Movie Reviews: Rango and Get Low

Well it has been a den of sickness at the Patz household this past week. As the week progressed, I continued to get worse and I manged to infect Melanie just in time for the weekend.  Joy!

With few channels on TV and only so many hours that we could sleep, we were able to download all of the movies on our wishlist that are currently available.  Most were ok.  None felt like a waste of time (except A Town Called Panic = crap!).  Two were head and shoulders above the rest though.

RANGO
This one you’ve probably heard of.  Johnny Depp stars as a chameleon lost in the desert in this animated tale.  If you’ve seen any images from the movie you know that the detail is amazing.  Probably the best I’ve seen.

You might be expecting a standard Pixar/Disney-like story but there is something different about this tale.  I think a heavy-duty movie buff could point it out, but I’m not sure what it is.  It is definitely more adult (grown up) but there is more than that.  Maybe it is the pacing or the way the jokes are formulated?  Maybe it is the character design?  I wouldn’t take my young nephews or nieces to see it just because the main villain is a little too scarey.

If you are an adult, I think these differences could be part of the appeal.  You get an animated tale that isn’t quite as predictable.  Overall, it is one of my favorite movies of the few I’ve seen this year.  Recommended.

GET LOW
Get Low stars Robert Duvall and Bill Murray in a tale about a hermit and his plans for his own funeral party.  It is a very Robert Duvall-y kind of movie with rich characters, old people, great dialog and plenty of humor and heartache.

Melanie and I both really loved this movie.  I’m willing to go as far as to say that it is the best film I’ve seen this year.  The question we asked each other afterwards is “How did we know about this movie?”  It was released last year and has been sitting on our wishlist.  How did it get there?  I think it must have been from a high critic and audience rating over at Rotten Tomatoes.

This one was a little tougher for us to find but Redbox had it.  Highly Recommended.


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Worth Dying For by Lee Child

We traveled last week and like to listen to audio books while driving.  At the top of the heap sits Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (he’s in my book hall of fame in the right side bar).  The latest in the series is Worth Dying For.

As with all of the previous books, there is plenty of action and an unusual story to keep your attention.  The characters are distinct and interesting so the story never gets muddled.  It is perfect for times when you need to put plenty of interstate miles on your car.  Best of all, no romance in this book.  Occasionally Child will slip in a love interest and  Melanie and I agree this is always the weakest part of any of his books.

I don’t want to give anything away since each story is always a mystery but know that this book is as good as any of the others in the series.

If you’ve never read a Jack Reacher book, start at the beginning with Killing Floor.  Each story builds on the last (or at least contains spoilers from previous books).

Jack Reacher Books in Chronological Order.

Dorcy 41-4750 180 Lumen High Flux LED Cyber Light Review

At the end of April I received an unexpected brown box on my front doorstep.  A quick glance told me it was from Amazon.com so I assumed it was for my neighbor who does sales from home and frequently receives packages.  Upon closer inspection I determined it was for me.  Curious.  The note inside said “I want to see a write-up on this baby!  Crazy bright, light, and cheap.  And it runs on AA (not Lithium)[.]”

Wow!  A fan of the site had sent me a product to review.  Nifty!  As an aside, if you guys ever want to send me stuff to review, I’m almost certainly open to it.  Just make sure to pack the item in question in hundred dollar bills so it arrives in pristine condition.

Quick Review
As usual, the quick review comes first.  Thumbs way up!  This is easily the best full-sized flashlight I’ve ever used.  I cannot speak to the longevity of the bulb (which cannot be replaced) but my guess is that it will have a long useful life.  If you don’t mind paying $20 and want an excellent general utility light, strongly consider this flashlight.

Brightness
Let’s start off with the most important aspect and answer your biggest question.  Yes, this flashlight is almost certainly bright enough to meet your needs.  It will light up a hallway or a medium size room.  It will hurt your eyes if you look directly into it.

I’ll compare this flashlight to three other workhorses I’ve had for a long time now.

Eveready 3251ND Economy Flashlight
Free Nine LED Harbor Freight Flashlight
– presumably a black version of the Gordon 97036
Petzl Tactikka Headlamp

Dorcy 41-4750 Cyber Light Flashlight

Any of the other LED flashlights tested did a fine job illuminating the subject, but the Cyber Light really picked out the detail even in dark corners of a room.  This will be my go-to flashlight when I’ve dropped something small or am checking out a wall cavity through a tiny hole.

If we want to be a little more scientific about it we can judge them by lumen values.  Now, I know enough to know that everyone measures lumens differently but you’ll see such a wide variation in the numbers below that you can begin to appreciate how bright the Cyber Light is.

