Monthly Archives: December 2015

Knock-Off Darth Vader Action Figures!

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See, now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us, people are out trying to grab the best gifts at the lowest prices, often in as violent a way as possible. ‘Tis the season for bloody carnage? But, while everyone was out participating in that annual bit of madness on Black Friday, little did they realize that I and I alone held the secret to seasonal success. All it took was a trip to Marc’s for me to discover that the must-have, feel-good hit of the holiday season was hiding in plain sight, and at the low, low price of $1.99 to boot.

So, looking for a Christmas gift? Got someone on your shopping list that’s rabidly anticipating the new Star Wars movie? Well, while y’all was out stomping on faces just to get the official tie-in toys that are beginning to litter the shelves, I knew, knew, where the real cool winnins were to be found. Ja-Ru, maker of novelty toys far and wide, have released the best Star Wars toy out there, and it’s not even officially Star Wars! Behold: it’s the incredible “Space Robot,” who really, really wants to be Darth Vader, but just isn’t.

Yeah, yeah, I know, action figures really don’t fit with the usual theme of this blog. That is, I don’t usually look at toys here. And truth be told, I’m really not that big of a toy guy; sure, I flipped over the Adam West Batman action figure line, and if I come across a cool old toy cheap at a thrift store or something, I’ll pick it up, but those are exceptions to the rule.

All that said, with the Christmas shopping season now in full-swing and excitement for the new Star Wars movie reaching a veritable fever pitch, when I happened upon these figures, a post just seemed so…right. I may not be a full-fledged, genuine toy guy, but I’m also the first to admit that I’m a total sucker for cheapo knock-off toys, bootleg toys, and things of that nature. No kidding, my eyes practically glaze over at the sight of the new, official Star Wars figures and whatnot, and yet, I couldn’t resist this incredible Space Robot in all his almost-but-not-quite Darth Vader glory.

To put it succinctly, I just found the thing really, really cool. Why? Knock-off.

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To be clear, this isn’t a pirate figure (“we know it’s not a pirate, it says ‘robot’ right on it HAW HAW HAW!”), and though a case could be made, I wouldn’t say it’s quite a bootleg figure, either; to me, it resides safely in the knock-off family. That is, it’s clearly aping a real, popular character/property/whatever, but it’s just ‘off’ enough to avoid lawsuits whilst maintaining an open presence on store shelves, albeit the cheapie toy sections. Though, I guess that description kinda applies to some full-fledged bootlegs too, huh? Still, this ain’t exactly Robert Cop, which is why I’m sticking with “knock-off.”

Things like this pop up every time a super big time movie not unlike Star Wars is coming down the pipeline. Everybody, everybody tries to get in on the gravy train, and when it comes to space, robots and the like, that stuff never really goes out of vogue. I have little doubt the recent appearance of these figures is completely because of the imminent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll immediately disappear once the fervor cools down, either.

Still, you’d be well-advised to go and pick yourself up one of these right quick.

To be fair, Ja-Ru isn’t the first company to release these figures; they’ve been floating around the budget toy-circuit for some time now, having been (as near as I can tell) released by a variety of companies under a variety of names. Ja-Ru’s offering is merely the latest (?) in that proud (??) tradition. Where and when this thing first appeared in the world I couldn’t say, but this is certainly the first in-person, local sighting I’ve come across, so hey, they’re new to me.

And look at that package! Even if this wasn’t fake Darth Vader, that’s an eye-catching card. I’m not sure I’d plunk down $2 for it if it wasn’t Darth Vader’s illegitimate brother, but I’d certainly consider it. For a few seconds, anyway.

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Mild surprise: there’s actually graphics on the back of the card. Plain backs are a common thing with budget toys such as this, so yeah, mild surprise.

If somehow someone didn’t notice this figure was supposed to be Darth Vader, the back of the card will solve that. The image of fake Darth Vader holding a fake lightsaber totally drives the point home.

The directions are both helpful and insulting. Pull the tab on the back? Helpful. Pay attention to the sights and sounds the thing makes? Insulting. Wait a minute, you mean I’m not supposed to push the button on his chest and then run and hide so I neither see nor hear what the thing is doing? Why, I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time!

The tiny disclaimer under the directions is absolutely needed though, if only as a legal precaution: the lights, specifically the light that emits from the lightsaber sword slot is really bright!

Space Robot Darth Vader guy comes in both black and white iterations. The black one is obviously the chaser since it’s just that much closer to the real Darth, but I couldn’t resist getting both varieties. At only $2 a pop, I just may buy enough to re-upholster my bathroom!

Wait, re-upholster my bathroom? Hey buddy, that make no sense!

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There’s the fella himself. No doubt about it, Darth Vader was the template. Okay, the body, it’s only vaguely Darth Vader-ish; sure there’s an electronic panel of some sort on his chest, though it doesn’t really resemble the real Darth Vader’s all that closely. Without the fake lightsaber in hand and looking only at his body, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is indeed a common, garden-variety Space Robot as promised on the package before going on your merry way.

