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By Thomas Wheeler

Given the number of droids I've added to my Star Wars collection over the years -- well, if they were full-sized and I was living in the Star Wars universe, I could probably open up a used astromech droid lot. Anywhere but Tatooine. I don't want to have to deal with the Hutts or get my parts from Watto.

Still, I will readily admit a definite enjoyment of the little fireplugs, so when Walmart produced a four-pack "Battle Pack" called "Royal Starship Droids", I obviously had to have it.

In conjunction with the 3D release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Walmart has turned out an exclusive series of Star Wars figures that have a 3-D image on the back of their package cards. There are twelve individual figures -- including another astromech droid -- and two four-packs. The other one features young Anakin Skywalker, C-3PO, and a couple of Pit Droids.

But, I wanted the Starship Droids set. It's not like I'm lacking for astromech droids. I've got several dozen around here. But four in a box? I couldn't pass that up.

Obviously, as the set's name implies, the four droids represent the repair droids that were assigned to Padme Amidala's fancy silver Royal Starship. They were sent outside to carry out repairs in flight when the ship was taking fire from the Trade Federation that was blockading the planet Naboo.

It's probably a bit of a stretch to call this four-pack a "Battle Set". Technically, the scene in question involving the droids was something of a battle scene. On the other hand, the droids themselves didn't fare especially well. In fact, the only one to waddle away from it in the end was R2-D2. The scene was our introduction to him, and clearly displayed his fortitude and capabilities. As for the others -- well, I suppose "Battle Set" sounds a little classier than "Turkey Shoot". I mean, even the fifth, separately sold droid from this encounter, G8-R3, didn't get out of this one. They all got picked off and blasted off the ship's hull. If nothing else, you've got to admire the marksmanship of the Trade Federation, managing to hit a bunch of meter-tall droids on a speeding spaceship.

The four droids in the set include R2-R9, R2-N3, R2-B1, and of course, R2-D2. The 3-D image on the back of the package shows them all on the hull of the starship, about to commence repairs. The image uses the red-lens-green-lens glasses technique -- a pair of such glasses is included with the set -- and it works very well, really. I'll be honest, I'm ambivalent at best over the whole modern 3D movie and TV thing.

Obviously, I didn't buy the set for the picture on the back, and I can't blame Walmart for wanting to take some advantage of the 3-D re-release of the movie. My main interest was the droid figures themselves, and since they all start with the designation "R2", I think it would be prudent to consult an excellent book, the "Star Wars New Essential Guide to Droids", and see what it has to say about these astromech droids.

R-type astromech droids come in quite a range of numerical designations. The original R1 was actually a much larger droid. The R2 through R9 series are the more familiar, compact, cylindrical droids, but due in no small part to the participation of R2-D2 in the epic struggle of the Rebellion against the Empire, the R2 series is almost assuredly the best known. Here's what the book has to say about them, from an "in-universe" standpoint.

It has been generations since Industrial Automaton introduced their wildly popular R-series line. The company still has no serious competition in the astromech market. R-series astromechs make preeminent starfighter pilot counterparts and general maintenance droids, and the droids are infinitely customizable. To date, the line includes ten models, from the prototype P2 to the state-of-the-art R9.

The record-breaking R2 exploded the popularity of the astromech droid. This waist-high unit fits perfectly into the standard socket of a military starfighter. Once plugged in, the R2 unit can monitor flight performance, fix technical problems, and boost power from the shipboard systems. It can hold up to ten sets of hyperspace coordinates in memory, and possesses the intelligence to perform engine start-up and pre-flight taxiing. Standard equipment on an R2 includes two manipulator arms, an electric arc welder, a circular saw, a hologrammic projector, an internal cargo component, and a fire extinguisher. Many buyers have tricked out their R2s with add-ons including underwater propellers, booster rockets, magnetic-grip treads, and inflatable life rafts.

Any discussion of the R series is incomplete without noting the curious career of the R2 unit designated R2-D2. Artoo, as he has come to be known, first distinguished himself during the blockade of Naboo in 32 BBY. As the property of the Royal House of Naboo, Artoo executed risky extravehicular repairs to the Queen's starship while under heavy fire, enabling Amidala to escape the Trade Federation battleships and launching the little droid into a life of unprecedented heroism. Artoo served Amidala during her term as senator, flew with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars, carried the stolen plans for the Death Star prior to the Battle of Yavin, and became a loyal companion of Anakin's son, Luke Skywalker, throughout Luke's evolving roles as a Rogue Squadron ace and founder of the Jedi Academy.