Everready Economy:  11 lumens – 1 incandescent bulb
Petzl Tactikka:  26 lumens – 3 LED bulbs
Harbor Freight:  ?? lumens – 9 LED bulbs – about the same light level as the Petzl Tactikka
Cyber Light:  180 lumens – 1 high flux LED bulb
60W Standard Incandescent Bulb:  600-890 lumens

The Everready Economy is bright enough for emergency lighting.  The Tactikka and the Harbor Freight give good general illumination that you can read by.  The Cyber Light is much brighter – easily two to three times brighter than the other LED flashlights but it is still noticeably dimmer than a regular old 60W bulb.

Design
Someone thought out the details on this flashlight.  No, it doesn’t have the super high end appearance of a machined aluminum masterpiece but the fit and finish are excellent and it has a laundry list of nice features:

Pros

  1.  Squared-off body shape helps prevent rolling
  2. Heavy duty on/off click switch seems built to last a long time
  3. Well engineered battery compartment should keep light functional even with heavy abuse
  4. High contrast bright color scheme makes light easy to find in dim lighting
  5. Sealed body (including sealed switch) makes light weatherproof
  6. Comfortable to hold – nice shape, non-slip grip, good weight distribution
  7. Rubberized head with deep bezel helps protect front from impact damage
  8. Apparently very rugged – claims to survive 8ft drop – standard is 3ft
  9. Nylon lanyard – great if you are working in an attic or other easy-to-drop-and-lose location
  10. Uses readily available and inexpensive AA batteries (four)

Cons

  1. Styling looks slightly dated.  Let’s face it, this styling was cool when “cyber light” was still a hip name.
  2. Faux parting lines will collect gunk
  3. Actual parting lines could have a better fit.  Not bad but would look more finished if improved.
  4. Better battery compartment object language – not obvious that it twists open
  5. Battery orientation icons are tiny, hard to find and almost impossible to read

Weight
The flashlight is extremely lightweight for one of its size and power.  It would be easy to hold for a long time.  If tucked in a pocket, it would not pull your pants down.  Sadly, other flashlights have not been as kind and have pants me in the past.

To give you some numbers, I weighed each fully loaded with batteries on a digital kitchen scale.

Everready Economy:  12-1/4 oz
Petzl Tactikka:  2-5/8 oz
Harbor Freight:  1-7/8 oz
Cyber Light:  6-3/4 oz
60W Standard Incandescent Bulb:  1 oz

The numbers don’t lie.  If you are used to a standard weight for a standard-size flashlight, you’re in for a surprise.  The Cyber Light weighs a little more than half the Everready Economy.

Battery Life
The battery life is quite acceptable.  The claim is a five hour burn time.  That is a long time to continuously use a flashlight.  I think the average occasional user will be as likely to replace the batteries due to battery shelf life issues as they are to the power consumption of the flashlight.

At five hours, the Cyber Light matches the burn time of the Everready Economy and is many, many times brighter and lighter weight.  Of course many of the lower-powered LED flashlights boast many more hours of burn time.  The Petzl for example says that it will last 120 hours.  I think the useful life is much shorter than that, with the light level really starting to drop after maybe 10 hours of use.

I did my own five hour test.  Here is what I found:
Start:  Lighting up entire interior of a small closet
Hour one: Head is warm.  No noticeable difference in light level.
Hour two:  Same
Hour three:  Light is dimmer but still bright
Hour four:  Noticeably dimmer but still much brighter than the Petzl headlamp.  Head no longer warm.
Hour five:  Slightly dimmer.  Still brighter than the Petzl by a bit.

So at five hours the flashlight was much dimmer but still very useable.  I did not test it until it was dead but am expecting several more hours of life from the initial set of batteries.

Cost
For a flashlight in this performance class, it seems reasonably priced.  However, $20 is a lot to pay for a flashlight in my opinion.

Everready Economy:  $2 (does not include two D batteries)
Petzl Tactikka:  $40
Harbor Freight:  Free
Cyber Light:  $20
60W Standard Incandescent Bulb:  $0.25

The winner in the best-bang-for-the-buck category is clearly the Harbor Freight freebee.

Final Conclusion
Do I think the Dorcy Cyber Light is a good product?  Yes.  Do I think it is a good value?  Yes.  Would I buy one for myself?  Maybe…

This flashlight is well made and appears to be designed for a long rugged life.  It should be cheap to operate and, if the high flux LED holds up as well as a standard LED, the flashlight will probably get lost or replaced before it loses its usefulness.  Unlike standard bulbs, LED’s dim slowly.  So it is somewhat a matter of opinion when their useful life is over.

