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By Thomas Wheeler

It is difficult to escape the irony of so many Clone Troopers turning up in the Star Wars action figure line. Granted, that's not a complaint. This being the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars, the original movie, which had Stormtroopers, not Clone Troopers, I didn't really expect to see that many Clone Troopers this year.

Fortunately, Clone Troopers are popular. They're also excellent "army-builders" for people who like to buy multiples and build their own massive divisions -- and I have seen photographic evidence of this. So it is to Hasbro's advantage, as well as that of the retailers, to keep Clone Troopers in the mix of action figures at any given time. This, as such, is also to the advantage of collectors, who like to buy them and build their ranks in their collections.

The Clones, officially known as the Grand Army of the Republic, are the creation of the cloners of the mysterious planet Kamino. They are based on the genetic foundation of a bounty hunter named Jango Fett, and specifically designed as soldiers and warriors. They first appeared in Star Wars Episode II, appropriately titled "Attack of the Clones", and appeared more extensively in Star Wars Episode III. Ultimately, of course, it was revealed that they were an integral part of the plan on the part of the Sith, personified by Palpatine, to destroy the Jedi Order and take control of the galaxy. And they were pretty effective at it, too.

For all of the various divisions and types that have been seen, there are, at the most basic level, two types of Clone Troopers -- the ones seen in Episode II when they were just starting out, and the ones seen in Episode III when they'd spread out through the galaxy and had been through numerous battles with the Separatists and their armies of Battle Droids.

The most visible difference between the two types is with regard to helmet design. The Episode II helmet design fairly closely resembled Jango Fett's Mandalorian helmet, with some evidence of the Stormtrooper helmet creeping in. The eye area was a narrow slit, tapering into a vertical slit that merged into a sort of "mouth". The Episode III helmet design could best be described as a midpoint design between Episode II helmets and those of the Imperial Stormtroopers. The visor was larger and had more distinctive "eyes" although there was still a narrow vertical slit in the center that tapered into a "mouth". This slit was gone by the time of the Stormtroopers. The Episode III Clone Troopers also had more of a "jawline" to their helmets than their predecessors, which was carried over significantly into the Stormtroopers.

There were, of course, other differences. The Episode III Clone Troopers are regarded, within the Star Wars Universe continuity, as wearing "Phase II" Armor. But the most apparent difference between the two remains the helmet design.

I'll be honest -- I like the Episode III design better than the Episode II. It's just a cooler helmet. I also like the various trim colors, patterns, and designs, something that, for the most part, the Episode II Clones lacked. Not surprising since they were just starting out.

However, that doesn't mean I'm going to pass up interesting Episode II Clones when they become available. And recently, they did. Although technically, it's not just a Clone Trooper. It's a Clone Trooper Officer. And it's not even entirely appropriate to refer to it in the singular. There's four variations out there.

And this requires some explanation, both within the Star Wars Universe, and the action figure world. Within the Star Wars Universe, when the Clone Army was just getting started, most of the Clone Troopers wore plain white armor. There were, however, officers of various ranks, who could be denoted by colored striping on their uniforms. This was before the various specialties and divisions that we came to know in Episode III, where a wide range of color schemes and patterning not only denoted rank, but also which Division a Clone served in, and such.

For the Episode II Clone Troopers, it was simpler. Yellow trim meant a Clone Commander. Green trim meant a Clone Sergeant. Blue trim meant a Clone Lieutenant. And Red trim meant a Clone Captain.

Although these figures have all turned up at one point or another in the Star Wars action figure collection, the recent release is the first time that all have been available at the same time at retail, on individual cards. The only other prior release of all four Clone Trooper Officers at the same time like this was a boxed set offered by an online store.

Now, Hasbro isn't making a big deal out of this. I wasn't even aware that all four were available. The package for this Clone Trooper Officer shows a Clone Officer with blue trim. He is portrayed on both the front and the back of the package. No other colors are shown, although Red and Green are mentioned in the character profile.

A sidebar -- for whatever reason, Yellow is not. I don't know why. I theorize that it may be because Yellow denotes a Clone Commander, and there's an Episode III Clone Commander that was recently released, as well, and Hasbro might have wanted to avoid confusion. However, I think this is a bit of a stretch. I'm honestly not sure why it was left out of the profile.

