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By Thomas Wheeler

There can be no question that among the various groups and factions within the Star Wars universe, the Mandalorians are among the most popular. We first got to know them, even if we didn't have a name for them, through the Bounty Hunter known as Boba Fett, who proved to be so popular that not even George Lucas' attempt to kill him off in "Return of the Jedi" lasted for any length of time. According to legend, Lucas was annoyed that a lower-level villain had become so popular, and tossed him into the mouth of the Sarlaac in the third movie, rather embarrassingly, figuring that would be the end of that. Didn't work. He survived in various comic and prose stories.

Finally relenting, Lucas worked him into the Special Edition of the first movie, where he previously hadn't been, and then introduced us to his father, Jango Fett, in the second of the prequel movies, "Attack of the Clones", which also introduced us to a young Boba Fett, where we learned the truth about Boba's origins. He wasn't a natural-born son, he was a clone! In fact, Jango Fett was the genetic basis for the entire Grand Army of the Republic!

But apart from this, we got to know more over the years about the Mandalorians, again through comics, novels, and other media, from whom Jango Fett, and, a little indirectly perhaps, Boba Fett had come. And the whole lot of them proved to be enormously popular, and continue to be so to this day.

Certainly they have been popular in the toy world. Any action figure of Boba Fett is likely to fly off the shelves. It's a little ironic, since the first Boba Fett action figure back in 1979 was a mail-order toy, and garnered some action figure history of his own when his spring-loaded, missile-firing jet pack had to be reworked after a child had an incident with a completely unrelated spring-loaded toy from a different company entirely and the parents threw a fit.

But Boba is hardly the only Mandalorian out there. A set of assorted Mandalorian characters, all in various colors of Boba-esque armor, including a few females, produced for EntertainmentEarth, sold out in short order. A recent figure of Jodo Kast, a Boba Fett pretender, was a Kmart exclusive, and despite a higher price tag, proved abundantly popular. And that's just in the movie-based "Saga Legends" line.

And now, the Mandalorians have invaded the Clone Wars! The popular CGI animated series has finally brought in these legendary warriors. And the toy line from Hasbro has followed suit -- although you'd hardly know it on the toy shelves unless you're lucky enough to find them.

Now, also brought into the Clone Wars concept is a still quite young Boba Fett. He's teamed up with a couple of Bounty Hunters, Aurra Sing and Bossk, to make trouble for the Jedi, whom he blames for his father's death on Geonosis. And there have been some related toys. But he's not the Mandalorian I want to talk about. Entirely separate from this, the Mandalorians have stuck their helmets into the Clone Wars, and have been causing a fair amount of chaos.

To date, there have been four Mandalorian toys, or toy sets. There has been a four-pack of Mandalorian Warriors. There has been an individually-carded Mandalorian Warrior who is identical to the ones in the four-pack. There has been a figure of Pre Vizsla, the leader of this particular faction of Mandalorian Warriors. And there is a Mandalorian Speeder vehicle, with its own distinctive Mandalorian Warrior driver.

None of these toys have been easy to find. I have seen all of two of the four-packs in all of my visits to various stores. I bought one of them. I have seen two individual Mandalorian Warrior figures. I bought one of them. I have seen three Pre Vizsla figures. I bought one of them. In other words, as highly as I would recommend any of these toys, good luck to you in finding them.

Let's take a look at the Mandalorians, and their activities during the time of the Clone Wars, with a little help from the highly informational Star Wars Web Site known as "Wookieepedia".

The Mandalorians were a nomadic group of clan-based people consisting of members from multiple species, 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.

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 ways and instead, most became bounty hunters and mercenaries. However, the Mandalorian Protectors sided with the Alliance and even continued to serve the New Republic after the fall of the Empire.

The Mandalorians began as the near-human Taung species from the planet Coruscant. Intense fighting with the thirteen Human nations of Coruscant known as the Battalions of Zhell began in 200,000 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), and later, a powerful volcano nearly wiped out the humans on the planet. Despite the volcano's devastating effect, the Taung were driven off Coruscant and took refuge on the world of Roon. Led by the warlord known as Mandalore the First, they would conquer another planet in the Outer Rim in 7,000 BBY, which they named Mandalore after their leader.

The overall history of the Mandalorians on the Web Site goes on for many pages at this point. It's fascinating reading and I certainly recommend it, but let's catch up to some details more related to the current toys.

In approximately 730 BBY, following a significant growth in Mandalorian militancy that alarmed the Republic and the Jedi, a brief and targeted conflict broke out that brought devastation to the Mandalore sector. While many of the warrior clans scattered, the New Mandalorian faction took hold, putting forth the ides that the best opportunity for Mandalorian survival and prosperity would come through being peaceful, neutral, and tolerance. Upon instituting these changes, any of the Mandalorians in their society who refused the reform were banished to Mandalore's moon, Concordia.

Some years later, this gave rise to Tor Vizsla, the leader of a group of Mandalorians who desired a return to the warriors ways, calling themselves the Death Watch. They became embroiled in a bitter civil war with the New Mandalorians. This conflict eventually involved Jango Fett, the Republic, and the Jedi. To make a long story short, although the Death Watch scored a number of victories, Jango Fett scored the final blow, causing the remaining Death Watch members to scatter, and supposedly their threat was ended.

