“You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.”
When a new (and popular) action figure line gets around to making a figure of a property’s most iconic and popular character, you know there will be plenty of online chatter, debate, and discussion. Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series is certainly no exception, and with the upcoming release of the fifth series, we are finally getting that iconic character in Darth Vader. With the exception of possibly Mickey Mouse (Vader’s cousin by marriage), there may not be any fictional character out there that is more recognizable than old Anakin Skywalker, so, as you can imagine, even ahead of his release, discussion and debate are already running high. Well, we might be adding more fuel to the fire by getting Vader a bit early, but here he is, in all of his dark and plastic glory.
Remember the original point of the Black Series line: to get us Star Wars figures in 1:12 scale (for the first time) and have them be the ultimate representations of the characters. Now, that could be for different costumes/incarnations/appearances/whatever, but delivering Star Wars action figures with care and detail like never before was the whole original point. Now, the measure of that success could be a whole debate on its own, but I would personally award the line a “B-” for the work done so far. We have gotten a lot of great characters, so I cannot argue with diversity (though, they could come a little faster), but the overall success of execution varies greatly from character to character. On the one hand, you have figures like Darth Maul and the Sand Trooper that are solid “A+” offerings, but then there are figures like Obi-Wan Kenobi and R2-D2 that fare much lower in terms of success. Most of the figures fall somewhere in between, though, and little improvements like paint, articulation choices, and material usage could go a long way.
With most everything we have seen so far, I think collectors have been okay with being okay on several issues. That is to say, people know that improvements can be made, but figures still get a lot of love because there are good parts too, and everyone that collects the 1:12 scale REALLY wants Star Wars. So Han Solo and Jedi Luke are regarded (mostly) as overall successes while still having very minimal and flat paint jobs, especially on their faces. A figure like Obi-Wan needs a lot more work to get him to be successful, but, even with him, you can tell that the work Gentle Giant is doing has been very, very solid. Hopefully that trend will continue and Hasbro will utilize them for most of the work on this line.
Most of the issues seem to be coming from the final production phase, and while that is completely correctable, the outcries have not been so loud as to cause Hasbro to scramble and respond. Yet. See, Darth Vader is going to be the absolute barometer for this line up to this point, so his success as a figure will actually have a likely impact to the line as a whole. If fans cannot get a good Darth Vader, then what is the point, ya know? This might be part of the reason it took over a year to get him into the line, but we are now able to see if he as been worth the wait. Well, has he?
The short answer is, “kinda,” but you just knew you would be getting the longer answer with the article. Fans were already on the prowl over the possible issues with the likeness of his iconic helmet, so that would be a matter of discussion no matter what, but there are several things going on with this figure, a lot of them are good, some of them are not. The fact that the verdict is split is probably enough for some people to riot because Vader should be perfect, and, really, I can see the point, but I would be remiss if I did not say that there are some really great things going on with this figure as well. Let’s dive in, and we will start with the tough stuff and save the good for the end. I like to end on a high note.
Simply put, I have three major areas nitpicks with this figure: the helmet, the soft goods, and the left hand. Now, my level of issue varies wildly between these things, but they are issues for me nonetheless. I realize that I am generally easy to please with toys, so you might find some things that are more of an impact, but these things always vary from collector to collector. Or, I could be too hard on this figure and maybe I am making issues out of nothing, so you can let me know in the comments below if that is the case too.
To start with the easy one, I don’t like the left hand on this figure. It is posed in that super-iconic “reaching” scene pose from the big climax of the Empire Strikes Back, and while that seems like a great choice on the surface, there are a few things wrong with it. First, this figure, by nature of the removable helmet and card back art alone, is Darth Vader from Return of the Jedi, so that makes the pose of the hand inaccurate right away. Now, normally I would not get into such a fuss over something like that, but since we are BOUND to get a Vader from ESB in this line too, and the fact that the hand severely limits the figure’s ability to be posed with both hands wielding the lightsaber, it is off-putting to me. I don’t know, it could be argued that this is a “force choke” hand as well, but it still inhibits that grip. This figure ships along side Jedi Luke Skywalker, so you are SUPPOSED to pose these babies locked in a duel, so the grasping hand throws that off, which is a shame. Am I being too harsh? I don’t think I am, really.
The second major issue I have with the figure is the use of the soft goods. For the sake of full disclosure, if you don’t know, I am (usually) very much against the use of soft goods on action figures. However, with this line I have been more open to them and the custom made cloaks I have gotten for my Jedi figures have actually improved them in my eyes, so I can be good with cloth being a part of this line. That being said, I think the cape itself is great and I have no issues with it at all; it is big and flowing, but the material is soft enough that it can look natural. I am not as big of a fan of the cloth used on the “skirt” piece, and I really don’t like what is used on the torso.
As iconic as it may be, there is no denying that Darth Vader’s outfit is pretty strange. Now, some of it has to be functional to, you know, keep him alive, but much of it is to project a threatening visage of the biggest badass in the galaxy. Then there is a skirt. I have always found it weird and it is especially apparent in figure form, but Hasbro was kind of behind the 8-ball on this. It has to be present or the costume would be inaccurate, but it has to be flexible, otherwise all of that articulation would be useless. I know there could have been some possible soft rubbers used for this, but the fact that the skirt is cloth is not what bugs me about it so much, it is just that there is a LOT of it. I personally think they could have gone with less and it would have looked better, but for posing sake, you kind of have to navigate your way around it so it will look natural.
