REVIEW: STAR WARS LEGACY COLLECTION JOKER SQUAD 6-PACK
The JOKER SQUAD set from the STAR WARS LEGACY COLLECTION is very impressive package. It was produced as an exclusive to the online Web Store known as EntertainmentEarth -- not their first exclusive, either. They want to turn loose a set that's mostly Stormtroopers, which, along with Clone Troopers and Astromech Droids, happen to be my favorite Star Wars figures to collect, I'll gladly add them to my collection.
The set includes a Sith Lord by the name of Lord Maleval -- rather nasty-sounding name there if you break it down, and includes five Stormtroopers by the names of Sergeant Harkas, Anson Trask, Jes Gistang, Hondo Karr, and Vax Potorr. I sometimes wonder just how hard it is to come up with names that sound sufficiently -- Star Wars-ish. Personally, I think "Hondo" is pushing it a bit.
Of note is the fact that Jes Gistang is a female character, one of likely few female Stormtroopers, and certainly the first and only female Stormtrooper figure to date. I'll have more to say about her in a bit.
Obviously, some history is called for. This led me to the Web Site known as "Wookieepedia", which had the following to say about Joker Squad:
Joker Squad was a stormtrooper squad in the Imperial Army of both the Fel Empire and, years later, Darth Krayt's Galactic Empire. It was part of Company C, Battalion 9 of the 407th Stormtrooper Division and its members were called "Jokers".
During 127 ABY, the first year of the Sith-Imperial War, Joker Squad formed part of the Imperial offensive in the Battle of Botajef, fighting against the Mandalorians led by Mandalore Chernan Ordo. At the time, the squad included Sergeant Harkas, Corporal Kniffler, Armang, and Vax Potorr. Hondo Karr, the sole surviving Mandalorian left on the planet after the end of the battle, was conscripted into the unit after he disguised himself as a wounded stormtrooper.
Following the coup led by Dark Lord of the Sith Darth Krayt in 130 ABY, Joker Squad, like the rest of the 407th Stormtrooper Division, remained loyal to the Empire despite the new regime.
By 137 ABY, Joker Squad was based on Yinchorr and its members at that time included Sergeant Harkas - dubbed "Hardcase" by his troopers, Jes Gistang, Hondo Karr - whose Mandalorian background was a rumor among his new comrades, the still surviving Vax Potorr, and "noob" Trooper Anson Trask.
Joker Squad participated in the Battle of Borosk against the 908th Stormtrooper Division, which had defected to the side of deposed Emperor Roan Fel. During the battle, both Gistang and Potorr were killed, while Harkas was wounded, and Karr deserted after witnessing the cruelty of Darth Maleval, the Sith Lord overseeing the elimination of the "treacherous" 908th. This left only Harkas, Trask and a replacement who arrived after the battle as members of the Jokers.
Later, Sgt. Harkas, Anson Trask, Private Orland, and presumably the rest of the rebuilt Joker squad, went searching for Jedi on Ossus.
Please take note of the time period. "137 ABY" represents 137 years after the Battle of Yavin, which was, of course, the focal point of the first Star Wars movie. This time period is well after the time of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and their contemporaries, and represents a time period which is presented in an Expanded Universe series of comics produced by Dark Horse with the title "Star Wars: Legacy". It has obviously problem to be a very popular series. I'll spare you getting too far into the details, but suffice to say that a new Empire and the ever-present threat of the Sith continue to be dominant forces in the Star Wars galaxy in this time.
Now, let's consider the six figures included in the set, and we might as well start with the only non-Stormtrooper, Lord Maleval. And along with the name, he's got an ugly look to match. Along with being one of the "Squidhead" aliens (back before Lucas decided to be politically correct and come up with actual species names for all of them), he's clearly been to the same tattoo artist (or descendant thereof) that worked over Darth Maul. He's got red skin and black line markings.
Wookieepedia has this to say about Lord Maleval, also referred to, unsurprisingly, as Darth Maleval on the Web Site:
Darth Maleval was a male Quarren Sith Lord, and a ruthless member of the One Sith, chosen by Darth Krayt to ensure the loyalty of the Empire's stormtroopers. Like many other members of the Order, Maleval's face and visible parts of his body were covered in red and black Sith tattoos.
