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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the 2008 assortments of standard, individually carded Star Wars figures was entirely a "Fans' Choice" assortment. And what thew fans chose, for the most part, was for certain notable figures, particularly Troopers of various sorts, that had been hard to find store-exclusives of one sort or another, to receive wider release as non-exclusives.

This has not, however, as of this writing, necessarily made them that much easier to obtain. The assortment, as one might expect with a designation of "Fans' Choice" and no shortage of army-builders, has proven to be extremely popular, and as such extremely elusive. To date, I've only seen the assortment once, and snagged what I could. This included -- the SHADOW STORMTROOPER.

In the classic Star Wars trilogy, the vast ranks of the Imperial Stormtroopers all wore white armor over black undersuits. But in the vast, expanded universe of Star Wars, who's to say that this was the only color of Stormtrooper available? Indeed, there were the even more sinister and deadly-looking Shadow Stormtroopers, and you never quite knew when they would turn up.

According to their history: for much of the Galactic Civil War, a mysterious agent of Palpatine code-named Blackhole carefully sifted through countless streams of data, distilling it into useful information for Imperial Intelligence. Blackhole had an impressive amount of resources available to him, including a Star Destroyer and its complement of troops and fighters. Per his orders, the Stormtroopers under his command had their armor cast in black, as opposed to the usual white, to match his own particular eccentricities. The armor modification had practical benefits as well. The stygian- triprismatic polymer afforded the stormtroopers increased sensor-stealth.

Interestingly, the Shadow Stormtroopers were one of the earliest non-movie-appearing variants to turn up in the world of Star Wars. They actually had their first appearance in the Star Wars newspaper comic strip, distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, in a storyline entitled "Gambler's World". In this story, the Shadow Stormtroopers were sometimes called "Blackhole Troopers" because of their affiliation with an individual known as Agent Blackhole. This was back before George Lucas started playing with his alphabet soup to come up with weird alien names for everybody.

In this storyline, which took place shortly after the Battle of Yavin, which destroyed the original Death Star in the first movie, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa were sent on a mission to Vorzyd V, the "Gambler's World," where they were to disrupt the Imperial gambling operations with the support of the president of that world. However, the operation was disrupted by Agent Blackhole, and platoons of his Shadow Stormtroopers were seen fighting the local resistance and the Alliance troops.

The Shadow Stormtroopers also put in an appearance in the popular Crimson Empire comic mini-series from Dark Horse, and indeed some of that artwork appears on the figure's package. In this story, a squad of Shadow Stormtroopers formed a bodyguard for aspiring Dark Lord Carnor Jax during his attempt to take control of the Empire; it is believed that these were soldiers from Blackhole's old elite unit, but it is not known how they had come into service with Jax, or whether their attachment to him implies any contact with Blackhole. It is possible they were some of the forces placed under his command by the Imperial Ruling Council following the Battle of Endor. It is notable that Jax himself had formerly served in Blackhole's old unit. Although they were all slain by Kir Kanos on Yinchorr.

The Shadow Stormtroopers are also expected to appear in the highly anticipated video game "Force Unleashed", and indeed, there are special edition Shadow Stormtroopers with, apparently, a metallic finish, expected for this aspect of the Star Wars action figure collection. However, that is not this particular Shadow Stormtrooper.

As I said at the top of the article, this "Fans' Choice" assortment is heavy on figures, especially troopers, that were previously very hard to find exclusives. And they didn't get much tougher than the Shadow Stormtrooper. His previous appearance was at the San Diego ComiCon in 2006, but was only sold at StarWarsShop.Com, an official online store dedicated to Star Wars collectibles. And obviously, with a 2006 release, it hasn't been available for some time, and was never available in stores.

One can see why, perhaps, the Shadow Stormtroopers never put in a live appearance in any of the movies. Their black armor would make them look a little too much like Darth Vader. Yes, I know that TIE Fighter pilots also wore black, but somehow, these Shadow Stormtroopers look a whole lot nastier. The TIE Fighter pilots -- looked like pilots, ultimately. Not that there's anything wrong with that. These Shadow Stormtroopers look like very dangerous soldiers who would be capable of anything.

The figure is extremely impressive, and very cool. For one thing, it uses the body molds established for the "Super-Articulated" Stormtrooper that was produced a few years ago, and which has turned up several times since (most recently wearing shoulder padding and marketed as a Sandtrooper). The basic design is excellent. It's well proportioned, if a little more slender than the average Clone Trooper, very well detailed, and superbly articulated. One thing I appreciate, even though it seems not to be terribly significant, is that the figure does not have a removable helmet. Giving any trooper this feature tends to almost invariably result in an oversized helmet that just doesn't quite look right. Besides which -- we get it, already. They're all clones. They all look alike and they all look like Jango Fett.

The Shadow Stormtrooper is articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. Most of his articulation points have a multiple range of motion, including not only back and forth movement but rotation as well.

The armor has been molded in a somewhat glossy black plastic, with a limited amount of paint detailing. The helmet has two silver knobs along the "jaw", as well as the short little stripes along the lower side, which are painted in medium grey. Although almost indistinguishable except in really good light, the "cloth" undersuit, where it shows where the Stormtrooper does not have armor, is an extremely dark grey, not the usual black of the standard Stormtroopers. It's not MUCH of a color variance, but it does exist, and as I said, in the right light, provides a nice little extra level of detail.

The figure comes with a standard blaster firearm, which is described on the package as a "DC-19 'Stealth' Blaster Rifle." I'm honestly not sure what this means. I couldn't find an entry for it in the "Star Wars Essential Guide to Weapons" (although I don't have the updated version), and it seems to me that Blaster Rifles aren't exactly made for stealth. They tend to be rather noisy devices, and that burst of light tends to be something of a giveaway.

And my final word on the Shadow Stormtrooper? Heck, what's not to like?
-- besides the current difficulty in finding one. It's an Imperial Stormtrooper, who looks darn cool and impressive in black, with an interesting history in the "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars, with more to come in "Force Unleashed", it seems, and the figure itself is well-made, nicely detailed, and as well-articulated as you're going to find in the Star Wars line, which is considerable. The STAR WARS SHADOW STORMTROOPER definitely has my highest and enthusiastic recommendation!