Yodasnews.com Review: Revenge of the Sith Darth Vader (Real Action Heroes)
Review and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498)
In every collection, there exists a Grail. Rarity matters not. Price matters not. Size matters not. All that matters is the significant emotional resonance that connects collectible and collector. The longer and more difficult the journey to acquire it, the stronger the bond is.
And there can be many grails over the years. As collectors grow and mature, their tastes and perceptions can shift. If a collector begins as a child, their first grail may be the large fifty dollar playset that only the long wait until Christmas will bring. When they become adults, it may become a highly limited edition statue. And in the twilight years, it may be an old faded cardback and the lifetime of memories that faded image brings. Or perhaps the Grail has in fact become that grandchild to whom the collection and legacy have been passed.
A month from now, I will be 26 years old, and my tenure in true Star Wars collecting will have been thirteen years—half of my lifetime—and I have had many grails in that time. In the beginning, it was a Darth Vader lightsaber, the one toy from my pre-kindergarten years that I passed on and regretted for many years. I wanted the chance to make it right, and 1995’s Power of the Force 2 electronic version became the jewel of my newly-born collection. In high school, it was the Icons replica of Vader’s Episode IV lightsaber.
Yes, there was a pattern developing there.
Now in my mid-20s, my Grail is once more related to the Dark Lord of the Sith. And it is the very subject of this extensive review. You may want to get cozy, dear readers, because this is one very long review.
Without further ado, I present the Revenge of the Sith Darth Vader 1/6th scale action figure from Medicom’s Real Action Heroes line.
Helmet – Above Average
The jet black genderless helmet of Darth Vader is one of the most recognizable icons in both film history and modern pop culture. Even those who have never seen a Star Wars movie can immediately identify it. It is a symbol that has endured many decades and many bizarre renditions. If you doubt that last part, just check out the pictures from the Vader Project posted on in the “Random” gallery from SDCC 2007
Yodasnews.com Random Images from SDCC 2007
The Dark Lord’s cybernetic rebirth in Revenge of the Sith allowed designers revisit and modify Vader’s helmet, part of an overall edict by George Lucas to costume designer Trisha Biggar to make Vader darker and more mechanical. The original mask used in Episodes IV-VI was sculpted by hand and therefore asymmetrical to a degree despite the best efforts of the artisans involved. In the 21st century, computer technology would correct that error, and Vader’s mask was made as perfect and devoid of human touch as can be.
So how does the Medicom helmet size up?
Well from the best visual analysis, the symmetry appears to be intact as does the general shape. When viewed at certain angles, it does appear to be undersized and disproportionate to the filming helmet, but this is a trick of the eye. Using reference images and eyeball measuring the edges of the helmet flare to the stripes on the breast plate show an accurate width, and all the grooves and fine details match up very well.
As opposed to using interchangeable portraits and adapter systems like Sideshow has done with their sixth-scale Leia in Boushh Disguise figure, Medicom created a three-piece removable helmet that entombs the scarred Anakin Skywalker portrait beneath. The sculpted details are very precise and correlate to the actual helmet once again. The voice processor and nutrient feeding tubes are an example of the amazing work done by the sculptors.
So why does this helmet not rate as “Excellent”?
First and foremost, the plastic feels too cheap and fragile—especially when compared against the rest of the plastic pieces in the costume. As Medicom and Tomy are part of the same overall company, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this helmet feels very similar to the Tomy mini-helmets distributed state-side by Gentle Giant. Unfortunately, those are $5 trinkets and hardly worthy of a figure that costs $120 and beyond. Additionally, there are several small bubbles in the plastic on the rear of the locking helmet as well. Likely, this was a glitch in the production line, but it eliminates a smooth flow to the helmet. Also, the paint applications on the helmet details are both soft and slightly sloppy in areas. Lastly, the helmet doesn’t lock together as well as it should, and it has the tendency to shift out of place if bumped.
All of these flaws diminish the overall accuracy of the helmet, but nearly every other aspect of this figure will overshadow and redeem this initial bump in the road.
Scarred Anakin Portrait - Excellent
Once a handsome and fearless hero of the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker was forced to wear the scars of the Dark Side for the rest of his days as a symbol of his misguided allegiance. His skin cracked and blistered into a leathery shell of its former self, the fallen Jedi’s defeat on Mustafar was hidden from all by his intimidating breathing mask and helmet.
