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By Thomas Wheeler

So, what do you do when you've made most of the Clone Trooper variants you can and that actually appeared in Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith? Well, if you're Hasbro, you start making up new ones -- no doubt with LucasFilm's permission, of course. And you make one of the coolest ones an exclusive to Target.

This is hardly the first Target exclusive Star Wars figure connected with this movie. There have already been "Lava Reflection" versions of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker (even though he was going by the name Darth Vader by the time of the Mustafar duel, he hadn't picked up the armor yet). And there was the Attack on Coruscant Battle Pack, and more. Even some items that weren't directly affiliated with this particular movie, like the larger-winged TIE Fighter. But honestly, I think that the UTAPAU SHADOW TROOPER is the coolest exclusive of the lot.

Utapau was one of the worlds seen in Star Wars Episode III. It was where Obi-Wan Kenobi finally dealt with General Grievous. It was also the world he needed to escape from after the Clone Troopers were given Order 66 to turn on the Jedi and eliminate them.

I don't recall seeing any Shadow Troopers in the movie. But, what the heck -- they were probably keeping to the shadows. Let Commander Cody and his yellow-orange trimmed standard Clone Troopers mop up the Battle Droids. The Shadow Troopers will do -- well, whatever they're supposed to do.

Granted, this is never spelled out all that well on the package. The brief explanation, actually a little longer than some of the ones on the general release toys, reads, "The Utapau shadow troopers have played an essential role in helping the Jedi fight the Separatist force's massive droid armies, but their allegiances change after the secret declaration of Order Sixty-Six. Armed with a sharp-shooting blaster rifle and protected by hard black armor, the Utapau shadow trooper commander is ready for battle!"

Okay, so I suppose this figure, even though it doesn't specifically state that on the front, is the commander of the Shadow Troops. That might be just as well, since this figure is likely to be rather scarce. For one thing, it's a store exclusive to Target. For another thing, it's a Clone, and that's just the sort of thing that collectors like to "army build". For a third thing, he turned up at most Targets just before Thanksgiving, so he's bound to be a popular holiday item. Let's hope Target ordered a generous supply of these, because otherwise, I'll be surprised to see them stay in stock more than a day at a time.

How impressive is the figure? Plenty. His armor is black, but you're not going to mistake him for a TIE Fighter Pilot or anything like that. The armor is too smoothly designed for that sort of mistaken identity. No, this is clearly a Clone Trooper, but there's something about doing the usually white armor in black that makes him look that much more dangerous. Throw in a dark red visor and a bit of grey trim, and the overall appearance of the Shadow Trooper is an imposing and foreboding one indeed.

Better still, the figure is of the "Super-Articulated" variety, so he's plenty poseable. About the only shortcoming on these figures is that the leg armor and the lower torso are so close together that the figures don't move terribly far at the legs. But this is a minor point on an otherwise really excellent design. Interestingly, the body used for this figure, except for the helmet, of course, is actually the Super- Articulated Clone Trooper from the Episode II collection. The 2003 copyright date on the boot was a giveaway if nothing else. Really, though, it makes little difference, since except for the helmet, the overall character design is essentially identical (although the difference in helmet design does make for a bit of a short neck on this figure). It's just worth mentioning.

The figure is superbly well-packaged. I don't know how many of these figures are likely to be "freed" by their purchasers. I had no qualms about opening mine. But the figure is placed on a standard Star Wars card, and then placed within a larger protective plastic bubble that has an additional cardboard backing of its own. This is the card that contains the background information on the character.

Hasbro has managed to get past the fact that there were no Shadow Clones in the movie with an additional line of text on the backing card that reads, "This Utapau Shadow Trooper figure was created to celebrate the release of the final episode in the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith." That's sort of saying, "Yeah, we know he wasn't in the movie, but we liked the movie, we like Star Wars, so here's something we created to celebrate it. It's a different sort of Clone Trooper."

And I'm sure it wouldn't've happened if somebody at LucasFilm hadn't seen the design, decided it was cool, and told Hasbro to proceed with it.

The end result? One extremely impressive and distinctive Clone Trooper. I'm not saying he'll be easy to find, as he came out last fall. But meantime, I definitely recommend you look for him at Target and everywhere else you can. The STAR WARS UTAPAU SHADOW TROOPER has my highest recommendation!