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By Thomas Wheeler

Previews is a publication of the comic book world. It is the primary source used by many comic book retailers by which to order their product. Some comic shops will carry and sell additional copies of this publication, which in any given month is about the size of a small-town phone book, and includes concise details of every single comic being published in a particular month ahead, not to mention a wide range of assorted additional merchandise -- books, toys, videos, apparel, you name it. This better allows their customers to know what's coming up that they might want, and to order it through the comic book store.

So when I learned that there was going to be a Star Wars Clone Trooper set that was a Previews exclusive, I knew I had to get it.

Technically, there are two sets available, both based on the video game STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II. There's a set of Clone Troopers and a set of Droids. However, I was primarily interested in the Clone Troopers, so that's the set I purchased.

Now, I'll be forthright here. I am terrible at video games. This despite the fact that I own three systems, even if two of them are rather outmoded. I don't dislike video games per se, although I admit to a concern as to their overwhelming prevalence in society. I'm just not very good at playing with them. I can probably get my cybernetic @$$ handed to me faster than anyone else -- and that's when I'm playing Solitaire. Okay, I'm not THAT bad. Neither am I very good. So I hardly picked up this set of figures because of its affiliation to the BattleFront II video game. I bought them because I like Clone Troopers. However, I figured it behooved me to learn something about the video game from which they are derived.

Star Wars: Battlefront II is a first-person shooter/third-person shooter video game. The game is the sequel to the successful Star Wars: Battlefront and features new vehicles, characters, game mechanics, maps, and missions. The game was released in late 2005.

Unlike its predecessor, Battlefront II features a more narrative-based campaign, retelling portions of the Star Wars storyline from the point of view of a veteran Imperial Stormtrooper, reminiscing about his tour of duty in service of both the Old Republic and as part of the Galactic Empire.

The game is told as a frame story, with an Imperial stormtrooper recounting the adventures of the 501st Legion. Originally, the Legion was part of the Old Republic, and fights against the Separatists from Geonosis to Utapau. After Emperor Palpatine commands that Order 66 be carried out, the 501st leads a massacre of the Jedi at their temple on Coruscant, coming under the direct supervision of Darth Vader. Feared throughout the galaxy, the 501st becomes known as "Vader's Fist". Under their new leader the 501st executes missions such as a forced regime change on Naboo, the destruction of a new droid army on Mustafar and an attempted clone rebellion on Kamino.

With the Galactic Empire firmly established in the ashes of the Old Republic, the 501st soon grows bored of the endless tedium, drills and inspection associated with maintaining the empire. When the Death Star's schematics are stolen, Vader leads the Legion across the galaxy in search of the plans, eventually leading to the boarding of the Tantive IV. Despite capturing the Rebel sympathizer Princess Leia, the plans are still transmitted, and the Death Star is destroyed. The 501st is then pressed into crushing the fledgling Rebel Alliance, leading to the victory at Hoth, where the narrator proudly proclaims the Rebellion finished.

The figures in this set are clearly from the days of Star Wars Episode III, which also reflects the cover art to the video game package itself, which focuded on a Clone Trooper, not a Stormtrooper. There are six figures in the set, including some very distinctive ones. Let's consider them individually.

CLONE TROOPER - The more or less basic Clone Trooper in this set represents the 501st Legion, which would come to be known as "Vader's Fist". These troopers have an interesting background.

The 501st Legion is, here on Earth, anyway (for lack of a better description), the official name of an organized group of Star Wars fans that outfit themselves with Stormtrooper armor (although I suspect Clone Troopers are also welcome), and carry out various events and charitable causes with a certain Star Wars flair. A global organization, they are probably best known for their collective appearance at the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, which featured George Lucas as the Grand Marshal.

To acknowledge the good works of the 501st Legion, Lucas pretty much made them an official part of the Star Wars Universe. Granted, there's a bit of a twist. The 501st Legion, the Trooper cadre most closely affiliated with Vader himself, thus earning the nickname "Vader's Fist", could hardly be known for charitable good works. These guys are pretty much the most highly trained, elite Troopers around. And they seem to be especially dedicated to Vader and the Empire.

Moviewise, they're best known as the group that accompanied the newly-minted Darth Vader in the raid on the Jedi Temple. One cannot forget that scene, of the brand new Sith leading a massive cadre of blue-trimmed Clone Troopers, whom we never saw having to "switch sides" from Order 66, march upon the venerated Temple of the Jedi Knights.

