Darth Vader (Lava Reflection)
Hasbro, Target Exclusive
Released April 2, 2005
Reviewed by Adam Pawlus
Photography by Michael Sullenger
Reviewed on April 6, 2005
The concept was nifty, but the execution not so much. In the short term, Darth Vader (Lava Reflection) was pimped as the ultimate collectible for the weekend the Revenge of the Sith line hit stores, with a fairly large run of 50,000 units it could be possible. Scores of people were in stores scalping these but courtesy of a one-per-person limit and a lot of indifference, it was easy (in my neck of the woods) to get an extra to crack open. And to some extent, we're sorry we did.
The figure includes no accessory aside from his lightsaber. Would a lava Mustafar base be too much to ask?
While early pictures online made it look like he could be translucent or even vac-metal, the reality of the situation is that he is neither. The phrase "Hungarian bootleg" came to mind, and then I did a little research on Hungarian Darth Vader knock-offs-- and truth be told they were pretty good. The really awful stuff came from Mexico and can be seen on other great online resources. But we digress.
This is a mold that was used for an exclusive before, and for another product. Around 1997, he was packaged with Emperor Palpatine and Luke Skywalker in the Final Jedi Duel three-pack, an excellent little set for its time that stands up fairly well as a boxed collectible and is notable for having included the first and only Emperor-in-throne action figure to date. It was reused again in 1997 for the uber-limited 2002 Toy Fair Darth Vader which was vac-metalized and given away to showroom attendees and sold through the Fan Club, if you were lucky enough to be online during the right window of opportunity.
Things like "new figure smell" and a flexible plastic immediately shaped my reaction to this toy from having been very favorable to less than favorable. For $12.99, I like to know I'm getting something cool, special, or so horrendous that I can point to it and mock it for ages to come. (While Hasbro laughs all the way to the bank, of course.) This item is a real oddity in that it manages to cover all the bases. Some traditional Vader paint ops were dropped-- there is no deco on his chest panel, nor are the little silver dots on his helmet. His eyes are not given the slight red tint that so many Vaders have had since 1999, nor is there an accept of silver on his shoulder armor.
What is here, however, is a nifty and somewhat odd lava reflection. Some cloth parts of his costume reflect the red light, and others don't-- it isn't consistent and it really does feel like the deco was done over a long weekend in which two thirds of the time involved doing shots off some chick half-dressed as Oola in a bar. (But enough about fanboy fantasies.) There are silver accents on the belt, which are a genuine surprise and seem out of place given the other missing paint operations. His boots are red, and bits are orange. In the package, it looks good. Out of the package, it looks OK. Close-up or as a toy, it sucks.
This mold has been around the block a few times and it shows. Articulation is lacking, and while his helmet, cape, arms, and legs all have aged fairly well all you need to do is to take one look at his torso if you want to wretch. The panel looks a little junky and the robes to the side of said panel look like absolute crap when colored the bright orange-- the lack of detail tends to fade away when case in balck, but this paint is amazing at bringing out the details in this figure and that isn't necessarily a good thing in some parts. It did show how great the quilted patterns on his legs were, though, and kudos on a job well done in that department.
The figure itself is a neat concept but ultimately almost any other Vader sculpt would have been better for this promotion, especially if it was a sculpt that, when packaged, did not look prepared to fondle himself. This is the Dark Lord of the Sith. Not some guy in a dark adult movie house. Due to how it looks in-package, and the outdated beefiness of the sculpt, we would have preferred the CommTech figure, the one from the Sith Lords two-pack, or if Hasbro really loved is, the rarely used 1998 removable helmet sculpt.
Some comparisons for you: on the left, see him with the 2002 Silver Toy Fair Vader. On the right, with his peer exclusive at Toys "R" Us and Amazon.com, Holographic Yoda.
1996 red Lightsaber, recolored.
This is the short version of the original POTF2 1995 Lightsaber, which started shipping around March 1996 and has been used with countless Vader figures. It's old, but it doesn't LOOK old-- the added silver makes it look (dare we say it) good and as such, we're pleased to see them use it again. Newer lightsabers are nicer, but frankly, it's an accessory and as such it doesn't need to be too fancy.
New for 2005: the flaming head of Darth Vader. New for this set: clamshell, backer card, and a special template on the back.
A more or less typical ROTS card sits inside a clamshell designed to house it, and it's very similar to the 2004 Vintage Original Trilogy Collection cases. The decision to include this case eludes us but we assume, like the VOTC line, it was used to create an added perceived value for the piece that would justify visually an added expense of nearly twice the cost for a mold that was clearanced out ages ago. That aside, it also sports a sticker announcing the fairly sizable 50,000 piece edition size. The clamshell itself is completed with a surprisingly nice logo for Revenge of the Sith on the back, making this one of the only Hasbro products to have it on board. As far as clamshells go, this is great, and Hasbro could probably crank out a box of 12 of these and we'd buy them to store our other figures.
The actual cardback is pretty much the same as the insert, as you can see. Same basic lava template, same basic design with the same Vader photo. We like this, though, and plan to scan the cardback and use it as a background on the computer now that a clean resource is easily had. It's a good presentation for the piece, and presentation really is everything here.
It's no secret that I have a few problems with this piece, but as lame as it sounds, this is where Hasbro redeemed it. That little Target logo is the first-ever Star Wars toy to have a Target logo on the box. I love that sort of thing, and for the same reason, I ordered a second Holographic Yoda from Toys "R" Us-- the TRU logo is most unusual on most of their exclusives. As a souvenir, it makes the piece very special, but as a collectible, it can be an eyesore. Me, I love it-- this piece is all about being weird and this makes it all the more interesting. They went out of their way to make sure the packaging speaks volumes, because the figure really doesn't say all that much.
It should be everywhere on April 2, 2005-- after that, eBay or bust. Due to the widespread speculation, stockpiling, and scalping, we advise you not pay more than $20 for this item if you feel this is a purchase you have to make. While it may not sound like much, 50,000 pieces is a very large run and as a lot of people that bought this aren't collectors, you can bet they'll reenter the market.
I don't like these words, but here they are anyway-- this is a collector's item. If you like your toys to sit on a shelf or in a box, not in displays or in dioramas, then this is something you simply must buy. It's a collectible, and I mean that in the derogatory sense-- it isn't much of a toy. His arms are posed oddly, he has little articulation, and newer, more detailed sculpts are available for a fraction of the price.
As a collector, I have to say I like it because it's just so odd. It's my understanding that Vader doesn't have his armor on any lava planet, so it's virtually an Expanded Universe item, the kind of thing LucasFilm doesn't usually go for. It's weird, and if you're bored by having all-black Sith Lords, this is a real nice departure. I wouldn't advise plunking down serious money on it until the dust settles on this piece, though, but if you can get one in a trade or at a low enough price then by all means. Be wary of crunched clamshell corners, which we saw on several specimens at two stores. It's neat, but keep price as a consideration.
As one of the "special three" Doorbuster items from the weekend of April 2, it's a nice piece. It isn't as cool as the Holographic Yoda in execution, nor is it as mysterious and nostalgia-friendly as the Wal-Mart Early Bird Kit. It is neat, though, and it is Darth Vader. These things will probably force your hand to buy this (or not to buy this) and we can say that there are certainly worse things to spend your money on.
Our review sample was obtained from Target way the heck North in Phoenix, AZ at a Target on April 2, 2005.