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REVIEW: STAR WARS G8-R3 ASTROMECH DROID
By Thomas Wheeler

There are two types of Star Wars figures that will more often than not attract my attention -- Clone-and-Stormtroopers, and Astromech Droids. I have quite the collection of the little high-tech fireplugs these days.

A new one turned up that I had not seen, nor was I even aware of his impending release. As it turned out, this is likely because I discovered that he's part of a 2012 Walmart exclusive assortment of Star Wars figures that have been released on the newly-redesigned packaging that's taking advantage of the fact that Episode I has been re-released to theaters this year -- in 3D, for those who care -- and the packaging rather prominently features Darth Maul's ugly mug scowling in the upper right.

The droid's name is G8-R3. This is unusual on two counts. For one thing, most Astromech Droids have designations that begin with the letter "R", which is followed by a number that represents the specific series of Astromech droid that they're from.

Astromech droids, according to the Star Wars New Essential Guide to Droids, which I'll be getting more in depth with shortly, are numbered R1 through R1. The R1's were a much larger droid. R2s through R9s were variations on the shorter droids that we're familiar with, and all tended to look somewhat alike, with a certain amount of variance unique to the particular series.

But here is where we have another slight problem with G8-R3. If we take the R3 part of his name as representative of his series, then it doesn't match. G8-R3 does not have the appearance of a standard R3 droid. He looks more like an R5, the best-known representative of which was R5-D4, the red-trimmed droid sold by the Jawas to Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen, that popped his top about thirty seconds after the sale..

The Wookieepedia entry on G8-R3 is a short one, but it may shed a certain amount of light on the situation:

G8-R3 was an astromech droid in the service of the Royal Naboo Security Forces in 32 BBY. He had the head of an R5-unit on the body of an R2-unit. He was destroyed by a blaster bolt fired by the Trade Federation ships blockading Naboo while attempting to repair Queen Amidala's royal starship.

In Star Wars Insider 58's Star Wars Q&A section, Pablo Hidalgo explains that droid names are usually fragments of much longer serial numbers. He uses G8-R3 as an example, speculating that his real name might have been something like "R5-X41238-G8-R3-3124-D2."

And there is the R5. And technically, this explanation makes a lot of sense. Consider license plates for cars. Traditionally, most states have used license plates that have three letters and three numbers. However, over time, this becomes insufficient, especially in more populated states with more drivers. For years, California has added a number to the start of the rest of the license place. Thus, there can be one plate that reads "4ABC123", and another that reads "5ABC123". This literally increases the number of possible license plate combinations by well over a million, since there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet -- and no, I'm not going to do the math.

Now imagine the Star Wars galaxy. Anybody really think that a given series of droids is just going to have its "R" designation, followed by one letter and a number? That makes for a pretty limited production run! Pablo Hidalgo's explanation makes a lot of sense, and while it might seem that a more appropriate name for this droid might be "R5-X4", one might also believe that the droid's owner could call it whatever it wanted to. C-3P0 was frequently referred to simply as "Threepio", and R2-D2 was also called "Artoo", even by C-3P0. If Queen Amidala wanted to pull some letters and numbers out of the middle of the droid's full designation and call it "G8-R3", that was her business.

As for G8's obvious appearance as an R5-type droid -- he probably would've been better off as an R3. All R-series Astromech Droids are built bu a company called Industrial Automaton, which for generations has had no serious competition in the business with regard to this particular type of droid. Obviously the R2 unit is the best known, because of the galactic-level heroism of R2-D2. It's also one of the most popular type of astromech droids.

The R3, just for the record, was a military model, almost identical to the R2 model in appearance, except for the fact that it had a transparent dome. The Republic ordered 125 million of them, and they were also used by the Empire.

Then we have the R5, which if nothing else proved that even a winning droid manufacturer isn't perfect. According once again to the Star Wars New Essential Guide to Droids: The R5 was a total flop, called a "meter-tall stack of the worst business decisions you could possible want" by Mechtech Illustrated. Introduced as the least expensive astromech in the marketplace, the R5 quickly accumulated a litany of customer complaints, including, but not limited to: chronic overheating, jammed servos, loose bearings, and blown motivators (which was what took out R5-D4). The R5 bears a distinctive flowerpot-shaped head marked with three tiny photoreceptors. R5's could be purchased in bulk for next to nothing, but their one-jump hyperspace capacities made them nearly useless as starfighter cohorts. After a few lamentable sales seasons, Industrial Automaton retired the R5 line just prior to the Clone Wars.

Interesting description there, "flowerpot-shaped head". I've always called it sort of trapezoidal. But I wonder how many inhabitants of the Star Wars galaxy stuck with these things might've decided to just scrap the droid and keep the head as a planter...

I have no idea what G8-R3's overall behavior or operational level might have been. One might hope that he fared better than R5-D4. On the other hand, he managed to have about fifteen seconds of fame in the Episode I movie, as one of the droids who went outside the Naboo Royal Starship to repair it in transit, and got himself blown to space scrap for his trouble, the only survivor of that particular encounter being R2-D2. Whatever skills G8-R3, or the others, for that matter, might have had, it clearly didn't include dodging blaster fire. One might like to think well of the droid, in that if he was assigned to the repair crew of as important a vessel as the Naboo Royal Starship, that he functioned better than the average R5 Astromech Droid.

So, how's the toy? Very nicely done. Now, in fairness, sometimes it's a little hard to come up with something interesting to say, especially since I've reviewed quite a few of these droids over the years. However, you've got to admit, they're all a lot more impressive than back in the 70's, when the original R2-D2 wasn't much more than a plastic cylinder with a sticker wrapped around his torso with his details printed on it. These days, those details are sculpted into the figure!

