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Bastila Shan

by yo go re

Look, it's Darth Girlfriend.

Bastila Shan is a brash Jedi Knight during the Jedi Civil War of the Old Republic era. Bastila's affinity with the Force presents a serious threat to Darth Malak and his Sith fleet.

You know the story of Darth Revan: a Jedi hero who defeated the Mandalorians when they tried to conquer the galaxy. Once that was done, Revan discovered the looming threat of a Sith Empire, and set out to fight it; brainwashed somehow, Darth Revan returned as the Galactic Republic's greatest enemy. Soon finding themselves on the losing side of this conflict, the Jedi Council made a desperate move: they sent Bastila, possibly their most tactically valuable Jedi master, to lead a strike team to face Revan directly, confident that only she could defeat the fallen Jedi and save the Republic. As the only reason the Republic forces had managed to hold out this long, Shan knew that if she failed in this mission, her death would mean the war was lost.

In the "let's echo the entire main cast of the movie" scheme that was KOTOR, Bastila is your Princess Leia: not just because she's a petite brunette with hair that would later inspire Rey, but because she's haughty, commanding, and condescending, but also strong, capable, and determined. Knights of the Old Republic was released in 2003, so the graphics have definitely aged, but this toy does look fairly close to how we imagine the character was meant to appear. When she appeared in the Vintage Collection in 2011, Hasbro's card art made her look like her voice actress, Jennifer Hale, but this is just a generic portrait. A portrait that does have one definite error: in every image of her, Bastila's hair is parted on the left and comes down across her forehead to the right; this toy gets that backwards. Kind of an important - and easy - thing to get right?

In the mid-90s, Dark Horse Comics published Tales of the Jedi, the first media to ever explore the Old Republic era. Just as the films had followed the story of the Skywalker family, TotJ loosely followed the Sunrider family: author Tom Veitch introduced Nomi Sunrider, a widowed mother who would one day become Grand Master of the Jedi Order, as well as her daughter Vima. The character who eventually became Bastila Shan was originally meant to be Vima Sunrider, but unspecified legal issues meant that name couldn't be used; suspects over the years have included Jeep parts or Tom Veitch using the name in a different work, but neither of those are likely to be true: character names get repeated all the time, and whatever other book the name might have appeared in is certainly not famous enough to worry about being confused with a Star War; and no matter how big a coportation Chrysler is, a Jeep roof would not fall under the same product category as a videogame any more than Interstate's "Mega-Tron" batteries would for Transformers. If we had to guess (and we do, because no one at Lucasfilm has ever said what the actual problem is), we'd wager it's because there's an herbal supplement pyramid scheme called Sunrider, and Lucasfilm doesn't want to be associated with them, even accidentally. Imagine if you had a character called Deek Herbalife, or L'u LaRoe - it would reflect badly on the character, and might even look like tacit endorsement of the scam. So Vima was removed from the game and Bastila was put in.

It's easy to see the connection between that Vima concept art and the final version of Bastila. The changes are mostly a matter of colors: brown hair instead of red, and tan clothing instead of gray. [that concept art calls her "corrupted," so it's a Sith outfit, not Jedi --ed.] Apparently Jedi robes were not a thing yet several millennia in the past, because Bastila wears a tan bodysuit beneath a narrow brown tabard and a belt with draping flaps on the sides. The shades range from a yellow tint on the body to red on the boots and bodice. The toy matches the videogame very well, turning those old polygons into something realistic.

The toy moves just as you'd expect: swivel/hinges for the ankles, wrists, elbows, and shoulders; swivel boots and thighs; double-hinged knees; balljointed hips, waist, and neck; and a barbell-jointed head. Although she does fight alongside you during the game, her real Jedi power is "Battle Meditation," which involves sitting quietly with your eyes closed - not the most thrilling thing for an action figure to do. (Battle meditation boosts the morale and abilities of the user's allies, while eroding the will to fight of enemies.) The loose pieces of her costume and the dangling hair-loopies on the back are soft enough plastic that they don't block the articulation in any meaningful way.

Bastila originally used a single-bladed lightsaber, but after successfully defeating Darth Revan, she switched to a double-bladed model. Although promotional art showed her with both blue or green blades, the canonical color of her lightsaber is the much rarer yellow. All the double-bladed lightsabers in the game used the same model, but outside the game this particular design is identified specifically as Bastila's.

For all that the Jedi Council treat Bastila Shan as their greatest champion, she's really closer to the Sith than her light side principles would allow. When we meet her, she's arrogant, bossy, and overly emotional. But her arc through the game sees her improving and learning to work with other - sort of a speed run of the way Ahsoka grew. Getting to see that growth in action is the reason fans like her so much: she was super powerful, yes, but she was repeatedly humbled, yet every time she stepped back up, determined to try again, to do better, and displaying more humanity with every step. There have been a couple 3¾" figures of her, but it's great to see her make it into The Black Series at last. Shame they couldn't get her hair right.

-- 09/23/23

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