NOTE: A few extra goofing around photos added to posts 11 and 15 below.
Following upon its recent releases of Luke Skywalker and the Imperial Royal Guard (see HERE) from Return of the Jedi, Hot Toys has now provided Emperor Palpatine to go with them. The galactic emperor comes in two versions, regular (MMS467) and deluxe (MMS468); it is the latter version that I am reviewing here. The difference consists of the larger box and two accessories: the emperor's throne and Luke's un-ignited lightsaber, which come exclusively with the deluxe version.
If you are a hardcore Star Wars fan, it is likely enough that the supreme antagonist of the Original Trilogy would be on your shopping list. Sideshow produced what was a very respectable version at the time, but improved standards and the superior detail and quality of Hot Toys made me break my usual rule of not upgrading and go for this; besides, I did not have Sideshow's throne, which had become rare and expensive, as well as cumbersome and brittle (polystone). So I gave my Sideshow emperor to a friend and lightened my wallet.
I am divided on the character, although he was played masterfully by Ian McDiarmid (all the more so in the otherwise fairly abysmal Prequel Trilogy, which I cannot bring myself to consider canonical). The emperor's character, importance, and even name changed over time as drafts of what became Star Wars progressed. At one time he was the puppet of corrupt politicians instead of a force user; early versions of his name included "Ford Xerxes XII" (1973), "Alexander Xerxes XII, Emperor of Decarte," "Cos Das-hit (sic!), Lord of Alderaan, Consul to the Supreme Tribunal, ruler of the Galactic Empire" (Rough Draft, May 1974), "Son Hhat, a Hhut (Hutt!), Lord of Granicus, Consul to the Supreme Tribunal, ruler of the Galactic Kingdom" (First Draft, July 1974), and was given the name Palpatine, sounding palpably Palatine or palatial or portentiously pulsating only in the first novelization of Star Wars from 1976. You can find more on his evolution into the emperor we know from the Original Trilogy (and beyond -- I will not address the Sidious or, worse, Sheev silliness) HERE.
Lucas did plenty right (at first), dropping overly obvious parallels to ancient or modern leaders, making him a mysterious mastermind, keeping the emperor out of the original film, confining him to a short conversation via hologram in the second installment (until he revisited this and pointlessly extended said conversation later), and presenting him as a relatively diminutive and understated ascetic old man in the third. But then he was also portrayed as a cartoonishly simplistic villain who demanded needless sacrifices for an artsy and ultimately unsuccessful strategy, cackled fiendishly, and thought it a good idea to win their hearts and minds by pitting father and son against each other and demanding that they fight to the death (not to mention that arguably these were, at least in a sense, his own son and grandson). How do you reconcile that with the apparent ability to take over the known universe and bring peace and prosperity with the minor exception of a determined small band of hypocritical and dogmatic terrorists? Perhaps one needs to make recourse to senility... One of the tragedies of the Star Wars saga is that its sophisticated visual appearance does not match its childish simplicity and that if fans grow up and choose to analyze it at any depth, they find it wanting; if they don't, perhaps the stylized and misleading dichotomy of the Star Wars universe has sunk in too deep. But we love it anyway and at any rate let's not diverge too far; let's focus on the product at hand.
Packaging: 4/4 stars
The emperor arrives in a large box measuring approximately 8 by 14 by 16 inches. There is a slip on cover with a frontal image of the enthroned emperor, the Star Wars logo, and the product name and number on the front, and credits on the back. Within lies the box proper, with a large see-through cover on the front and the emperor risen from his throne and about to unleash his force lighting, seemingly in the process of saying "So be it, Jedi..." on the back. Inside the box there are two plastic treys, each with its own see-through plastic lid. The top one holds the action figure, the extra hands, and the hand-held accessories, while the bottom one contains the two-part throne, action figure stand, and a couple more accessories. Nothing terribly exciting in the design and decoration of the box, but it is done perfectly well, and everything within it is perfectly safe and perfectly collector-friendly.
Sculpting: 3.5/4 stars
I think Hot Toys did an excellent job reproducing one of the facial expressions of the emperor from the film. When I saw the toothy grin on the prototype advertised what seems like many years ago, I was dubious; but the product looks great. The look they chose is one of a sinister grin, looking amused, yet creepy and threatening at the same time. Do keep in mind that it is difficult to capture the quality of the sculpt with justice in photographs, and even more difficult to recreate the exact look from the screen, which has benefited from professional lighting and manipulation in post-production (most infamously the "emperor's slug(s)," though I just spotted a rectangular band of light on the face, produced either by an actual spot light or mirror or in editing); even with two poseable spot lights I was often unable to replicate the right shadows.
