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By Thomas Wheeler

I'll never own the new STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED video game. However, that doesn't mean I'm not impressed by it. It has an interesting backstory, and the TV commercials I've been seeing for it certainly show as astonishing level of CGI work. The most memorable of these commercials features a scene, initially run backwards in slow motion, of Darth Vader's new apprentice, the core character of the concept, using Force lightning to pretty well blast an entire battlefield's worth of Stormtroopers and Wookiees halfway across Kashyyyk.

But, I suspect if I actually tried to play the game, I'd be turned into space dust well before acquiring the skill necessary to pull off a move like that. If anything, I'd probably get beaten up by a lone Ewok.

However, LucasFilm is certainly going all out on The Force Unleashed. There's a novel, a comic book, the video game, of course, and -- action figures. The first assortment of Force Unleashed-specific action figures actually hit the stores some months ago. The latest batch consists of two boxed sets exclusive to Wal-Mart. They've proven to be very popular, and I suspect I was extremely fortunate in visiting one particular Wal- Mart not long after their shipment was stocked on the shelves. This sort of good fortune I could use more often.

This review will take a look at the set designated EMPEROR PALPATINE with SHADOW STORMTROOPERS.

A brief look at the packaging. Interestingly enough, the design and colors used, as well as some of the markings, are those of the 30th Anniversary Star Wars packaging, not the recently introduced Clone Wars/Legacy Collection packaging. Not a big deal, but one wonders if these sets were prepared for an initial release prior to the Clone Wars merchandise. I think the release date of the video game was bumped a few times, and this set (and its counterpart) were released right about the same time as the game itself.

Of note is the silver lettering on the package that reads "Commemorative Collection" with the words "Video Game Not Included" in parenthesis underneath it.

Now, let's consider the figures in the set:

EMPEROR PALPATINE: We pretty much know the story here. He started out as Senator Palpatine from Naboo, worked his way up to Supreme Chancellor, and then appointed himself Emperor just as the Clone Wars -- which he pretty much staged -- were starting to wind down. And, oh yeah, the whole time, he was a Sith Lord, bent on revenge against the Jedi, which he pretty much got.

Not that there wasn't a price to be paid. In a duel against Mace Windu, Palpatine became disfigured into the Halloween-scary guy we first encountered in Return of the Jedi. Prior to that, he was fairly normal-looking. Of course, he got his revenge on the Jedi Master, too -- by using his Force lightning and tossing him out a window.

The Palpatine figure chosen for this set is a good one. He has a copyright date of 2005, so I assume that this figure was originally released for the Star Wars Episode III line. And the face is definitely post-Windu battle. Wrinkled and nasty-looking. Somewhat curiously, it's not as bleached out as we've come to expect the Emperor to look. There's a moderate pinkish flesh tone to it. Well, the Emperor effectively rules the galaxy. And even Sith Lords need some down time. Maybe he found a nice tropical planet somewhere and took a break to work on his tan, and this was the best he could manage. The angry expression on his face certainly looks mean.

Fortunately, most of the head, which still has wispy white hair painted onto it, can be concealed beneath a fabric hood that is attached to the black fabric robe he's wearing. The two hands are interesting, as well. One is clearly designed to hold the red lightsaber that the figure comes with. The other one is in a semi-clenched position, as if poised to shoot Force lightning, which is probably is. The detail work on this hand-sculpt, right down to separate, individual figures, is really quite remarkable. We're talking about a hand that's about a third of the size of an average thumbnail, and it's this intricate. Can't have been an easy sculpt, or an easy mold, for that matter.

Palpatine is superbly well-articulated. No weird diagonal-cut elbows or anything of that nature (I hate that feature when it turns up), no pre-posed elements, nothing of that sort. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Most of the articulation points have a rotation in them as well as back and forth movement.

The Emperor's wardrobe is fairly extensive, and quite impressive, as well. And scary. If you know of anyone that would be intimidated by a scary-looking 3-3/4" action figure, this is the one to have. Palpatine is wearing a loose-fitting black fabric robe with wide, ballooning sleeves and a fabric hood. Of course, he is wearing a black tunic underneath this, mostly molded black plastic, although there is a fabric segment below the belt that essentially turns the outfit into a second robe. And yes, he has molded pants on underneath.

The pinkish skin is a little bit off for a traditional Palpatine, but on the whole, this is an extremely impressive figure of the Emperor, with a range of motion that will let him do just about anything, and a really mean look on his face that pretty much says you'd better let him do so.

Now, let's consider the troopers in this set...

SHADOW STORMTROOPERS: This isn't really a new division of Stormtroopers, although they've certainly been given a new look. The Shadow Stormtroopers technically date all the way back to the relatively short-lived Star Wars newspaper comic strip, and have put in periodic appearances in various forms of Star Wars media ever since, including comic books, novels, and toys.

