Well. Star Wars. Transformers. Together at last. After many years of people throwing random notions of Unicron vs. the Death Star around, somethingís finally come of it. But not too many ever imagined itíd end up like this.
Instead of Megatron becoming a blaster rifle or Blurr turning into a Landspeeder, we get..Luke Skywalker turning into an X-Wing. And more importantly, Darth Vader turning into an Advanced TIE Fighter.
Naturally, this was met with what could be described as mixed opinions. I was among those to initially frown at the concept, but it grew on me after a while. First thing worth noting is that these arenít characters that turn into vehicles, theyíre piloted mechs. That changes things considerably Ė instead of wondering why Star Wars characters are now transforming robotsÖwe wonder why theyíd Ďbuildí transforming robots. If that doesnít have story potential, I donít know what does. I have a perfect mental image of Vader blasting everyone with that oh-so familiar Walther P-38.
As some of you will know, we in NZ got the SWTF first, as exclusives to The Warehouse [Which is like a bigger, redder, trashier Wal-Mart, or so Iíve been told]. The set US release date is January next year. Whether that gives you time to save or time to plan evasion tactics is up to you.
Vader caught my eye in the initial line-up. At first, I thought heíd make a grand G1 Scourge, and was tempted to wait for a review to see how his headís attached. However, curiosity got the better of me. It turns out he ships two to a case of four in the first assortment with one Kenobi and one Grievous. Luke, apparently, will replace Vader in a 1.5 wave. So I went ahead and had a friend nab me one and send it on down for the purposes of reviewing, and perhaps enjoying. And here you are.
The immediate thing I noticed when examining Vaderís packaging was that itís Ďhugeí. Thereís enough empty space in there to fit another Vader with room to spare. Itís G2 all over again!
Itís a very large bubble attached to a long, angled card, both with glue and the collector-friendly tape and flap combo. Thereís a plastic flap at the bottom that acts as a hinge when opening, nice touch. The coolest part of it is that the designís a crossover too Ė itís a merging of the ep3 bubbles and the Cybertron bubbles. The front gives us an RID-style Transformers logo with a classic Star Wars one at the top. Boxartís Cybertron-style, very cool, and much better than the usual generic pose.
On the left hand side of the bubble thereís a cut section with an odd disk in it. Iíd initially thought it was lenticular, showing off both modes, with perhaps a transformation shot as well. Itís, er, not. Remember those weird things with the bird and the cage? Youíd put the circle on a string and spin it so it looked like the bird was caged. Something like that, only much less effective, and featuring the same pictures from the back of the card. Expensive Ďandí silly. I guess it catches the eye, but thatís some seriously misplaced money.
Cardback gives us standard pics of the figure in both modes, with inaccurate colours. Also, we get some taglines, a bio that makes the figures out to be the actual characters rather than the piloted mechs they are, some pointlessly high techspecs, and a rather interesting blurb:
ďCareful, your sensors can deceive you. These classic Star Wars vehicles are More Than Meets The Eye! Your favourite heroes and villains collide in this awesome collection of mode-changing figures that youíll find to be full of surprisesÖĒ
A hint that thereís actual TF characters coming? Time will tell. Cross-sells are Kenobi, Grievous, and Luke, whoís listed as ĎX-Wing Fighterí. Hrm. All in all, this packaging jobís above average, very photogenic. Should appeal to sealed collectors and catch the eye of the average toy buyer. Thatís likely because itís targeted at older SW fans rather than the kids that get the TF advertising treatment. Well, we can still appreciate it.
After fending off the interesting combo of clear rubber bands and black plastic batarang things that keep the toy in his plastic prison, youíre left with four things. One is a mini Darth Vader figure, with a whopping two points of articulation. Perfect for sitting down and surrendering! He does the trick as a pilot figure, mind.
Unfortunately, a little hope I was entertaining didnít quite come to fruition. Vaderís slightly larger than a Diaclone driver, meaning the G1 figures are a little too small to be in scale with him. If they were all real and didnít shift sizes randomly, the mech would be around the size of an Autobot car in robot mode.
Then thereís the lightsabers, which double as his missiles. Thereís two of Ďem, molded in translucent red with painted [Pretty well detailed, too] handles. I was a little unnerved to find that the bands holding the sabers in place had turned red as well..
Now, before I discuss Vaderís vehicle mode, I feel I should mention something about his size and price point. Back in Armada, they ditched the old Mega size for bigger figures with electronics, and charged a fair bit more for Ďem. The SWTFs, astonishingly, are both the size and price of the Old Megas. And I loved the Old Megas. They were my favourite size of figure in BW and BM, I was horrified when the RID Megas werenít released here. So thereís something special about seeing figures of this size on the shelves again.
