“The Force is With You, Young Skywalker…”
On April 28, 2020, in anticipation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back‘s Ruby Anniversary, Rhode Island-based Hasbro, Inc. released a new wave of its Star Wars: The Black Series action figures and other Star Wars-themed toys and collectibles. Based on the heroes, villains, and sidekicks seen in director Irvin Kershner’s smash film from 1980, these figures included fan favorites as Han Solo (Bespin), Princess Leia Organa (Hoth), Yoda, and an Imperial AT-AT Driver.
Naturally, since Luke Skywalker is the protagonist of what is now the middle Trilogy of the Skywalker Saga, the 40th Anniversary wave is led by Luke Skywalker (Bespin), a six-inch scale action figure based on the earnest but impetuous Jedi apprentice who rushes off to Cloud City in a bid to save his friends from the evil Darth Vader and the Empire.
LUKE SKYWALKER: After a vision of his friends in pain, Luke Skywalker cut his training with Jedi Master Yoda short and traveled to Cloud City, where Darth Vader awaited. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website
As the figure’s nomenclature implies, Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is a representation of Mark Hamill’s farmboy-turned-Rebel and Jedi apprentice as he appears in the third act of The Empire Strikes Back. Clad in what I think of as Rebel-issue fatigues in khaki and accessorized with spacer’s combat boots and a belt with a holster for a DL-44 blaster pistol like Han Solo’s and a clip for his father’s lightsaber, this figure bears a close resemblance to Skywalker’s on-screen appearance, thanks to 21st Century toy making techniques.
Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is also a direct linear descendant of Kenner Toys’ original 3.75-inch action figure from that company’s 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection. Like its smaller, primitive-looking precursor, Hasbro’s 2020 version comes in a “Kenner” branded cardback that features a still from The Empire Strikes Back showing Luke in a corridor on Bespin’s Cloud City, the red and silver indicia from The Empire Strikes Back line, and a 40th Anniversary logo on the top left-hand corner of the cardback’s obverse side.
VINTAGE-INSPIRED PACKAGING: Star Wars The Black Series Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40TH Anniversary 6-inch scale classic Star Wars figures feature original Kenner branding – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website
40TH ANNIVERSARY FIGURE: Celebrate 40 years of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with this Luke Skywalker (Bespin) The Black Series action figure featuring 1980s-inspired design. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website
Unlike Kenner’s 1978-1985 “micro-action figures,” which were manufactured with less sophisticated tools and techniques, Star Wars figures made from the late 1990s onward tend to have more accurate sculpts and paint jobs that give them a certain amount of similarity to the characters seen in the various movies and TV series set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
This is especially true of figures based on human characters; droids and non-human denizens, by their very nature, often were more accurately depicted as action figures, although sometimes Kenner’s designers had to base their work on preliminary costume/makeup design or were constrained by the limits of the toy manufacturing tools available 40 years ago.
As a result, the original Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues) action figure had only the vaguest resemblance to the character played by actor Mark Hamill: the blond “hair” was too yellow, the facial features were too generic, and the accessories were monochromatic – Luke’s solid black blaster was a clone of Han’s iconic DL-44 pistol, while his lightsaber (now a separate accessory rather than being built in permanently) was a solid yellow from the base of the hilt all the way to the tip of the “laser blade.” (Why Kenner went with a yellow lightsaber for Luke’s Star Wars and Empire figures is a question I’ve often asked but never researched.)
The original figure also has fewer points of articulation (POA), which was the norm when the then-revolutionary action figures were originally produced. Back then, the average humanoid figure had five POAs:
- Head/neck (1)
- The shoulders (2)
- The hips (2)
Some figures, such as Chewbacca, Imperial Stormtrooper, Jawa, and a few Imperial characters with similar characteristics as the Stormtrooper didn’t have a swivel point of articulation to move the head from side to side. Some figures, due to their characters’ inherent properties, only had three POAs (R2-D2 and R5-D4, for instance) And none of them had joints at the elbows or knees, which limited one’s choices for displays, especially on Kenner’s Action Playsets.
PREMIUM ARTICULATION AND DETAILING: Star Wars fans and collectors can display this highly poseable (4 fully articulated limbs) figure, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website
In contrast, the Star Wars The Black Series version of Luke Skywalker (Bespin) not only boasts a sculpt and paint job that give the figure a more accurate likeness to the character from The Empire Strikes Back, but it also has more points of articulation than its 1980 forerunner. Luke’s hair coloring is no longer a bright shade of yellow but a more natural shade of dirty blond. And one can see small details that give the figure more than just a passing resemblance to the character we have seen on screen for 40 years; look closely at Luke’s face and you’ll see that it has blue eyes, eyebrows that match the coloring of the hair, and Mark Hamill’s distinctive chin dimple.
