Wednesday 18 September 2019

Toybox REVIEW: Star Wars Black Series Emperor Palpatine & Throne

Release Date: August 2019
RRP: $39.99/£39.99

With the Star Wars Black Series now over six years old and sculpting having come a long way since then, naturally some of the older figures in the line are beginning to show their age. One such figure is Emperor Palpatine, who was originally released all the way back in 2015 as part of the phase two "Blue label" assortment. Now with Palpatine set to make a return in some fashion in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, Hasbro have given the evil Darth Sidious in the form of a special deluxe release. The Black Series Emperor Palpatine & Throne set is again based on the character's appearance in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and is exclusive to online retailer Amazon in the US (release elsewhere varies by country).

Palpatine’s box is largely the same design as the rest of the third phase Star Wars Black Series figures, however other than obviously the size of the box there are few interesting changes made here and there. The most obvious of these is the two smaller windows to the side of the main one showing off the figure, each one showing off one of the alternate heads included in the set. Having the accessories on show in the tray is common practice, but those being sectioned off makes them feel that little bit more special. The overall design is the standard Black series layout with some nice Emperor Palpatine artwork printed on the front in the bottom corner, then repeated at a much larger size on the back alongside a short bio in different language. The spine has no specific numbering, much like the other specific-store exclusives the line has produced thus far.

Open the box up and the figure and accessories are all loaded onto a single plastic tray...or are they? Though it may look the figure is just sitting on the throne, said throne is actually on a second tray underneath the figure. A bit of a waste in plastic perhaps, but a fun packaging illusion nonetheless.

The 2019 edition of Emperor Palpatine isn't a completely new figure from the 2015 original, but there have been some notable improvements that would make it seem like it. The most obvious of these is of course the head sculpt, which now makes full use of the new facial scanning software Hasbro utilises for their Black Series releases. The second is the removal of the soft plastic skirt section of the robe in favour of a soft goods version, which gives it significantly more articulation as well as brining it in line with the rest of the figure. If you want a Palpatine that's going to look good and be remotely posable, then soft goods are the only way to go. Almost all of Palpatine's body is covered in a soft goods robe, with only his head, torso, hands and feet truly visible. The robes are made of a light yet durable material that should withstand the wear and tear of posing the figure, and the hood comes over the head far enough to give it that classic Palpatine look. It does have a tendency to spring back into place if you try to pull it down to fully reveal the face, but folding it over at the back should hold it into place. 

It's easy to forget that underneath that soft goods robe there's a fully articulated body hiding, but just because you can't see it doesn't mean that you can't make full use of it. Altogether Emperor Palpatine features a ball jointed head with swivel hinge neck, shoulders, wrists and ankles along a ball jointed torso and hips, double hinged elbows and knees and bicep/thigh swivels. That's basically standard fare for a Black Series figure, but now that he has a soft goods skirt section Palpatine can make full use of all that articulation - most importantly so he can actually sit down on the throne he's packaged with. Although the Dark Side allowed Palpatine to display some extreme bouts of athleticism in Revenge of the Sith, he isn't especially mobile in Return of the Jedi. The figure absolutely has you covered for any poses you may have in mind though, and best of all because all of the joints are covered up by the robes you can twist the limbs in a way that might not look especially natural and no one would be any the wiser.

Included with Palpatine are an additional two swappable headsculpts, letting you switch betweeen neutral, grinning and snarling expressions as you see fit. Swappable heads isn’t a particularly common occurrence in the Black Series, but with Hasbro handling it regularly in the Marvel Legends and Power Rangers Lightning Collection lines they don’t feel at all out of place here. The new facial scanning software continues to make a huge difference, with all three faces a significant improvement over the old Emperor Palpatine figure. As well as getting a much closer likeness to actor Ian McDiarmid, all the lines and wrinkles in the face have been accurately moulded and painted into the sculpt. Just one alternate head would have been spoiling us, but with these two wildly differing expressions you get the full range of Palpatine available.

Palpatine’s other accessories include his walking stick and four swappable hands - an item holding right hand, a pointing left hand and then a pair of outstretched hands with a translucent blue force lightning effect. If any accessory is a necessity with Palpatine it’s force lightning, and Hasbro have pulled off the effect of the painted hands fading out into translucent plastic really nicely here. The blue also isn’t quite as pronounced as previous attempts in other toy lines, giving it a rather striking ethereal effect. The hands are also able to comfortably hold the lightning up without the wrists giving way or the figure toppling, though how well it’ll continue to manage this over time is a different story. Compared to all that there really isn’t much to say about the walking stick - it’s just a crooked piece of black plastic. It is however just the shape it needs to be, and while it seems a bit too short it’s just the right size when you hunch Palpatine over just as he should be.

But the pièce de résistance of this set is of course the throne. Based directly on the chair Palpatine sits on in Return of the Jedi, this throne is perfectly in scale with the Black Series line and allows the Emperor to sit and watch the climactic battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Although the throne isn’t heavily detailed and had a lot of smooth surfaces, but is however detailed in all the right places and a great likeness to the film prop. The purple colouring is a lot brighter than what we originally saw on the promotional images, but it’s hard to say whether that’s inaccurate or not given how shrouded in darkness it is in the film. Despite its size and solid build the throne is actually a rather light piece - hollow feeling but in no way cheap or fragile. Sadly it cannot freely rotate like the throne can in the film, and is completely static.

The other accessories are all excellent in their own ways but it’s the inclusion of the throne that really makes this release special, as have all of the other various diorama pieces Hasbro have done in the past for the Black Series. It’s the perfect companion piece to the first release bonus Death Star diorama included with the original S.H. Figuarts Darth Vader.

With the original figure severely showing its age and Bandai Tamashii Nations dragging their heels on an S.H. Figuarts version, the Black Series Emperor Palpatine & Throne set is the six inch figure we needed right now. However even if Bandai do eventually deliver it’s hard to see how they’ll top this unless they finally show the level of dedication to soft goods as Hasbro do, because this is one figure that’s hard to see being successful without them. But on top of poseability and just generally looking great, the number of accessories thrown in make this release well worth the higher price point. No Sith Lord collection is  truly complete without the evilest of them all.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, just look at all the fun you can have putting other figures on the throne. Diorama pieces, you just can’t beat them.

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