Finally, to the actual figure. In vehicle mode, Darth Vaderís a TIE Advanced X1 Starfighter. For those whoíre not familiar with the intricacies of SW [And canít be bothered googling, natch. I thought Vader flew an Interceptor before this, shame upon me], the TIE Advanced is the ship Vader flew at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, AKA The First Movie. Itís like a TIE fighter with a big engine pack stuck on the back, and longer bent wings, and was designed so the audience knew which ship Vader was in, with all the generic TIE fighters zapping around.
In true TIE fighter fashion, itís molded in a light grey-blue plastic, with dark blue and grey used for detailing. From the front, itís remarkably thin and sleek. Thereís a bubble cockpit at the front, which you can kinda jam the minifigure into after lifting up the top. He doesnít like doing it, though, and tends to get stuck.
The wings are the main feature, as they make up the bulk of the ship. Long, thin, and angled, theyíre covered with solar panel detailing. The chunky central engine section has some neat asymmetrical detailing on it. Turning the ship upside down spoils the illusion somewhat, as Vaderís easily recognised chest is there. All in all, though, this is a very convincing piece. If I were a casual SW collector, [Which I have been in the past] I dare say I wouldnít guess this is what it is. It really does look like a scaled SW vehicle.
But wait, gimmicks. The two red lightsabers slide blade-first through the holes in the pods on the insides of the wings, and lock into place as missiles. With the silver handles visible from the front, they look missiley enough for me, with the red blades that extend out the back forming..er..vapour trails, I guess. Or itís being shot from behind. The firing buttons actually stick through holes in the wings, which is good, as it saves fiddling with internal parts. Theyíre not easily triggered by accident, and the springs launch the sabers a satisfying distance. This was a good way of storing accessories and giving the toy a feature without interfering with it too much. I approve.
Thereís no denying it. Vaderís a legoformer. The wings pop off and sit aside for now, and youíre left with an amusing little box. Looks like itíd make a functional submarine, heh.
Fire off the lightsaber missiles to avoid losing them. Pop the side sections off their pegs, and move them forward. Fold the two panels at the back over. The sides of the central box become legs in much the same way Cybertron Dirt Bossís, and the feet flip out of the lower legs. Fold the last of the back panels down to form his sides.
The fists slide out of the ends of the pods sticking out from his shoulders. Via a swivel and a plastic ratchet, they move down and inward to create his arms. The forearms and fists spin around appropriately.
Now pop the panel on whatís now his back open, and remove the minifigure if itís in there. Some cool detail can be seen here, and this may well be the first time you notice that the chest panel is translucent. Yes, itís a window for the minifigureís place in robot mode. Flip the head out from inside, and attempt to jam the minifigure into the newly-revealed seat. Close the panel, lock the head onto the top of the robot body.
Examine the wing panels that were earlier set aside. One has two clips on the underside, and splits into three sections at the halfway point with pin swivels. This is his cape. Unpeg the three sections, and clip it to him with the top clip and the socket on his back. The other wing makes a shield, and the sabers can store in the launchers or fit into his hands. Woo, weíre there. Or we would be if the character limit hadn't cut me off.
This is undeniably Darth Vader. Heís got the chest, the colours, the cape, the red lightsaber(s) and that unmistakable head. While the vehicle mode and bulk say Old Mega, heís remarkably tall, and rivals some Ultras. Instead of the vehicle modeís blue-grey, the major colours here are black and dark blue, with silver used for detailing. Because most of the vehicle mode consisted of the wings, itís hard to tell what he turns into, or indeed, that this is anything more than a particularly blocky Darth Vader action figure. And thatís kinda cool, something more normal TFs should be shooting for.
While it seems like he has trouble standing, his feet just require some..dare I say it..Force to click into place. Once done, heís impressively stable.
I was hopeful that heíd have wrist-mounted missile launchers in robot mode, but that didnít turn out to be the case. The sabers do indeed store in his forearms, but theyíre pointing the wrong way. But all is not lost! With the blades sticking out as they are, he has tonfas! A good rival for Big Convoy, maybe?
His hands are sculpted in gripping positions. Instead of the standard hole-in-a-fist that we normally get, these are more like regular action figure fists. Made from a softer plastic than the rest of him, the sabers slot in rather well. I like this, as the hands donít look like crap when theyíre empty, another thing regular TFs could learn from.
