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

Promotional photo for the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars; THe Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure, Image Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc, & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“Join Me, and I Will Complete Your Training….”

DARTH VADER: After the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader became obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, finally locating the Rebel base on the remote ice planet Hoth – Packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure

On Tuesday, September 29, Rhode Island-based Hasbro, Inc. released its latest Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale action figure based on the menacing Sith Lord Darth Vader as he appears in the 1980 film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Played by two men inside “The Suit” – David Prowse and (for the complex sword fights) Bob Anderson – and given voice by James Earl Jones, Vader is the iconic villain of director Irvin Kershner’s now-classic follow-up to George Lucas’s original Star Wars film (1977).

A fan favorite from the beginning of the Star Wars franchise 43 years ago, Vader’s fall from grace as a young Jedi originally named Anakin Skywalker, his turn to the Dark Side and acceptance of a new identity as one of two Sith Lords, and his eventual redemption are the focus of the first six films of the Skywalker Saga. In the Sequel Trilogy, Vader’s long shadow is cast over his grandson. Ben Solo, the last member of the mighty Skywalker bloodline.

Of course, when viewers – including this writer – first saw The Empire Strikes Back, the fact that Vader did not betray or murder Luke’s father, but that he was Luke’s father had not yet been established. Indeed, Vader and Luke’s father actually started out as two distinct and separate characters until George Lucas refined his original concept for The Empire Strikes Back and, with the help of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, rejiggered the imposing black-armored, black-caped character from his original role as the villain that Luke Skywalker must confront to avenge his dead father into Luke’s fallen Jedi progenitor.

In the original Star Wars Trilogy – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – Vader is the most public symbol of Emperor Palpatine’s evil and fascistic New Order. Wielding a dark version of the lightsaber he once used as a Jedi, Vader is clad in a life-supporting suit of armor without which he can’t survive. It consists of:

  • A skull-like breath mask with a locking helmet
  • Vision enhancing receptors
  • A voice projector/respiratory intake
  • Armored breastplate
  • Control chest plate
  • A multifunction belt that aids in the control of the suit’s life support equipment
  • Cybernetic limbs: the legs are covered with boots, armored shin guards, and ribbed multi-ply trousers
  • Armored gauntlets
  • A flowing black cape

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Figure

STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Fans and collectors can imagine scenes from the Star Wars Galaxy with this premium Darth Vader toy, inspired by the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back movie. Promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure

On August 28, Hasbro released the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) figure in “Kenner” branded cardback blister packs that were an homage to the original 3.75-inch action figure released in 1980 by Kenner for its 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.

So far in 2020, I have bought 10 figures in the “Kenner” blister pack cardbacks from the Star Wars The Black Series Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) subcollection, and when I ordered the Darth Vader figure in August as a pre-order, I assumed – wrongly – that I was ordering the “Kenner” variant.

The new black-blue packaging for the Fall 2020 Star Wars The Black Series is striking and more compact than the red-and-black packaging from previous years. Image Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc, & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Considering that Darth Vader is one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars canon, I theorize that many of the cardback blister packed figures from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary collection were purchased for resale on Amazon third-party stores or other online emporiums for a hefty holiday season markup. I mean, you’d expect that Darth Vader would have gotten a “Kenner” packaging for this sub-collection, considering that the variant based on the character as he appears in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope literally kicked off the 40th Anniversary lines in the Star Wars The Black Series collection.

And so he was given a Kenner-branded package , but by the time I made up my mind to get the figure, perhaps the one with the cardback blister pack was sold out, thus forcing Amazon to send customers this repackaged figure as soon as Hasbro released it on September 29.

What’s in the Box?

MOVIE-BASED CHARACTER-INSPIRED ACCESSORY: This Star Wars The Black Series action figure comes with a Darth Vader-inspired accessory that makes a great addition to any Star Wars collection. – Promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure

Inside the newly redesigned Star Wars The Black Series box, which is more compact and angular than the familiar red-and-black packaging of years past, you will get:

  • Darth Vader 6-inch scale figure
  • Darth Vader’s Sith-style red-bladed lightsaber
Image Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc, & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

I ordered my Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure on August 15, a little less than two weeks before the “cardback” Vader figures were due to be sent to stores and Amazon warehouses on the 28th. It was originally set to be sent to my place of residence on the day of release.

Then, out of nowhere, on the day the figure was supposed to ship (the 26th), I received an email from Amazon – only hours before the scheduled ship-out – advising me that no, my Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure would not be delivered the next day and that Amazon was sorry but my new figure would not be shipped until a later date.

