Return of the Probot!
On April 28, 2020, Hasbro Inc. of Pawtucket (Rhode Island) released a new wave of its ongoing Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale figures to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Alongside such fan favorites as Luke Skywalker (Bespin), Princess Leia Organa (Hoth), and Han Solo (Bespin), Hasbro includes several adversaries, including the menacing Imperial Probe Droid.
Officially designated a Viper droid by the Galactic Empire and known colloquially as a recon droid or Probot, the Imperial Probe Droid was mass-produced under the auspices of the Empire’s Project Swarm, which entailed the deployment of thousands of probe droids programmed by the Imperial military to seek the location of the Rebel Alliance’s secret base after the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin.
Three years after the Rebel victory at Yavin, an Imperial Probe Droid launched from the Star Destroyer Avenger crash-landed on the remote ice world of Hoth. Encased in a protective capsule, the Viper survived this hard landing and eventually discovered the Rebels’ Echo Base and reported its location to Darth Vader’s flagship, the Super Star Destroyer Executor.
The probot’s report set in motion an Imperial assault on the Rebel base by a ground force led by General Maximillian Veers, but its live feed of Echo Base’s massive power generators proved to be its undoing. Its transmission was intercepted and interpreted by Alliance personnel, and it was ultimately forced to self-destruct per its programming when a Rebel investigation team led by Captain Han Solo and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca discovered its location.
Tenacious hunters and searchers, probe droids have a variety of sensors, and the ones employed by the Empire are armed with powerful blasters! – Packaging blurb, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Imperial Probe Droid figure.
Since its introduction in August of 2013, Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Black Series line of 6-inch scale action figures has proved popular among fans and collectors. They are larger than the original 3.75-inch Star Wars action figures originally produced by Kenner between 1978 and 1985, then re-introduced by Hasbro (which merged with Kenner in the Nineties and inherited its licenses) in 1995 as The Power of the Force product line.
Star Wars The Black Series now includes over 100 6-inch scale action figures based on heroes, villains, supporting characters, and droids from Lucasfilm’s various media projects. Mainly from the live action features of the Skywalker Saga and Anthology series, although characters from canon TV series such as The Clone Wars,Rebels, and The Mandalorian – as well as a handful of fan favorites from Legends stories – also have figures based on their likenesses.
As Hasbro’s publicists write in the product description:
Kids and collectors alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from Star Wars The Black Series! With exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Star Wars The Black Series includes figures, vehicles, and roleplay items from the 40-plus-year legacy of the Star Wars Galaxy, including comics, movies, and animated series.
The Imperial Probe Droid is a detailed replica of the Viper probot seen in the prelude to the Battle of Hoth in 1980’s Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Based on the original design by the late Ralph McQuarrie and updates made by storyboard artist and later film director Joe Johnston, it looks exactly like the sinister bug-like recon droid, complete with bug-eye like cameras and photoreceptors, two antennae, and five articulated limbs tipped with sensors and evil-looking pincers.
The artists at Hasbro made every effort to make Imperial Probe Droid resemble the Viper from The Empire Strikes Back as closely as possible. Instead of simply giving the figure an all-black paint job with only a few red and white markings to break up the monochromatic color scheme, they added simulated panels painted in a kind of dark olive drab that somehow looks metallic and militaristic. This aesthetic is in keeping with George Lucas’s vision of the Star Wars galaxy as one that has a “lived-in, used” look.
Unlike Hasbro’s 1997 Star Wars: Power of the Force Imperial Probe Droid Deluxe figure, the Star Wars The Black Series version doesn’t look “toylike.” For one thing, the 1997 version (which was made in the 3.75-inch scale) is grey, has only three limbs, and comes with several parts (including a fireable “missile”) rendered in a neon-orange color.
Once again, let’s go to Hasbro’s product description to see why:
The 6-inch scale The Black Series Imperial Probe Droid deluxe figure is carefully detailed to look like the character from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back movie, featuring premium detail and multiple points of articulation.
I have been collecting Star Wars action figures, vehicles, action playsets, and other collectibles since 1978. I started this hobby when I received the original Land Speeder vehicle and the “micro-action figures” of Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2) and See-Threepio (C-3PO) for my 15th birthday. Over the next seven years, I acquired an estimated 75% of Kenner’s Star Wars toys in the categories listed above; I had neither the space nor the finances to buy everything Kenner sold, so I focused on the micro-action figures and their vehicles, with a few other accessories (collector’s cases and playsets) added in whenever possible.
