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By Thomas Wheeler

Just as there was an assortment of "preview" figures for Star Wars Episode II three years ago, so has Hasbro produced a similar series for Episode III, coming up in just a few months. And I found them one day in late January at a nearby Target.

The packaging reflects the new "Darth Vader Head above Fire" design that the Episode III figures will have when they arrive in force (no pun intended) in a few months. It's actually a very good package design. The curved card and curved bubble are quite distinctive. The package very clearly says "Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith", and these have a special "Sneak Preview" sticker on the bubble. Let's take a look at the figures individually.

GENERAL GRIEVOUS - Likely the most recognizable of the lot, Grievous first came to the attention of Star Wars fans in the animated Clone Wars series, as some sort of droid-like being who could wield up to four lightsabers at once and has a real hatred towards Jedi. According to the details on the back of the toy package, Grievous is the commander of the Droid armies, and was trained in lightsaber combat by Sith Lord Darth Tyranus (known to some of us as Count Dooku).

The more realistic and less toon-like Grievous is a nasty piece of business. The animated version wasn't able to really capture the frightening skeletal-like image of this strange being. He looks like Skeletor on the Slim-Fast plan. The figure is a bit pre-posed, but appears to be well-articulated (I haven't actually opened the toys yet). Both attributes are fairly common for Star Wars figures these days, except for the most exceptionally articulated figures such as Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers, which really can't be pre-posed, and certain droids, such as R2 units, which can neither be pre-posed nor, because of their design, are going to have extensive articulation.

Grievous has the look of a major threat to Star Wars heroes everywhere, and I suspect he has a good chance to become a classic villain in this final prequel Star Wars movie. What his overall role will be, we'll still have to wait a few months to see, but clearly there's a great deal of anticipation about this figure, if for no other reason than he seems to be fairly heavily packed in the shipping case.

R4-G9 - Despite the "R4" designation, this droid appears to be pretty much a standard R2 model, much like R2-D2, with the opaque dome-head over the squat cylindrical body. I'm always happy to add new droids to my Star Wars collection, so I was especially pleased to pick up this little guy.

He has an unusual paint job in my opinion. Whereas most R2 droids that we've seen have tended to have either a white or matte colored body, or matte colored details, R4-G9 has a white body, with metallic gold head and metallic gold details. It really makes him stand out from many of the droids of this type that we have previously seen. He has a red center eye, that has the light reflection feature we've seen on these toys before, to make it look like it glows. The toy also has rolling wheels and what looks like a retractable third leg.

According to the information on the back of the card, R4-G9 is an astromech droid that accompanies Obi-Wan Kenobi on a mission to the sinkhole planet of Utapau. Sounds like a real vacation spot.

WOOKIEE WARRIOR - The worst kept secret of this Star Wars movie is that Chewbacca is in it, and he's brought friends. This is one of them. Now, Chewbacca has always seemed intimidating. Between his height and his furry, animalistic appearance and snarls in place of language, you knew this wasn't somebody you wanted to mess with. Certainly there was a sentient being under all that hair, but it was one with a temper.

Chewbacca looks like the Addams Family's Cousin Itt compared to this guy. Although generically described as a "Wookiee Warrior", if he's typical, then there needs to be an unwritten, or maybe actually written down and dropped as leaflets on every populated world, rule that the absolute last thing you ever want to do in life is make a whole horde of Wookiees mad.

This Wookiee Warrior is immense compared to the others in this series, and decidedly sizeable just in general as far as Star Wars figures go. Well articulated, even if that articulation does break up the overall fur design a but. But let's set that minor point aside, shall we? The detail level is incredible, right down to the snarling face.

Then there's the armor. All we ever saw Chewbacca wear was a bandolier. This guy looks like he mugged a Samurai and killed a few Klingons to get his wardr obe and weaponry. Speaking of the weapon, it's got to be the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Looks like it could do anything, including possibly play music.

The description of the character on the back of the card says that "The towering, fur-covered Wookiees defend their home planet of Kashyyyk (Geshundheit -- and it's a known fact that Wookiees hate that joke...) when the Clone Wars shatter their peaceful jungle world.

It also says -- SPOILER WARNING...!

That they're led into battle by Yoda. Okay, that's worth the price of admission alone. Take one green, elf-eared, Einstein-haired Jedi Master that's maybe 2-foot-5. So he's good with a lightsaber. Now he's backed up by an army of armored, eight-foot-tall, really upset furballs. This I gotta see.

TION MEDON - This is the fourth figure in the assortment, and the only one I didn't bother with. Scrawny guy with a head that'd make "Prune-Face" from the Dick Tracy comic strip look like a Botox recipient by comparison. For all I know, this character will have a major role in the movie. But I've got to watch my dollars these days, and this one just didn't really catch my eye that much.

Then there's one vehicle -- ANAKIN'S JEDI STARFIGHTER. I didn't see the toy itself at Target, but I did see its picture on the package back. This vehicle has attracted a lot of attention, because despite the bright yellow details on this vehicle, there's also no denying its considerable resemblance to Darth Vader's TIE Fighter. As we get closer to the timeline of the classic trilogy, so does the look of a great many things in the prequel films.

On the whole, if this is the level of quality that we can expect for STAR WARS EPISODE III action figures, then we'd all better start saving up our money for the major assault in the toy store aisles in May. I was impressed, and I definitely recommend any and all of these toys to anyone who has enjoyed collecting Star Wars over the years. May the Force be with you...