#2281: Major Vonreg

MAJOR VONREG

STAR WARS RESISTANCE (HASBRO)

“A vicious, daring man of few words, Major Vonreg is known for his custom crimson TIE fighter and his lightning fast strikes against anyone who dares intrude into First Order territory.”

For my last day of Post-Christmas reviews for this year, I’m taking a look at another figure from Star Wars Resistance.  Yesterday’s figure, Kaz, was part of the show’s titular resistance, but today’s figure hails from the other side of the war, the First Order.  While the majority of the First Order we’ve seen have been their ground troops, Resistance‘s focus on pilots translated to both sides.  Kylo took the part of star pilot of the First Order in the films, but the show introduced its own villainous lean pilot, Major Vonreg.

THE FIGURE ITSELF

Major Vonreg is another basic figure from the first (and only) assortment of Star Wars Resistance figures.  He was one of three villains available present in the line-up.  The figure stands 3 3/4 inches tall and he has 5 points of articulation.  He’s an all-new sculpt, based on one of the show’s more distinctive designs.  Clearly, he’s got the standard First Order TIE pilot as a starting point, which is fine by me.  He’s a little more armored, and he’s got an all-new helmet design, which calls back to the Clone Pilots and is definitely one of the coolest First Order designs.  It’s sleek, it’s imposing, and it makes him pretty distinctive.  Of the three Resistance figures I’ve looked at so far, Vonreg is the only one to be fully armored up.  This makes the stylization from the show a little less evident, meaning this figure actually doesn’t look too out of place with the standard movie fare.  That makes him even more versatile, and I’m all about it.  The sculpt sports some decent detail work, especially on that underlying jumpsuit.  Despite not actually having a face, he’s actually one of the more detailed figures from the line.  The paintwork on Vonreg is a fairly distinctive look…or at least it was before we had a whole sub-division of all red troops.  Of course, I guess he could double as a Sith Trooper Pilot if you were so inclined.  Whatever the case, the all red look is a good look, and the variations of shades help him from being too bland.  Vonreg is packed with a small blaster pistol.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

Between yesterday’s review and today’s, I’ve managed to watch a few episodes of the show, so hey, I’m not a total novice.  Not that the first couple of episodes have much of Vonreg here, but at least I’ve got some background.  Like yesterday’s figure, Vonreg was given to me by Cheyenne, who was determined to get me at least a few figures I didn’t have.  Vonreg is another pretty fun figure, aided further by his ability to fit in not just with figures from this line, but also from the main movie line.  He’s a solid trooper figure, even if he is technically a named character.

#2280: Kaz Xiono

KAZ XIONO

STAR WARS RESISTANCE (HASBRO)

“Confident and skilled when piloting a New Republic X-wing fighter, Kaz now feels out of his element having been assigned to be a spy for the Resistance.”

The Post-Christmas reviews are finally starting to wrap up here, and for the last two days, I’ll be looking at a pair of items with a common theme.  In addition to keeping with my whole “back to the beginning” thing by bookending this year’s reviews with another set of Star Wars reviews, the two final figure reviews hail from Disney’s Star Wars Resistance, their two-season Sequel-era cartoon that launched in 2018.  In addition to a few returning faces (including my dude Poe), the show also introduced a sizable cast of new characters.  Today, I’m taking a look at the show’s main character Kaz Xiono!

THE FIGURE ITSELF

Kaz Xiono was released in the six figure basic figure assortment for Star Wars Resistance‘s launch assortment…of course the launch was all we ended up getting, so there’s that.  The figure stands 3 3/4 inches tall and he’s got 5 points of articulation.  He and the rest of his companions would of course end up being the last new 5POA figures we would receive, at least as of right now.  Kaz is based on his standard look from the show, with an all-new sculpt that is an impressive recreation of his animated design.  Though he’s little more than a basic civilian in appearance, the design is still quite sharply rendered, with even a separate jacket piece to help add some more depth to the design.  He’s a very clean looking figure.  He’s also a very playable figure; though he’s only got those basic joints, they’re all unimpeded by the sculpt, making this a figure that’s perfect for use in vehicles.  Shame there weren’t any to go with the line, but alas, no sense crying over that now.  The paintwork, like the sculpt is clean and basic.  The green is cool, since that’s a rarer color with your typical Star Wars character, making Kaz something of a standout amongst his peers.  Kaz is packed with a removable helmet and a blaster pistol.  The pistol is the same one included with Poe, but the helmet’s all-new, and another very nicely done piece, as it goes on and off without any trouble.  It’s also got a pretty fun pattern printed on it, continuing the trend of having him stand out a bit from other such figures.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

So, I have to admit, I’ve still yet to see a single episode of Resistance.  I didn’t have cable when it started airing.  Now I’ve got Disney+, so there’s really no excuse, but I still haven’t made the time to sit down and watch it.  That means I’m not actually familiar with Kaz here.  That said, the lack of a 5POA line for Rise of Skywalker made me really want something new of that style, and here was this pretty nifty line of figures I never actually bought.  Cheyenne (of Chey and Jess’ fun time reviews) was nice enough to get me Kaz here as a Christmas gift, and I gotta say, he’s just a really nifty little figure.  I’m happy to have him, and really feel like I should watch the show now.

