‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Yoda (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure)

Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Yoda: 21st Century action figure, 1980-styled cardback packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Yoda: Exiled Master Jedi He Is

On April 28, the giant Rhode Island-based toy-and-games manufacturer Hasbro, Inc. released a wave of its 6-inch scale Star Wars The Black Series action figures in Kenner branded cardback packaging to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. This Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary collection features re-issues of existing Star Wars The Black Series, including the Bespin variants of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, the Hoth version of Princess Leia Organa, and the Imperial AT-AT Driver, just to name a few.

In addition, Hasbro tweaked the sculpt and paint job of its Yoda figure from the 2014 batch of Star Wars The Black Series in 2019 for its Black Series Archives series, which is described in Rebelscum.com‘s archives as a “6-inch greatest hits collection” of much sought-out Star Wars figures.

Created by George Lucas for Empire as a replacement for Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi – who was “killed” in Star Wars: A New Hope – to teach Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi, Yoda is said to be around 900 years old at this point in the Skywalker Saga. And even though he was a puppet performed and voiced by actor-director (and longtime Muppets performer) Frank Oz, Yoda is one of the most beloved supporting characters in the Star Wars franchise.

In his “accidental” meeting with the earnest-but-impatient Luke on Dagobah, Yoda is presented as an archetype drawn from classical mythology: a seemingly unimportant small creature whose unassuming appearance and childlike antics belie his true nature as an “uber Jedi Master.”

As Yoda says to Luke in a pivotal scene from The Empire Strikes Back:

“Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is.”

Yoda only has 20 minutes’ worth of screen time in Empire, but his Zen-inspired pearls of wisdom and mastery of the Force made him one of the movie’s breakout characters. As a result, his likeness appeared in all sorts of licensed merchandise, ranging from souvenir buttons, lunch boxes, Pez candy dispensers, Meade notebooks and organizers, Topps trading cards, posters, and – of course, Kenner’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back action figures.

A Topps Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back trading card from 1980. Note that this image, reversed, is the basis for the Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back action figure’s cardback packaging. Photo Credit, SpottedDog1 in Etsy. (C) 1980 Topps, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Figure

Like all of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series action figures based on characters from the Original Trilogy, Yoda is a linear descendent of Kenner’s original 3.75-inch scale figure. Kenner Toys of Cincinnati (OH) introduced Yoda in 1981 (the MSRP then being $2.49) in cardback packaging with a “1980” timestamp as part of the company’s Assortment No. : 38310 from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

The 1980 figure – which came with a Day-Glo orange snake (some figures came with a chocolate brown one), a cane (called a “gimer stick”), a belt, and a cloth cloak – was first sold as Yoda; later iterations would be renamed as Yoda, The Jedi Master and sold, with variations in the cardback illustration, in Kenner’s The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Power of the Force, and Tri-Logo collections between 1981 and 1985.

Photo of a 1981 Kenner Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Yoda action figure. Note the chocolate brown snake draped around the Jedi Master’s neck and shoulders. Photo Credit: Seller fantomworksdotcom at eBay. (C) 1981 Kenner Toys and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I bought my Kenner figure as soon as it hit store shelves in 1981, and happily, I still have it, complete with all of its accessories intact.

Yoda‘s Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale action figure comes with a mix of accessories from The Empire Strikes Back and two of the Prequels. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

YODA: Luke Skywalker came to Dagobah in search of Yoda for Jedi training. At the urging of Obi-Wan, Yoda agreed to instruct Luke, teaching him to be calm and developing his Jedi abilities. – Publicity blurb on Hasbro’s official site.

As mentioned earlier, Star Wars The Black Series Yoda (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure is a reissue of a reissue, in this case, Hasbro’s 2014 Yoda with an improved sculpt and paint job done for the The Black Series Archives collection from 2019.

The 6-inch scale figure of the diminutive-but-powerful Jedi Master who sat in the Jedi Council until the Great Jedi Purge led by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader forced Yoda to go into exile on the bog planet Dagobah.

The 6-inch scale Yoda is packaged in a Kenner-branded cardback that closely resembles its 1981 ancestor from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The 40th Anniversary edition of Yoda comes in a cardback packaged that’s closely based on the original Kenner figure’s packaging design. It features the same Lucasfilm publicity shot of the character used in 1981, as well as the familiar blue-and white “Kenner” logo. (Hasbro bought Kenner in the 1990s during the era’s megamergers, so it can use the brand and its indicia.) Except for small details such as the replacement of the assortment number information with 40th Anniversary of Empire logo, the 2020 packaging is a dead ringer for the 1981 figure’s cardback.

