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Darth Maul Returns

SW: The Clone Wars
by Monkey Boy

I'll be honest, I've never sat through a full episode of the CGI Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon. I've seen parts of episodes when I was flipping channels, and it just seemed full of wooden acting and stiff, not particularly inspired animation. From what I've heard, it's gotten significantly better with each season, but I still can't find the motivation to watch it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it seems unlikely that so much time passes between Episode II and Episode III, to the point where the television series seems almost like a different, alternate universe that diverges from the mainstream continuity after Attack of the Clones. Kind of a "What if?" scenario that's lasted for five seasons and counting.

Though I haven't delved into the series, I have kept abreast of some of the major events of the show through various SW-related news channels, and I think one of the funnier examples of Lucasfilm obviously just making stuff up as they go along becomes apparent in the story of Savage Opress and Darth Maul. Apparently the show runners wanted to bring back Darth Maul after (13 year old spoiler alert!!!!!) his apparent death in The Phantom Menace. Lucasfilm nixed the idea, so the show instead just took Maul, changed his color from red to yellow like a Mortal Kombat ninja and gave us his "brother," the hilariously named Savage Opress. A little while after that, George Lucas himself apparently came up with the totally original and brilliant idea to bring Darth Maul back, and suddenly the show had to find something to do with the surrogate Darth Maul they'd created specifically because they couldn't use Darth Maul. Fun!

Darth Maul returns from the dead and is ready for battle on new cybernetic legs. With the help of his brother Savage Opress and a powerful Nightsister, Maul prepares to avenge himself against the Jedi who almost killed him.

So anyways, to commemorate the ridiculousness, Target has released its "Darth Maul Returns" battle pack. The pack features Savage Opress aka "Player 2 Darth Maul," as well as the resurrected Maul himself, and a "Nightsister." Like all battle packs lately, there are some cards and dice to tie this into some weird game, but I'm not going to think about those for a second. On to the figures!

Savage Opress (pronounced Sa-VAAHHJ o-PRESSSS so it's totally not stupid) is a straight re-release of the "Armored Apprentice" Opress figure released in the Clone Wars line, but since nobody found that figure it's nice to get a second chance at it. It's a better figure all around than the original, shirtless Savage figure, with a better head sculpt and nicer paint, plus a more interesting outfit and better articulation. His sculpt stays true to the angular, simplistic design of the show, and his paint is very clean and quite complex, with multiple shades of silver and gray to accent his armor, and some very nice paint on the facial tattoos.

His articulation is much better than most of the figures in the CW line, with a balljointed neck, pegged and hinged shoulders and elbows, peg wrist, peg waist, t-crotch hips and pegged and hinged knees. pretty much the only joints missing are ankles. His shoulder pads move up and down so they don't restrict the figure's movement too much, and the cloth skirt has the same effect for the hips.

He gets a display stand, and the same staff that has come with the previous two Opress figures. There's a projectile missile with a ball that fits into a socket in the staff, which can then be pushed from the shaft until it pops out of the socket and "launches". It works surprisingly well for such simple technology. Opress lacks the double-bladed lightsaber of his single-card release, but that's probably to avoid confusion with Darth Maul. 'cause you know, kids are stupid.

Next, let's look at the "Nightsister." This figure has kind of a confusing genesis. The first thing you notice is that, unlike the other two figures in this set, her sculpt is obviously meant to fit in with the realistic figures, not the animated style. She's full of intricate detail, with lots of wrappings and feathers, and absolutely no trace of the angular, geometric design motif of the CW series. So this is probably a figure that was sculpted a while ago, and then never had a place to go until it could be shoe-horned into this set.

Secondly, the figure is referred to as "Nightsister" but the style of her facial markings and her outfit suggest that she can only be Mother Talzin, a prominent Nightsister in the series who was instrumental in Maul's return. The text on the package seems to support this idea, as well. Perhaps they're waiting until they sculpt an animated style Talzin before christening a figure with that name, but still, it's strange. The design for the figure (and Talzin herself) originated as unused concept art for The Phantom Menace that depicted a "Sith Witch," so even if the figure wasn't specifically sculpted as Talzin initially, it could very easily be called Talzin and seems quite obviously to represent her in this set.

Talzin is very nicely detailed, as we previously mentioned, and while most of her body is molded in red, there's a nice wash on her feathers, and the black and white of her facial markings is done well. However, this seemed to be the area most prone to sloppiness, so you may want to check to make sure you pick up the best example on the shelf.

Since the "Nightsister" was obviously meant for the non-animated line, she's very well articulated, and despite her cumbersome outfit, there are enough openings in her long skirt that her movement is barely restricted at all. She's got a balljointed neck, pegged and hinged shoulders and elbows, peg wrist, peg waist, t-crotch hips, and pegged and hinged knees and ankles. She includes a lightsaber and a display base. While Darth Maul may be the star of this set, the name that sells it when they put it on the box, the Nightsister is the sleeper hit.

And so we come to Maul himself. After being cleaved in half during the climax of Episode I (oops! Spoilers!) it makes sense that Maul's look would be somewhat altered for his return. And so the series first gave us Darth Maul with a scary robotic spider-body a la Mohawk in Gremlins 2, but that was quickly exchanged for a pair of cybernetic legs that give Maul the look of a cyborg satyr. While this is Maul's official return, this look is not original: the Maul-with-robo-legs design first showed up in a non-canon Star Wars: Visionaries comicbook tale called "Old Wounds," in which a cyborg Maul attacks Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Lars Homestead on Tattooine. That version has actually already been made into a figure by Hasbro for an exclusive comic pack at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con (not to mention a Sideshow Statue).

The animated-style Maul ver. 2.0 copies the "Old Wounds" design almost exactly. The only difference is the lack of the longer horns seen on the comic design. Other than that, both versions are shirtless, with ornate black collars and elbow-length gloves. Both versions feature lower halves that recall General Grievous, with robotic clawed feet and digitigrade legs. While the designs are obviously too similar to be coincidence, the newer figure shares no parts with its realistic-style, comic pack predecessor.

No, his sculpt is all new and, like Savage, reflects the style of the cartoon. He's slimmer than his brother, and his face is longer and more narrow. His head and chest tattoos are painted very cleanly, and the weathering on his robo-bits looks nice. His articulation is a bit lacking above the waist, with a balljointed neck and pegged and hinged shoulders and elbows. He could really use a waist joint, and wrists to help him pose better with his accessories. Below the waist he fares better, with pegged and hinged hips, knees, and ankles.

Darth Maul gets the most accessories of the set, coming with a display stand, two lightsabers, and an energy effect that represents a bit of an "action feature". The two lightsabers can connect to form Maul's signature double-bladed saber, or you can stick one half in either side of the circular energy effect. it has a grip in the middle that Maul can grab, and the outer circle spins, allowing the sabers to pinwheel around. It's pretty cool, but I'll probably stick with the more traditional display option.

Whether you think Maul's return is incredibly stupid or amazingly awesome, it's hard to argue with the coolness of Robo-Maul. It's rare to see a battle pack with two newly sculpted figures, and when the repack figure is as scarce as Savage Opress was, a second opportunity to get it is welcome. Whether or not you watch The Clone Wars, this is a relatively inexpensive set with three cool-looking, well-articulated figures, two of which are brand-spanking-new. Which means if I were you, I'd head to Target before all that's left are the crappy battle packs with figures that only move at the "big five."

-- 10/07/12

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