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By Thomas Wheeler

In 2010, Target stores offered a pair of two-packs that featured a SENATE COMMANDO CAPTAIN and a SENATE COMMANDO, and the other set featuring bounty hunters Cad Bane and IG-86. But as my focus tends to be on Clone Trooper types, that was the set that I was especially interested in.

These are both very dramatic figures. Clearly they use Clone Trooper armor, but the color scheme and the helmets were extremely unusual. I figured the next thing I needed to do was find out precisely who Senate Commandos were. For that, I turned to the Star Wars informational Web Site known as "Wookieepedia."

The Senate Commandos were a unit within the Senate Guards during the Clone Wars. This elite unit within the Senate Guard was a special reserve branch which performed missions on behalf of both the Galactic Senate and the Judicial Department. Their duties were strictly confined to the protection of the legislature. Its members were drawn from the ranks of the Senate Guard and consisted of top scoring experts that were assigned on high risk missions. As such, only the best and the bravest of their ranks were selected to become a Senate Commando.

They served as an aggressive and highly trained police force that operated on Coruscant but at times conducted special missions to distant worlds. They also protected ambassadorial starships if they were boarded by an enemy force or raiders. Furthermore, the Senate Commandos served as the last line of defense for Coruscant if it were ever invaded. When not on duty, they were mostly involved in police work in the Galactic Capitol and worked alongside the Jedi Order.

Where the ordinary ranks of the Senate Guard were responsible for the protection duties, the Senate Commandos were often sent on missions such as detaining individuals that were wanted for questioning by the Galactic Senate and also accompanied Senators, where they acted as bodyguards during any missions to war zones. In addition. They served as a bodyguard detail to the Supreme Chancellor prior to the formation of the Red Guard. Its members were part of a proud tradition and one of the most cherished of the Republic.

The members of this organization wore blue battle uniforms similar to the Senate Guard. This was actually a heavier version of the Guardsman armor, and they did not wear cloaks. By discarding the heavy ceremonial robes, they were able to fight more effectively in battle situations. It was a flexible customizable form of field armor and allowed them to fend off the deadliest of hired killers and bounty hunters. The armor was blaster resistant and was similar to that of the Clone Troopers, but with slight differences, such as the enlarged left pauldron as well as the helmet. Unlike the clone army, the Senate Commandos were formed of non-clone recruits, like their Senate Guard contemporaries and Red Guard counterparts.

Senate Commandos were one of the few non-clone units capable of undertaking special missions that operated within the Galactic Republic. This led to a fierce rivalry between them and the Clone commandos. The head of this body held the title of Captain and all of its members were volunteers from the Senate Guard. To qualify for membership, a recruit had to pass through a brutal four-week period of additional combat training. Once inducted into their rank, a new commando was deployed into a squad where they reported to a commander, but also deferred to the orders of the person they were protecting, except in cases involving the person's security.

Members of higher rank had a higher helmet and white markings, including the Senate emblem on one arm.

The origins of the Senate Commandos came at the time of the formation of the Senate Guard, where they served as an active detachment of the organization. Their duties heightened around the time of the Clone Wars when they became Senator Palpatine's personal guard following his election. Several guards were posted as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's office during the kidnapping of Rotta the Hutt. At the time, this unit was led by Captain Faro Argyus.

Due to mass corruption and the increasing influence of the Separatist crisis, the loyalty of non-clone military personnel was constantly in question, especially given the controversial legacy of the Senate Guard, which in turn led to the formation of the even more controversial Red Guard. In this regard, the Senare Commandos, while highly trained and skilled for protecting Coruscant and taking on field missions, were ultimately seen as not as reliable as the all-loyal Clones. Indeed, Captain Argyus was successfully bribed by Separatist leader Count Dooku into rescuing Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray from the Republic.

Following this betrayal, Captain Jayfon became the new leader of the Senate Commandos. A large contingent of Commandos, led by Jayfon, were wiped out on Coruscant during the Senate hostage crisis when bounty hunter Cad Bane and his associates infiltrated the Galactic Senate and captured a number of Senators. Many Senate Commandos were found guarding the senate rooms and many were guarding a landing platform that was about to send Senators Rush Clovis and Padme Amidala to Cato Neimoidia.

Four Senate Commandos were stationed aboard the New Mandalorian vessel Coronet as bridge crew. Unfortunately for the elite soldiers and their Naval Captain, the Death Watch member Tal Merrik entered the bridge during the battle with Duchess Satine Kryuze as hostage. All of the Commandos were shot and killed before they could defend themselves.

A number of Senate Commandos also served as the Supreme Chancellor's escort when the Zillo Beast was brought to Coruscant, and they attempted to defend Palpatine when the beast went on a rampage.

After the outbreak of the Clone Wars, several of the most loyal members of the Senate Commandos were hand-picked by Chancellor Palpatine to serve as part of a new bodyguard detail that became known as the Red Guard.

Even so, you read this history, and it seems like these guys were hard-pressed to get any breaks.