If I could only have one flashlight out of this group it would easily be the Petzl.  Even though you look like a goob wearing it, it is the most versatile of the bunch.  Next I would add the Cyber Light for its ability to really light up an area.

On a side note:  Don’t dismiss the Harbor Freight flashlight.  They will put coupons in the mail from time to time for a free one without any purchase.  They are small and bright and the construction is pretty good.  We have one in the house and one in each of our cars.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Something unusual has happened.  I am someone that generally likes the first part of a story the most.  Aliens and The Empire Strikes back are the only exceptions that leap to mind and those aren’t even books.

In Patrick Rothfuss’ followup to The Name of the Wind, I think he may have made the tale even better.  In book two of The Kingkiller Chronicles, we continue to follow the life of Kvothe from everyman to superman.  All of the things that made the first book great continue to appeal with the second.

I could drone on, but if you like an engaging unconventional story, I suggest you give this series a try.  Start with The Name of the Wind and I bet you’ll continue through this book too.  It could be that I’m still pumped, just having finished the book, but it really seems like this is the best candy book I’ve read in many years.

Three Bourbons

I’m usually in the vicinity of the alcohol super center Total Wine about once a month.  I like to pick up something new that is small and cheap-ish just to give my tastebuds a workout.

Bourbon is America’s champagne, it’s used in whiskey sours, and there are a bunch of makers at a bunch of different price points.  I did a little research online when I was doing the whiskey sour article so I had an idea of what I wanted to try.  To me there is almost no point in getting an expensive or exclusive brand.  Sure, I’ll try a snootful if you’re serving it up but I’d rather spend my time finding the best value or the best tasting product that I’m likely to purchase again.

I’ve tried two different kinds of the same brand of brandy.  They were within about $2 price of each other.  It was amazing the difference in flavor – like comparing a red wine to a white wine.  I wanted to see if the same held true for bourbon.  It doesn’t.  All three of these taste similar.  It is obvious that the Jim Beam is the least nice but you have to start splitting hairs to tell much of a difference between the two better ones.  It reminds me of comparing a $20 and a $50 bottle of wine.  When you taste one against the other you can tell a difference but you’d probably not notice if you were served one or the other straight.

With that in mind, we have three bourbons to compare at three different price points.  All are commonly available and affordable.

Jim Beam Black Label
Cheap
Jason:  Sharp and peppery.  No bad aftertaste though.  Fine for a mixed drink.
Mel:  Not good

Maker’s Mark
Medium
Jason:  A little sweeter than the other two.  Nice.  Smooth.  Very good.
Mel:  Best of the three.  Bourbon is not my favorite drink.

Knob Creek
Expensive
Jason:  Most complex flavor with no bad aftertaste.  My favorite. Probably not worth paying any extra if you are just going to use it for mixed drinks but wonderful for sippin’.
Mel:  Most flavor.  Second best of the three.  I can stand it.  Did I mention bourbon isn’t my favorite drink?

2011 MS Society Jacksonville Mud Run Recap and Pictures

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you know that Melanie, I and a few other friends ran in Mud Run last year.  We had such a good time that we almost immediately began making plans for the next one.

Fast forward to 2011.  The response to the pictures and stories from last year led us to create two teams this year.  Because the Mud Run changed the categories, we opted for a five-man competitive team and a five-woman competitive team.

Once we arrived at the course, we found out that the categories weren’t the only things that had changed.   In fact, just about every aspect of the race this year was improved:  better parking, better start/finish area, better course, better spectator consideration, better food and better organization.

They still need to work on orientation/check-in.  We wandered around for a while before we figured out where to go.  The equestrian center is a large piece of property that can easily swallow several thousand people in its wooded bowels.  This year they had changing tents (no more hunkering down behind your car after the race) but they were located halfway between anywhere useful.  If they really want the community to get behind this event they need to do even more to make it spectator friendly.  I would suggest a short dry spectator trail to get them to the key points of interest along the course.  I’d also give them a map.  Finally, they need better results reporting.  At any other race I’ve ever participated in you get the results almost in real time.  As of the time of this posting, I still don’t have our official time or a listing of the top finishers.

That is the end of my belly aching.  Everything else was really great.  We even got free Bubba Burgers at the end of the run.  Yum!

