Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: Star Wars 6 inch Black Series Wave 1: Darth Maul, Sandtrooper, R2D2, Luke Skywalker.

In these lean years before the Star Wars Episode VII relaunch, Hasbro has mostly eschewed adult collectors by switching their focus to limited articulation action figures that look like soap bottles, and Angry Birds mash-ups. But there is one beacon of hope in these dark times. The stylish and sophisticated Black Series is a new six inch line aiming to appeal to collectors with screen accurate sculpting and increased articulation. The catch being that we’re not going to see too many of them too soon. It’s now August and the first wave - consisting of four figures - has only just been released.

Following their initial announcement, collectors (myself included) seemed torn. They looked pretty good but do any of us really want to start collecting a whole new larger scale, especially when, after years of collecting, space is at a premium for most of us now? Or is this a good time to finally abandon the hobby?

Well, thanks to our good pals at Big Bad Toy Store I have wave one in hand, featuring: Darth Maul, R2D2, Luke Skywalker and a sandtrooper. I hope to answer all the questions as to whether these are worth your while, plus about a billion photos... after the jump!

I’m definitely impressed with the simple but stunning design of the packaging. Hasbro has shied away from the traditional blister and backing card, choosing to present these in minimalist black boxes with an orange stripe. Even the film art on the back of the box is muted and stylised and I do admire the decision to try to class these up and make the collector oriented Star Wars product feel a little more high end.

I don’t keep anything in its packaging but I actually felt tempted with these. But I also think it would be kind of dopey to pay a premium for something with increased articulation and then not bust it out and play with it. No euphemism intended.

So let’s start with our only prequel character of the wave, short-lived flipping horny devil-clown Darth Maul.

Two heads? Now what is going on here.

Something I like right away is that Hasbro seems dedicated to giving us definitive versions of the characters that may be displayed in various modes. In the past, particularly with the standard 3 3/4 inch line, if you wanted a cloaked Darth Maul and a non-cloaked Darth Maul then you would have to purchase two separate figures. This time around we seem to have been given enough accessories to make both.

The obvious comment is that these figures have far more detail thanks to their increased size. And although Maul has minimal paint applications, the details on his face are incredibly crisp as well. Here he is with his binoculars from his arrival on Tatooine.

And here he is rocking the single-bladed lightsaber before popping out that second blade. My main criticism is that the weapons themselves are made of a very flexible rubbery plastic so it’s hard to keep it straight when he’s gripping it in both hands (no euphemism). It tends to bend. (Honestly).

The lightsaber splits in half so you can have him double-wielding too if you wish (even though he doesn’t do it in the film).

But I’m even more impressed once we remove the cloak and insert the second head. It’s a clever design and they’ve used a variety of materials to allow for additional flexibility and movement. The cloak is very malleable rubbery plastic, and although his robes underneath are hard plastic, he has a soft-goods skirt to free up his shapely gams.

And the articulation is wonderful, he really can shift into all of the gymnastic poses you could hope for, making for an especially dynamic figure.

None of these figures come with stands or bases, so I was a little worried about their stability, but Maul is proving solid enough that he stands up pretty well on a flat surface.

I was not particularly excited about picking up yet another rendition of this character, but Hasbro has surprisingly managed to refresh my interest. It’s easily the nicest Maul I own and he’s a ton of fun to photograph and pose.

So let’s shift to somebody far less flexible. Bleeping robo-fatty R2D2 is probably one of the least dynamic figures they could have included here, but he’s necessary, so I suppose they wanted to get him out of the way.

Now I’m not the type of fan who is equipped to tell you if this is a 100% screen accurate sculpt. In fact I didn’t even realise that I still had to plug the blue panels into his legs until I’d taken the first few photos...

To compensate for his smaller size, Hasbro has decked him out with a variety of accessories spanning both the original and prequel trilogies. Noticeably absent, however, is a light and sound feature which I think would have been nice, especially considering that they managed to squish it into far smaller releases in the past.

