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By Thomas Wheeler

Somewhere between Episodes II and III of the Star Wars Saga, the Clone Troopers revised their armor, most notably with a new helmet design.

Aesthetically, the design brought the Clone Troopers that much closer to their eventual successors, the Stormtroopers, whom of course Star Wars fans were abundantly familiar with thanks to the Classic Trilogy of Episodes IV-VI, which had preceded the production of the prequels.

When we first encountered the Clone Troopers in Episode II, their helmets had a certain Mandalorian look to them -- no great surprise, since the Clones were based on Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fett. By the time of Episode III, the helmets had been revised, with wider visors and slightly more individualized eyepieces, although the visor still went across the entire front of the helmet. Nevertheless, it was a step towards the individual eye lenses of the Stormtroopers. The Episode III Clone Trooper helmet also had a larger "jaw" line than its predecessor.

Within the Star Wars Universe, the Episode II and Episode III Clone Trooper armors are known as "Phase I" and "Phase II". Unanswered until fairly recently, however, is -- at what point did the changeover take place? Was it all at once? Did some divisions or types of Clones get the armor ahead of others? And most significantly, what was the "why" for the changeover, from an "in-universe" standpoint? Obviously, it wasn't because the Clones knew that they would eventually become Stormtroopers, the infantry enforcers of the new Galactic Empire.

Fortunately, we now have the superb Clone Wars CGI animated series to answer this question -- as well as its action figure line from Hasbro.

There have been some Phase II armors gradually creeping into the line. Mostly it's been in the form of highly specialized Clone Troopers, such as select ARC Troopers, and a few notable commanders here and there, that have acquired the new armor. Up until fairly recently, there wasn't just a basic, straightforward Phase II Clone Trooper.

I knew that they had to exist. One of the more hilarious commercials I'd seen for the Clone Wars series showed a squadron of Clone Troopers, in Phase II armor, landing on a planet, and being greeted by the natives -- the natives being the apparently far-too-prevalent short, arguably cute, gibberish-speaking little aliens. Whereupon the lead Clone Trooper remarked, "Great, it's going to be one of THOSE planets..!"

Once I'd stopped laughing, I realized that the Clones had all been outfitted in Phase II armor. So where was an action figure? I mean, talk about a great army-builder! Finally, I found one. And he'll be the focal point of this review. But let's consider the history of the Clone Troopers first, and how they got their Phase II armor. It seems to me that I've offered the history of any number of distinctive Clone individuals, but I think it's been a while since I've presented the history of the Clone Troopers as a whole. Fortunately, there's this really great Star Wars "Wiki" called "Wookieepedia" that has such details.

"A weapon they are. Obey orders without question for good or ill. For now they fight for us. Who is to say what the future holds?" - Yoda

Clone troopers were an army of identical, genetically-modified clones, created to serve in the Grand Army of the Republic during the conflict that came to be known as the Clone Wars. Grown and raised in the laboratories and facilities of Kamino, the clone troopers were trained throughout the first ten years of their lives to become one of the most efficient military forces in galactic history. Bred for the sole purpose of combat, the clones were indoctrinated with unwavering obedience to the Galactic Republic and—more specifically—their Commander-in-Chief, the Supreme Chancellor.

For roughly three years, the clone troopers fought to defend Republic sovereignty against the Separatist rebellion. Throughout the conflict, the members of the Jedi Order served as commanders and generals of the Grand Army, and thus they served alongside their clone soldiers on many occasions. But the covert Sith plot to seize control of the galaxy, masterminded by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, effectively caused the clones to betray and destroy the Republic that they were sworn to protect with their lives. Sidious, in his public guise as Chancellor Palpatine, issued Order 66 to the clone troopers on the eve of the Clone Wars' end.

The contingency order declared that all Jedi were traitors to the Republic and, hence forward, subject to summary execution. Due to their inability to disobey any order, the clone troopers carried out the Chancellor's command without question. Though a small percentage of clones ignored the order, the vast majority of the clones executed their unsuspecting Jedi officers, many of whom had come to trust the clones with their lives.