Figurewise, this particular Clone Trooper has also had an interesting history. For whatever reason, the single-carded figure of him was notorious for its limited articulation, at least compared to the more extensive, "Super-Articulated" levels of other Clone Troopers. This particular version of the 501st Clone Trooper saw a fairly recent re-release, with Hasbro promising that at some point, the figure would be switched out for a better articulated version. And you know I'd like to add some nicely-articulated 501st's to my collection.

The Clone Trooper that comes with ths BattleFront II set is definitely an improvement over the existing single-carded figure. And it certainly makes sense for this Clone Trooper to represent the 501st, since it is from the viewpoint of a 501st Trooper that the BattleFront II game takes place.

The set of molds used for this Clone Trooper are good, but not quite the best. The figure has a removable helmet, which, while a cool feature and, of course, with the expected Jango/Clone head underneath, does result in a helmet that inevitably looks a little too big for its own good. It's not a bad fit. It certainly could have been worse. But I tend to prefer it when the Clone Troopers have the helmet-as-head. I just think it looks better.

The figure has a good range of articulation, pretty much to "Super- Articulated" levels, so I have no complaints there, although the articulation is slightly different in some respects -- waist articulation instead of mid-torso, that sort of thing. I'm not trying to put one version ahead of the other. I'm just saying that there is a difference.

The only problem I encountered on this figure was a rather loose left leg, at the hip. It's as though it wasn't assembled quite properly, or was distorted somehow. To what degree this was a result of its positioning in its package, I don't know. Hopefully it's not an epidemic problem.

The 501st Clone Trooper comes with a blaster pistol, and has the expected blue trim pattern on his uniform. There's a certain amount of battle-weathering, which I could really do without, but it's nothing too extensive. Overall, it's an excellent figure, and certainly a necessary part of this collection.

GALACTIC MARINE - Much as the name implies, the Galactic Marines are Clone Troopers that are intended for battle in particularly grueling environments or other excessive conditions. They are, in basic form, clearly the ancestors of the Imperial Snowtroopers from Hoth.

The Galactic Marines' main appearance in the movies was when a bunch of them, obeying Order 66, gunned down their Jedi General, Ki-Adi-Mundi, on the battlefield.

Although there have been several recolorations of the Galactic Marines figure, following its introduction in early 2007, including one recent one in a comic-book set that really makes it look like a Snowtrooper, the Galactic Marine featured in this boxed set looks identical to the basic, single-carded one that was based on the Galactic Marines from the movie. This makes sense. Since the video game was released in 2005, doubtless there weren't that many other versions of Galactic Marines for the game producers to work with, and the ones that have come along since have been based on sources other than the movie, anyway.

The Galactic Marine looks quite different from the average Clone Trooper, in that his uniform is not predominantly white. The helmet and most of the armor is a dark burgundy, as is a sort of tunic-skirt he wears around his waist. The legs are not armored, but rather appear to be wearing very thick, protective trousers and thick boots. The figure nicely reflects all of these aspects.

The helmet is removable, and has the Jango-Clone head underneath, but unlike some of the Cone Troopers, the helmet does not appear overly large. Part of this, I believe, is due to the thick lower part of the helmet, which may be intended to be some sort of thick fabric, which drapes down nearly to the upper chest. The overall effect results in headgear that looks like it was designed to be big to begin with, so the removeable helmet aspect of it is minimized.

Despite being made from a completely different set of molds than any other Clone Trooper, the Galactic Marine does not come up short on articulation. He has a full range of motion that is easily within the "Super-Articulated" levels, including head (although this is largely negated by the helmet), arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Many of the articulation points have swivels as well as back and forth motion.

Accessory-wise, the Galactic Marine comes with a HUGE piece of firepower, that looks like a cross between a bazooka and a machine gun. A big machine gun. I'm not sure how one of these guys could even carry this thing into battle, never mind getting knocked back ten feet every time he tries to use it, but I guess they make Marines as tough in the Star Wars universe as they do here in the United States.

Overall, although this figure is pretty much identical to his single-carded version, which still turns up every so often, he's still a cool addition to this boxed set, and if you haven't bought a Galactic Marine for yourself yet, here's a good chance to get one.

HEAVY TROOPER - This is one of several new Trooper designations appearing for the first time in this figure set. The text on the back of the box reads, "These front-line troopers receive special training to take out enemy vehicles, using powerful rocket launchers and other heavy weapons."

The figure comes with a rocket launcher that is just about as heavy a piece of artillery as the Galactic Marine is carrying. It's clearly a rocket launcher, and the rocket is actually removable. However, it's not a spring-loaded weapon. That would've been a little difficult to schieve given the design. You've basically got a fairly fancy framework surrounding the rocket itself. But the framework is too minimal in design to accommodate any sort of spring-action mechanism.

