In Stephen Sansweet’s (droolworthy & wonderful) book, Star Wars: 1,000 Collectibles: Memorabilia and Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, he makes a comment that female Star Wars collectibles don’t sell; specifically, he was referring to anything related to Padme. This comment irritated the hell out of me which led me on a journey to try to figure out why this is the case.
The Phantom Menace aka the great toy saturating flood of 1999. In 1999, Hasbro took a major plunge and decided to try to court young girls into buying Queen Amidala dolls. They produced two lines – one was a playline that had four dolls – 3 of which had white Queen Amidala faces – and the rarest, beautiful braids Padme was without makeup. They also produced the coveted Portrait Edition dolls which comprised of 3 higher quality Queen Amidalas, an amazing Padme giftset with Qui-Gon, and A New Hope Celebration gown Leia.
The dolls didn’t sell well, Hasbro didn’t try to figure out why, and they decided to not bother with girls and just focused on their huge male-centric 12″ figure line. Luckily for Leia collectors they incorporated the gorgeous head-mold that they had made for Leia into their other Leia figures.
After The Phantom Menace we got one more Padme from Attack of the Clones wearing the white jumpsuit. The company sent out the first batch of them w/o any synthetic hair, they didn’t even bother trying to mold hair on her head. All they did was paint her skull brown and screwed a nob of plastic wiggly things in the back of her head for braids. People howled. The doll got redone w/ actual hair around her head…but nothing was done to the squiggly plastic blobs. I will comment that for years I fought against getting this figure and finally saw one in person (she was one w/ hair) I ended up picking her up. She’s actually quite nice and her costume was really well made.
Revenge of the Sith came around and we didn’t get any Padme dolls…guess they didn’t want to try to touch doing a pregnant doll. They did produce a wonderful Barriss Offee and a Shaak Ti but no dolls at all of the mother of Luke and Leia. To this day, we’ve never had a figure or collectible for that matter larger than 3 3/4″ – 4″ tall of Padme from the final prequel film. By this point, if young girls wanted Padme dolls, there were none to be had. Barriss & Shaak Ti both sold well and were well made dolls with gorgeous detailing put into their costumes. They were also Jedi which meant that they came with lightsabers and were considered to be “cool” female characters that appealed to male collectors. Hasbro also got around the issue of doll hair for these 2 figures because it was unnecessary. Then sometime after Sith, the folks at Hasbro got tired of being harassed by the adult collectors over the quality of their playline dolls and they handed the 1/6 line over to Sideshow Toys.
To this day Sideshow has produced only two Leias -one was in her traditional white dress & as Boushh Leia. Both Leias were well done, so long as you got over the fact that Sideshow molds all of their figures heads (read: no doll hair.) The sculpts on both are lovely and look just like Carrie Fisher. The Boushh Leia is a knockout. Hasbro made 2 different versions of this figure and never achieved the amazing level of detail that Sideshow put into the figure. The A New Hope Leia again had the better sculpt although the fabric used on the dress was rather flimsy and cheap – even Hasbro used better fabric for the version that they produced of the same doll.
In the early honeymoon period when Sideshow won the Star Wars contract they ran a fan contest asking fans to decide what figure they wanted most. The two that went head to head on the list and received the most votes were Mara Jade and Clone Wars Illum Padme. Female fans around the world voted like mad for Padme because we were sick to death of not getting any dolls from the last film and a pitiful excuse of a doll from Attack of the Clones. Padme won. Sideshow announced that she would be made as a live action version and would have a Natalie Portman head sculpt. Fans of her character were elated.
The prototype pictures were met with praise as the sculpt looked amazing. Then the figure was released. Sideshow left the head bald so that the tight hood would perfectly fit over her head. Female fans howled over Padme being bald. I guess they figured hey, Hasbro used this method on the Barriss Offee doll and no one complained, it shouldn’t make a difference for Padme, right? (They were wrong.)
To make matters even worse, the factory paint job was atrocious.The costume and accessories were all relatively nice but no one could get past how horrific the figure’s face looked in person. The prototype photos had nice large irises for her eyeballs and when she came out of the factory she had tiny, piercing eyeballs and severe dark eyebrows. The figure was ugly and she bombed for sales. Because the factory screwed up on the paint and because Sideshow didn’t bother trying to give her any hair, we haven’t gotten another Padme figure since then. This is extremely irritating considering the first Han Solo that Sideshow produced was also ugly beyond belief but that didn’t stop them from trying again and bring everyone a better mold.
I will say that the actual head mold for the Illum Padme DOES look like Natalie, she just requires a steady hand and an artist willing to repaint her to make her presentable.
There is this huge misconception that only boys love Star Wars. This is a belief that permeates through the media, it’s reflected in what collectibles are presented for sale, and sadly, by Lucasfilm itself. The reality is, there are tons of female fans of the films. If you ever went to Theforce.net (which is currently undergoing an upgrade on their forums) you’d find that the largest boards there were for fanfiction and I would say that 80% of the people who frequented the fanfic boards as readers and writers were females. Having recently joined Pinterest, I have a lot of fun uploading Star Wars photos and more than 1/2 of the people who repin my Star Wars pics are girls. People also believe that nobody likes the prequels. Although there are some folks who follow my Pinterest account who only grab pics from the Original Trilogy, most people grab prequel pictures also – especially pics of Anakin and Padme.
