Tuesday, May 8, 2018

No, I Am Your Vader

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 decades, I’m pretty sure you know who Darth Vader is. Vader is arguably the most recognizable character to emerge from the Star Wars universe. While admittedly he isn’t my favorite character from that galaxy far far away, as a Star Wars toy collector, I know my display would not be complete without some sort of plastic representation of the Dark Sith Lord on the toy shelf.

With his primarily black uniform and iconic helmet, you’d think that a Darth Vader action figure wouldn’t be that difficult to produce. In actuality, it can get pretty challenging. In fact three of the major toy companies producing 6” Star Wars action figures have actually done 2 versions of Vader each to date, just to get his iconic look perfect. In case you never noticed, Vader has actually sported a slightly different look across the original trilogy. In his first appearance in “A New Hope” he sports a “vest out” look wherein his inner vest covers his vertically striped upper torso armor. From the “Empire Strikes Back” onward that same vest is placed under his upper torso armor. His cape is also held together by a small chain that is fairly visible in some movies and totally absent in others. And then there are his eyes that have ranged in color from black, to dark brown and in some cases even red.

In the end, all these little differences didn’t really matter too much for me. All I cared for was to have a great looking representation of Vader on my shelf. Unfortunately, even with a number of options available for me, it was still was quite a chore to finally find the one I was most happy with.

My first choice was to go the cheapest rout with the original Vader figure released in Hasbro’s Black Series line. Sure I heard feedback that he wasn’t very good but I didn’t care. From pics I saw online, I figured he was good enough. In hand though, I definitely started seeing what everyone was griping about.

The biggest problem with this version was his head. Hasbro wanted to make this the ultimate Vader so they gave him a removable helmet which revealed an old balding and scarred Anakin Skywalker underneath. While cool in concept, to make it work, Anakin’s head was made slightly smaller than normal and more importantly the helmet looked too big. To make matters worse, whoever worked on the sculpt of the helmet messed up and instead of looking menacing, he ended up looking...sad. On the plus side, they also gave him a real chain to hold together his cape...unfortunately it too was just a little too big.

Based on: Return of the Jedi
Approx Height: 168mm
Eyes: brown
Vest: in
Cape: cloth
Removable Helmet: yes
Additional Hands: no
Additional Head: no

Finally after a few months on my shelf, I decided it was time to find a better Vader.

SH Figuarts on the right
I turned to the next two obvious options, Japanese companies SH Figuarts and Mafex who were known for also producing 6” Star Wars action figures with an obvious level up in overall quality and price. But I figured for such an iconic character, the extra spend would be worth it.

Between the two though the choice was rather easy. While SH Figuarts was the more popular company, their Vader was unfortunately too small, only slightly bigger than Luke Skywalker when he should be almost a whole head taller. So that was an obvious dealbreaker for me.

Based on: Return of the Jedi
Approx Height: 160mm
Eyes: black
Vest: in
Cape: plastic
Removable Helmet: no
Additional Hands: yes
Additional Head: yes (packaged separately)

So I turned to Mafex. Now their Vader definitely had better proportions visually (although some would argue he has a slightly smaller head). Like many stuff Mafex came out with, this guy also had better articulation than the Black Series version and had more accessories like extra swappable hands (and even a stump to give you his sliced off hand look) and an extra Anakin head.

Based on: Return of the Jedi
Approx Height: 170mm
Eyes: black
Vest: in
Cape: cloth
Removable Helmet: yes
Additional Hands: yes
Additional Head: yes

This guy was definitely a bigger improvement from my Black Series Vader but he still wasn’t perfect. The problem with this guy was that his frame was a little bit scrawny, especially his arms. True with such a large cape (with thin wires on the edges to give you more cape posing options) his scrawniness wasn’t so obvious, but I knew that ultimately it would lead to his downfall if any other toy company gave a better option down the road.

Eventually, Hasbro decided to right a wrong by releasing a new Vader under their 40th Anniversary banner a few years later. Aside from a much improved sculpt, they decided to differentiate this new one from their original release by basing it off his Episode 4, vest out look. And they pretty much knocked it out of the park with this version. Unless you prefer the whole vest in look, you really can’t go wrong with him.