#2278: Chewbacca & C-3PO

CHEWBACCA & C-3PO

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

Encountering a Stormtrooper in Cloud City, C-3PO was blasted at point blank range and his limbs were scattered.  Chewbacca gathered the parts of the protocol droid and partially reassembled him.”

Remember when I was talking about C-3PO’s late entry into The Black Series, just three days ago?  Well, lucky him, he’s gotten not one, but two exclusive figure releases right on top of each other.  I suppose he’s just finally getting the due he deserves.  While the last figure was based on 3PO’s most recent appearance, this one goes back to the original trilogy, and gives us a dedicated Empire Strikes Back 3PO.  You can’t really have an Empire 3PO without a proper Empire/Jedi Chewy to carry him around.  So, one-two-boom, here they are, in one convenient Amazon-exclusive package!

THE FIGURES THEMSELVES

Chewbacca and C-3PO are, as noted in the intro, are an Amazon-exclusive pairing, which was listed for pre-order shortly after Force Friday and started shipping in November.  The two are packaged in a box that’s similar in size to the deluxe-size package used for Grievous, which is a lot smaller than previous two-pack boxes.  It makes this feel a little less like a two-pack, and more like a deluxe Chewbacca that includes 3PO as an accessory.

CHEWBACCA

For his first (and previously only OT-based) Black Series figure, we got Chewy based on A New Hope.  While his look is more or less the same in all of the original films, there were some slight changes in his look from A New Hope to Empire, mostly to do with how the hair on his head sat.  For the later movies Chewy was all about “bangs” game.  We got our first taste of a Chewy with bangs on the Target-exclusive Solo-based figure, but those weren’t *quite* right for a vintage Chewy, and he had the wrong bandolier.  This one aims to be the definitive secondary Chewbacca.  He stands just shy of 8 inches tall and he has 27 points of articulation.  Like the last Chewbacca, this one borrows heavily from the first Black Series Chewbacca.  This one gets yet another new head and upper torso, but keeps the standard bandolier that the Solo version ditched (hence the need for a new upper torso with only one bandolier imprint, rather the the v-shape of the Solo release).  While I had some issues with the mold when it debuted, at the very least, the mold quality has improved, and so now the parts sit better together, making for a better looking figure overall.  The new head’s the main focus of the figure, of course, with the slightly looser hair on his head, as well as a more relaxed expression, which feels more in line with Chewy’s more reserved status as the trilogy progressed.  I liked the improvements of the Solo sculpt a lot, but this does even better, and makes for the most cohesive Chewbacca sculpt to date.  The paintwork on this figure largely a match for the Solo version, which is a plus, since that was a solid paint-app.  The transitions are much more subtle, and the eyes are more lifelike than the original Chewbacca, resulting in a much more natural-looking take on the character.  As a late-in-the-movie version of the character, this Chewy is after he’s lost his bowcaster.  So, instead of that, he’s got a stolen Imperial blaster, borrowed from one of the proper Stormtroopers.

C-3PO

Ho boy, it’s another C-3PO.  It’s been days.  Days, I tell you.  As noted in the intro, this guy is based on 3PO’s appearance in Empire.  It’s not really much different from his appearance in the previous film (which is what the first Black Series figure was based on).  The color of the foot changes, and he’s a little messier.  In terms of construction, he’s using the same combined 3PO/4-LOM set-up as the 3PO I looked at three days ago, but this time around he gets the relaxed 3PO hands, instead of the posed 4-LOM hands.  It’s still a good sculpt, so I’ve got no complaints.  The paintwork follows the Target-exclusive’s lead, going for a slightly duller gold, which looks a bit more movie accurate.  In contrast to the very clean 3POs we’ve gotten previously, this one’s also got some serious dirt and grime, no doubt gotten when he got all blasted apart.  The main gimmick to this guy is the ability to pop his arms and legs off, simulating the major damage 3PO takes while in Cloud City.  In order to complete this look, he also has wire attachments that connect to each of his joints to replace the missing limbs.  They don’t really stay in place, but they do the job, and they look convincing.  He also has a net bag for Chewy to carry him in, completing the whole look.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

I’ve always dug this particular set-up for these two characters, with the Star Wars Saga release being my go-to Chewbacca for years, and the Applause plastic statue thing being literally the only one of those things I ever owned.  I’ve also been jonesing for a proper Empire/Jedi Chewy, since we had the rest of the main cast from Empire.  Needless to say, I was on board for this set when it was first shown, and I was definitely happy to get this pair from my parents for Christmas.  I’m very happy with both figures included, and they’re my default versions of both characters.

