Yodasnews Review: Vader’s Secret Apprentice (The Force Unleashed)
Star Wars: Evolutions
Review and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498)
Review Date: April 28, 2008
Points of Articulation
Secret Apprentice (14): Ball-jointed (head, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles); Swivel-jointed (wrists, waist, legs)
Jedi Knight (14): Ball-jointed (head, shoulders, knees, ankles); Swivel-jointed (wrists, waist, legs); Swivel-cut (elbows)
Sith Lord (14): Ball-jointed (head, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles); Swivel-jointed (forearms, waist, legs)
Secret Apprentice: Energy bindings, lightsaber (ignited)
Jedi Knight: Lightsaber (ignited and unignited)
Sith Lord: Lightsaber (ignited and unignited)
Packaging: Three figure tray with separate tray for accessories (specially designed for Evolutions)
There has been a trend over the last several years in film trailers that irks many audiences. Quite often, key elements of the film’s plot—particularly story twists—are blatantly revealed, sometimes months before the film’s release. The suspense and surprise of these stories are ruined, and the audience’s experience is soured as a result.
The same disservice, unfortunately, can be said of the eagerly anticipated next-generation video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
As with 1996’s highly publicized and merchandised Shadows of the Empire, The Force Unleashed is a multimedia mega-event aimed at the current generations of Star Wars fans. In fact, it was touted as the major Star Wars event of 2007—until Lucasarts failed to deliver on its Christmas season deadline. Licensees scrambled to adjust, none more so than Hasbro. In addition to delaying their entire array of Force Unleashed products, Hasbro even had to hastily throw together a repaint wave (2007s’ Wave 7.5) to take the place of the game-based figures.
But Hasbro could only delay for so long, and the dawn of 2008 saw pieces of their Force Unleashed merchandise trickling into the market. One such item is the subject of this toy review: the Evolutions set featuring Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice, the protagonist of the game. Its early release is unfortunate because, like the film trailer analogy above, it reveals both the appearances and potential fates of the character.
Similar to Knights of the Old Republic, players start with the core character and, through the way they choose to play the game, will either become the next Sith Lord or a full-fledged Jedi Knight. In addition to revealing those fates, the drastically different appearances of the character are obviously revealed as well—including a very disturbing look for the Apprentice’s Sith Lord incarnation.
This figure set definitely qualifies as truly portraying the “evolution” of the character, but is it worth your hard-earned money?
Secret Apprentice: (Excellent) – Seeing as how there is still very little reference material regarding this character, all aesthetic critiques are going to rely mostly on the appearance of the figure itself. That being said, the portrait on the Secret Apprentice is simplistic yet very well done. The eyes are precise and, more importantly, looking in the same direction. The hairline bleeds only in a few small spots, and the facial structure gives a very tough-as-nails, fierce look—exactly what one would expect from a Force wielder who stands on the brink of becoming a Sith Lord.
Jedi Knight: (Above Average) – The Jedi Knight version of the Apprentice takes the base portrait and molds it into a more benign and serene version. The face is relaxed, and a military-precision haircut replaces the more chaotic style of the Apprentice. Unfortunately, the result makes the Jedi version look a bit dopey. Additionally, the overall sculpting appears softer and less three-dimensional, and that is what stops this portrait from receiving an “Excellent” rating.
Sith Lord: (Excellent) – Apparently, there must be some unwritten rule somewhere that dictates all Sith Lords in platform games must hide their faces behind Mandalorian-inspired masks. The first thing that popped into mind upon seeing this portrait is just how much the Sith Lord variation looks like Darth Revan from Knights of the Old Republic. Mind you, this is not a bad thing. It’s just a bit uninspired. All that aside, this is a fantastic portrait. The sculpting and paint applications are crisp, the design is decidedly dark and demented, and that thick braid adds an even wilder element to the overall look.
Secret Apprentice: (Excellent) – This is the one area where there is a solid reference image against which this figure can be compared. Artist Chris Trevas painted a full-body action pose of the Apprentice for use in the Star Wars Miniatures: The Force Unleashed expansion pack, and it gives a very clear look at the front of this character. Comparing the figure with this painting shows that Hasbro quite simply nailed the look right down to some of the smallest details such as the tattering of the kama and the placement of the costume’s cloth wrappings. Of course, there are small discrepancies like areas that aren’t painted the right color and a few missing details, but these are insignificant when the whole figure is viewed. As a whole, this is an excellent achievement by Hasbro’s sculptors.
Jedi Knight: (Above Average) – Once more, we are left with little in the way of source material, so we will examine this costume on its own merits. The sculpting is extremely detailed and effectively simulates multiple layers of cloth, and the hood has an exceptional three-dimensional look to it. The type of material used in the soft goods portions are sturdy, and the lightsaber holster sculpted into the “cloth” works well. Where this costume falls short is in the area of paint “bleeding”, which stands out on this figure because of the highly contrasting colors. It is all too easy to see where white bleeds onto brown and vice versa. Granted, these are mass-produced toys, but the other two figures in the pack set a high bar for quality that this figure didn’t reach.