In the aftermath of the Jedi Order's near destruction and the sterilization of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, Palpatine abolished the Old Republic and instituted the Galactic Empire in its place, with himself as emperor of the galaxy. Among the many new reforms that symbolized Palpatine's New Order, the Republic clone troopers were re-designated as Imperial stormtroopers.

The origins of the clone troopers date back to the days before the Invasion of Naboo in 32 BBY, when Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas secretly commissioned Kaminoan scientists to create an army for the Galactic Republic. The project fell under the supervision Darth Tyranus, a former Jedi Master who turned to the dark side of the Force and became the Sith apprentice of Darth Sidious. Sifo-Dyas was then secretly killed at the behest of Darth Sidious.

Before the cloners on Kamino were able to begin their task, they required an individual subject to serve as the army's genetic template. Tyranus, who had been ordered by Sidious to both search for an ideal candidate amongst the galaxy's deadliest mercenaries and eliminate a deranged former Jedi named Komari Vosa, devised a plan to accomplish the two objectives at the same time. Thus, he placed a five million credit reward on the capture of Vosa, who had become the leader of the Bando Gora. Whether she was dead or alive after her capture was irrelevant as the prize was the same either way. Among the mercenaries who received a special invitation from Tyranus was Jango Fett, a former Mandalorian who sought to make a living as a bounty hunter.

When Fett successfully tracked and defeated Komari Vosa in combat, Tyranus personally congratulated the hunter and, in addition to the reward money, offered a substantial amount of more credits if Fett agreed to be cloned on Kamino. The purpose, as Tyranus revealed, was the creation of an army of clones, modified to grow at twice the rate of human beings and programmed for absolute loyalty. Their training, supervised by Jango Fett, would turn them into perfect soldiers. After a moment of contemplation, Fett agreed to Tyranus' offer, but on the condition that the first clone would be given to him without any modifications. This would become his son, Boba Fett.

Before the gestation process began, the Kaminoans tampered with Fett's DNA to ensure that the clones were primarily dominated by behavioral genes that emphasized certain qualities such as loyalty, aggression, independence and discipline in order to guarantee that the army would be more docile and less independent than their template. Kal Skirata, a former Mandalorian warrior who had been brought to Kamino to assist in the training of a special unit, concurred with the Kaminoans' rationale behind "modified" troopers; an "unaltered" Jango Fett was not the ideal infantry soldier.

Due to the long-term commitment that was required in the creation of the clone army, Jango Fett took a hiatus from his bounty hunting career in order to monitor the growth and training of his clones. His influence over the clone army's development extended into several areas, such as the resemblance between his Mandalorian armor and their Phase I armor and the training that molded the clones into elite soldiers.

Through the technological capability to accelerate the speed of a clone's physical growth, the Kaminoans successfully engineered fully-grown clones in half of the time that real Humans required to reach maturity. As a result of the genetic modification that enhanced their growth process, the clone troopers aged at twice the rate of Human beings. At the age of ten, a clone was resembled a young Jango Fett in his early twenties, and was thus fit and prepared for combat.

All clone troopers received basic training in core military skills, such as weapons handling, marksmanship, and other essentials. While Jango Fett personally handled the training of the Alpha-class ARC troopers, a specialized unit of clone commandos was commissioned as a median between the independent-minded ARC troopers and the more docile rank-and-file clone troopers. In order to ensure the overall success of the commandos project, Fett formed the Cuy'val Dar, a group composed of experienced Mandalorian mercenaries and even a few Journeyman Protectors. Though individual members of the group had their own unique training methods, as a whole they separated the commandos into squads of four, which in turn created a strong sense of brotherhood amongst the commando squads. Clones that were fit to serve in leadership capacity possessed notable traits such as a greater degree of independence and creativity.

