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Darth Vader (Dagobah)

SWV: Empire Strikes Back
by yo go re

There's no question that Hasbro has finally released the ultimate Darth Vader figure, reaching what is, as of 2009, the pinnacle of Dark Lord of the Sith technology. There's nothing better, and there's unlikely to be anything btter in the near future. If you want a Darth Vader for your collection, that's the one to get. However, there are a few things it can't do, so to fill those niches, you need to digging into the past.

Taking the form of Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of Sith, this spirit is the embodiment of the dark side of the Force. It dwells in a cave on the swamp-covered planet of Dagobah. Although defeated by Luke Skywalker in combat, its unmasked face revealed that Luke has yet to master the ways on the Force and become a Jedi.

[This review is an update of one written July 31, 2002 - just before OAFE started. Feel free to read that version to compare. --ed.]

For many children growing up in the '70s and early '80s, Empire Strikes Back was their first indication that the world might be a dark place, that good guys might not always win. Rife with dark imagery and disturbing themes, it is still considered by many to be the best Star Wars film.

This particular figure was released in 2000, as part of the Power of the Jedi line. Even though that was right between Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Hasbro was still doing their best to mine the original trilogy for more action figure possibilities. Of course, they could only do so much before coming back to the big dogs; while Amanafana-bo-bana might appeal to hardcore fans, it's the main characters that draw in the casual shoppers. But Hasbro couldn't just keep releasing the same figure over and over, because that'd piss off the collectors. So how do they make sure that there's always a Leia or an R2-D2 on the shelves? Variants!

Well, not real variants, but it sounded good to scream that at the end of the paragraph. What they really do is take advantage of the fact that pretty much every character (every character you'd care about, at any rate) changes costume an average of every 16-to-20 frames: Han Solo in blue pants and vest; Han Solo in blue pants and vest with Stormtrooper belt; Han solo in brown pants and vest; Han Solo in brown pants without vest; et cetera.

Even the characters who don't change costume get this repetitious treatment. Vader wears the same black suit from start to finish, more or less, but they've always found excuses to make more of him. Even when this one was released, there were easily a dozen Darth Vaders available already - including "hands on the hips" Vader and "pointing slightly" Vader - but Hasbro decided the market could support one more.

Taken from the scene in the middle of the movie where Luke ventured deep into the Dagobah swamp to face the dark side, this Vader is cast in translucent plastic. The tiny bit of light that can shine through really does give the figure a smoky, ephemeral look. The silver, red and blue on his life support tech are solid paint, and while the figure's body has been molded from translucent grey plastic, the face mask was molded from a more magenta stock. Therefore, after it has been painted a flat black, the eyes remain a glowing red, and you can almost make out the human eyes within - perhaps a clue that not everything is as it seems.

The idea of a well articulated figure has changed a lot in nine years, so Vader has to make do with 10 swivel joints: neck, shoulders, elbows, gloves, waist and hips. Really, that's all. No knees, no ankles, no hinges, and definitely no balljoints. Limits the choices of what you can do with him, huh? He comes with his red lightsaber, and is articulated enough to either 1) clash with Luke or 2) bat right-handed, depending on which way you have him facing.

To complete the likeness (and recreate the battle), Vader's head pops off. The peg that hold it in place is sturdy, meaning that his head will only come off when you want it to - much better than the magnets the Episode II figures used for their removable bodyparts. Finally, with a bit of work, you can remove Dagobah Vader's faceplate to reveal the rather shocked face beneath. Spoiler alert: it's Luke's! Man, that freaked me right the eff out when I was a kid.

If you just plan to purchase one Darth Vader for your collection, this is not the one to get - it's quite nice, but there are better offerings out there. Hell, there were better offerings out there in 2000, when he debuted. However, as a recreation of a specific scene, Dagobah Vader has never been matched. There'd never been a version like this before, and there's never been a version like it since. The next time Hasbro wants to make a new Vader to fill that slot in the cases, they should really consider a modern update of this concept. Use the "ultimate" Vader's body, sculpt a new head, and mold the whole thing from translucent plastic, and you'll have yourself a winner.

-- 06/06/09

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