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By Thomas Wheeler

It seems that most pop culture concepts have an individual or group of individuals that, when they show up, you just know they're going to be trouble. That is, more trouble than whatever usual trouble exists within that particular pop culture concept. In Star Trek Deep Space Nine, it was most likely the Jem'Hadar, the genetically-engineered warriors of the Dominion. These guys didn't even fear Klingons. In the WWE, as of this writing, anyway, it's doubtless the faction called The Nexus. A team comprised of relative unknowns, they came on the scene by staging an "invasion" of RAW, taking out hero and villain wrestlers alike, tearing apart the ring, beating up commentators, and generally trashing the place. They are allies with no one except themselves.

In the Star Wars Universe, it's got to be the Mandalorians. Although arguably best known through two Bounty Hunters, Jango Fett and his better-known clone/son, Boba Fett, the Mandalorians have developed a reputation that would make anyone this side of a Wookiee think twice before messing with them, and most Wookiees would probably know better, too.

And despite the fact that some of the Clone Troopers in the Clone Wars have received Mandalorian training, there's a faction of Mandalorian Warriors known as the Death Watch that don't seem particularly allied with either side of the Clone Wars, and they've been stirring up enough trouble lately to warrant inclusion in the Star Wars Clone Wars action figure line, specifically a Battle Pack that is a four-pack of Mandalorian Warriors.

This Battle Pack has proven rather elusive. I have seen all but one of them, and it's the one that I bought. And that's the other thing about bad guys like this. Say what you will -- they tend to be popular. And that's certainly true of anyone wearing the Fett-like Mandalorian armor in the Star Wars universe. Remember those Entertainment Earth exclusive packs of assorted-colored Mandalorians, from a few years ago? Remember how quickly those sold out? Kmart recently acquired an exclusive figure from the movie-based series, a fellow named Jodo Kast, dressed in Mandalorian armor. There's a Clone Wars figure named Pre Viszla, who's associated with these Mandalorians, and who has been near impossible to find. Star Wars fans like the Mandalorians. I consider myself fortunate to own this particular set.

The question needs to be asked -- who are the Mandalorians? That question is not easily answered. Or a least, it is not briefly answered. I called up "Mandalorians" on Wookieepedia, and was presented with an epic-length article that could give George Lucas another trilogy -- just about the Mandalorians. For those interested, I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend bringing a big plateful of snacks to your computer table before you call up the article. It'll take a while.

There's an opening quote by an individual trying to explain galactic politics to the Yuuzhan Vong, an invading force from a time after the Classic Trilogy. It sums up the Mandalorians rather nicely. "We think too often in terms of duality: Jedi or Sith, light or dark, right or wrong. But there are three sides to this blade, not two, opposed and similar at the same time. The third edge is the Mandalorians. The Mandalorians remain the most formidable enemy of the Jedi, but the Sith are not always their allies."

For a single culture within the Star Wars universe to be equated with the Jedi and the Sith is a pretty impressive achievement. How did this come about? The Mandalorians were a nomadic group of clan-based people consisting of members from multiple species and genders, all bound by a common culture.

In their early years, the Mandalorian culture revolved around battle, with war being a source of honor and pride in their community. The leader of the Mandalorians was known as the "Mand'alor", translating to "Sole Ruler" and was rendered in Basic as "Mandalore."

Throughout their history, the Mandalorians were frequently allied with the Sith, and held a certain distrust and general dislike for the Jedi Order. However, they would not hesitate to cooperate with the Jedi if a partnership between the two groups was mutually beneficial.

In later years, the Mandalorians moved away from their obsessively warlike and conqueror wars and instead, most became bounty hunters and mercenaries. However, the Mandalorian Protectors aided with the Alliance, and even continued to serve the New Republic.

When Boba Fett took the title of Mandalore years later, they were approached by the powerful Yuuzhan Vong to aid them as mercenaries, and while the offer was accepted, since the alternative would have been slavery of the Mandalorian homeworld, Fett managed to feed information to the New Republic, and while the Mandalorians continued to fight for the Vong in the early days of the Yuuzhan Vong War, they soon betrayed them and fought with the many other factions defending the galaxy.

