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By Thomas Wheeler

This is a pretty cool set of figures, especially for those who like to "army build" trooper figures. It's a popular practice in lines like G.I.Joe and Star Wars. Unfortunately, while the basic idea of this set is very cool, there are a few problems with its final execution.

The set includes three troopers. An Episode II Clone Trooper, an Episode III Clone Trooper, and an Episode IV Stormtrooper. This is supposed to show the "evolution" of the original Clone Trooper, introduced in Episode II, to the Stormtroopers that we came to know in the Classic Trilogy.

On a basic level, the figures are excellent. They all have highly-articulated bodies, perhaps not quite to "Super-Articulated" levels, but certainly above average. And they have distinctive markings on them, that at least in the case of the two Clone Troopers, haven't yet appeared anywhere else in the 3-3/4" format. The Episode II Clone Trooper is trimmed in yellow, and the Episode III Clone Trooper is trimmed in a dark yellow, and comes with an abundance of extra accessories, including shoulder pads, "skirt", and more. The Stormtrooper is technically a Sandtrooper, with the distinctive shoulder pad.

There's a nice assortment of accessories, including an extra Episode II Clone Trooper helmet, that if I recall correctly is distinctive of the Clone Pilots. This along with two pistols, three different rifles, and more. Both of the Clone Troopers have removable helmets, with the "Jango is my father" headsculpt underneath it, so really, either one could wear the extra helmet.

So this could've been a very cool set -- except...

All three figures have been given battle damage paint ops.

This is a practice I have long abhorred in any action figure line. There's just no good reason or it. The first time it turned up in G.I.Joe, I went ballistic. Fortunately, it doesn't turn up there much anymore. If I'm going to buy an action figure, I want it to look factory fresh, unless there's a very good reason for it not to.

Now, in fairness, Star Wars is probably the one toy line that can get away with this -- to a certain degree. No one expects the Millennium Falcon to look like it just rolled off the assembly line. And I can understand that Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers in the midst of an ongoing war aren't always going to have the time to take proper care of their armor. HOWEVER -- we have distinctly seen both clean Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers, so there's no good reason for the figures in this three-pack to be painted as they are, in my opinion, except some designer thinks it looks cool.

The most laughable of the lot (not to mention gross) has to be the Stormtrooper. I think in some strange attempt to get his coloring to vaguely match the yellow trim on the two Clone Troopers, they tried to make it look like he'd gotten a huge streak of Tatooine sand sprayed across his armor. The end result, unfortunately, looks more like someone relieved themself on his uniform. I mean, what happened to this guy -- did he get trapped under an incontinent Dewback or something!?

The two Clone Troopers aren't much better. I suspect the black blotches on their uniforms are supposed to look like blaster damage or whatever. It looks more like they had a fight by throwing charcoal briquettes from a barbeque at each other.

It's a shame. It really is. Because this could've been an incredibly cool set of figures. And maybe you're not bothered by this sort of thing. Maybe you don't mind battle damage being painted on (although that still doesn't excuse the Sandtrooper). So, maybe you'll like this set. But I really wish Hasbro had done what Entertainment Earth did when they offered multiple sets of Episode II Clone Troopers a while back (which I dearly wish I could have afforded). You could order either clean or dirty figures. If Hasbro feels an obligation to 'battle damage' their figures in the first place, then at least offer a clean version for those of us who prefer it. The "dirt" is the last thing applied. Just skip that step for some of us.

Would I recommend this set? For those that don't object to battle-damaged figures, most certainly. It's STILL three nicely-done, well-articulated Star Wars troopers. For those like me, who like all of their figures factory clean, that recommendation comes a little more advisedly.

I'd like to comment on one of the other "Evolution" sets, before I conclude. It's a point a couple people have made to me, and it has a certain validity to it. There's an "Anakin to Vader" Evolution Set out there, that includes Anakin from Episode II, as a Jedi Padawan; Anakin from Episode II, as a Jedi Knight, and of course Darth Vader from the Classic Trilogy.

There really should've been a fourth figure here -- Anakin as a boy from Episode I. I realize that Episode I is not the most popular Star Wars movie. I realize that some fans might have been a little uncomfortable, not only being reminded of the movie, but also pondering the implications of a rather ordinary little kid becoming what he did in Episode III. But it still strikes me as sweeping a legitimate part of the Star Wars Saga under the table. The Anakin set would not need the same amount of accessories as the Clone Trooper set. A few lightsabers and you're fine. The youngest Anakin could have been tucked in the accessories section of the package.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

Let me endeavor to conclude on a positive note: On the whole, Hasbro has done a superb job with their Star Wars collection, especially in recent years with increased articulation on the figures. This works especially well on armored figures, such as these troopers, where much of the articulation can be concealed within the design of the armor. I will never approve of painting a figure with battle damage, but it's hard for me NOT to be otherwise VERY impressed with this set of figures, and their counterparts in other areas of the Star Wars Action Figure universe!