Consequently, this is not the first Kenner or Hasbro replica of the probot from The Empire Strikes Back; in 1981, Kenner introduced a Turret and Probot playset, which some collectors consider to be the first-ever release of what we now call “exclusive figures.” I bought one in my junior year of high school just for the Probe Droid; I had watched The Empire Strikes Back six times by then and knew that Kenner was trying to blend two Hoth-set sequences into one, so this playset is hardly movie-scene accurate.
It is, however, pretty darned cool, and it’s one of the few Kenner collectibles that I have on display in my study/man cave.
Though the figure in Turret and Probot is of a smaller scale than Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series: Imperial Probe Droid, it was nicely rendered for a figure of the 1981 vintage. It’s even better-looking than the 1997 Power of the Force version, which by all rights should have looked better than its precursor.
I can’t purchase every figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series line; as much as I would love to, I have to take care of other, more grown up obligations before I splurge on luxury items such as collectibles. I also don’t have the space to store hundreds of new figures, much less the number of shelves or cases to display them in!
Still, when I found out last March about the new figures Hasbro was releasing to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I threw caution to the wind and ordered Star Wars The Black Series: Imperial Probe Droid from Amazon, as well as a 40th Anniversary figure of Luke Skywalker (Bespin). (The latter figure, by the way, is packaged in a 1980s-style “Kenner” bubble pack with an authentic replica of the original cardback from the 3.75-inch action figures in Kenner’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.
As you probably guessed, I am a big fan of the Star Wars The Black Series line. I found out about its existence when I received the 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack display stand with a 6-inch scale action figure of Darth Vader as a Christmas present in 2017. I wasn’t really planning on collecting any new items (for reasons I mentioned earlier), but because I thought putting one figure on a display for 12 would look silly, I bought the other 11 figures to complete “the original dozen” set. Some came in the 40th Anniversary cardback packaging, but I had to settle for getting a few in the red-and-black Star Wars The Black Series boxes.
Anyway, yeah. I’ve bought or been given quite a few figures from the 6-inch scale line; I’ve tried to be selective and acquired characters from each trilogy of the Skywalker Saga, always being mindful to not get too carried away with kid-like enthusiasm for the 21st Century versions of my favorite collectibles from my teen years,
For some reason I’ve always liked probots; there’s something intriguing about the insect-like form that the late conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie created over 40 years ago when George Lucas and Co. were making Empire. I tend to favor the Rebels (I have at least three X-Wings of the 3.75-inch scale in my collection) as far as collectibles go, but one can’t ignore the Empire totally. And since I have only one Imperial droid in my Star Wars The Black Series collection – an IT-0 interrogation droid that comes with Grand Moff Tarkin‘s figure, I figured I’d get the Imperial Probe Droid.
I like this figure because its sculpt and paint jobs are nicely done, plus it has multiple points of articulation (POA) that allow for realistic life-like poses. It has a display stand for support; the base is white, evoking the color palette of the ice planet Hoth.
Are there disappointments? Sure, but they are minor. The least grave one is that although the packaging bears the indicia of the 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and the 40th Anniversary: The Empire Strikes Back logo, the packaging is strictly of a Star Wars: The Black Series design. I would have preferred a Vintage “Kenner” branded box instead. Maybe Hasbro didn’t take that route because the Imperial Probe Droid (or Probot) was not sold separately as an action figure until 1997, whereas the Luke Skywalker (Bespin) was.
The other issue I have is that when I got my Imperial Probe Droid, the packaging came with a dent on the side that tore a hole in the cardboard. I’m not going to sell my collectibles unless I absolutely have to, but a damaged original package will reduce its value on the market. Plus, it doesn’t look nice.
Nevertheless, the Imperial Probe Droid looks way-cool (in an evilly sort of way), and I’m happy I found it on Amazon at the suggested price of $29.99.
All in all, Hasbro once again shows why its Star Wars action figures, especially the ones in its Star Wars The Black Series collection, are sought after by avid fans and collectors alike.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series’ The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure of the infamous Probot as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. As a Star Wars fan and collector, I give this figure a strong “Must Get This” rating, especially for Original Trilogy fans. And until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you,