Despite not having an exclusive at Celebration, Hasbro had a big presence at Celebration (more on that in the next post). I had the great opportunity to speak with Joe Ninivaggi from the Hasbro brand team regarding some upcoming products. Full disclosure, I couldn’t ask about anything related to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No surprise there. Joe also couldn’t speak too much about the future products as I’m sure everything is under tight seal leading up to the rumored September TFA product launch. Still, Joe was as open with me as possible and teased some intriguing possibilities.
Q: How’s the con going for you thus far?
A: Oh it’s amazing. What an incredible week.
Q: How does it compare to some of the other Celebrations? Have you been to others?
A: No this is my first Celebration. I’ve been to Comic-Con and everything but this blows everything out of the water. I mean the amount of content we’ve seen this week is just…I don’t know what to do with it all. I’m still processing it.
Q: Two of the items that I was really excited about are the two Ahsoka figures that have been revealed. Can you talk first about the Rebels figure and then the Black Series figure?
A: Yeah absolutely. So right after the Season 1 finale when Ahsoka came back we revealed the Rebels 3 3/4″. It’s going to be a two-pack, so it’s Ahsoka in her new Rebels form, her adult version, and Darth Vader too, so that will be available in the fall and it’s just phenomenal. She’s got both her lightsabers, those cool pale blue lightsabers now and she’s on display here she looks great.
Q: You said it’s a two-pack, is it a general release?
A: Yes it is a general release, it’s not an exclusive so it will be widely available.
Q: And at any point will she [Ahsoka] be released as a single carded figure?
A: It’s not in the plans right now. It’s just such an amazing pack to get with her and Vader in it so we just wanted to give fans just an amazing one shot purchase to get both.
Q: And how about Vader, is there any potential plans that he will be single packed?
A: There’s always a chance that both will be single packed. But right now that is the two-pack for the fall. You never know what we’ll do moving forward if we re-issue it.
Q: Let’s move on to the 6″ version. We saw the prototype and it looks amazing.
A: We just revealed her, it’s the first Rebels character we’ve done in 6″ Black Series. It’s just really exciting too because even if we did something for The Clone Wars, we would do it in realistic for Black Series, so not only is it Ahsoka in adult form, but it’s a realistic interpretation of what she’d look like non-animated. She’ll be available in Spring 2016, we worked closely with Lucasfilm, and Dave Filoni was here earlier in the week and we got every nook and cranny inspected by him, and he was blown away by it, so that just makes us thrilled to know that the creator was as happy with it as we are. Ashley [Eckstein] is going to be here in a few minutes to sign so we’ll get her photo with it.
Q: You mentioned she’s the first Rebels figure, how is the response to Rebels figures in general, are there any more plans for 6″ Rebels figures?
A: The response to Rebels has been phenomenal. We had a little bit of a delay in getting them out there which is frustrating for us and we know it’s frustrating for fans to get their hands on them, especially Chopper, Sabine and Hera, but [the response] has been great. The kinda throwback 5 point articulated, Kenner-esque style has been doing really well, kids love it, fans are really liking it for Rebels. For 6″, Ahsoka is the first, but we’re definitely going to do some more Rebels stuff there.
Q: Any specific characters in mind?
A: I can’t talk about it right now, but stay tuned and we’ll get to it when we can. In terms of reveals there’s some good stuff coming out.
Q: In terms of the cartoons, Rex is coming out in the 6″. That’s still coming right?
A: Yeah eventually he is. We had announced, we kinda hinted, that he was coming out. He’s been pushed back because we have a lot of stuff to get to before him, but we’ll get him out eventually for sure.
Q: Is there a rough target date?
A: Not yet, no.
Q: You talked about the Rebels figures being delayed. Maybe you can help clear it up, there was a lot of talk that the delays were due to issues that happened in Long Beach, has that all been cleared up? Are there other issues that contributed to the delay?
A: There are a number of issues. The port strikes certainly didn’t help. Our ops team is really talented. They figure out ways around it and make sure we’re doing the best we can about getting product out. There are certain figures that don’t sell through as fast and they prevent stock from getting out there and it’s kind of an art and science together just making sure we’re working in lock-step with our retail partners to get it all out. It’s definitely getting better. I see a lot of the boards posting that they’re getting some stock which is great. By Fall 2015 our hope, and what we’re really pushing for, is that it’s all clear and it’s smooth sailing. All the Rebels figures have been produced and they’re getting out there so fans shouldn’t feel like they’ve missed their chance to get them, it’s just taking longer than we wanted.
Q: I have to ask, how come no exclusive for Celebration Anaheim?
A: Yeah you know…next time we definitely will. We’re going to have an exclusive at San Diego for sure. You know, it’s just the time – what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t show – we’re really ramping up for the fall. We just opted not to, but I think in the future we will for sure.
Q: And when will we hear what the San Diego exclusive will be?
A: I don’t know yet. I’m not sure. We’re still working on what our reveal plans will be but stay tuned it will be out soon. San Diego is around the corner!
Q: The Black Series line, as it is, is it continuing on to 2016 and beyond?
A: Yeah we have no plans to stop Black Series. It’s doing really well for us. We revealed the new Fall 2015 line look. It’s moving forward. We’ve had a lot of fans ask about Vintage and Droid Factory, both things we definitely want to get back to in the future but Black Series in terms of our pinnacle figure expression, that’s what it is and that’s how it’s continuing.
