Star Wars Collecting: The Best and Worst of 2012

Star Wars Collecting Best and Worst LogoLet’s face it, from a collecting standpoint, 2012 was one of the worst years of the modern hobby.  Hasbro had a terrible time getting product to store shelves, the Clone Wars line was nearly abandoned and the glut of The Phantom Menace product echoed 1999.

Still, 2012 brought the 3D release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to theaters, we partied at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, The Clone Wars is enjoying it’s fifth season on Cartoon Network and we had the huge surprise of Disney announcing its purchase of Lucasfilm.

It depends on how you look at things, when picking the Best and Worst, and even with the problems collectors faced this year, it’s hard to deny that Hasbro did have some ambitious offerings this year, Gentle Giant surprised us, Sideshow continues to roll, Lego is in good shape and we now have 2015 to look forward to as that’s when Disney’s news trilogy of Star Wars films is set to launch.

Editor’s Update

Most of this article had been written before Hasbro’s announcement that they’d extend the release of Vintage Collection figures into 2013.  That doesn’t let them off the hook on the terrible distribution we saw in 2012 but it does give hope that collectors will have an additional shot at some excellent toys.  However, it doesn’t fix the problem with the Naboo Starfighter and, as of now, doesn’t bode well for the 2013 Legacy Collection/Droid Factory releases that were shown off at Celebration.  It’s possible that line has been pushed to Fall but there’s also speculation that it’s been cancelled altogether with the figures either going into an as yet unannounced Vintage Collection expansion or being abandoned altogether in favor of repacks and repaints allowing Hasbro to sit in a holding pattern until things are sorted with the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm and the new movie slated for 2015.

Read on for this year’s Best and Worst.

Best

Best Figure

Grand Moff Tarkin
It’s taken 15 years for Hasbro to get back to Grand Moff Tarkin (I’m not counting the Prequel version which wasn’t Peter Cushing) but it was worth the wait.  The face looks like Cushing, he has plenty of articulation and the rank and data cylinders on his tunic are nicely painted.  He took some heat for the soft goods part of his tunic but I think it blends in well and allows him to sit, making your Death Star briefing diorama easier to juggle.  It’s also nice to see him on the Vintage Collection card back since he’s one of, if not the most glaring omission of Kenner’s original line of action figures.
Aurra Sing
I’m a big fan of Aurra Sing, I still think she got screwed out of an appearance in Attack of the Clones, and thought that this year’s resculpt of her was very well done.  I’m specifically calling out the Walmart exclusive Discover the Force release even though she’s available on a Vintage Collection card in the final, exclusive wave of that line.  The DTF release included a game card, stand and die to play the Galactic Battle Game, none of which were carried forward, and when originally released, she was $1 cheaper than the Vintage Collection figures.  Both releases, however, come with the excellent accessories which include two blasters, rifle, working holsters, a case and three lightsaber hilts that she acquired when taking Jedi as bounty.  She has plenty of articulation although she does lack ankles.  This is pretty much the definitive version of the character and I think she deserves to be in everyone’s collection.

Best Figure 12“

Boba Fett
Since Sideshow began making 12″ Star Wars figures, Boba Fett has been one of the most anticipated releases and this year he finally landed in collections.  The chest armor has a few shortcomings but the helmet, accessories and details on the leg tools, weapons and wrist gauntlets are all excellent.  He comes with a fine assortment of hands for any occasion, the articulation isn’t hindered much by the jumpsuit or armor and the wire in his cape offers a lot of options for display.  The light-up Bespin base, including upgrades from the IG-88 release, help make this one of the top releases from Sideshow and definitely the best release of 2012.

Best Vehicle or Playset

Republic Attack Dropship
It’s no secret that I love the Class I Fleet Vehicle line, for less than the price of two carded figures you can buy a vehicle and figure and most of them are solid offerings.  This year, Hasbro gave us the Attack Dropship that includes a unique pilot figure and a vehicle that has firing canons, can be posed in two different modes and includes two harnesses to “drop” Clone Troopers into battle.  The detail, even on the harnesses, is excellent, the Clone Pilot is a little short but well painted and detailed and the firing missiles work well.  The set was extremely hard to find until late in the year but I not only pick this as the best vehicle for 2012, it may be the best in the Class I line.