The bubble pack contains the 2019 The Black Series Archives Yoda 6-inch scale figure, as well as the following accessories:

  • Gimer Stick
  • Blissl Flute*
  • Belt
  • Lightsaber Blade
  • Lightsaber Hilt
  • Dagobah Swamp Snake
  • Jedi-Style Robe
Yoda says, “Ready for aggressive negotiations I am!” Whilst we never saw the Jedi Master wield a lightsaber in The Empire Strikes Back, he fought against his former Padawan, Count Dooku. in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Darth Sidious in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

* I didn’t know what a “blissl flute” is, much less the fact that Yoda had one. According to Wookieepedia, “the blissl was a musical instrument that had three pipes made out of some form of wood.” You learn something new every day!

It is, of course, not fair to compare a 21st Century figure with its 1980s precursor. For their time, Kenner’s figures were state-of-the-art toys and practically revolutionized the toy and collecting worlds forever. Even though they had limited points of articulation and had simplistic detailing, Star Wars fans and collectors of all ages loved them. Heck, they even forced Hasbro to reinvent its once dominant GI Joe 12-inch “action figures” (a term coined by Hasbro in 1964 to make GI Joe marketable in the belief that boys would not play with, ahem, dolls) into the 3.75-inch scale GI Joe: Great American Hero collection to compete with Kenner’s Star Wars products.

So the toy empire struck back and reintroduced GI Joes as mini-action figures in the same 3,75-inch scale as the Star Wars figures from Kenner.

Of course, the 21st Century Star Wars figures (in any scale) benefit from advances in the toy industry, and because Hasbro understands that adult collectors are among their most loyal customers, attention to detail and realism are the company’s watchwords when it comes to its Star Wars: The Black Series products.

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. – Publicity blurb on Hasbro’s official site.

Whereas the original Yoda action figure from 1981 only had five articulation points – which is not surprising, since it’s one of the smaller mini-action figures in Kenner’s 1978-1985 collection – the 40th Anniversary figure boasts enough points of articulation to allow collectors to pose Yoda in lifelike positions.

“Great warrior? Wars not make one great!” Star Wars The Black Series Yoda…and friend. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

It’s hard to tell from Hasbro’s professionally photographed figures, but even taking into consideration that Yoda is not as tall as, say, Han Solo (Bespin), it’s likely Yoda has enough articulatio points to pose the figure realistically. The figure’s head can be turned, and the arms and legs can be adjusted at the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and other major joints for more lifelike action stances.

Star Wars The Black Series Yoda (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure) is one of my favorite purchases of the year so far. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

I have been collecting Star Wars action figures since 1978. That’s when I received – as part of my 15th birthday present- Kenner’s original Landspeeder vehicle and two figures (R2-D2 and C-3P0). I owned about 80% of Kenner’s 1978-1985 action figures, vehicles, and action playsets, as well as a trio of collector’s cases. Accidents, thefts, a hurricane, and inadequate storage methods whittled away at my collection over the years; I estimate that while I have most of my figures, I lost quite a few small blasters, removable lightsabers, and some of my prized vehicles, including the aforementioned Landspeeder, my original X-Wing, Imperial TIE Fighter, Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, TIE Interceptor, and my hard-to-get Imperial Shuttle were either whisked away by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 or stolen by thieves.

I do have almost every item I later bought from the late 1990s until 2010 from Hasbro’s many post-1995 product lines – I have figures, vehicles, and even playsets from The Power of The Force 2, Star Wars: Episode I, The Power of the Jedi, and Star Wars Saga collections.

As I said earlier, I still have my original 1981 Yoda (loose, no cardback, but with all his accessories, including a Day-Glo orange snake). So naturally, when I saw this upscaled version of Yoda (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure) for sale at a reasonable price at Amazon, I could not resist.

As a Star Wars fan and collector, I look for stuff that really calls attention to itself. Star Wars The Black Series figures certainly have the “right stuff” (as the late Tom Wolfe might have said). Hasbro lavished a great deal of attention to detail on this Yoda, even going as far as making improvements in the sculpt and paint job of a 2014 figure for two re-releases: the 2019 The Black Series Archives edition and this 40th Anniversary edition in Kenner-branded packaging.

So, bottom line: Yoda is definitely a must-add to anyone’s collection of 6-inch scale figures. (Of course, if you have the figure from The Black Series Archives collection, you can pass on this one unless you want it for the Kenner-branded package.)

Will I open it? For the short term, no. We are in the process of reorganizing my office/study and other rooms of the house where I live. Shelf and storage space are limited, so for now, Yoda stays in his Kenner cardback. But always in motion is the future, so, we’ll see.

Well, this brings us to the close of another Star Wars The Black Series action figure review. I enjoyed writing it and reminiscing about my older figure, and I hope you have fun reading this.

So, until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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