Darth Tater

Darth Vader. There was once a time when this name was feared through out the galaxy, or at least down at the local Pinball Pete's. Here was a classically evil villain, who had all the right ingredients to be a complex, interesting big bad.

Somewhere along the line, all that changed. Who was once right up there with Freddy and Jason soon became an amusing joke. Just how far has the mighty fallen? He's now a version of Mister Potato Head, just right for your average 2 year old to play with.

That's not all that bad though, and small children need their villains too. But before we get to discussing the pros and cons of the new Darth Tater from Hasbro, let's talk about our good friend Mr. Vader for just a sec.

The first three Star Wars films were excellent movies (with the occasional furry warts) that broke new ground, and came at a perfect time in history. They became icons, a symbol of a generation, as rightfully they should have.

These first three films were about many things, but one of the central themes was Luke Skywalker, and his journey from child to Jedi Master. The second set of three films are also centered around the journey of one man, but this time he goes from good to bad, hero to villain. And while the journey of a hero always makes for a good story, the descent of a villain can make for a truly great one.

The first two films have been less than stellar. Oh, they've been passable big budget entertainment, but so are a half dozen other films every year. There's been nothing earth shattering, nothing ground breaking, and nothing that would win the hearts of a new generation. Maybe the third film will turn that all around, and maybe it will be more than an echo of the first trilogy. But I wouldn't be betting my life savings on it.

Vader could have been a fascinating, deeply complex character, whose past was an intricate web of emotion and reaction to unique events. All the elements are there - once a great man, now the greatest evil in the universe, he turned his back on all that loved him and destroyed them in his hate. He could have been truly fascinating, if his back story was being written by the folks doing Lost. In one hour they give us complex and interesting people, flawed yet somehow like us. But that's not what we'll be getting with the final film, I fear. No, we have George telling this story, and once our second story arc is complete, I'm betting Vader will be your basic, two dimensional and oh so obvious villain, a whiny brat who fears death and feels somehow entitled, someone you might pity but not connect with, someone whose motivations and emotions are about as deep as my kid's wading pool.

So perhaps it's terribly fitting that one of the most talked about Star Wars toys so far this year is Darth Tater, a Mister Potato Head with a thing for black. Only time will tell if Darth Vader deserves better, or if Mr. Potato Head does.

Packaging - ***1/2
Mr. Potato Head packaging is actually very collector friendly. Not because they are trying to make collectors happy, but because they try to make parents happy. PH and all his goodies are designed to fit back into the very sturdy plastic and cardboard box with the nifty handle for easy storage and transportation. That works out great for parents, and it works out for collectors too.

Not that there are a lot of Mr. Potato Head collectors, but I suspect Darth will be bringing in a few.

Sculpting - ***1/2
If you're looking for a highly detailed, accurate representation of Darth Vader, perfect for collectors to impress their friends, that might even be worth more in the future, go check out the Sideshow 1/4 scale Vader or the Medicom version of Vader. Don't look here.

There's no detailed sculpting, no excruciating exactness. What is here is a perfect marriage between the silly, fun style of Mr. Potato Head and basic designs of Vader's appearance. And that's not nearly as easy or simple to pull off as you might assume.

The costume is made up of his helmet, face mask, black booted feet, cape, and arms. The arms are designed to appear as they do in the suit and gloves, with a light saber permanently affixed in the right hand.

They pull off the look with these basic pieces, and I really like how the eyes are separate from the mask itself, allowing you to use eyes from other sets for other looks. You can also mix and match many of the included pieces with other silly pieces, further humiliating Vader.

This set doesn't come with a ton of extras though. Other than those basic Vader pieces, he has a pair of ears, a smiling mouth, a tongue mouth, and the basic big red nose.

The cape fits on the arms surprisingly well, with very little slop or play, and looks terrific. The arms, helmet, boots and mask all work together to scream "Darth" without the need for excessive detail. I do wish that the light saber had been seperate from the right hand, but that's my only fairly minor nit to pick. 

Paint - ***
The paint ops are very basic and simple. Most of the pieces are cast in the actual color, but there are some paints applied.

There is some variation between the finish and style of the black on various parts like the arms and helmet. And the general appearance of both the colors and the quality is in line with the usual mass market work. This isn't a super special and expensive figure from a small, specialty market company - it's a very mass produced toy for kids. Go in knowing that, and you won't be disappointed.

Quality - ***
Just like the paint/color category, the general quality of the toy is fairly standard for the mass market. The parts fit together tightly without being restrictive, and most kids who are 3 - 5 will have very little trouble with him.

The one spot that might be an issue is the cape. The cape has two holes in either corner, so that the arm pegs can fit through and hold the cape to the body. It works well in general, but I suspect that over time (and not all that long), many kids will tear these holes out.

Fun Factor - ****
While it might not have the highest quality paint or construction, it does do exactly what it sets out to do - be a tremendously fun toy for kids. They can use their imaginations, and do all kinds of goofy looks for Darth Tater. The ability to use this set with other sets and parts is a big plus, and improves the fun and the value.

Value - ***
You can expect to pay around $8 for him at most retailers. With several extra parts, and his very specifically designed and molded Vader parts, that's not a bad price at all. You won't feel like you've gotten something for nothing, but you'll certainly feel like it's a better than average value, especially if you've gotten used to paying $10 - $15 each for less complex action figures.

Overall - ***1/2
This is a nifty little idea that worked really well both on paper, and in execution. It should get a lot of press for both Mr. Potato Head and Star Wars, and it's not simply a gimmick - it's a fun toy. Both my 4 year old girl and boy had a great time playing with him, so he crosses genders well, and you can add in more parts from your other Potato Head sets.

You might notice I left out the 'articulation' category this time. It doesn't make sense for a toy like this, and doesn't really factor into your decision.

Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpt - ***1/2
Paint - ***
Quality - ***
Fun Factor - ****
Value - ***
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy - 
Toys R Us, Target and Wal-mart are all getting them in, but there are online options as well:

- Entertainment Earth has him in stock and ready to ship for $10. They are hot right now though, so they might not last long!

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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