The first Clone Trooper Officer I found had indeed been painted with Blue trim. I assumed that was it until I was given the information about the others, and even then, I was a bit skeptical. I try not to believe these types of "rumors" unless I can check it for myself. However, the theory was validated not long after, when I came across a Yellow-trimmed Clone Trooper Officer.

Let me say that as of this writing, I have yet to see a Red-trimmed Clone Officer, or a Green-trimmed one. And it surprises me a bit that Green would be in the mix, since that figure, representing a Clone Sergeant, was a fairly recent release on his own, going back less than six months if memory serves. However, reports of all four Clone Officers have popped up too often and in too many places for me to dispute it at this point, and it is to Hasbro's credit that they chose to offer all four.

I don't know that any of them are exclusive to any store, but for what it's worth, I found the Blue-trimmed one at one store, and the Yellow-trimmed one at another. However, someone reported finding a Red-trimmed one as well. I doubt any are exclusives.

The color trim, it should certainly be noted, appears on the helmet around the visor, and in a vertical stripe that runs from the base of the helmet, over the top including the small "fin", and in two stripes along the sides. There is also color trim running from the shoulders to the wrists, and in a small series of dots on the chestplate.

It's also worth mentioning that SOME of these, strangely not all of them, have a sticker on the package bubble that reads, "FANS' CHOICE". I can certainly understand that it would be. Clones are always popular, some people like the Episode II Clones better than the Episode III, and this is a good way to get figures of all four Officer divisions at once. I'd call that a Fan's Choice, definitely. Why only some of the packages have the sticker I have no idea. Which package version is more common I really don't know and don't particularly care, although I'm sure there will be plenty of collectors wanting both package versions of every Clone Officer version if that's even an achievable objective. I, for one, pay far less attention to the package, and much more to the contents. I'm buying a figure, not a piece of cardboard and a plastic bubble.

The Clone Trooper Officer figure, regardless of the trim color, is excellent. It uses the "Super-Articulated" body, which means it is not at all pre-posed and doesn't have any silly gimmick mechanisms in it. The figure is poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including swivels), wrists, mid-torso (which is very poseable and pretty well makes up for the lack of waist articulation), legs, knees (including swivels), and ankles.

I think one of the reasons I've always liked the Clones is that the articulation blends in well with the figure design. Even the mid-torso articulation blends in well, and there's not a lot of action figures from any like that can say that. I've seen others try, and more often than not, it looks ridiculous.

But between the armor design itself and the fact that most of the moveable points on the humanoid form are areas where the armor isn't, instead showing the black undersuit, I think what we have here, really, is one of the best examples of an overall character design that was almost meant to be turned into an action figure that allowed for the greatest level of articulation and the greatest ability to conceal that articulation within the design. Even within the Star Wars line, a Jedi is not going to be able to hide his articulation points within his tunic and robe as well as this. Maybe some droids do this better, but the Clones certainly excel at it. Hasbro has created here an excellent set of molds that I sincerely hope continues to see use, especially with the expected Clone Wars CGI animated series commencing in 2008.

One other thing I appreciate about these Clone Trooper Officers is that they're CLEAN. Take a look at Episode II Clone Troopers, and an awful lot of them are pretty dirty and scuffed up. I know, some collectors like this. I know, by Episode III these soldiers have been through some serious battles. Am I supposed to believe that they haven't had ANY down time to clean up a bit? Dirtying an action figure is a practice I have never approved of, regardless of the line it's been used in, unless the character in question has NEVER been clean for whatever reason, and I have to say that I am very pleased that these Clone Trooper Officers are not dirtied in any way.

The character profile on the back of the package reads as follows: Clone Trooper armor is marked with color-coded flashes. At the beginning of the Clone Wars, the colors signify rank (red for captains, blue for lieutanants, green for sergeants). By the end of the war, the flashes come to signify specialized units uch as the Galactic Marines and the Shock Troopers.

That's a bit of a stretch. The Galactic Marines had entirtely different armors, and I know of at least three different color versions of Galactic Marines out there. But as a basic summary, it's not bad, although the omission of the yellow trim on the listing is odd.

Any and all of the Clone Trooper Officers are certainly very cool and impressive additions to the Star Wars action figure line, and if you're a fan of that line, and particularly of the Clone Troopers, you're assuredly going to want to locate them and add them to your collection. All four of the Clone Trooper Officers definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation!