Mint Musings: Topps Going Full Force with Star Wars – Star Wars: The Force Awakens releases later this week. Centered around the film’s release, Topps has been releasing Star Wars-based products, with more on the way. To find out more about what Topps has planned for the galaxy far, far away, I spoke with Mark Van Ohlen, the company’s Entertainment Brand Manager, who works on their Star Wars and Dr. Who card lines.
MVO: We’ve been a licensee of Star Wars since the very beginning. We like to say we’re ‘Strong With The Force Since 1977!’ It was that year we released the very first Star Wars trading cards on the blue starfield design that has now become iconic and identifiable as classic Star Wars. Since then we’ve released countless card sets across all the saga films, the prequels, the animated series, and now the new film!
KS: How many products do you have centered around the movie’s release?
MVO: We released Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens in September to help get fans back up to speed on the first six films and to introduce them to imagery from The Force Awakens before the film hits theatres. We also created a new collectable game, Topps Star Wars Galactic Connexions trading discs, which were released on September 4th. They feature mostly saga characters but included a handful of Force Awakens characters as preview.
We also released Dog Tags featuring characters from The Force Awakens, which are out now. On December 18th, we’ll have three more releases. The first is Topps Star Wars: The Force Awakens Series 1 trading cards, which includes over 200 base and insert cards featuring characters and story from the film and autographs from the cast including new cast members (TBA later this week). The second is Star Wars High Tek collector cards, which are high end plastic cards with lots of parallels to chase. There are 112 characters, including some from TFA. We have 57 on-card autograph signers with six first-timers, including one from The Force Awakens.
Finally, we have Galactic Connexions Series 2 hitting Wal-Mart shelves on December 18th with new characters, vehicles and disc colors to chase, including TFA characters.
MVO: Consumers really loved the vintage 1977 designs in Journey to The Force Awakens. That nostalgic look and 24pt heritage stock really takes you back to our classic cards. We had nods to many of our prior sets within the product, which our fans really appreciated seeing. A lot of love went into the set – and A LOT of content. I think fans were most excited to see the new characters on cards for the first time. And many of them were on vintage designs, like Kylo Ren on the 1977 sticker design. It was a neat way to bring old and new together.
KS: How much of a challenge was it to make cards for The Force Awakens without being able to reveal too much of the film’s plot?
MVO: Our first series (Series 1 hits shelves 12/18 then Series 2 comes out in March) includes a mix of character and story. There are 60 base character cards with bios for characters seen across the film. Then the last 40 base cards are storyline covering the first act of the film. That mix allowed us to tell enough of the story that consumers would get an understanding of what TFA is all about while not fully spoiling the film. We also got to add tons of great inserts – stickers, concept art, behind the scenes, weapons, locations and much more – so while the full story isn’t there, it’s still a fantastic set.
MVO: Star Wars is the perfect brand to bring together with Topps High Tek. Star Wars is very mechanical and industrial with awesome ships, vehicles, droids and weapons. Those items allowed us to create some killer patterns that translated perfectly onto the plastic technology that High Tek is known for. We also learned with the release of Masterwork that there is a ‘luxury’ Star Wars consumer who wants high-end products that will show them something truly different. I think this set really delivers on this. And with 57 on-card autograph signers, six first timers and even a TFA signer in there, people won’t be disappointed.
MVO: Lots of patterns and parallels! We are deliberately did not reveal everything in the solicitation so fans could piece the puzzle together themselves. There are lots of sequentially numbered autograph parallels as well. And I think fans will have their favorite. The Red Galactic Diffractor is stunning and is my personal favorite. We know consumers from Baseball High Tek will often chase their favorite player across all parallels or they will want all players on just one parallel. So there is kind of a different way to collect this set since it’s a roster and autograph set instead of storyline. I’m curious to hear what consumers think. Most of all though, the autograph list – 57 on-card signers with six first timers will wow them.
KS: A big hallmark of the Star Wars product line is the autographs from several actors across different incarnations of the franchise. Who were some of the bigger names you were able to land for signatures?
MVO: 57 signers including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Ray Park, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Matthew Wood! First Timers: John Boyega, George Takei, Deep Roy, Brian Blessed, Michael Carter and Keisha Castle Hughes!
KS: If you can pick one, which actor were you most excited to land signatures of for the products?
MVO: That’s a tough one. I’m a fan of everyone on this list. But personally I am a HUGE George Takei fan and we have wanted him in a set for a really long time now. (He voiced a character in one episode of Clone Wars.) Having him in the set is really a dream come true.
KS: Was there anyone you really wanted to get for signatures that you weren’t able to?
MVO: We’re always striving to get new signers. I’ve actually made it my personal cause to find new signers for Star Wars and Doctor Who by any means necessary – emailing websites, meeting people at conventions, Twitter. I’ve done it all and in many cases it has worked. We brought in about 20 new signers for Star Wars this year and I have even more in the lineup for next year including new saga and Ep7 actors (like Jason Isaacs from Rebels) plus some actors we have not had in years like Dave Barclay (Jabba The Hutt). (There will be) many more TBA and can’t spoil just yet.
KS: I’ve seen pictures of some of the Star Wars actors hanging out at your headquarters. Any good stories from getting to meet and interact with them?
MVO: All of the Star Wars actors are as awesome as you would hope they would be. We recently had Taylor Gray and John Morton in the office. They recorded a podcast with us, they autographed some oversized cards for us to give away on social media and they did a box break video. John is a big fan of the Galactic Connexions discs, so I’m in the process of getting him some Dak discs to give away at his upcoming conventions. And Taylor is a huge sports fan so all the employees who work on baseball were chatting with him about sports. I was prying him for info on Rebels Season 2 – I need to know if we’ll get to see the Emperor/Vader/Tarkin relationship play out on screen! – but he wouldn’t spill!
MVO: The digital cards are doing incredibly well. That team works incredibly hard and they are putting out new content every day! It’s been a great way to connect with younger consumers who are more digital in nature and to re-engage with some of our classic fans.
KS: How would you say they compare with their more traditional trading card counterparts?
MVO: With the app, you have to be on your game. Content pops up daily so you need to be ready and pounce. The quantity of the content is the biggest difference. We have several sets a year on physical – but you can preorder it and open when it arrives at your door or go to your local store and shop. With the app, something will come up and then it’s gone!
KS: You also worked on Topps’ recent Doctor Who trading card product. Both franchises have cult-like followings, how would you say they compare and contrast though?
MVO: Doctor Who has been a fantastic ride so far! The product is doing really well and we’re excited to announce we already have another set in the works called Topps Doctor Who Timeless. (Details coming next week.) In the grand scheme of things, I think the consumer is much of the same – big sci-fi geek following with HUGE love for the property. The biggest difference is that, in America at least, Star Wars is much more well known and part of daily culture. I doubt there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Darth Vader. Doctor Who is still kind of cult in the US so only us cool geeks know about it 😉 We’re ravenous and always want more and I think most fans of Doctor Who are heavy loyal fans who really know the property whereas with Star Wars there are obviously tons of people who know the property very well, but there are lighter fans as well that have maybe just seen one movie.
MVO: In a word: Unending. We had several products this year in the lead up to the film and 2016 is no different. It’s going to be a fantastic year! We start with The Force Awakens Series 2 in March and then Star Wars Evolution in April. Then there’s a bit of a break before a very dense back half of 2016 as we prepare for Rogue One. You can expect more Chrome cards, another Masterwork set, and of course a Rogue One set. This is really a whole new beginning for Topps Star Wars cards!
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan as the producer of ESPN’s Mint Condition has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on the hobby in Mint Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
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