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My personal Star Wars: The Phantom Menace story was the same as that of many other SW fans. The excitement of of the initial rumors the prequels would be made. The preview figures. The first trailer, downloading on the Internet oh-so-slowly over my college’s T1 line. The puzzlement at announcement of the terrible title. The plastic orgy of the early May toy release. And then the realization, just a few minutes in to the movie, that something was very, very wrong.
You’ll never convince me the original films are of the same quality of the prequels. I’m not blinded by childhood nostalgia; it’s simply not the case, and I could write volumes on why, but it’s already been well-covered by others.
However, ever since the prequels dropped like cow plop upon an unsuspecting pop culture, the Star Wars media empire has made a concerted effort to mine the prequel milieu for whatever good its creators can find – exploring its settings, concepts, and intriguing loose ends, and attempting to reconcile them with the original films. (For example, Haden Blackman has done some good work stitching together the whiny Anakin of the prequels and the badass Darth Vader of the original films.) One of the richer veins for development has been the character of Darth Maul.
The best action sequence in The Phantom Menace isn’t the tedious pod race or the laughably implausible space battle, but the lightsaber duel between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. In the first trilogy, lightsaber duels were, at best, slow fencing. In The Phantom Menace they became a lightning-fast, athletic sport (set to some of John Williams’s best music of the last twenty years). The frenetic combat was well-suited to the talents of actor and stunt man Ray Park, who swiftly joined the Geek Pantheon thanks to his appearances in The Phantom Menace, Sleepy Hollow, and X-Men within the span of two years.
Looking at Hasbro’s 6″ Darth Maul figure, part of their Star Wars Black brand, I can almost remember the excitement I felt before the film came out and ruined everything. I was so ready, as the lights went down in the theater, to go back to that galaxy. Was I a victim of impossibly high expectations? I don’t think so. If it had been anywhere near as good as Return of the Jedi, I would have been happy. Instead, it was as bad as one of the 1930s serials that inspired the whole damn franchise.
But I digress. The figure reminds me of better times, when I bought not one, but two Applause figurines of Darth Maul ahead of the movie, not to mention the Hasbro figure. While I’m sure there are those who look at Maul and think, “he’s just a reject from Angel with a thing for tribal tats,” I think most of us are unable to resist his badass design.
Unlike NECA or Mattel, who build equity by selling multiple versions of the same character with only minor paint of sculptural differences, Hasbro seems to be attempting to deliver the most definitive versions of these characters possible. Instead of selling us a cloaked Darth Maul and then an uncloaked one later on, this figure offers both complete looks.
In the cloaked version, Maul’s head is attached to the cloak. You need to thread his arms through holes in the cloak and then snap on the head. As you’d imagine, this doesn’t allow for much poseability of the head or neck, but the only way to have implemented that would have been a fabric cloak (no thanks) or a hard-plastic sculpted cloaked head, which would have broken the flow of the cloak and would have moved unnaturally anyway.
As with every SWB figure I’ve seen so far, I’m impressed by the sculpting. I’ve been told these are being done digitally by Gentle Giant, presumably with some touching-up by human hands. Whatever the method, the sculpting is on par with or, I’d argue, even better than Hasbro’s Marvel Legends, and as good as Mattel’s Movie Masters. I can even recognize a bit of Ray Park’s face under all that make-up. And while the head sculpt is good, I’m even more impressed by the realistic folds of the robes. Everything seems to “hang” just right on the figure.
Remove the cloaked head and swap on the bare on, and Maul is ready for combat. There’s actually a bit of fabric soft goods on this figure, as part of the loincloth. It’s subtle and, like Boba Fett’s cape, it doesn’t bother me all that much in this case. It’s presumably intended to allow the articulation to work better, rather than be restricted by a plastic loincloth.
One minor issue with the figure is that the boots are curved and round up at the bottom-front of the sole. This is accurate to the movie design, but makes it tricky to get Maul to stand in many poses. I ended up using an old McFarlane Toys stand with him for the action poses.
The soft, rubbery material used for the cloak and robes makes the figure feel very reminiscent of some of ToyBiz’s various Nazgûl figures from The Lord of the Rings.
There aren’t a lot of paint apps here, but the head is obviously one of the most complicated paint applications on any Star Wars Black figure. And here’s the thing – they hit a home run on the tattoos (well, maybe a triple), but then they whiffed on the horns! On nearly every Maul I’ve seen, the yellow paint goes down less than half the length of the horn.
I love the articulation on these figures. Maul has a ball-jointed neck, ball-jointed shoulders, ball-jointed elbows, swivel-hinge wrists, ball-jointed hips, a ball-jointed torso, double-hinged knees, and hinged ankles with left-right swivels. The right wrist has an up-down hinge while the left wrist has a left-right hinge, although both swivel as well. Some reviewers have disliked the chunky look of the poofy pants with the double-hinged knees, but I figure that’s the price you pay for this level of articulation.
However, it does bum me out that the poofy robes around the shoulders greatly limit the distance he can pull his arms across his chest. It means you can’t really put him in a pose with both hands on his lightsaber with the saber raised in the “about to take a swing at a pitch” position.
As with most SWB figures in this wave, Maul has some great accessories. Along with the alternate head, Maul comes with his lightsaber, which features removable translucent blades and can be pulled in two to create two separate lightsabers. There’s a peg on the lightsaber that allows it to attach to his belt. He also has a pair of electrobinoculars. The removable saber blades, while hardly a new gimmick, are very welcome.
Again, getting two separate looks with one figure is a surefire way to a great raven rating here on PGPoA. Add in a great sculpt, lots of articulation and some well-executed accessories and you’re skirting five-raven territory. Only the paint work on the horns costs him a half-raven.
One thing it’s hard to get across in these reviews is how fun these figures are to play around with. Much like the best MOTUC figures, they have that “finger food” aspect that makes an action figure great – you just can’t put them down.
For me, Darth Maul was really the only “must-have” prequel character. I’m sure I’ll cave on some future prequel characters, but I’m still a bit surprised we got such a popular character so early, and with enough accessories to negate any need for another version in the future. Hasbro really seems to be making an effort to nail this line right out of the gate.
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