In case you missed it, 2017 is the 40th Anniversary of A New Hope, and Hasbro did the bulk of its celebrating through the 6-inch Black Series. Not only did we finally the last of Kenner’s “Original Twelve” figures in the 6-inch format, but Hasbro also released all of them on vintage-style cards. The entire thing culminated in the release of a new Darth Vader bundled with a recreation of the Kenner Early Bird Kit display stage. Let’s start off with the packaging and the figure, and then we’ll take a look at the stage.
The set comes in an elongated box with some artwork similar to that old Kenner kit. There’s also a window that shows the carded Darth Vader figure inside. The stage itself is pictured on the front along with a silver foil 40th Anniversary shield, and the Kenner logo in the bottom right hand corner. It’s kind of an oddball presentation that borders on ugly, but it’s all part of recreating the charm of one of the craziest ideas in action figure history. But more on that in a bit. Let’s look at Vader first…
The carded figure is right in line with the rest of the 40th Anniversary releases, so if you are keeping these mint-on-card, he’ll display with the rest of them perfectly. Then again, if you’re doing that, you really don’t need the stage. Hasbro really just wants you to buy two of each of these, only not really, because they did a piss-poor job of distributing them. If you’re area is like mine, you’d be lucky to find one complete set, let alone two. But I’ll settle down now, because I can fell the anger flowing through me.
When I first heard about this figure, I assumed it was going to be a quick-and-dirty apology figure for the Return of the Jedi version we got boxed a little while back. I figured they’d slap on a new head and he’d be done. I was surprised to learn that a lot of new work went into him. Now, I’m not one of those *air quotes* “Vader Experts,” but I do know that there were some significant changes to the suit between ANH and RotJ. The most obvious was the inner robe running over the shoulder armor in the original suit and it does here as well. The rest of the changes include a fully re-sculpted upper torso, with a bigger chest box, and a new belt with bigger and different control boxes there as well. The legs appear to be the same, but the boots on this one are more of a matte finish. One point where this version takes a step back is in the cape. The RotJ release is an all around nicer tailored garment. This one is is thinner and it came out of the package a little wrinkled. Also, the cape’s chain is gone. So, from the neck down, I wouldn’t say this figure is better, but just different, and appropriately so.
Now, the helmet sculpt is a huge improvement over the previous release, and I’m not talking about changes to the costume. The RotJ version made obvious sacrifices to have a removable helmet, resulting in that giant, sad-eyed Vader look. This new helmet sculpt is pretty damn tight and also features more of a matte finish. I don’t know that I would say it’s perfect, but it’s a good looking sculpt and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
Another big change is the new left hand, which features Vader doing the force choke throat pinch. It can also be used as a pointing finger. I love it.
The last notable difference that I can see is the inclusion of a belt hook for his light saber. It irked me to no end that the RotJ version didn’t have a way for Vader to wear his saber. This feature also required a brand new saber hilt sculpt with the ring on it. Sadly, this one doesn’t work so well. I can’t really get it to stay in place and even in the above picture he’s really holding it there.
I don’t have much else to say, except this is the Vader figure we should have had first. It’s fantastic, and when you consider how many goddamn Darth Vader figures I’ve had over the years in all different scales and price points, I’m surprised at how much fun I’ve had playing around with this one. Let’s move on to the stage…
The stage requires assembly, and the parts come in four baggies, and includes a folded cardboard backdrop and a sticker for the top of the frame. Assembly is quick and easy and I was happy to see that the set can easily be broken down again for storage. Before I cobble this thing together, a little explanation of what this thing is may be in order for you younger folk out there. In Christmas of 1977, Kenner was unprepared for the popularity of Star Wars and the demand for the action figures. Their rather creative solution was to offer an Early Bird Kit, which included vouchers, which could be mailed in for four figures, to be delivered when supply could catch up to demand. The kit also included membership in the Star Wars Fan Club, and a cardboard display stand. This set mimics that general idea, while also making it a little more substantial by adding a plastic frame to the backdrop, and a plastic stage to put the figures on.
There are two backdrop graphics to choose from. One has the vintage-style artwork of each of the characters, suggesting where to place the figures on the stand. The flip-side has some nice vintage-style art of an X-Wing and Tie-Fighter battling it out in orbit of The Death Star. Overall, this is a pretty nice stage, but I wish they had added more pieces to help lock the cardboard into place. As it is, there are just two little swing down pieces in the corners. There are, however, clearly holes in the frame for two more in the sides, and possibly two at the top, but those pieces aren’t in the box. I guess Hasbro cheaped out on those. It also would have been nice if they could have packaged it so the cardboard didn’t need to be folded, although the creases really aren’t that bad. I suppose some of these nitpicks give the piece a certain vintage charm that reflects back to the original Early Bird release, but I’m sure that wasn’t intentional.
Here it is loaded up with the Black Series “Original Twelve,” and using the character art backdrop as a guide. I expected it to be a lot more cramped than it is, but with three figures on each of the four sections, it’s not too bad, so long as you’re going for fairly static 5-POA style poses. I’m not a huge fan of the way the characters are laid out. For example, I would rather have R2 and 3PO together, but I still think that this is the way I’ll go for display purposes. It is worth mentioning that I had mixed results with the foot pegs. Most of them work OK, but 3PO’s would not go in at all and the Tusken Raider’s doesn’t hold him up too well.
If you’re willing to use a little shelf real estate in front of the stand, you can also fit everyone together in more dynamic poses, and I think this looks pretty good too. This set originally retailed for $40, so you figure twenty for Vader and twenty for the stage. The Vader figure is worth it, no question. The stage is worth having, but I’m not sure I can see twenty dollars in there. With that having been said, this set was deeply discounted at some Walmarts, but of course the ones in my area weren’t among them. I picked up my set off Amazon for $25 and it’s price continues to fluctuate. I could definitely see myself picking up one more at the same price to display some more figures. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Hasbro to release packs of just the base pieces, maybe as an exclusive to their website. Just toss four or five of them in a bag. I’d be all over that.
Just a heads up, Marvel content is taking over FFZ all of next week. So if that’s not your cup of tea, I’ll apologize in advance, but I’ve got some stuff on my pile that I’d like to get to sooner rather than later. Things will return to normal the following week, and I’m trying to get some time to bring back Anime Saturday at least once in November.