Maleval was aggressive and cared little for those who served under him, willingly killing both enemies and allies in battle. He had no compassion for his foes, wanting them dead to the last man rather than offering them the chance to surrender. In battle he was merciless, finding different ways to kill his victims and taking joy in their deaths. He preferred to use the shock whip in combat, as it was more painful but less lethal, and could be used to torture his enemies for long periods of time before killing them.
Maleval had even been known to leave his adversaries alive but severely maimed, to serve as a warning to those who would oppose the Empire. He was also cruel to those under his command, ordering Lieutenant Gil Cassel to kill his own brother to prove his loyalty, and killing both when he refused.
When the Battle of Borosk broke out, Maleval led the 407th division in recapturing the base and ensuring the complete destruction of the 908th down to the last man. After the battle, Maleval ordered Lieutenant Gil Cassel of the 407th to kill his brother, Captain Jared Cassel of the 908th, who had defected to Fel. Maleval killed both Cassel brothers when Gil refused, causing trooper Hondo Karr, of the 407th's Joker Squad, to attack Maleval. Before he could execute Karr, Maleval was shot and killed from behind by another trooper, Anson Trask. The surviving members of Joker Squad covered up the event in the report to their superiors, stating that Maleval had been killed in battle, and that Karr was vaporized in an explosion, allowing Karr to leave the Empire and later join the unified fragments of the Galactic Alliance military, the Galactic Alliance Remnant.
Unlike most of the other figures in this set, which, not surprisingly, use existing Stormtrooper body molds with new heads (and some new body parts in the case of Jes Gistang), I believe that Lord Maleval is an entirely new figure. He has a 2008 copyright date on the bottom of his boot, and the body mold underneath the cloth cloak is like nothing I ever recall seeing before.
Of course, you've got that scary, squid-like head to deal with, for starters, made that much more fearsome for the bright red color, black stripings, and eerie yellow eyes. Maleval is a fairly tall fellow, topping four inches in height, almost 4-1/4". Must've gotten into the same bottle of growth pills as Vader. His outfit underneath the cloth cloak appears to be ornate armor of a very dark metallic gray, with a symbol on the torso that resembles an eye. The sleeves and legs do not appear to be armored. There is a black cloth tunic around the lower torso.
The cloth cloak has an interesting feature which I have seen on Star Wars figures before, especially certain Jedi that are wearing a cloth robe. The hem of the cloak at the base has a wire inserted into it, enabling the cloak to have a sort of "articulation" of its own. It can, in essence, be "posed", although I would recommend careful handling, lest the wire break.
The figure of Lord Maleval itself is extremely well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), lower arms (substituting for wrists), waist, legs, knees (including a swivel), and ankles.
Lord Maleval's accessories include a red-bladed lightsaber, and a whip. This is an interesting little item which has a plastic handle, and a length of black string on a plug that fits into the handle. According to the Wookieepedia entry on Lord Maleval: During the battle, he wielded his lightsaber in one hand and his shock whip in the other, cutting down stormtroopers without caring whether they were of the 908th or his own.
This guy's nasty even for a Sith. However, the figure is extremely impressive. I find it a little bit ironic in that Lord Maleval was the least reason I purchased this set, which was mostly for the Stormtroopers, and yet I find myself extremely impressed by this figure.
Now, let's consider the Stormtroopers:
SERGEANT HARKAS: According to Wookieepedia, Ran Harkas, also known by the nickname Hardcase, was a Human male who served as a sergeant in Joker Squad, which was part of Company C, 9th Battalion, of the 407th Stormtrooper Division. During the Sith-Imperial War, Harkas fought with Joker Squad against Mandalorian forces in the Battle of Botajef and remained in command of the unit following the coup against Emperor Roan Fel, serving in the Imperial faction loyal to Darth Krayt.
A grizzled veteran of many conflicts, during both the Sith-Imperial War and Second Imperial Civil War, Harkas was known for getting missions done, and developed a reputation for bringing his troopers back alive. Under his command, Joker Squad developed a reputation as a unit capable of handling a wide variety of missions.