Best Other Toys

Basket of Baby Ewoks
When the Celebration VI store merchandise list was revealed one offering stuck out; “Basket of Baby Ewoks.”  That immediately jumped to the top of my must-have list and I didn’t care who knew.  I took some ribbing for it but I know for a fact that some of those jokers came home with their own basket!  The set of four plush figures litterally came in a basket and are an homage to the vintage Kenner line of stuffed Ewok toys.  If the bare store shelves at CVI were any indication, there’s truly no denying the cuteness of a plush Ewok.
Star Wars Angry Birds
The mashup of Angry Birds and Star Wars was not on anyone’s radar until Hasbro made the announcement just days before New York Comic Con.  Rovio’s hit game brings the best of their previous games to our favorite galaxy far, far away with innovative game play and very familiar characters and settings.  Hasbro’s Jenga and Battle Games pull from all three of the Original Trilogy movies for characters and settings with our Rebel heroes appearing as birds while the Imperials make up the ranks of the dastardly pigs.  I have not yet played the game but most reports are that it’s a solid outting with plenty of challenge.  The collectible merchandise runs the gamut from the Hasbro games to plush to Rubies Halloween costumes.  We’d recommend not thinking about this one too hard, just enjoy the fun.

Best Lego

Jabba’s Palace (9516)
Way back in 2003, Lego released a Jabba’s Palace (4480) set along with two accessory sets, Jabba’s Message (4475) and Jabba’s Prize (4476), that combined to form a fun playset with some really cool minifigures.  This year, however, Lego surpassed that first offering with set 9516.  Although it rings in at $119 (double the first Palace and the accessory sets combined), the minifigures have been upgraded to some of the best offerings yet, with the Gamorrean Guard and Jabba being the standouts.  The Palace itself offers more detail in the dais and grate over the Rancor pit, an updated front door with lookout tower, lots of little decorative details and even Salacious Crumb.  But what pushes this over the top is that it will combine with the upcoming 2013 Rancor Pit set to create an even larger playset.  With all of the ships and vehicles that Lego has already covered, some more than once, I’ve felt that playsets would be the future of the Lego Star Wars franchise and can only hope that we see more offerings like Jabba’s Palace and the also excellent Palpatine’s Arrest (9526).

Best Busts and Statues

Watto Mini Bust
I could have gone with three choices here but I narrowed down my list to one, Watto, who just barely edged out Gentle Giant’s Logray mini bust.  Watto doesn’t have a lot of collectibles on the market so when one stands out like Gentle Giant’s version, it should be acknowledged.  They nailed his likeness from The Phantom Menace as he inspects a credit.  There’s a lot of texture and paint applications and plenty of cool things hanging from his belt.  The character in the face is also well done.  Logray has a lot of the same attention to detail, and plenty of paint apps, but for me, Watto is where it’s at in 2012.

Best Non-Toy Collectible

Fan Made Pins, Patches & Buttons
I almost didn’t pick this because of the unlicensed nature of the items, but in the end, they made some of the most fun collectibles this year.  Celebration has a history of fans offering free giveaways to fellow collectors but Celebration VI took it to a level we haven’t seen before.  There were no fewer than four large, multiple piece patch collections, many single patches, several high quality cloisonné pins and an uncountable number of buttons.  I even took the opportunity to produce a patch to advertise this site.  Tracking down and trading for the various offerings was extremely fun and I met a lot of people in the process.  You can spend hours and hundreds (or thousands) of dollars buying show exclusives, but next time around, try skipping a lot of that and meet your fellow fans that, through these types of collectibles, really enhance Celebration and show the true nature of many Star Wars collectors.

