the Star Wars brand in general, is the price point. $7.99 for 3.75 inch basic figures with 5 points of articulation, and $14.99 for “Deluxe” figures with barely any additional accessories, is not an attractive buy-in to a brand that everyone now knows will be hitting Ross, Ollie’s and 5 Below within 6 months. Even if you are a hardcore fan that still buys the figures, you can wait it out and get everything you want at a drastically reduced price.
And that’s largely why I’m not posting a review for these figures. First of all, you can tell everything you need to know about them from looking at the pictures. A figure that has five points of articulation holds little mystery. And while I do like the bright colors and white backgrounds of the packaging, (especially after living with the awful “Black Series” packaging for so long,) I still couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on figures that’ll be choking the TJ Maxx by the summertime. I mean, you’re talking to someone who paid .03 cents a figure for the Solo Black Series figures. I know when to wait for a bargain.
It’s well known that the Star Wars master toy license is up for grabs in 2020, and Mattel has been making noise about looking to obtain it. This will likely keep the licensing fee fairly high for the franchise at a time that Hasbro should be asking for a discount. With the movie lines largely tarnished, it’ll be up to Hasbro to decide if TV shows on Disney’s streaming service, such as Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian and Cassian Andor: Intergalactic Man of Mystery are going to move product, and bid on the license accordingly. For Mattel, it will be a question of how much money they can lose on another product line, since even if they were getting Star Wars at the best of times, they are currently a company that can’t find their ass even with their hands in their back pockets.
It’s going to be an interesting year for Star Wars. Disney is banking heavily on Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars land at the theme parks, which were, perhaps unfortunately now, not based around the beloved original trilogy, but Disney’s own trilogy before Kathleen Kennedy allowed Rian Johnson to fly it straight into an asteroid field. We’ll soon find out if J.J. Abrams can salvage the debacle of The Last Jedi with the as-yet-untitled Episode IX, and whether The Mandalorian and Cassian Andor (a character whose figure peg-warmed in it’s own right) have legs. But one thing is clear; Star Wars needs a course correction if it ever hopes to regain it’s title as the brand of brands.