No big loss as far as I'm concerned. Anytime I get such a weapon with an action figure and make the mistake of test-firing it, I tend to lose the missile behind a kitchen appliance...

The figure is based on the set of molds that have been used by a number of moderately generic (that is, un-named) Clone Commanders over the past couple of years. Now, these are molds that look great. Nicely detailed, very cool and distinctive helmet design. But the articulation isn't the best by a longshot.

The right arm has a full range of motion, but the left arm doesn't. The arm cannot move outwards, and the elbow is posed in a pre-bent position, and only swivels. It can't move up and down. There is no waist articulation, because there's a spring-action feature in the figure. Squeeze the legs and the arms raise up. Most inexcusable of all, since there wasn't even a structural reason this couldn't've been done, the figure cannot move at the knees. I suppose they had to cut out the knee articulation in order to manage the cost of the spring-action gimmick, which isn't exactly what I consider a proper trade-off. Oddly, the figure's ankles are articulated.

Colorwise, the figure isn't terribly dramatic. He's mostly white, with grey trim on his shoulder harness, and on the tunic-skirt he has. Look, I'm not saying this is a bad figure. The overall design and look of the figure is good, and I do like the distinctive helmet. But the articulation issues cannot be overlooked, and in my opinion, they're a serious drawback to this particular figure.

Interesting that he does, however, have the same helmet style as certain Clone Commanders. I wonder how that works out rank-wise?

CLONE SHARPSHOOTER - This is another new trooper designation unique to this set. According to the text on the box, "Clone sharpshooters are highly trained marksmen whose primary purpose in battle is to target infantry forces with devastating long-range fire."

Yeah, and it's a wonder they can see anything to shoot at through that dinky visor in the helmet. Technically, this figure is based on the molds of the Airborne Trooper. Not that this is a problem. It's still a very impressive figure. This particular recoloration is predominantly white, with some lines of blue on the uniuform, no doubt to affiliate him with the 501st Legion. The tunic-skirt is also a very dark blue in color, making it even more distinctive, with a very unique light blue border around it. It really adds some color to the figure.

The Clone Sharpshooter has a very high level of articulation, poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, with a full range of motion at all points. The paintwork is, for the most part, very neat. I've encountered some previous Airborne Trooper versions of this figure in which some of the paintwork wasn't very well applied.

And he is certainly well equipped. Along with a shoulder harness, equipment belt, and the tunic, the Clone Sharpshooter comes with a large rifle, unlike any that I see usually coming with the average Clone Trooper. This is a long-barreled piece of equipment, and Hasbro even went the extra mile and put a little bit of brown paint on the stock. Nice touch!

But there's more! The Clone Sharpshooter is wearing a pouch, slung over one shoulder. I noticed that there was a transparent rubber band wound around the pouch, and I couldn't figure out what this was for, until I noticed that on the reverse side of the pouch, carefully placed in a little form-fitting slot, was a small pistol. This is one occasion where I'm going to leave the rubber band in place. Lose this pistol, and it'll be in the next round of vacuuming, believe me.

While I doubt that such a small pistol would be useful in the sort of "long-range fire" that is this particular Clone's specialty, it might be useful for dealing up close with any enemy who figured out where the sharpshooting fire was coming from and decided to try to do something about it.

On the whole, the Clone Sharpshooter is one of the more impressive additions to this set of figures!

JET TROOPER - And here we have yet another new designation among the ranks of Clone Troopers. The text on the box reads, "Jet troopers engage in fast-strike maneuvers using their jet backpacks to ambush enemy forces and perform rapid air attacks." Probably also not a bad way of going airborne without the risk of getting a fighter shot down while you're still in it.

Clearly, this figure has seen some sort of prior release, right down to the very cool jet pack he comes with. The figure is marked 2005. But I have to be honest here, I don't know when or where this figure might have been previously offered. Doubtless it was with a different color scheme than this. It might have been with some other multi-pack. Certainly I've never seen this with any assortment of individually carded figures.

The figure looks cool. The chest armor has the markings of the 501st Legion. The shoulder pads are blue, but with white outline. The helmet is VERY distinctive and unusual. Although its basic form is that of a standard Clone Trooper, the color scheme is certainly unusual. The helmet has the blue 501st stripe, but the visor is GREEN, and not quite the really light bright green common to Kashyyyk Clones. It's a very intense, almost neon green, but it's not as light or bright as those others. There is significant black detailing on the sides and back of the helmet, resulting in a very singular look for this figure.