But thanks to Medicom, collectors can gaze upon that pitiful visage whenever they so desire. But just how accurate is it to the film’s depiction?
The greatest inconsistency is the base color of the entire portrait. Medicom painted Anakin’s head in varying shades of brown with reddish hues mixed into the major wounds. In actuality, the color palette needed to be based in shades of pink and red. The resulting effect would be a portrait that looked like blistering raw meat, an appearance closer to Christensen’s filming makeup as well as real world third degree burns. However, one could posit the argument that this is what Vader’s burnt flesh would have looked like after cooling down after a few months but before decades of concealment bleached the skin Joker-white.
The only other demerit against the portrait is that the color of Vader’s Sith Eyes is incorrect. The movies as well as Sideshow’s own Darth Vader (Sith Apprentice) figure show that the correct pattern is a luminous yellow iris enclosed with a thin ring of red around the perimeter. The irises on this figure are a bizarre greenish gold with a black ring around them.
But those problems are only noticeable when directly comparing to the source materials. Medicom, on the whole, nailed the scarred portrait. The sculptors overseas successfully blended determination with great sadness and self-condemnation into a single facial expression. Additionally, Hayden’s likeness, while quite understandably very difficult to see, is actually present in the portrait. Several pictures floating around the Internet have Anakin’s hair from the film Photoshopped onto this portrait, and the resemblance truly surfaces in those pictures. Below is a quick Photoshop picture combining the Medicom Vader with the Sideshow Anakin, and the two portraits sync up nearly seamlessly.
As for the fiery damage, it is top notch in design and execution. The flow of the burns is very similar to the filming makeup. They also match the contours of Vader’s human face very well. This is particularly noticeable and impressive around the lips where the burnt flesh pulls toward them and tightens up at the edges. Looking at the sculpting, one almost expects the skin to pull, crack, and ooze if the lips were to part. The top and back of the head are especially gruesome with the major scars seen in Return of the Jedi realized here in their fresh forms. The deep scar running across the scalp is painted a dark gory red with the skin cracked along the edges like a deep sea trench. As for the back of the head, that is one big area of cracked skin that very much resembles heavily peeling paint on a brick wall.
One last interesting point: the head is actually hollow and somewhat soft. If you pinch it, you can feel it give way slightly, but doing that more than once and/or heavily forcing it the first time is more than likely a bad idea. Early reports also indicate that Sideshow’s recently-released Asajj Ventress sixth-scale figure also sports a hollow head, an apparent first for the SSC Star Wars line. Overall, it makes no impact on the quality and presentation of the portrait, but it’s an interesting design choice nevertheless.
Upper Body Armor: Breast Plate, Control Boxes, Belt, and Codpiece – Excellent
Moving on to the remaining five-sixths of the figure, we will examine the RAH Darth Vader in more specialized categories. First up is the collection of components that constitute Vader’s upper body armor, and the best encapsulating description is they are an excellent example of how overall craftsmanship and presentation can effectively dwarf flaws.
First under the microscope is the chain which keeps Vader’s cape attached to his body. Since it’s metal rather than soft good, it’s included in this category rather than with the later discussion of the cape. As briefly mentioned earlier, many changes were made to Vader’s suit and armor for Revenge of the Sith, changes that were more dramatic than the subtle variations found across Episodes IV through VI. One such alteration was changing the color of the Dark Lord’s neck chain from silver to black. The links are appropriately scaled, and the chain is adequately glued to the breast plate so as to prevent easy breakage. While the chain can get easily caught in the space between plate and the helmet’s neck piece, it is very easy to untangle and readjust. The only detriment with the chain is that it drapes too low on the breast plate. However, it appears as though it could be easily adjusted by gluing the ends further back on the plate, so this may just be a factory goof on this particular sample. At any rate, it’s an insignificant error.