Best Exclusive

Kmart Vintage 2-Packs
Late in the summer, Kmart issued two exclusive 2-packs; Ewok Scouts and Endor AT-ST Crew.  Priced at a very reasonable $14.99 each, the packs made an excellent set when paired with Kmart’s other exclusive, the AT-ST.  The AT-ST Drivers feature new head sculpts that look like Robert Watts and Richard Marquand who played the drivers in a scene from Return of the Jedi.  The Ewok set includes Widdle and Wunka who, along with Chewbacca, captured the AT-ST driven by Watts and Marquand in the film.  The Ewoks also featured new heads but both sets featured mostly repainted parts.  Still, the price, the fine Vintage Collection packaging and the combined play pattern built into the whole set of exclusives helps make them our pick for Best Exclusive of 2012.
Disney Droid Factory
The Build-a-Droid pack-in with the 2008 – 2010 Legacy Collection was so popular Hasbro is bringing it back in 2013, but Disney jumped on the same premise this year, to the excitement of droid fans everywhere.  Introduced during Star Wars Weekends at Disney World, the new Droid Factory attraction in Tatooine Traders allows park attendees to build Astromech droids from over 71 uniquely colored parts and package them in pairs or singly in plastic clamshells that include pre-printed card backs and sticker sheets so you can name them.  In August, just before Celebration VI, Disney expanded their initial offering of parts to include new dome types that have never been previously released.  At approximately $20 for a pair and $12 for a single, Droid Factory was an instant hit with some parts selling through quickly and others being scarce throughout the summer.  With a potential expansion to Disneyland and a hint that we may see new colors and possibly new domes and torsos in the future, Disney has a hit on their hands that could last far into the future.

Best Events

New York Comic-Con
Unlike Hasbro, Lego and Hallmark embraced New York Comic-Con this year by offering exclusives that were not only relatively easy to buy but worth spending the time to seek them out.  Lego’s mini set of Luke Skywalker and his Landspeeder rounded out the trilogy of items offered at San Diego-Comic Con and Celebration VI and Hallmark held over their SDCC ornament so East Coast con goers had a shot at them.  DK Publishing and Del Rey had Star Wars signings and books available, Kotobukiya showed off current and upcoming offerings, Topps announced their Galactic Files Print Plate sets, Diamond Select had banks, Comic Images brought their plush toys and Action Figure Xpress gave us a sneak peek at the Gentle Giant Death Star Gunner mini bust.  The two days I spent at NYCC were equally, if not more, enjoyable than the four I spent at Celebration VI.  Some of that can be credited to the variety of things to see and do but a lot is also in how everything seemed to be handled from press registrations and entrance to announcements and show programs to the handling of panel topics.  New York Comic Con was a lot of fun this year and I can see it only getting better.

Worst

Worst Figure

Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi
I’m not going to pick specific versions of these characters (don’t have to in one case), I’m picking them because of their oversaturation in the market this year.  In late January/early February when all of The Phantom Menace waves were hitting, these two characters were packed in the first wave of the Vintage Collection, Movie Heroes and Walmart’s Discover the Force lines and they showed up again in wave 2 of the Movie Heroes line, with light-up lightsabers.  Qui-Gon however, was the worst; the VC, MH and DTF releases were all based on the same Evolutions sculpt from 2008!  Making matters worse, he shipped to retail in four separate cases of Vintage Collection releases.  If you can’t walk into any Walmart, Target or Toys-R-Us store in the US today and find a Qui-Gon figure, you’re not looking hard enough because I guarantee he’s there, somewhere, and until stores can clearance 2012 stock, he’s likely to haunt stores.

Worst Figure 12“

None
I almost went with selection but that’s basically what I picked as the Worst the last two years in a row.  Sideshow only had 14 releases this year and the fact is, none of them were that bad.  Sure, 5 were Clone Troopers of one flavor or another, three were Battle Droids and there were two 2-packs of Cantina Band members, but Boba Fett and IG-88 were awesome, the S.T.A.P. was incredibly ambitious and the Mos Eisley Environment was solid if expensive (the S.T.A.P. was in insane value by comparison).  The lack of human characters is blatently obvious but with everything else impressing, it’s hard to hold that against them right now.  Besides, Sideshow is at their best when they’re doing helmeted characters and aliens.