Sith Lord: (Above Average/Excellent) – Here is a figure that can whet one’s appetite for the source material. Seeing this incarnation of the Apprentice really makes me want to play the game just to see what twisted turn of events gives us…this. Why are his limbs suddenly all sinewy, and what in blazes happened to his arm?! This is certainly the most radically designed figure of the three, but that also makes it the coolest looking figure in this Evolutions set. The sculpting and painting on his mangled right arm have been done very well, and the corset-like body armor has clearly sculpted ridges that are very three-dimensional.
What keeps this figure on a borderline rating are the eight lightsaber hilts molded onto the figure. Their paint applications are, quite honestly, extremely sloppy. For those wondering why the Jedi Knight costume was penalized more for seemingly less is because of the complexity level involved. The saber hilts on the Sith Lord require more precision painting, which increases the risk for sloppiness. The Jedi costume, on the other hand, is very simplistic and really only requires that the painters stay within some very broad lines.
Secret Apprentice: (Excellent) – The only things missing from this figure are ball-jointed hips and a ball-jointed torso because this figure pretty much has everything else. While the aforementioned articulation would lend an even greater range of motion to an already superb figure, they aren’t used all that often and are the rare exceptions rather than the rule. The articulation points that most greatly benefit this figure are the ball-joints on the ankles, shoulders, and elbows. The ankles allow the figure to be placed in a decent one-knee kneeling position, and the arm articulation provides a good variety of movement for lightsaber poses.
Jedi Knight: (Above Average) – After all this time, I can’t fathom why Hasbro still uses swivel-cut elbow articulation on their figures. It is even more baffling when the other two figures in the set have ball-joints on their elbows. The simple fact is that swivel-cut articulation is flimsy because the forearms constantly pop off the figure. Additionally, these types of elbow joints severely limit lightsaber action poses, something that should be a design priority for any Jedi or Sith figure. The rest of this figure’s articulation is on par with the rest of the set, and you can also get this figure into a good kneeling position. It’s just that those swivel elbows stubbornly refuse to go extinct.
Sith Lord: (Excellent) – Getting past that annoying swivel-cut speed bump, things get back on track with ball-jointed elbows once more. This figure has virtually the same articulation as the Apprentice, but there are some exceptions. First, the forearms rather than the wrists are articulated, presumably to accommodate the blades on the right arm. Functionally, there is no difference or lessening in the articulation. The second difference is that it is virtually impossible to get a true kneeling pose out of this figure despite having the Apprentice’s articulation. This is not a fault of the joints but rather interference by the costume. The bandage-like wraps around the waist and hips prevent the leg from reaching the near-right angle that the Apprentice can reach, so the balance is thrown out of whack. However, altering the costume to allow this range of motion would diminish the costume’s appearance as translated in a plastic medium. Essentially, this is a Catch-22 situation.
Secret Apprentice: (Above Average) – It may seem odd that this figure gets the lower rating when it has the most diverse accessories of the three figures. However, Hasbro made one puzzling omission with this figure: lack of a separate lightsaber hilt. Sure, it’s cool that the Apprentice gets some kind of energy binders (what they are exactly will be seen in time, I suppose), but the other two figures get unignited versions of their lightsabers as well as places on their costumes where they can be attached. The fact that Apprentice gets slighted in this regard is enough to drop the rating.
Jedi Knight and Sith Lord: (Excellent) – The question is “Why do figures with so few accessories get such a high rating?” The answer is that what Hasbro gave us seems to be the appropriate accessories for these specific characters. Given that the general public hasn’t been able to play The Force Unleashed yet, we don’t know if there are any other accessories that should have been included. Jedi and Sith, traditionally, don’t really need anything other than their lightsabers, and Hasbro went the extra mile to give both versions of each weapon, something that should be but isn’t always consistent across Force wielding characters. As for the sabers, they are painted and sculpted as well as can be expected without having a physical prop available as reference (e.g. – any of the cinematic lightsabers).
Quality Control – Average
The figures themselves are well made, but this good quality control is offset by the way in which they are packaged in the plastic tray. Rather than using a piece of tape to hold the sabers in their plastic grooves, Hasbro threaded the blades through holes in the plastic. The problem is that when one goes to remove the figures, the blades can snag on the way out, and the soft plastic easily bends, leaving buyers with warped blades. Considering the $20 price tag on Evolutions sets, this is something with which consumers should not have deal. Sadly, this approach is found in the basic figure line as well and most notably affects accessories such as lightsabers and Clonetrooper blaster rifles.
Overall Rating – Excellent
Clearly, the weakest links in the set are the poor packaging design for the lightsaber blades and the swivel-cut elbow articulation on the Jedi Knight version of the Secret Apprentice, but those are hardly reasons to condemn an entire set of three well-crafted figures. Be very careful with removing the sabers, and you should be able to minimize or avoid the damage. As for the Jedi Knight figure, there is really isn’t any other option than just accepting the shortcomings in the arm articulation.
Overall, this set is an excellent addition to the multi-pack Evolutions line and a tantalizing teaser of things to come when Star Wars: The Force Unleashed finally makes its way to gaming platforms later this year. And for a set that roughly breaks down to the same price per figure as any basic single-carded figure, they are certainly worth the money.