Years later, as the Second Galactic Civil War began, Jaina Solo, daughter of Han and Leia, came to Fett asking to be trained as a Mandalorian Warrior. The Mandalorians ironically fought alongside the New Jedi Order in this conflict. With training from Fett and others, Jaina killed her Sith-corrupted brother, ending the war. Ultimately, in the span of over four thousand years, Mandalorians slowly changed from the feared Mandalorian Crusaders of the Sith Empire to the elite soldiers of the Jedi Coalition and later the reorganized Galactic Alliance.

For this particular review, it is appropriate initially to focus in on the Grand Army of the Republic. It is known that Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Jango Fett was recruited by Darth Tyranus, in truth Count Dooku, to be the genetic template for an army of clones being grown on Kamino for the Republic. In addition to donating his genetic material, Fett would stay on with the Kaminoans as a military consultant for the Grand Army, passing on many aspects of Mandalorian culture to his clones, including the initial design of their armor. While Fett trained the Alpha-class ARC Troopers personally, he recruited a team of one hundred other training sergeants, seventy-five of whom were other Mandalorians, to train the Grand Army's clone commandos. These sergeants were responsible for a massive influx of Mandalorian culture into the Clone ranks.

So where did the Mandalorian warriors of Death Watch come from? Technically, they arose centuries prior, and were obviously a main factor during a Mandalorian Civil War. But those are not the ones represented by this set. The Death Watch was a splinter group formed by Tor Vizsla. Their primary goal was to return the Mandalorians to their ancient roots as warriors, and advocated the savage raider mentality of the past. Seemingly scattered and disbanded until the beginning of the Clone Wars, they re-emerged under the leadership of Pre Vizsla, targeting Duchess Satine Kryze of the New Mandalorians.

This was around a time when the Republic had come to accept the peaceful New Mandalorian government as the dominant Mandalorian faction, and Mandalorians had been welcomed as a Republic member world, represented in the Senate by Senator Tal Merric. Under the New Mandalorian government, many areas of Mandalore, including the New Mandalorian capital of Sundari, had flourished, yet some more neglected provinces still remained destitute.

When the Clone Wars had broken out between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the leader of the New Mandalorians, the aforementioned Duchess Kryze, declared Mandalore neutral. Over a decade after the loss of their leader and the subsequent fragmentation at the end of the Mandalorian Civil War, it was into this environment that the Death Watch made a return to the galactic scene.

Unlike the other clans who merely stood apart from the New Mandalorians, the Death Watch despised the peace-loving government the New Mandalorians had established, viewing it as weak, and Kryze as a disgrace to all Mandalorians for her pacifist views. They allied with Count Dooku, now leading the Separatists, to gain the means necessary to remove them from power. The Death Watch sent an operative to conduct an attack on a Republic cruiser, while spreading rumors that the New Mandalorians were secretly raising an army to fight for the Separatists. When these rumors reached the Republic, the Jedi Council sent Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to Mandalore to investigate these claims. Kenobi met with Duchess Kryze to discuss Mandalore's stance in the war.

Kenobi and Kryze were old friends, having met years earlier when Kenobi and his master had been sent to Mandalore in the months after the end of the Civil War, to protect the Duchess from lingering Death Watch insurgents and bounty hunters.

During the course of his investigation, Kenobi bore witness to the Death Watch's bombing of a memorial shrine. When he attempted to apprehend the culprit, the man chose to commit suicide by leaping from a balcony. As he lay dying, Kryse stooped to comfort him and listened to his final words, spoken in the Concordian dialect. Kenobi turned his investigation to Mandalore's moon, Concordia. While welcomed by the governor, Pre Vizsla, Kenobi arranged for Kryze to distract Vizsla while he investigated the moon's abandoned mines. There, he learned that the mines were quite active, turning out armor and equipment for the Death Watch. Kenobi was captured, and although Kryze managed to rescue him, they stumbled upon the Death Watch's hideout where Governor Vizsla revealed himself to be the leader of Death Watch.

The Republic prepared to send a Grand Army contingent to Mandalore, even as Vizsla rallied an army to "defend" Mandalore against the "invading" Republic army. Ultimately, Mandalore remained neutral in the war, and Dooku talked Vizsla out of an attack, asking him to bide his time.