And, of course, R2-D2 is one of the droids in this set. Unfortunately, the other three don't fare all that well. I looked up details on all four droids on the popular Star Wars Wiki-style Web Site "Wookieepedia", and whatever sort of distinguished careers the other three might have had will have to remain the stuff of speculation, since it was their collective unfortunate demises that were their most telling points. Here's what Wookieepedia had to say:

R2-R9 was an R2-series astromech droid. This droid, along with most other astromech droids on Queen Padmé Amidala's ship, was destroyed when it tried to fix the deflector shield generator while escaping the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo.

Belonging to the popular and robust R2 series, R2-B1 was much the same design as his more famous Astromech droid counterpart, R2-D2. R2-B1's last assigned duty was on Naboo, in the repair droid pool on the royal cruiser belonging to Queen Amidala. During the blockade of Naboo and the subsequent heroic escape, the ship carrying Queen Amidala was hit by enemy fire and damaged. The droids stored on board where sent out to repair the damage, R2-B1 was one of the droids destroyed in this event. Only R2-D2 survived to restore shield power to the cruiser.

R2-N3 was a green R2-series astromech droid. This droid was destroyed while fixing an imbalance on the starboard engines on Queen Padmé Amidala's ship while escaping the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo.

You know, there's nothing wrong with a good epitaph. But if it's all anybody has to say about you, that's more than a bit unfortunate...

Need it be said, there was a lot more about R2-D2, and I'm presenting only the most meager fraction of it herewith. If you're a particular fan of this droid, then head over to Wookieepedia after you're through reading this review. I recommend fixing a snack for yourself beforehand, however.

R2-D2, pronounced Artoo-Detoo and often referred to as Artoo, was an R2-series astromech droid manufactured by Industrial Automaton prior to 32 BBY. Resourceful and spunky, the droid developed an adventurous personality during his many decades of operation. Inside of his cylindrical frame were many arms, sensors, and other tools that could be extended to fulfill various needs, such as slicing computers, extinguishing fires, projecting holograms, repairing starships, and flying. Along with his counterpart, the protocol droid C-3PO, R2-D2 constantly found himself directly involved in pivotal moments of galactic history. His bravery, coupled with his many gadgets, played large roles in saving the galaxy time and time again. Like other astromech droids, R2-D2 could walk on two legs or use a third leg to roll across the ground.

In 32 BBY, R2-D2 was serving the Royal Engineers of Naboo aboard Queen Padmé Amidala's royal starship when the Trade Federation blockaded the planet. His maintenance work on the ship's hull while it was under fire, allowed the queen and her crew to bypass the blockade and flee the sieged world, and R2-D2 afterwards directly served the queen, playing a decisive role in liberating Naboo and and remaining with Amidala for another ten years, even as she transitioned to the role of senator eight years later.

When attempts on her life were made in 22 BBY and the Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker was assigned to protect her, R2-D2 and C-3PO accompanied the two to Geonosis and participated in a battle that started the Clone Wars, a galaxy-wide conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist Confederacy of Independent Systems. Amidala gave R2-D2 to Skywalker when he became a Jedi Knight, and the astromech droid faithfully served him throughout the war, often flying in the droid socket of Skywalker's starfighter or fighting next to him on the front lines.

The war was in fact orchestrated by the Republic's Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who was secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, and who brought the conflict to an end three years in, taking Skywalker as his Sith apprentice, wiping out the Jedi, and reorganizing the Republic into a Galactic Empire. In the aftermath of the war, R2-D2 and C-3PO were assigned to the Tantive IV of Alderaan, where they served Alderaan's viceroy Bail Organa for nineteen years. They were, however, separated from Organa during that time period, and got caught up in a wide variety of misadventures, ruining the gangster Tig Fromm, helping restore the Tammuz-an monarchy, and aiding the merchant Mungo Baobab in reviving his family's fortune, among other exploits.