#2277: General Grievous

GENERAL GRIEVOUS

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

“General Grievous was a brilliant Separatist military strategist and a feared Jedi hunter, known for his ruthlessness and hacking cough. His body itself was a weapon, allowing him lightning quick strikes and devastating blows. But he was also quick to run from a fight, a tactic that worked until one final meeting with Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

A decade removed from the Star Wars prequels, they don’t seem quite as bad as they once did.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are still major issues and my recent re-watch of Attack of the Clones certainly reminded me of why it’s the worst movie in the franchise, but even when we all thought they were universally trash, there were always some redeeming elements.  For Revenge of the Sith, my favorite bit was always General Grievous, a character I had latched onto before the movie even opened, and whom I would continue to enjoy when he became a major player in the second Clone Wars cartoon.  Though his characterization may have been a little two-dimensional, and his name is just silly (it’s just an adjective!  That’s not a name), he certainly had one of the coolest designs to come out of the prequels.  Even when I had my strict “no prequels” rule for The Black Series, I could always see myself possibly breaking that rule for a good Grievous figure.  Here we are.

THE FIGURE ITSELF

General Grievous is the first figure in the Deluxe subdivision of The Black Series, numbered “D1.”  So far, he’s the only deluxe size figure to be available through all retailers…well, all the ones that were willing to carry him, which didn’t end up including the likes of Walmart or Target.  He started hitting around the second quarter of last year.  Grievous only has one film appearance, so this figure rather sensibly draws from that.  I want to state at the top of this review that this is a very good figure, but he, like every Grievous figure ever created, is also a flawed figure.  It’s a design that has a degree of necessary cheating to work on the screen.  In person, on a fixed item, that cheating isn’t possible, and concessions have to be made…but I’ll get to that.  At full height, the figure stands 7 inches tall and he has 35 points of articulation.  He’s an all-new sculpt, as you might expect, and it’s a pretty darn good one at that.  It manages to fairly accurately recreate his design as seen in the movie, and, in contrast to most Grievous figures, most of the joints in the design are joints on this figure.  Not all, of course.  Some concessions have to be made for the hands and feet, given the scale of the figure, and there are one or two other spots (notably the wrists), where there should be movement but isn’t.  I do really like how tight all of the joints are on this figure; far too many Grievous figures wound up with really floppy joints.  The design of the sculpt also allows this Grievous figure to have a feature that most forego: actual combining arms.  We’ve seen them before but typically only on less articulated figures.  More often then not, they’ll just release him with his arms one way or the other, or, in the case of the first 3D Clone Wars figure, they’ll give him extra arms.  The combining arms end up being the feature that causes this figure the most trouble.  The four separate arms are nicely articulated on their own.  When you go to combine them, it’s a little tricky, because even a slight warp will make them not a perfect fit.  And once they’re together?  Well, you’re certainly not getting full movement out of the joints once the arms are combined, which proves rather restricting.  As nifty an idea as the combining arms may be, I can’t help but feel that swappable arms might have worked a bit better in this regard.  At the end of the day, I can’t really blame them for trying, and this is certainly the best go at it we’ve seen.  The paintwork on Grievous is some of the most impressive work we’ve gotten from the line; the weathering alone really sells the figure, as it gives him a much more realistic appearance, which is rather amusing for a completely CGI creation.  Grievous is a rather well accessorized figure, including his DT-57 blaster, his four stolen lightsabers (which, according to Star Wars Lightsabers: A Guide to Weapons of the Force formerly belonged to Pablo-Jill, Eeth Koth, Roron Corobb, and Shaak Ti), and a cape.  The blaster and sabers are pretty standard fair.  The cape is a bit of a let down, if I’m honest.  The decision to use cloth is definitely understandable, and I do really dig the inclusion of the spot to store Grievous’ collection of sabers, but the cape’s totally wrong at the shoulders, with a big, obvious join, as opposed to the proper flowing under his collar plate look.  The grey and red parts also aren’t hemmed together at the bottom, which looks a bit sloppy.  It’s not the end of the world, but it’s bad enough that I don’t see myself using the cape.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

I’ve been hoping for a Grievous Black Series figure for a while, and was happy to see him announced…but I was never happy about that cape, and it honestly held me back from picking him up, as silly as that may be.  Fortunately, my in-laws had my back on this one, and got me Grievous for Christmas.  After opening him up, the cape still frustrates me, but the rest of the figure is just so well-engineered that I really don’t care all that much.  This is definitely the best Grievous figure out there.

