You would think that making an action figure of the most iconic Star Wars villain would be a pretty easy task. Darth Vader wears a helmet, you don’t really have to sculpt a human likeness, all you need is access to helmet replicas (or access to the Lucasfilm archives) or reference photos of all the various Vader helmets used throughout the movies. But as it turns out sculpting a great Darth Vader figure is not all that easy. So is there an ultimate 6-inch scale Darth Vader action figure? You may think there is an easy answer. But maybe there’s not… So click through for a retrospective of all the various 1/12 scale Darth Vader figures you can get and let’s find out if there really is THE ultimate Darth Vader action figure!
Quite a few companies tried their hand at a Darth Vader action figure. There’s Hasbro of course, but then there are also S.H.Figuarts/Bandai, MAFEX and even Revoltech. Has one of them the ultimate Vader? Let’s find out!
|Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.|
|Hasbro waited until Phase II of The Black Series, before they released their first 6-inch scale Darth Vader figure. Source was Return of the Jedi and Hasbro tried very hard to give fans an ultimate ROTJ version of Vader. The figure had a removable helmet and face plate that revealed Anakin Skywalker underneath. Unfortunately Hasbro completely bungled the helmet sculpt and thus “Sad Puppy” Vader was born. Also, for some reason Hasbro thought Vader needed a metal chain for his cape. Which is not accurate at all.|
|The Anakin likeness of the Black Series Return of the Jedi Vader may be quite alright, even the paint apps are tolerable, despite the anime eyes. The details inside the helmet are great. Hasbro really tried. But the entire figure is let down by the atrocious helmet sculpt. The bulky cape that is much too large doesn’t help either.|
|S.H.Figuarts also tried their hand at a Return of the Jedi Darth Vader. Sadly, their action figure is even worse than The Black Series. The sculpt is too stylized, even if the helmet sculpt is better than the TBS version. The heavy plastic cape makes posing the figure not as easy as it should be. Vader is also much too short and his helmet is much too small, despite the short body. This is at best a comic book version of Vader.
SHF did give the Luke Skywalker action figure an unmasked head that fits on that figure, that headsculpt is actually great, but also much, much too big (i.e. it has an accurate scale) for that tiny Vader body.
|Then there’s the Revoltech Darth Vader. For a short time Revoltech made Star Wars action figures (there’s also a Boba Fett), but Revoltech’s approach is even more stylized than SHF. This figure comes with articulated everything, including an articulated plastic cape. This is probably the worst Darth Vader figure, unless you like stylized versions of him.|
|Bandai, who also own SHF, released a Darth Vader model kit. Quite a few fans considered this the ultimate Vader. The sculpt is pretty good, but as you can see the helmet sculpt is still inaccurate, the dome part of the helmet is much too short. Also, the plastic cape makes this figure a bit unwieldy, but you could of course give the Bandai model kit the TBS cloth cape or any custom cape and then you would have a pretty decent Darth Vader figure. If building model kits and applying water decals is your thing.|
|Hasbro released a gimmick version of Darth Vader in The Black Series. For that they gave the figure a new headsculpt. Some fans painted the helmet black and it turned out the sculpt was pretty good, a marked improvement upon the previous version. But since most collectors will probably not custom paint their figures this “Emperor’s Wrath” version is mostly just a novelty figure, extremely scene specific too. And Vader really never wore a metal chain like this.|
|MAFEX are the fourth company to try to get Darth Vader right. Their first version however also falls short of expectations. While this Vader comes with quite a few accessories and a wired cloth cape the sculpt overall is just mediocre at best. Vader’s body is much too lanky, the body sculpt is also a bit soft and looks somewhat plasticky. The helmet is too small. You can remove the dome part which sits a bit high on the face mask. You need to shorten the helmet peg a bit so it sits a bit deeper on the face mask for a much better overall look. But this MAFEX Vader is just yet another mediocre version at best.|
|MAFEX’s unmasked head that came with the figure is however pretty good and a lot better than the TBS version. As far as ROTJ Vaders go the MAFEX version was certainly in many ways better than the TBS version. You also get all the appropriate hands you need, including of course the amputated right hand with wires sticking out.|
Hasbro returned to the drawing board for their second attempt at a Darth Vader action figure with the Legacy Pack (not counting the Emperor’s Wrath novelty figure). Their Darth Vader based on A New Hope turned out excellent, for the most part, at least.