As part of their education and psychological training, the clone troopers were required to adhere to the Command Code, a set of guidelines that governed a clone's behavior and every action. Hence, every clone was obliged to obey every aspect of the Code without question, doubt or hesitance. Overall, the Kaminoans took a deeply vested interest in the training of the creations, especially the standard clone units and even the clone commandos as well.

Though often viewed as the "flesh and blood" equivalent of battle droids, clone troopers possessed a limited capacity for individuality. They were bred for no other purpose than combat, but nevertheless they developed as individuals under the guidance of their Jedi officers. The Jedi's unique abilities and leadership prowess earned them the admiration and respect of the clones who served under them.

Less than a year after the Clone Wars began, many clones adopted nicknames to complement their official designations with the approval of the Jedi. Captain CT-7567 speculated that efficiency was the reason as to why clones had been permitted to have "names," due to the difficulty of distinguishing genetically identical soldiers at an individual level. Another way that the Jedi fostered individuality in the clone troopers was through example; some clones respected their Jedi officers enough to emulate their leadership styles. CT-7567 developed a sense of impulsiveness during his service under Anakin Skywalker. CC-2224 had a strict adherence to procedure, a trait that was appreciated by Obi-Wan Kenobi. The camaraderie that gradually developed between Jedi and clones was mirrored through others as well, including Aayla Secura and CC-5052, Plo Koon and the clones of Wolfpack. Even though clones like CC-4477 and "Sinker" saw nothing unique about an army composed of clones from one genetic template, Grand Master Yoda sensed that each clone trooper felt differently through the Force.

Despite the great lengths that the Kaminoans took to ensure that all clone troopers were unconditionally loyal to the Galactic Republic, there was evidence of flaws within their work. Ordinary, standard-issued clone troopers were programmed to be absolutely subservient, but a few of them developed too much as individuals to the point where said loyalty was overridden. Examples included Clone Sergeant "Slick" and Cut Lawquane. Tempted by thoughts of freedom and wealth, "Slick" became a spy for the Separatists while feigning loyalty to the Republic. He excused his treachery through his belief that the clones were enslaved, even though his actions caused the deaths of many of his "brothers" on Christophsis. Cut Lawquane began his life on Kamino like every other clone trooper, but later became a deserter after he abandoned his comrades during the First Battle of Geonosis.

Smaller signs of individuality were seen in how some clone troopers broke away from the regulation haircut. Even before the mass production of Phase II armor, many clones had been allowed to customize their Phase I armor in various ways, either with color or additional equipment. Aside from armor customization, another indication of individualism was the clone troopers' affinity for Kamino, which they regarded as their homeworld. When Kamino was twice threatened by Separatist invasion, both CC-2224 and CT-7567 expressed concern for the safety of "their" planet. In their second attempt, the Separatists reached Kamino and assaulted Tipoca City itself. Many clone troopers ultimately perished while defending the laboratories and military complexes that they viewed as "home."

As to the Phase II armor -- Why was it developed?

Phase II clone trooper armor was an enhanced version of the Phase I clone trooper armor.

The principle drawback of the Phase I battle armor, however, was its heavy and uncomfortable design. Hence, it was disparagingly referred to as the "body bucket." As a result of such imperfections, the flaws of Phase I were eliminated through the conception of Phase II battle armor.

As the Clone Wars, progressed, Phase I was ultimately rendered obsolete when the clone troopers switched to its Phase II successor. The new armor was designed to be superior to its predecessor in every aspect; stronger, lighter and more adaptable. This advanced armor also possessed many specialist variations, suited to clones such as scout troopers, paratroopers and AT-RT drivers. The practice of color design and armor customization was carried over to the new armor as well. By the time of the Battle of Coruscant in 19 BBY, various clone divisions were visually distinguished from each other primarily through different color designs.

