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Princess Leia & Darth Vader

SW Infinities: Empire Strikes Back
by yo go re

In 2001, recognizing that they were soon going to exhaust every available story hook in the original trilogy, Dark Horse Comics tried something new. Well, "new" only in that they hadn't done it before: Marvel published their first issue of What If...? with a February 1977 coverdate, more than three months before the first Star Wars film opened, and imaginary stories were a mainstay of DC in the Silver Age. Yes, on May 2, 2001, Dark Horse published the first issue of what they dubbed Star Wars Infinities.

The Infinities series explores tantalizing "what if" stories about what might have happened to Star Wars characters if events had happened differently. In this tale, Princess Leia fulfills Luke Skywalker's dying words, "Find master Yoda... Train as a Jedi... Go to Dagobah." On the jungle world of Dagobah, Leia is shocked to learn her father is the evil Darth Vader. Under Yoda's tutelage, Leia becomes a skilled Jedi but faces a final trial: battle her father in a lightsabaer duel and resist his attempts to turn her to the dark side.

Something that bio leaves out is that Luke delivered his final words to Han Solo, so until they got to Dagobah and Yoda dropped the "he's your brother" bomb, Han thought he was supposed to become a Jedi. Ha! Silly Han, you have Jabba to worry about, not facing off with Darth Vader.

We've had plenty of Leias before, but none like this, obviously. After hanging out on the swamp planet for a few months, this is the outfit the princess has settled on: her boots and pants are a hold-over from her Hoth clothes, but she's added a knee-length white tunic (like Luke wore in the first movie) and a blue hide vest thing. She's got a wide band wrapped around her waist, and two thin cords tying the whole thing together. Since she's training to be a Jedi, she's got a lightsaber with a removable blue blade - the hilt is supposed to be Luke's, but the sculpt really isn't very good.

Leia's face looks decent, but the paint really brings things down. Without any handmaidens or fussy droids around to do the work, Leia's let her hair down, and just pulled it back out of her face. The head is molded from brown plastic and then painted, which has left a few problem spots. For instance, the small strands of hair falling off her temples look more like big sideburns. One of her eyebrows has been mis-painted, as well, so it now lives near the center of her forehead.

Her articulation is good, though. Balljointed head, shoulders, knees and ankles, swivel elbows, wrists, waist and hips. Yes, the elbows are those 45° pegs we usually dislike, but these are better than average - they don't look terrible in their "straight" position. To sell Leia's small stature, the figure is only 3¼" tall.

Just like Leia, the Vader in this set is 100% new sculpt and unlike any version of the character we've seen before. Despite the fact that he (unlike everyone else) wears the same costume for all three films, we've had dozens of different Vader figures over the years, so getting one that actually stands out from the rest is a noteworthy moment. This isn't a question of a new kind of removable helmet or an action feature, this is an all-new Vader, and that's rare.

Refusing to believe rumors that Skywalker had died on Hoth, Darth Vader followed the trail to Dagobah, where Yoda tried to hold him off. Too old and frail for another chinchilla-style fight, he instead battled Vader in the mind, confronting the fallen Jedi with specters of his twisted past. This is the armor Vader wore in the hallucination, which has some subtle differences from the usual garb. Cleverly, it's based on Ralph McQuarrie's concept artwork for the character, but don't think this is just a retread of Hasbro's McQuarrie Concept Darth Vader toy: inspiration and execution are two different things.

The general design of the armor is more angular and "samurai-ish" than Vader's regular wear, and his cape has a scalloped edge along the bottom. There's a gash on his let shoulder where technology is peeking through - battle damage from a lightsaber fight. The figure is painted black and grey, with accents in red and silver. There's no mistaking that this is Vader, there are just lots of differences when you go in close and look at the details. Since he's always shown as so big, his figure is 4¼" tall.

Darth Vader includes his lightsaber, of course, and a bit of removable armor: you can take his chestplate off to reveal the silver wiring beneath it, as well as remove his helmet. What's underneath? A new head, fully human and unscarred - remember, this all takes place in Anakin's mind, and his mental image of himself definitely doesn't look like the cadaverous gray lump we'd see in Return of the Jedi. What does it look like? Well, someone was very smart: it's halfway between Hayden Christensen and Sebastian Shaw; it manages to look like both men, older than one and younger than the other. Smart!

The figure has decent articulation, save for a few odd choices and ommissions. The head is a swivel, as are the shoulders, wrists, waist and hips - only the elbows and ankles are balljoints. He has no knees at all, for some reason, and the plain swivel shoulders are somewhat limiting. I suppose all the money went into the new sculpt and the removable bits, but at least he can hold his lightsaber and swing it around okay.

The comic pack includes a reprint of Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back #4, which features both the costumes seen on these figures. It's the end of the miniseries, so everything draws to its close, and we get some pretty impressive showdowns. The art is very nice, with a clean style that never leaves the action unclear. If you like what you see here, you should definitely check out the other Infinities series - or at least the tpb of this one.

This is an impressive set. Leia and Vader are both brand-new versions of old familiar characters, and that's worth something right there. But add to that the fact that the sculpts don't have any re-used pieces and the colors haven't been randomly changed around just to make the toys look more "comicbooky," and you have yourself a winner.


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