#2275: C-3PO & Babu Frik

C-3PO & BABU FRIK

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

C-3PO longs for more peaceful times, but his continued service to the Resistance keeps him on the frontiers of galactic conflict.

A tiny, well-regarded droidsmith, Babu Frik can modify virtually any droid, regardless of the security measure protecting its systems.”

Since his later than others entry into the line, C-3PO has been steadily racking up quite an assortment of Black Series figures for himself.  Though his look may not change all that drastically throughout the majority of the films, Hasbro has nevertheless seen fit to give us as many of the character’s minor tweaks as they can.  He wound up getting at least one figure for all three of the sequel trilogy films (though the Last Jedi figure was only available through Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge park expansion), with his appearance in Rise of Skywalker providing his latest offering, alongside the minuscule droidsmith Babu Frik.

THE FIGURES THEMSELVES

C-3PO and Babu Frik are a Target-exclusive Black Series offering, which started hitting about a week or two before the movie arrived in theaters last year.  The set depicts 3PO as we saw him in much of the promotional material before the film, carrying Chewbacca’s bandolier and bowcaster, and sporting red eyes, as opposed to his usual gold tones.  These two things don’t happen at the same time in the final film, but then again, the figure doesn’t require him to be doing everything at once either, making his more of an all-encompassing Rise of Skywalker 3PO.  The figure stands 5 1/2 inches tall and has 23 points of articulation.  This 3PO is a combination of the first 3PO and the improved protocol droid arms from 4-LOM, meaning he can bend his arms.  This same change was also seen on 000 and the Galaxy’s Edge 3PO, so it was really just expected here.  He gets a new head, sporting a removable backing, allowing for his internals to be revealed, just like in the movie.  I’m always skeptical of features like this, lest they not fit properly when popped back into place, but 3PO’s head remains together fairly securely, and I must admit the feature looks pretty darn cool.  Beyond that, the construction on 3PO is the same as the first figure, which means it’s a very nice looking sculpt, and was very posable even before the addition of the improved arms.  The paintwork on 3PO is pretty decent all around.  He is again a flat gold, rather than vac metalized, which I still don’t mind all that much.  The gold isn’t quite as bright as the first 3PO, which seems more accurate.  He also gets some small silver piping on the arm joints, which we’ve not seen before, as well as the expected extra detailing on the back of the head.  The most notable change, though, are the eyes.  Like Dryden Vos, they’re therno-sensitive. At room temperature, they’re a standard gold, but when cold, they turn a bright red, like his eyes do briefly in the film.  It’s a nifty effect, even if I don’t see myself getting a ton of use out of it.  3PO is packed with Chewbacca’s bandolier and bowcaster, both borrowed from previous figures, as well as a whole nother figure, Babu Frik.  Okay, I say he’s a whole figure.  That’s perhaps a slight stretch.  Babu is certainly more of a figure than I had anticipated; I fully expected an unarticulated mini-figure, but to my surprise, Babu sports ball joints at the shoulders and waist.  He’s also got a moving visor, so he can properly work on the back of 3PO’s head. Certainly he is far more impressive figure than I’d initially expected.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

This pair was another gift to me from my in-laws.  I’d expressed a moderate interest in the pair prior to the film’s release, but wasn’t sure what to expect.  After seeing the movie and quite enjoying Babu’s sequence, I was quite happy to open these two up Christmas morning.  I was even happier when I actually took them out of their box and discovered just how playable Babu was.  Definitely a fun little offering, and a great choice of exclusive.

#2265: Luke Skywalker – Jabba’s Palace

LUKE SKYWALKER — JABBA’S PALACE

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

“Luke Skywalker was a Tatooine farmboy who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever known.”

And lo, the Post-Christmas reviews begin!

There were a few years running where my first post-Christmas review was invariably an Alien Queen, but after my friends and family ran out of Alien Queens to buy me, I’ve moved onto another theme, it would seem: Star Wars.  Honestly, it’s not all that new a concept, me getting Star Wars figures over the holidays, going all the way back to the Millenium Falcon I received for Christmas of ’96.  So, I guess I can dig it being the new trend.  So, let’s kick things off with a Luke Skywalker figure, shall we?

