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By Thomas Wheeler

There are two groups of characters that will almost certainly always be welcome in my Star Wars collection, whether they hail from the movie-based Saga Legends series, or the Clone Wars figures based on the popular CGI animated series. Those two groups are Troopers (Clone or Storm, take your pick), and Astromech droids. I just like the little fireplugs, and there's certainly been no shortage of them in both lines throughout the history of the action figures, although admittedly the Saga Legends line has had the vast majority of them.

Clone Wars has quite a bit of catching up to do, but they're making some progress, and one recent entry in this category recently appeared in the collection, on an individual card. This droid's name is R7-A7, and he's quite distinctive.

Of course, the best-known astromech droid of all time is R2-D2, but we have long since learned that he is not unique. A wide range of astromech droids, some with entirely different domes and other details, have appeared throughout the Star Wars universe. There's more color schemes available than you'd find in most makes and models of automobiles. I mean, really, if Mace Windu can get a purple astromech droid, then anything's possible.

So what sort of details do we have on R7-A7? For that, we need to turn to the highly informative Web Site known as "Wookieepedia", and see what it has to say.

R7-A7, also known as "Arseven", was Ahsoka Tano's astromech droid during the Clone Wars. For those who don't know, Ahsoka Tano was Anakin Skywalker's padawan. Precisely what happened to her that she did not appear in Star Wars Episode III is a tale yet to be told, and I doubt it will be a pleasant one.

R7 was one of a group of advanced Jedi-owned droids whose prototype logic modules were designed to rest new programs.

R7-A7's first mission was serving in the Battle of Ryloth as co-pilot of Ahsoka's Jesi Starfighter. He flew with her on a mission to take out the Separatist blockade surrounding Ryloth, and was present when she disobeyed orders to retreat after Separatist reinforcements arrived, and lost most of her squadron.

After the ships Resolute and Defender retreated, Anakin Skywalker came up with a plan to pilot the heavily damages Defender into the Separatist flagship, while Ahsoka and her squad of Y-Wings were to take out the remaining enemy frigates. Ahsoka was still shaken frm her earlier failure, but received support from Admiral Wullf Yularen and led the counterattack.

Arseven would then fly with Ahsoka in her Y-Wing starfighter. The attack was successful, and the Republic forces prepared to invade Ryloth and liverate the captive Tiw'lek inhabitants from Techno Union leader Wat Tambor.

R7 was known for his rash, aggressive attitude - likely one of the reasons he was assigned to Ahsoka in the first place. His advanced logic modules could process massive amounts of combat data and calculate the outcomes to numerous battle scenarios, making him an invaluable asset to Ahsoka while she was in combat.

It has been pointed out, quite rightly, that there is something of a problem with the droid's name. Technically speaking, R7-A7 looks like an R2 unit. And also technically speaking, the R-followed-by-a-number is generally the designation of the type of astromech droid a given droid happens to be. There have been exceptions. Another droid in the Clone Wars saga, R4-P17, also looks like an R2-unit, although if memory serves, this particular droid is a rebuilt model.

Here's where we have the complication. According to the Star Wars New Essential Guide to Droids, there are such things as R7 astromech droids. However, they didn't officially enter production until well after the Clone Wars, in fact not even being created until after the Battle of Endor which brought down the Empire.

In the Star Wars universe, there are R-type droids for 1 through 9. The R1 units were large and ungainly things, and don't really turn up that often. R2's are the best known because of R2-D2, of course. R3's are similar to R2's, except that they have transparent domes. R4's traditionally have trapezoid-shaped heads. R5's are best-known for R5-D4, the clunker of a droid that popped his motivator in the first movie, and apparently the entire R5 production run was like that. The R6's, according to the guide, were almost as popular as R2's, had heads similar to R5's, but the larger central eye common to R2's. The R7's have a triangular-shaped eye, a round dome, and were developed almost exclusively to serve as navigator droids for the E-Wing fighter.

