- OPENING REMARKS -
Looking over the previous Year in Review, I closed with the sentence "May collecting in 2012 smite 2011 most heartily in the face!" - I don't have to tell you good folks that 2012 did nothing of the sort. Had Disney not bought Lucasfilm towards the end of this year and announced new movies, there'd not have been anything Star Wars to talk about at all. Hasbro's distribution issues continued to deteriorate. The 3D cinematic release of The Phantom Menace came and went without making much of an impact. Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG - considered to be the most expensive video game ever developed - despite its decent reviews didn't end up blowing minds, instead it struggled and eventually had to add a free-to-play option to keep it from folding on itself. Lucasfilm took the controversial step of bringing Darth Maul back to life in The Clone Wars as a junk-legged loony. The new comedic Star Wars cartoon, SW: Detours, was revealed to have a disturbing aesthetic and questionable sense of humor. Hasbro ate it on their TPM-themed focus letting their TVC 2012 wave 1 linger far too long on pegs, and the company continued the downward spiral of Star Wars collecting this year by releasing fewer figures at higher prices, changing the regular vehicles line for the significantly worse, choking the life out of The Clone Wars line, and canceling products. While I don't think ending The Vintage Collection is a bad thing, I do think relegating the line to just 5 retail releases (4 of which were difficult for much of the year) and a final online-exclusive wave was a painful way to go. To call 2012 a "challenging year for Star Wars collectors" would be an understatement as it seems as if this was the year that shed off more collectors than any prior.
Yet there were some interesting events and developments in 2012 as well. Popular mobile game Angry Birds released a Star Wars title that in many ways was the most interesting game in that series, and licensees jumped on the Angry Birds Star Wars bandwagon with a deluge of products. Kotobukiya stepped up their line of Star Wars silicone ice cube trays considerably. Fans got to be put in carbonite at Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World. Hasbro finally delivered an all-new, vastly-more-accurate Speeder Bike on a clear stand, complete with an all-new Biker Scout figure, and at a price collectors could live with; and the Big H also released fan-demanded Jedi Librarian Jocasta Nu as an online exclusive after the original vendor dropped out on it. eFX showed off work on a Biker Scout helmet and a replica of Ray Park's own personal screen-used Darth Maul lightsaber hilt. Walt Disney World brought back the Build-a-Droid system in a new expression, and Hasbro announced that they would be bringing Build-a-Droid back to the mainline in 2013. Lucasfilm put spurs to the 3D releases, announcing that both remaining prequels would get released in 2013. Gentle Giant took on the Kenner Boba Fett and delivered a jumbo version of the original lost rocket-firing backpack design - a decades-old promise finally delivered. Celebration VI went off with another visit from George Lucas. And of course, the big surprise announcement late in the year that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm entirely to Disney for $4 billion, was donating the entire take to educational charity, and that Disney was going to begin production immediately on new Star Wars films.
- BEST ANIMATED 3.75" FIGURES -
Were there any new animated figures this year? Could have fooled me. Almost every new release was a Clone Trooper with a new helmet, and there weren't even exciting ones in there. I guess by default I have to give it to Darth Maul robo-legs from the Target-exclusive 3-pack because it's the only animated figure I actually bought new to 2012, and it's not even that great a figure - the legs are missing a crucial rotation joint which makes them virtually useless to pose. I'd have preferred to give it to the Nightsister from that pack, it's a better figure, but it's not screen-accurate to Clone Wars because it's actually an existing unused realistic Sith Witch figure repurposed, so I merely think of it as that instead. I forgot, I also bought the realistic animated figures - TVC Clone Wars Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka - and they're fine but not "best" in any way... can't have winners without losers, right? (Oh, that's not right? Well, here it's right because that's how it is.)
