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By Thomas Wheeler

The San Diego Comics Convention, or Comic-Con, as it is perhaps better known, has become, over the years, pretty much THE place for pop culture mavens. Hardly just a gathering of comics fans anymore, this mega-event brings in movie studios, promoting films that should be of interest to the crowds gathered; video game companies, comics publishers and of course the major toy companies are present in force.

As much as the International Toy Fair is a place for companies such as Mattel, Hasbro, and everybody else to try to persuade the major retailers to carry their forthcoming product, the San Diego Comic-Con is an opportunity for these companies to meet with and showcase their products that will be of interest particularly to adult collectors, longtime fans of various concepts that may or may not have had their origins in the toy world, but certainly maintain a considerable presence there.

And, over a good number of years now, one of the main attractions in this realm is that most of the major toy companies offer a number of items that are exclusive to the Comic-Con. Although some remaining supplies might turn up at a later date, they're still billed as Comic-Con exclusives, and the majority of the inventory is likely to go out the door there.

One of the 2009 exclusives, courtesy of Hasbro, comes from the world of Star Wars. It is a STORMTROOPER COMMANDER, from the very popular Star Wars video game, THE FORCE UNLEASHED.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this video game, I offer the following from WikiPedia:

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, also known as The Force Unleashed, is a LucasArts video game and part of the The Force Unleashed multimedia project; other The Force Unleashed project developers and publishers include Dark Horse Comics, Lego, Hasbro, and Del Rey Books The Force Unleashed was initially developed for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 consoles and on the iPhone OS, second-generation N-Gage, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and Java-equipped mobile phone handhelds. The game was released in North America on September 16, 2008.

The project bridges the two Star Wars trilogies and introduces a new protagonist, Starkiller, as Darth Vader's secret apprentice.

The Force Unleashed is a third-person action game in which the player's character's weapons are the Force and a lightsaber. Developers treated the main character's lightsaber like another Force power, and wanted to ensure "something visceral and cool" happened with each button-push. The game has a combo system for stringing lightsaber attacks and for combining lightsaber attacks with Force powers. Experience points earned by killing enemies and finding artifacts can be used to increase Starkiller's powers and traits.

Before the game's release, Lucasfilm claimed it would "unveil new revelations about the Star Wars galaxy" with a "redemption" motif. The story progresses through a combination of scripted events, in-game cinematics, cutscenes, and dialogue.

Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, The Force Unleashed begins with the player controlling Darth Vader and searching Kashyyyk for a surviving Jedi. After defeating the Jedi in battle, Vader discovers the Jedi's Force-strong child and raises him to become his apprentice, unknown to Emperor Palpatine. Upon reaching adulthood, Vader sends the apprentice (known in the game as "Starkiller", and whom the player now controls) to kill the remaining Jedi as training for his ultimate goal: assassinating the Emperor. However, the Emperor discovers Starkiller's existence and forces Vader to kill the apprentice; Vader hurls Starkiller into space, but secretly dispatches droids to retrieve and revive him. Vader sends his apprentice to foster a rebellion among those who resist the Emperor's rule, distracting the Emperor so Vader can make his move. Breaking into various Imperial facilities, Starkiller rescues love interest and Rogue Shadow pilot Juno Eclipse, Jedi Master Rahm Kota, Princess Leia Organa, and Senator Bail Organa. In the process, Starkiller learns from Kota about the Jedi way, ultimately sparing the life of Jedi apprentice Maris Brood. Starkiller travels between missions aboard the Rogue Shadow, whose crew develops a close relationship despite their initially evil agenda.

Senators Organa, Mon Mothma, and Garm Bel Iblis meet to plan a rebellion against the Empire, but are interrupted when Darth Vader arrests them and Kota. Vader attacks Starkiller and reveals that Starkiller was never meant to overthrow the Emperor; from the beginning, he was the Emperor's tool to expose his enemies. Surviving Vader's attack, Starkiller uses the Force to ascertain the senators' and Kota's location: the Death Star. Inside the station, Starkiller duels Darth Vader. Kota attempts to fight the Emperor, but is blasted by the Emperor's Force lightning. At this point, the player chooses to either seek revenge and kill Vader or save Kota from the Emperor:

If the player attacks and kills Vader, the Emperor offers to let Starkiller take Vader's place as his apprentice if Starkiller proves himself by killing Kota. Starkiller instead attacks the Emperor, who crushes Starkiller with the Rogue Shadow and kills Kota and all his allies. The story ends with Starkiller's broken body being grafted with armor, turning him into a Sith Stalker, so he can serve as the Emperor's assassin until Palpatine finds a new apprentice from which he, like Vader, will be cast aside. Although not the canon ending, the "Infinities" expansion packs will stem from this ending.

