Monday, March 05 2018 09:38

Is Jabba the Hutt's Sail Barge the Ultimate Toy from a Galaxy Far, Far Away... or is it 30 Years Too Late?

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I'm a bit belated on writing about this one, largely because it's taken me a little while to really distill all of my feelings about it. On February 17, when I was in New York City for the 115th North American Toy Fair, I was an invited guest at Hasbro's "Fan Media" event at the New York Times building. This was a time, when amid all the new toys being unveiled for the year ahead, Hasbro welcomed a group of writers that serve some specific niches of pop culture and fandom. While the showroom was open for viewing of all toys, the big focus was on sites that cater to fans of the big franchises that Hasbro handles - Marvel, My Little Pony, Transformers, Power Rangers, and my personal favorite: Star Wars. As that franchise enters its 41st year, there's a lot going on, but the toy front is an interesting space in which there's a lot of debate about the type of merchandise available, and exactly who it's really for. This is something being discussed constantly within the offices of toymakers and retailers in addition to public forums geared toward passionate collectors. It was on that February afternoon that Hasbro unveiled a bold new initiative called HasLab, but just two weeks later it seems to be stalling. They have an absolutely incredible toy that could become reality, but is it arriving more than three decades too late?

Knowing that most of the readers that I serve are parents, I tend to focus on toys that will actually be played with by children. There's certainly a lot of cross-generational bridge-building happening, and Star Wars is a massive part of that. Over the past seven years, I've written at length about how my wife and I share our love of the Saga with our daughters, and the toys are front and center. That's why the launch of a $500 toy is very conflicting. Something to be played with, or something to sit on a shelf?

HasLab is a crowdfunding platform. You could call it a pre-order platform as well, but Hasbro clearly states that if a minimum of 5,000 items are not ordered by April 3, 2018, their first project will be canceled. That project is a vehicle that many Star Wars fans have been wishing for since they first saw Return of the Jedi in the summer of 1983. Jabba's Sail Barge (The Khetanna) was a massive ship - the one that carried the "vile gangster" and his crew to the Pit of Carkoon, where he'd hoped to see Luke Skywalker fed to the Sarlacc. Despite countless ships and playsets being made over the years, the Sail Barge just never happened. Now it can, but only if 5,000 of them are ordered at a price of $499.99.

HasLab Jabbas Sail Barge 1

Scaled to the famed 3.75" action figures that Star Wars fans have been buying since the original Kenner era, Hasbro is attaching The Khetanna to the relaunch of a series called The Vintage Collection. This series of toys was originally released between 2010-2013, and it returns this year after a five-year hiatus. These were highly-detailed "super-articulated" action figures and vehicles that were sold in packaging that was designed in the same style of the original 1978-1985 Kenner Collection.

HasLab Jabbas Sail Barge 3

Hasbro Says: "Measuring approximately 4ft long, this vast vehicle is a dream item for any Star Wars collection. Designed to captivate and inspire, The Vintage Collection Jabba's Sail Barge (The Khetanna) features exquisitely detailed, fan accessible decks that complement 3.75-inch figures (not included) allowing fans and collectors to recreate intense battles in the Star Wars saga. Its removable side panels also offer a unique opportunity to pose and set up incredible dioramas. Complete with premium deco, vintage packaging, and soft cloth sails, this dream product offers Star Wars devotees the quality and realism they know and love. Included with the vehicle is Jabba the Hutt (3.75-inch scale figure)."

Approximate Product Specifications - Total length: 49.35" Total width: 14.64" Total height (to top of sails): 17.01" Total weight: 13.89 lbs

Jabba's Sail Barge from HasLab - Toy Fair 2018

I was in the room when the Sail Barge was announced, a draw-dropping reveal at a jaw-dropping price. As I said then, you can't have the Tesla at the Prius price, and knowing what I know about the cost to make something like this, I'm not surprised that it's $500 - but I also very quickly came to the conclusion that it wouldn't meet its goal of 5,000 units on pre-order. 

The ship is huge and it's packed with detail. There's a lot of play value built-in, but this is a toy that for the most part won't be played with, and that to me is sad. The most obvious comparison would be the legendary G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg, which was over 7" long and sold for $109.99 back in 1985. From an inflation perspective, this is right on, but the biggest difference is that the Flagg was geared toward kids... played with by kids... and launched at a time when more kids were into traditional play. This ship is aimed firmly at collectors, but is that audience big enough to support it? In 2018, a big item commands a big price and not just due to production. The shipping cost will be hefty, and placing something like this at retail would be nearly impossible due to the shelf space required. That's why direct-sales are key, but there's a weird mentality in collector circles right now where a small, yet very vocal group of people demand items, but then don't support them at retail. That means clearance prices, and ultimately, cancellation of future toys, and it's happened with Star Wars.