THE FIGURE ITSELF

Jabba’s Palace Luke Skywalker is a Walmart-exclusive Black Series offering.  Much like the two Captain Americas that they got last year, they also got two versions of Jedi Luke back to back.  Sometimes, I think Walmart’s toy buyer might be a little limited in their sights.  Whatever the case, this figure theoretically started showing up alongside the Triple Force Friday stuff back in October, though realistically, he started showing up shortly before the holidays.  This Luke is the second Return of the Jedi Luke we’ve gotten in the Black Series line-up, following the more end of the movie inspired version released back in 2014.  This one, as the name denotes, is based on Luke as he first appears in Jabba’s Palace, prior to ditching his vest and getting his robotic hand damaged. The figure stands just shy of 6 inches tall and he has 27 points of articulation.  For the most part, he’s fairly reliant on parts from the previous Jedi Luke figure.  He uses the body of that figure, along with a new head, the right hand from Bespin Luke, and an all-new vest overlay piece. The new head is the real star attraction.  While I always felt that sculpt on the original Jedi Luke head was far better than the sub-par paint job allowed to show through, it’s never the less a little bit of an artifact of an older way of doing things, since the separate face/hair pieces have become the new way of doing things, and allow for a more realistic recreation.  This new sculpt follows that new styling, and is honestly one of Hasbro best attempts at a young Hamill likeness, at least as far as the face is concerned.  The hair I’m still a little iffy about, but it’s certainly not terrible.  The new vest piece is a decent overlay; it’s not too bulky.  Of course, it’s also not designed to be removed, which I was a little let down by, but if you don’t want it on the figure, it’s easy enough to remove, keeping in mind it’s not really going back on.  And, on top of that, after removing it, you’ll also discover that he’s missing the previous figure’s belt (which would have no doubt affected the look of the vest at this scale, so I get why it’s gone).  The figure is also privy to the improvements in paint since the last Jedi Luke.  That previous figure was honestly one of my worst experiences with iffy paint in the line, but this guy gets the new face print tech, which works very well for him.  There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing this paint on the old sculpt, just to see how the two pair off, but as is, this one looks very good.  This Luke ends up being a little better accessorized than the last one.  While he no longer has the swapable flap for the front of his uniform, he still gets his lightsaber (with a more accurately painted hilt this time), a cloth-goods cloak, and the blaster he steals from one of Jabba’s guards (re-used from Kanan Jarrus).  Not a bad assortment of extras, and certainly enough to make him worthwhile even if you have the prior figure.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

I’ve been looking for this guy pretty much since Force Friday.  As a kid, I went as Jedi Luke for Halloween, so I’ve always had a soft spot for this costume design, and felt the old figure wasn’t doing it justice on the shelf.  I found this figure just before Christmas and actually bought him with some money I got from my Grandmother for the holiday.  He’s solid improvement without being a straight replacement.  I just kind of wish Hasbro would stop giving their best figures to Walmart as exclusives…

#2261: Prince Xizor

PRINCE XIZOR

STAR WARS: SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE (KENNER)

“Prince Xizor is the head of the galaxy-wide criminal organization known as Black Sun, his power and influence challenged only by the Emperor and Darth Vader. A villainous mastermind, Xizor uses his huge , intergalactic shipping operations as a legitimate front, employing millions of criminals to execute favors for the Empire and carry out its his own evil agenda. His characteristic lack of emotion is due much to his Falleen ancestry which evolved from a species of reptile. Cold and clever, he plots his moves with a diabolical genius and fights with the skill of a tera kasi master, stopping at nothing to get in his way. Those that dare challenge Xizor generally meet with death by his own hand or by one of his myriad of henchmen. His favorite proverb: “To contend with Xizor is to lose”.”

In 1996, the Star Wars expanded universe got its first real time in the public spotlight, courtesy of the multimedia event that was Shadows of the Empire.  A movie launch without the movie, Shadows encompassed books, comics, video games, and of course toys, and told a story set in the gap between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Since it was set between two established chunks of the story, there wasn’t very much at stake just pitting our heroes against Vader’s forces, since we all knew the outcome wouldn’t arise until the end of Jedi.  This meant there needed to be a new villain.  Enter Prince Xizor, a villain whose imposing nature was hindered only by not being Darth Vader in a universe where Darth Vader exists.  Oh, and also by totally having his look stolen by Ivan Ooze a year prior.  Xizor was central to much of the story’s marketing, and wound up with two figures from Kenner for their part of the tie-in.  I’m looking at the standard single release today.

