REVIEW: STAR WARS VINTAGE COLLECTION PHANTOM MENACE ANAKIN SKYWALKER
How could such a decent little kid turn out to be one of the most powerfully evil beings in a certain galaxy a long time ago, far far away? But such was the fate of Anakin Skywalker, also known to us as Darth Vader.
Of course, we first met the character as Darth Vader, in the classic Star Wars trilogy which chronicled Episodes IV-VI of the Star Wars saga. It wasn't until George Lucas got around to the prequels, some twenty years later, Episodes I-III, that we were introduced to the pre-Darth version of the character.
Episode I, subtitled "The Phanton Menace" and presented to us in 1999, showed us Anakin Skywalker as a young boy. Of course, there was an action figure line at the time, produced by Hasbro, which offered us several figures of Anakin, a couple of them in the 3-3/4" scale, and one in the 12" scale, which was about 8-1/2" tall.
Episode I, for whatever reason, is not the most popular movie among Star Wars fans. But figures continue to turn up from it from time to time, and recently I discovered an Episode I Anakin Skywalker in the so-called "Vintage" Collection, and decided to add it to my collection. Why? Yes, I still have my original Anakins from the Episode I Collection. But -- I have my reasons.
Let's briefly look at the character of Anakin Skywalker, and then delve into this action figure. Anakin is one of those pop culture characters that doesn't really need all that much introduction, so this will be more of a summary than usual.
Anakin Skywalker is the son of Shmi Skywalker. According to Star Wars lore, he apparently didn't have a father. Somehow or other, Shmi and Anakin ended up in slavery on Tatooine, and when we first encounter them, they are owned by the Toydarian junk dealer Watto, who had won them from one of the Hutts.
Watto is certainly not going to win "Employer of the Year", and he was certainly capable of being cruel, but Shmi and Anakin had a small home to themselves, and obviously Anakin's innate mechanical expertise had impressed Watto. Anakin served as his shop-boy, cleaning up the place and searching for parts across Watto's junkyard when necessary, and repairing them when he could. Clever in his own right, Anakin had also built a pod racer, as well as the basics of a protocol droid named C-3PO, presumably from parts he had scavenged in the junkyard. Shmi's precise duties for Watto were never revealed to my knowledge.
While it is certain that their life wasn't pleasant, they managed. Anakin had a number of friends among other children in the area (some of them slaves like himself), and was known to sneak into town -- Mos Espa to be precise -- on more than a few occasions.
Enter the Jedi. When the Naboo Royal Starship bearing Queen Amidala and two Jedi by the name of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi landed on Tatooine to effect repairs, they went to Watto's junkyard to try to obtain parts. Anakin was immediately impressed by Qui-Gon, even though he didn't know he was a Jedi, and he was certainly taken with Padme, presumably one of the queen's handmaidens, but actually the queen in disguise.
Ultimately, in order to get the parts needed to repair their ship, Qui-Gon makes a wager with Watto over an upcoming pod race called the Boonta Eve Race, with Anakin entering the race. Even Watto admits that Anakin is a superb pilot, but he believes that the reigning champion Sebulba will win.
Qui-Gon convinces Watto to also wager Anakin's freedom, as well as the needed parts. Qui-Gon has determined that Anakin has the highest count of "midi-chlorians" in his bloodstream that he's ever seen. These are indicative of Force potential, and Qui-Gon starts to believe that Anakin may be the "chosen one" who will bring balance to the Force.
Anakin wins the race, Qui-Gon gets the parts he needs for the ship, as well as Anakin, and Anakin bids a tearful farewell to his mother. Qui-Gon could not arrange for her release.
The travelers head to Coruscant, homeworld of the Republic, and Qui-Gon presents Anakin to the Jedi Council, requesting to train him. He is turned down. Although the Jedi masters do not doubt Anakin's Force potential, despite being a young boy, he is technically too old to begin Jedi training. Qui-Gon is dispatched to Naboo to try to settle the Trade Federation embargo once and for all. Accompanying him are Obi-Wan and Anakin, whom he instructs to "observe", since he cannot actively train him.
A battle ensues, pitting the Trade Federations Droid Army against the combined forces of the Naboo Royal Guards and the Gungan Army. Anakin somewhat accidentally steals a fighter craft, and manages to bring down the control ship that's keeping track of all the droids. However, in a lightsaber duel against the Sith known as Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn is killed.
With peace restored to Naboo, the Jedi Council reluctantly agrees for Obi-Wan to train Anakin as a Jedi, and Anakin is inducted into the Jedi Order by the end of the movie.
