Yodasnews Review: Darth Vader (McQuarrie Signature Series)
Review and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498)
Review Date: October 8, 2007
“I remember George [Lucas] saying that Vader should have a kind of silk robe that always fluttered as he came and went, and he might have his covered with a sort of a black silk scarf and have some kind of a big helmet like a Japanese warrior…And George said, well, maybe for this scene [crossing two ships via open outer space] we could give him some sort of breathing mask…”
With that conversation, a seed was planted that would bloom into one of the most recognizable icons of modern pop culture. First, however, this evil character had to go through the conceptual stage. McQuarrie took the ideas expressed in that dialogue and set to work.
Darth Vader was born.
And over thirty years later, collectors have the first rendition of the conceptual Vader in action figure form. The question, naturally, is this: “Is it everything we hoped it would be?”
The initial entries in the McQuarrie sub-line showed a promising start and suggested a bright future for the series. However, recent entries have seemingly dashed those dreams. The SDCC exclusive Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda set suffered from reduced functionality and, in Yoda’s case, sported a look that was unfaithful to the McQuarrie artwork. It is a sad situation that Darth Vader embodies not one but both of these flaws, and they will be explained through this review.
McQUARRIE HELMET DESIGN: Average (Bordering on “Below Average”)
Beginning with the helmet based on one of Ralph McQuarrie’s most famous concept painting (Vader vs. Luke in the blockade runner), we see the first two of many flaws in this figure. The first is the cut and shape of the locking cap is slightly different, but that is a minor quibble. The bigger flaw is that the mouth shield is completely off. The concept art shows an arched piece that protrudes a healthy distance from the face mask whereas the figure’s shield is triangular and flatter toward the face. In the end, it is a very slightly altered version of the final filming version, which is a far cry from the conceptual rendition.
If this was the extent of the inaccuracies on the complete figure, all would be well. As you will see in later categories, this is not the case.
ALTERNATE McQUARRIE HELMET DESIGN: Excellent
The alternate helmet design, on the other hand, is very impressive. This helmet is the more exaggerated and flatter-faced version included with the figure, and it is a little-known variation on the “traditional” concept look. It is so obscure that reference sources could not be readily found for comparison, which means very little commentary and the basis for scoring are its own merits. This version is a very nightmarish and samurai-like interpretation of Vader’s mask with very minute details etched into the black plastic.
ARMOR: Below Average (Bordering on “Average”)
As was briefly mentioned earlier, it is a shame that two figures reviewed so close together fail at backing up their claims of being McQuarrie Concept figures. As was the case with Yoda, it is quite easy to identify the character, but the major details are all wrong. This makes the figure more along the lines of “based on a McQuarrie concept” rather than a true rendition.
To begin, the bodysuit is completely different than what McQuarrie illustrated. The artwork shows a very smooth wetsuit-like appearance to the suit. Hasbro, however, chose to imitate the cinematic style of heavily stitched leather. It is quite a big difference and one that stands out to those familiar with the concept art. Also, the figure has the soft goods robes below the belt, but those on the upper chest are completely missing. This is surprising since those robes are a constant among Hasbro’s Darth Vader figures. The omission is simply puzzling. Also, the unsightly silver string that supposedly “represents” the chain holding Vader’s cape on him is erroneous. It should not be there at all since the featured concept art shows the cape directly attached to the breast plate.
Now we move to an area with not one but three errors—the chest-mounted control box. First, the silver paint applications are shoddy and faintly dry brushed on the plastic. It looks as if sandpaper was run across the paint a few times. Second, there shouldn’t even be buttons on which to botch the paint! A closer look at the concept art shows that the chest box and two belt boxes are smooth and devoid of any detailing. However, Hasbro ignored this entirely. Lastly, the straps running from the chest panel to Vader’s shoulders are inaccurately placed. The artwork shows them on top of the breast plate, but the straps on this figure run underneath the plate.
To be fair, Hasbro got some of the details correct, but they are relatively insignificant details. The shin guards are sculpted in accordance with the concept art as are the codpiece, belt buckle, and the little square mechanical patch on the figure’s left glove. The cut of the cape is also close to the concept art.
It really would’ve been nice if all the details were correct though.