Rotate his dome and his third leg will suspiciously expand out of his robo-crotch. And you can delicately pry off three of the blue panels on his noggin to insert scene-specific gadgets such as the periscope he used in The Empire Strikes BackThere are also two opening panels in his barrel chest that release two mechanical arms for non-specific probing.

It’s here where I finally figure out that he has open peg holes on his legs. This is so you can plug in the controversial jets that he inexplicably materializes in the prequels...

But if you’re a purist then you can pop them out and replace them with the plain blue panels. 

He also has a radar that can stick out of his head, or alternatively Luke’s hidden lightsaber from Return of the Jedi.

He’s the least exciting inclusion in this wave, but at least he’s done with. And he does look good when paired with one of the other figures who we shall look at shortly.

But first it’s a crusty old yellowed Sandtrooper. I guess it makes business sense to release this guy first because if they’d released a regular stormtrooper then I would have skipped on the sandy version. 

This guy is defined by his orange shoulder pauldron and his chunky backpack of no discernible function. Seriously... what is the purpose of that thing? (Don’t tell me. I don’t really want to know).

It attaches to his back via a single peg and while its reasonably secure it will fall off if you move him too much. It also has a weird little pouch that hangs off it and it gets in the way constantly. I’m not even sure how it’s really supposed to sit. This is another criticism of the line - I know they wanted to keep everything minimal and sleek but in some instances it would be nice to have a reference picture, if not instructions.

Aside from all this, he’s a pretty great figure. A super articulated six-inch stormtrooper (sandy or otherwise) is far more fun than I initially imagined. (And I guarantee it’s more fun than you’re probably imagining right now).

Three weapons have been included, a blaster pistol and two larger rifles so there’s plenty of options for display. PEW! PEW! PEW!

I find that I am definitely know in that place where designs that I used to think were legitimately cool are now just kind of kitsch and loveable. Look at this timid lil' fellow. They are always grimacing like they're terrified. Love it...

And finally, let’s look at my favourite figure of this wave, Luke Skywalker kitted out in his orange pilot flight suit...

The thing that lured me to this new series most of all was the opportunity for Hasbro to capture some of these human likenesses more accurately than they have in the past. So how successful is their new six inch Mark Hamill?

And a little bit closer...

You know, it’s really good! Great even! I love what they’ve done here. That’s a shaggy late seventies Skywalker if I ever saw one.

The only minor gripe is the neck joint which is a ball designed to maximise movement, but it creates a small gap in his neck from certain angles. There’s my first world problem. Luke Skywalker’s neck gap. Pity me.

Luke is packaged with his helmet, his pistol, and a lightsaber.

And if you thought Maul had problems, Luke’s lightsaber is super bendy. It would take some skilled hands to straighten it out. Still no euphemism.

Here’s some shots with the helmet which actually fits very well and isn’t difficult to put on him. I’m sure someone out there can tell from the insignia if this is screen accurate, and which film its from, but that’s not me! All I know is that he’s wearing one.

And here he is with rotund co-pilot buddy Artoo. Does he have a special attachment for fist-bumps? Just don’t expect to see them in an X-Wing together though. At this scale it would be huge.

Finally, take a lingering look at the entire wave together...

So I’m really impressed by these and do think that Hasbro has achieved a significant leap forward - certainly enough to justify you taking an interest in how this line develops. If you’ve been sitting on the fence I’d definitely recommend you get down of that fence and pick one up and get a close up look for yourself. I guarantee they’re worth the $20 gamble.

It’s already been revealed that Wave 2 is a particularly strong one (Slave Leia, classic Han, Boba Fett and Greedo) so I plan to personally stick with the series for now. The question really is, “how deep can they go?” (No euphemism). I certainly can’t see this line sustaining hundreds of figures like the 3 3/4 inch series did, but it would be nice to see more of the core characters given this treatment. Well done, Hasbro. You win this round.


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  2. Great review! I was also skeptical about starting an entirely new collection, but as soon as I saw the 6 inch figures in the store, I had to buy them! Hasbro has done a great job with these, and I hope they continue to develop core figures in this line.

  3. I too am very impressed but have found locating them difficult. Most stores carry multiple Artoo but few of the others. In dire need of Leia and Boba.