As for the race itself, it was comparable to last year but wasn’t as hot out of the water, not as cold in the water, the sticky mud was much shallower and the course was a little easier.  My trusty $13 boots came through the race just fine again (although I’m noticing a small amount of upper and sole separation on the right one).  Unfortunately, running in those things hurts my feet.  I noticed the next day that my feet were a little swollen and the bottoms hurt a little.  I also got  shin splints on my right leg.  I think both of these are directly related to the lack of padding in my boots.  I’ll heal up just fine I’m sure and it is a small price to pay to have this much fun.

On a side note about the boots, we were not allowed to duct tape our boots closed as we said we would last year (see 2010 post).  It turned out to be a non-issue.  There wasn’t gravel in the water or mud pits so none of us ended up getting junk stuck inside our boots this year.

We will not be doing the Donna Breast Cancer Marathon next year so that means we’ll be able to dedicate time to training specifically for this race.  The advice I got last year is still good for this year:  run stairs.  I think that is the best thing you can do to get ready for this event.

I can hardly wait for next year.

The following pictures are copyright Sam Moore (Thank you so much for doing this!) and are used here with the artist’s permission.  This is not the entire course but gives a good overall impression.

Juicer Designs and Michael Graves Design Deluxe Lemon Squeezer: Fun or Fart?

If you are like me, you have found that even simple recipes can be slowed down when fresh fruit juice is necessary.  Want a whiskey sour or lemonade?  Just dump the ingredients together.  No wait, you’ve got to juice that lemon first and don’t even think about the stale bottled stuff.

For years we used one of those plastic ribbed half-football thingies that screws on the top of a jar.  It sucked but we didn’t know any better.  Then a friend gave us a fruit reamer which was many times better.  Recently we heard about another design which was supposed to be a juicer’s delight.

The basic design of any lemon squeezer is the same.  There is a hinged cup that the fruit half goes in.  Squeezing a pair of handles closes the cup, inverts the fruit half and extracts the juice.  The specific model that I’d heard great things about is the Amco Enameled Aluminum Lemon Squeezer.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it locally but I did find the Michael Graves Design Deluxe Lemon Squeezer at Target.

Just guessing by looking at the pictures the Michael Graves version probably isn’t quite as sturdy as the Amco one but it works just fine.  Actually, it is much better than fine.  It is by far the easiest and fastest way to extract fruit juice that I’ve ever tried.  It doesn’t get every last drop, but then neither does a reamer and it is so much faster than a reamer.  It takes about as long as running garlic through a garlic press, but much less hand strength is required.  It seems like it will hold up as well as other items in this price category but eventually the finish probably will come off.  I think the product life could be extended with a quick hand washing rather than running it through a dishwasher every time it is used.

My only quibble is that small seeds slip through the strainer and into the juice, but overall this is a great kitchen gadget.

A Review of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J. W. Rinzler

I recently finished the second book in new The Making of series.  If you read my review of The Making of Star Wars, then you have most of my opinions of this book.  It has many pictures you almost certainly haven’t seen elsewhere (which doesn’t seem possible), it has the feel of a Lucasfilm employee scrapbook and it details the process of making the movie – not the art or the special effects but the actual day to day issues.  If you have any interest in how big budget movies are made or just want to know everything about the best of the SW movies, you should read this book.  It is big and expensive, so you might consider checking it out from your local library to test drive it first.

Surprisingly, there were two moments in the book where I truly laughed out loud and I must share them with you.

The first involves one of the first wireless microphone recordings on a movie set in history.  Irvin Kershner (the director) is mic’ed up for a day and the transcription gives us insight into the day-to-day grueling shoot of this movie.  As with any creative endeavor that has to make money, situations are constantly changing and there is pressure to get things done.

Let me set the scene, the actors are trying to work out the carbon freezing of Han.  Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams and Irvin Kershner are having communication problems.  Kershner has told Williams that the scene will be recorded in two shots (meaning he will stop his dialog and freeze midway through the scene).  He also tells some of the actors that they will run through the entire scene.  The hilarity builds as this contradiction plays out take after take.  Here is the meltdown at the end.

Kershner: Right. [to the assembled crew] Okay, here we go. Alright, this is a rehearsal. We do everything, minus the steam. Alright-action! [Steam is released.] Minus the steam! No steam, no CO2 [Scene proceeds briefly.] Cut, cut, please cut!

Tomblin: Hold it. It doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Kershner: Not again. [Tomblin directs the crew to their places.]

Tomblin: Alright, ready, here we go! Action! [Scene is played out as Tomblin directs the troopers and little people.]

Kershner: Cut’ Okay. Kel, how did it work?

Kelvin Pike: Pretty good.

Kershner: Yeah, it looked alright for me. [to Williams] As Boba Fett walks away, he starts the dialogue.

