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Bandai: S.H. Figuarts Star Wars: A New Hope Darth Vader

Happy May the Fourth! While it is a close call, I have decided that writing about new Darth Vader figures is about as difficult as it comes for any character in my collection of little plastic people. There is just… so… much. Every little bit about the character and the design has been discussed and argued ad naseum, and there is so much online documentation and photography of Darth Vader, it can all be a bit bewildering. All of it works to support another issue that continues to exist for the character: we STILL have not gotten a PERFECT 1:12 scale action of Vader. Whoops, spoiler alert.

While The Black Series just got 1000% better as line with the installation of the photo real face printing process, Bandai’s S.H. Figuarts offerings still represent my favorite overall current Star Wars line. I also really love some MAFEX and model kit (we can argue all day if those can really be considered “action figures”) offerings, but as a general rule, if there is an SHF version of a character (troops excluded, mostly), it is the main spot in my collection. Sure, there have been some stinkers along the way, and sometimes Bandai simply gets outdone, but overall, especially with the human/non-armored characters, SHF usually appeals to me the most. So, while I have never owned the original Return of the Jedi SHF figure due to size and accuracy issues, I was still STOKED when this A New Hope version was announced last year.

Having finally gotten the figure the other day, there is a lot I like about it, and I am ready to discuss it. That said, and to my spoiler alert above, this is still not a perfect Darth Vader figure. The quest still continues, and if it ever does actually happen, it will have to wait for another day. The good news is that this is a DRAMATIC improvement over the original Bandai release, and it does offer some things that are the best that have been done at this scale for this Vader, but for me, I am still going to have to go with the factory version that is the strongest overall, but not the best in all areas, or work on a new cobbled-together version and try to marry the best parts as best as I can.

So, I am going to bottom line it right now, even though we have not gotten into the details yet: for me, this Vader offers the best overall base body (that is, below the neck) at this scale, but the helmet and cape are certainly detractors. Now, my love of the base is rooted in some personal preference that I will get to in a moment, and the helmet is actually BETTER than I thought it would be, but to keep it simple, those are prevailing points. Body: good. Helmet and cape: not so good. I guess the good thing is that there are so many Vaders out there in this scale and via a lot of lines at this point, so you certainly continue to have options for the one you like the best, or for a robust parts library.

To start with the base body, it is all new, and I love it, and I actually love it more the longer I have the figure. The SHF ROTJ figure is way too small/short, and this figure corrects that issue very, very well. This figure is most certainly appropriately tall, especially compared to corresponding figures (like farm boy Luke) from the line, and unlike the MAFEX Rogue One figure (which, to its credit is still my overall favorite, I think) it has strong and bulky features, so no noodle arms and tiny hands. That strong build is something it holds in common with the latest Black Series figure, but for me, it holds the advantage due to the lack of a cloth robe. Of COURSE, this is a personal preference, and your thoughts are going to most certainly vary, but unless it is an occasional cape or outer garment, I despise soft goods on my figures. Yes, I know your argument about posing and movement, but I cannot get past the look. So, this was an important thing for me, and since the bulk is better, this figure moves past the MAFEX RO Vader in my book, as far as the base goes. You are free and completely likely to disagree. That is cool.

Now for the not so good. I am going to start with the cape because, it is the easier one to manage, and while I don’t really care for it, it is not completely egregious. It is too short, the material is too thick, and the chain is the wrong color, but it is still okay on the figure. Honestly, I think this is more of a case of being outdone by both the Black Series (which is still the best), but also the MAFEX, so this cape looks bulky and out of scale a bit with the material, even with the help of the wire frame. As for the chain, there is just no excuse here, the links are too big, and they should be black, so it is a shame Bandai could not source better material for it. I am not overly fussed about it, but it is still not accurate.


The helmet is the larger issue, and likely will be the focal point of this figure in terms of discussion, even with all of the good things going for it. My feelings, thoughts, and emotions have run the gamut on this part, as I was genuinely excited for it when the figure was first announced, then I was really scared when more press photos started hitting, and now and at the point where I think it is pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty okay, but I already have better in my collection. So while it is better than I thought it would be, it is still the biggest disappointment because I really thought that Bandai would nail this, and instead, they just did a pretty good job. Harsh? Yeah, probably, but Vader’s helmet is something that is so iconic, and just when you think that something has captured it perfectly, you go and look and screen references and realize it is not at all close. 

However, as I said, this one is not as inaccurate as I thought it would be at first, and if you look at the helmet comparisons from one to the next, you can see that all of them are VERY different, but still all look like Vader. It’s an odd effect, and I think you can certainly get locked into “analysis paralysis” when comparing movie prop to figure, so maybe at the end of the day, it all really comes down to preference. I don’t know, have we moved to that point? Is the mind’s eye more important now, or even just what you consider to be the best aesthetic, even over accuracy? Maybe? Hey, this is going in your action figure collection, so you should most certainly “have it your way, baby,” so again, you have lots of options by now. Frankly, I still like the Bandai model kit helmet the best, but that is just me.

My main quibbles with this one is that the mask looks elongated to me, and the helmet has a definite matte finish, when it should certainly have (at least) a semi-mirror finish. The helmet is also a bit pinched, as is the mask, but in hand, it is not as apparent to me as it was in the press pictures. The big change is the shape of the “goggles” or eye holes or whatever you want to call them. I think this SHF version actually matches up with the SWB version the closest, but the eye shapes are completely different, and thus make for pretty different looks. I don’t know, it looks okay, but I still like the shape and look of the model kit the best. That said, the profile is actually really nice and definitely works for me.

Now, the really weird thing about the helmet is, it actually looks better/more accurate on the body when the cape is removed. It might just be my mis-wired eyes/brain playing tricks on me, but that bulky cape kind of throws off the proportions of the figure, and when it is gone, the helmet actually looks a lot better. Is it just me? It is probably just me, but it somehow works better. So, I am going to attempt to do a bit of cape swap on this because I am HOPING that if the cape falls more naturally about the shoulders, and thus reducing the “fluffiness,” so the head looks to be in better proportion. Still, I completely understand if you are in the camp of not liking the overall form and design of the mask on this, I am still not completely convinced either. The whole point is, while not perfect, I DO honestly believe this head is better than I thought it would be and the press pictures don’t do it any favors.

Finally, Vader does come with some pretty standard SHF accessories. There is nothing elaborate or overly exciting here, but he does get his saber, hilt, and some swappable hands, like I said, standard fare. I am always open for more accessories with action figures, but seeing as this is the ANH version, the only thing I could think of is interrogation droid that was recently included with the SWB Tarkin figure. Since I have that now, it take the edge off of needing it here, so while hands aren’t the most exciting inclusions, they get the job done, especially that Force choke one.

Yeah, sorry, this has been a weird diatribe, but I am kind of all over  the place with this figure. I don’t hate it by any stretch, and again, I think the base body is the best one so far, but it is certainly not perfect. At the end, my feeling is to build the best Vader I can with the parts I have, I would go with this body, the first SWB release cape (even though it does not have the wire), and the model kit helmet (c’mon Casting Cave – get us one!). If that effort is too much, I guess out of the box, I would still go with the MAFEX RO version because that one, while not perfect itself, falls the best in the middle for me. If soft goods are still good for you, the SWB figure might be the way to go. Like I said, I like this new SHF figure for the most part, but there are still some things to improve, so maybe I keep my fingers crossed for an ESB Vader in the future? Seems like an inevitability at this point. Order yours now at BBTS.

Hey, at least I have old Ben to look forward to in a month or so – the fated duel is gonna happen SHF style!