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By Thomas Wheeler

How many "R"-type Astromech Droids exist in the Star Wars universe. And I don't mean individual droids. Good grief, that'd be countless millions. I mean TYPES. R2-D2 is an "R2"-series droid. In the first movie, we were also briefly introduced to R5-D4, the droid with the "bad motivator" that blew his top after scurrying along about ten feet. Seems that the "R5" series was notorious for that.

The "Star Wars Essential Guide to Droids" indicated that there were "R"-type droids all the way up to R7's. The "Star Wars New Essential Guide to Droids" took that all the way up to R9's.

Granted, they all pretty much look like walking fireplugs, mostly notable in their differences by the shapes of their heads and some of their dome and body features.

All are the work of Industrial Automaton, a corporation within the Star Wars universe, of course. They started with the P2, which was regarded as a prototype. I won't count the R1 so much, because it was a large and ungainly contraption, although Hasbro did made a toy of one a few years ago.

R2's are probably the best-known, thanks to R2-D2, and the most versatile. The text in the "New Essential Guide", with takes an "in-universe" approach, states that the R2 "exploded the popularity of the astromech droid". The R3 is very similar to the R2, although was designed with specific military applications, and is known for having a transparent dome.

The R4 is notable for its more conical dome, and according to the "Guide", was intended to capture the attention of the Outer Rim garage jockey, and is described as "simpler, tougher, and cheaper". A number of these have been made as toys over the years.

The R5 -- well, let's just say that the one that blew its top on the Skywalker farm was hardly an exception. The Guide says that the R5 was a total flop, called "a meter-tall stack of the worst business decisions you could possibly want" be a trade publication. Introduced as the least expensive astromech droid in the marketplace, the R5 pretty well proved the axiom "you get what you pay for", as a litany of customer complaints mounted up, including but not limited to chronic overheating, jammed servos, loose bearing, and (hey what a surprise) blown motivators. The R5's were known for their distinctive "flowerpot" shaped heads, and after a few too many complaints, Industrial Automaton retired the series just prior to the Clone Wars.

The R6 didn't come along until decades later, and proved that the company had learned its lesson. Reasonably priced but properly equipped, it had a flowerpot shaped head, but the larger single eye of the R2, as well as its more chipper personality and a substantial memory.

I'm going to come back to the R7, but first I'd like to deal briefly with the R8 and R9. The R8 is regarded as a general-use astromech droid, and looks a lot like an R2, with a dome, but it lacks the large central eye and has a disc-like shape at the top of its dome. The R9 also has a dome head, but with ridges near the base of the dome. It brings back the single large eye. Its specific stated purpose is for use with Stealth-X starfighters against the Yuuzhan Vong, which invaded sometime after the fall of the Empire.

May I say that any fans of the many various droids of the Star Wars universe would do well to purchase the "New Essential Guide to Droids". It's a superb book, up to date for all six movies, and loaded with full color illustrations, many of them computer-generated, all of them superbly well.

Hasbro has, to date, offered various R2, R3, R4, and R5 droids -- and one R1. Anytime they would care to expand that all the way through some R9's would be fine with me. I like the little astromech droids, and along with Clone Troopers, are my favorite branch of the Star Wars action figure universe.

That being said, they did recently offer a couple of R7 Droids. However, the means by which they did it has made them more elusive than the average action figure, droid or otherwise.

It has become increasingly commonplace for action figures to include some sort of extra piece which must be united with others to complete -- something. This started with Marvel Legends when it was still under Toy Biz's banner, as the "Build-A-Figure" function that introduced us first of all to the finest Galactus figure ever created. At 14" in height, various -- well, body parts -- came with the different figures in that particular wave.

Hasbro has continued the "Build-A-Figure" concept with their own Marvel Legends. Mattel has incorporated it into their DC Universe Classics under the name "Collect and Connect". Jakks Pacific did it with their small-scale WWE figures with the name "Build 'n' Brawl" to construct wrestling rings and steel cages and the like. And Star Wars is now doing it with -- Droid Factory.

Initially, four different astromech droids were offered. Two of them were R7 droids, the first ones ever. Tracking down the parts to complete any one of them, especially for someone such as myself who is admittedly not a Star Wars completist, has proven a little tricky. Fortunately, as the chorus of the song goes, "I get by with a little help from my friends" -- enabled me to gather the parts to complete ONE of these droids. Still working on the other one. The one I now have fully assembled is named R7-Z0 -- and I'm assuming that's a "zero" at the end and not the letter "O". The number would be much more in keeping with how these droids are designated.

So what specifically denotes an R7 droid? Well, once again, according to the Guide, it is very specific in its function, much moreso than any other R-series astromech. Says the Guide: During the attacks of the resurrected Emperor (about ten years after the Battle of Yavin, which is used as a time reference point for the Star Wars universe), the New Republic rushed the FreiTek E-Wing Starfighter into service. The E-Wing works in tandem with Industrial Automaton's R7 model, which sits behind the cockpit in a sealed compartment. R7 units can hold fifteen sets of hyperspace coordinates in memory and can withstand a near-direct hit from a class one ion cannon, though they work poorly with any starfighter other than the E-Wing.