HasLab Jabbas Sail Barge 4

As of this writing, we're just under 30 days out from the close of the first HasLab initiative and the Sail Barge has yet to reach half of its goal. Compared to how other crowdfunding efforts have fared, that's not a good sign. It certainly could hit its goal, but I still see it falling short. Originally offered to only U.S. residents, it's now available in Canada, but the lack of global availability (again, logistics and size are issue) could kill it.

One of the biggest problems that plagues the Star Wars brand at this point is that there's just too much stuff. The toy aisles are packed with items that just shouldn't exist, and it's diluted the brand and taken focus away from the main line that families have enjoyed for four decades: action figures, vehicles and playsets. Product that no one asked for sits, goes on clearance, and ultimately kills both fan enthusiasm and retail support. That really came to a head with the recent collection based on The Last Jedi, some of which was already hitting clearance less than 60 days after the film hit theaters. You absolutely have to have children interested in the toys to support a toy line - period. There's already many other companies making high-end Star Wars items for a collector audience, and the price allows them to sell a comparatively small amount of units. If kids aren't interested in the toys from a brand-new movie, they're not going to get excited about a vehicle from one that came out 35 years ago. Some will, but not enough to support it en masse, and that puts it firmly in the collector's lap - and it's going to be a small percentage of the collector audience that will actually pull the trigger on something like this.

If The Khetanna should set sail, it will only be the most dedicated of collector who will make it happen. $500 is a lot of money, and I've seen some ridiculous discussion taking place in some of the Star Wars Facebook groups that I frequent. People are talking about trying to figure out what they can sell to "raise money" to buy a Sail Barge. They're discussing what they can do without. I shouldn't have to remind anyone of this, but if buying a $500 toy (and yes, I will stress again and again that it is a toy) will cause you financial hardship, then you shouldn't even consider buying one. For many people, this is a week's pay... a car payment... food for the family. It's no doubt a beautiful thing that I would've loved to have had as a kid. In 2018, I'm not the customer for this, but if I did purchase one, I guarantee that my girls would be playing with it. I have purchased $500 toys, but they're things that are actively used - like ride-on toys and the like. For comparison sake, Radio Flyer released Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder as a ride-on last summer as a Toys "R" Us Exclusive. It seats two children, goes 5mph, and had a retail price of $499.99 at launch. Less than a year later, stores are sitting on them, and they're currently marked-down to $249.99 - half-price.

While I certainly hope that Jabba's Sail Barge does become a reality for those who want it, seeing only 2,316 backers as of this writing (with 29 days to go) does not make me optimistic that it will happen. Aside from price, there's the issue of size - as in "where would I put this?" In fact, Hasbro's Steve Evans calls it a potentially "collection-defining piece," and that's something that should no doubt be on-display. With that in mind, perhaps this needs to be put in front of a different audience... Star Wars fans who may not be the most dedicated collectors, but those with money and space who may have one or two really cool pieces of Star Wars memorabilia in an otherwise small, yet high-end collection.

HasLab Jabbas Sail Barge 7

No matter what happens, the HasLab site is well-worth a look to see the thoughtful development that's gone into this project. As Evans stated during the Toy Fair presentation, should the Sail Barge fail to become a reality, there will still be one prototype in the Hasbro offices that designer Mark Boudreaux will weep over daily.  

Overall, I just can't help but think what might've been if this would've come out during the original Kenner run. Back then, there was a wide variety of Star Wars characters that were readily-available for kids to purchase in-between movies. It was "evergreen" as they say, and you could walk into a store and start a collection right then and there. If the Sail Barge had come out back in '83, kids would've been able to quickly populate it with plenty of action figures - characters that jumped straight from the screen to the stores. If kids in 2018 are getting into Star Wars now, you'll be lucky to find a dozen characters readily available, and they're generally all from the latest film. While it's a great time to be a Star Wars fan, it might be time to completely re-think how the toys are handled. Otherwise the future will be in the hands of an aging, shrinking audience of collectors, and that's no fun.

For more: https://www.hasbrolab.com

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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