If the player attacks and defeats Emperor Palpatine, Kota prevents Starkiller from killing Palpatine in hatred. Starkiller dies while absorbing the Emperor's renewed attack, but Kota and the senators escape. The Emperor and Vader look over Starkiller's corpse, concerned that he has become a martyr to inspire the newly formed Alliance to Restore the Republic. Senator Organa and the others agree to proceed with their rebellion and Leia decides to use Starkiller's family crest as the Rebellion's symbol. Outside, Juno talks to Kota, who tells her that among Starkiller's dark thoughts, Juno herself was one bright spot that he held onto right until his death. This is the canon ending.

The video game has proven to be hugely popular, and as you might guess from that list of licensees, has resulted in a novel, comic book series, and a number of action figures. This includes the Stormtrooper Commander, who was originally offered as an exclusive with the release of the video game. I'm not much good at video games, so I didn't purchase the game, and didn't get the figure. And at the very least, I'd have to say that the Stormtrooper Commander has been repackaged for Comic-Con, whatever its original packaging may have looked like.

Why do I say this? Several reasons. The packaging bears a 2009 copyright date. The game came out in 2008. The cardback is identical to the newest design of Star Wars figure packaging, the sort of angular design that we're seeing for both Clone Wars and Legacy Collection (and the Stormtrooper Commander is marked as being part of the Legacy Collection). Finally, the package has a San Diego Comic-Con International sticker on it, that's on the interior bubble, not the outer protective shell which encases the entire package card and the bubble in which the figure itself is packaged.

So, what's a Stormtrooper Commander? Well, I think a better question that might be asked is -- why haven't we ever heard of a Stormtrooper Commander before? Consider the Original Trilogy. There were Stormtroopers all over the place. And they all dressed in white, unmarked armor. The only real DIRECT variant from Stormtroopers were the Sandtroopers, who wore that extra piece over their shoulders, seemed to be stationed exclusively to Tatooine, and needed their armor hosed down from all the sand and dust.

Now, there were other Imperial trooper forces over the course of the Trilogy. We would see Snowtroopers, TIE Fighter Pilots, AT-AT Drivers, Biker Scouts -- all of these, to varying degrees, had certain similarities to the Stormtroopers, but none of them were likely to be confused with Stormtroopers.

Consider now, the Clone Troopers from the Prequel Trilogy, especially the Clone Troopers from Episode III. Technically, the basic color of their armor was white, and they were all pretty much dressed the same, occasional helmet variances notwithstanding. But what differed the Clone Troopers from the Stormtroopers was the fact that by Episode III, the Clone Troopers were marking their armor with a wide range of patterns and colors, depending on specialties, assigned squads, you name it.

"The Force Unleashed" takes place between the Prequel Trilogy and the Classic Trilogy. I think it's reasonable to assume that somewhere in this time, the Clone Troopers became Stormtroopers, but at the same time, continued, for a while, at least, to have special markings on their armors in special circumstances, before, apparently, at some point, the Emperor said, "All right, enough with the warpaint. You're all wearing white. Get used to it."

Granted, it's just as possible that the planets and areas we "visited" in the Classic Trilogy, a rather limited part of a very expansive galaxy as we have since come to learn, used "all white" Stormtroopers, and there might have been more "colorful" troopers elsewhere that we just never saw.

Both explanations, admittedly, are purely speculation. I favor the former, myself, if only because the figure line tied into the video game has already given us one other colorful Stormtrooper variant, the Incinerator Stormtroopers, whose helmets have green lenses and whose armor is marked with red striping.

The back of the package card describes the Stormtrooper Commander thusly: The Stormtrooper Commander patrols the front lines, leading his troops into combat on the fungal planet Felucia. Clearly visible with his enhanced, uniquely detailed armor, he confronts the Felucians with a mighty BlasTech E-11 blaster rifle - and the pure willingness to pull the trigger.