Williams: Do you want me to continue with the dialogue?

Kershner: Yes, I want to do the dialogue.

Williams: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Kershner: We’re going to do the dialogue, yeah. I thought you understood. Williams: I thought you wanted to wait until the cut.

Kershner: No, no, no. I want to do the dialogue right there. Yes, Harrison, he misunderstood that. [whispers to Williams] Okay, we do the dialogue in a long shot and then we’ll overlap it.

Williams: You didn’t tell me.

Kershner: Okay, I’m a fool. [laughs; he then turns to Tomblin] Okay, now, precisely when Vader is about here, that claw should be coming up. (“My feeling is that when you’re shooting, the first thing you do is put up the camera on a wide shot and get the entire scene,” says Lucas. “You block it and shoot it in one big, wide master. You can do it very quickly-and what it does is, it makes the DF light the entire set and the cast go through the entire scene, so everybody knows what’s going on. What Kersh would do is he would shoot a piece of someone coming in and sitting down or he would shoot the fight and then have him go out the door. Those are two different masters, so the cast and crew sometimes wouldn’t see the whole thing played through in one piece-so they often never understood how it all went together.”)

Ford: Are we continuing?

Kershner: Which?

Williams: Dialogue. That’s what I asked you.

Kershner: We’re doing the dialogue, yes, you’re doing the dialogue.

Ford: [irritated tone] We never got past, “What’s going on, pal?” Do you want to go past that, or not?

Kershner: No.

Ford: Okay.

Williams: So one last time, we’re not going to go into …

Kershner: Yeah, you’re going to do your dialogue. Then . Williams: He’s going to ask me …

Kershner: Yeah, “What are we doing here?”

Ford: That’s what I just asked you, Kershner. I say to him, “What’s going on, pal?” We’ve never gone any further in rehearsal than that.

Kershner: I thought you did it. It looked like you did it.

Ford: Billy didn’t know, Billy never answered.

Kershner: Oh, okay, yeah, we do that.

Williams: Oh, we do that, okay.

Tomblin: Do you want to break for lunch?

Kershner: No, I want to do the shot now. I want to just do it because it’s a long shot. It’s only for an overlap, you see what I mean?

Ford: [sounding stressed] Nobody noticed anything. This is the third time I’ve come up to Billy and said the line and Billy hasn’t turned around and said a word to me. Now, that’s because Billy didn’t know that we’re supposed to do the dialogue.

Kershner: Okay, I’ll tell you what, while you’re standing here, let’s see how you do the dialogue.

Ford: Can we have somebody stand in for Carrie?

Kershner: Yeah, absolutely. [to a crew member] Where’s Carrie?

Crew member: On the stair.

Kershner: Carrie! Could you stand here please? [The actors go over their lines.]

Ford: Are we going to have to raise our volume here to be heard above the steam?

Kershner: You’re talking just to yourselves. This is a little scene between just the four of you.

Tomblin: Everyone in position.

Diamond: This is the easy bit, Kershner [laughs].

Kershner: No, this isn’t; this is the hard one. I need to know just where to cut in. Whew! It’s a monster.

The second is a sound bite from one of the ILM guys commenting on the original Wampa costume made by the English crew.

“There was a lot of stuff goin’ on,” says Ralston. “We were shooting inserts and weird stuff would happen. We saw the rough cut of the Abominable Snowman scene-and whatever they built in England was so crappy and so bad looking that Jon, Phil, Dennis, and me, we were like, ‘I don’t want this in the movie I’m working on.’ Now we’re getting really arrogant, because we know everything. [laughs] What they had looked like a big owl, kind of nice and cuddly, but not scary-and we weren’t about to let something that dumb get into the film. So Phil built a miniature head and we just went into a vacant lot and shot up at a cloudy sky. Luckily, George used it.”

Overall this book is great and I highly recommend it.  It’s even better than The Making of Star Wars.  If you own a suit of plate mail you should probably wear your breastplate while reading.  In hardcover, this book is heavy and will put a dent in your chest in short order.

Review: Hasbro Force FX Lightsabers with Removable Blades

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 themUpdate: 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.

Even the Boxes are Nice – Notice Small Dent from Shipping

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Obi-Wan

“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.

Obi Saber in Reflected Natural Light – Stronger Blue Color is Apparent in Person

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.

Obi Saber with Blanking Plate Installed

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.

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Darth Vader

“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.

Lit Blade Shows up in Reflected Natural Light – Saber is Darker Red in Person

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.

End of Vader Saber with Blanking Plate Inserted

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.