The figure uses the same Stormtrooper armor as the other figures, but with the added detail of yellow-gold stripes down both arms, doubtless an indicator of his rank. The figure's headsculpt is interesting, presenting a person with a few wrinkles on his forehead, but more than ready for battle. He has somewhat wavy, reddish-brown hair, and a full mustache and beard. Visually, I am reminded of a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi along about Episode III, and WWE pro wrestler Sheamus.
ANSON TRASK: was a Human male stormtrooper in the Galactic Empire during the Second Imperial Civil War. Following in his father's footsteps, he joined the 407th Stormtrooper Division where he was assigned to Joker Squad. Shortly after completing his training, he fought in the Battle of Borosk against forces loyal to former Galactic Emperor Roan Fel. After the battle, Darth Maleval executed Joker Squad's commanding officer, Lieutenant Gil Cassel, and Trask killed the Sith Lord to protect his comrades. Trask and Sergeant Ran Harkas were later sent to Ossus to find a group of Jedi hiding on the planet.
As a child, Anson Trask heard his father, a stormtrooper in the 407th Stormtrooper Division talk about the honor of duty and Trask decided to enlist as a stormtrooper himself. As the son of a stormtrooper, he was given the option to join the same division and so entered service in the 407th following the continuity of service.
Trask grew up hearing of the honor of serving as a stormtrooper but his early experiences in the 407th, starting with the inhospitable reception he received from Joker Squad, left him disillusioned. He soon found the realities of war to be something which simulations had left him unprepared for, causing him to initially freeze in battle and fighting against other stormtroopers left him wondering what his father would make of what had become of the Stormtrooper Corps. At Borosk, Trask observed Darth Maleval in combat and was shocked at both the number of ways the Sith Lord found to kill his enemies and the joy that it seemed to give him. Despite his misgivings, Trask continued to do his duty and obey his orders, quickly developing into a hardened soldier.
Apparently Joker Squad ragged on Trask for being a new recruit, or "noob", as well as for having gotten lost on his way to meet up with his new squadron after being dropped off on the planer. Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't pick on him for his haircut. Then again, Hondo Karr isn't exactly a prize in that area, either.
I know I'm talking a lot about the headsculpts here, but really, it's the main thing that sets these Stormtroopers apart from one another (with the obvious exception of Jes Gistang), and I have to admit, it's kind of nice to see some Stormtroopers with removable helmets whose faces DON'T look like Jango Fett underneath. I'm not sure what's happened to the cloning facilities of Kamino by the time of the Legacy stories, but I rather hope they're out of business.
Anson Trask has a mean look on his face, and relatively short brown hair that's a little unruly in the front, but completely shaved off in the sides and back. I don't know if this is the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy's idea of a recruit cut or just something Trask did on his own. And granted, I've seen stranger -- in real life...
Let's turn our attention to JES GISTANG: She was a Corellian Human female who served as a stormtrooper in Darth Krayt's Galactic Empire circa 137 ABY. As a young woman, she decided to join the 407th Stormtrooper Division through the Imperial Mission, an organization that helped individuals to spread Imperial influence. Put in charge of the heavy artillery in Joker Squad, she quickly found a home among the 407th, and was a talented and responsible soldier. When Anson Trask joined the 407th, Gistang quickly doubted him, betting fellow soldier Vax Potorr that he would last just six hours on the battlefield.
She guided Trask and gave him tips to help him survive among the stormtroopers, and even sympathized with the man. Later, when Lieutenant Gil Cassel informed the 407th that they would be participating in a battle on Borosk against the 908th Stormtrooper Division, which had joined the forces of deposed Emperor Roan Fel, she quickly disagreed with the mission, and even argued that the 407th should join Fel themselves. Gistang reluctantly participated in the Battle of Borosk itself when they were ordered into action. Gistang was killed during the second day of fighting, when her power pak was hit by a stray blaster bolt, causing it to explode and incinerate her.
Jes Gistang was a hardened soldier, and loyal to the Empire, but also had a good sense of humor. She used her experience as a stormtrooper to help Anson Trask during his early days as a soldier. Gistang had a strong sense of morality, and never wanted to participate in a battle against her own ranks, even going as far as to suggest to Lieutenant Gil Cassel to join Roan Fel's resistance, or at least flee the Battle of Borosk.