Right, and does anybody really think we've seen the last of the Mandalorians or of Death Watch? As it is, there's a figure of Pre Vizsla, this four-figure Battle Pack, and a Mandalorian Speeder vehicle out there with another Mandalorian warrior. These guys have been popular ever since Boba Fett first turned up, and not even George Lucas throwing him into the Sarlaac Pit in Return of the Jedi because he was disgruntled that a bad guy should be so popular has slowed them down. Heck, there's even a specific fan base for these guys that are called "Fandalorians". They'll be back. They're always back.

So, how are the figures? Abundantly cool and extremely impressive. Basically, what we have here are four identical figures, so you've got your own ready-made army -- or squad, anyway. There's a picture in the Wookieepedia entry for the Mandalorians that shows Vizsla standing in front of a contingent of these guys, so how cool is that? Add Vizsla to this set and you can recreate the scene right there.

"Army-building" is a popular thing for many collectors from any number of toy lines. Talk to any G.I. Joe collector about how many of this or that Cobra specialist trooper he has. I've got a generous supply myself. Hasbro's Marvel Universe and Marvel Legends lines have offered AIM Soldiers, HYDRA Soldiers, Kree Soldiers, Skrull Soldiers... Mattel recently offered a two-pack of Parademons in their Justice League Unlimited line, and they flew off of MattyCollector.Com quicker than Darkseid himself could have dispatched them. And certainly army-building has been popular within the realm of Star Wars, with Stormtroopers and Clone Troopers galore for literally decades now.

So some might say, "Why would you want four of the same figure?" Because I want a small army of them, that's why. And so would a lot of Star Wars fans. And certainly they have, given how scarce this set has proven to be.

Although there's certainly no set color scheme to Mandalorian armor -- that Entertainment Earth set a while back being proof enough of that, even if their extensive comic book appearances over the years aren't -- there is a certain set design to Mandalorian armor. The Wookieepedia entry for the Mandalorians specifically states that "Mandalorians wore very distinctive battle armor, including helmets with T-shaped visors that covered the entirety of their faces, and would provide inspiration for the helmets of the Republic's clone troopers. These helmets would eventually become strongly associated with the Mandalorian people."

Certainly, these figures have maintained that armor and helmet design. The helmet, I would describe as a cross between a dome and a trapezoid. It is round on the top, and somewhat flared at the base. It has two curved indentations on the front, on either side, and a black, T-shaped visor in the center. The chest armor is just about as distinctive to the Mandalorians, and consists of three pieces, roughly corresponding to either side of the chest and the abdomen, with narrow separation lines between them, and a small, separate section in the center between the two chest plates.

These Mandalorian Warriors also have wide belts, armor in the front of their lower torso, small armor plating on their shoulders, armor on their upper legs that also includes weapon holsters, armored knees, gauntlets, and armor on the front of their lower legs.

The "fabric" part of their uniforms is a fairly straightforward blue. The "fabric" near the chest and back plate is a darker blue, as is the blue color around the visors on their helmets. The helmets and armor are a dark metallic gray. There is also some white trim on the helmets, inside the curved indentations on the front.

The gauntlets and knee pads are a brighter silver in color, and their shoes are white-gray with dark gray, traded soles. There's a bit of tan around their belts. The left shoulder armor piece has an insignia on it, that looks like an outline of the small separate piece of armor in the center of the chest -- it is a red, elongated six-sided polygon with a broken outline around it. The right shoulder piece has a white symbol on it that looks something like a letter "L" with the vertical part of the letter curved forward. I'm assuming this may be either a unit emblem or a letter in the Mandalorian alphabet. Interestingly, the Wookieepedia entry on Death Watch shows them to have a distinctive emblem, which, as much as anything, looks like a silhouette of a roadkill pterodactyl. This does not appear anywhere on the figures. Maybe it wouldn't have looked like much at such a small size.

The only other evidence of color on these figures is a small indented area on one of the chestplates, that has been highlighted in red. Otherwise, the color palette for these figures tends to stick to the blues and grays, making them look more than a little like Jango Fett with their color choices, but I'm not sure this was intentional.