Q: So the new [6″ Black Series] box looks amazing. What went into the complete redesign?
A: We really refreshed it this year. Our design team wanted to do something that really celebrated this epic milestone in new entertainment, so we wanted to freshen up. It’s still got that minimalist clean design of the Black Series, with that striking red background that really lets the figures pop. The black has been really cool and sleek, but you have figures like our Tie Pilots, Vader and Maul that kind of get lost, so this just lets every figure pop, and gives a dynamic impression on the shelf, so we think the fans will really like it. The Black Series packaging is almost as important as the figure, so we wanted to make sure it’s all really good.
Q: Is there any idea in terms of how regularly you will do a redesign like that?
A: It’s been annual so far. I think that’s a pretty good trend. We don’t know exactly what will happen for Fall 2016, but you can expect there to be that serialized feel to the Black Series.
Q: The Wampa is out there. The Tauntaun looks great. Any more creatures planned in terms of the bigger figures?
A: There’s a good possibility of it. We love the bigger figures, bigger creatures and the vehicles for Black Series. We’re really just getting started in what we’re doing. We’re constantly trying to stretch it to see what we can get in that 6″ scale and within the Black Series articulation and detail. Stay tuned. I can’t talk specifics but there’s some really cool stuff coming out.
Q: I know you can’t talk in specifics but is there any consideration about whether it’s feasible to do vehicles for the 6″ line?
A: It’s definitely feasible. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yup.
Q: Is it something being considered?
A: It’s definitely being considered.
Q: Okay, I’ll leave it at that. One of the interesting things that I saw last year was the Target exclusive Shadow Troopers. Awesome set. What was interesting to me was that it was more of an EU type line. Are there more potential EU characters coming out?
A: We did a lot of EU in 3 3/4″, even recently we reissued Malgus, Plagueis, Mara Jade, Bastila Shan. There’s so much content now between the movies, Battlefront, the novels and the comics. Legends, as it’s known now, is definitely on the table. We can do some stuff. Nothing specifically planned for Legends now, but we can do it in the future. That pack is incredible.
Q: We saw several retailer exclusives – Walgreens, Target, so on. Any more of that planned?
A: Yes absolutely. You’ll see that in the fall. We’ve had great success with our retail partners. More will be coming in the Fall 2015 for sure.
Q: Any new retailers that weren’t exclusives last year?
A: Yeah, you’ll see some new partners for sure.
Q: Anything else you’d like to hint or preview for us?
A: I wish I could. Just stay tuned. Comic-Con we’re going to have some nice stuff to show. And then, just get ready guys, Fall is going to be out of control. It’s really going to be awesome.
Finals thoughts: It was clear to me that Joe is a huge Star Wars fan. He was really into the characters and products and genuinely excited about the things they were working on. It’s not hard to identify when someone is approaching their products as “just a job” or doesn’t care about the brand or the fans. Joe was the exact opposite. He seemed to be really disappointed about the shipping problems that led to the Rebels delays, he was really excited to talk about Ahsoka in both the two-pack and the 6″ line, and he was just as much in awe about being at Celebration as I was.
It seems to me that most of the future plans are essentially on hold until The Force Awakens products launch. He made several comments along the lines of “we’ll get to it” but seemed to indicate that the complete focus was on Episode VII and that anything that didn’t fit into that marketing plan would probably have to wait until that frenzy dies down. I would imagine that Fall/Winter 2015 and Spring 2016 will be all The Force Awakens or at least dominated by related products. No surprise there. Thus, we may not really see a return to other characters until Fall 2016. There’s a part of me that worries that we won’t see Rex in the 6″ line for a very long time. This isn’t based on anything off record or anything like that. Just that Joe’s response was much more ambiguous than I expected. The one saaving grace could be that Rex is appearing in Rebels next season. So our best bet is that his appearance in that show rekindles interest in putting that character out (and maybe inspires them to do Wolffe too!). I also think the secrecy around TFA is what led to Hasbro not doing an exclusive at Celebration this year. I sensed some regret and even disappointment from Joe regarding that. Many fans speculated that it was a “business decision” for Hasbro not to have an exclusive at Celebration because it’s a niche con. I doubt that to be the case based on my conversation and his assurances that they will do one for future Celebrations.
It is also interesting that he seemed to indicate that they are open to a wide variety of options, including Legends figures and vehicles. I expected a more lukewarm response to those questions but he was very positive about both. Again, this is purely my own speculation based on what you read above, but I think we’re very likely to see Hasbro try a vehicle in the 6″ line in the near future. We all saw the leaked listing for the TFA X-Wing in 6″ scale. We could very well see a Red 5 one in the future I would guess. I still think the massive plastic block vehicles was Hasbro’s way of testing the scale and size and also giving retail partners some practice on how to find shelf space for massive vehicles.
Special thanks to thank Justin Aclin and Brandon Rohwer from Hunter Public Relations for setting up the interview, and of course to Joe and the Hasbro team for giving us the opportunity to speak with them at Celebration. Hasbro had, without a doubt, some of the nicest, friendliest and patient representatives at the con. I was truly impressed with their passion for their products, for the Star Wars brand, and for us as fans.
More on Hasbro at Celebration, including many pictures, coming soon!