The Last Jedi Toys: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly




Disney recently unveiled many of the toys that it plans to release in conjunction with the next Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, which is scheduled to arrive at the box office in December. None of these toys give away any major plot details for the next chapter in the blockbuster space opera, but they do include new interactive entertainment products ... as well as reminders of Disney's reluctance to move too far away from the original trilogy.

The Good: Of the many Last Jedi toys that have been previewed so far, two interactive toys instantly caught my attention: Sphero's remote control R2-D2 and Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, an augmented reality (AR) lightsaber kit.

Sphero's initial contribution to licensed Star Wars merchandise was a remote control BB-8, which was released for The Force Awakens back in 2015. The new Last Jedi RC toys include R2-D2 and another BB droid named BB-9E, but it's the R2 toy that impresses me the most. Of the many, many electronic R2-D2 toys that have come out since 1977, Sphero's may be the closest to matching the behavior of its cinematic namesake. To accomplish this feat, the toy features a third leg that retracts and extends; in the movies, R2 extends the third leg to move and retracts it to interact with other machines.


Sphero's RC droid series, from left to right: BB-9E, R2-D2, and BB-8.


Most previous RC R2 toys either kept the third leg permanently extended or omitted the third leg altogether, but such design decisions kept those particular toys from completely fulfilling many fan's dream of owning a robot that looked, sounded and moved like R2-D2. Sphero's RC R2 toy is also supposed to be able to interact with Sphero's RC BB-8 and BB-9E toys, which will make these toys look and feel even more like the droids seen in the Star Wars universe.

The Jedi Challenges lightsaber kit likewise raises the bar of another Star Wars toy staple. Toy lightsabers have been sold ever since the first Star Wars movie, but this one uses three components--an AR headset, a "tracking beacon", and a motion-controlled lightsaber--to provide users with 3D Sith opponents to fight. (No word on whether a Sith version of this toy will be released, a version where users can dismember and decapitate Jedis, Padawans and Younglings.) This kit also uses AR technology to provide two other 3D games: holochess (as seen on the Millennium Falcon) and a strategy game where players move soldiers and war machines across a virtual battlefield. I don't know how well this kit captures the feeling of lightsaber combat, holochess, or Star Wars-style ground combat, but it will be a major benefit to AR technology in general if this kit takes off in popularity.


Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges kit.


The Bad: Among the new toys are vehicle toys, toys which represent the vehicles that will be seen in The Last Jedi.

When I was growing up with the original trilogy, each new Star Wars movie meant that there would be a selection of new vehicle designs to amaze and captivate young nerds like me. These designs ranged from the massive (Jabba the Hut's sail barge) to the graceful (the Imperial Shuttle) to the odd (Boba Fett's Slave I). By the end of the original trilogy, there were four different types of TIE space ship (Fighter, Advanced, Bomber and Interceptor) and four different types of Rebel attack vehicles (the A, B, X and Y Wings). The prequel trilogy maintained this tradition, offering an amazing array of vehicles from both before and during the Clone Wars.

So, with a history of such varied vehicle designs behind it, what did Force Awakens provide to fans? Slight re-designs of the TIE Fighter and X-Wing, and a bloated, hollowed-out Star Destroyer with a severe underbite. Judging from the new toys, The Last Jedi looks to keep relying on the original trilogy for its space ship designs.


Silent but deadly: Kylo Ren's TIE Silencer.


From the First Order, Kylo Ren's TIE Silencer looks like a TIE Interceptor that was put into a trash compactor, and the All Terrain MegaCaliber Six (AT-M6) Walker looks like an AT-AT with a hunched back. On the Resistance side, the Ski Speeder looks like a stripped-down B-Wing and the A-Wing is the same A-Wing from Return of the Jedi but with a different paint scheme. Did Disney fire the creative team at Lucasfilm that was in charge vehicle design when it bought the Star Wars franchise? It sure looks like it.


The Ski Speeder.


The Ugly: The ugliest aspect of these toys largely applies to the best of them--the price tag. The RC R2 toy and the Jedi Challenges lightsaber kit are very expensive ($180 and $200, respectively), so fans who buy these items will have to weigh how much entertainment value they'll get out of these products against what they cost. I think that the RC R2 looks pretty straightforward in terms of what it provides in terms of amusement, while the AR lightsaber is the more uncertain purchase.

Even with a hefty price tag for just the kit itself, the Jedi Challenges kit still needs a particular kind of smartphone to do anything at all and there's no guarantee yet that it can do what it promises. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a version of this kit for game systems that specialize in VR (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR), so AR/VR fans who love Star Wars and already have a VR system will have to pay extra for the kit.




Given how AR entertainment is still fairly new to the video game market, I don't think that it's a good idea to make the demographic that's the most likely to buy the Jedi Challenges kit pay extra for it. It also doesn't help that this product is being released by Disney, which has never done very well with video games. (Case in point: its mismanagement and discontinuation of its ambitious Disney Infinity game line.) Then again, had things worked out for the completed-yet-unreleased Rogue Leaders: Rogue Squadron video game, we would already have had something like the lightsaber kit, but it would have been for the Nintendo Wii and had been sold at a fraction of the kit's price.

In spite of Disney's lackluster approach to vehicle design and video game development, I'm hoping that the Star Wars license can be used to advance the popularity of AR and VR entertainment. That seems to be the plan for Lucasfilm's ILM Immersive Entertainment Lab (or ILMxLab) so we'll probably be seeing more AR/VR Star Wars stuff in the future. For example, if Lenovo and Sphero worked together, fans could use Jedi Challenges AR headset see the RC R2 or BB units "project" 3D hologram messages from the Star Wars movies and TV shows. Likewise, future Star Wars RC vehicle toys could include mini cameras that could be linked to the AR headset. If that happens, fans could see through the cockpits of their favorite vehicles and engage in AR-enabled battles. Fans could blast away AR TIE Fighters with an RC X-Wing, or they could attack AR Separatist bases with an RC AT-TE.




Comments

  1. I used Force Friday to bone up on Rogue squadron figures, which Toys r Us were clearing out.I also bought the Rathtar,because when I saw "The Force Awakens",I said"If they make a toy out of the tentacle-thing, I'll buy it".It's a piece of crap.The legs are supposed to snap on...no such luck.I tried using a hair dryer, hot water,nothing helped.I guess I'll glue it together.Just a warning if anyones looking to buy a Dragonfruit with teeth...Think twice!

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    Replies
    1. Ouch! Sorry to hear about that. I never thought I'd see the day when Star Wars would release a crappy space monster toy.

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