If you’ve seen any of my previous articles, it may surprise you to learn that I strongly prefer dark side characters and lightsabers over those of the light. Aside from Kylo Ren, the Star Wars universe has been blessed with a wide variety of menacing, intimidating, and downright badass villains. From force masters like Darth Sidious to assassins like Darth Maul to juggernauts like Darth Vader and Darth Malgus (from The Old Republic), both Star Wars Canon and Legends are loaded with impressive Sith.
However, no Sith is more iconic than Lord Vader. When Star Wars first hit theaters in 1977, Vader was the first baddie to steal the screen. His towering stature, black suit/helmet, audible breathing, and bellowing voice (provided by James Earl Jones) make him remarkably mysterious and even more frightening. He’s the sort of character that you don’t want to cross.
Because Darth Vader is one of my favorite Star Wars villains, I naturally felt like his lightsaber had a place in my collection. Last week, I managed to score a coupon code for Hasbro’s store and for $119, I couldn’t pass on the Black Series replica of Vader’s blade. Less than a week later, it is already here.
The Black Series Vader lightsaber hilt is itself a solidly executed replica of the original MPP flash gun-based prop as seen in 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It sports the matte black emitter, glossy black and silver control box/clamp, bubble strip activation bar, and rubber T-grips that make Vader’s weapon so iconic. Further, to set the saber apart from versions seen in subsequent films, this ANH replica features the proper spacing between the rubber grips and the rightly off-center clamp. I really have no issues at all with Hasbro’s (and formerly Master Replica’s) work on this part of the saber, other than the plastic clamp, which I feel should be aluminum.
When it comes to actually wielding Lord Vader’s saber, I think most will find it rather chunky and awkward. Unless you plan on converting this prop to use an in-hilt LED, the saber really isn’t appropriate for dueling anyway, but even for spinning it isn’t the most comfortable option. For the sake of accuracy, that’s okay – the MPP flash guns were bulky by their very nature. Lefties shouldn’t have any trouble gripping the saber just forward of the clamp, but righties like me will likely find that the clamp’s artificial lever gets in the way. Sometimes, I also hold the saber with the D-ring facing upward and the open side of the emitter pointing to the ground. Held this way, the activation box sits just below the middle knuckle of my right pinky finger. All in all, the bulky hilt leaves me wondering if it or his imposing suit had more to do with Vader’s slow combat style.
If you plan to display the saber, the hilt balances nicely on the included acrylic stand. It’s also possible to use the stand to “float” the saber by its blade, as seen in the second photo below. This could cause the blade to warp, so it isn’t recommended.
Blade & Electronics
Unlike some of the Black Series sabers that run on 3 AAA batteries, this Vader replica is powered by 3 AA cells. While the power upgrade doesn’t translate to a brighter blade or better sound (AA and AAA batteries are all 1.5 V each), the larger cells do offer a modest increase in capacity, or runtime. You can access the battery pack by unscrewing the pommel.
Talking about the batteries leads me to another, perhaps minor, complaint. Seeing as how most people are well accustomed to using rechargeable batteries in their cell phones, laptops, and other devices, it would make tons of sense for the Black Series sabers to come with rechargeable Li-ion batteries. Such a change would facilitate better runtimes, brighter blades, more consistent brightness, and would require less space.
Activating the saber’s LED-illuminated blade can be achieved by pressing up on the bubble strip. I’ve found that it is incredibly easy to accidentally activate or deactivate the lightsaber by bumping the latching switch. Turning the saber on causes segments of the blade to illuminate in sequence, creating a scrolling effect. Unfortunately, the blade’s LED string is limited to six or seven sections and the deployment/retraction of the blade’s light isn’t nearly as fluid as what you might see in the movies. Further, the scroll is too slow. This is something that Hasbro could address with the sound board/LED driver. Speeding up the blade activation would not only facilitate a more convincing animation; it would also help to hide the individual blade segments.
Before buying the ANH Vader replica, I understood Hasbro’s red-bladed sabers leave plenty to be desired with respect to brightness. Now that I have the saber in hand, I can confirm that the blade simply isn’t very bright. Even single diode, in-hilt LED sabers best Hasbro’s 64-LED string for vibrancy. The problem with this saber and the others in Hasbro’s lineup is that the underlying technology and designs are going on 15 years old. These lightsabers are simply copies of the original Master Replicas blades that first came out in 2002 and while they were great for their time, they’ve been comfortably surpassed by modern LED strings and in-hilt LED approaches. It’s a good thing the Black Series sabers are reasonably priced, as there are plenty of fan-made replicas that heartily outshine them.
I was also displeased to find that my lightsaber arrived with a relatively large speck of debris in between the blade’s diffuser and outer body, approximately six inches below the tip. Since the blade isn’t removable, there’s really nothing I can do to remove the inanimate intruder. It’s also very noticeable with the LEDs on.
Because this Vader saber has a string blade, it isn’t recommended as a dueling saber. Inevitably, after multiple impacts, some of the blade’s LEDs will jar themselves loose. Once this happens, (mostly) irreparable dark spots will crop up and you’ll be left with a rather odd looking weapon. If you want to spar with your lightsaber, choose one with an in-hilt LED.
The blade’s durability is also undermined by the audible creakiness that can be heard when handling the saber. It seems that the noise comes from the base of the blade near the sabers emitter and while it may not be indicative of anything meaningful, it doesn’t inspire confidence.
The sound on this saber is very similar to the Yoda Black Series blade that I reviewed a few months ago. From what I can tell, there are four clash sounds, two fast swings, two slow swings, and idle hum, an activation sound, and a deactivation sound. While all are essentially the same as the ones on the Yoda saber, they do sound deeper – thanks to the larger resonance space inside the saber’s hilt. Still, this replica doesn’t really capture the true feel of Darth Vader’s lightsaber, nor does it offer the audio variety (and quality) of more expensive sound cards and speakers. Moreover, I’ve found that clash detection can be unreliable and swing sounds often try to play over the top of one another. For the price, I’m still perfectly fine with the overall sound of the saber, but I am planning to replace the board with something from NEC or Plecter Labs at some point in the future.
Despite its numerous imperfections, Hasbro’s Black Series Darth Vader saber is still worth recommending. Sure, the blade is dim, the sound is subpar, the motion detection is sketchy, and it isn’t appropriate for dueling, but there also aren’t many other options out there for Vader fans. Sith Planet/Korbanth occasionally turns out a run of his Vader replica hilts, but they’re limited in quantity, much more expensive, and they come without any electronics. For just $119 at the Hasbro store (using a coupon) I managed to snag this fully functional saber and even if I decide to convert it to an in-hilt LED (and I do plan to), I still won’t have spent an exorbitant amount of money. For that reason, I have no problem recommending Hasbro’s Black Series Darth Vader lightsaber to other dark side fans.