It’s all about his helmet, man. Whoever originally manufactured this took the time to model Darth’s helmet and mouthpiece (???) on the figure, albeit loose approximations of such; knock-off and all. Space Robot’s head leaves little doubt as to who this is really supposed to be, and when the fake lightsaber is factored in (you’ll see that in action in just a bit), the connection just becomes all the stronger.

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Made in China? Gee, you don’t say!

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The build of these guys is, well, you get what you pay for, okay? I’d like to say the joints are loose after only a little bit of demonstration, but even that wouldn’t be true; these things are, literally, loose right out of the package. Not all of the joints, mostly just the legs, but the result is that black Darth Vader Space Robot can barely stand under his own weight no matter how much re-positioning and/or pouting you perform.

Plus, they’re made of hollow plastic that feels fairly brittle. I’m relatively certain these things will last approximately 37 seconds in the hands of a destructive child. At only $1.99 a pop, you can’t really expect the most durable figures in existence, but even so, these feel exponentially fragile.

Make no mistake, that’s actually all part of the charm with these figures though; you’d never see a real Star Wars toy this cheaply made. Call it morbid fascination or something, if you will.

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They is brudders.

Side by side, there is obviously no difference between the two figs beyond the color variation. Like I said before, because he’s even more Darth Vader-ish, the black version is the one to go after. The white one, I don’t know, he’s got that whole good, “white knight” vibe about him, but in the end he just doesn’t seem as cool. Variety is the spice of life and all that jazz, but methinks if they were going to go beyond the black version, they should have a wider range of colors to choose from. A red Space Darth Robot Vader figure sounds pretty rad, maybe even a pastel blue one, too.

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Ah, but you can’t forget about the action features! If by this point you still aren’t convinced these are some mysterious manufacturer’s take on Darth Vader, once you press the chest button (after removing the tab on the back; thanks, directions!), you’re exposed to a veritable cacophony of sights and sounds.

In addition to flashing eyes and light up swords, you’re treated to a feast of, ostensibly, ‘spacey’ sounds: vaguely robot-like noises, gunfire, laser-fire, missiles, basically everything you’ve heard from every battery-powered dollar store toy ever is played, and it’s played as close to all at once as possible. And did I mention it’s all LOUD? No joke, these things are really loud!

And what’s more, the lights and eyes flash in accordance with the sounds. That is, when the sounds slow down (relatively speaking), the blinking lights do as well. When the sounds speed up, so do the lights. What technical wizardry is this?!

The removable swords don’t light up by themselves, of course. They’re made of see-through plastic, and the light instead comes from inside the figures’ hands. When the sword is placed in the appropriate slot, it illuminates accordingly. However, should you leave the sword out of the hand when pushing the action button, you’re treated to a beam that would put most flashlights to shame. It is BRIGHT. No wonder the card had to add that disclaimer! Should Space Robot ever give up his preoccupation with kinda sorta being Darth Vader, he’d make a good Rockford-esque private eye (cause it’s a flashlight, y’see).

Also, if the white Space Robot has one distinct advantage over his black counterpart, it’s that his entire head illuminates instead of only his eyes when the chest button is pressed. The benefits of this feature in battle are negligible, but it sure looks neat.

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For scale-purposes, the figures are comparable to an old-school He-Man figure, though a little taller, and a lot more streamlined. They’re also taller than a Last Action Hero Arnold figure that has been inexplicably shaved bald. So now you know.

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If you want to really keep the whole “Star Wars but not really” thing going, Space Robot is great for fighting whatever random old monster/alien toys you still have floating around your basement. In the above scene, white Darth bot fights my childhood Dissect-An-Alien, from the old Mad Scientist toy line (remember that?). Check it out: the light is so bright, it not only illuminates the Space Robot’s hand and the sword itself, but it also partially illuminates the insides of the Dissect-An-Alien. I dig it!

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No kidding, I like these things a lot. They’re just Star Wars-y enough to satisfy the megafans, but not Star Wars-y enough to give George Lucas or Disney or whoever now technically owns all this grounds for a legal battle. Had I come across a figure like this in my younger years (especially when Star Wars toys were scarce in the early-1990s), I’d have flipped over ’em. The cheap , knock-off quality of the figures, coupled with an intense nostalgia for the toys of my youth (particularly the occasionally-cool toys that could be found at dollar stores) has me way more stoked for these Space Robots than I normally would be. $3.98 (plus tax) well spent!

You know, while I’m on the subject of new Star Wars capitalizin’:

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I’m really fighting the urge to go back to Dollar General to get this Space Battle Cosmic Knight playset I spotted the other night. Hey, it’s not Star Wars, it’s Space Battle, and they’re not Jedi Knights, they’re “Cosmic Knights.” I’m not sure I want to plunk ten bucks down on a cut-rate lightsaber and a mask that appears to be mimicking one of those Tie Fighter guys, but it sure is tempting.

Maybe, should I muster the courage to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater, I could wear the mask while holding the lightsaber in one hand and a Space Robot in the other?

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