Next, we will examine the armored breast plate, which according to reference material is intended to shield Vader’s respiratory cybernetics from damage. Each element of the figure’s plate is an excellent match to the filming costume. The alternating black and silvery gray paint deco matches the costume as well as the length from neck to mid-torso. The black stripes do look a bit too curvy on the Medicom figure, but it is once again something only noticeable during a scrutinizing side-by-side comparison. On a functional level, the rounded-off gray plates on each end are separate from the main breast plate and are tethered by a slightly flexible plastic strip. The reason: to allow some minor give when articulating the arms. It is still impossible to achieve a full range of vertical motion with the arm, but it opens things up by a few degrees.
As for the chest-mounted control panel, the overall design is spot-on to the filming costume. The most impressive aspect of the panel is the sculpting done on the life functions sensor arrays, designed to monitor cardiovascular and neurological readings. These are the vertical pieces of metal running along the sides of the control panel. Each of the rings and their spacing is absolutely identical to the filming costume, an impressive achievement given their small scale on the figure. The only flaw is that the silver paint could stand to be a tad more metallic. Big deal, right?
Before moving on to the belt and its mounted control boxes, here are a few pieces of interesting trivia relating to the boxes, and these details can be found in the limited run Vader: The Ultimate Guide digest. Each switch on the chest panel control vital areas of Vader’s life support system, but there is a failsafe in place to prevent easy manipulation by an adversary. The controls only become active when the second green button on the secondary system function box is pressed. That box is mounted on Vader’s belt on his left hand side. Think of it as locking the keys on your cell phone to prevent accidental phone calls. Additionally, the chest control panel lacks some of the subtle details of Medicom’s Jedi version such as the small Aurebesh writing above each card slot. However, this is not their oversight. The Sith version of the suit does in fact omit this text.
The belt and codpiece both straddle the accuracy line. The electromagnetic clasp (i.e. – fancy name for the buckle) is 100% faithful to the filming costume, ranging from the color to the number, spacing, and sizes of the dashes cut into the left side. Both control boxes are also extremely faithful to the source. However, there is no place whatsoever to hang the lightsaber hilt from the belt. Granted, it never appeared on camera, but it is an unspoken expectation to include this feature on any Jedi or Sith figure. Adding insult to injury here is that the Jedi version of Vader did supply a hook from which to hang the Episode VI hilt. As for the codpiece, the general shape and length is accurate, but the indentation is incorrect. Based on reference images, the indented portion in the middle should be more recessed and rounded than the way it’s sculpted on the figure.
Boots and Shin Guards - Excellent
The final components of Darth Vader’s armor are his boots and shin guards. These are relatively straightforward in design with the ridges, grooves, and rivets in complete sync with the filming costume. Cast in what feels to be soft vinyl, their reflective properties simulate the metal of the “real” Darth Vader suit. What works best here are the two piece construction and the positive impact that this has on posing. Rather than being one solid piece, the shin guard is separate from the boot, which allows greater flexibility at the ankle. However, since Medicom’s ankles are typically brittle, it is best to pop the foot off the body, make the necessary adjustments, and replace the foot. It may sound complicated, but the entire process takes less than half a minute. Just exercise caution when removing the foot. The best bet is to pull it straight out.
Soft Goods: Bodysuit, Robes, and Cape - Excellent
The boots and shin guards effectively end the discussion on both Vader’s armor and the plastic portion of the core costume. All that remains aside from the accessories are the soft goods. On Vader, they are spread out across three key sections: bodysuit, robes, and cape. A variety of materials were employed in their construction, and each section of the soft goods has their own strengths and little weaknesses.
While Vader’s armor varied from film to film, one constant has always been the shiny leather bodysuit underneath it all. For the Revenge of the Sith version, there is only one major difference. The suit is looser fitting because of the vast differences in the physical size and build between Dave Prowse and Hayden Christensen. Keeping that point in mind, Medicom has not only faithfully replicated a 1/6th scale pleather version of Vader’s bodysuit but they have also made this suit baggier than the one found on their earlier Return of the Jedi Vader release, perfectly replicating the differences in performers. The suit stretches to a certain degree because of elasticity in the material. It has its limitations, but they are few in number. Additionally, the pleather bunches up in most of the right places—particularly in the knees just behind and above the shin guards. One place it shouldn’t do this is where the glove meets arm. In reality, the arms of the suit should continue into the gloves, but Medicom failed to allow that empty space with their gloves. Therefore, the suit bunches up considerably in these areas.
