Action Figure Analysis: The many variations of Anakin (aka ‘Old Man’) Skywalker
Up until The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader seemed nothing more than an ominously breathing, black-suited foe. But, when the revelation came about that he was Luke Skywalker’s father, it changed everything. Suddenly, this symbol of the Dark Side of the Force, and the Galactic Empire, was found to be not some kind of droid or robotic samurai, but a man contained within a suit.
It was during Return of the Jedi, that we were finally told of the name Anakin Skywalker by Obi-Wan Kenobi. From that point on, Luke’s quest takes a very different turn. While it seems that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were steering Luke to kill Vader (why else would they not tell him the truth?), Luke instead attempts to save the man who ‘ceased’ to be Anakin Skywalker.
Of course, Luke’s belief that some good still existed in his Father is proved true when Anakin throws the Emperor down a shaft in the second Death Star, saving his son, and destroying the Sith.
It is in Luke’s struggle to get his Father off the crippled Space Station, that Anakin asks his son to remove his mask, to see Luke “through his own eyes.” As we watched, Luke removed two pieces of the ominous helmet, to reveal a white-faced older man (actor Sebastian Shaw), with circles under his eyes, and a gash in the top of his head. As he utters his last words to Luke (without the ominous intonations of James Earl Jones), Anakin expires.
Later on, after burning his Father’s body, and then joining his friends to celebrate the end of the Empire, Luke is visited by the spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and then notices the two are joined by a third, this one Anakin, no longer burned or scarred, but looking normal and very pleased.
Of course, this is how many of us knew Anakin, up until 2004, when Shaw’s ‘spirited’ presence was replaced by Hayden Christensen (I guess killing children and force-choking your wife can have advantages in the after-life). However, we’re here today to talk about figures of Anakin, when we knew him way-back-when (aka the Sebastian Shaw years).
As the Star Wars toy line began to wind down in the mid-80’s after the trilogy ended, there were few places for it to go (aside from figures based around the Ewoks and Droids cartoon series). As figure production ended during the Power of the Force toy line, Anakin Skywalker emerged as a rare and very strange figure. Much like The Emperor, Anakin was a figure whose robed form was made up in a rather ‘block’ action figure. As well, he came without any form of weapon.
At the time, one could find Anakin only on the Power of the Force cardbacks, or as a special mail-away promotion (I still remember seeing that promotional sticker on the numerous Rancor Keepers that failed to sell at Kay-Bee Toys back in the day).
After this appearance, it would be some time before Anakin would reappear to Star Wars fans. With the impending release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, Kenner began releasing figures that had some relation to characters that would be seen in the upcoming prequel. As we would be seeing a younger version of Anakin, Kenner then released the Sebastian Shaw Anakin in a brand-new sculpt, but in two forms.
The first release happened in late 1998, when Anakin was included as part of the Jedi Spirits “Cinema Scene” 3-pack. Along with figures of Obi-Wan and Yoda, the set was meant to replicate the end-scene of the three Jedi, appearing to Luke.
Though if some thought that the 1985 release of Anakin was stiff, the newer version was pretty much a statue. While it looked like he had neck and arm joints, they were firmly locked into place on the translucently-frosted Jedi.
Even though he couldn’t move, I found this release to be really cool, and the 3-pack recreated one of the last film’s iconic moments.
In early Spring of 1999, Anakin appeared as part of the Power of the Force ‘Flashback’ series. This figure series included a small pull-tab device that showed an image of Anakin from Return of the Jedi, and a younger image of Anakin from Episode I (portrayed by Jake Lloyd).
Though he looks very much like the Jedi Spirits release of Anakin, this figure is largely a new sculpting/molding. The body and Jedi robes Anakin is wearing are definite proof of this. The head-sculpt appears to be the same as the previous release, but due to the plastic and paint, works out pretty well.
This version of Anakin also broke the mold, in that he came with an accessory this time: a blue lightsaber (albeit the same style as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s). At the time, almost every figure seemed to come with some sort of accessory, and this may have just been Kenner’s attempts to keep kids from thinking they weren’t getting their money’s worth with this ‘action’ figure.
In a sense, it is a little sad that with the level of sculpting-detail that Hasbro has done in the last decade, and with how George Lucas defined the trilogy’s imagery in these years as well, an updated Sebastian Shaw sculpt in Jedi Spirit form, is most likely a wishful thought. As it stands now, the only trace of Shaw within current action figures, are the incarnations of Darth Vader, in which removing his helmet shows Shaw’s scarred face underneath.
In another sense, going through Sebastian Shaw’s figures reminds me of those days-gone-by. The original release of Anakin reminds me of my youth when I first started collecting figures, and the next versions remind me of those days in high school, when I began to collect again, and when the Special Edition films were released in 1997, showing many naysayers that even with the convenience of home video, many would still come out to see some films on the big-screen.