So, yeah, I collect action figures. There I said it. I like toys and at the risk of chasing off attractive women, I will just let it sit there. The design and engineering of toys fascinates me and it’s a fountain of innovative design from conception to manufacturing to packaging to marketing. There is a lot to making something that most treat completely trivially, but it blows my mind how much detail they put into a toy like this
I purchased this week while buying my son’s birthday gifts (which by the way, he wanted video games which I find to be less fun but hey, his choice not mine.)
Conceptually, if you are not a Star Wars fan or toy fan, you will likely think this figure is a little weird, “Why does he look like that? What is with his legs?” Okay, noob, lemme lay this on ya…
Darth Maul is a great metaphor for the Prequels, he was one of the most iconic images for the marketing of the Phantom Menace, had everyone excited for the new movies and really popped when that first trailer came out in… 1998… Sorry, forgot, I am old…
Anyhow, so yeah, he was front n’ centre and seemed like he would be an awesome villain that was different from Darth Vader but still really striking and menacing. Then, the movie came and, well, he turned out to be half as cool as we thought he would be.. and yes, that was a spoiler-joke.
So, as time moved on, the EU and now the tremendous animated series the Clone Wars, which my sons and I watch voraciously, have been working hard to redeem the foolish mistake to waste Maul in Phantom Menace. The character was replaced in the subsequent movies with awesome but very old Christopher Lee and a four armed robot with Black Lung which are fine in their own right and design but Maul deserved much more and has never got to live up the hype and potential that we all felt going in.
So why the mechanical grass hopper legs? This design was originally sourced from conceptual designs and a short story from a graphic novel of EU stories called Star Wars: Visionaries. Expanded upon from these ideas, the Clone Wars series has managed to take this idea and have resurrected Maul and progressed him in the show. This expansion of his is actually pretty awesome and the toy is pretty fun representation of even if its physical design isn’t as strong as it could of been, its pretty close to the show and source material.
Resurrected from exile and brought back into action by his brother Savage Oppress (yes, it’s a long story) and given power and then moulded into this current incarnation by Mother Talzin (another one I am going to just leave for you to look into for yourself) this Darth Maul is bent on vengeance against Obi-Wan Kenobi and is raging to do it.
So that give you a little character background… Now the toy.
This is actually a repack of the figure from the his first exclusive debut last year. This figure was put out last year in a three pack with his buddies I mentioned above. The set was exclusive to Target stores in the states and part of the way this figure even exists is because they could reduce the production run, get an exclusive partner to release it and sell it packaged with a repack and an old figure they already had designed but not yet released. The bane of collectors is exclusives, especially when are released to stores in other countries. So I was glad they rereleased it.
The design is meant to replicate how he looks in the animated Clone Wars series. The show started with the concept that the character are digital marionettes a la the Thunderbirds but has progressed and while still stylized, the show now has a lot going in visually and is full of distinct new designs that feel very Star Wars and also manages to drop nostalgia all over the place from to cues to little Easter eggs for the keenly observant fan. So Darth Maul here looks smooth and streamlined and blends well into the animated universe.
He is likely one of the last figures that will be designed in this style as Hasbro is discontinuing the animated styled figures as the show is less popular now in ratings. This is really frustrated as the boys love them and while it took me a while to get used to designs, they have grown on me. In fact as the show has progressed, now they are so many characters I would love them to make… Sigh.
As this sub-line of figures has waned after going strong for a few years, the articulation of the figures has started to shrink as well. The more articulation an action figure has, the more complicated to manufacture and the higher costs it takes which must be passed on to the buyer, which explains why something that costed by $3 as a kid now costs $11. There are other factors in rising cost from increase in material costs to the rising price of labour in the places the toys are manufactured.
The future of combating cost is being addressed with new Star Wars toys later this year. Going forward by looking back, neutral posed figures with 5 points of articulation like they were when I was a wee and for the price range of 6-7 dollars will be produced for kids. At the same time are developing a new scale of figures to appease collectors with a high price point for adults.
These rising costs of the materials mean sacrifices have to made and while this figure could of used a waist joint and some improved articulation in the legs and wrists, it still can be posed and played with in a multitude of positions. Its a little tough to get him to balance and can’t really effectively use a stand but, I have managed to get him to stand more often than not. Hey, it’s pretty good.
So Maul comes with two light sabres that can be formed into one double edged one and a weird little energy blast thing that you can attach the blades to and spin them, which i suppose is there to be an action gimmick to increase play value… It’s not for me but there it is. I find it fu not play with on its own but I am easily amused sometimes but I think it looks silly with the figure.
The packaging here should be noted. So check this out, every year for years now they have changed the packaging os Star Wars figures up to keep the line fresh and to unify the brand with a theme. Months of planning and design are laid out and Hasbro hires designers to complete a new look to the packaging…
This year, there was to be a 3-D release of Attack of the Clones but you might of heard that some things about Star Wars have been let’s say shook up this year… So this packaging even before it was released has been rendered useless as they have delayed the prequel rerelease of AOTC indefinitely and now LucasFilm is owned by Disney and they are putting energy into new movies.
Also last year the rerelease of the Phantom Menace wasn’t the shot in the arm of energy that Star Wars and the ratings of the Clones Wars is fading after five seasons and is no longer going to be on the Cartoon Network (although it should be noted that the Clones Wars is an incredible animated kids show, has lasted twice the length of most kids series, is still being made and likely will still continue for another season and that isn’t just me wanting it to.)
So in a bit of retail turn-about, usually I am lusting over exclusives sold in the States only but turns out, in this case CANADA WINS! See these figures because of the suspension of the 3-D re-release, the waning of the Clone Wars ratings and a desire to change focus of the line, Darth Maul, the Clone Wars and this packaging are only going to be released in Canada and Europe. Strange but with the marketing of Star Wars now moving toward the future and no 3D rerelease, it becomes a neat little side-note to the collecting of this guy.
I was psyched to see him at all and I am happy to add him to my collection for all the reasons mentioned above but mostly, I just frankly love Star Wars and while most just see the toy, I see so much more. Next time you pick up an action figure, think about it, such a small thing, and think about all the thought, process and engineering that goes into such a little thing… Then just start playing with it!