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My mother’s favorite “toy hunt” story revolves around R2D2. Back in the early 1980s, Star Wars toys were massively popular, none so much as R2D2 himself. He was funny, he was lovable, he had a great, kid-friendly design. He was almost every kid’s favorite character. (Except for that weird kid who couldn’t get enough of Amanaman. Okay fine, it was me!)
The year was 1982. I had just seen Star Wars for the first time at the Braintree drive-in that summer,¹ and I wanted nothing more than an R2D2 action figure. But the Empire Strikes Back was two years old and Kenner’s big push for Return of the Jedi was a year away, so Star Wars figures were a bit hard to come by, particularly popular characters like Artoo. My parents searched high and low for him, and one day, returning from a visit to my grandparents, they stopped at a small Child World in Quincy. There was no Artoo on the pegs, but there was one of those carriages full of returns in the aisle, and lo and behold, buried at the bottom of the carriage was none other than Artoo. My parents inform me that I danced through the aisles saying, “We found him! We found him!”
One interesting fact about Artoo-Detoo: he always has been and always will be totally awesome. He escaped the prequels smelling like a rose – arguably the only character to do so.
The vintage R2D2 I had was the one with the pop-up “sensorscope.” As much as I loved that little toy, it always bugged me he didn’t have the third leg and the feet couldn’t be moved to put him into his proper rolling posture. It would be nearly twenty years before Hasbro finally made an Artoo with both the extra leg and articulated feet.
Now, with Star Wars Black, Hasbro is attempting to give us the definitive R2D2 figure. Did they do it? No, I don’t think they did. The design team’s heart was in the right place, but the execution failed in a few ways.
As I’ve often discussed, I’m not one of those movie-accuracy nerds, so I didn’t go over this figure with a magnifying glass and compare it to photos from J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars to ensure that every vent and panel has the right proportions. (That said, given the attention to detail on the Sandtrooper, I suspect they do.) Regardless, I think the sculpt is superb. Any flaws in the figure do not come from the sculpt.
The design of the articulation and “action features” is thorough, but unnecessarily handicapped.
Artoo’s head can rotate, his legs and “ankles” are hinged, his third leg’s foot is also hinged, and he has doors on either side of his chest that open to reveal, on the right side, a “universal computer interface arm” and on the left side a “multi-function utility and interface arm” (I’m getting those names from these blueprints on Wookieepedia). The arms are very thin, and they seem a little small to me, but that was probably necessary to fit them inside the figure. There are some very small pegs inside the back of the doors, and the idea seems to be that when you open the doors, the pegs push the arms out enough so you can pull them out all the way. However, it doesn’t really work well in practice, and most of the time I find myself tipping the figure forward so that the arms swing out and then pulling them out that way.
While I love the arms, I’m a little bummed the two blue parts just below the front of Artoo’s eye don’t open to reveal more control arms (they’re referred to as “spacecraft linkage and control arms” on the aforementioned blueprints). I also wish he had his utility saw to cut through Ewok nets, but I realize I’m just being greedy. Still, all of the aforementioned parts have been implemented on 3.75″ Artoo figures, so it wouldn’t have been unprecedented.
But it’s not quite as simple as just moving the articulation around. In order to lower the central leg, you have to spin the head. When you’ve got the leg as low as it can go (or as high as it can go), Artoo’s head starts clicking, just like the other figure. But when the leg is lowered as far as it can go, it’s too far forward, causing Artoo to lean too far back. This means you have to rewind the head to find the “sweet spot” where Artoo’s pose actually looks normal. (In the above photo, the leg is fully extended, which means Artoo is leaning at too much of an angle.)
Of course, when you’ve got the leg in the sweet spot, it’s entirely possible Artoo’s eye will be facing backwards. And so what you have to do is wind the leg all the way up or down, click the head a few spots, and then unwind it until you hit the sweet spot again and hope that this time the eye will be facing forward. It’s going to take you a few tries to get both the sweet spot and the eye facing forward.
I don’t understand why Hasbro designed the figure like this. Other 3.75″ Artoo figures had a middle leg that that either slid out from inside the figure, or was removable. The vintage Artoo had a clicky head, so I’m fine with including that feature, but why the “winding leg” function? It’s neither nostalgic nor functional; it’s just annoying. And even that would have been tolerable if the leg didn’t come out too far. It’s a feature with no in-universe nor nostalgic basis that unnecessarily complicates the toy.
And the thing is, nothing I’ve discussed so far really bothers me all that much. I like the arms and I can deal with having to mess around to get the foot right. The real problem is the paint.