Now we come to the time of the Clone Wars. Jango Fett has become the genetic basis for the Grand Army of the Republic, and has enlisted the aid of several fellow Mandalorians in training commando squads of Clone Troopers. The Republic had come to accept the peaceful New Mandalorian government as the dominant Mandalorian faction, and Mandalore had been welcomed as a Republic member world, represented by Senator Tal Merrik.

When the Clone Wars broke out, the leader of the New Mandalorians, Duchess Satine Kryze, declared Mandalore neutral. It was into this environment that the Death Watch made a return to the galactic scene. Unlike other splinter clans who merely stood apart from the New Mandalorians, the Death Watch despised the peace-loving government the New Mandalorians had established. They allied with Count Dooku and 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 Obi-Wan Kenobi to Mandalore to investigate the claims, as he and Kryze were old friends. Following an attack on Mandalore, Kenobi turned his investigation toward Mandalore's moon. Concordia. While welcomed by Concordia's governor, Pre Vizsla, Kenobi subsequently proceeded to investigate the moon's supposedly abandoned mines, which were actually quite active, churning out armor and supplies for the Death Watch. It was ultimately revealed that Governor Vizsla was the leader of the Death Watch, and he was indeed raising an army of new Death Watch soldiers.

I don't want to ruin any more of the story for you than that. You can either read about it on Wookieepedia, or look up the Clone Wars episodes on DVD -- or should Cartoon Network happen to rerun them.

Now, any organized army is going to need vehicles, and that includes the Mandalorian Death Watch. In this case, they have speeders. According to the package back: Mandalorian commandos in the Death Watch splinter group ride security speeders for quick-strike attacks. Like all Mandalorians, they are highly skilled warriors who have perfected the art of battle. Their repulsorlift speeders are customized with binders to capture enemies during raids. The design of their helmets pays homage to battle helmets worn by Mandalorian warriors in the past.

So, how's the toy? Very nicely made, but I found myself somewhat frustrated in trying to track down any specific "in-universe" technical particulars for the Speeder vehicle.

Speeders, or Speeder Bikes, as they are sometimes called, are nothing new to the Star Wars universe. We first saw them in the movie Return of the Jedi, which admittedly takes place after the events of the Clone Wars. Perhaps best described as hovering motorcycles with extended fronts, which were clearly needed for stability, since after Luke Skywalker hacked off the front end of one with a lightsaber the vehicle went into an out-of-control spiral that ended in a very nasty and explosive crash, the Speeder Bikes were part of a show-stopping chase scene between Luke, Leia, and a number of Imperial Biker Scouts, which was actually filmed in California's Redwood Forest, filling in for the Forest Moon of Endor.

The scene proved hugely popular, and so did the vehicles. Toys were quickly produced. Imperial Biker Scouts remain popular action figures to this day, and there has even been a 12" scale Speeder Bike, produced some years ago, and 12" figures of the Biker Scout and Princess Leia in her Endor Rebel Uniform exist.

A second version of a Speeder Bike, a somewhat stumpier version, called a "Swoop", came along some years later, as part of the "Expanded Universe" fiction that was created to take place around the same time of the Classic Trilogy. A toy was made of this, as well, and George Lucas even worked one into the Special Edition of the Classic Trilogy.

Of course, as the Prequel movies got going, it was decided that Speeders would be included. Some bore strong resemblances to the Speeder Bikes from Return of the Jedi. Others less so, although they still had certain similar design elements, such as extended front ends and relatively narrow profiles. They were still recognizable as Speeders, even if some of the particulars differed.

Although they did operate as hovering vehicles, and so could technically fly, the Speeder Bikes from Return of the Jedi were stated to have a flight ceiling of about twenty-five meters. One assumes the same, or similar, is true for most models.

I couldn't really find out anything specific about the Mandalorian Speeder. I was told that it had only appeared in the Clone Wars episodes featuring the Mandalorians, so perhaps there simply hasn't been time -- or reason -- to develop a full technical profile for it as there might be for more frequently seen Speeders. The only real clue is the reference on the package back that calls it a "Security Speeder", but that really isn't much to go on.

The Mandalorian Speeder is an odd-looking vehicle, quite different from the average Speeder Bike. It totally lacks the extended front end. The front half of the vehicle almost -- almost -- looks like a conventional, if decidedly futuristic, motorcycle. It is somewhat wider than the rear portion of the speeder, with rather conventional-looking handlebars. It is somewhat wedge-shaped -- in face the entire speeder is rather angular in appearance -- and has a small console in front of the seat, right where one would expect to find it on a standard motorcycle.

Now, admittedly, the thing doesn't have wheels. Where one might normally expect to find a front wheel, there are two small wing-like appendages, pointed down and angled outward. At the very top of these wings are what look like the barrels of small blasters -- something else I would hope would not be found on a typical motorcycle...! Directly behind these small wings, which also act as two points of a three-point landing gear system, are the foot pedals for the driver.

