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What it's like to update a classic Star Wars toy for The Mandalorian

Hasbro's Sam Smith reveals how his team brought the show's AT-ST Raider home for collectors, and gives us a sense of how long it'll be before we see Baby Yoda toys.

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Hasbro's AT-ST Raider comes in retro-style packaging, as part of its Vintage Collection.

Will Potter/GameSpot

A galaxy of Star Wars toys hit shelves back in October, ahead of The Rise of Skywalker coming to theaters, live-action series The Mandalorian kicking off on Disney Plus and Jedi: Fallen Order landing on game consoles. The products brought some wild twists on familiar designs, but one towered above them all.

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Sam Smith, Star Wars product design manager at toymaker Hasbro, in his natural habitat at Disney Parks' Galaxy's Edge.

Sam Smith

The AT-ST Raider made its live-action debut in episode 4 of The Mandalorian last week, and revealed how outlaws on the galaxy's outer rim commandeered the Empire's weapons in the wake of its defeat in Return of the Jedi. I talked to Hasbro's Sam Smith, who's been Star Wars product design manager at the Rhode Island-based company since 2017, about updating a classic toy to fit the new look seen in The Mandalorian for its collector-focused Vintage Collection. 

It'll set you back $80 (around £60/AU$115), and includes an opening cockpit, articulated legs, adjustable laser cannons, side-mounted weapons pods and movable command viewpoint blast shields. It also comes with a Klatoonian Raider figure, which can sit in the vehicle's cockpit as it menaces the rest of the figures in your collection.

Here's a transcript of our interview, lightly edited for clarity.

Q: I have Hasbro's very impressive AT-ST Raider sitting here. What is it like to make a Star Wars toy?
Smith: It's definitely a dream come true for myself and a number of other employees here at Hasbro. Star Wars is definitely what I was always destined to be working on and the new movies and shows mean it's certainly the most exciting time to be working on the franchise.

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The vehicle got its big moment in episode 4 of The Mandalorian.

Disney

What does the product design manager at Hasbro do?
A lot of it comes down to kind of outlining what are going to be the right fits for the line -- who are going to be the characters that are the best on screen representation of the current entertainment we're seeing?

It's also about how we want to allocate that against figures, against vehicles, and how we want to spread the love as we look back to classic entertainment and make sure we have a compelling offering across all of our scales, like the 3 3/4-inch Vintage Collection and the 6-inch Black Series. 

What's the thinking behind the smaller Vintage Collection?
The Vintage Collection is kind of a re-creation of the original Star Wars figure line that operated from 1977 to 1985. It takes the nostalgia of the character selection and packaging, and modernizes them with super-articulated action figures that take advantage of the technologies we have today. 

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Our Vintage Collection figures now use fully digital sculpts. We use digital printing to really be able to bring the characters to life, as well as modernizing the articulation in a way that reflects the natural aesthetics of the character without compromising their look.

The Vintage Collection has definitely grown beyond the 92 figures offered in the original collection -- it's expanded into the sequel trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the standalone films like Rogue One and Solo, as well as the realistic interpretation we applied to some animated characters in shows like The Clone Wars.

Tell me about the process and your role in making the AT-ST Raider.
When the vehicle concept came in and we saw concept art for the show, we knew we had to make this one happen. It utilized the vehicle we already had in our pipeline with the existing AT-ST from Return of the Jedi, with a completely all new deco scheme.

With the red leg showing that it has seen quite a bit of damage and been reutilized, as well as all of the awesome tribal markings on it and the kill marks found on the upper shoulder. There was also this patchwork of soft goods and netting all over the vehicle itself.

It was an awesome postapocalyptic interpretation of the AT-ST, so we were really excited to see that, as well as seeing characters that we utilize for it: the Klatooinian raiders. This is a species we've seen a number of times in Star Wars, especially going back to Return of the Jedi and seeing them as Jabba's skiff guards, but they're really given more of a standout live-action moment in The Mandalorian. 

So when we saw a lot of the outfits for these raiders, it was clear we wanted to make this figure happen and we were able to actually do that by doing kind of a partial kit bash with one of our earlier Vintage Collection figures: a Weequay from Return of the Jedi. We were able to update the figure itself to really kind of modernize it. 