Hasbro decided to ditch the whole Anakin head underneath gimmick and focus on just making a proper sculpt for the helmet and it definitely was the right choice, because as nice as it was, no collector in his right mind would actually display their Vader without his signature helmet (unless you wanted to recreate the end of ROTJ on your display that is). Aside from getting the helmet right this Vader also carried over the bulk from the original figure so this guy definitely looked more imposing than the Mafex version.

Based on: A New Hope
Approx Height: 175mm
Eyes: brown
Vest: out
Cape: cloth
Removable Helmet: no
Additional Hands: no
Additional Head: no

Not to be outdone though, only a few months later, Mafex struck back with yet another improved Vader. While originally I had no intentions of getting him since I was quite happy with the new Black Series 40th Anniversary version, when I actually saw this guy on display in Japan I was just taken….he looked almost perfect that I knew I just had to have him. I figured that my collection had enough room for 2 good versions of Vader and I could just sell off my original Mafex one.

Based on: Rogue One
Approx Height: 168mm
Eyes: brown
Vest: in
Cape: cloth
Removable Helmet: yes
Additional Hands: yes
Additional Head: no

This new version of Vader, dubbed the “Rogue One” version, sported a completely brand new sculpt from the previous Vader as well as a picture perfect helmet with more menacing reddish brown eyes which if you look into close enough you can almost make out Anakin’s actual eyes underneath. And aside from the usual swappable hands he also came with an brand new accessory that no other Vader had before him, which was an extra arm piece to make you give him his kinda iconic arms folded up stance.

Another reason why I felt this version was a must have was that it was based on the Vader that kicked the most ass on the screen. Definitely another iconic moment in the film franchise.



Not to be outdone though, recently, Sh Figuarts struck back with their Vader version 2.0. This is a definite improvement over their initial release with the quality and attention to details you would expect from an SH Figuarts figure. And fortunately with this version they made him significantly bigger (still slightly shorter than the others though) so he’s definitely worth your consideration. But for me he’s still not better than what I currently have.

Based on: A New Hope
Approx Height: 165mm
Eyes: black
Vest: out
Cape: cloth
Removable Helmet: no
Additional Hands: yes
Additional Head: no

So while I feel I have properly checked off my Vader requirement in my display, I think it’s also worth mentioning a few more versions of Vader currently out. The first is actually a model kit released by Bandai. While I don’t have this version, I am a fan of Bandai’s Star Wars model kits and have quite a few in my collection, and they do fit in nicely with all the other 6” action figures as well. If you don’t mind actually assembling your own Vader, this guy is a pretty good option, one major difference worth noting (aside from the fact that this guy IS a model kit) is that his cape is plastic instead of the usual soft goods cloth. So that may be a dealbreaker for you.

And finally, while this guy won’t fit in any 6” collection, I think this version is definitely worth your consideration if you’re a huge fan of Vader and/or samurai. Bandai’s Movie Realization line reimagines iconic Star Wars characters as ancient Japanese samurai. Seeing the Sith Lord as a dark samurai seems right since George Lucas was originally inspired by samurai armor when designing Vader’s look. Anyway they have released two different Vaders in this line and you really can’t go wrong with either of them. Both have fantastic details and are well made and have enough presence to serve as a stand alone display piece (trust me though, after getting one, you will feel a strong irresistible need to get the other figures in this line).

Anyway so that’s it. Darth Vader is such an integral part of the Star Wars universe that I feel it’s perfectly fine to have multiple versions in your collection. Fortunately for us collectors, we have quite a number of options of getting into the Dark Side.


addendum: 
Apparently both the Black Series and Mafex released additional 6" versions of Darth Vader that I failed to mention.  The Black Series released a ROTJ version with a semi translucent helmet a skull underneath to mimic the effect at the end of the movie when he is being force blasted by the Emperor.  Mafex released 2 more versions the first based of Revenge of the Sith.  The major difference here is that this Vader comes with a younger more recently burned Anakin switchable head.  They also released a completely blue translucent hologram version as an exclusive I believe.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...