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Darth Vader

SWVI: Revenge of the Jedi
by Artemis

Ladies and gentlemen, The Man.

As has been the custom of the Jedi and Sith for many centuries, Vader uses a meditation chamber to enhance his powers. Within this specially pressurized, hyperbaric enclosure, the Sith Lord is able to remove his mask briefly and still be able to breathe.

I don't need to go on about Darth Vader, do I? We all know to ignore the prequels, and their whiny, ignorant, gullible teen-angst attention-seeker - we know the real Vader, the Original Trilogy Vader. Nemesis, fallen angel, tragic monster, a figure of awe and terror - an inverted hero among villains, not just more evil, but somehow higher than Tarkin and Boba Fett and the Emperor and all their lot. Vader's special.

And with Star Wars being the merchandising juggernaut that it is, he's got so many action figures you'd think it was him who was cloned, not Temuera Morrison. I don't own a lot of them - only five, in fact, and two of them are the same one, the original '77 Vader with the stubby little lightsaber built into his arm. So I can't tell you how he compares to this or that version of Vader over the years - but what I can tell you is that it's difficult to imagine any of them being better than this one.

Vader stands tall at a suitably imposing 4¼", a half-inch above the average Star Wars humanoid, and there's damned little of him that has to fall back on "but he's just a tiny action figure" in terms of likeness to the real deal. He's got the basic ribbed bodysuit, rough and crinkled like the thick, tough fabric it is, with gauntlets to match. Atop that sits his armour, painted mainly in gloss black to stand out against the matt bodysuit - boots and greaves, codpiece (gotta protect Little Annie, after all - assuming it wasn't burned off all those years ago), the life-support chest unit with its buttons and lights picked out in subdued green and red, the similar smaller units on his belt, with its silver buckle, and the mantle over his shoulders, which is coloured in banded silver for visibility.

And then there's the robe and cloak - and this is where this guy has it over the other Vader figures I've seen (though as I said that's not totally comprehensive, so it may not be unique). There are two layers to the material, an outer cloak over his shoulders and an inner robe built into his armour (much like, in a neat reverse-continuity touch, Obi-Wan's Clone Wars outfit). On this figure, all that is cloth - the robe it attached beneath the shoulder mantle, front and back and secured beneath the arms, is held tight against the body by the belt, and then falls around the legs. Furthermore it's no half-assed job - the fabric is very fine, even semi-transparent if you hold it up to the light, has a glossy inky-black sheen to it, and is fixed in place very neatly, so that right out of the packaging it doesn't need even the slightest adjustment to sit right around the torso. Then even remembered to orient the weave vertically, where it looks most like real full-size fabric.

The cloak then sits anchored by the neck, with a plastic "chain" attached at the front, and here there's commendable attention to design too. Normally a cape or cloak at this scale is tough to pull off without it looking fake, simply because a swatch of fabric the size of your palm just won't behave like a full-size cloak. This figure manages to fake it - the neck anchor angles the edges of the cloak so that they naturally lean back, causing the whole cloak to ripple narrow, rather than sit at full width, and the hems are double stitched, making them heavy enough to drag the light material downwards. End result, you can just unpack this guy and put him on the shelf like that and it'll look right.

And then there's the head - and that's not an ominous "and then," it's a "this bit is even better" "and then." We all know what Vader looks like, so a figure that gets a proportion or finish wrong stands out like a sore thumb. This one looks right - perhaps the face is a little thick, but no more so than any other Vader figure over the years has varied from model, and nothing to complain about. There are the glossy, slightly brown eyes, the tiny silver details on the mask, and the smooth, shiny helmet - all good.

And then the mask comes off, but not like the Vader helmets I've seen before, such as the Infinities one, which looked good but was, after all, just a bucket sitting over his head. This one works like Darth Vader's headgear. First the helm comes off, revealing the rougher, more technological sides of the faceplate, including the bronze panels at the sides and temples, the thick, intricate scalp plate, the techy rear collar and the glimpse of pale, sickly and scarred flesh above it. Then, just as it did in Return of the Jedi, the mask comes off too, revealing the entirety of the head, dappled ashen grey skin, scarred lividly across the scalp and twice on the left cheek, with those sad eyes and somehow pathetic nose and upper lip above the long jawplate fixed to the collar. It's as good a likeness as I've ever seen at this scale.

Now just think for a moment how much effort went into Darth Vader's appearance - the makeup applied to Sebastian Shaw's face, the intricate design of the costume mask and helmet - different ones, in fact, for the various stages of disassembly. Now think about how difficult a task it would be to rebuild that, functional at every stage, at half an inch high, and affordably for a mass-market figure. That's quality.

He doesn't just look good (or ghoulish) though, he's as well articulated as the next Star Wars figure, and it's not a line known for shoddiness there, as a rule. The neck, to accommodate the cloak anchor, is a swivel joint - I can forgive that, since Vader's costume made him stiff and inflexible anyway. The rest of the figure's built for combat, with swivel/pin shoulders and elbows, swivel gauntlet tops, a swivel waist (restricted by the robe far less than you'd think), peg hips, swivel/pin knees and ankles. The cloak's anchoring sits it naturally off the shoulder, suitable for action stances - the only "Vader look" he has trouble with is the static one, with the cloak covering the front of his shoulders and falling flat down his body.

The figure is packaged with the bare head showing, which makes the mask and helmet accessories; besides them, Vader has his trusty lightsaber. It's very much of a piece with all the other lightsabers we're seeing with the current figures - and there are a lot of them, so Hasbro's had plenty of practice. The blade is clear and a well-judged red - not too dark, not too pink - with a minimal flare, and the hilt painted silver with black over it, duplicating the prop's hilt design well. Vader's left hand is clutched to hold the saber at an angle, while the right is tense but open, and looks good whether it's empty, or fitted loosely around the hilt to wield it two-handed.

He also comes with his BAF bit, the right leg of administrative (and covert surveillance) droid 5D6-RA7. It's basically a 3PO leg - as was the actual droid costume, besides the chest and head - with a dark, dully reflective black finish. The hip will attach to the torso as a peg joint, and the knee and ankle and swivel/pins.

About all that's missing from the figure is an unlit hilt and a tiny peg to let it attach to the belt, and given the size of the figure, and the complex helmet/mask accessory, wanting that too would really just be greedy. Ask yourself this: do you want a Darth Vader figure? If so, buy this one. If anyone produces a better Vader, at this scale and this price, they can have me - in Slave Leia costume, even.

(I'm not saying they'd want to, mind you - in fact, if Hasbro ever reads this, they'll probably never make another Vader again, just in case, but if so, that just reinforces the point: this is the one.)

-- 02/15/09

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