There's also a quote about her in the Wookieepedia entry, from Sergeant Harkas, saying, "Jes Gistang is in charge of the big gun." Well, that certainly explains the huge futuristic bazooka-looking thing that comes with this set...
The entries on Joker Squad and Jes Gistang in particular make no reference to how scarce female Stormtroopers actually are in the Legacy era. Given that this matter is NOT mentioned, it may well be that they're not especially uncommon. However, this is certainly the only one to be made as an action figure.
The headsculpt is superbly rendered, presenting a young woman of relatively flawless features, with a determined look on her face. Her hair, a sort of reddish brown, is apparently corn-rowed and tied off in the back, relatively short. The painted detail is excellent, although Hasbro seems to have made the choice to mold the head in the hair color and paint the flesh tone of the face onto the plastic. That's not really a practice I particularly agree with, since all it takes is one paint glitch to ruin a face. Fortunately, that's not the case with Jes Gistang.
HONDO KARR: Okay, easily the oddest sounding name in the set, but the guy does have an interesting background. Says Wookieepedia: Hondo Karr was a blond Human male who, as a Mandalorian warrior, served next to Mandalore in the Battle of Botajef. During the battle he was betrayed and, in order to survive and expose the traitor, put an armor of stormtrooper and got conscripted into the Joker Squad, a unit in the Army of the Fel Empire. Ten years later, during the Second Imperial Civil War, Karr deserted the new Empire at the Battle of Borosk and found his way into Galactic Alliance Remnant's famed Rogue Squadron, where he fought for some time, until a chance arose for him to reunite with his former wife and return to the Mandalorian ways, deciding to hunt down the one who betrayed him and bring him to justice.
In 127 ABY Hondo Karr served next to Mandalore Chernan Ordo in the Battle of Botajef. During the battle another Mandalorian, Yaga Auchs, betrayed his comrades, which led to Mandalore's death, and left Karr to die. Found by Vevec, father of his wife, Karr decided to get off-world and expose Auchs's treachery. He removed his beskar'gam and put on the armor of a dead Stormtrooper. Soon, Vevec was killed by advancing Joker Squad and Karr, posing as the last soldier of his unit, was accepted in the 407th Stormtrooper Division.
During the Battle of Borosk, Karr was shocked at the notion of being ordered to kill fellow stormtroopers. Despite his feelings, he continued to follow his orders. But the final straw came after the battle was over. Darth Maleval, the Sith Lord overseeing the battle, put Lieutenant Gil Cassel, Karr's commanding officer, through a cruel loyalty test: he was to kill his own brother, or be executed as a traitor himself. Gil refused, and the Sith Lord executed both men. Karr, enraged at this, attacked Maleval with a vibroknife. But Maleval simply knocked Karr out of the way. Saying that avenging a traitor made him a traitor, Maleval attacked Karr with his electro-whip. However, the Quarren Sith Lord was shot in the back by Anson Trask, a fellow member of the 407th Division. Karr complemented Trask on his shooting, and left. The official report by Sergeant Ran Harkas said that Karr had been killed in the battle.
About that vibroknife -- along with a standard Stormtrooper blaster, Hondo Karr is packaged holding a medium-sized knife blade. Nice touch. The headsculpt is that of a moderately young-looking man with a grim expression and sandy blonde hair. Looks like an ill-tempered Luke Skywalker. Hondo Karr's hair is rather unruly everywhere, and is distinctly long in the back. It even hangs out from underneath the Stormtrooper helmet. That's gotta be against regulations.
Finally, we have VAX POTORR. Wookieepedia has this to say about him: Vax Potorr was a Human male, originally a thief from the underlevels of Coruscant. During the Sith-Imperial War he decided to serve with the Fel Empire rather than the Galactic Alliance, who were protecting the Yuuzhan Vong. During this time he fought in the Battle of Botajef with Joker Squad. Potorr was responsible for killing the Mandalorian Vevec.
As of 137 ABY he was still assigned to Joker Squad, which was part of the 407th Stormtrooper Division of the Galactic Empire. During the Battle of Borosk, Joker squad led the assault on the 908th's citadel. He was the first casualty of Joker squad, when he stepped on a mine and was blown apart.