Pairing a droid with a starfighter is hardly anything new in the Star Wars universe. R2-D2 flew in the droid seat behind Luke Skywalker, and also assisted his father, Anakin, in his Jedi Starfighter during the days of the Clone Wars. Droids seem to be considered crucial in many circles to the proper navigation and maintenance of spacecraft. Even the Empire used them, although not, apparently, in their individual fighters.

However, it would appear that the R7's were distinctive for their relative exclusivity to the E-Wings. In fact the R8 was hailed for its versatility compared to the more limited R7. If this sounds unusual, think about the machines you use every day. Your cel phone can probably make calls, check Web pages, take pictures, play videos, download music -- but it can't make toast. Your toaster can't do all of those other things, but it can give you part of your breakfast, even if that's about all it can do.

The R7 looks very much like a standard R-type droid, even to having a dome-shaped head, but there are some distinctive differences, which is why I think Hasbro might have chosen it. For one thing, it doesn't have the classic display up front of two recessed manipulator arms. The front has a slightly different pattern. Then there's the main eye on the dome. That's what really sets the R7 apart -- it's triangular. There's also a series of small ridges around the dome at about the same level as the eye.

This droid was made available in various Star Wars action figures in four parts -- technically five pieces. The dome and the center leg were packed together, and the other three parts featured the left leg, the right leg, and the torso. To be quite honest, I'm not sure what was sold with who, as I had to trade for half of the parts of this droid.

Assembly is easy enough. It simply snaps together. The dome is hollow, and there's some visible machinery on the top of the torso where the dome snaps into place. It's a nice little bit of extra detail, but I don't really believe that these toys were designed to be assembled, taken apart, and reassembled. The dome snaps down quite firmly, and although it lacks the "clicking" rotation noise of other astromech droids, it doesn't really seem designed ot be pried up and switched out or anything either.

About the only part that is easily removable is the center leg. Since this isn't a droid with a retractable center leg, like some models are, if you want to pose your droid in its "two leg" configuration, the center leg has to be removed completely -- and placed somewhere safe, please, so it doesn't get lost.

The side legs have a little extra bonus with them, in that they have the extended "jets" that were such a shocker on R2-D2 the first time he took off and FLEW in Star Wars Episode II. He did so again in Episode III, torching some Super Battle Droids in the process. One really does have to wonder what happened, "within continuity", between Episodes III and IV to take R2's flying ability away from him.

Cinematically, of course, George Lucas had a hard enough time during the filming of the Classic Trilogy just keeping the droids wheeling along the ground, never mind flying. One might surmise, "in universe", that the flight capability was probably pretty fuel-consuming and theoretically expensive. And it's unlikely that the average droid could store a lot of fuel, so it wouldn't be especially practical, either. Sort of like real-life jet packs. One of R2's interim owners might have simply disabled the function. We may never know.

But that doesn't mean that other R-type droids aren't capable of the same operation. Although I've never been all that fond of toys constantly displaying special abilities like this. I'm not complaining about the toy. This is just a little quirk of my own. Technically, the "flaming jet" pieces are removable, but the droid's legs don't look quite right without them, as they leave an open indentation that would otherwise be filled in by the retracted panels.

Colorwise, R7-Z0 has a black dome and a white body. The main trim color on both sections is a light olive green, which can be found around his triangular eye, other dome details, and assorted paneling on his torso. I am very pleased to report that all of the painted detailing has been very well and very neatly done. This is especially impressive on the dome, which is surprisingly complex in the detail department.

This may have been a "Droid Factory" unit, but that doesn't mean that Hasbro skimped on the details. Indeed they did not. The cables around the feet are distinctive parts of their own, all three legs have small rolling wheels underneath, and although the average astromech droid isn't exactly known for articulation, R7-Z0 has what he needs to have -- his dome turns nicely, and his side legs move back and his feet angle so that he looks good in his tripedal mode. Technically, the side legs move as much as you need them too, all the way around if you want, but that looks pretty silly.

So what's my final word here? Hey, I often say you can't have too many Clone Troopers. Well, I'll take all the Astromech Droids I can get, as well. And I am truly delighted to finally have an R7, a completely new type of Astromech Droid. I'm hoping I can get the parts for the other one, and therein lies the one hitch. You can't just go out and buy him. You have to find the figures that include his parts, and unfortunately, current observation indicates to me that the R7's have been pretty much rotated out of the action figure assortments.

If you're a fan of the Star Wars astromech droids, he fits perfectly well alongside any of the other driods that didn't have to be assembled first, so Hasbro didn't skimp on his size, either, and he's a cool addition to any Star Wars droid collection. He'll just take a little more effort, perhaps.

The STAR WARS "DROID FACTORY" R7-Z0 ASTROMECH DROID definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!