Star Wars The Black Series was a bit of a risk for Hasbro but in this article, we examine why collectors are willing to make shelf space for these must-have action figures.
Much like the concerns of Governor Tarkin aboard the first Death Star, an awful risk was taken in 2013 by Hasbro. For nearly 35 years the Star Wars franchise thrived in the 3 ¾” scale (one which they essentially pioneered in the 1970’s) but the time had come for a new journey into the force. Much like the popular Marvel Legends line, Hasbro saw an opportunity to tap into the intrigue of collectors that sought a higher level of detail, articulation, and versatility that had not been seen in the traditional Star Wars scale. But unlike the outcome of Governor Tarkin’s fears, The Black Series would quickly find its footing amongst collectors and Star Wars fans alike.
The first batch of thirteen figures made their way to the pegs in a sleek black, window display type packaging that featured orange highlights (resembling the illuminated floor of the Cloud City carbon freezing chamber) between 2013 and 2014. A wide variety of characters were featured, spanning the entire Star Wars saga. Each package contained a medallion-like illustration of the character enclosed. This first wave included fan favorite characters such as Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and R2-D2.
But what made this first wave so intricate and focused, is that while the “big three” of the original films were represented, their appearances all reflected specific scenes and moments of the films that differ from what their “iconic” look may be considered. Luke Skywalker was presented in his X-Wing flight suit and in Bespin Fatigues, while Leia in her famous slave outfit specific to Return of the Jedi. Han Solo, even in his traditional vested look, was accessorized with interchangeable pilot-gloved hands and Stormtrooper belt with blaster for re-creating the iconic Death Star Escape scene. R2-D2, arguably the most versatile of the figures, included accessories that spanned both the prequels and original trilogy such as a sensor scope and removable rocket boosters.
The prequels were also well represented with the films main heroes Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Revenge of the Sith). Also featured was the phase one Clone Trooper (Attack of the Clones) and a much sought after Darth Maul which featured a number of different accessories including exchangeable heads and cloak.
2014 brought a face lift for the packaging style of the line with the window being shifted (in order to display the figures better) and an update in the colored accents. The orange highlights were replaced by blue, while the carbon freezing chamber motif remained. This wave dominantly featured characters from the original trilogy with only four of the sixteen representing the prequels. Of those figures, Obi-Wan Kenobi was repacked and re-released. Newcomers included three Clone Troopers: A Clone Trooper Sergeant (green armor markings), a Clone Trooper Captain (red armor markings), and Clone Commander Cody.
The heavily featured original trilogy gave us new figures ranging from core main characters like Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Emperor Palpatine to backgrounders such as Bossk and IG-88. This wave also featured the debut of Darth Vader which included a three-piece removable helmet for recreating the epic finale of Return of the Jedi. Yoda was also debuted in this new style of packaging with accessories spanning both the prequels and the original trilogy. One special accessory, a snake that draped around his neck, harkened back to the original Kenner accessory that was released with the figure in 1980. This wave also included the first of the “deluxe” packages that included a Hoth themed Luke Skywalker and Han Solo paired with a Wampa and Taun Taun respectively. Also featured was the first vehicle in the Black Series line: a highly detailed Scout Trooper and Speeder Bike with display stand.
With the upcoming release of The Force Awakens, the Black Series re-imagined itself yet again in 2015. This time much of the original packaging design was discarded and collectors and fans were treated to a completely new style. This new era of figures was now presented in an intimidating black and red color scheme without the previously standard medallion portrait of the character featured. Now, a stylized illustration covered the majority of the lower right corner of the packaging.
The characters featured in this new packaging were dominated by who we were to see in this new era of Star Wars films. Collectors who ventured out at midnight on the newly christened “Force Friday” were introduced to our new heroes and villains. Rey, BB-8, Finn, and Kylo Ren were amongst the first figures to see release. Other leading and background characters eventually found their way to stores such as X-Wing Pilot Ello Asty, Captain Phasma, various Stormtroopers, and the seemingly film-absent Constable Zuvio. Also introduced was our first example of animated Star Wars characters presented in a realistic style in this scale. Kanan Jarrus and Ahsoka Tano, (featured in the Disney XD series Rebels) made their way into the line much to the excitement of fans.
Much like the release of The Force Awakens, the next wave of Black Series figures focused primarily on a new upcoming film: Rogue One. Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO (among others) made their way onto shelves in September of 2016 in the same packaging style introduced with The Force Awakens. However, unlike the waves from the previous year, many non-Rogue One characters found their way into the line as well. Snowtroopers, Obi-Wan Kenobi, And Princess Leia (A New Hope) represented the original trilogy well. These waves also featured the first ever Expanded Universe Legends figure, Darth Revan, who was a fan’s choice poll winner from the Knights of the Old Republic video games. Once again Rebels was represented with Sabine Wren, a fan favorite Mandalorian from the popular TV series.
With many figures forthcoming, Hasbro has also revealed special plans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of A New Hope in 2017. For this specific subline, the packaging has been altered drastically to re-create the original Kenner cardback look as seen previously in the 3 ¾” Vintage Collection. New to the 6” scale, the figures are presented on a slightly larger and thicker card with the logos and character names slightly justified to the right to accommodate the bigger figures. The back of the card also re-creates the multi-colored display of all available characters, as seen in the original Kenner line. All 12 of the original Kenner Star Wars figures will be made available in the new 6” scale. In addition, a re-creation of the iconic early bird set will also be available as a display stand for the new releases. This set includes an updated Darth Vader figure that reflects his appearance in A New Hope.
Much like the events of A New Hope, the 6” Black Series line was an awful risk that has seemingly paid off. Even with a deviation in scale, the figures have had no issue hitting its core demographic. Dedicated and even casual collectors have made shelf space to accommodate these newer figures and will continue to do so as the line expands. Packaging has evolved from the sleek, collector-oriented design into a throwback of Star Wars and Kenner history dating back to the late 1970’s. Although packaging styles may evolve, it is obvious that the line is growing more popular with each passing year and with each new film released.