The jet pack is a cool piece of work. Rather curved in design, it looks pretty much like what one would expect a Star Wars jet pack to resemble. It has two jets on either side, a bulkier center section which one would assume is a fuel tank, and small navigating fins to the side. It is molded mostly in white, with blue and black detailing.

The figure has a certain amount of battle weathering on him. Indeed, none of the figures in this set are entirely clean. Unfortunately, I must once again take issue with the Jet Trooper's articulation.

The arms are pre-posed bent at the elbow. The elbows do swivel, but do not raise or lower. The wrists are unposeable, which also makes it very difficult for the figure to handle his weapon. The figure does move at the head, legs, knees, and ankles, but the overall look of the figure is a little odd, almost as if they were trying to allow too much space between armor sections on the main articulation areas. It's not really that bad, but it is a little peculiar, and noticeable.

The Jet Trooper's weapon is interesting. It looks like a VERY large- barreled rifle of some sort. Personally, I question how effective a weapon this would be in the hands of a flying trooper. It looks big and it looks heavy. And, unfortunately, from a toy standpoint, he can't really hold it in both hands very well.

I won't say I'm truly disappointed with this figure. He is unique and distinctive, and on that basis, I do like him a great deal. But something better articulated would have been appreciated here.

CLONE ENGINEER - Here is one of the real prizes in the set, in my opinion. The text on the package for him reads, "Clone engineers support the combat forces by repairing weapons and equipment and using their technical expertise for defense or assault." Which probably explains why he comes with a pretty big gun. It's not as big as some, but it's certainly larger than average.

Now, there was a single-carded Clone Engineer figure a while back. This figure was pretty much a standard Clone Trooper with a distinctive color scheme. And I'm not going to malign him at all. It's an excellent figure. However, the Clone Engineer here in the BattleFront II set is REALLY impressive.

For starters, he uses the set of body molds that, really, I wish they'd used on several of the other figures in this set. It's the "Super-Articulated" set of molds. Good, basic Clone Trooper armor. Lends itself well to a wide range of color trim and, if need be, weathering. Can be nicely accessorized with assorted harnesses and tunics, I imagine. The helmet IS the head. And the figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist (mid-torso), legs, knees, and ankles, with no pre- posing and a full range of motion at all points.

What makes this Clone Engineer so distinctive is not the patch of desert tan on the left side of the chest armor, presumably indicative of his troop or squad (which makes one think he's on loan to the 501st). It's the helmet. This Clone Engineer figure has a brand-new, never-before- seen helmet design. This is its first use. I don't know that it will be its only one. I would rather hope not. I hope they can find some other uses for it, because while it is quite different from a standard Clone Trooper helmet (either Episode II or III), it is certainly extremely impressive.

Somehow, to me, it looks rather McQuarrie-ish in design. It looks like it's a few steps removed froms one of McQuarrie's Stormtrooper and Snowtrooper designs. Whether there was any influence there, I really don't know.

The helmet has two distinct eye lenses, quite different from the Clone Troopers. It has much thicker helmet "padding" or whatever one might call it, across the top of the helmet, and a more jutting and ornately designed "jaw". There's a little -- something or other -- in the "forehead", the purpose of which I can't guess. Maybe it's a light so he can work on repairs in darkened conditions? Precisely why an engineer would need such a complicated and rather heavily-protected-looking helmet, I'm honestly not sure. Whatever the case, the overall design is extremely impressive, and as I said, certainly distinctive, since it's unique to this set.

Honestly, this Clone Engineer is one of the major prizes of this entire set.

Which is not to minimize the set as a whole. I've been griping about articulation matters here, which I do believe is a relevant issue. My take on this is -- if you have a set of molds that is as fully articulated as we know Hasbro has from which to make Clone Troopers -- why would you use any other set of molds? Obviously somewhere along the line the answer no doubt has to do with the economics of it all. That doesn't necessarily make it easier for the collector to accept.

However, limitations notwithstanding, this is still an EXTREMELY cool set of Star Wars Clone Trooper action figures. With my -- and please excuse the pun -- growing concern about the shrinking size of some other Star Wars figures, I am hopeful that we will continue to see Clone Troopers that make use of the existing molds. As such time as the Clone Wars animated series starts this fall, we'll see what comes of that.

In the meantime, this Star Wars BattleFront II Clone Pack is a very impressive set. The price tag may seem a little high, but if one does the math, it actually comes down to just about the same price that these figures would cost individually -- maybe a fraction less.

Given all of that, assuming you can find this set -- check your Suncoasts or your local comic shop, and perhaps other specialty-type stores, the STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II CLONE PACK definitely has my highest recommendation!