At least we don't have to worry about this guy's hairstyle -- he's bald. Somewhat oddly, his eyebrows are upswept, not unlike a Vulcan's. The ears are not pointed, though. Even so, you almost want to hear him say "Live long and prosper", or suggest to him that he's in the wrong concept. The upswept eyebrows are sort of corroborated by the artwork sample in his Wookieepedia entry, but it could just as easily be artistic style as much as anything.
Now, let's discuss all five Stormtroopers as figures. Of course, Jes Gistang has certain differences apart from the other four, and Sergeant Harkas has the rank stripes, but for the most part, all five use the same basic body molds.
The overall design is excellent. One thing about Imperial Stormtroopers. Much like Clone Troopers, the armor design lends itself exceptionally well to being translated into an action figure, since the articulation points can be incorporated quite well into the design.
For the most part, the days when Star Wars action figures were articulated only at the head, arms, and legs, is long gone. And the Stormtroopers and Clone Troopers especially enjoy a particularly high level of articulation, that is well worked into the design of their armor. Initially dubbed "Super-Articulated" some years ago, it allows the figures to be fully poseable at the heads, arms, elbows -- with a swivel, wrists, mid-torso -- replacing the waist but working well into the design and far better than other figures both within and beyond Star Wars that have tried to use it, legs, knees -- with a swivel, and ankles.
Now, let me discuss Jes Gistang. When I saw early pictures of this figure, I was of the opinion that what had most likely been done was that the figure had been given a somewhat more -- pronounced chestplate, and that was about it. I was grievously mistaken. Far more of this figure is unique than I would have thought or expected.
Yes, Jes Gistang does have a chestplate that is more in keeping with female humanoid anatomy. It is somewhat more pronounced where appropriate, and is moderately more slender, as well. But additionally, the figure also has unique arms, which are also slightly more slender, all the way down to and including the hands, as well as a distinctive and unique torso. It would appear that the only parts which have been carried over from the existing Stormtrooper molds are the legs. Even the belt is different.
And yet, all of the little sculpted details that comprise a Stormtrooper armor have been carried over to Jes Gistang. Nothing's been left off. Slightly modified, perhaps, but still very much present and accounted for.
Accessorywise, every Stormtrooper comes with a standard blaster pistol. There is the additional hardware of the so-called "big gun", which is operated by Jes Gistang, and in fact the photograph of the figures on the back of the box show her with this device, and there is also Hondo Karr's vibroknife.
And there are five Stormtrooper helmets. These all fit agreeably well. About the only odd spot here is Hondo Karr's long hair. However, very strangely, not all of the helmets are identical. Four of them are, but the fifth one, shown closest to Vax Potorr for some reason, is slightly different. The other four helmets have black paint entirely across the mouth region of the helmet. The fifth helmet has spots of black paint in the indentations of the mouth region only. Precisely why this is, I haven't the slightest idea, or even if this is supposed to be Vax's helmet in particular. The helmets are otherwise identical, and Sergeant Harkas' has no special markings on it, so theoretically, any of them can wear any helmet.
Any complaints? Just one. One of the helmets isn't painted quite as neatly as it should be. It looks to me like the painting stencil slipped (at least it wasn't hand-painted) or perhaps the helmet wasn't flush with the stencil, and some black streaked down a bit. It's almost funny, in that it looks like somebody gave the helmet a black eye. And I realize this level of quality control isn't easy, and I do regard this as a minor complaint, but I did want to mention it.
Other than this, no real complaints. The figures are well assembled and well painted, all six of them. Sometimes eyes can be a little tricky on these figures, but everybody looks pretty good here. Ultimately, any minuscule glitches aren't anything I can't retouch. I do question the wisdom of molding Jes Gistang's head in the hair color and painting the flesh tone on, since it does look like some retouching was done on one side of the face, but there's not much to be done about it.
Overall, this is an extremely cool set of figures, that should appeal to any Star Wars fan. It features an interesting group of characters, who also happen to be Stormtroopers. There's a new Sith Lord to be had in the set, as well as the first and only female Stormtrooper, and also a Stormtrooper sergeant with some distinctive armor markings. And as the Wookieepedia entries have outlined, there's a fascinating "Expanded Universe" story behind these characters. And, they're all great figures.
The STAR WARS LEGACY COLLECTON "JOKER SQUAD" SET definitely has my highest recommendation!