After rejoining the crew of the Tantive IV, they became embroiled in the Galactic Civil War, and in 0 BBY, Leia Organa of the Rebel Alliance entrusted R2-D2 to bring a copy of the Death Star plans to the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. After meeting Skywalker's son Luke and the smuggler Han Solo, the droids helped rescued princess Leia from the Empire's Death Star and became directly attached to the three Humans, helping them and their rebellion defeat the Empire and restore freedom to the galaxy. R2-D2 would also assist Luke in his training as the galaxy's last Jedi Knight.

When the Rebellion became a New Republic, R2-D2 continued to serve Luke and the now-married Han & Leia Solo, helping them defeat remnants of the Empire; R2-D2 notably sliced into Palpatine's Galaxy Gun and used it to destroy the Emperor's fortress world of Byss, teamed up with C-3PO and a young mechanic named Cole Fardreamer to foil a plan to bomb the galactic capital of Coruscant, and recovered a copy of the Caamas Document, which allowed peace to be forged between the New Republic and the final remnants of the Empire. When an extra-galactic race of religious zealots known as the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the galaxy in 25 ABY, R2-D2 participated in the four-year conflict that eventually saw the invaders defeated.

Six years later, Luke and Leia discovered the identity of their mother via holorecordings found inside of R2-D2's memory, and R2-D2 remained at their side during the subsequent Second Galactic Civil War. The astromech droid was passed down to many subsequent generations of Skywalkers, and in 137 ABY, aided Cade Skywalker in fighting against a revived Sith Empire.

Wonder if his warranty was still good at that point? Interesting that the entry even makes some reference to his adventures in the "Droids" cartoon. And, you want a "tricked out" droid? Never mind the inflatable life raft, here's a list of some of R2-D2's various capabilities: Brooks Propulsion rocket booster; Cable gun; Oil injector; Claw arm; Fusion cutter; Holoprojector / Recorder; Internal comlink; Periscope; Electric pike; Propeller; Hidden lightsaber compartment with ejector; Fire extinguisher / Smoke Screen; Small Saw; Air Cannon; Crashmat; Lariat; Submarine Mode; Collapsible Umbrella -- and I'm going to stop before we get into some of the sillier stuff, like "Jukebox", "Flea Remover", and "Confetti-Creation Device". Still, it's a wonder all of this could be crammed into one small droid. Somebody was an expert at space management.

So, how are the figures? All very cool, and as one might expect, except for their color schemes, they're all pretty much identical. They bear an original date of 2008. Obviously over the years there have been many R2-droid toys produced, and it's not surprising that there have been updates and revisions from time to time for a variety of reasons. Let's not forget that the original R2-D2 toy was basically a plastic cylinder with a dome top, two legs out to the side, no accommodation for his third leg, and the details on his cylindrical body were printed on a sticker! Say what you will about some modern action figures, the R2-type astromech droid figures of today are certainly vastly more advanced than that, with fully sculpted details and third central legs.

In fact, the sculpted detail is excellent. Every little compartment door, vent screen, projector lens, whatever, has been fully sculpted and very nicely detailed. Check out the distinct cables on the feet! That's a separately molded part attached during assembly. The undersides of the three feet all have little rolling wheels. None of these droids are going to make it around a Hot Wheels track anytime soon, but it's a nice feature, and they do roll a bit on a smooth, level surface.

The central leg can be removed if you want your droids displayed in two-legged mode. It just pops out. There is another set of R2 droid molds out there where the third leg actually retracts inside the body. You turn the dome head to either retract or extend the leg. However, I have little doubt that that particular set of molds involves some internal mechanisms not present in this set of molds, and is almost certainly more expensive to produce. I have no objection with this set. These are perfectly fine droids.

Let's have a little look at them individually:

R2-R9 - This droid is predominantly red in color. He has a silver dome with red detailing, and a red cylindrical body and legs. His body has white detailing on the manipulator arms -- something of a reversal from most R2-type droids who might have a white body with colored arms. R2-R9 also has white detailing on his two side legs, and elsewhere on his body where a white-bodied droid might expect to have detail in some designated color.

R2-B1 - This droid is mostly blue in color. He has a silver dome with yellow detailing, and a red cylindrical body and legs that also have yellow detailing on them. Interestingly, the use of color on R2-B1 is actually more common to the usual pattern than on R2-R9. R2-R9's dome trim -- red -- matches the main color of his body. That's not usually the case. Usually the dome trim color matches the body trim color, which it does on R2-B1. It's just that he looks somewhat unusual, since he has a dark blue body, with yellow trim on his dome and body, where one would expect it, on the manipulator arms, the sides of the legs, and so forth.