DESIGN INTEGRITY: Below Average (Bordering on “Poor”)
Shoddy and lacking. That sums up the integrity of Concept Vader’s construction in a nutshell. Both the elbow and wrist joints are extremely loose, and the forearms easily pop off under normal pressure. It is so severe that they will fall off during simple rotation on the elbow joint. Even worse, the joint gets so loose that it can’t hold up under the weight of the lightsaber, and the entire forearm droops down if extending up and away from the body. It is both frustrating and potentially damaging if the peg snaps off from the upper arm.
Another negative with the design is that the hands are sculpted too stiffly and with too hard of a plastic. It is so severe that neither the lightsaber nor blaster pistol can readily fit into either hand. In fact, the blaster only fits if the handle is permitted to warp under the pressure, and the saber has to be forced into both hands. Thankfully, the lightsaber hilt is made from a strong plastic as well, and it resists the tendency to warp under the pressure. In fact, it stretches the hands out a little bit. However, even this approach fails to work at times.
Almost as if trying to compensate for these weaknesses, the neck, knees, and ankle joints are very tight and can hold their positions quite well. The interchangeable helmets stay on the figure securely although their articulation is lacking a bit. Additionally, the plastic used for the shin guards, boots, and helmets are very solid and do appear to be immune from warping over time.
ARTICULATION: Above Average (Bordering on “Average”)
Concept Vader was subjected to a barrage of drills and passed a decent amount of them. The figure can, for example, kneel before Darth Sidious, hold the lightsaber in a two-handed grip directly in front of himself, and imitate the concept art. The biggest issues deal with the infuriating swivel cut elbows, problems that were clearly outlined in the previous section. These loose and awkward joints are all that hold this figure’s articulation score was being higher.
Everything else is great.
CONCEPT LIGHTSABER: Excellent
It is quite difficult to decide which element of the concept lightsaber is the strongest feature. Naturally, that’s a fantastic predicament in which to find oneself. That being said, we will start from the inside out and bottom up.
As briefly stated in the “Design Integrity” category, the hilt is constructed of a plastic that is resistant to heavy warping and/or breaking under normal wear-and-tear situations. It can even survive an unusually tight grip. Moving outward, the paint applications are solid and clean, and the design of the saber adheres very closely to the depiction in the concept art.
The lightsaber blade is made from a strong plastic as well, and it is firmly attached to the hilt. Unlike Concept Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber blade, this one is not removable. The bulbous flare seen at the emitter shroud has also been replicated well without being too exaggerated.
BLASTER PISTOL: Excellent
Despite whatever flaws the figure itself has, the accessories have certainly proven themselves to be superior.
Most blaster pistols in the post-2000 era have been flimsy and often warped just from the way in which they were packaged. Vader’s blaster pistol (clearly one armament that didn’t survive the conceptual stage), is sturdier than other blasters, and it emerged unscathed from the blister card because it was tucked away in the holster. While it has no paint applications, the sculpting is surprisingly intricate with the details so small that the naked eye can’t see them until light bounced off the gun. Even my camera couldn’t pick them all up clearly.
Overall, it is pretty impressive as far as scaled weapons ago.
FUN FACTOR: Poor
Even with the use of swivel cut elbows, Concept Darth Vader has the capacity to achieve a variety of display poses ranging from stoic to action-oriented. It can be used with the vast majority of the McQuarrie Concept line to recreate memorable moments from the Original Trilogy as well.
But it is nearly impossible to have any fun when you constantly have to reattach limbs that fall off at the slightest movement. The poor integrity of the design drains nearly every last ounce of fun from this figure.
OVERALL RATING: Below Average
Seeing such an important piece of the McQuarrie Signature Series be so carelessly mishandled is a major blow to the line. One can only hope that this is the bottom of the barrel and the series gets back on the right track, and that is a hope that may be realized. At the time of this review, I managed to acquire the next entry: Concept Starkiller Hero. Preliminary futzing tends to suggest that, while it’s no C-3PO or Boba Fett, Starkiller will be several steps above Vader.
While certainly expensive, fans who want a faithful interpretation of Ralph McQuarrie’s Darth Vader would be better served by the Kotobukiya vinyl model that has both Vader and Luke. However, that piece is in the $150-200 range. However, if you’re willing to settle for an economy-priced version, then this figure will likely satisfy that itch. Just don’t focus on the details.
And that, dear readers, is probably the most positive way I can close this review.