Of course, Anakin's history proceeds from there. Episode II picks up ten years later. Anakin is now a young man with more a fair share of attitude. Meeting Padme Amidala again following an assassin's attempt on her life, he realizes how much he has missed her. He is also having troubling visions of his mother, whom he had left behind on Tatooine.
During the course of the movie's events, Anakin travels back to Tatooine, with Padme in tow. He looks up Watto, who admits that he sold Shmi to a moisture farmer years prior. The moisture farmer, one Cleigg Lars, then married her. Anakin heads to the farm, only to discover that his mother had been taken captive by Tusken Raiders -- Sandpeople -- weeks before. He tracks down their camp, and finds his mother just in time for her to recognize her grown-up son even as she dies in his arms. Anakin, in a fit of very un-Jedi-like rage, slaughters the entire camp.
Anakin's emotional wanderings don't end there. He confesses his love for Padme, who turns him down, realizing how difficult both of their lives are. However, following their capture on Geonosia, she acknowledges that she loves him, and following their rescue, they are secretly married.
Enter the Clone Wars -- and the animated series thereof. Following this is Episode III, where Anakin is now having troubling visions of Padme, who has just admitted that she is pregnant. Their secret marriage is likely to be revealed one way or another. Anakin's emotional turmoil and desperation to save Padme from what his visions reveal will be her death makes him a prime target for Chancellor-soon-Emperor Palpatine, a Sith lord who turns Anakin to the dark side of the Force, with him believing that it will help him to save Padme.
Anakin takes the name Darth Vader, aids in the raid on the Jedi Temple and the destruction of the Jedi, and then loses a pitched lightsaber battle to Obi-Wan Kenobi on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. What's left of Anakin is rescued by Palpatine, who has him rebuilt cybernetically into the Darth Vader we are most familiar with. Vader is told that Padme has died, which is accurate, but neither he nor Palpatine know about the twins, named Luke and Leia, that Padme delivered before she perished.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. But the question might well be asked -- there's certainly no shortage of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader figures across all the years of the Star Wars collection. Why would I want this particular one? That's a fair question.
It wasn't for the packaging, although that has been one of the selling points for the Vintage Collection. What Hasbro did was to take the basic design of the Star Wars toys from the original Classic Trilogy collection, and bring it into the modern day, including figures of characters that were never part of the Classic Trilogy. Even characters from the Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe have been worked into this line.
I have to admit, the package design is great. Granted, I come from the school of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", and it's impressive to see how well the design holds up. The card is mostly black, with the Star Wars logo printed in a simulated bright silver, in this instance with the logo of "The Phantom Menace" added in red inside a rectangle formed by part of the logo. A second round-edged rectangle in simulated silver dominates the front of the package card, with a photo of Anakin taking up the majority of the interior of the rectangle, and the figure itself comprising the rest, against a solid-color background, in this case green. Even the Kenner logo has been used, as they were the original producers of Star Wars figures.
The back of the card also greatly resembles the original series, with pictures of other figures and vehicles available in the line. But, as cool as the package is, it wasn't my main reason for buying this Anakin Skywalker.
Honestly, it was the design, detail, and articulation of the figure. This is Anakin as he appeared at the end of Episode I, having gotten his Jedi haircut (personally, this part of it wasn't an improvement) and his new Jedi wardrobe. But really, it was the attention to detail and the considerable articulation that really sold me on this Anakin.
And to explain that, a bit of history of the Star Wars action figure line is required. When the Star Wars figures first came on the scene in 1977, the entire design was considered something quite new. Prior to that point, most action figures had been around 8-12 inches in height, fully articulated, and had cloth uniforms or costumes. The market had been dominated by Hasbro's G.I. Joe, Mattel's Big Jim, and Mego's -- Super-Heroes and anybody else they could license.
A 3-3/4" action figure with only five points of articulation and plastic-molded clothing was unusual. And yet it was almost essential, given the scope of vehicles and other accessories that were going to be part of the Star Wars line. You couldn't do a Millennium Falcon for an 8" action figure. You'd've been hard-pressed to do an X-Wing.
The size caught on, and was certainly cemented in the action figure world both through Star Wars and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which was actually more articulated than Star Wars. Throughout its original run, the basic articulation of Star Wars figures remained unchanged. But with the end of the Classic Trilogy, and the short duration of a couple of animated spinoffs, the line eventually left the market.