So if there are female fans out there, why did all of the dolls bomb? Simply put, we expect and demand QUALITY from our dolls and collectibles. Mattel is the best when it comes to producing gorgeous 12″ fashion dolls. They know what to do to make their dolls gorgeous. Because we all grew up with Barbie, we’re very picky over anyone else trying to make 12″ scale dolls. Most off brand dolls don’t sell well because they’re usually not as high quality as the dolls that Mattel produces. Hasbro deserves kudos for trying to dip into the market, but they were unprepared for the issues that go along w/ doll production. When a head mold is over used at a factory, over time the more plastic that gets poured into it, the mold will swell. This explains why the Queen Amidalas from the toy line all had huge heads. If the head molds start out even slightly large to begin with, by the time they go into production the heads will come out looking like balloons. Mattel routinely swaps out their head molds and replaces them at their factories when they realize that the heads are starting to get too large.
The playline Queen Amidala dolls didn’t sell because their heads were large and they were limited with their playability because they were produced with the white faces. Had they released more of the Beautiful Braids Padmes, the orange handmaiden gowned doll, and made the Return to Naboo doll a playline doll with the Queens being limited editions, they would’ve sold better because honestly, the Braids doll is pretty. Girls like pretty dolls!
It also took Hasbro a while to get the Portrait line out, by the time they did the market had been completely over-saturated with TPM merchandise and collectors on the whole were wallet weary and didn’t feel like going for the higher priced items. In the end the Portrait line is one of the most coveted series by female fans because they are the only modern dolls that were made that celebrated the beauty of the costumes and fine craftsmanship went into making them.
Female collectors have different wants than males for our collectibles, guys want all of their toys to be fully poseable and ready to blast things into oblivion. They’re more interested in the basic jumpsuit outfits or tight-fitting outfits on the female characters because it’s sexy. Female fans would rather dive into Queen Amidala’s extensive wardrobe and display all of her amazing gowns.
Don’t let even the collectible manufacturers tell you that male fans don’t want Padme toys. Triad Toys produced two 1/6 scale figures in their “Evolution” series – the male “Evo” suspiciously looked like Hayden Christensen with spiky Attack of the Clones hair (other than in 2002 w/ the release of the film, no other company than Hasbro has made an Anakin 1/6 figure from Clones,) and the girl figure had short hair but she has a Natalie Portman sculpt. Both quickly sold out. Headplay, a manufacturer in Asia that makes 1/6 scale figure heads has a Black Swann Natalie Portman head that has sold well also. Why have both of these sold? Because the molds LOOK like Natalie and neither have scary beady angry eyes unlike Sideshow’s disaster. The head molds are actually quite lovely on both of them (I own both.) We’re really not asking for a lot here – we just want a sculpt that looks like Natalie and who’s makeup & paint job doesn’t make her look she just walked in on Jabba the Hutt getting it on with Boba Fett.
For Leia, we’ve never had a commercial made 12″ doll of her wearing her maroon Cloud City pantsuit or her Endor celebration gown. Why? Because guys have no interest in the costumes, they’d rather have another item where she’s wearing the metal bikini…be damned that that costume was utterly degrading to the character.
The only two places where female fans can drown their sorrows are at Hasbro and Gentle Giant’s doors. Hasbro has been wonderful over the years of producing 3 3/4″ versions of Padme and routinely always keep some sort of Leia in the mix. In fact, this year another maroon Cloud City Leia is coming.
Gentle Giant does routinely focus on female characters – including they even dare to make rare expanded universe females. They’ve produced four different Leia busts (A New Hope, ESB jumpsuit (includes a variation,) and Boushh disguise, and slave costume.) They’ve also given us two Padmes – the first was one of their armless busts and the other was also an Illum Padme who was produced for their Premium Guild Membership members who got the bust as a Christmas offering. The edition size was small, sold out, and is highly sought for and goes for steep prices on the secondary market. In my opinion out of all of the Padme character representative collectibles out there (excluding the amazing FAO Schwartz Queen Amidala giftset) the Illum Padme mini-bust is the best Padme collectible made. The artist could’ve ignored her hair like Sideshow did, but instead they let some strands fall out of her hood which gave her a softer look. I would LOVE to see them make a whole series of Padme busts with all of her different dresses if this is any indication of what the artists at Gentle Giant are capable of making.
The time is prime for Lucasfilm to decide to try to court the female fans. If we’re getting Attack of the Clones in 3D next year (no official word has been released yet on this,) it’s the perfect film to market to the swarms of girls who are head over heels for Twilight and Hunger Games. Girls love tragic love stories, need proof, I’ve got one word for you….Titanic. Need three words? Romeo and Juliet. Produce for us some lovely figures, or mini-busts with Padme wearing some of her gorgeous gowns and we will buy them. Trisha Biggar created some of the most beautiful costumes in all of film history with her work from the prequels – PLEASE celebrate the effort that she put into her costuming and make us collectibles in costumes OTHER than just the jumpsuits & same outfits that have been made over and over and over again. Produce for us pretty Leias who aren’t pissed off looking because she’s being forced to wear degrading outfits and we’ll shower you with thanks. Please treat our strong female characters with the respect that they were created with and we will purchase the items.
Sideshow…Gentle Giant…Hasbro…you’ll never know unless you try again.