I agree with your assessment and I would not bring up Mattel (I worked there for 5 years so I know their practices well.) HTS profit margins are insane, there is no retailer middleman so that balances out the sales overall and makes it very profitable for their mass product line. I do not think Joe was the best example or idea because they invested in a lot of tooling that could not pay for itself in the long run, plus Joe was really dead at that time which did not help either. I would also venture to say the figures sucked too when you see what they are now.
I don't think anyone would disagree that a toy in 2009 is better than the toy of 2006. Not much of a stretch, particularly given the complete redesign in how figures were constructed. Those vehicles in that line were some of Hasbro's finest-- I LOVE that HISS Tank that they did, it's really great-- and the items were priced well with collector-friendly packaging which, obviously, is in line with what we had in the 25th Anniversary line from purely stylistic purposes. The packaging was gorgeous and the figures were often directly in line with what fans asked. You want a Crimson Guard? Here ya go. Spirit? Enjoy. More comic packs? Why, here they are. Still, word from the big H was that this experiment was a disappointment-- and as I said, with the support of additional online and brick-and-mortar retail, it *still* was considered a disappointment. Hasbro feels that they're generally best served selling a few items in big numbers.
Hasbro also flat out said they aren't going to do more HTS DTC exclusives. As such, I'm going to believe them when they say that isn't going to happen. Hasbro's last Internet-exclusive direct-to-consumer Star Wars piece was, what, like 1998 with Muftak & Kabe?
If they were willing to sell it through HTS they could set up a presell for this item. Once enough orders are placed and they know they can make it with a profit your credit card is then charged. They could proceed to tooling & ship it when it's made 8-10 months later. (If they were really buttoned up, locked down costing and secured a factory they really could ship this in 6 months, difficult to do but not impossible.)
It goes both ways. A number of products get canceled after seeing what the real-world interest goes, I can point to the 12-inch action figures for The Big Lebowski as one example where I had personal involvement. Diamond Select had quite a few things that never quite made it to shelves over the years, too, and even Hasbro had a few items (PowerSpark, Sketto, a few odds and ends) in Star Wars that just didn't have what it took to make it out of the gate after interest was measured.
I'm not saying this one won't-- but generally Hasbro doesn't flinch if they have a good idea on their hands. Asking fans what they think is pretty out of character, unless it's a fan's choice poll. Giving us the chance to vote with our dollars? If they can handle it logistically (I'd worry that the time between the pre-order and delivery might be too great), it'd be a wonderful way to test the waters with products needing special attention.
I know I would sign up without question for at least 2. I can see this as a Diamond or EE Exclusive but I do not see Target, Wal-Mart, TRU doing this. As someone posted earlier, the fact that this is a cremation toy. It will make this harder to fly with parents but more importantly will this be desired by kids. I do not think so. They would enjoy a ROTS Anakin with melt away skin/body part but not dead Darth Vader roasting with molded on flames. This is the ultimate in direct to collector type of item.
I can't say I agree with you on the "where," but I don't think the theme of the set is much of an issue. In Star Wars we've had figures of slave girls, virtually naked Twi'lek clubber girls, drunk aliens, a drug dealer with actual drugs included, figures which can be beheaded (Spirit Vader, Tusken, Jango), numerous dismemberments, a Grievous which explodes and fires out guts, another Grievous with flames SHOOTING OUT OF HIS EYES sold at Target... death or adult themes (edit: don't)
make mass-market buyers squirm these days. If anything, there's plenty of evidence that they're embracing it.
The DTC thing, well, we'll agree to disagree I suppose. I believe Hasbro when they say they won't do it. They're welcome to change their minds, or more likely, find another clever way to get this out (shared exclusive, con exclusive, stealth Wal-Mart exclusive) if they're so inclined.