One year later, there is a new Star Wars film on the horizon: a stand alone story titled "Rogue One". The appealing aspect of this is that the timeline is set just before "A New Hope" (or "Star Wars" as it was known when I was a kid....) when the Rebels steal the plans for the first Death Star. The appeal is that the timeline and Imperials should be more familiar and the story more in line with the established film cannon. But, we all know that won't be the case. The first look at both the film trailers and the toys that have been released show an overly shoddy galaxy with an eclectic mix of Imperials that are more akin the source Clone Trooper flavors than the standard Stormtroopers of the original films. But, there were Space Troopers in Star Wars, Snow Troopers in Empire and Biker Scouts in Jedi, so the baseline has always existed.
Which brings me to the figure at hand, the Imperial Ground Crew. When choosing a figure to buy, I didn't really have any expectations. The days of a large, super articulated selection of figures are long gone. In their stead are smaller waves of 6" super articulated figures, 3 3/4 super articulated figures and 3 3/4 5 points of articulation figures to which this Ground Crew figures belongs. While the lack of articulation is still a sticking point for someone like me who remembers walls of high quality, mostly well articulated figures at retail outlets in 2006 though 2008, the sculpting and look of these less articulated figures far exceeds what we saw on most Star Wars figures just a decade ago. Plus, to me, many of the characters have a similar look that's somewhat Star Wars, but also somewhat not. Diversification is good. But, the look of the new films appears to be shabby and that's already gotten old. It feels that Lucas' intention of a less than pristine universe has now been transformed to the reductio ad absurdum of his original vision.
For the Imperials like the Ground Crew, they have retained the militant precision of both the Republic and the Empire. You have the standard Stormtroopers and guys like this. The Ground Crew looks like the visions of an evil overlord coming to your homeland and oppressing you. So, he fits with the Empire motif. The dark grey base and black overlays convey fear. Of course, they also conflict with his specialty. If this guy is routing the take off and landing of Imperial spacecraft, you'd think he's be wearing something that would be more visible: especially at night. But, this is where aesthetics of a movie and toy line supersede the reality you would expect.
|Imperial Ground Crew|
First up is the packaging. Frankly, the carded look isn't great or exciting. But, it's in line with modern retail releases. It's generic and overly loaded with ads and multi language redundancy. There's no showcase of other figures in the line that are released. Really, the packaging is utilitarian and designed for the modern collector to discard rather than save for posterity. It's mostly to meet legal marketing requirements and that sucks a lot of the life from the retail presentation. And, as Star Wars no longer dominates the action figure aisles like it did a few years ago, it's easy to miss these toys. (Which makes no sense. Star Wars is a huge media property with yearly films that will always be huge viewing events. It seems Disney either doesn't want to sell a ton of toys or retailers still have no faith in the brand.) I find it tough to quickly scan unfamiliar characters to find names due to the packaging choices. It's kind of annoying. But, were I more invested in the brand, I'd likely get used to it more quickly.
|Imperial Ground Crew MOC - Rogue One|
The Ground Crew figure is not likely a character of any significance in the new movie. He's probably a background, filler character. Or, exactly the type of toy that collectors tend to demand from Star Wars. As a design, the character retains an Imperial look and is reminiscent of both Imperial Naval Troops and Imperial Gunners. He's got a lot going on in terms of design. Much is lost in the black on black color combo of the figure. But, you can find some high quality work with a little digging. The chestplate details are solid and the helmet is well designed. He's got kneepads and boots to give him a little contrast. You'll notice his belt is standard Imperial Design and is pretty much an exact match for the Imperial Naval Trooper's. That's a bit of consistency that helps to establish this as a Star Wars figure and tie him with the 40 year history of the franchise.
My first impression of the loose figure is that he seems both smaller and skinnier than he should be. A quick comparison of some figures that have been released in the past decade show that this is an actual change rather than just an illusion. You can see in the photo below that he is far and away the skinniest and shortest figure among some of the designs from which this character is derived. Standing on a shelf with other figures from his film or release period, you would likely not notice it. But, when compared to some other figures he is definitely smaller. But, lines evolve and comparing a 1996 figure to this one would be even more drastic.
|Imperial Naval Trooper, Imperial Ground Crew, Imperial Gunner, Blackhole Stormtrooper|
The figure is odd in that you have an Imperial army builder with no blaster. But, he does have two sticks. If this guy was released in the '80's, those sticks would cost three times what you'd pay for the figure. But, as he's a modern release, they will make no difference in the long run. The downside is that the straight arm construction allows for limited posing with the flares. The cool side is that the figure has two Cobra Commander-esque slots on his back to store the accessories.
|Imperial Ground Crew - Accessory Holder|
Right now, this is a seven to eight dollar figure depending upon the retailer. A few years from now, you'll probably be able to get him for a fraction of that. This isn't the type of figure that's going to remain on collector radar for very long. With Hasbro's current approach the line, it's unlikely that this guy will see a super articulated version at any point in the near future. But, for a display piece, this figure works. As a toy, he's solid, too. I'd give this to my kids with little fear of them destroying it within seconds as I would be with some of the super articulated figures. As a collectible, this figure leaves a lot to be desired. I'd far prefer more articulation, less superfluous gear and more standard bulk. But, if getting all of that costs me $11 instead of $7, I probably wouldn't own this character.
I'm not a fan of how Hasbro/Disney are handling the Star Wars line. However, I'm approaching it from a 3 3/4" figure perspective on the franchise. To me, Star Wars was only toys. In the '70's and early '80's, you pretty much only had the toys with some bedsheets, posters or iron on decals you overpaid for at a T shirt shop. Now, Star Wars is everywhere. There are products designed to appeal to males, females, kids, adults and parents. There is no shortage of merchandise. And, it's likely that all this merchandise has come at the expense of toys. Sure, kids don't play with toys like they used even 20 years ago. But, Disney also can also ill afford to have too much of one thing. If people stop buying Star Wars clothes, Disney can up production of a product that is selling. In 1985, when toys stopped selling, Star Wars disappeared from retail for a decade. For a company that spent billions of dollars on acquiring the Star Wars universe and many more billions developing media for it, they can ill afford Star Wars to fall out of the cultural zeitgeist. So, instead of a laser focus on one, historical element of merchandising, they spread a broader net. There's more product to buy in general. But, fewer toys. One thing we know is that tastes change. Star Wars figures were far more popular in 2006 through 2008 than they were from 2001 through 2004: years which had movies and cartoons. So, we'll certainly see Disney and Hasbro adjust at some point. We just don't know if they'll adjust to something that's more palatable to Star Wars toy collectors.
|Imperial Ground Crew - in Tray|