Although there have been other R5-series droids besides this one and R5-D4, a comparison is not inappropriate. And unfortunately, even on a toy level, R5-D4 doesn't come off all that well. For one thing, G8-R3 is a lot cleaner. Okay, the cargo hold of a Jawa Sandcrawler certainly isn't going to be as neat as the droid hangar of a Naboo Royal Starship. Even so, I guess some people know how to take better care of their droids than others.

One thing about the R5-D4 toy that has always annoyed me, though, and I know that R5-D4 has been reissued since, and I would like to think that this matter has since been corrected, but when I bought the one that I own, the three tiny little photoreceptor "eyes" were clearly hand-painted. That was annoying enough, but they weren't even hand-painted very well. Just several globs of pewter-colored paint slapped over the sculpted details. Now, I realize we're talking about a mass-production environment here, so any sort of precision on such small detail areas is going to be next to impossible, but this particular R5-D4 is one of the best examples of why I believe it is ALWAYS worth it to create proper stencils for detail areas to be painted on action figures, regardless of the line or the company making the product.

In contrast, the photoreceptors on G8-R3 are clearly painted through a proper paint stencil, and they have, as one would expect, been painted very neatly and with great precision.

As I studied the two droids, I realized that they did not come from the same set of molds. Although the painted detailing is somewhat different, and not just with regard to color and placement, some of the sculpted details are slightly different. The two droids, not surprisingly, are extremely similar. But there are a few differences here and there.

Most notably, R5-D4 has a little action feature. Rotate his head, and the "motivator" on his head pops up, a comparison to when he malfunctioned in the movie, and basically his motivator unit popped out of the top of his head and probably landed on the far side of the Jawa Sandcrawler. For those of you that, like me, get annoyed when your computer malfunctions, take some solace in the fact that at least it's not throwing parts at you. At least I hope it isn't.

G8-R3 has no such function. This might well lend credibility to my theory that he was an above average R5 unit who performed his duties far more capably, and whose only real operational problem was getting in the way of some Trade Federation blaster fire, which certainly wasn't his fault, and from a toy standpoint, isn't something I'd want to see duplicated in some sort of action effect anyway.

R5-D4 has a mostly white body, with red trim. This, along with the "flowerpot" head, made him easily distinguishable from the blue-trimmed R2-D2, although R5-D4 did have some dark blue trim elements on him on the sides of his legs.

G8-R3's trim color is a deep yellow, also on a mostly white body, but the placement of the trim is different. As one would expect, the two horizontal lines across the front are painted, but whereas R5-D4 has two side doors painted red, they are left white on G8-R3.

Both droids have silver trim around their "necks", for lack of a better term, that is also sculpted detail. But R5-D4 has a second silver lone below that which G8-R3 lacks. Conversely, G8-R3 has a segmented yellow line running around the perimeter of the base of his head, while R5-D4 has a solid red line running around the top of his head. And the trim color on the side of G8-R3's legs is the same deep yellow as the rest of him.

G8-R3 has adjustable side legs, with feet that pivot to allow him to lean back and assume the three-legged mode that all Astromech Droids are capable of. His third leg is a separate piece, which can be inserted into a slot on the underside of the main body. While this is perhaps not as cool as the retractable leg that some R2-droid action figures have had, I suspect that that particular feature is a mechanism that is restricted to that type of droid, since it's dependent on the rotating head to function. It probably hasn't been fitted for the different head designs of R5's. For that matter, I have a couple of R4's here, and they can't do it, either.

The underside of G8-R3's three legs each have a small wheel, to allow him to roll along a smooth surface. He's not going to win a race against a Hot Wheels car, but it does a nice job of simulating the rolling wheels of the actual droid.

The overall detail work on the figure is extremely impressive. I know I made a comparison to the 1970's "cylinder with a sticker" earlier, but really, Hasbro does a great job with the modern droids as far as excellent detail is concerned. Take special note of the cables protruding from the feet. That's some serious attention to detail.

Obviously, these droids are not going to be specialists of articulation. Nevertheless, G8-R3 moves capably enough, certainly to the degree that one would expect. His head turns, his legs move, and his feet are poseable. And there's the rolling wheels.

G8-R3 comes with a fairly large accessory. It's a replica of the lift mechanism that transported him from within the Naboo Royal Starship to its exterior to attempt repairs. It's a well-made and nicely detailed piece, even if it's something of a portent of doom for this particular droid.

G8-R3 also comes with a card, stand, and plastic die to enable him to participate in the Galactic Battle Game that Hasbro has been promoting throughout the Star Wars line for quite some time now. I'm honestly surprised that it's carried on this long, and into this new package design, not to mention a store exclusive item.

Speaking of the package design of a store exclusive item, I'd like to address one special feature of the package. Doubtless to commemorate the fact that Episode I is being re-released in a 3D format, the package has a typical pair of red-lens/blue-lens 3D glasses, and there's a 3D style picture of G8-R3 on the back. It works well enough.

So, what's my final word? I'm very pleased with this droid. He might not have lasted terribly long in his scene in Star Wars Episode I, but he's a fine addition to my Star Wars collection, which includes a substantial supply of Astromech Droids at this point, and he's certainly a distinctive enough representative in that collection, which really doesn't have very many R5-type droids among its population.

If you're a Star Wars collector, especially one who enjoys the droids, you'll want to head to Walmart and track down this newest member of the fireplug set.

The STAR WARS action figure of Astromech Droid G8-R3 definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!