Star Wars Black is the kind of thing that releases 35 years of pent-up nerd pressure. Decades of fermented loneliness, rage and obsession have grown and shaped the thriving industry of nerd culture collectibles, and the by-product looks exactly like this.
On one hand, Star Wars Black is the umpteenth way for Hasbro to repackage and slightly-alter their Star Wars action figures. Encyclopedias have sprouted up around these subtle variations. At a glance, you can now tell what year, wave and film your 4″ Darth Vader is from, if this kind of thing is important to you. For a film dissected into its minutae, it’s obvious that it’s important to you. This is your shame and you have to live with it.
On the flip side of this, Star Wars Black is the first time geeks have been able to hold true 6-inch (or 1/12th scale) Star Wars action figures. From 1978 onward, Kenner (and then Hasbro) has only offered poseable Star Wars action figures in two main scales: the traditional 3.75″ scale, and the 12″ (or 1/6th scale). While the 12″ scale is intentionally 1/6th the size of a real, actual nerd, 3.75″ scale was genuinely arbitrary, determined by the distance between a marketing executive’s fingers as he said, “Make ’em about this big.” True story.
The precious 6″ range is generally regarded as the most universally accommodating scale there is, emerging as a standard sometime in the ’90s: small enough to be relatively inexpensive and easy to store, but large enough to retain accurate detail and articulation. If you go smaller than this, you lose detail and joints get flimsy and limited. If you go larger than this, you start to get expensive and shortcomings become more apparent. Figures in 6″ are the perfect medium (no pun intended). Despite the general approval of this scale among enthusiasts, the 3.75″ size had a resurgence in the mid-2000s due to the increasing cost of plastic, itself due to war with oil-producing areas. Smaller figures meant less raw materials being used, and while tooling remained expensive, 3.75″ figures from nearly every action figure producer came out, some better than others. Star Wars, which generated the earliest, most significant movie-merchandise tie-in, has remained unflinchingly in 3.75″ scale since 1978. Mark Hamill’s 1970s hair-flip would never be truly immortalized accurately in plastic until now. And you can just forget about Leia’s skull buns.
Star Wars Black covers two lines of Star Wars figures, both packaged in “classy” black and orange. The 3.75″ line continues, if only for the sake of tradition. Or maybe habit. The 6″ edition of the Star Wars Black line offers characters in 1/12th scale for the first time. And as a Star Wars nerd, I’ve been waiting for these for a long, long time.
The first wave of the 6″ line offers four figures : Luke Skywalker in his A New Hope X-Wing suit, R2-D2, a Sandtrooper, and Darth Maul. I’m sticking with the core, original trilogy characters, because I need to have my limits. If I can’t stop eating red meat, the least I can do is cut back on my action figures. If I wasn’t supposed to eat it, nature would have made it taste like a salad.
Luke’s Star Wars Black figure is an exceptional example of how far action figures have come. Star Wars is the toy industry’s absolute standard. It’s the beginning and end. It’s the barometer by which all things are measured. It is the alpha and the omega. While there are a ton of outlying lines, this is the thing that’s always here as the foundation by which all other things stand, and it’s just set a new standard after a long period of just holding the line.
Wave 1 Luke comes with a helmet, a blaster, and an ignited lightsaber in blue. Since this is Luke from A New Hope, he hasn’t made his green ligthsaber yet, so geeks, calm it down. If it’s an unlit saber you’re after, there’s one included with the R2-D2 figure in this set, so you’re pretty much completely covered. Because if you weren’t, the angry letters would be insurmountable. Forests would perish if people still wrote on paper and the world were still a respectable place to live.
This is everything that you’d ever want out of a Luke Skywalker action figure in terms of detail, articulation, paint and presence. Perhaps my eyes are geek-glazed with delight, but it would be difficult to suggest any improvements. Luke will almost definitely be followed up by Farmboy Luke, Jedi Luke, Wintertime Luke, Stormtrooper Cosplay Luke, Dirty Jungle Adventure Luke, and That Scene Where Luke Sneezed Luke, but hopefully, Hasbro will keep this relevant. And I don’t mean “Star Wars Geek” relevant. I mean take it down a notch and assess what’s actually important about these films, and not the obsession with continuing to monetize them.
Luke is a character who fits fairly well into the the idea of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth idea, because that’s how George Lucas directly plotted his narrative, so visualizing these key points in his evolution as a hero feels important from a narrative perspective. While some maintain that Luke explores the entire monomyth cycle in one film, it can be extrapolated over the complete Original Trilogy, in a much larger scale. “Call to Adventure” Luke in his Tatooine farmboy clothes; “Supernatural Aid” Luke in his Dagobah training gear; “Belly of the Whale” Luke in his Jedi clothes as he enters Jabba’s Palace. Keep it critical. These are the representations that should stand next to one another; not Holiday Special Car Crash Luke. As a totem of adventure for a few generations of geeks, someone finally got it right.
R2-D2, also in this wave, is George Lucas’s favorite actor, whether or not Kenny Baker is in the suit. While his speech is delivered in clicks and whistles, it’s pretty clear that he’s dropping f-bombs and yo momma jokes at a pretty rapid clip. In a fictional universe which speaks English and which also seems to contain an inordinately large amount of far-too reserved and polite people, R2-D2 is the unsung hero of blue comedy. Threepio knows it. Drop in some subtitles and you’d have to change the rating. Space adventure without profanity is the least realistic part of science fiction. There has to be one guy floating out in space who eschews frilly prose for a “this is fucking amazing.” There has to.
R2 is another nerd fetish item done right. In 1/12th scale, Hasbro can finally make a proper droid, complete with scene-specific accoutrements, opening panels, and a handful of accessories. This figure includes panels which can be removed from the top of the “head” to plug in various sensors and dishes, and a panel which houses an unlit lightsaber (from the Pit of Carkoon / deadly desert butthole monster scene). Panels on the front swing open to reveal two spindly droid arms, but the best part is that the figure retains the awesome plinky-clicky noise from the original Artoo, heard when the head is rotated. It’s that kind of quirky, non-electric engineering that makes toys like this great, and to keep it in play 30 years later is awesome. Rotate the head enough in one direction and Artoo’s third leg, ahem, extends out from the bottom of his body, as it does in various scenes.
The only thing this guy is missing is the light-and-sound feature from a previous, smaller figure. It’s one step short of perfect.
R2-D2 doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Popping open panels, figuring stuff out, and discovering a new feature was a process of revelation that calls back to the youthful delight of really playing with toys. The idea that you don’t know exactly what something does, and you can poke at it until it does something without having a manual to refer to, is something that we don’t get to experience a lot anymore in a world of eHows and Wikiwhatevers and tutorials on everything from peeling an orange to fixing your sink to loving your woman up right. Exploration and experience, because of the easy availability of information, have often been replaced with rudimentary “research” without understanding. Chemistry sets have gone from containing uranium to containing baking soda and warnings. It’s not a universally evil thing, but sometimes, it’s nice to not know. Unintentionally, this idea of “discovery” is captured here, for nothing but a lack of instructions. And it’s pretty great.
Now that I’ve ruined the experience for you by laying all of Artoo’s features bare for you… sorry. Spoiler alert. For spoiling your one chance at feeling the excitement of a child again amidst a crushing, disappointing stream of events associated with being an adult. Go pay your car insurance and die a little bit.
Somehow, there’s a freshness in combining two things that have existed for a long time into an ideal synthesis with Star Wars Black.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.