Most recently, prior to this, the Shadow Stormtrooper was part of a sadly undershipped batch of Star Wars figures that was released just prior to the changeover to the current Clone Wars/Legacy Collection package design. Rather ironically, this assortment was filled with mostly troopers that had been store exclusives or other hard-to-find soldiers from the past several years, including the Shadow Stormtrooper, the Covert Ops Clone Trooper, the Utapau Shadow Clone, Commander Neyo, and a few others. Ultimately, this wave itself proved to be very scarce, making it almost as hard as ever to find these particular figures.

Arguably, the Shadow Stormtroopers probably got their start with the Utapau Shadow Clones. But sticking specifically to the Shadow Stormtroopers, their traditional appearance is that of a Stormtrooper dressed in all-black armor. About the only color detail is that the usually black "undersuit" is instead a very dark grey, but this may simply be a bit of detail given to the action figure in order to enhance some measure of color on it.

The original Shadow Stormtrooper is unquestionably a very cool and impressive figure. When you're used to seeing Stormtroopers in white, seeing one in all black can actually be pretty jarring, and they look a lot more menacing.

The Shadow Stormtroopers in the Force Unleashed set are a different matter entirely, but they are no less impressive in appearance! Two of them are included in the set, of course, and I suspect given the distinctiveness of the design, these are really the "grabber" of the set. As impressive as he is, most people probably have a Palpatine figure. But you don't have any Shadow Stormtroopers like these!

The basic figure is the Super-Articulated Stormtrooper, obviously an excellent choice. Copyright date of 2005 on the rear of the left leg. It's a very articulated figure, fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (no diagonal cut here!) wrists, mid-torso (works well with the armor design), legs, knees, and ankles. Most articulation points have a swivel as well as back and forth movement.

The figures are molded, not in black, but in a very dark grey. The undersuit is black. There is extensive dark silver, I'd be more inclined to call it "pewter" as much as anything, detailing on the two Stormtroopers.

Their helmets are mostly pewter, painted that color, I believe, with dark grey along the top. There is pewter in the lower half of the chest armor, around the edges of the shoulder pads, on the right upper arm only, a stripe down the lower left arm along the ridged detailing, the backs of both gloves, the belt, both lower legs, and a portion of the right upper leg. In other words, the detailing is not entirely symmetrical. It still looks cool, though.

Also worth noting is the very limited amount of burgundy trim, around the feet and the left knee pad.

Of particular note are the eyepieces. They're two-color. I've never seen that before. They're metallic blue across the top, and black the rest of the way. If this is what these guys look like in the video game, that's some impressive CGI programming.

The package text for the Shadow Stormtroopers says this: These Imperial shock troopers are given advanced training in stealth tactics, in addition to standard combat techniques. They are, indeed, shadows: blending in with such skill that their targets remain unaware that these covert spies were ever present.

The text for the set as a whole goes into somewhat greater detail: Among the Emperor's elite shock troopers, the Shadow Troopers utilize advanced cloaking techniques to ambush enemies. They can remain completely undetectable until the moment they strike. With keen tactical awareness, the Shadow Troopers can cross Rebel lines undetected and use their stealth skills to gather intelligence that can be used to organize future Imperial attacks.

Now, if I read that right, and combine the two paragraphs, what we have here are Imperial troopers that have been trained in the best stealth tactics the Empire can deliver, and then they get handed a suit of armor that has its own cloaking and stealth capabilities on top of it.

But I can also see how this could be a distinct advantage in a video game setting, too. If these Shadow Stormtroopers can indeed become completely undetectable, imagine that you're a Rebel soldier who thinks he's just finished cleaning out an Imperial base. You don't see anything. You don't pick up anything on your scanners. And -- surprise!

I'm not saying that's how the video game works. Honestly, I don't have the slightest idea. But it certainly could, and if it did -- better hope your skill at the game is better than you think it is...!

And according to a friend of mine who has played the game, these Stormtroopers DO appear in the game. They weren't just something created for the sake of selling toys.

The two Shadow Stormtroopers come with traditional blaster rifles, for when it's time to drop the cloak and open up a can of firefight.

Oh, yeah, the set also includes a little piece of paper, that is one of four randomly inserted "Cheat Codes" for the video game. But I'm not about to make that sort of thing public information... :)

So, what's my final word here? This is a very impressive set. The Palpatine figure is excellent, even if he's a little on the pink side. The overall detail of the figure, and the outfit, is superb. And then we have these immensely cool Shadow Stormtroopers, that are drastically different from any previous Shadow Stormtroopers, and they're very well detailed and look extremely impressive. And the whole set is very reasonably priced. The STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED EMPEROR PALPATINE WITH SHADOW STORMTROOPERS Set definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!