THE FIGURE ITSELF

Prince Xizor is the final single-carded figure in the Shadows of the Empire spin-off line of Power of the Force II figures.  The figure stands 3 3/4 inches tall and he has 6 points of articulation.  That said, only the arms really have practical movement most of the time, thanks both to the weird braids on the back of his head, and the thick plastic robe that encases most of the figure.  A lot of this Xizor’s sculpt is shared with the two-pack release of the same time, but it remains unique to the character.  That’s…good?  I mean, it’s certainly different from everything else.  That said, Xizor was generally depicted as a fairly skinny guy, and this figure does not follow that set-up.  He definitely falls into that really buff PotF2 aesthetic, and perhaps exemplifies it even more than other figures from the main line.  It’s really only exaggerated by the really bulky robe, but even with that removed, it’s still not great.  I mean…there’s some interesting detail work going on under the robe, so that’s cool, but it’s not like it’s a particularly endearing design.  It’s a relic of its time at best.   The colorscheme is also a definite relic, and easily feels like the least Star Wars-y aspect of the character.  Neither purple nor the pale green feel like the fit the established Star Wars color scheme, especially the colors of the original trilogy era.  The application on the paint is decent enough, but that doesn’t really change how out of place he feels with the others from the line.  Xizor is packed with a pair of shield blades, which can snap together into one larger shield.  They’re nifty enough, and honestly one of the more exciting parts of the figure, because they’re unique if nothing else.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

Even as a kid, I never liked Xizor.  He always felt like an intruder, trying to hide amongst the rest of the Star Wars line, but always sticking out.  As such, I never owned him.  But, after managing to get everyone else from the Shadows line, I felt it was wrong for him to still be missing.  I ended up grabbing him during one of my PotF buying sprees last winter.  There were a lot of figures, so I guess that made buying Xizor a little more palatable.  He’s still not really a favorite of mine, and having the figure in hand hasn’t really changed any of my opinions about it or the character, but here it is, I guess.

The Rise of Skywalker: A Movie Review

Six movie reviews in, I believe I can no longer start these things with “I don’t write movie reviews,” because clearly I do.  I will, however, cop to not writing them very frequently, especially emphasized by the fact that I haven’t written one since May  June of 2018.  Don’t blame me; blame the gap between Star Wars movies.  Yes, for whatever reason, the Star Wars films really getting my film review juices flowing.  If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s got something to do with the franchise’s undeniable connection to its own toyline.

I guess that makes my first comment about this movie a rather melancholy one about how The Rise of Skywalker was seriously under-merchandised.  Based on very little in the movie itself, the experience this time around felt very different, mostly because I couldn’t just run out and buy all the things I had just seen up on the big screen.  For someone who grew up in the midst of the prequel hype where *literally everything* got a toy, it feels really off to me.  Of course, I could just be a little bitter that there are no figures of Poe sporting that snazzy scarf announced at this time…  Whatever the case, I can’t help but feel the toys really got left out of this installment, and that makes me sad.  None of this has to do with the actual film, I suppose, though, so how about I move onto…

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

In my review of Solo, I remarked that it was decidedly *not* an epic, an interesting beast in a franchise of epics.  The Rise of Skywalker, on the other hand, aims to be the most epic of the epics, perhaps even the epic to end the epics.  Had it not been released in the same year as Endgame, it certainly would have been the most epic film of the year, at least in terms of pure scope.  Supposedly, the original cut of the film was 4 hours in length, and having seen the final, far more svelte 2 hour and 22 minute cut, I can easily see where those 4 hours came from.

Picking up a year after the end of The Last JediThe Rise of Skywalker gives us our first real taste of progression of time in the sequel trilogy, following the rather tight nit pace of the prior two films.  Emperor Palpatine has returned (a fact delivered to us in the film’s opening crawl) and Kylo Ren, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, has sought him out, hoping to quash any contest to Kylo’s (admittedly shaky) rule of the First Order forces.  Instead, Palpatine offers Kylo the some spot his grandfather Vader held in the Empire in his new endeavor, The Final Order, and order seemingly built on controlling the galaxy by reducing it considerably in size, or at the very least reducing the volume of living creatures contained within it.  Kylo, like the Vader fanboy he’s always been, accepts.

Over on the Resistance side, we are reintroduced to Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca first, as they take the Millennium Falcon on a run to retrieve intel from a First Order spy.  They run afoul of the First Order and are forced to make a daring escape, with Poe jumping in and out of lightspeed seemingly at random, delivering a serious beating to the Falcon.  They make their way to the jungle moon Ajan Kloss, where the Resistance have set up their new base following their losses in The Last Jedi.  There we are reintroduced to Rey, who has been continuing her Jedi training, now under the tutelage of Leia.  Through the intel, the Resistance learns of Palpatine’s plans for the Final Order, and a clock is set for our heroes to find Palpatine’s location and end his second reign before it begins.  So, our main trio, plus Chewy, 3PO, and BB-8, set out on the Falcon to find an artifact that will lead them to Palpatine.