The cape is both the most fascinating and most perplexing component in this soft goods category. It looks very faithful to the on-screen appearance of the fallen Jedi, but when you spread it out to full size, that’s another story. This cape is extremely large and appears to be based on the cape used in promotional stills. I cannot be 100% certain, but it looks as though two different size capes were made for the suit. The filming costume had a normal length cape similar to that found in the Original Trilogy. However, the promotional stills display a very dramatic, flowing cape that could wrap itself around Vader. The latter is the cape Medicom has provided.
Personally, the massive cape is preferred because it allows for some very dramatic poses. Just take another look at the opening picture of this review. That illustrates the point perfectly. Aiding in the cape’s poseability factor is a thin wire embedded along the bottom hem. This is similar to Sideshow’s practice of threading wire through the hems of some soft goods. The purpose here (as it was there) is to allow “sculpting” of the cape. Unfortunately, Medicom elected not to continue running the wire up through the vertical hem as well. The result is a loss in the cape’s ability to hold a wide array of sculpts. Certainly, collectors are welcome to try adding their own wire to the hem, but this sample is going to stay “modification free” because it’s not worth possibly ruining a $130+ figure.
The cape also has the most uniquely textured material of all the soft goods. Again, 100% certainty is impossible because a materials guide was not included, but it feels as though a mixture of nylon and polyester with a hint of spandex was used in its construction. The inner lining seems to be polyester, a conclusion arrived at by matching the feel of the lining to the feel of exercise pants and checking their materials tag. The outer material is likely a mixture of nylon and spandex. Overall, these materials add some definite weight to the cape and will aid with long term durability in the face of time. Strangely enough, this is fitting because the canonized version of Vader’s cape is actually composed of an armor weave cloth designed to withstand the rigors of battle.
As for the inner robes that run down Vader’s sides and are held tight to his body via his belt, they are rather simplistic compared to the rest of the soft goods. Unlike the billowing cape, there is no wire in this hem, which prohibits the same degree of control at the hands of the collector. In contrast to the near-unwieldy length of the cape, these robes are very accurate to the film costume in terms of length. The material used is similar to the nylon exterior of the cape, but the robes are rougher to the touch.
While visually not as dramatic or noticeable as the armor, the soft goods are really the most impressive element in the entire figure’s design (the highly-articulated RAH 301 body notwithstanding), and they set a high bar for other companies to match with regards to the variety of materials used in such mixed media scaled figures.
Articulation and Design Stability – Excellent
As was just mentioned, the Medicom Darth Vader utilizes the company’s RAH 301 base body, one of the most advanced models in the entire Real Action Heroes line. Typically, this is the body to which many Version 2’s upgrade (the Rocketeer being a notable example in my mind), and both the articulation and stability are very impressive when one takes into account the inherent restrictiveness of the pleather bodysuit and plastic breast plate.
I was most impressed with the range of motion the design permitted to Vader’s head. Considering this is a three-stage assembled helmet with a thick, flared cap and brace-like neck piece, I fully expected the plastic to be bumping into each other. While this figure will never be able to crane its head back all the way, it can tilt upward to approximately 30 degree angles and down to around 45 degrees. Lateral motion is a full 360 degrees, but it’s highly doubtful anyone could create a meaningful pose with Vader pulling a Linda Blair head spin.
With regards to the rest of the body, the degree of flexibility varies in direct correlation to the surrounding clothes and armor. The mid-torso articulation is extremely useful for flaring out Vader’s chest into an intimidating, regal position, a pose that works exceptionally well with the included “belt hooking” hands (more to come later on that). The arms are probably the least manipulative part of the body as the breast plate hinders the vertical motion. Additionally, the gloves interfere as well (again something that will be expanded upon in the next section).
As for the legs, they have a healthy range of motion and can be manipulated into a kneeling position as long as great time, care, and patience are taken with the task. Medicom’s bodies are made from notoriously brittle plastic, so the likelihood of breakage is much higher than with Sideshow’s Art Buck body. Fortunately, the boots help pick up whatever slack the leg articulation leaves behind. The boots easily pop in and out of the body, which makes it much easier to adjust the ankle articulation to suit specific needs. It also reduces the risk of breakage, something that has unfortunately happened to the particular Medicom Stormtrooper reviewed on this site several months ago.
