Monday, November 6, 2017

Star Wars Figure of the Day: Day 2,423: Darth Vader (The Black Series, 6-Inch, Centerpiece)

 DARTH VADER with display base
The Black Series Centerpiece
Item No.:
Asst. C1503  No. C1554
Manufacturer: Hasbro
Number: n/a
Includes: Cape, lightsaber, base
Action Feature: Lights up
Retail: $49.99
Availability: September 2017
Appearances: Star Wars

Bio: Imagine Darth Vader storming aboard the Tantive IV in Star Wars: A New Hope with this Star Wars The Black Series Centerpiece Darth Vader, featuring Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber among the ruin of the besieged Rebel ship. With a premium base featuring lights that invite building out the iconic scene with more figures, vehicles, and accessories, Star Wars The Black Series Centerpiece Darth Vader truly serves as the centerpiece of any fan’s treasured display. (Stolen from Hasbro's marketing copy.  Packaging has no bio.)

Image: Adam's photo lab.

Availability: Click here to buy it at Entertainment Earth now!

Click here to buy it at Amazon now!

Commentary:  When I first saw the concepts for the Centerpiece series, my reaction was "uh oh."  On one hand, you have an update of the Unleashed series of figures - which were amazing $15 statues made by Hasbro in a fit of experimentation in 2002, and collectors initially hated them despite being pretty good at a decent price.   The line had a lot of ups and downs before basically being dead by 2015, with repacks and repaints to follow as exclusives while the line dragged along until its end around 2008 with a nifty retooled Clone Trooper.  This Darth Vader is one of two figures released so far under The Black Series banner for a whopping $49.99, powered by two "AAA" batteries for some lights.  This would have been great 10 years ago, now it's obvious that Hasbro is throwing a bunch of $50 ideas at the wall of The Black Series to see what sticks in an effort to expand the offerings without focusing on the complicated core of the basic 6-inch figure segment.  (Basically, stuff sells really well, or not at all.)   This is a well-executed, nicely-engineered, poorly-timed product.

The basic concept is admirable - this is a diorama centerpiece.  You buy it and add a couple of other figures to it, and the end result is a nifty tableaux of figures.   But, as they say, timing is everything - this Vader from the original Star Wars follows a $39.99 set with a super-articulated Vader with a diorama that holds 12 figures, and comes out at the same time as a single-boxed version of that figure.  And also a movie line, and another statue, and two  higher-dollar 6-inch vehicles.   As a 40th anniversary item in the spring, this would have been a modest hit, probably - today, it's feeling like a nifty idea that is going to get overlooked.  In September it seemed slow to sell, despite the impressive amount of deco and detail, as they piled up in big cardboard displays at Walmarts across the country.  They seemed to sell elsewhere, though, and the true test is going to be if they're $30 on Amazon before Christmas.

Some assembly is required, and it's a decent fit.  Getting the door placed right was tricky, and the batteries should probably be inserted prior to assembly - I see this as a bad move, mostly because  long-term fans will no doubt leave batteries in for years and not necessarily remember to replace them or remove them, so even though you get an awesome "the door was cut open" glowing effect you may want to leave them out after seeing it once or twice.    I'd almost rather it be a USB-powered base (two batteries? In 2017?), and maybe even bundled with a figure rather than a non-articulated statue.  Since Gentle Giant, Sideshow, Kotobukiya, and others are all competing in the statue space I doubt fans are going to be super pumped to spend $50 on something that was $15-$20 during the prequel trilogy with added lights and a nicer box.

The figure itself is decent, with the Dark Lord of the Sith carved in multiple pieces.  His outer cape, his inner skirt cape, his helmet, his legs and lower waist, and his arms and upper torso.   They fit together more or less well, with a lightsaber blade plugging in the hilt embedded in his fist.  The figure looks about as good as the old Unleashed guys, in that there is detail but not an abundance of it.   I looked at my older Unleashed Darth Vaders and this is comparable in wrinkles in fabric, glove detail, and paint.  I like that the chin is silver to give it some more definition, but does it make it a better item?   This figure exists in a strange valley between being too much and not enough figure - its massive footprint gives it the "value," while coming in a fancy box that makes it look like it might be worth the price.  But it's not - if it could talk, or if Vader's weapon lit up, or even if it used the Force Link for power, I would probably heartily recommend this item to you.  If you're not a hardcore collector and just want a nice figure for your desk, I'll recommend it to you - it's a great one-off.  Long-term collectors and people who have plenty of Vaders in this size, it's another one and you know what to expect.  It's nice.  It's not bad.  It's just not $50 worth of impressive, despite gorgeous painting in the fallen door department and the brilliance of a glowing red-hot cut-out door frame.

Where the figure works well is its expandable nature.  Under the base are six foot pegs, and they fit in there tight.  You can pop them out - provided they don't launch across your house and under furniture like a rocket - but you can use them to add Stormtroopers or other figures to the base.   It's handy and a good idea, but it also results in some rather unsightly holes in the floor.  I like  how Hasbro is thinking, though, because Ultarama used the same concept decades ago and I still love that thing.

I wrote this in September and had to rewrite this ending part, because I was writing about how there were plans for the future of this line.  But here's the thing - Walmarts got them in droves, and sold them in drips.   They were marked down at most Arizona Walmarts to the tune of $24-$25 around the start of October, and I have no doubt this is because someone looked at the weekly sales numbers and said "nope, we need the space for pickle jars and pre-assembled bicycles for Christmas."   This would've been cool at a lower price, but for 2x-2.5x a super-articulated figure?  It's a nice base, but it's difficult to argue with the shifting sands of retail pricing.   While I love a good deal, I kind of despise a brand-new product being slashed in price this quickly - not on its own merits, but because it will likely doom the product at other stores and kill what future this line had.  Granted, I'd rather see Hasbro try those resources on other products.  Statues aren't a big box store product.

Collector's Notes: I got mine from Entertainment Earth.

--Adam Pawlus

Day 2,423: November 6, 2017

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