The rear half of the Speeder is more unusual in design. It is extended, and tapers nearly to a point. The Mandalorian Speeder is almost a Speeder in reverse, design-wise. The top of this rear section gives clear evidence of its Mandalorian origin, as there is a sculpted pattern in the top, that has a narrow, six-sided shape in it, that is identical to the small center section on the chestplate of most Mandalorian armor.

The Mandalorian Speeder is mostly pale gray in color, with dark blue trim. The only other real color on it is the control console, which is black with yellow details. It does have its share of moving parts, even if they're not immediately obvious. The third leg of the tripod landing system lowers from the rear section of the Speeder. A blaster cannon rotates down from the center of the Speeder, on the underside. And the upper section of the rear of the bike pops open to reveal the aforementioned binders, the "Star Wars" word for handcuffs. These are molded in black plastic and attached to a length of string. One assumes that the Mandalorian is not going to be so cruel as to just drag his captured target behind him, but I wouldn't put it past one with a mean streak. The cord is attached on the other end to the blaster cannon, and it is through the aperture for the cannon that the cord can be "reeled in" after use.

The Mandalorian Speeder is a little over 5-1/2" in length, and about 2-1/2" in height, and while perhaps a bit short for the average Speeder, is still an impressive and certainly distinctive small vehicle.

Now let's discuss the Mandalorian Warrior that comes with it. It is certainly true that in recent years, the articulation level of Star Wars figures has improved. Long gone are the days when the figures were articulated at the head, arms, and legs, and that was it. Arguably the best-articulated figures tend to be the Clone Troopers. Not only do they have the most extensive articulation, but most of that articulation can be somewhat concealed, or at least agreeably worked into, the armor design that the Clone Troopers wear.

However, these new Mandalorian Warrior figures are extremely impressive in their own right. Although not as heavily armored as the Clone Troopers, the overall articulation design nevertheless works very well into the look of the figure, and certainly one cannot argue the extent of the articulation. The figures are poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees (including a swivel), and ankles.

The Mandalorian Warriors wear traditional Mandalorian armor, which includes the semi-dome-shaped helmet, with the very recognizable T-shaped visor up front, and the recessed sides of the front of the helmet, along with the segmented chest armor with the little six-sided piece in the center. This armor was first showcased on Boba Fett, and later (by our standards) Jango Fett, and has come to be representative of almost all Mandalorians, regardless of the color scheme involved, which has been wide and varied.

Most of the Mandalorian Warriors of Death Watch wore a color scheme that was quite close to Jango Fett's. This featured a mostly metallic gray helmet with blue sides and a blue area around the visor, metallic gray chestplate and other armor, over a blue suit, with a somewhat darker blue section around the chest armor. This was true of the Mandalorian Warriors in the four-pack, as well as the individual figure. By contrast, their leader, Pre Vizsla, wore a uniform that was almost entirely black.

The Mandalorian Warrior that comes with the Mandalorian Speeder more or less splits the difference. His helmet is largely black, with blue on the sides and around the visor, and white details underneath the blue on the front. His armor is black, except for the knee pads, gauntlets, and tops of the shows, which are gray. The "fabric" part of his uniform is blue, but it is a distinctly darker blue than the other Mandalorian Warriors.

The "standard" Mandalorian Warriors have a small red insignia on their left shoulder armor. The Mandalorian Speeder Warrior has a similar insignia, but it is larger. They also have an emblem on their right shoulder, which looks something like a curved "L", which is identical for all of the Mandalorian Warriors, including the one with the Speeder.

Any complaints? Not really. The figure is superbly articulated, nicely detailed, and well painted. He does have a slightly glitchy left foot, that doesn't quite want to articulate as well as it should, and so he doesn't stand up quite as cooperatively as some. However, I am certain that this is merely an instance with this particular figure, and not the entire run. If nothing else, the figure uses the exact same body molds as the other Mandalorian Warriors, and -- head notwithstanding -- Pre Vizsla, and they're all fine. And I can work with this one. It's not as though I ever expect to see another one. I don't think odd positioning in packaging can be blamed, as the figure was posed in a basic stance in the package, standing in front of his Speeder.

The Mandalorian Warrior does come with accessories, including a jet pack which attaches to his back -- just in case his Speeder gets shot out from under him, one would assume -- and two small blaster pistols which should fit into the holsters on his legs -- or be stored in a Ziploc bag for safe keeping if you don't want him to wear them. They're pretty small.

The figure also comes with the necessary equipment to play the Galactic Battle Game presently being included with all Star Wars figures and other items. This includes a display base, a character card with assorted game-related details on it, and a plastic die.

So, what's my final word here? Well, for one thing, I'm glad to have finally found this item. The Speeder is cool, if somewhat atypical for a Speeder, and the figure is very impressive, and certainly a worthy addition to the ranks of the Mandalorian Warriors from the Clone Wars line. If you're a fan of Clone Wars, and/or the Mandalorians -- I'm not saying this item will be easy to find, but it's definitely worth tracking down.

The STAR WARS CLONE WARS MANDALORIAN SPEEDER with MANDALORIAN WARRIOR definitely has my highest recommendation!