The paint work on the figures is all neat, and I saw nothing to make me think that any of the details were hand-painted, which I think would have been pretty difficult anyway. The paint jobs are very good, but not perfect. One Mandalorian Warrior has a bit of blue scraped away from his visor. Another one has a black visor that has not been painted as completely as it should, and on one, the little red emblem on the shoulder is missing a spot. Most of these, obviously, are relatively minimal glitches, and easily corrected by anyone with a steady hand and the right tools and paint. I'm not truly complaining. However, it is worth mentioning that one of the drawbacks to purchasing a multi-pack of figures, especially a scarce one when you can't look through multiple sets, is finding one where ALL of the figures are glitch-free. However, I would have to rank the overall paint work on these figures as well above average, and certainly within satisfactory levels.

Let's talk articulation. Let's definitely talk articulation, since it's something that has deservedly been very highly commended on these figures. Let's face it, the articulation on Star Wars figures can be all over the place, even on relatively human figures. Don't get me started on aliens where you're not even sure whether the figure has arms and legs to be articulated. I'm talking about those that come close to the human form. Most figures in the line these days have at least poseable heads, arms, elbows, legs, and knees. It's a downright disappointment if they don't. Many have articulated wrists, ankles, and either waists or mid-torsos, which tends to make it a little frustrating when a figure doesn't. The range of motion on any of these areas can vary slightly. One common complaint is that the legs on most Clone Troopers move forward and back, but not outward.

These figures are fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows -- including a swivel -- wrists -- including a swivel and back and forth movement; mid-torso, legs -- outward as well as back and forth; knees -- including a swivel; and ankles -- including a swivel. The closest you're going to come to this in the Clone Wars line is certain Clone Troopers -- which is one of the reasons I collect mostly Clone Troopers.

If you look at a Clone Trooper, most of his articulation points work well into the design of the armor, so they're not that apparent. The Mandalorian Warriors are not as heavily armored as the Clone Troopers, but even so, most of the articulation points work well into the design of the figure. The only really apparent articulation points are the elbows and knees, and the knees only from the back. These figures not only move superbly well, they look good doing so.

I'm all for excellent articulation in action figures -- up to the point where the limitations of design and plastic molding start to have a distinctly adverse effect on the look of the figure. And double-joints cross that line in my opinion. These Mandalorians are a superb study of what action figure articulation can and should be. The absolute worst thing I can say about them is that the hip movement is a little weird. It's like it's trying to be a ball and socket without the ball and socket. But it still works well if you know how to use it, and it honestly looks better than a lot of actual ball and socket designs I've seen.

You want accessories? You have them. One of these Mandalorian Warriors is wearing a couple of large additional gauntlets around his wrists. But they're not affixed. Any of the Warriors can wear one or both of them. They're identical in appearance, and while I'm not sure what they do, they look cool, with some impressive gadgetry on the top and two menacing-looking black protrusions jutting out.

Additionally, there are two types of pistols supplies, and one of them is such a perfect fit in the hands of the Mandalorian Warriors that they can actually grasp the gun and fit their finger into the trigger area! Given the occasional difficulty in getting certain small-scale action figures, including other Star Wars figures, to take hold of their weapons and look decent doing so, this is a nice change of pace.

The Mandalorian Warriors also come with jet packs, which fit nicely into their backs, and make them look even more like the Fetts. The designs are very much in line with what both Jango and Boba were known to use.

In addition, each Mandalorian Warrior comes with a display base, and a card to use with the "Galactic Battle Game" presently being promoted in all Star Wars toys. There is also a plastic die included. I haven't played the game myself, but I have little doubt that adding a squad of Mandalorians to the mix is bound to tip the odds in someone's favor.

So, what's my final word here? I am massively impressed. This is an exceptionally cool set of very distinctive and very impressive Star Wars Clone Wars figures, representing a popular and well-established faction within the Star Wars universe. The figures are well made, certainly highly articulated, and look very cool individually or as a group. Let your Clone Wars collection be warned! The Mandalorians are on the way! Seriously, any Star Wars collector would be delighted to add these figures to their collection. They are really incredible.

The STAR WARS CLONE WARS BATTLE PACK featuring the MANDALORIAN WARRIORS definitely has my highest recommendation!