Phase II incorporated all of its predecessor's systems in addition to polarized lenses, padding, and stronger, lighter armor plates. It could also support more modular attachments, making it superior to its predecessor. It was far more comfortable for Humans to wear than its predecessor, since the Kaminoans had become more familiar with human anatomy. Unlike early iterations of the Phase I armor, color was used to denote unit affiliation, not rank.

Phase II armor was introduced around 21 BBY, and slowly replaced Phase I armor in the months following. Phase II armor was the basis of the stormtrooper armor later worn by the soldiers of Emperor Palpatine's Empire. Another variant of the Phase II armor was the Katarn armor. ARC trooper armor was also modified to be Phase II.

The new armor incorporated a more advanced air filtration and oxygen supply system, polarized lenses, and an annunciator to make speech more comprehensible. In addition, the boots were magnetized and incorporated a grav-field alternator to ensure stability. Another useful feature was that the armor and the bodysuit could be pressurized, allowing the clones to fight longer in a vacuum environment than its predecessor.(though medical recovery was still needed for longer exposures).

The Phase II armor, unlike the Phase I armor, had many different variations. Some armor was modified to suit the individual clone, while some armor was made for specialized clone troopers, such as the clone paratroopers. It is known that some clones, like Faie and CC-1004, had more than one set of armor.

Many Clone Commanders and ARC troopers had special attachments on their armor, and allowed some lower ranked officers to wear special attachments as well. Some special attachments included kamas and pauldrons, they could also attach electrobinoculars and sun visors to their helmets. Clone captains would occasionally have a pair of DC-17 hand blasters attached to each side of their kama. Camouflaged armor was mainly used by ARC and ARF troopers, but occasionally camouflaged armor was issued.

From a "behind the scenes" standpoint, the Phase II clone trooper pilots' helmets were meant to be a fusion between the Rebel pilots' helmets and the TIE pilots' helmets, both seen in A New Hope. The helmet of the main Phase II Clone Trooper is a fusion of the Stormtrooper helmet and Phase I clone trooper armor helmet.

So, how's the figure? Well, from the sound of it, he'd at least be a lot more comfortable in this armor. Seriously, though, it's really an excellent figure.

In keeping with the design of the animated series, the figure is somewhat leaner in build than his movie-based counterparts. I have no shortage of Clone Troopers here from both worlds, and in recent times, I've tended to prefer the ones from the animated series. Their armors, as a general rule, are a lot less stunk up and battle-damaged than their movie versions. And some of the more extreme facial designs of the human characters in the Clone Wars series don't generally come into play in the Clone Troopers themselves, since most of them don't have removable helmets.

As one would expect, the helmet is extremely close to its movie-based counterpart. This is even less surprising when one considers the fact that in both Episodes II and III of the live-action movies, all of the Clone Troopers were CGI characters inserted into the footage. So it obviously wasn't any great stretch to move the Clones into the animated Cartoon Network series.

About the only very minor difference is that the visor on the helmet looks just a little more angular, but you really have to study it to even notice this.

Now, Hasbro could probably have taken one of the existing Clone Trooper body molds and just placed a new helmet on it. Despite all of the listed advantages of the Phase II armor in the backstory, there really aren't that many other visual differences between Phase I and Phase II apart from the helmet. But this is not what Hasbro has done.

Based on certain structural differences -- not to mention the 2011 date on the bottom of one of the feet -- this is an entirely new figure.

Now, really, Hasbro has had two dominant Clone Trooper body molds up until this time which I have encountered. One of them I have sincerely appreciated. It is distinguished by a mid-torso articulation point, and readily moving articulation points throughout the rest of the figure. The other set of body molds I'm not as fond of. It has waist movement instead of mid-torso -- the easiest way to tell them apart -- and the articulation points are more rigid and ratcheting in their movement. Plus, it lacks ankle joints.

