STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED video game has an interesting backstory, and the TV commercials I've been seeing for it certainly show as astonishing level of CGI work. The most memorable of these commercials features a scene, initially run backwards in slow motion, of Darth Vader's new apprentice, the core character of the concept, using Force lightning to pretty well blast an entire battlefield's worth of Stormtroopers and Wookiees halfway across Kashyyyk.
It seems LucasFilm is certainly going all out on The Force Unleashed. There's a novel, a comic book, the video game, of course, and -- action figures. The first assortment of Force Unleashed-specific action figures. The latest batch consists of two boxed sets exclusive to Wal-Mart. They've proven to be very popular!
This review will take a look at the set designated DARTH VADER with INCINERATOR TROOPERS.
A brief look at the packaging. Interestingly enough, the design and colors used, as well as some of the markings, are those of the 30th Anniversary Star Wars packaging, not the recently introduced Clone Wars/ Legacy Collection packaging. Not a big deal, but one wonders if these sets were prepared for an initial release prior to the Clone Wars merchandise. I think the release date of the video game was bumped a few times, and this set (and its counterpart) were released right about the same time as the game itself.
Of note is the silver lettering on the package that reads "Commemorative Collection" with the words "Video Game Not Included" in parenthesis under it.
Let's consider the figures in the set:
DARTH VADER: I don't imagine that I need to explain this character too much. He's easily one of the most readily recognized pop culture figures of all time. Even people that have never seen a Star Wars movie are likely to recognize him. He is, of course, Anakin Skywalker, one-time Jedi Knight turned to the dark side of the Force and rebuilt as a cyborg after ending up on the losing end of a lightsaber duel with his former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi on the less-than-paradise-resort planet of Mustafar.
He's pretty much larger than life, has prodigious physical strength, is immensely skilled with a lightsaber and with the use of the Force, is completely dedicated to the Empire and to the Emperor, and has a nastier attitude than a Wookiee with mange and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Death Star.
Certainly there have been an abundance of Darth Vader figures over the years. The one chosen for use in this particular set is -- not bad, in fact it's very good, but I wouldn't say it's the best one ever. I'll explain that in a few paragraphs.
This Darth Vader has a copyright date of 2004 on the bottom of its foot. It's conceivable, perhaps even probable, that this is the same Darth Vader figure that was released for the initial Star Wars Episode III collection. I'm really not certain of that, however. The timing would be about right, though.
This Darth Vader somehow looks just a little slender to me. Not excessively so, but slightly. His articulation is extensive, and interesting in two respects. The head is unusually articulated, in that it doesn't follow the somewhat more conventional method within Star Wars of a "ball and socket" design whereby the head is popped onto a ball at the top of the neck. Rather, the head is mounted onto a base which allows for sideways head turns, and the base is mounted to an articulation mechanism in the upper chest that allows the head to move up and down. Frankly, in regard to the up-and-down movement, this Darth Vader probably has a wider range of motion than the "ball and socket" version, but it's also overall a much more complicated way of doing things.
Then there's the other aspect of the articulation. And this is the one downside to the figure that kept me from giving it a higher ranking. The elbows are that blasted "diagonal cut" articulation that was developed for this line somewhere along the way that allows an arm to be swiveled around at the elbow so it looks fairly decent either straight down or bent 90 degrees, but that's about it. It's very limiting, and frankly in my opinion pretty cheap. The hands swivel at the glove tops so they can be pointed in the right direction. I know there's a better Darth Vader out there with otherwise the same range of articulation as this one, but with properly articulated arms, because I own it. I seem to recall getting it in one of Target's "Order 66" sets.
Honestly, if it was up to me, I'd abolish this "diagonal cut" articulation altogether. If an arm is thick enough to have elbow articulation, then it should have proper articulation, instead of what really comes across as a cheap short-cut.
The rest of Vader's articulation is really quite excellent. He is articulated at the arms, waist, legs, and knees. The knees feature a rotation, but interestingly enough, so do the tops of the boots. That's rather different. The ankles are not articulated. I'd have to say that this is a rather extensively articulated Darth Vader -- also a somewhat peculiarly one.
The figure has a considerable black fabric cape, as well as a fabric tunic hanging in the back from his belt. No problems here, except the silver cord across the top of the cape at the collar doesn't want to rest down too well. Nothing a little bit of glue can't fix if one is so inclined, and it might not be the case with most of these figures anyway.
As one would expect, Darth Vader comes equipped with a red lightsaber. Now, let's consider the...
INCINERATOR TROOPERS: I'll admit, I tend to like Clone Troopers, especially the Episode III Clone Troopers, a bit more than I like Stormtroopers. And there's a degree to which this really isn't fair. I suspect that if George Lucas had had both the money and the technology available to him at the outset of the Star Wars saga the way he did when he got around to Episode III, we would've been witness to amazing battle scenes with thousands of CGI Stormtroopers in a wide range of variant armor markings, just like we got with the Episode III Clone Troopers.
