A Good Problem to Have: Hasbro Talks Star Wars Black Series at NYCC [Interview]
There have been Star Wars toys on the shelves at retailers consistently since the mid-1990s. With the re-releases of the classic trilogy and the actual releases of the prequel trilogy, Star Wars has managed to not only stay hot for collectors, but thrive at retail in ways many other toy lines that started in the 1970s could only dream of matching.
This year is a big year for Star Wars movies, in case you hadn't heard. That also means it's a big year for Star Wars collectibles. It's such a big deal in fact, that an entire day, Force Friday, was built around the new toy releases themed around the upcoming sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
With figures from the upcoming film in high demand, it's a wonder the team working on Star Wars at Hasbro has any free time at all. Fortunately, we caught up with Hasbro's Star Wars team after getting a look at some of the new Star Wars Black Series collectibles coming later this year.
We chatted up Joe Ninivaggi, senior global marketing manager for Star Wars, Steve Bono, senior product designer, and Steve Evans, Star Wars design director, during New York Comic Con this past weekend to learn more about the line, what's to come, and what it's like to finally have new Star Wars characters to work with for the first time in a few decades.
ComicsAlliance: You guys took a little break in the lead up to Force Friday. There weren't many releases between the last Black Series wave and the Force Friday release. Is another day like Force Friday something you could see doing again for the Star Wars line, even though it wouldn't be a huge day with all companies involved?
Joe Ninivaggi: That's really a Disney/Lucasfilm call. This was really their event, and we worked closely with them to make it a reality. We know we have new movies coming every year, with Rogue One and beyond, so for us, every new line is a celebration. I think we'll have to see what happens in the fall of next year. Theoretically, there could be something like Force Friday again, yeah.
CA: The figures so far, you've been limited by the cast that's been shown. Between the last Leia (Boushh) and Rey, there haven't been a lot of female figures in the line. I know there are more coming with Ahsoka and Phasma, but is that something you are looking to include more of down the line?
JN: Absolutely. We're proud of the fact that we've tried to do pretty much every female character since the beginning, across the movies and Clone Wars. Right now, we have Rey, Phasma, and we also just revealed the Seventh Sister, and Sabine and New Hope Leia are going to be coming in 6" size. It's a brand for everyone, boys and girls, men and women, and I think especially in terms of heroes and villains of the lore, they're really, really strong female characters. As long as Lucasfilm keeps pumping out great characters like that, we'll definitely keep doing figures of them.
CA: On the development side, what are some of the advantages of working with the five-point articulated figures versus the Black Series' more-articulated figures at 3.75" size?
Steve Bono: Articulation allows us to create a whole different character because you can pose it differently, and do certain accessories and details you couldn't if the articulation was limited. The five-point figures are a great basic figure as they aren't lacking in detail at all, and the simplified articulation allows us to do them at a consumable price point, which allows us to do more of them.
Then we go to the more sought-after characters at the larger scale and with more articulation, or at the 3.75" size, and it gives us that different interpretation of that character.
Steve Evans: The wish for 3.75" is that they're consumable so the fans can buy more. They're purposefully aimed at more of the kid fan. We're not denying that. We want you to be able to buy two, three, four to start playing out their own story. The amount of sculpting detail, and the scanning --- we actually use scanning techniques to scan the actors in costume. For characters that have a lot of clothing or robes, at 3.75" to get that articulated is really difficult. It starts to ruin the aesthetic. There are some figures where five points actually gives you a better sculpt.
CA: Within the Black Series, you've started incorporating a lot more mixed-media, and using fabric where applicable. The response has been hit or miss, but I was curious, do you like using this style or would you prefer to work in soft plastic?
SB: I like the mixed way. For this Phasma, we thought, "What's the best interpretation for this cape?" It has certain detail on it that's represented better in plastic than it could be in fabric. That said, I could see another version of Phasma with a cloth cape, which could be a secondary version with battle damage or something. It allows us to give different interpretations and do multiple versions of the same character.
SE: She wears hers in a very specific way, and if we did that in soft goods, it would be a lot more difficult to control. It's an obvious thing to say that at a smaller scale the whole way fabrics fall and stitch gets more difficult. We're constantly looking at fabrics, and we're looking now, like for the Princess Leia we just announced. That's a big challenge to get that robe looking right. We're doing that in soft goods, and we're looking at how do we get that right fabric.
Like Steve said, some of the best ones are where we mix it, where you get that texture change.
SB: Like Kylo Ren, his underskirt is plastic, but for the robe on top, we were able to source a really specific fabric that had a texture to it that matched closely to what we had in reference.
SE: It's balancing out poseability and aesthetic, and then actually physically being able to manufacture it well enough.
CA: When these figures are scaled up to the Hero scale, are these based on the same design as the 3.75" designs, but upscaled?
SE: Yeah. Everything gets scanned and the designers and sculptors go in and break it apart depending on how the figure is going to be articulated and the size. But the base source material is exactly the same. The sculpt on the 12" Rey is the same as sculpt that will be hit at 6" and 3.75". Now, they turn out differently because of physics, but yeah it's all the same source material.
CA: Not counting Rebels, there's been a long lull of new Star Wars characters. You've had new versions and new sculpts of characters that we've been seeing for so long, but now there is going to be a wealth of new characters to work with. Is that sort of a blessing and a curse since you have so much to work with, but also have to space the waves out, that you might not be able to get to everyone you want right away?
SE: It's a good problem to have, if I'm honest. We're getting more content in the next five, six years than we've had in 30 years, to be perfectly frank. We work very closely with Lucasfilm in planning out what each year's offering is going to be. Obviously if there's a tentpole feature, that will get the support, but equally we want to pepper in classic, pepper in Rebels, and make sure we keep everything constant.
Like, we've done a Han from Force Awakens, but let's do a Leia from classic just to keep all the plates spinning.
CA: Ahsoka and Sabine are getting 6" figures, to which point, there are a lot of animated and expanded universe characters that haven't been seen that way yet. Will those avenues be potentially used to fill out lines?
SE: If it's canon, it's up for grabs. It's just a matter of planning and making sure we pick the correct and most popular characters for the consumers and audience, whether it be an old fan or a young kid. So there are choices to be made, but you'll also choose to leave someone out. There are so many characters that to do them all is a matter of upheaval. We're always talking with Lucas to plan out, you know, who should we do?
JN: We also try to make sense of the timing when certain characters come out. Maybe there's a companion character that goes with another character, so it makes sense to have them out at the same time.
SE: But yes, with the expanded universe, we can still do stuff from that.
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