- BEST REALISTIC 3.75" FIGURES -
A tough year for this expression as there simply weren't a lot of figures, and a lot of those were good but not knockouts as quality and number of paint apps went down all while prices went up yet again. To choose from, we have 6 waves of basic Vintage Collection - most of which were exceptionally difficult to find due to TPM pegwarmers overwhelming a majority of the year and the Lost Line wave pegwarming the last quarter - as well as some scattered new entries in the Movie Heroes line and the "Discover the Force in 3D" Walmart-exclusive line. My choices for top realistic figures start with a trio of video game figures: Darth Malgus from TOR with a strong Vader vibe but a unique sculpt and paint job as well as nice soft-goods; Shae Vizla also from TOR doesn't quite have a Star Wars look, but except for a small waist has a strong sculpt and deco; and Starkiller from The Force Unleashed II with the most accurate headsculpt yet and a lot of of accessories so as to convey a 2nd outfit from the game. Also on my list, Darth Vader ANH with an updated, more screen-accurate sculpt coupled with ball-hinged hips lead to a figure that looks like a dozen prior at first blush but upon closer inspection elevates the character to modern quality; the Battle Droid makes the list by being much more screen-accurate, having better articulation, and it can fold up; the Biker Scout from the Speeder Bike set is an all-new and vastly-improved sculpt with enhanced articulation, and although it's got deco misstep at the ankles and shoulders with black hinges on white armor, it's still impressive and will be getting a mainline release next year; and finally, I'm giving the aforementioned Sith Witch figure (aka CW Nightsister) a nod here as it's a pretty accurate realistic sculpt right down to the lightsaber hilt, even if it is based on a piece of TPM concept art.
- WORST 3.75" FIGURES -
While distribution proved far and away to be the line's biggest enemy, not a lot of figures were actively bad this year on their own merits, most just suffered from mere adequacy or not living up to the higher pricetag. But how many Ep 1 Qui-Gons and Obi-Wans did Hasbro really think folks wanted? Those 2 molds ended up on pegs in 3 different lines - TVC, Discover the Force, and Movie Heroes - in overwhelming volume for each, the TVC expressions still pegwarming today nearly a year after release, and then they released even more of those characters with light-up figures in Movie Heroes! They're not terrible molds, but Hasbro way overestimated the hype which the 3D releases would bring to these characters. Discover the Force and Movie Heroes repacks took lesser molds and shoved them down our throats at higher prices, gee thanks for clogging shelves but no. TVC Nom Anor just makes my list because of his somewhat simplistic body sculpt and articulation, it doesn't look like a modern figure to me. All 21 of the MTT figures - the old re-released Ep I Obi-Wan, the 4 low-articulation Battle Droids, and the 16 little-green-army-man-style Battle Droids all serve to underwhelm such a high-priced vehicle release. The TVC Royal Guard should have been amazing, but I find this figure frustrating to no end, the robes are too big, helmet too loose, figure underneath based on a CCG likeness for the face, and the body a bland interpretation of the Crucible training outfit except not impressively. Both new Movie Heroes "battle packs in name only" where $20 got you 3 hollow, cheaply-made new-sculpt figures that clearly nobody wanted as they're still warming shelves 3 seasons later - it's not a "battle" if there's only 3 guys, that is just a scuffle. And to round it out, 1 true easy choice: Blu-Ray deleted scene TVC Lightsaber Construction Luke Skywalker - the face isn't a bad sculpt, but the hair is parted on the wrong side, the robe is a prequel Jedi-type robe instead of Luke's ROTJ cloak and is even brown instead of black, a sculpted-on belt sash too large and a removable belt that's got too many boxes so it looks wrong too.
- BEST 3.75" VEHICLE OF THE YEAR -
Almost no new vehicle releases this year, although last year's lost Mandalorian Shuttle did get a brief release through the Toys R Us Black Friday 2-pack. So the choice is between the Naboo Fighter which is virtually unseen, the Trade Federation MTT nobody wanted that dedicated its resources too heavily around a single gimmick, a number of re-releases, a few new Class-I fleet molds that didn't get much pegtime, and the single vehicle that deserves this title head and shoulders above everything else. Unveiled at Comic-Con to notable fanfare, able to hold a figure firmly in place, finely sculpted with accuracy in mind, featuring an engine bay and snap-on parts to bolster alternate display interest, an un-wilting body and a clear hovering stand, it's the TRU-exclusive Imperial Speeder Bike with Biker Scout. How could anything else but this get the best vehicle award? At the Hasbro booth at Comic-Con, designer Brian Merten let fans hold the production model he brought and reposition the included new-sculpt Biker Scout figure, encouraged fans to shake it to prove the figure would stay on no matter what, and in exchange got the most spontaneous positive comments from passers-by since Hasbro revealed the BMF in 2008.
