If you don’t like to read and came here for a review, here is my two word opinion of Hasbro’s Force FX Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsabers: Buy them. Update: Since it is a FAQ of article skimmers, I think the removable blades are worth it. Choose them over the fix blades.
I am not an impulse purchaser and I get a knot in my stomach anytime I’m going to spend any amount money on something fun. My most recent purchase made me downright queezy but I love it.
Since Star Wars premiered, I’ve had a fascination with lightsabers. Heck, I’ve been discussing them in various posts for a couple of weeks now. Growing up, good replicas were either non-existent, too expensive or non-functional. Very recently this has changed.
For a while a company called Masters Replicas made very high quality, highly accurate copies of the hero movie props. They were very expensive, very heavy and didn’t really do anything. They also offered functional versions of these props which were slightly less accurate (to accommodate 20th century sound and light technology) still very heavy and still very expensive.
For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the license to make these props was shifted from MR to Hasbro. Yes, the same company that sells Sorry! and Twister. I happened upon this information while doing research for my own articles. As I looked around online, the reviews were positive and really intrigued me. Would I actually be able to get something that had been on my wish list for years?
The price was painful but doable. The reviews were positive. They had just been redesigned to be even more functional (now with a removable blade). My two favorite styles were now available. Amazon had reduced their prices to match the online toy stores. I pulled the trigger.
Just a few days after clicking the purchase button, a giant box was found leaning against my front door. Not nearly large enough to fill the smoking crater of my fun money account that had taken me two years to save, but still very exciting. I was worried that with all of the extra space in the box that these things would look like they had been dragged around behind the truck. Aside from one corner getting bashed a little, the boxes were fine and the contents were unharmed.
“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
– Obi-Wan Kenobi
My very favorite lightsaber design of all time is the original Obi-Wan. It is one of the hardest sabers to make functional because of its narrow silhouette. There just isn’t room to stuff components in the top 1/3 of it. I think this is part of the appeal. Your mind perceives this detail and says “Too narrow to hold a stick. It must really generate an energy blade.” Sadly, this also means it requires the most modification to stuff electronics inside. You can compare the image of the Hasbro hilt to the actual prop and quickly see that one is merely a suggestion of the other. The great news is that this is my only beef with this prop. There are so many ways in which it could be executed terribly and it just isn’t. It even exceeded my expectations in thoughtful design more than once. It is products like this that made me want to be an industrial designer in the first place.
Appearance: Fairly accurate. Much more chunky than the original prop but still easily identifiable. “Copper” and “brass” parts are painted and the hand grenade/cooling fins are injection modeled plastic as you would expect. The body is metal. The emitter and pommel are both made of machined aluminum billet. A nice surprise.
Construction: Solid. The hilt has a nice weight to it without being overly heavy. This balance helps it seem “real” and hang from a belt without pulling your pants down or bruising your leg when you walk. Because the parts you screw on and off are machined aluminum, they should hold up better than plastic. However, it would be easy to cross thread these parts since the metal is soft and the threads are not completely cleanly cut. I solved this with a little lithium grease on the threads. Smooth as silk now.
Blade: A very accurate color match. Bright enough. Well, the color of all the sabers seems to shift a little from movie to movie and from scene to scene, but this blue is what you would expect. It is made from very durable (basically shatterproof) polycarbonate. The LED’s give a very nice step up and step down ignition and shut down sequence. The glow is almost completely uniform. There are certain angles where you can see slightly darker areas but you have to really examine the blade to see them at all. Because it is removable, it is also potentially replaceable if something goes wrong. On new batteries it is as bright as you would expect. A very reasonable approximation of how bright they look in the movies. You can see the color in daylight and it gives off a fair amount of light in the dark. I do not know how it compares to other blade technology but I think someone would be hard pressed to be disappointed with this light output.
Sound: Very accurate, varied and loud. I was impressed with the fidelity of the sound from such a small speaker in the bottom of the hilt. It sounds like a lightsaber not a toy. It hums while at rest, has a variety hums when swung and a variety of crackles when it strikes an object. The ignition and shutdown sounds are unique and accurate. It is amazingly loud. I would say on the verge of being too loud, believe it or not. My only gripe here is that the motion sensor is not very good. It only recognizes swings accurately about ½ the time. Strikes are picked up pretty well if you make contact with something that stops the blade abruptly (your hand instead of a pillow).