If there is any decline in quality from the prototype used for the promotional images, I do not know whether it is owing to a slightly softer sculpt or to a lighter wash used in the paint (I am going to assume the former, but could be wrong -- I am taking off the relevant half point here). The sculpt of the hairs on the head (which we do not see in the film) is perhaps just a little softer than it could have been, given Hot Toys' achievements in that respect. At any rate, the detail is there, and while it is difficult to give it justice in the photos (and angle and lighting play a role), this is certainly the best sixth-scale iteration of the emperor so far. If it leaves anything to be desired, that goes beyond the scope of any figure sporting a single head sculpt: the emperor made a great many different facial expressions in the film, and we get only one: the toothy grin. It would have been nice to see at least a dissatisfied expression(if not a furious one) and a sarcastic mock-commiseration expression. If anything, a neutral head would have been advisable. Generally, that might be too much to ask for, but this is a deluxe product after all. Despite being a short guy who spent a lot of his time seated, the emperor did manage to look down on people (especially Luke) in a number of scenes; looking down in particular is rather difficult to convey with the present head sculpt, no matter how good it looks otherwise.
The tiny details are carried over to the hand sculpts, and the elaborate clasp on the front of the emperor's cloak, while the non-organic pieces (the lightsaber and throne) look machine-like and ever-so-slightly used. The emperor stands almost 11 inches (28 cm) tall.
Paint: 4/4 stars
Hot Toys is known for its excellent quality paint application, and the present figure is no exception. There are no oversight problems here. It is possible that the promotional prototype had a more delicate wash that intensified the numerous wrinkles on the skin (but I have assumed it is a question of the sculpt above); this seems more subtle and less effective here, although the detail is still minute and impressive. I also wonder if perhaps the color chosen for the eyes is not a tad dark (but I realize it would have been very difficult to reproduce the almost glowing eyes we see in the film). As in the film, one of the eyes appears to be ever so slightly "lazy." The area around the eyes is painted a little darker, which works great for some scenes; in others, they appear to have been artificially lightened in the film's post production, and you cannot replicate that with the figure, except perhaps by editing the photos. The paint application is consistent with whatever is appropriate: glossy eyes and clasp, slightly less glossy teeth, matte metal for the throne, dull pale skin, etc. The crooked wooden cane is perhaps too shiny, although I do not know it for a fact that this is wrong.
Articulation: 3.5/4 stars
Generally speaking, the articulation of the figure is excellent. It is possible that the typical Hot Toys undersuit (padding) gets a little bit in the way, but not much. The one really disappointing thing about the articulation is the one-piece neck and head. I understand why they went this way (and there seems to be a pattern in this to their recent figures, including Luke), especially given the emperor's wrinkled neck, but it keeps the figure from replicating the character's head gestures to a more significant degree than I expected. I believe a less restrictive design might have allowed even a one-piece neck and head to work better. Apart from this the figure can perform the other movements of the character from the film.
Accessories: 3/4 stars
By far and away the most impressive accessory is the throne exclusive to the deluxe version of the figure. The throne is constructed of two pieces, the base and the seat proper. The latter fits onto the former, and can rotate around its axis. For its light feature, see below. The overall look and size of the throne appears great, but unless I am missing something, either the throne is not exactly right in terms of size or proportion (is the seat too high and the ceiling too low?) or the figure is just a little too tall or inflexible to comfortably fit on it with sufficient overhead room to match the appearance in the film. If you try to have the emperor sit up to lecture Luke, he will have to either hit or clear the throne's ceiling; also, if you have him lean back into the seat (as he does in the film), it is pretty difficult to have his feet reach the floor. Nevertheless, I should stress that if there is anything off here, it is very minor; additional futzing and patience may yield even better results.
Apart from the throne, the accessories include additional hand sculpts (for a total of six), the twisted cane, Luke's un-ignited lightsaber, and two sculpted bolts of force lighting. There are also a couple of spare wrist pegs (not shown) and an instruction leaflet (likewise). Finally, there is an action figure stand with interchangeable Death Star flooring: the sculpted top of the stand and a removable sand-paper-like sheet with imprinted floor pattern at an angle; the figure stands quite well without the stand. The selection of accessories is comprehensive for the character. If there is any room for improvement, it would have been to add an extra hand sculpt or two. The ones we get on the figure in the box are the semi-relaxed/semi-closed hands that the character has while seated on the throne or walking around the throne room; the right one is also recommended to be used with the cane, but does not work very well for that purpose. There are left and right hands with fairly outstretched fingers to attach the sculpted force lighting, and there are two variably semi-closed right hands with partly extended index finger. It would have been nice to get a left pointing hand (the emperor uses that at least twice on screen) and a proper right hand to hold the cane (though one of the extended index-finger hands works better for that than the hand recommended in the instructions). The sculpted force lighting looks and works remarkably well. It attaches better to the left hand than the right, but if the light hits it (and especially in front of a darker background) it captures it and looks just right, shining and translucent at once.