I do think the cloth on the torso fails, though, especially since it could have been done in plastic and would have looked much better. The plain cloth covers up a lot of great sculpted detail on the shirt, so if it was going to do that anyway, I wish the pieces were sculpted plastic so it would jell better. The articulation could have been preserved the same way we have been seeing in the line so far and it would have kept it from being a giant wall of cloth around some very intricate details. I hope that a change for this is something that Hasbro considers on their next Vader figure.
The third and final issue I take with this figure is also the biggest and most apparent: the helmet. This is Darth-freaking-Vader’s helmet we are talking about here, and it is the ONE thing that you absolutely have to get right for the Black Series line. So, while there are some cool things about it (mostly related to the removable feature that I will get into below), aesthetically, it just misses the mark. Now, before I get into this, obviously what we got was what was requested, so the artistic choices/changes were driven from either Hasbro or Disney/Lucasfilm’s direction. I say this because the details are solid, so the issues with the helmet are not something that you can probably pin on Gentle Giant.
So what is the main issue with the helmet? Well, really, it is just that it looks off. Personally, I think it looks too big (think the Vader send-up Dark Helmet) and that probably comes from the fact that the helmet is removable. Frankly, this could have been an opportunity to include two different heads (like has been done a lot with this line), but at the same time, I can see Hasbro’s desire to be able to recreate the “unmasking” scene from RotJ. That being said, having a good looking helmet is more important to me and aside from the opportunity to take a picture of it for this review, I will likely never pose my figures with Luke holding his unmasked and broken father.
Along with looking too big, the “eyes” on the helmet look, well, a little sad. I think that has a bit to do with the shape of the eyes as well as the elongated mask as it moves to the jaw line, but this figure just does not elicit Vader’s classic visage to me. Now, I know the helmet changed, even from movie to movie, so I need to go over with a fine-toothed comb because this may very well match the RotJ look, but it still feels a bit off to me. The reddish eyes don’t speak to me and I think it makes him look less imposing, but that might be a personal preference. I don’t know, maybe the Episode 4 or 5 helmet is burned into my brain more, but it seems like it should be slightly smaller and more sleek. Plus, that damned dome needs to be SHINY and that is just not the case here. I am going to hit this with some gloss coat or Future wax, but it just doesn’t shine and reflect like it should.
Am I being too harsh on this? Is there something I am missing? That very well could be the case, or maybe my expectations were too high for this, I just wanted Vader’s helmet to be PERFECT. I highly suspect that this is a production process thing, so I would really like to see the original sculpt or even a prototype output before the molds were cut and hidden head was accommodated. At any rate, I am already clamoring for another incarnation of Vader.
Now, all that being said, there are still a lot of things about this figure that I do like. There is a TON of great sculpted detail throughout on this figure, and the majority of the costume hits all of the perfect notes. I love the texturing and detail in the suite pieces on the arms, legs and torso, and the little “control pad” doohickeys are all well represented. He has giant black boots, and those work with the figure’s large stature to tower over most of the others in this line, so the height and silhouette of the figure are both really nice. The shoulder/chest overlay is fine and is made of a soft plastic that does not inhibit much of the articulation, but the shoulder pads are silver, and I *think* they should be black. That is getting really punchy, though.
I actually like the Sebatian Shaw Vader head as well, and the sculpt does the look a lot of justice. It really captures the sullen look of Vader as he speaks to Luke, knowing his fate. The head is actually painted a lot better than most of the human heads in the line, but it is a little shiny for my tastes. The internal part of the helmet is really cool too, and the details from the side of the mask and the “voice” section are all well done. Since the helmet is removable, I’m glad it comes off in two pieces for accuracy’s sake.
Vader has all of the articulation that you can pretty much expect from a SWB figure, and none of it is inhibited to the point of note. This figure’s hips are a little loose, so I am hoping that is not endemic, but even so, they are not that bad. This figure does have different neck/head articulation than the rest as the joint is actually set into the torso, instead of at the top of the head. I am sure this has to do with the removable helmet aspect, but you can throw away your dreams of putting Chewbacca’s head on Vader’s body right now.
Finally, Vader does come with his iconic red-bladed lightsaber and it is executed well. The hilt might be a little short, but it can still be gripped easily with both hands (if the left one wasn’t so splayed). I do kind of wish that it had a loop to hook on his belt like Luke does, but I am not going to complain because there is no way I’m displaying this figure without lightsaber firmly in hand for dueling.
Sorry, I have gone on too long by this point, so I am going to wrap it up. Just to try to boil down my feelings on this figure: for the most part, it satisfies some of my itch for a 1:12 Darth Vader figure and there is a lot to like, but I am already dreaming of an ANH or ESB Vader. I think making a solid helmet will help with a lot of my issues, but making sure the shape comes through production well is also an area of focus. I really wish this would have been the “perfect” Vader right out of the gate, but there is NO WAY that more Darth Vader figures aren’t coming in this line. Angles play a big part of photographing this figure, so he looks better in some shots than others, but there is no denying that he looks cool surrounded by a bunch of Stormtroopers. So grab this Vader to get your fix, but be sure to sound off about what you think the next incarnation needs to put the Ultimo Hombre squarely at the top of the Black Series pile.
[canonball shares his thoughts via Fwooshtube!]