So where does R7-A7 fit into this? Clearly he isn't an actual R7 droid. The timing is wrong, as is his appearance. Wookieepedia remarks that if R7-A7 is indeed an R7-series astromech droid, and not just an earlier model with an "R7" designation, his inclusion poses a continuity problem, as R7 units had not been created yet.

However, the Wookieepedia entry also goes on to mention that there is reason to believe that droid names are fragments of longer designations, and that this could provide an explanation.

And honestly, that explanation makes sense. Consider the designation of the average droid. Let's consider R7-A7. Two letters and two numbers. Now, the Star Wars alphabet has about the same number of characters as the English alphabet. There are a few additional letters for combined sounds, but let's for the sake of math round it off to thirty. And they use a ten-digit numerical scale the same as we do.

However, it's more limited than that, because every R-type droid begins with the letter "R". Even allowing for ten numbers after that, followed by the possibility of thirty letters and another ten numbers -- which admittedly wouldn't always be the case as we've already seen with R4-P17, that's still pretty limited. And it's a big galaxy.

Now, do this. Look at your car's license plate. It probably has six or seven spaces for letters and numbers. Look at your car's VIN number. Heck, look at your Social Security Number. For that matter, look at the account number on your Cable bill. Mine's got something like fifteen digits on it, and there's only six billion or so people on the planet.

I think the theory that droid names are fragments of longer designations is more than plausible. There's probably any number of droids in the Star Wars universe that would be addressed "R2-D2" in a shortened form, and for all we know some of them are R2 units, some might be R4's, others might even be R7's. But their most conveniently spoken designation is "R2-D2". Doubtless the rest of their "name", arguably some sort of extended serial number provided by Industrial Automaton, would be unique to that droid, but the average user would not address his droid in that extended fashion.

There's also the fact that R7-A7 is described as "one of a group of advanced Jedi-owned droids whose prototype logic modules were designed to test new programs." That's clearly not the stated purpose of the actual R7's which came along much later, whose stated purpose was actually very narrow and specific.

I think we can conclude that, despite the shortened designation, that R7-A7 is in fact an R2-type astromech droid, perhaps a somewhat advanced one outfitted for the Jedi, but still fitting within that overall category, and the continuity problem of the first part of his "name" doesn't really exist.

So, how's the figure? Very cool. R7 definitely has a very distinctive color scheme. I think that because of R2-D2, we're accustomed to seeing astromech droids with white bodies, regardless of what color the dome head may be, and indeed, quite a large percentage of these droids do have white bodies. Probably a popular color. Sort of like cars. As such, when a droid comes along that has a very different color scheme, he tends to stand out, and that's certainly the case with R7.

R7-A7's cylindrical body and legs are burgundy red. His dome is a very pale gray, and the trim color, which appears around his main eye, central manipulator arms, and a few other areas is -- well, a rather debatable shade of light green. I'd probably find it a lot more nauseating if it had been used for anything but the basic trim colors on this droid.

Now, if you've watched any of the Clone Wars series, you know that the character designs tend to be rather stylized. I suspect that LucasFilm could've been more realistic if they'd wanted to, and I'm honestly not entirely sure why they didn't. For me, some of it works better than others. The scenery, the machinery, the aliens for the most part, all look great. So do the Clone Troopers as long as they keep their helmets on. The lead human characters -- take a little getting used to.

But there's not much way you can really stylize the astromech droids. There are a few differences. There's not quite as many visible gizmos and doo-dads and details present on the main body of the droid, and the two recessed manipulator arms that criss-cross the chest are designed slightly differently, but really, that's about it.

Hasbro has designed an excellent set of molds for astromech droids appearing in their Clone Wars line. Like the droids in the animated series, it's a good design that's respectful to the live-action originals. As I have a decent number of both types in my collection, I'd have to say that they're very nearly compatible with each other. Somewhat curiously, the Clone Wars droids are very slightly shorter than their live-action-based counterparts, and the height variance can be attributed almost entirely to the tapered section of the body directly following the main cylindrical section. It's shorter on the Clone Wars droids than it is on the others. Doubtless this is a reflection of their designs in their respective movie or animated appearances, but I do sort of wonder why, just a little bit.