Light Feature: 4/4 stars
The actual light feature that comes with this product is confined to the emperor's throne. It is simple but relatively user-friendly and perfectly effective. The underside of the seat features a compartment for the insertion of two AAA batteries (not included), and a tiny switch to turn the electrical feature on and off. For once this is very easily accessible. When it is switched on, the throne's control buttons on both sides of both arm rests become illuminated in the appropriate colors. The buttons are made of colored translucent plastic and look that way even when the light is not turned on. There is also a rectangular white light on the underside of the throne's ceiling. All lights are controlled simultaneously by the single switch on the bottom.
Outfit: 4/4 stars
The emperor's outfit from the film, however basic, is reproduced in exact and loving detail. It is, on the outside, simple enough: a flowing waffle cotton hooded robe with long draping sleeves. The texture is designed to replicate the look from the film, although I suspect it does not drape quite as readily in this scale. The bottom edge of the robe, the bottom edges of the sleeves, and the edges of the hood have thin wires allowing you to position them for a desired look. The inside of the hood is sown up in such a way that the head would not go too far in (with my figure, I actually wish they had left a little more room inside the hood so I can cast deeper shadows over the face). The shiny molded clasp has been discussed above and can be opened. Looking at the official Star Wars costume book (B. Alinger, Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, San Francisco 2014: 162) I thought the clasp had been placed wrongly (rotated by 180 degrees), but a look at on-set photos revealed that Hot Toys did it right.
Below the black waffle cotton cloak is a suede robe tied at the waist with a sash from the same material. Some of this was visible on screen in the film. Under that there are black pants and soft dull reddish-brown boots. Insofar as this can be verified, everything appears to be correct or appropriate.
Fun Factor: 4/4 stars
With so many sixth-scale (or similar) action figures from (or applicable to) Return of the Jedi already out there from Hot Toys and other brands, one should have no problems having fun reenacting the film or creating new scenes and situations with the present product, all the more so because of the throne and other appropriate accessories. Here is a little reenactment sequence from the film...
Value: 3/4 stars
Between them, Hot Toys and Lucasfilm are among the main culprits for the skyrocketing costs of sixth-scale action figures and accessories, and others have been quick to follow their lead. That said, this extensive and deluxe set is not horribly overpriced, especially by the standards they have already set. The regular version (without throne or Luke's lightsaber) retails at around $220, which is around and near the low end of other protagonist figures from this and other franchises produced by Hot Toys today. This means that if you buy the deluxe version at $315, you pay an extra $95 for the extra accessories, most notably the fully-functional light-up throne. This is certainly not exactly a bargain, but also not as horrendously expensive as it might have been, or as it might become soon enough on the secondary market. For a deluxe set by Hot Toys and licensed by Lucasfilm, the price appears fairly decent, and seemingly more so than many other recent offerings. Still, it hurts...
Things to watch out for
Darth Vader falling on his face during photography and breaking off one of the tusks on his helmet; failing to find said tusk; detaching a tusk from another ruined helmet and losing that one; having to cannibalize a third... but wait, none of that has anything to do with the product reviewed here. There really isn't much to worry about, and there aren't many small, dangerous, or easily misplaceable parts, so basic precautions should be enough. While the throne is not as brittle and delicate as polystone, I would not drop it. The hands were a bit difficult to swap, but a hair dryer should have helped and despite some impatient pulling, I still did not manage to break the wrist pegs (just in case, they included a couple of spares).
Overall: 3.67/4 stars
I am very pleased with this figure, and believe it is a better representation of the character than any that has been available in the past -- certainly in this scale. Admittedly, we are stuck with one expression for a very expressive character, but that is the worst that can be said about it. The appearance and articulation are excellent and the choice of accessories extensive and appropriate. We could have used an extra hand sculpt, and a slightly more comfortable fit on the throne, but all in all these are fairly minor disadvantages. But you can draw your own conclusions from the photos and details above (and below). What do you think?
Where to Buy:
Big Bad Toy Store $315
Or $220 (regular version)
Cotswold Collectibles $314
Timewalker Toys $220 (regular version)
#starwars #returnofthejedi #rotj #hottoys #emperor #palpatine #review #productreview #scifi #male