Several interesting points are raised in this history. For starters, the fact that the Senate Commandos dispensed with the fancy robes common to Senate Guards. Indeed, if you take note of the Senate Guards in Star Wars Episode I, they are wearing blue robes and ornate helmets. They look similar, if less-menacing, to the heavily robed red-garbed Imperial Guards seen in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. No one seemed to know what was under those robes, and indeed, some of the early action figures of these Imperial Guards might as well have been glorified salt-shakers with arms. A Dark Horse mini-series called Crimson Empire revealed that the Guards did, indeed, have semi-armored uniformed underneath their robes, and a couple of figures of this design would later be made.

The Senate Commandos, for their part, obviously learned this lesson early on, and frankly, it's a lesson that the Jedi would have done well to learn. Apparently the Force could serve them well in anything except making really poor fashion choices for the battlefield. I don't care how good you are with a lightsaber, charging into battle wearing what looks way too much like a bathrobe just plain looks silly.

The other major point revealed in the history is that these are NOT Clones -- it's just that much of their armor appears to be derived from the same design used for Clone Trooper armor -- which doubtless made it easier on both the computer animation teams for LucasFilm, and the toy production facilities for Hasbro.

So, how are the toys? Really very cool, even though the two-pack has, by definition, a slightly annoying aspect to it. You get a Senate Commando Captain and a Senate Commando. In other words, one commanding officer and one trooper. That's not exactly much of a detachment. I'm sincerely pleased to have the figures, but I wouldn't've minded if this had been a three-pack or some such with another trooper or two. Even the picture on the back of the package, taken from the Clone Wars series, shows a Captain with three Commandos. Maybe we'll get lucky and the Commando will be released on a single card at some point, and those of us so inclined can army-build a bit.

However, that's a nearly insignificant complaint relative to how cool these figures really are. For the most part, they use the body molds of Clone Wars Clone Troopers. Even better, they use the best set of molds available.

There are several sets of Clone Trooper body molds for the Clone Wars line. One of these, which I really wish would disappear, has somewhat awkward articulation in some respects, and no ankle articulation. Fortunately, that's not the set used here. The Senate Commando Captain and the Senate Commando are fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso (and given the armor design, it works), legs, knees (including a swivel) and ankles.

Obviously, there are some differences. Most obvious is the color difference. The Senate Commando Captain and the Senate Commando have dark blue armor, more like a steel blue. It's really very impressive. Other differences include the helmets, and the large armor segment on the left shoulder.

The helmets bear some resemblance to those of the Senate Guards, in that they have a rather Roman-esque front to them, angled down in the front in a curved appearance, with a downward nose guard, and a sort of T-shape across the front. Unlike the Senate Guards, though, whose faces were partially on display, the Senate Commando and his Captain have a black protective visor in place. You cannot see their faces.

The Captain is easily distinguished from the Commando in that he has much more ornate armor. It starts with the helmet, which has a very high, curved fin on it, reminiscent of the decorative fins on the Senate Guard helmets. This fin is painted mostly gray, with decorative blue curves in it. There are also gray curves painted on the sides of the Captain's helmet, and white decorations on the front near the visor. By contrast, the Commandos' helmet has a much lower fin, and is solid blue, except for the black visor.

The structure of the armor for both the Captain and Commando is identical, but once again, it comes down to decoration. There is a huge stylized version of the Republic emblem painted in white on the large left shoulder armor of the Captain. Three stripes run down the rest of the left arm, all the way to the glove armor. There is also extremely ornate white patterning on the torso, right arm, right gauntlet, and both lower legs of the Commando Captain. As fancily as it is styled, it is clearly intended to be ceremonial and decorative, rather than having any practical function. It has been extremely neatly painted on this figure. In contrast, the Commando has no such decoration. You almost want to feel sorry for him, but one might suspect that in any sort of combat situation, he's probably less of a target, and the all-dark armor would enable him to conceal himself a bit better.

Of course, similar to Clone Trooper armor, the Senate Commando Captain and Commando have black "undersuits" beneath the armor, and these details had to be painted. I am very pleased to report that on these two figures, those details have been painted very neatly. I do not discern any hand-painting on either of them. Admittedly, it's a little easier to tell this sort of thing on white armor rather than dark blue, but they both look fine to me.

As far as accessories are concerned, although both figures are pictured on the back carrying fairly standard blaster pistols, the weaponry included in the set actually features one pistol and one long rifle, which one of the Commandos in the illustration derived from the animated series is wielding, so there is precedent for these Commandos having some heavier hardware.

The two figures also come with display stands, as well as cards and a plastic die to aid in including them in the "Galactic Battle Game" that Hasbro is presently promoting through all of its Star Wars action figures.

So, what's my final word here? This is an immensely cool set of Star Wars figures that sincerely took me by surprise. Even if it hadn't, though, I certainly would have sought it out. I have developed a sincere interest in the various Clone (and non-Clone) trooper type figures from the Star Wars Clone Wars line, and these two are easily the most distinctive trooper figures I have yet seen in the line. I'm extremely impressed with them. They're well-made, certainly well-articulated, and very well detailed. The white ornate detailing on the Commando Captain is especially notable -- not to put down the Commando. Wouldn't mind having a few more of him, obviously.

The set's exclusive to Target, so you'll have to track it down there, but it's definitely worth it. Any fan of Star Wars action figures will enjoy adding this distinctive two-pack to their collection.

The Target exclusive STAR WARS CLONE WARS two-pack featuring the SENATE COMMANDO CAPTAIN and SENATE COMMANDO definitely has my highest recommendation!