Lastly, the 301 body has the remarkable ability to maintain a solid center of gravity in nearly every type of pose. At times, it can be tricky to find it as it may just require a subtle shift in a single joint, but the payoff is worth the experimentation. Once found, that center can balance the figure so well that many poses can stand indefinitely without the need for a figure stand. That is…barring any severe impact to the display surface. It certainly won’t stay free-standing through a shoulder slamming against the shelf. Or an earthquake…
In any event, pictures can better describe the full potential of Darth Vader’s range of motion than words can say, so enjoy these additional images before moving on to the two “Accessories” categories.
Gloves – Excellent (Variety), Below Average (Functionality)
With regards to accessories, the genuine standout for this figure is the wide assortment of interchangeable gloves. The variety, when combined with the naturalistic poseability inherent in the 301 body, produces an enormous palette of display options. With the Revenge of the Sith version of Darth Vader, all of the original hands from the Jedi release are included as well as two new additions.
The following hands are included with Darth Vader:
That’s a total of NINE different hands for a single figure!!
The lightsaber grip hands are pretty standard compared to other figures in this scale, but they can serve an alternate use for Vader: the Force choke gesture. The belt hooking hands effectively replicate Vader’s signature stance of his hands resting on his belt as he gazes out the viewport of a Star Destroyer. The Force Push glove is a splayed out hand that can be posed palm facing out in a Force push or palm up as if holding the holographic display of a planet under the subjugation of the Galactic Empire. As for the pointing right hand…that one is self-explanatory. Vader, especially in the Original Trilogy, was a major proponent of sticking a finger in the faces of prisoners and subordinates. Typically, the recipients ended up tortured or executed though. Not too good for them…
The exclusive glove sets allow collectors to replicate Darth Vader’s only two major poses in the dénouement of the Prequel Trilogy. The clenched fists, in addition to serving the figure well in threatening and intimidating poses, are essential in simulating the Dark Lord’s infamous (and sometimes much-maligned) “Noooo!!!!” scene where he reacts rather poorly to the news of his part in Padme’s death.
The cross arm hands are a much more interesting inclusion to the palette. They are also the trickiest set to use, but that is an issue that will be addressed shortly because the reason affects all of the hands.
One of the biggest problems with the hands of 1/6th scale figures is that they cannot effective emulate a true crossed arm pose. The inherent rigidity of the plastic prevents this whereas flesh and bone hands can contort into the appropriate shape. Medicom’s unorthodox approach was to create a set of joined hands, a single piece sculpted in the shape of properly contorted hands with shallow grooves in which the complementary arms can rest. To use them, pull Vader’s arms into the correct position and thread the wrists into the appropriate entry points. Unfortunately, the hands merely rest in place rather than actually stick, so sudden movement will cause them to fall out. However, the figure will stay in that pose indefinitely if left alone in position.
Now…the reason why those hands don’t stick in place…
The major negative issue with the interchangeable hands is this: there are no pegs or anything to secure any of the hands in place. Sideshow and Hot Toys’ bodies have peg joints. Medicom typically has a rod-like appendage as seen on the Stormtrooper. The previous Return of the Jedi Darth Vader had flippers which wedged themselves in the hands’ empty space.
This version has nothing.
That’s right. No connectors at all. Simply jam the hands onto the exposed arm. Unfortunately, this means the hands pop off the figure very easily and very frequently. It can be frustrating until the learning curve has run its course. Once you get the hang of it, working with the majority of poses is relatively stress-free. Also, the design prohibits any type of vertical or lateral movement of the hands. They can only rotate on the wrist. It’s limiting and typically devastating to a figure, but the wide assortment of hands heavily negates the seriously flawed functionality.
Sith Lightsaber – Above Average (Appearance), Average (Functionality)
Traditionally, Medicom’s Star Wars offerings are very light on accessories when compared to Sideshow Collectibles’ figure line. Vader is no exception with only a single lightsaber that can be converted from ignited to hilt only via a simple peg and cap system. However, the work and care put into this single accessory is decent.