Unfortunately, the technology wasn't there, and Lucas had to create one basic type of Stormtrooper and actually manufacture the suits and find actors to fill them. I still like the wide variety, and the basic design, of the Episode III Clone Troopers most of all, but I do sympathize with the technological limitations, and I'm not going to disrespect the Stormtroopers on account of it.
All of that having been said, now that the money and the technology is there, there's no reason not to create some interesting new Stormtrooper divisions, and that's what has happened in the new video game, and in this figure set. Okay, so we never saw these guys in the movies. It's a big galaxy. There's absolutely no reason to assume that Incinerator Troopers DIDN'T exist. And since nothing in Star Wars on a level like this happens without approval of the guy who started it all in the first place, I'd say it's safe to assume that, yes, there are Incinerator Troopers in the Star Wars galaxy.
The description of these particular Stormtrooper specialists on the package describes them thusly: These cloned humans are bred and trained not only for combat, but also with an intense desire to destroy - and the physical and technological means to do so. The devastation left in their wake ensures that no one will mount any further resistance.
Oh, great idea. Clone a bunch of psychotic arsonists, and send them out with flamethrowers... The description for the set as a whole provides additional details on the Incinerator Troopers:
One of the most devastating of the Empire's specialized Stormtrooper units, the Incinerator Troopers wield powerful plasma rifles to set enemies ablaze. When deployed to a forest world like Kashyyyk, a small squadron of Incinerator Troopers can level an entire Wookiee village in a matter of hours. Vader and the Incinerator Troopers ate sent in whenever an example needs to be made of anyone who dares to question the ultimate authority of the Empire.
You know, now that I think about it, during that TV commercial, there did seem to be a number of fires ablaze in the Wookiee village before the Apprentice cut loose with his powers. Probably blew out the fire even as he blew everybody out of their boots, and according to a friend of mine who has played the game, they DO appear in the game. They're not something that was just made up to sell toys. They're there!
Two of these Incinerator Troopers come in the set, and they're a really cool new version of the Stormtroopers, never before seen. This was really the "grabber" for me, more than Vader, and I suspect that will be the case with a lot of collectors.
The basic figure is the Super-Articulated Stormtrooper, obviously an excellent choice. Copyright date of 2005 on the rear of the left leg. Superbly well articulated figure, fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (no diagonal cut here!) wrists, mid-torso (works well with the armor design), legs, knees, and ankles. Most articulation points have a swivel as well as back and forth movement.
The Incinerator Troopers are molded in the customary Stormtrooper white, with the "undersuit" painted in black -- very neatly, I might add. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't. I've seen a few too many Star Wars figures where the details have been slapped on by hand, and not very well. These two guys are very neatly done.
But it is with the basic black and white that the similarities end. The eye lenses in the helmet are a metallic green in color. And the white armor itself has extensive dark red detailing on it. The "jaw" of the helmet is red, with a stripe going up over the top of the helmet. There is a stripe on the front of the chestplate that splits into two directions at the base and tapers off at the side. The shoulder pieces are bordered in red, and there are stripes on the upper arms, and down the lower arms. The backs of the gloves are red. There is red detailing around the top of the legs, and the base of the legs at the ankles.
The end result, need it be said, is a couple of very different-looking Stormtroopers.
Interestingly, the photo of the prototypes of the figures on the back of the package shows them to be a bit more beat-up and weathered than the actual figures are. This is fine with me. While Star Wars can perhaps get away with a certain amount of "weathering" more than most action figure lines, I still don't like it that much. There's a few spots of white on the red detailing, as if that color has been shipped away a bit through use, but it's nowhere to the degree shown on the prototype figures on the package photographs, which even shows a rust-colored streak on one of the troopers. This, thankfully, is missing from the final figures, who are really very clean for the most part.
Their weapons look like the same sort of blaster rifles that most Stormtroopers carry. Presumably they have been modified by the Empire into the plasma rifles mentioned in the text. Boy, wouldn't that be a surprise. You think you're going to be facing traditional firepower, and all of a sudden you're on the wrong end of a serious hot-foot.
Oh, yeah, the set also includes a little piece of paper, that is one of four randomly inserted "Cheat Codes" for the video game. But I'm not about to make that sort of thing public information... :)
So, what's my final word here? I'm seriously impressed. I always like adding to the ranks of my Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers whenever something really cool and really well made comes out, and these two Incinerator Troopers certainly qualify. And while the Darth Vader figure could've been a bit better, he's really not bad at all. On the whole, Vader is well made and nicely detailed. If you've got a Star Wars collection, you've probably already got a Darth Vader or three, but this isn't a bad one to have. And as reasonably priced as the set it, it's worth it even just for the two Incinerator Troopers.
The STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED DARTH VADER WITH INCINERATOR TROOPERS
Set definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!