In addition, Luke Skywalker (Bespin) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back has lots more points of articulation, one (a swivel point) at the head, shoulder and elbow joints for the arms, and POAs for the knees and ankles. This allows collectors to pose Luke in more action-packed and lifelike stances that are less rigid (and limited) than the 1980-era figure’s five POAs permit.
The new figure’s two weapon-type accessories are also more detailed. Gone is the garish monochromatic yellow lightsaber. In its place, we see the “Skywalker lightsaber” with its silver and black hilt and blue lightsaber blade. (The latter is made from translucent blue plastic that simulates the lightsaber’s “plasma energy” blade.)
Luke’s blaster pistol is also made to more closely resemble the “real” movie prop seen in The Empire Strikes Back. The blaster’s grip is painted brown to simulate parts made from exotic wood,while the barrel, muzzle, and trigger are painted in gunmetal black with silver detailing. When not in use, the blaster can be tucked into the holster on Luke’s utility gun belt.
For over 42 years, I have been collecting Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and some of the playsets from both Kenner and Hasbro. For financial and space considerations, I decided long that I should not try to be a “completist”-type of collector. As a result, I don’t pretend to have the world’s largest collection of Star Wars figures – that honor goes to Stephen J. Sansweet, a former executive at Lucasfilm. I also have a friend, Rogers Perez, whose collection made mine look like a beginner’s…or a pauper’s.
(I can’t also claim that I still have 100% of what I acquired between 1978 and 1985 during the first and busiest phase of my collection building; despite my best efforts to keep my collection intact, I estimate that 30% of it is lost. Some figures were stolen, and most of the original vehicles that weren’t stored in boxes suffered from exposure to the sun. (My second story bedroom in my old townhouse in Miami faced due west, and when I didn’t have blinds of any type in front of the glass sliding doors, the brutal South Florida sun would stream into my room in the afternoon hours. This had a detrimental effect on my original X-Wing fighter and Imperial TIE Fighter, which used an inordinate number of stick-on labels for their detailing. )
The worst blow, though, struck back in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida and ripped part of the townhouse’s roof away – including the section right above the attic. This meant that the storm not only whisked away some of the boxes full of Star Wars collectibles away (including the one that contained my Imperial Shuttle from Kenner’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi line), but damaged much of the stuff in the boxes that remained in the attic.
That having been said, I have the original Kenner version of Luke Skywalker (Bespin). It’s no longer in mint condition; back in 1980 I didn’t know much about “proper” collecting habits, so I opened my cardback and put it on display in my bedroom – usually posing him alongside Yoda and R2-D2 on my Dagobah Action Playset. (“You have to put it together. Action figures sold separately!)
Back then, I knew that the 3.75-inch “micro-action figures” (Kenner eventually stopped referring to them as such, but I like the sound of the term) had their flaws, but I still enjoyed collecting them. Collecting them helped me cope with the challenges of the transition from childhood to young adulthood, as well as the losses I endured at the time – an unwanted move from a house and neighborhood that I liked, my first breakup, the deaths of my maternal grandparents, and even deaths of kids I knew from school.
So even though the original Luke Skywalker (Bespin) – a strange marketing misnomer because Luke wears the “Bespin fatigues” throughout much of The Empire Strikes Back, including his stay on Yoda – looked a bit dodgy, I still liked the figure. I have it in one of the many bins that contains what remains of my Kenner collection.
Because I still have the same concerns about finances and space limitations that I did when I was a teenager – even more, considering my present circumstances – I do not plan on amassing a collection anywhere as large as the one I had in the 1980s. At $19.99 per Star Wars Black Series action figure and with far less space available for either display or storage purposes, it’s just not a feasible option.
Nevertheless, recently I purchased a handful of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figures, including the Big Three leads of the Rebel Alliance (Luke Skywalker [Bespin], Leia Organa [Hoth], and Han Solo [Bespin]) as well as Yoda and the Imperial Probe Droid.
As I noted in The Figure section of this review, the 40th Anniversary edition of Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is a fun and cool collectible. Like all of the Star Wars The Black Series figures I own, it is well-designed and extremely detailed. I especially like how Hasbro pays homage to the figure’s origins as a Kenner Toys product by using much of the packaging design and indicia from 1980, but still gives us a figure that reflects our more modern and sophisticated toys from 2020.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this review. I had fun writing the text and adding the illustrations and videos – especially the vintage commercials from the early 1980s. Thank you for reading, and until next time, may the Force be with you.