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Luke Skywalker & Mara Jade

SW: Heir to the Empire
by yo go re

Today, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a bustling, thriving place, with comicbooks, videogames, and dozens of novels written each year. But it wasn't always this way - in fact, after Return of the Jedi in 1983, it seemed that Star Wars fandom had reached its end. Then, in 1991, Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire was released to huge acclaim, landing on the top of the New York Times best seller list, revitalizing the fandom and revealing a deep desire for the continuing Star Wars story.

Five years have passed since the Battle of Endor. Luke Skywalker is the first Jedi in the fledgling Republic, but the dark legacy of Emperor Palpatine still threatens him. The smuggler Mara Jade has long wanted to find Luke and kill him because of his role in the death of her former master, the Emperor. Her chance to strike arrives at last, but events cause her to join forces with him to escape Imperial forces.

It may seem annoying to get a Luke Skywalker in this set, since anyone who's collected Star Wars figures for any time at all is almost certain to have a whole army of Lukes by now. But this is actually something we've never had before, a completely new version of Luke - when was the last time anyone could say that?

Luke is wearing his X-Wing pilot's uniform - well, part of it, at least. It must be hot on whatever planet this is [Myrkr --ed.], because he's stripped to his tanktop, with his jacket tied around his waist. He has a free-floating bandolier hung over his right shoulder, and a removable blaster in the holster. Of course, he's carrying a lightsaber, as you'd expect. It should probably be green, at this point in the story, but the one he uses in the comic is blue, so this one is intended to match it.

The figure's likeness is good, particularly around the mouth. Heir to the Empire is set a few years after Jedi, and this looks like a slightly older Mark Hammil, rather than a copy of what we saw in the film. To protect his good looks, Luke has a removable helmet that's a bit more extensive than the usual offerings: it has goggles, a facemask, and a hose that connects to the figure's belt.

Articulation is surprisingly bad. Luke has balljointed ankles, no knees, then peg hips. Normal waist and wrists, then plain peg elbows and balljointed shoulders. The head is a true balljoint. Still, no knees at all? And what's with those elbows? Those are both just dumb decisions.

Luke's nice, but it's his partner that sells the set. Mara Jade is possibly the most popular character to ever come out of the Expanded Universe - she's easily in the top five, at least. Hasbro has released a single Mara Jade figure before, but that was back in 1998, and so she's pretty hard to find today. Besides, it's not like toy-making hasn't advanced quite a bit in the intervening decade, so this release has been fairly anticipated.

The figure is absolutely an improvement. Mara's wearing her standard jumpsuit, but there's just so much more detail sculpted here than on the original figure! Different textures, different materials... it's great. Of course, she's painted purple, rather than the proper black, but that's another effort to make her look like she's come from the comic. Just don't think about the fact that she was never colored purple in the comic, or your head might explode.

Mara's facial sculpt is good - no point in calling it a likeness, since she's never been in a movie, and no one will be too terribly upset if this doesn't look like Shannon McRandle. That said, if you look at the pictures on Ms. McRandle's official website, you can see definite similarities, so maybe it is a likeness after all. It's a cute face, whether it has real-world inspiration or not - no wonder Luke fell for her.

The articulation here is much better than on Luke. Mara has a balljointed neck, balljointed shoulders, swivel elbows, wrists, waist and swivel hips, and balljointed knees. The elbows are cut at a diagonal, so they're not as useless as Luke's, and they keep her bare arms looking slender. The figure has a blaster that fits in the holter on her hip, a green-bladed lightsaber (not the purple shown on the back of the packaging), and a removable hood. The hood, by the way, tends to make her head pop off when you remove it.

The comic pack includes a reprint of Heir to the Empire #5, which puts Luke and Mara together alone for the first time and allows them both to show off thir skills. And just in the interest of fairness, we also get to see Leia kicking butt as she's stalked by assassins, so that's a plus, as well. The art isn't bad, but whoever was putting this set together might have paid closer attention: Luke never wears that helmet or the gunbelt, and Mara never takes her hood off (or uses her own lightsaber).

This is a nice set. Luke is a bit weak, but Mara Jade is a must-have. If the purple bothers you, give her a quick coat of black paint; or, knowing how much Hasbro loves to milk its figures for repaints, wait until this one is released on a solo card at some point in the future, done in her "correct" colors. You just know they'll pull that sometime - the sculpt is too good not to. Still, Comic Pack 10 is worth your money.

-- 02/24/08

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