That’s just the first 20 minutes of the movie, and if I’m entirely honest, it’s not the film’s strongest part.  The pacing at the beginning is a bit frantic and jarring, as they cut back and forth between Kylo and the Resistance.  Once the trio heads out on their mission, things start clicking into place a bit better, and the film more securely finds its footing, with a fairly steady ramp up to the movie’s galactic-level conclusion.  A lot has to happen in this film, and it does its best to balance all of it.

Our returning leads each get a compelling arc of their own.  Rey continues to struggle with who she is, and what her significance is to both the Jedi and the Resistance, eventually finding peace by the film’s conclusion.  Finn finally manages to shake off that cowardly streak the he had in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and holds onto full-fledged hero for the entirety of this film, even finding some more kindred spirits along the way.  Poe faces down both his past and his future, as he must come to grips with taking over as a leader of the Resistance, while calling back on his past as a spice runner to help complete our heroes’ mission.  Perhaps my favorite thing about the movie is that all three of them go through these arcs together, as for the first time in the sequel trilogy, the main trio spends most of the movie in the same place.  They have great chemistry, and I really enjoyed seeing the whole trio interact.

For Kylo’s part, he and Rey continue to have their star-crossed conversations, which eventually turn into star-crossed fights.  Though he seemingly turned fully to the dark side at the climax of the last film, his troubled motivations from that film are still at the forefront of his mind, as he continues to wrestle with whether he wants to be “good” or “bad.”  Unlike the others, he is mostly isolated, not just from the heroes, but even from those on his own side, giving Driver a lot of time to brood on his own.

There are a ton of returning supporting players, each of whom get something of note to do, but most of whom are in rather reduced roles from their prior appearances, mostly due to the timing constraints of the film.  Of the old guard, we get to see both Billy Dee Williams as Lando and Dennis Lawson Wedge again, which was a lot of fun, even in somewhat reduced capacities.  Carrie Fischer as Leia has significant, albeit small, part, due to the constraints of how they got her into the movie.  I was impressed by how well they worked her in, and happy to see her get a proper send-off.  Of the new films’ characters, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is hit the hardest by the time constraints, going from just shy of a main character to memorable background character.  I’m glad she was still there, but it’s a shame she didn’t get quite as much to do.

We also meet a handful of new characters along the way.  My personal favorites were Kerri Russell’s Zorri Bliss and Shirley Henderson’s Babu Frick, two former allies of Poe, but Naomi Ackie’s former First Order trooper Jannah and Richard E Grant’s current First Order Allegiant General Pryde both fulfill important roles.

The Rise of Skywalker endeavors to do a lot of things.  It’s the end of the current set of movies and it’s being promoted as the end of the “Skywalker Saga.”  It does one of those things a bit better than the other, and that’s ending the current trilogy.  It also raises the stakes higher than we’ve seen them before, which certainly takes some doing.  From a real world stand-point, it’s also trying win back the crowd that departed with The Last Jedi, while still being appealing to those who stuck around the whole time.  I think this is the area where the film is most successful, as it, more than the other two films, aims to have a little something for everyone.  The end result is one that I don’t think is going to be anyone’s favorite Star Wars movie, but is consequently unlikely to get the ranking of “worst Star Wars movie” (despite what some early reviews indicated).

#2253: First Order Stormtrooper

FIRST ORDER STORMTROOPER

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

The backbone of the First Order and Imperial forces, and really the Star Wars universe as a whole, the Stormtroopers are a prominent fixture of the toys from the galaxy far, far away.  That being said, given their general unchanging appearance within each trilogy, keeping them fresh can be a little difficult.  We got our first standard First Order Stormtrooper in The Black Series back with the Force Awakens product launch, with a few exclusive derivations since then.  The Trooper is returning to the main line for the trilogy’s conclusion Rise of Skywalker.

THE FIGURE ITSELF

The First Order Stormtrooper is figure 97 in the Black Series line-up, the final of the Force Friday launch figures numerically.  Given the grouping of the other three Rise tie-in figures, plus his general level of repeat, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that he was a late addition to the line-up to fill out the case.  The figure is a little over 6 inches tall and he has 24 points of articulation.  The majority of this figure’s sculpt is re-used.  He shares all but the had and arms with the initial First Order Trooper from 2015.  The parts that are kept are actually the best parts of that release, being not only accurate to the source material, but also quite nicely articulated, especially at the mid-torso and the ankles.  The head was first introduced on the two Last Jedi troopers, representing the slightly more angular trooper helmet that was used in the second film.  It’s different from the original helmet, but I can’t really say that one of them is better than the other.  The arms are the new parts for this figure, and they’re notable for fixing the one major flaw of the original release: the poor range of motion on the elbows.  For the first time, a FO Trooper can get more than 90 degrees of motion, meaning he’s also the first Trooper that can properly hold a blaster rifle.  That’s gonna be fun to talk about in a moment.  The paint work on this figure follows the trend of all of the FO troopers I’ve grabbed, in that he’s okay, but not without a few noticeable flaws.  My figure has some slop on the helmet, but just in general the change overs from black to white are kind of fuzzy.  This release of the FO Trooper is packed with the riot trooper gear, meaning he’s got the shield, the improved TLJ version of the baton, and a small blaster pistol.  What’s not listed there?  That’s right, a blaster rifle.  Yep, the first FO Trooper that can properly hold a rifle doesn’t have one.  Irony of ironies.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

