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Darth Maul

SWI: The Phantom Menace
by yo go re

Let your mind drift back, way back, to the days when the Star Wars Black Series was new and exciting and could actually be found in stores.

The evil Sith apprentice Darth Maul engages in a fierce lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Yes he does. And as we've said before, it was supposed to be a surprise when he did, so thanks for nothing, Phantom Menace merchandising machine (which, it must be said, is probably not the first time that exact sentiment has been given voice). It's hard to create a mysterious badass character when everything about him is shown over and over before the story is even told. Boba Fett is popular because we didn't know anything about him, not because he'd been in every commercial ahead of time (just in parades).

This figure represents the early, mysterious Darth Maul, when he was just lurking about on Tatooine. He's wearing his usual black Sith robes, with an additional black hooded robe over them. You'd think under Tatooine's two hot suns, that would be a recipe for passing out from sunstroke, but it's really not: it doesn't matter what color you wear in the desert, as long as it's loose; it's true that white reflects more heat, but black absorbs heat in both directions - meaning it absorbs your body heat at a faster rate as well. Of course, most of Maul's robes are fitted, rather than loose, so he wouldn't get the full "chimney" effect (where the hot air rises out of the robes, drawing cooler air in). But honestly, good for Hasbro making the robe out of PVC, rather than softgoods. It works so much better!

Another thing that works better? They didn't try to make the hood a separate piece that fits over the head, because that rarely looks good. Instead, they made the head removable, and a permanent part of the outer robe. It pops on and off easily, and lets you make a fun "Dark Side ghost" thing if you want to.

The replacement head he comes with is mostly done well. The sculpt looks like Ray Park under his makeup, complete with an unhappy scowl that perfectly suits the character. His horns are surprisingly sharp, for a mass-market toy, but they're also the problem. Looking at hi-res images, there are supposed to be small red rings between his horns and the black tattoos, and there are, but the "bone" color should come down a lot farther than it does. There's too much red. You also really need to examine the figure in person before you buy, to make sure all the lines and especially the eyes are clean.

His under-robes are basically the same thing the Jedis wear, just done in solid black. The boots, gloves and belt are glossy, while the rest of the areas are matte. It looks really nice, and considering that Hasbro eventually forgot how to do it, we should be glad it's here. Everything is sculpted nicely, giving us glimpses of costume details no one outside of the Lucasfilm costume department has ever seen before. Do you know how Darth Maul's boots strap closed, or where there are flexible expansion panels in them? You will once you get this figure. The bottommost layer of his tunic is softgoods, so that it doesn't get in the way of his articulation.

Darth Maul has swivel/hinge rocker ankles, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips and torso, swivel/hinge wrists, elbows and shoulders, a hinged neck, and a balljointed head. He can get into all sorts of dynamic poses, just like you'd want him to. None of the joints are hard to move, but they hold their position perfectly. Some of the joints get limited when he's got the big robe on, but his flashiest moves all came after he took it off, anyway.

His accessories include his electrobinoculars, which hardly seem mandatory, and his lightsaber, which you'd have to be daft not to include. The lightsaber includes the full hilt, which can split into two sections as though it had been cut in half. The lightsaber blades are removable, but unfortunately, they're the perfectly smooth kind, not the sort with a sculpted flare at the base. The hilt has a small peg on one of the sections, allowing it to plug into an unobtrusive hole in his belt. And if you're careful, you can even get it in there under his big robe.

Darth Maul was part of the first series of The Black Series, alongside R2-D2 and the Sandtrooper, which means that he was easy to get but didn't hang around on shelves forever and a day. Which is probably for the best, because if we'd spent three years watching him gather dust on pegs, he'd probably seem a lot more boring than he is.

-- 10/18/15

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