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What was it like seeing it on screen in the fourth episode of the Mandalorian? I assume you hadn't seen the episodes ahead of time?
No. It was kind of a quiet launch when we shared the vehicle itself on Force Friday. So finally seeing that come to life on screen was pretty epic. The vehicle itself we'd only really seen through the concept art -- the stuff that you see during the end credits of each episode.

But it was incredible how accurately that concept art captured not only the look of the vehicle but the tone they were going for in terms of the drastic dark environment, with very little lighting and this dark blue background; then you have the red interior cab lights approaching through the woods -- this vehicle just sort of reached through the trees.

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The Klatoonian raider pilots the AT-ST.

Will Potter/GameSpot

It was an absolute blast to watch it -- it had a pretty substantial moment of screen time. I was absolutely in love, and definitely glad to have had the vehicle out there for everyone to pounce once the episode came out. 

You mentioned the kill marks. Are there any cool details people might not notice at a glance that you'd like to point out?
Again, there are a lot of tribal markings to the face. They're not factory lines -- these are details painted over the face by this raider group. On the right side shoulder, there's a skull and crossbones on the armor plating, as well as crosshatch striping on the chest, underneath the head. 

And really, it's a great sort of interpretation. It takes me back to things like Mad Max; having this vehicle that was repurposed and had this war paint added as it was brought through the woods, to make it feel a bit more intimidating. 

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It terrorized villagers in the show's fourth episode.

Disney

And having that red glow inside of the head made the vehicle itself seem more alien and almost gave a sense of it being sentient, even though there's a driver within it. The toy itself doesn't have the red glow -- it was unclear if it would actually make it into the final episode instead of just looking really cool on the concept art. 

In order to bring that inside of the toy, we would have had to modify the tooling for the head, which probably would have made it a much more delayed release, and probably would not have been able to have been on shelves at the time that it was.

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Hasbro hasn't revealed a Baby Yoda figure yet, so this shot from the show will have to give you your dose of adorableness.

Disney

Are there any other designs from the first four episodes of The Mandalorian that you'd love to make into a toy?
Baby Yoda would be an awesome one. That was definitely a standout character. Things like the Razor Crest, they're just so awesome to see on screen. 

I can't necessarily speak to anything we have in the pipeline now, but in terms of those standout on-screen presences? IG-11; it was awesome to finally see a theatrical action moment for an IG droid, which previously only really stood in the background in The Empire Strikes Back. It was awesome to see how they took that form and were really able to bring it to life, with all the rotating limbs.

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Hasbro released the Heavy Infantry Mandalorian figure, aka Paz Vizsla, as part of its 6-inch Black Series.

Hasbro

It was also cool to see a lot more use of the Mandalorians as we get into the seedy underground. Paz Vizsla, which was a figure that we just released the same time as his debut in episode 3, was an awesome new Mandalorian form that we were able to get into the Black Series. 

I think this series is really going to surprise us by bringing a lot of new stuff to the universe, while really satisfying the die-hard Original Trilogy fans.

When did you first see Baby Yoda?
During episode 1 of The Mandalorian. That was something Jon Favreau and the team worked really hard to keep a secret, so they did not want to have products out there. They didn't want anything for that character to be spoiled. 

So not only from the public, but also the partners; they wanted to ensure they kept that level of secrecy to really be able to make sure it had the impact that it has. 

What's the average length of time it takes from you first seeing something to a toy hitting the shelves?
Standard development time, depending on complexity, is usually between 12 and 18 months. And that can vary with an action figure -- we have a pretty good track record in terms of being able to make those happen quickly, they definitely fall toward the shorter end of that ladder. 

In terms of being able to expedite things, there have definitely been cases where we've gotten to shelves a lot sooner. There are different materials we can look at in terms of tooling and manufacturability to really be able to be reactionary to things like the porgs we brought into the Black Series. We were able to get those to shelves in just a couple of months. 

But in terms of things like the Mandalorian product here, we were working on most of that last November and December, and a lot of that we were starting from concept art.

We're definitely proud of the AT-ST Raider. A lot of hands are involved in making this happen. We've been really happy with how it came out, and we're definitely happy with the fan reaction. People seem to be very excited for everything Mandalorian right now.