Star Wars returned in 1995. The figures were still 3-3/4" in height, and articulated much as they had been before. The initial offerings were -- odd, in some respects. Heroes like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were given powerful physiques that He-Man would've considered excessive. This was eventually toned down to more plausible levels, and the detail level of the figures slowly increased in the ensuing years.
By 1999, with the advent of Episode I, Hasbro was doing an excellent job of making figures that looked very much like their cinematic counterparts. But they hadn't really touched articulation all that much. The figures from Episode I, including young Anakin Skywalker, were still limited to articulated at the head, arms, legs, and waist. A slightly later version of Anakin added knees and wrists, but more extensive articulation in Star Wars figures across the board was still a ways off.
Eventually, Hasbro would develop what they initially referred to as "Super-Articulated" Star Wars figures. These were Star Wars figures that had a full range of motion, and over time, it became as much of a standard as anything in the Star Wars line could ever be considered standard when one considers the scope of the line as well as the bizarre design of some of the characters.
Sadly, these days, Hasbro has taken a step back, and most Star Wars figures are returning to five points of articulation. Need it be said this has not been well received by the fan community.
However, let's now consider this Vintage Collection Anakin Skywalker. He most definitely has a very full range of articulation. The figure is poseable at the head, which is on a ball and socket design instead of just a side to side movement, arms, which move outward as well as back and forth, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, waist, legs, knees, including a swivel, and ankles, including a swivel. That's pretty impressive in a figure that doesn't quite reach 3 inches in height.
Interestingly enough, Anakin is entirely size compatible with his 1999 counterparts. They're all the same height and the same proportions. About the only noticeable difference, other than haircut and wardrobe, is the fact that the Vintage Collection Anakin has paler skin than his 1999 versions. But, maybe Coruscant's sun isn't as intense as the twin suns of Tatooine, and the kid lost that nasty sunburned look in fairly short order.
There's nothing at all wrong with the look of the 1999 Anakin. It looks like Jake Lloyd, the young actor who played the character. The hair is nicely sculpted and well detailed, and Anakin's simple tunic has been given a rough, fabric-like texture to it, and the wrappings around his boots are superbly detailed. His facial features are neatly painted, and he holds up extremely well for an action figure that's fourteen years old -- which is older than the character he represents, if you want to throw a little irony in. It's really a superb figure.
But it's just as evident that the Vintage Collection Anakin has been given the deluxe treatment. He looks just as much like Jake Lloyd as the earlier figure. In fact the features may be a little better defined. The headsculpt almost has that sort of half-grin that Anakin directed towards Padme just before the end credits ran. The hair is superb, right down to the odd little topknot in the back and the braid on the side, which can't have been the easiest molding job on the world. Tiny features such as the eyes and eyebrows have been meticulously painted.
The clothing is obviously different, since this is Anakin as a Jedi padawan, not as a slave boy. He's still dressed in light earth tones, though. The tunic is tan, and has a nice sculpted texture to it. Anakin seems to be wearing a whitish undershirt that can be seen at the collar and cuffs. He has an incredibly well detailed brown belt around his waist, with little gold and silver painted details around the buckle and elsewhere.
The tunic hangs well below the waist, but in order to allow for full leg articulation (which wasn't really too much of a problem on the 1999 versions), the front and back of the tunic are made from flexible plastic, but the sides are actually fabric! Nice touch, and certainly some impressive attention to detail.
The trousers are a lighter shade of tan than the tunic, and the boots, looking nicely smoothly polished, are brown, and certainly a step up from his slave boots with the wrappings around them, even if those had more sculpted detail.
Anakin comes with plenty of accessories. He has a training helmet, very nicely detailed in white and tan with black outlines. He has one of those spherical lightsaber training things that Obi-Wan used to train Luke on board the Millennium Falcon. This is secured to a transparent display base. And Anakin comes with a retracted lightsaber, and one with a full extended blade, light blue in color, that's almost as tall as he is. Watch where you wave that thing, kid.
So, what's my final word? This is a very impressive figure. If you're looking for the best detailed, and certainly best articulation, action figure of Anakin Skywalker as a boy, then here he is. I haven't paid all that much attention to the Vintage Collection, but the handful of figures that I have acquired from it, which also include the Republic Trooper and Ahsoka, have not disappointed. They've all been superbly articulated, superbly detailed renditions of their characters, and that certainly includes this Anakin. I believe any Star Wars fan would be pleased to have him.
The STAR WARS VINTAGE COLLECTION figure of ANAKIN SKYWALKER from EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE definitely has my highest recommendation!