Update 2: Yeah, I was wrong.
Update: Added an additional anecdote that makes this story funnier. Noted below with [Update].
Way back in December of 2017, there was supposed to be a promotion for a Darth Vader Pod, a small capsule that held a minifigure of the Dark Lord of the Sith, and some small building elements to make the pod look like the inside of his bathroom or something. Well, it never happened and at the time LEGO stated that there was a “quality control issue”. LEGO instead offered 100 VIP points per LEGO Star Wars product purchased during a short window in North America and 10% off instead for the rest of the world.
Now, it’s been two months since the cancellation and Shop@Home confirmed that it’s never coming out. I don’t really buy the quality control issue aspect at all because while I was cleaning out some stuff around the house, I came across two other pods I purchased at Toys’R’Us right around the same time frame:
If it really was a quality control issue, I don’t think these two would have ever made it to the store shelves either. You have to assume that the individual components that make up the pods themselves and the elements to decorate the inside are up to the same level of quality as every other element that comes from LEGO’s factories. These are the same elements that would appear in other sets. That 1×2 grille tile is the same grille tile everywhere else. And if it really was a materials issue with the capsule pod itself, why not revisit that issue and remake it with the correct tolerances to pass QA? So, all that being said, if you take the elements out of the equation, that leaves the license as the only major differentiating factor.
Star Wars is a brand that reaches far and wide when it comes to merch. And its licensees want to make sure that their product is the only one out there of its kind, hence why Master Toy Licenses exist. So here’s my theory: Hasbro thought LEGO was violating a licensing agreement between it and Lucasfilm, and issued a cease and desist order against distributing the Vader pod toy.
Assuming my theory is correct here’s what I think happened. They, Hasbro, thought the Darth Vader pod was too much like a similar product they are selling or sold in the past. Why Hasbro? When it comes to licensed toy products, Hasbro and LEGO are probably the two companies that come the closest on infringing on each others territories. Plus, Hasbro probably has a beef against LEGO for something I’ll detail a bit later in this article. Anyway, I tried searching on Amazon and Google and even eBay to see what possible competing products could be out there that Hasbro could use as leverage for claiming license infringement. I came up with two things:
Hasbro’s Fighter Pods is one. Anyone remember these? These are pretty similar in name, I mean, the word “pod” is right there. Plus, maybe they sound similar? Vader pod? Fighter pod? Yes? That may have been enough to justify a cease and desist order.
And in case it wasn’t there was one other product line I can think that may give Hasbro’s argument some weight: the small Micro Machines playsets that feature some type of vehicle, helmet or head shape on the outside then opens up to reveal a small scene or playset on the inside. Conceptually, this one matches the closest to what the Darth Vader Pod was: a small container with a play elements stored inside. Heck, it could have been a combination of both the Fighter Pods and Micro Machines toys.
But why would Hasbro care about a freebie that LEGO was giving away that really can’t be confused for a Hasbro or Micro Machines toy? Hasbro probably did this as a way to get back at LEGO for the whole AMP’D issue. You guys remember AMP’D?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t. It was a Hasbro Star Wars toy that never saw the light of day on a retail shelf. It was, now get this, a series of Star Wars vehicles that can be disassembled and reassembled into a custom vehicle. Like you can turn that X-wing above into things that look like this:
Sounds a lot like a construction toy right? Well, that was probably LEGO’s argument and said, “Hey, we have the construction toy license. They can’t be doing that.” They probably said it in a tone sounding much more legal than that though. Anyways, Lucasfilm agreed with LEGO and Hasbro couldn’t legally sell a single AMP’D toy. And, as the story goes, LEGO played their hand when the initial wave of AMP’D toys were either on a container ship on the Pacific or already sitting at the Port of Long Beach waiting to clear customs. In either case, Hasbro had to send that boat back to China.
This all happened at the tail end of 2012. Hasbro showed off their AMP’D line at Toy Fair that year and it was scheduled to hit store shelves in the fall, right in time for the important holiday shopping season. Obviously, that never happened. You can view the full assortment of the proposed toy line over at Toy Ark, where the pictures you see above were taken from.
[Update] I was reminded in our chat room of a few other instances where LEGO and Hasbro fight over licensing rights. Y’all remember the minifigure three packs?
It’s pretty well known that Hasbro nixed this line and made it more complicated for LEGO to sell the magnets afterwards. It was the whole reason the magnet figures came glued. I believe LEGO blocking AMP’D was more or less a retaliation for them axing the three-pack. What’s even funnier is that Hasbro probably did them a solid because if LEGO continued with the three-packs, their sales numbers wouldn’t have been that great. The minifigures are a HUGE reason why people are into this stuff, so by only making them available in sets, it definitely helped their bottom line more than what these three-packs would have done.[/Update]
AMP’D didn’t completely die. The concept of disassembling and reconstructing a custom vehicle spiritually lived on in Transformers Construct-bots which was released the following year.
Again, this is all just a theory of mine and everything written above may or may not have happened. Except the cancellation of the Vader Pod. The cancellation definitely happened. Finding those Friends and NINJAGO pods had me question the validity of the reasons behind the cancellation of the Vader pod; so I took the opportunity to retell one of my favorite LEGO stories I’ve heard of how LEGO blocked Hasbro’s AMP’D line at the Port of Long Beach and sent the boat back to China.
I still laugh about that.