I picked up the standard and riot troopers during the TFA run, so I haven’t really felt the need to pick up any of the subsequent figures.  I didn’t think much of this figure, but I’d already decided to pick up the whole assortment when he was announced, so he was along for the ride.  After Kylo, he’s a pleasant surprise.  Sure, it’s frustrating and almost baffling that there’s no rifle included, but the core figure is a solid improvement on the prior releases, making this the best version of the design out there.

#2252: Sith Trooper

SITH TROOPER

STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES (HASBRO)

“Sith troopers were a stormtrooper variant that served the First Order during its war against the Resistance. Named after the Sith, an ancient order of Force-users devoted to the dark side of the Force, these troopers were the next evolution of Imperial/First Order stormtroopers. They wore red-colored stormtrooper armor and wielded a type of black and red blaster rifle.”

Hey, new Star Wars movie!  You know what that means: new trooper variants created to sell new toys!  Ain’t no stopping the merchandising juggernaut…unless, you know, you stop it…the way that the market has come increasingly close to stopping the Star Wars merchandising juggernaut in the last few years.  But that’s kind of sad and bleak, so maybe I shouldn’t talk about that.  Where was I?  Toys!  Always toys!  So, for the new Star Wars, there’s a cool new trooper called the Sith Trooper, Kylo Ren’s new elite force.  I’m looking at one of those guys today!

THE FIGURE ITSELF

The Sith Trooper is figure 92 in the Black Series line-up, the third figure from the Force Friday product launch.  The Sith Trooper was previously released as this year’s SDCC-exclusive preview figure, which included some additional weapons to differentiate it from the basic release.  The core figures are the same between the two releases, however.  The figure stands 6 inches tall and he has 29 points of articulation.  Perhaps the most impressive bits of articulation on this figure are the butterfly shoulders, which I believe are a first for Black Series.  Given the design of the various trooper armor, it’s actually a little surprising that we’ve never seen this type of joint implemented, since it’s so nicely hidden.  However, while there’s great movement in the shoulders, the neck joint is surprisingly limited for one of these figures; they’ve been doing the double ball joints a lot recently, and the range has been pretty solid, but for this guy, it’s little more than a cut joint.  Maybe it’s just my figure, but I was rather disappointed by that.  Plusses and minuses of the articulation aside, how’s the actual sculpt?  Overall, it’s pretty strong.  I definitely dig the Stormtrooper/Clonetrooper/Praetorian Guard hybrid that’s going on with these guys, and I look forward to seeing the design in action in the movie.  The sculpt is quite sharply rendered, and I really dig all of the texturing, both on the armor and on the underlying jumpsuit.  The sculpt also does a really nice job of making those two elements feel like separate pieces as well, which is an improvement on a lot of the earlier troopers.  The Sith Trooper’s paint is decent enough, though not overly involved.  Most of the red is molded, and most of the black is painted.  The application is overall pretty clean, but there’s a little bit of fuzziness on the helmet.  Beyond that, it’s pretty clean and striking.  This Sith Trooper is quite packed with the impressive armory of the SDCC release, but he does still get two styles of blaster, matching the ones included with the smaller Sith Jet Trooper.  They’re decent weapons, but are also the source o my biggest complaint about the figure.  He’s got a holster much like the First Order Troopers, meaning there’s a spot for a gun the plug into his right thigh.  Unfortunately, the hole is too large and the pegs on both guns too small, meaning that the blasters just fall right out at the slightest touch.  The fact that there are two blasters and he can only hold one really exacerbates this issue.

THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION

The Sith Trooper was one of the earliest designs we saw from Rise, and I knew I wanted the figure pretty much right away.  I didn’t even try with the SDCC release, because those have always been a barren source of amusement in the past, and the Troopers always get the standard release.  This figure was the one I opened right after Kylo, and that may have slightly colored my opinion, as I found myself a bit underwhelmed with him at first.  Playing around with him for the review, I did find myself enjoying him a bit more.  That said, there are still a few issues that keep this figure from being “great.”

I picked up this guy from my friends All Time Toys.  If you’re looking for cool toys both old and new, please check out their website and their eBay Store.