Worst Vehicle or Playset

Podracers & Vintage Collection Prequel Trilogy Vehicles
These were all released around the same time at the beginning of the year and they were all terrible.  First, nobody was asking for Prequel Trilogy vehicles in Vintage Collection boxes and one could argue that nobody was asking for new releases of the AT-AP, V-19 Starfighter or the Attack of the Clones version of Obi-Wan’s Jedi Starfighter at all.  But the Podracers may have been the worst.  While they were slight repaints, these were the same as released in 1999 only without the action figure pilots.  The 1999 releases were frequently trading for $20 and less, shipped, on eBay and the secondary market while these new releases were coming in at $30 at retail.  Walmart had an exclusive Battle Pack with Sebulba and Anakin but, for all intents and purposes, Hasbro didn’t release pilots for these two vehicles.  They did sell because there comes a point when gift givers want anything with a Star Wars logo, and completists do still exist, but the huge backlog of these tanked the retail release of the all-new Naboo Starfighter.  It’s a huge shame that the one bright spot in new Class II vehicles was forced out by 13-year-old repacks.

Worst Other Toys

Titanium 3-Packs
When Hasbro first announced that they’d have new Titanium ships available in 2012, fans of the line were pretty excited.  When they landed, were all repacks, came in 3-packs and were priced anywhere from $26.99 to $29.99, that excitement died quickly.  There were two waves scheduled along with a Toys-R-Us exclusive set, but the second wave only saw small releases at retail.  The selection of vehicles left a lot to be desired as well; the Toys-R-Us exclusive had Anakin and Sebulba’s podracers which were weak designs, the Sith Infiltrator and MTT packed with the Naboo Starfighter were boring and the Turbo Tank (packed with Anakin’s Jedi Starfighter and a TRI-Droid) lacks for only having 4 moving tires.  The best set in Wave 1, Republic Gunship, AT-TE and Hailfire Droid, obviously sold well but the rest floundered at retail dooming any chance at all new ships or more releases with more interesting ships.  It feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy on Hasbro’s part when they say they don’t see collector support for this line…definitely when they release a bunch of crap at $9 per vehicle (at $26.99 for the set) when Mattel is selling 5-packs of die-cast Hot Wheels Batman vehicles, two aisles over, for $5 for the set.

Worst Lego

Convention Exclusives
This year’s convention exclusives, San Diego Comic-Con, Celebration VI and New York Comic Con, were actually fun little mini sets that each included a minifigure and a mini version of their ship.  However, it was the price and availability that was out of hand; $40 each for 81 to 110 pieces which is nearly $0.50 per piece on the low end.  Add on top of that the difficulty in obtaining each set, I’m not even going to get into the terrible information I was given at Celebration VI, the small edition sizes and you have an exclusive that’s almost not worth trying for.  I still believe that Lego produces possibly the best toy on the market today, and it’s nice when they cater to their more hardcore fans, but it’s possible to take the fun out of collecting and nothing will do that faster than limited exclusives.

Worst Busts and Statues

Clone Trooper Lieutenant
Gentle Giant released the Clone Trooper Lieutenant statue as a Celebration VI exclusive but there’s not that much interesting about it.  He’s kneeling on a plain, black base with his rifle in his hand.  He’s not terrible, but he has no character.  At $200 he’s not the most expensive statue Gentle Giant makes, but for $25 more you could have picked up the Darth Talon statue.  While that one isn’t as nice as Sideshow’s version, it has a lot more detail and character and at least looks like they tried.  Celebration VI was pretty short on good exclusives this year and this statue was one of the reasons why.

Worst Non-Toy Collectible

Topps Star Wars Galactic Files
I’ve put Topps on this list before, both in the Best and Worst sections, and this year they land on the Worst list again.  While I mostly enjoyed the Galaxy 7 release, the Galactic Files were overpriced, had insane chase levels and a ridiculously overpriced online exclusive in the Printing Plates release.  With a 350 card base set, and box prices around $100, you needed a minimum of two to complete a set but three or more was more realistic.  There were three variant cards in the base set and 24 exclusive cards you could only obtain with the $500 Printing Plate set.  Although Topps finally brought patch relic cards to a Star Wars offering, I was kind of underwhelmed.  There was some new art in the release, but most cards were simple photos of characters and ships from the films.  I picked two much smaller releases for the best list in the past, Dog Tags and Power Plates, and feel that Topps is better when they try something new and on a smaller scale.  I applaud their ambitious, outside the box thinking, but don’t feel the final product measured up.

