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SWIV: A New Hope
by yo go re

Here's to proving Star Trek isn't the only property that can blaze strange new frontiers.

Imperial Sandtroopers fall prey to a Jedi mind trick that makes them ignore the two droids they are searching for.

Shortly before Toy Fair this year, Hasbro stunned the toy collecting community by announcing The Black Series, a line of Star Wars action figures done in the 6" scale. Since 1978, Star Wars toys have consistently been 3¾" tall - yes, there were a few aberrations (12" figures [first from Hasbro, later from Sideshow/Hot Toys], unarticulated 7" and 2" figures, etc.), but never six inches. It's rather mad to imagine that Hasbro would so fervently ignore what was the preeminent action figure scale for an entire decade, waiting until the industry was moving back toward Star Wars' small scale before jumping up to the big leagues (or at least the "medium" leagues). But the important thing is that they're there now.

The Star Wars toys have been getting increasingly impressive sculpts for years now, and moving to a larger canvas has done nothing to diminish the quality. Granted, a Stormtrooper helmet is easier to sculpt than a realistic human likeness, but all the details are there, and this scale is large enough that you don't even get the polar bear in a bikini effect!

Although the plain Stormtroopers were the first seen on-screen, the Sandtroopers were actually created first: remember that filming began in Tunisia before moving to London, so the Sandtrooper scenes would have been shot before the normal ones. To that end, the Sandtrooper armor is a bit rougher and less refined, though it shares all the broad strokes with its vanilla brother. A few differences? The "ears" have four bumps instead of three, there are no ribbed panels over the shoulders, there are no buttons on the abdomen, the belt has ammo pouches instead of little white "drop boxes" over the thighs, there's no canister on the back of the belt, and the sniper kneeplate on the left leg is a simpler diamond shape.

All that said, it's clearly still the same spooky white space armor, and the new 6" scale has allowed Hasbro to capture details on this figure that have never been seen on the 3¾" versions. For instance, did you know Stormtrooper boots only come up a little above the ankle, and have U-shaped elastic panels on both sides? Well, they do, and we can tell you that because they're sculpted on this toy's feet. The raised pattern on the pentagonal plates on the back of the gloves has been attempted before, but it's never been this accurate.

The shoulder pauldron looks like padded vinyl, and is sculpted with the appropriate folds where it bends over the shoulder, and wrinkles where the snaps pinch it. The backpack doesn't quite match up with the Hot Toys release (some of the parts are flipped 180° from where they were on that toy), but it's detailed well enough that you can make out what junk the original was made from. Surprisingly, a lot of it looks like Tupperware lids. The backpack plugs into a single hole in the back, and there's a strap with the triple ammo-pouch dealie that hangs over his shoulder.

The paint varies from figure to figure, because there's no way to ensure light, dusty patches of sand, dirt and grime will be painted on the same way every time (other than turning them into a tampograph, and then it would just look artificial). The "traps and tears" (the shapes on the dome of the helmet and under the eyes) are blue, with no vertical black lines painted in them. There are black outlines around both those and the ear bumps. The "frown" is gray, with eight black stripes painted in it, and there are 13 thin blue lines painted on each of the cheek tubes. Even the aerators on either side of the central vocoder (which, on the real costume, were made from plumbing parts [not the microphone tips many people assume]) get silver paint apps, rather than just black. The orange on his shoulder pad is bright, and the ammo pouches have brass snaps.

In addition to the backpack, the Sandtrooper comes with three weapons: a BlasTech E-11 blaster (the "standard" Stormtrooper blaster, based on a Sterling L2A3 submachine gun), a BlasTech DLT-19 heavy blaster rifle (a minorly modified German MG34), and a BlasTech T-21 light repeating blaster rifle ("the" Sandtrooper gun, based on the Lewis light machine gun). The detailing on the guns is just as sharp and impressive as on the figure, and the paint is nice as well.

The Sandtrooper has a balljointed head, hinged neck, swivel/hinge shoulders (though they're somewhat limited by the bells of the armor), swivel biceps, double-hinged elbows, swivel/hinge wrists (hard to get moving, but they do - the left hinges side-to-side, while the right hinges up and down), a balljointed torso, swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, double-hinged knees, and swivel/hinge ankles. That's not an amount that's unheard of on a 3¾" figure, but it would certainly be a lot harder to do. The joints are good and stiff, so even when you compensate for his big backpack, he'll still stand the way you want him to.

The Black Series figures are sold in some truly lovely packaging. It's a simple black box, 5½" wide x 9" tall x 2" deep, with a clear panel that wraps around the right-hand side. A bright orange pattern line is visible behind the figure, and can also be found on the back of the box. The figure's name is also in orange, providing the only flashes of color on the package. The Star Wars logo and a stylized drawing of the character are done in shades of gray for the top of the box, and a Photoshopped film still featuring the character is printed in grey on the back. The overall design is striking, minimalist, and looks amazing on the shelf. It looks like a more "mature" alternative to the standard toys, for lack of a better term - but since that's Hasbro's stated goal with this line (crappy toys for the kids, nice toys for us), nothing could be better. Looks like the Watchmen packaging is going to have some ToY Award competition after all.

Hasbro isn't quite going "all in" on this new scale - The Black Series is planned to comprise eight figures a year, released four figures at a time and focusing more on the original trilogy than the prequels - so it's really a side project to the main line of toys, rather than a replacement. I wasn't quite sold on The Black Series before getting the Sandtrooper, but the quality lives up to the hype.

It was smart of Hasbro to put out a Sandtrooper before the regular Stormtrooper - just in case the line doesn't have legs, you can strip all the extra gear off this guy and have a plain Stormie (or close enough, at any rate). An armybuilder's dream!

-- 09/07/13

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