- BEST 12"-FORMAT FIGURE -
This year had a few more clones - as jedibear pointed out - putting us into "complete" territory for ROTS Clones; the Tusken Raider; Battle Droid 2-pack; Battle Droid with STAP; IG-88; and of course, the big boy, Boba Fett. Each deserves positive marks, not a loser in the bunch, but each was also somewhat higher-priced compared to recent days so that tempers excitement and puts greater scrutiny onto each one. The Battle Droid for example is a fantastic sculpt yet somehow the backpack sits way too high, the set has no stands, and someone screwed up the scale of its gun so it doesn't fit correctly in its hand - how does that stuff happen at this level? The Tusken Raider looks pretty darn good using mixed media, yet it's quite expensive for a humanoid with so few accessories, so one notices the loose ankles and odd undersuit easily, and the Hasbro-quality material used for the outer robe (gauzy, thin, overly crinkled, translucent) plus the simplistic deco on the inner robe hold it back a little at its price. And then there's Boba Fett, a figure fans have been dying to see expressed correctly in this scale since Sideshow first got this license in 2005, and he finally shipped a few days before Comic-Con; yet he shipped with a helmet design from ROTJ instead of ESB and a color darker than the rest of his armor, as well as a boxy thick vest holding his armor plates, which set some collectors teeth on edge - all of which might have been forgivable at $90 to $125, but at a whopping $175 makes it a challenge for collectors to overlook even slight issues such as the wide stance of the crotch design; sure Fett came with a light-up carbonite chamber-inspired deluxe stand, but is that enough to justify such a large price jump? All that said, in weighing everything, Boba Fett still stands out as this year's best 12-inch figure; while true that it's not a perfect version of the ESB look of the character, it's a really darn good expression as an idealized entity. There's a sharpness to the Sideshow sculpt, a cleanness to the rangefinder's lines, more effort put into a scaled paint job, and a thoughtfulness put into the shin tools and even the non-removable helmet's liner which instantly tell an impressive tale to the naked eye. There are no other Boba Fett poseable figures at any scale that express this character even half as well.
- 2012 STAR WARS FIGURE OF THE YEAR -
At first I thought it was going to come down to Starkiller vs. Darth Malgus as both are some of the stronger figures to come out this year, yet upon reflecting on them for this article I see deco and sculpt things that keep them both from delivering that "best of the best" feeling. The next instinct is to go with the Biker Scout, but as good as it is, there's a bit of slop in every paint app I've seen so far, and those black shoulder hinges are a big problem even understanding the business decision behind the choice; the Biker Scout is a fine figure but it's more impressive as an experience with the Speeder Bike than on its own. This year there were a lot of adequate figures like that - Kithaba, the latest Sandtrooper, Nikto, Nien Nunb, Evazan, Weequay, TVC Darth Maul are all ok, but with reduced paint apps for some, reduced sculpt sharpness for others, they are not standouts, not home runs, they're fine but not "wow". When I look at 2012's collecting year, the only "wow" items are the Speeder Bike which is more about the set than the figure, and Sideshow's 12-inch Battle Droid 2-pack and Boba Fett... but I've never picked a Sideshow for figure of the year before. I know Fett has taken some licks from other Sideshow collectors for real issues; and the Battle Droids are lightweight, topple easily, and lack nuanced weathering along with the aforementioned accessory problems -- but in my eyes either could be justified here when there are no viable Hasbro choices, both look nice and deliver their Star Wars experience with sharp sculpting and expressive articulation. Ultimately, I'm giving 2012 Star Wars figure of the year to Sideshow 12-inch Boba Fett, who takes the win from the Battle Droids sheerly through coming with more stuff, more accessories means more Star Wars!
Already, Star Wars in 2013 looks like it'll be enjoying an upswing in many crucial areas, so let's see 2013 break the downward spiral and deliver a fantastic year for Star Wars across all its expressions.