Worst Exclusive

Jocasta Nu
It’s not that the figure or accessories are bad, the figure is quite excellent, it’s that this should have been the Celebration VI Hasbro exclusive, but it wasn’t.  Instead, Hasbro has abbandoned all conventions except San Diego Comic-Con when it comes to travelling with Hasbro Toy Shop and offering exclusives.  Jocasta Nu was the first casualty of that new policy when she was shuffled off to Brian’s Toys.  While most collectors that have been asking for this figure are happy to have a chance at her, being an even more overpriced exclusive sold by one of the most controversial online retailers didn’t garner any new fans of the figure, Hasbro or Brian’s.  If it hadn’t been for all the other troubles Hasbro dealt with this year, Jocasta Nu may not have ended up on the Worst list, but she seems to be a standout example of the problems collectors faced in 2012.

Worst Events

Hasbro Distribution
I’ve made plenty of excuses for Hasbro in the past but this year I’ve got no fight left in me.  Whether it was their decision, Lucasfilm’s or a combo of both, the fact of the matter is The Phantom Menace toy releases in January and February were retail poison.  The tremendous glut of product is still sitting on store shelves and hanging from pegs.  Toys that were scheduled for April and May are only now hitting stores, seven months late.  Many stores skipped entire waves of Vintage Collection figures, never received anything past wave 1 of the Movie Heroes and foundered under mounds of repacked Clone Wars figures.  The Prequel Trilogy vehicles in Vintage Collection packaging were DOA, the highly anticipated update to the Naboo Starfighter never made it to retail in the US and the final wave of Vintage Collection figures was shuffled off to online retailers as an exclusive offering.  Hasbro shut down their New York Comic Con attendance and pared their Celebration appearance to the core, they didn’t even offer an exclusive and their swag consisted of single-bagged Fighter Pods.  I won’t even get into the pasting they took on forums and blogs over the last 10 months.  I have no idea what the balance sheet will look like (3rd Quarter revenue in boys toys declined 12% from a year ago) for 2012, but I doubt it will be rainbows and unicorns.  From the outside, Hasbro was a mess this year.  I have no idea how or if they’ll turn things around, guess we’ll meet back here in a year and see.
Celebration VI
It’s hard to believe that a Celebration would end up on the Worst list but the bad outweighed the good surrounding this year’s event.  Even though the convention was announced more than a year in advance, the details of what would actually transpire during the show’s weekend were sketchy right up until the final days, some of them were still coming in while we were travelling for the event.  Information on the store merchandise was sketchy and the website never did link the price list to photos.  And selling out of some items by 11:00am on Thursday was a huge blunder, not having anyone in the store that could answer questions was another.  There was a deadline for show program submissions that was never communicated until it had passed, the floor map didn’t include a huge section of the floor and the displays set up there, and even the free guide had errors in Collecting Track panel times.  The official website is a mess; unorganized, menu doesn’t work well on some web browsers, “coming soon” photos never updated, broken links, fragmented announcements (Never knew if we should look at the site, StarWars.com, Facebook, Twitter or Reed’s own website for info), and touting the mobile app that didn’t work on a Blackberry.  There was a lot of good programming, but there wasn’t one cohesive theme this time and the show seemed to lack for it.  I salvaged my weekend by suplementing it with a visit to Disney and Universal, but it wasn’t until Saturday that I finally started enjoying Celebration itself due to the disappointments leading up to opening day.

Wait and See

I didn’t feel that this final entry deserved to be in the Best or Worst category this year but it had to be brought up; the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm.

Disney
We have no idea how things will ultimately turn out with Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, but it’s way too early to get excited.  The lead-up to the Prequel Trilogy in 1998 was bonkers, the first film in 16 years was so highly anticipated that nearly all Star Wars fans were pulled in, I don’t recall anyone really being worried about what was coming.  And then it came and it wasn’t what most of us were expecting.  As time has gone by, I’ve come to appreciate the films more and don’t dislike them as much as some do, but they have a lot of faults.  The new trilogy that will launch in 2015 may be a do-over for the franchise, a chance to put out new films with original stories that don’t have to be tied into an ending we already know, but the hype and rumor mill already feeding the Internet could be a setup for a big disappointment.  Although a writer has been picked, no cast, no script and no director are in place.  There’s a long way to go and a lot of history that needs to be overcome in order for the films to really make good on the promises.  For now, it’s wait and see.

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