The hilt captures virtually all the minute details of the prop lightsaber—despite never having actually seen the silver screen. The color palette closely matches its real world counterpart, and the spacing of each component is extremely accurate to the prop. Attention to detail is evident by the inclusions of such elements as the little golden rivets on the main chassis and the cross-hatching engraved near the weapon’s activator switch. With that aspect, the lines are evenly spaced, and paint applications on them are very crisp and clear. The only real loss of detail in comparison to the master prop is the lack of the more subtle grooves on the very bottom of the hilt.
Despite the attention to detail, the lightsaber has two flaws—one of which has resulted in breakage on this sample. The peg used to connect the saber to the belt is extremely small and brittle, which immediately broke the first time the hilt was removed from the saber grip hand. Ultimately, this flaw can be easily overlooked because the peg was useless. Remember…one key difference with this incarnation of Vader as opposed to the earlier Episode VI release is that there is no place to hang the hilt on the belt.
The other flaw is a potential disaster waiting to happen, and it proves why Sideshow’s practice of including two different lightsabers (hilt only and with blade) is the best approach. In order to switch between saber formations, the blade emitter is actually a cap that can be removed and replaced with an alternate emitter that includes the blade. The problem is that the caps tend to get stuck in the hilt, and one has to pull hard to detach them. Obviously, this tremendously increases the risk of the fragile peg snapping off, and replacement parts aren’t exactly easy to get for these figures. The best advice to minimize the risk, aside from reducing the frequency of which the caps are changed, is to slide the caps into place but just leave them rest loosely in there. They will be much easier to remove this way.
In the end, the lightsaber is an attractive piece, but great care must be taken in its usage. Oddly enough, the same caveat would likely be the theme of “Lightsaber Training: Day One” for Jedi Younglings.
“Fun Factor” - Excellent
Putting aside my obvious prejudice in favor of this figure, the RAH Darth Vader figure provides just about as much fun as you can have with a high-end action figure of this nature. While the comparatively incompatible Medicom scale does make Vader look awkward among other sixth-scale Star Wars figures (especially Sideshow’s Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker figure), it nevertheless looks quite classy on the shelf and significantly adds to any Darth Vader, Dark Side, or sixth-scale display.
The enhanced poseability of the 301 body opens Vader up to a multitude of poses that span an entire spectrum of actions and emotive poses. Reflective. Regal. Authoritative. Enraged. Subservient. All of them are possible with this figure. The nature of the sculpting, painting, and mixed media materials also ensure that any pictures and/or Photoshop work will easily produce realistic images.
Lastly, because Darth Vader is such an iconic villain, he will look right at home posed with a wide array of fellow sixth-scale Star Wars figures. Scale differential aside, Vader makes for a menacing adversary dueling any Jedi figures and an imposing force of evil amongst Imperials and Sith.
All that being said, how can this figure be anything but excellent in this category?
Overall Rating – Excellent
Ultimately, this figure is a stellar example of several things. First, it demonstrates an excellent use of mixed media through the effective selection of appropriate cloths, pleather, plastics, and metal. Each element complements the others and serves to enhance the lifelike nature commonly found in armored Medicom figures. Second, it shows how superior craftsmanship can blind collectors to the smaller flaws. There are many inconsistencies in this figure and many areas where improvements could be made, but the overall package is so outstanding that those flaws become trivial and forgettable. Third, this figure establishes a high standard for Sideshow Collectibles to meet with regards to the design and execution of armored figures. Granted, the quality here is matched by a hefty price tag (this sample cost $130 shipped from Razor’s Edge Collectibles, and that was a fantastic deal as opposed to eBay), but it establishes a highly effective blueprint to follow—predominantly in the area of quality mixed media materials.
And that brings us at last to the end of this review, and I’m sure your collective derrieres are quite happy to hear that. But I owed it to both this figure and character to craft the most in-depth analysis that I possibly could.
I ask one more thing of you, dear readers. After you close this window and go on with your lives, take some time to think about your own collections, be it Star Wars or something entirely different, and figure out what your particular Grails are and have been. Then consider why those and make those emotional reconnects with them. I’m sure you will quickly rediscover that magic which first brought you into this hobby.
Until next time, fellow collectors…