As soon as the production version was revealed, this image went around the Web:
The difference is obvious: the prototype had excellent detailing that was completely abandoned for the production figure. I have no idea why, but I would assume it was for cost reasons. Unfortunately, it really hurts the look of the figure. Even when cleaned up (which he rarely is), Artoo’s panels have at least a slight dark outline so they show up. Without any sort of detailing or wash, all the lovely detail work gets completely washed out.
Furthermore, what paint there is has been applied sloppily. While the other Star Wars Black figures from the first series have fairly consistent paint work, the Artoos are all over the map, and it’s virtually impossible to find a perfect one. On some, the six vents on the front are half-painted or barely have any blue; on others, the blue on the two long parts just below the head are uneven. And for the most part, the paint work on the head is entirely hit-or-miss.
I know some collectors were disappointed the head isn’t chromed like the vintage figure. That doesn’t bother me; the silver used here is more film-accurate. But there’s no excuse for how messily the blue paint has generally been applied to the head. There are even differences in the shades of blue used, as you can see in the pic above. I’ve also seen a lot of scratches on these figures – mostly around the face, but also on the torso. My own Artoo has an ugly seam across the top of his head. For whatever reason, Artoo’s production run had some serious quality control issues.
But let’s move on to something more positive – the accessories. They’re quite interesting, actually. Most of the figures in Star Wars Black have been based quite specifically on the character’s appearance in a specific film: X-Wing pilot Luke, the sandtrooper, the stormtrooper, Greedo, and Han Solo from Star Wars; Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace; Ben Kenobi and Anakin from Revenge of the Sith; Bespin Luke from The Empire Strikes Back; and Slave Leia from Return of the Jedi. While all of these characters appeared in multiple films (well, except for Darth “Halfsies” Maul), they all come with a sculpt and design that’s quite specific to those films.
Not so R2D2. His design didn’t change much throughout all six films, it’s true. But his accessories come from an assortment of films. The two control arms, which aren’t really accessories, appear in almost all of the films. But the periscope/”sensorscope” (i.e., “extendable auxiliary visual imaging system” and the radar/scanner (“life form scanner”) originated in The Empire Strikes Back, while Luke’s lightsaber is from Return of the Jedi. It’s neat that they included Luke’s lightsaber, but again, this seems like something of a missed opportunity; rather than the extending leg feature, it would have been great to get a spring-loaded lightsaber (which, again, has been done on 3.75″ figures). Finally, the “Brooks propulsion booster turbines” (does anything in the Star Wars universe not have a name?) come from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
To use the gadgets, you remove the blue panels in the head and then insert the peg on the gadget into a hole in the head. In The Empire Strikes Back, the panel opened on a hinge to allow the scanner to come up, whereas in Return of the Jedi, the panel for the lightsaber retracted out of sight (most likely because if it had opened on a hinge, the panel would have blocked the camera’s view of the lightsaber). Did I say I wasn’t one of those movie-accuracy geeks? Anyway, this is clearly nitpicking, but a hinged panel was probably unfeasible because the hinge would have been too small and weak.
The rockets can be swapped out for the normal blue panels on Artoo’s legs (good lord, they have a name on those blueprints! “hydraulic arm shafts”).
And so, while every other SWB figure so far is episode-specific, there seems to have been an effort to load up Artoo with his most memorable gear from all the films. All the parts are fabricated well, for the most part, and feature multiple paint apps. My only real complaint is that the lightsaber hilt tends to be bent with most examples I’ve seen.
Star Wars Black R2D2 is a very mixed bag. On the one hand, he’s got a great sculpt, he’s loaded with accessories and articulation, and has the cool control arms. On the other hand, the “action feature” that controls the third leg is annoying and unnecessary, there are tons of quality control issues with paint inconsistency and scratches, and the lack of detailing on the panels really hurts the look of the figure. There have been 3.75″ figures that were at least as good as this one in every respect except sculpt. And so what should have been an easy home run turns into a bloop single.
I’m glad I own this figure. Despite his flaws I like him quite a bit – he’s fun to fiddle with in-hand – and I’m far too concerned Hasbro will never make another one to skip him now. But if Star Wars Black has a fairly long and successful run, I think Hasbro will to have to revisit this figure.
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¹ Some Internet research suggests it was likely part of a double bill with Robert Altman’s Popeye, starring Robin Williams. I don’t remember seeing that. It’s possible William’s gigantic, hirsute forearms terrified me so much I repressed the memory.