Where does the new body mold fit in relative to these two? Somewhere in between them, really. The new body molds doesn't have mid-torso articulation. I'll be honest here, sometimes mid-torso articulation works and sometimes it doesn't. If the figure to which it is being applied has a lot of loose "cloth" in their design, as part of a shirt or jacket, it doesn't generally work that well. If the figure is a super-hero in tights, or is wearing armor, such as the Clone Troopers, it can work rather well, because the articulation point can be worked into either the musculature or the armor design. So for the Clone Troopers, a mid-torso articulation point has worked rather well.

However, the new body mold does have waist articulation, and it looks all right and works well. The new body design doesn't have quite such a rigid stance as before. The overall articulation on the arms and legs moves quite smoothly. It doesn't have the ratcheting tendency of the lesser of the two previous designs. Unfortunately, the new body does lack ankle articulation, which is an unfortunate loss, but the figure still stands well of his own accord.

Overall articulation is excellent. The Clone Trooper is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, waist, legs, and knees, including a swivel.

Since this is just a "standard" Phase II Clone Trooper, paint work is somewhat limited. He's not representing any specific unit, division, or individual, so he's just outfitted in plain white armor with the black undersuit. I have little doubt that this set of molds will see considerable future use as the Phase II armor becomes more commonplace in the Clone Wars animated series, and I look forward to seeing what Hasbro does with it.

In the meantime, they've done a really great job with this Clone Trooper. He's a nice clean white -- which is more than I can say for the early Phase I Clone Troopers that were part of this line. When they were released several years ago, their armor used a black paint wash. I really hate that sort of thing, unless it's absolutely necessary to the look of a figure, and in the case of the Clone Troopers, it wasn't.

Fortunately, the Phase II Clone Troopers have avoided that particular problem. Their armor is nice and clean, and is also a really brilliant white. I'm especially impressed by this, and not just because it's not stunk up with needless "battle weathering". This is a very white -- white.

The painted details are restricted to the helmet details, and the black undersuit. All of these details have been superbly well done. One occasional problem on previous Clone Troopers has been that the black undersuit details appear to have been hand-painted, and as such not always as neatly as can be accomplished through proper paint stencils.

As far as I can determine, all of the undersuit details on the Clone Trooper have been properly painted through stencils, and might I add, with great accuracy. The only possible exception is the hands. The helmet details have also been very neatly done, including the visor, mouth area, and various details on the sides and back, including a gray stripe near the top.

You want accessories? You got 'em! The Phase II Clone Trooper comes with a blaster pistol, a long rifle, and a missile-firing jet backpack!

The back of the package outlines the basics of the Phase II Clone Trooper, stating: "The weapons and armor of the clone troopers evolve as the Clone Wars continue. As battle conditions change, the troopers' armor and equipment is upgraded, including new helmets with more advanced communication and survival technology, and new weapons like missile-equipped jetpacks!"

Interestingly, the illustration from the series shown on the package shows a Clone Trooper with decidedly more ornate armor than our "plain vanilla" friend here. Like I said, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of this Clone Trooper, in a variety of ornamentation. And I look forward to that.

The Clone Trooper also comes with the needed equipment to be involved in the Galactic Battle Game, including a card, display stand, and plastic die. It was announced at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con that the "Build-a-Droid" feature will be returning to the Star Wars line in 2013, which will supposedly bring an end to the Galactic Battle Game. So -- anybody want a large supply of plastic dice?

So what's my final word? This is a very impressive Clone Trooper. I lament the loss of the ankle articulation, but this is honestly a relatively minor point in an otherwise excellent action figure, that in his own way, does herald the next generation of Clone Troopers in the Clone Wars line. He's certainly nicely designed, very well-articulated, and the detail work is excellent.

If you've been building your own Grand Army of the Republic, it's time to upgrade to Phase II. That doesn't really mean that your Phase I Clones are obsolete. That's just in the show. You can keep yours operative, of course. But it's definitely time to bring in the next generation of Clone Troopers, and here he is!

The PHASE II ARMOR CLONE TROOPER from STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS definitely has my highest recommendation!