R7-A7 has a pale gray dome, with light green detailing within the recessed areas around the top of his dome, as well as around his main optical sensor, and the lens directly beneath it. He also has light green detailing around one of the devices on the back of his head, and a green stripe around the base of his dome.

R7-A7's main optical sensor is painted black, and the lower lens is painted light blue, as are a couple of other detail points to the side of the main optic. Some other details on his dome have been painted silver, and the device on the back of his head with the green border around it is painted light yellow.

Most impressive is a little series of buttons on the back of his dome that have been painted in multiple colors. On every astromech droid from the Clone Wars line that I've picked up, these have always been painted in multiple colors, and very neatly. The paint stencils for this dome must be astounding. In R7-A7's case, the series of buttons goes from yellow, to a second button that's half yellow and half blue (which I assume to be a slight glitch), to blue, to a light blue, to red.

One of the recessed sections on the top of R7-A7's dome also pops up, just like R2-D2's, to provide the droid with a scope of sorts.

R7-A7's main body and legs are burgundy red. The sides of R7's side legs are pale gray, as are the feet of all three legs. This is extremely unusual, as generally speaking, the feet match the same color as the legs on the average astromech droid, not the head. Still, it looks cool. Honestly, the overall color composition is an improvement.

The recessed manipulator arms on the main body, and the square around the section below these, which has always looked like a couple of vents to me, are light green, as is the area around a small circular device at the base of the main body, on the front and on the back. A small device on the left front side of the droid is painted in silver, and another on his right side towards the back, but really, there isn't a lot of color detail on the main body of R7-A7. There are cables on his two outer feet, which are bright yellow, a color that doesn't really appear anywhere else on the droid.

The underside of R7-A7's feet each have two small wheels on them, lined up in single file. His third leg, which is detachable, also has a wheel. R7-A7 will roll along on a smooth surface if given a gentle push along the way. He's not a Hot Wheels car, though. Don't expect him to roll much on his own.

R7-A7 has some internal features, as well, like the other droids in this line. The two long panels on his front both open up, and additional arms emerge from them. One of them is largely undetailed, and represents the astromech droid's ability to plug into and interface with computer systems. The other is a small claw, which as we know from R2-D2's adventures on Endor, can also be used to deliver a bit of a shock. Opening the doors on the droid's body causes the arms to emerge somewhat, and then they can be pressed back into place, and the doors closed. Honestly, on R7-A7, the doors don't close quite as well as I'd like, or as well on previous droids. I don't know if this is a quality control issue, a situation with just this one droid, or if the molds are wearing out. I hope it's not that.

On the back of R7-A7 is a third door, out of which comes a short length of cable with a towing hook on the end of it. We've seen R2-D2 use this, as well, mostly to haul around C-3PO when he gets himself trashed. The cable can be rewound by turning his dome head around until the claw retracts back into the socket.

Admittedly, R7-A7 does not have a lot in the way of articulation as it is traditionally defined. His head turns, and his legs move, and his feet are articulated. But really, that's about all he actually needs to do. I suppose you could stretch the point and call the opening doors and little internal arms additional articulation, but I tend to think of these more as "special features" or some such. The package card defines them as "Hidden gadgets". Same with the scope on the top of the dome. I suppose they could be called articulation, if you want to define that as any moving part integrated into the main body of the figure.

As for accessories -- well, he doesn't really have any. I guess they're sort of built in. R7-A7 does come with a display base, as well as a plastic die and character card so that he can join in on the Galactic Battle Game that is presently being promoted in all Star Wars action figures.

So what's my final word here? I'm pleased to have this new droid, and believe me, given his color scheme, he stands out fairly well in the average Star Wars display at whatever retailer you usually visit that is carrying such products. There's not a lot of burgundy astromech droids out there. Certainly, if he's the astromech droid to a prominent character in the Clone Wars series like Ahsoka, I'm sure we'll see a fair bit of him along the way. And for those who enjoy collecting droids, especially astromech droids, he's a cool and distinctive addition to the collection, well-made and nicely detailed.

The STAR WARS CLONE WARS figure of R7-A7 definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!