All is not perfect, sadly. His cape and shield clip on with the same sorts of clips used for things like Energon Rodimusí heelspurs, and the EnerBruty tanksí treads. Designed to detach easily while still rotating and holding in. They connect solidly in vehicle mode, as theyíre secured with two of the clips and the launcher pegs, but here.. The shield falls off in the suggested configuration if you move it even slightly. Thankfully, thereís options. You can rotate his forearm and clip it in the vehicle mode sockets, which loses elbow articulation. I find turning it upside down and attaching it to his right forearm works best, that way you donít have to mistransform his shoulder just to get it out of the way. Or you could, yíknow, set it aside..
The cape actually clips in solidly thanks to a clever indented design, but the clipís already coming loose, leading to the cape wobbling from side to side. The pins on the cape panels are atrociously loose, but only when moving backwards, where they can be moved stiffly up for some spiffy flared poses. Itís just when hanging straight down that they flop forward. A pity.
Proportionately, heís very tall and lanky, with his shoulders set further down his body than normal. That could have looked strange, and does in pics, but somehow the rounded cockpit section his headís mounted on and the lines of the chest make it work. After all, this is a Vader mech, and not Vader himself. His upper torso is very big and bulky, giving the impression of strength. In contrast, he has much smaller thighs and arms, as they had to cram inside him for transformation. The cape helps fill him out a lot, he comes off a little oddly without it.
As with the vehicle mode, he has plenty of detail, but not so much that itís distracting. The waist and chest panel have some nice techy bits, with buttons and lights, and thereís panel lines galore. Iím not too fond of his headsculpt. It has some very cool gold detailing on the back, the cheeks just seem too pointy, and eyes too..cheerful? Also, itís made of the same soft plastic as the hands, and looks a tad off. Oh well, better than having it break, and itís certainly grown on me since the initial yuck factor. And for those curious, his head attaches via some internal mechanism, and would be relatively hard to remove.
Hrm. After looking at the pics just now, I notice that they changed the assembly. His upper arms have rivets through them for a joint, and the heads are exposed, while theyíre not on the proto. I suspect this was done to avoid the glint of silver in vehicle mode, but screw that, it makes the robot look shoddy. Thanks to the forearms being clipped on rather than screwed, all you need to do to fix this is to unscrew the shoulders, swap arms, reassemble, and swap forearms. Much better.
Articulation-wise, he does well. 19 POA: neck, two at each shoulder, two at each elbow, wrists, two at each hip, two at each knee. He couldíve used a rotation above the elbow, but hey. The outward shoulder joint is actually below his shoulder pads, the joint within the pads is transformational. Having it below really adds to the figure, as he can move his arms across his body, allowing him to hold a saber with both hands.
Unfortunately, those joints are ratcheted, while the transformational ones are swivels. That means the transformational ones move more readily. They really should have picked that up earlier, itís not hard to notice joint tolerances when constructing a figure.
All that amounts to some nifty poses. After all, heís a robot with swords and a shield, thatís cool on its lonesome.
As far as Iím concerned, the designers accomplished what they set out to do: Cross-promote both lines, while giving this one its own identity. We have a Ďrealisticí Star Wars vehicle turning into a good mechanical representation of a Star Wars character. And itís a piloted mech, so it even makes some potential sense. Just imagine if the TFs were somehow transported to the SW universe.. And thatís exactly what got me in the end. Regardless of how else they couldíve pulled this off, they went with something that was compatible with the TFs we already have, and thatís to be commended. Now that we know that these were done almost entirely by the SW design team, I have to admit that Iím impressed. Thereís some niggles, like the shield and the cape, but this is pretty damned cool for a first wave toy. Seriously.
Iím not a Ďhugeí SW fan. Iíve got a few toys here and there, I love the movies, Iíve glanced at some of the EU material. I can reel of a few quotes. Itís pretty hard to be into the whole sci-fi pop-culture thing without SW, really. That said, I Ďamí a huge Transformers fan, and from that viewpoint I can honestly say that this is a very cool toy and is well worth your money. No major flaws, nicely designed, actually disguised in Ďbothí modes. Heís a winner, whether you appreciate him as Darth Vader or as a Cool Transforming Robot. Donít pass these up on principle, people, give them a chance. You just might be surprised. I know I was.
I didnít think Iíd like him this much, but I do. I only intended to get Vader, but after this, Grievous is looking mighty tempting..
Click here to see the full gallery with many more of the SW TF Darth Vader figure