The Stormtrooper Commander figure is the "Super-Articulated" version of the Stormtrooper that Hasbro developed several years ago. It's an amazing figure, highly detailed, and amazingly well-articulated. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles, both knees and ankles including a swivel. The mid-torso point is somewhat loose on this particular figure, but I've encountered this before (although I have yet to determine a fix for it), and I have no reason to believe that all the figures are like this.

One of the things I especially like about both Stormtrooper and Clone Troopers, is that the "Super-Articulated" versions of both can make excellent use of their armor designs to largely conceal their articulation points. They're highly poseable without the problem of some other similar-sized action figure lines where the points of articulation are downright glaring. Most of the areas that need to "move" are within the black "undersuit", so they can be concealed reasonably well in these areas, leaving the white armor unaffected.

The Stormtrooper Commander is certainly a distinctive figure. His "uniquely detailed armor" features assorted markings done in a very dark blue. This includes a thin stripe that runs from the back to the front of one side of the helmet, almost bisecting the right eye lens; A sort of thick "T" shape on the torso, blue shoulder pads, blue stripes down both arms, a narrow stripe and a thick stripe, and a thick blue stripe down the right leg, with two white hash marks near the hip.

"Marked" Stormtroopers are unusual enough. The only other ones, really, are the Incinerator Stormtroopers I mentioned previously, and their color and marking scheme is considerably different from this. So this Stormtrooper Commander is really a standout. To what degree we might see future "marked" Stormtroopers as we become more aware of events between the two trilogies, I really don't know, but if this Stormtrooper Commander might be an indication of things to come, it should get interesting.

To give the appearance of some "wear and tear", at least on the markings, white paint has been spattered on certain areas of the stripes. Although Star Wars can get away with this "worn" look better than many other toy lines, it is something where I rather wish, unless it's absolutely necessary (no one expects to see a pristine Millennium Falcon), they'd just leave well enough alone and let the figure look "new".

The Stormtrooper Commander comes with a standard blaster rifle. Honestly, between these and the blaster commonly given to Clone Troopers, Hasbro must have churned out more guns by now than Remington, Colt, Smith, AND Wesson. And that's even before you look into G.I. Joe.

The Stormtrooper Commander also has a removable helmet. I've always sort of considered this a bit pointless, for this reason. All of the Clone Troopers and a considerable percentage of Stormtroopers -- themselves clones -- all, of course, look alike. Why bother? My one main complaint is that it tends to result in the necessity of a slightly too-large helmet that, when displayed next to a Trooper that doesn't have a removable helmet, looks a little ridiculous, and certainly too large. However, Hasbro seems to be taking this into greater consideration. The helmet for the Stormtrooper Commander doesn't look too large at all, and fits the overall look of the figure very nicely.

As one might expect, the head underneath is pretty much the same Jango Fett/Clone head that practically all of the Trooper figures with removable helmets have -- surprise! At least, it's decently painted and detailed, but I'm still inclined to leave his helmet in place.

So, what's my final word here? Well, if you're any sort of Star Wars action figure fan, or if, for that matter, you're somewhat like me, with a certain preference for building up the ranks of your Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers when possible, especially when something new comes out, then you'll like this figure. I'm especially pleased that he's part of the Legacy Collection, the more "movie-accurate" figures. Nothing against the Clone Wars animated series -- it's excellent -- but the Clone Trooper figures, by nature of imitating the design in the show, unfortunately just look a little too scrawny for my taste, relative to their big-screen cousins. (Which, honestly, is a shame, because there's been some pretty cool trooper divisions in there.) Since most of the Troopers these days are coming from the Animated line, I'm glad to see this new entry in the so-called Legacy Collection.

Now, I won't say this figure will be easy to find. He was a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive. I don't know if Hasbro had any plans to put any leftovers -- if any -- on their online Web Shop at HasbroToyShop.Com, or anything like that, and by the time you read this review, even if they did, those are probably gone. But, as I say in all such matters when I'm reviewing a notoriously scarce action figure, there's always the collector sites and the secondary market.

And this really is a very cool figure. I'm sincerely delighted to have him, and any Star Wars fan would be pleased to make him part of their collection. The STAR WARS FORCE UNLEASHED STORMTROOPER COMMANDER definitely has my highest recommendation!