There was actually a previous figure of R2-B1 some years ago, sold on an individual card. Reportedly, this version of R2-B1 has since become notoriously scarce. I don't know if this is because of lower production or because, at the time, he was certainly one of the more unusual-looking astromech droids.

R2-N3 - This droid is almost identical in appearance to R2-D2, with one notable exception. His trim color is green, not blue. He has a silver dome and a white body and legs with green trim. Additionally, one of the panels on his back has been painted silver. This is not a characteristic that R2-D2 (or any of the other droids) shares.

Now there is one thing I feel I need to mention about R2-N3. His color scheme is essentially identical to another astromech droid who was in Star Wars Episode I, who went by the designation R2-A6, and was reportedly the navigator droid for Ric Olie, one of Naboo's finest pilots. There was a 12" scale figure of R2-A6 at the time.

Now then, should it be considered all that unusual that there are two droids who are basically identical in appearance? No, I don't really think so. It's probably nothing that was intentional, but if one looks at this from an "in-universe" point of view, Industrial Automaton has no doubt turned out millions of R2-type droids, if not billions. It's a big galaxy. And there has certainly been plenty of variety. Heck, I've got one here that looks like he's covered in faded denim. I've got Mace Windu's purple astromech droid. I've got one wearing Mickey Mouse ears!

But it's probably not as unusual as one might think that there could be two identical droids, even in the same general area, such as Naboo. Think about this for comparison. Think of all the millions of cars in the United States alone, never mind around the world. All sorts of different makes, models, years, and colors. I would expect that most people reading this have, at least once, either walked up to a car in a large parking lot that they thought was theirs, and wasn't, it was just an identical or near-identical model and color, or at the very least, you've seen two identical cars of some sort very close to each other either in a parking lot (other than that of the car dealer) or on the road somewhere. So, two identically-colored droids? That's not much a stretch. I can readily accept that.

R2-D2 - Well, what can you say? One of the most iconic robots of all time, and this particular one is certainly not the first in my collection. Personally, my favorite is the one that if you press a concealed button on his torso, he blinks a red LED and makes droid noises. Nevertheless, I certainly have no objection to adding another R2-D2 to my collection. No doubt putting as prominent a droid as this in the set was considered a selling point, and for those who don't, for whatever reason, already possess a good, modern R2-D2 figure, it's a good opportunity to get one, and build a small astromech droid army at the same time. R2-D2, just in case the glaringly obvious needs to be stated, is the white droid with the silver dome and the dark blue trim.

All four of these droids have superbly well-applied paint trim. All have been very neatly done, and Hasbro is to be commended for this. Obviously, articulation is somewhat limited, just given the structure of the droids themselves, but their dome heads turn, their side legs move, their side feet move, their little wheels turn, and the third leg can be inserted or removed very easily.

You wouldn't think much in the way of accessories would come with a set like this, but you'd be surprised. Each droid has a little sort of compartment, that in reality is a representation of the elevator lift from the Naboo Royal Starship that allowed them to head out for their extravehicular repair activity -- and unfortunately get picked off in the process (well, three out of the four).

Additionally, each droid has his own distinctive card and base to allow him to participate in the Galactic Battle Game that has been promoted throughout all Star Wars action figures for a couple of years now. There have been a couple of store exclusives that have gotten left out of this, but this particular Walmart set has the necessary game equipment so that these four droids can be included.

So, what's my final word? Well, there may be those that would look at this set of four droids, all lined up in a neat little row in their package, and think, "Do I really need FOUR astromech droids?" To which I would say -- Come on, they're cute and you know it. Okay, maybe you've already got an R2-D2. Big deal. Another one isn't going to hurt. And you get the other three! That's four very nicely made astromech droids for your collection. They're well sculpted, superbly detailed, neatly painted. Come on, they're a great addition to any Star Wars collection! I'm pleased I have them, and I'm certain you will be as well.

The STAR WARS "ROYAL STARSHIP DROIDS" BATTLE PACK definitely has my highest recommendation!