In my younger days – and certainly before the COVID-19 pandemic – I might have gotten irked at this rather unexpected development. I was disappointed but not angry; I’ve had issues with the Bezos Empire in the past, but usually those were due to Amazon’s use of Lasership as a shipping partner before it rolled its Prime Delivery service, with its fleet of vehicles and delivery personnel. I got plenty angry when, back in my Miami ‘hood, Lasership drivers would deliver my orders to other units with the same four-digit house number as mine. (And, of course, in all but one of those instances, my neighbors would keep my stuff, forcing me to deal with Amazon Customer Service and sort out the process of replacing the lost items without charging me twice.)

In all honesty, though, I had no idea that Amazon had somehow run out of the “Kenner” Vader figures; I can’t prove my theory that quite a few customers bought Amazon’s entire consignment of the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure for resale, but that’s the only story that makes sense. I had no idea that the new packaging existed until I checked my figure’s delivery status; when I ordered the figure a month and a half ago, the only variant offered on Amazon – and the Hasbro website – was the “Kenner” variant, not the blue-black packaged version.

As for the figure?

Well, it is a Star Wars The Black Series product, after all, and it closely resembles Lord Darth Vader as seen in The Empire Strikes Back. Every detail – including the chest plate that regulates the various systems that keep the scarred and maimed Sith Lord alive –  of Vader’s iconic “Suit,” from the top of his locking armored helmet – reminiscent of the Stahlhelm worn by German soldiers in the Third Reich – to the tip of his boots, looks exactly like the ones on the life-supporting and cybernetics-equipped Sith-inspired armor and cape outfit designed by Ralph McQuarrie and refined by costume designer John Mollo.

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, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) 6-inch scale action figure.

Star Wars The Black Series figures are made to be far more poseable and authentic looking than their original 3.75-inch Kenner forerunners from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of those figures, including those based on human or humanoid characters usually only five points of articulation (POAs) (usually placed in the head/neck, shoulders, and hips), though there were quite a few figures – Chewbacca, Imperial Stormtrooper, TIE Fighter Pilot, AT-AT Driver, and character-named Ewok action figures – whose heads you could not turn because there wasn’t a POA in the neck area.

To correct the stiffness of the poses that were possible with only five POAs in the Kenner figures, later collections in the Hasbro-owned subsidiary – which was fully absorbed into Hasbro in 1999 – had multiple POAs that allowed fans and collectors of all ages to pose their figures in more life-like and natural-looking stances.

In most human-based character action figures, this can be a double-edged sword. Yes, the more points of articulation you can give them, the more possibilities for cool-looking poses exist. However, this has the unhappy side effect of giving the character a more toy-like look, especially in a figure such as the Jedi training variant of Luke Skywalker in the recently released Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) Deluxe 2-Figure Set

As I wrote in my review of the Luke Skywalker figure:

Although I am not fond of the visual effect caused by the various points of articulation  (POAs) in the Luke Skywalker figure, I have to remind myself that this is not one of those “toys for adults” that are made to look 100% lifelike. For one thing, the scale of the figures is six inches (I believe that Yoda is two inches in height here), and while I suppose it Is theoretically possible to make a more life-like figure in that size, it probably would have fewer POAs or, more likely, come in a permanent pose reminiscent of a Hallmark Christmas tree ornament that my half-sister Vicky gave me nearly 15 years ago.

Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker & Yoda (Jedi Training) (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) Deluxe 2-Figure Set

However,  I have noticed that certain types of Star Wars action figures don’t look too bad with so many POAs, especially figures that are based on droids, certain non-human species, or humans in some type of armor.

The Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) action figure falls into the latter category, and Hasbro was able to integrate the various points of articulation into the detailing of the painted-and-sculpted replica of Vader’s outfit from The Empire Strikes Back.

Sure, you can find places where the POAs don’t blend 100% seamlessly into the detailing of Vader’s armor; if you know what to look for, you’ll see the joints and hinges, especially on the limbs. Overall, however, figures based on Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) look somewhat less toylike than those based on his Jedi Knight son, Luke Skywalker. And this repackaged version of Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) is no exception to the rule.

I like the fact that Hasbro did not simply take the 2017 Darth Vader figure it released to mark the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Though the two figures do look a lot alike, you must remember that Vader’s armor was upgraded somewhat during the period between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. The basic look is similar, but the armor in Empire looks more refined, with a black finish that is so glossy that it looks silvery when it reflects ambient light at the viewer.

Anyway, yeah. I’m a bit disappointed that somewhere between August 15 and now, the cardback Vader figures became hard to find and replaced with the new-packaged Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary) figures, but, as the saying goes, it is what it is.

I enjoyed writing this review of the latest addition to my Star Wars The Black Series collection, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading it. And with that, Dear Reader, I must wrap this review up so I can post it and figure out what to scrounge up for dinner. Until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things, and remember: the Force will be with you, always.

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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