Details: There are some really neat extras with this prop. It comes with a display stand that houses the extra parts. A positive-locking belt clip is provided (Works like a mobile phone clip). The hilt and blade can be displayed assembled or separate. Extra parts are included to complete the hilt when the blade is removed (no gaping blade hole). The hilt makes locking noise when the blade is seated properly during assembly. The hilt makes an electrical short noise (there are actually about three different sounds) when you try and turn it on if the blade is detached.
Recommended Changes: I would include a way to vertically wall mount the saber. It takes up a lot of space sitting horizontal on a shelf and, no doubt, the blade will sag over time in this position. The on/off switch could have a better feel with more of a positive lock in the on and off positions. Adjust the supports on the base so that the saber sits perfectly horizontal. Remove the silly stickers. The cautionary sticker almost certainly must be in place and affixed with difficult-to-remove adhesive but the on/off and battery stickers don’t need to be on there at all. It isn’t a big deal to peel them off and wipe the area clean with a little WD-40, but it is unfortunate that you have to do this at all.
“Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”
– Emperor Palpatine
This is the perfect compliment to the Obi saber. Instead of being a stacked parts design, it is a flash attachment with stuff stuck on the outside. This way I have one of each of the basic styles of the early saber designs. They have very different silhouettes which is nice. Of course the blade is red which makes them distinctly different and I have one good guy and one bad guy saber to fight with now.
Appearance: Very good. Because of it more basic and bulky shape it requires fewer mods to be functional. I’ve never seen it side by side with an original prop but others have said it is a little larger in diameter. It is still comfortable to hold and I think it would take very close scrutiny to tell it apart from the real thing. The detailing is good enough that it really looks like a flash tube (fake electrical contacts are still exposed) with windshield wipers glued on to the bottom. The emitter shroud is plastic but has a very nice textured finish that adds a lot of visual weight to it. I imagine it is visually indistinguishable from the original. The calculator lenses used on the side of the saber are faithfully replicated. You would have to get within a foot or two of it to notice that two of the knobs are plastic. Only the very pickiest collector would need something more accurate than this.
Construction: Solid. Apparently the original prop had problems with the windshield wipers peeling off during normal use. The replica doesn’t have this issue as it appears that they are mechanically attached from the inside. It is an almost all metal construction and should be very durable. Like the Obi saber, it has a good weight – heavy enough to feel real without being unwieldy. I greased the screw threads on this saber too and they work much better now.
Blade: Very accurate color match. Bright enough. If you have ever done any saber effects in Photoshop, you know that because red is at the dark end of the spectrum, it is really hard to get the color right and make it bright looking. The tendency is for the blade to turn pink. Sometimes with real-world props the red blades look orange. My guess is that this is a way to compensate for the pink hue. Fear not! This blade is a beautiful red just as you remember it from the films and it is bright too. I don’t have any other props to compare it to but, like the Obi, it is visible in daylight and lights up a dark room about as much as you would expect. I don’t think most customers will be disappointed. Ignition, shut down, construction, uniformity of light all match the Obi saber in quality.
Sound: Accurate, varied and loud enough. The Obi saber is a newer design than the Vader. It seems to me that the sound was one of the things improved. Vader’s saber is quieter (not too quiet) and the quality of the sound doesn’t seem quite as good. Soundboard? Speaker quality? I don’t know. It has all of the same kinds of sounds with the same number of variations that the Obi saber has. The individual sounds are different from Obi’s though. The hums and swings are pitched lower. I think the ignition and shut down sounds are a little nicer for Vader’s. Overall, it sounds just a little more toy-like than the Obi saber, but I’m really splitting hairs here. I think any fan will be very happy with the sound quality.
Details: These comments are basically the same as Obi’s. The display stand is identical. The biggest difference is that you get a Ep IV style belt hook and D-ring instead of Obi’s mobile phone attachment.
Recommended Changes: Same as Obi’s. Consider upgrading the sound to match Obi’s in quality and volume.
I do not know how long a set of batteries will last in these items, but I’m sure they are power hungry. It will also depend on what you consider to be useful life. Is it when the batteries go dead? When the light output is 50% max?
If you have a Books-A-Million in your area, you can get the earlier version of them (non-removable blade) for about half price. The BAM’s around here have very limited selections (mostly Dooku and Yoda). In the end I felt it was worth the extra money to be able to use the bladeless sabers as a costume prop and replace the blade in the event of damage.