|The regular rerelease of the TBS ANH Darth Vader has slightly different paint apps, but is otherwise pretty much the same figure.|
|S.H.Figuarts had not given up on Darth Vader yet either. SHF also returned to the drawing board with their version of an ANH Vader. Sadly, the helmet sculpt still turned out to be quite inaccurate. At least Vader now had the correct height and bulkiness. But compared to the quite excellent TBS version this figure falls short. Also, what is it with these metal chains for the cape?|
|MAFEX too tried to improve on their previous Darth Vader action figure with their Rogue One version of the character. And yes, many collectors considered this Rogue One Vader to be their definitive version of the character. The helmet sculpt is pretty good and looks quite accurate. The dome part may ever be slightly too narrow perhaps. You also get actual red lenses with faintly visible eyes behind them. A feature no other Darth Vader figure has. You also get all the hands you need for Vader, plus a wired cloth cape. But still, the body is too lanky and for a Rogue One version it’s also the wrong sculpt, since the inner cloth tunic would need to go above the shoulder armor.|
|Third time’s the charm? S.H.Figuarts still had not given up on making a good Darth Vader figure. And this time one of the Japanese designers probably actually watched the movie or had access to an accurate helmet replica, because the third attempt by SHF, which is based on Return of the Jedi again, is pretty much flawless. The helmet sculpt is “most impressive”. Vader also has the correct height, is bulky and has the necessary physical presence, something which all MAFEX figures lack. But this figure has one or two downsides. First, the cloth cape is atrocious. It is wired, but it is much too short and posing it properly is very difficult, since it’s not attached anywhere. Also, SHF, like MAFEX, give all their Vader figures inner robes made of plastic. Which make for really good looking inner robes, but they also hinder articulation somewhat. As is to be expected this Darth Vader comes with all the hands you’d ever need, plus an option for an amputated right hand.|
|SHF also sculpted an all new unmasked head for their Darth Vader 3.0, even if Jedi Luke Skywalker already came with an unmasked head. This photoreal head of Anakin Skywalker looks pretty good, it seems to have a mixture of features from Sebastian Shaw and Hayden Christensen.|
|Hasbro also released yet another Darth Vader action figure. Licensees just love him! This time the figure is based on “The Empire Strikes Back” and the helmet sculpt is pretty much spot on. Vader also has yet another new cloth cape, which is somewhat better than the previous two versions.|
That’s quite a number of Darth Vader action figures!
So the big question now is… do we have an ultimate version of Darth Vader in the 6-inch scale? Most collectors will probably say “yes” and point to either The Black Series A New Hope and/or The Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader. And it’s easy to see why. Both figures have great sculpts and actually look like Darth Vader! Something which many other figures in the 1/12 scale don’t achieve!
However, I would argue that The Black Series figures still fall short. Darth Vader is a character that very much depends on hand gestures. Darth Vader loved pointing his finger at people. Darth Vader loved resting his hands on his belt. Darth Vader loved Force choking people. Darth Vader reached out with his hand to Luke and asked him to join him.
You see where I am going with this… Since Hasbro cannot or won’t provide their Black Series figures with a reasonable amount of accessories you can’t recreate any of these iconic Vader poses with any of their figures. None of the TBS figures come with the necessary hands.
Therefore, in my opinion, the one figure that comes closest to achieving ultimate status is…. The S.H.Figuarts Darth Vader Return of the Jedi figure (the 2.0 version of course). But with caveats. You absolutely have to replace the atrocious cape. I had an extra ANH TBS Vader and simply swapped capes. Fortunately, putting the TBS cape on the SHF Vader figure is extremely easy and it fits perfectly (it has the accurate length). Once you do that nothing comes close to the SHF Darth Vader in the looks department. Another caveat is that SHF Vader can’t sit down, because of the plastic inner robe.
But the positive aspects greatly outweight the caveats. Not only is the sculpt very, very, very good, the articulation is extremely fluid and you can achieve poses you simply cannot achieve with The Black Series. Also, you get a pretty good unmasked head and all the hands you would ever need. Pointy fingers (both left and right hand) included, so Vader can reprimand and accuse people in style. You also get all the Force hands you need and this Vader can also try to seduce Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side with the proper hands needed for that. Also, the details on this Vader are very crisp, crisper than The Black Series. You can also remove the dome part of the helmet to reveal Vader’s back of the head and the details on the helmet. And if that’s not enough you can also swap the helmet with the unmasked head.
Of course most collectors will probably find both the ANH and ESB offerings in the Black Series more than good enough. And of course there are plenty of reasons to love these two figures. They have excellent sculpts and are (were) quite affordable. You can also argue that you should not be forced to replace a cape to make a figure truly excellent, as you have to do with the SHF figure.
But in my opinion achieving “ultimate” status also depends on versatility and accessories, and here The Black Series always falls short, unfortunately. If all you need and want is a Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber then The Black Series figures will make you very happy. If you want to be a bit more specific and send Leia to her room for being a naughty senator or Force choke other figures in style then the SHF ROTJ Darth Vader is the only figure that can do all that. Also, the option to remove the dome part of the helmet or to swap the helmet with the unmasked version further expands your display options. The MAFEX figures can do all or most of that as well, of course, however, their Vaders are all a bit too stylized, suffer from lanky bodies and somewhat soft details on the body suit, which is why I don’t think they come even close to achieving “ultimate” status.
So what do you think? What is your ultimate / favorite 1/12 action figure of Darth Vader? If you haven’t considered the most recent SHF Darth Vader action figure I recommend you give it a good look!
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