One of the biggest Toy Fair reveals from the Star Wars team at Hasbro was the 40th Anniversary Black Series, a set of twelve figures– mostly hard to find reissues– on new oversized blister cards which emulate the iconic vintage Kenner packaging. The lineup for this series features the original twelve characters that first got the toy treatment back in 1977… including Princess Leia, one of the few figures in this series to see a retooled and revised new release.
Episode IV Leia’s path to join the Black Series has been a long and winding one. The figure was controversial from the start, due both to Hasbro’s decision to release her with an entirely soft goods white dress, as well as the headsculpt, which missed the mark in terms of likeness to Carrie Fisher. The Hasbro team acknowledged this early on, and word quickly came out that the Princess was being pulled from her Fall 2016 release assortment so she could be reworked with a new, more accurate portrait.
That’s why it was such a surprise when the original Leia sculpt started turning up at GameStop stores last November. Had Hasbro scrapped their plans for a new Leia headsculpt? Why was this version, which had supposedly been sent back to the drawing board, suddenly hitting retail?
We still don’t have all the answers, but Toy Fair did confirm the fate of the improved “Leia 2.0″… she is being released under the 40th Anniversary banner. Leia will appear in the first of two Anniversary waves this spring, along with Luke, Han, R2D2, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And while she still isn’t perfect, Hasbro’s second take on this hero of the Rebellion is a big step up from what we saw last Fall.
The new headsculpt definitely has a lot more Carrie Fisher in it. This portrait still isn’t the best likeness we’ve seen from Hasbro (that honor goes to Jango Fett, Chirrut Imwe, and Baze Malbus in my opinion) it’s a colossal improvement over what we got at first.
Aside from the head, Leia is a direct recast of the previous version, with the same body sculpt, same accessories (her needle gun and an Imperial blaster), and the same soft goods dress. It’s that last one that feels like the biggest letdown concerning this Leia. I actually really dig Hasbro’s use of soft goods on the Black Series when it’s done right… but too much fabric leaves the figures looking off. The Emperor and the dreadful Tattooine Luke are striking examples of this, figures who would have benefited greatly from more plastic and less cloth. Leia’s gown is much better tailored than the clothing on those two, but the top half definitely still falls victim to shapelessness when you pose the figure. With enough work, you can pose Leia and get the dress to shape and fall pretty well, but I still feel a sculpted plastic upper half of the figure would offer her far greater definition.
The 40th Anniversary series could have been the perfect opportunity to release a predominantly plastic version of Leia, further differentiating her from the previous version. While this would demand more tooling, the end result would have been a more unique variant of the character, providing a greater variety of options for collectors to choose from.
In a way, the case of Princess Leia feels like a microcosm of my mixed feelings toward the 40th Anniversary Collection overall. I appreciate the good Hasbro is doing here– finding homes for the second Leia sculpt, the Episode IV Darth Vader who made his debut at New York Comic Con, and peppering in a pair of entirely new releases with the Jawa and the Death Squad Commander– to mention nothing of reissuing highly desired, long discontinued figures such as R2D2 and X-Wing pilot Luke.
But this series could have been Hasbro’s golden opportunity to revisit the past in an even more energetic way, including newly tooled solutions to some of the more controversial areas of design on past figures. Even the all new figures could have played with the “original twelve” concept in a more meta way. The Jawa will feature sculpted plastic robes, and the Imperial Commander will be released in his screen accurate all-black uniform… but this series could have instead previewed the figures with Kenner-style variants– a cloth robe for the Jawa and a grey uniform for the Commander– to pay tribute to the vintage toys. The upside of this concept? Tooling would be done on both characters, giving Hasbro an easy opportunity to release screen accurate versions of both in the core Black Series in the future.
So instead of fully embracing the 40th Anniversary as an excuse to revisit and rectify potential mistakes of the past, Hasbro opted to only address the most egregious issues within The Black Series– R2’s unreasonable secondary market prices, and Leia’s off-model portrait. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that Hasbro took the action they did with these figures, as addressing both these problems is a great thing for the collector community… but looking at this much-improved Leia, in her still all-fabric gown also leaves me imagining what could have been if Hasbro leaned into this concept even further.