A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … your parents bought you some “Star Wars” toys. Maybe it started innocently enough, with a Bespin Han Solo placed under the tree for Christmas 1981; perhaps it was a STAP with Battle Droid preview figure, mercilessly teasing “The Phantom Menace” in 1998. Regardless, the gateway figures of youth inevitably led to the lingering eyes of today as you walk through Toys ’R’ Us, ostensibly shopping for your nephew or little brother.
With George Lucas preparing his final space epic, fans are staring down the bittersweet release date of May 19, as well as one equally monumental: April 2. At 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, retailers nationwide will throw open their doors to bleary-eyed fans who have stood in line for hours to purchase the new toys from “Revenge of the Sith.” What follows is a preview of Hasbro’s cream of the crop, some pointers on how to stay spoiler-free until the movie comes out, and (for those who enjoy flirting with the dark side) a no-holds-barred description of movie secrets, preceded by a warning for those hoping to stay as pure as Anakin’s mother.
Any conversation about the toys needs to begin with the two most popular items, at least around this office: the Darth Vader Voice Changer and Darth Tater. The first is the ultimate dark-side fashion accessory: Vader’s complete mask and helmet, with a voice-altering microphone that transforms your medium-pitched ramblings into the authoritative baritone of James Earl Jones. Darth Tater is a Mr. Potato Head doll wearing a Vader mask, boasting such accessories as a lightsaber, cape and detachable nose. At last, the day has arrived when the Dark Lord of the Sith can store his spare set of shoes in a compartment in his rear end.
Those two toys were rolled out early and are at many stores now, but the best among the not-yet-seen items will suck up just as much of your time. “Call Upon Yoda” is a 12-inch interactive replica of the 900-year-old Jedi master. He lifts his head, moves his mouth and hands, and even chastises the owner who dares to squeeze his hand too hard. Luke’s mentor asks you trivia questions, dispenses wisdom and meditates, but even the Jedi Council might not want to hear some of the information he offers. Squeeze his hand a certain number of times and he reveals thorough plot details of every “Star Wars” movie — “Sith” included. Luckily, Yoda has a handy off-switch for when you don’t want to listen to him — if only the same could be said for Jar Jar Binks.
The “Attacktix” battle game contains small plastic figures resting on weighted discs. For the “Dungeons & Dragons” geek in all of us, the game ranks each figure on number scales based on strength of defense, speed, etc. The packaging excitedly boasts a “secret battle figure!” that is concealed behind cardboard. Those avoiding spoilers can buy the game, play with characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan and Chewbacca, and suppress the urge to rip open the mystery man’s private compartment.
“Star Wars: Trivial Pursuit” is the traditional game transported to the world of Wookies and Walrus Men. An enclosed DVD incorporates trivia questions posed by die-hard fans recruited at comic-book conventions, many in costume. A blue woman dressed as one of Jabba’s dancers tests your familiarity with Salacious Crumb; a man referring to himself as the “Elvis Trooper” appears with sideburns, sunglasses and swagger, wearing Stormtrooper gear from the neck down.
The “Ultimate Villain” doll allows boys to play dress-up without scaring their fathers. An Anakin doll, complete with foreshadowing body mutilations, comes with both blue (good) and red (evil) lightsabers. Hunky Hayden Christensen’s head can be replaced with the horrifying visage glimpsed when Luke removed Vader’s helmet in the original trilogy.
“Force Battler” toys are larger action figures, taken to the extreme with muscular arms, huge hands and tiny heads that make them look like a deleted scene from “Beetlejuice.” Squeeze their legs together and they swivel, attacking with a slashing motion. The Darth Vader figure comes with a battle-tool on his right hand that he never carried in the original trilogy — not a huge “Sith” reveal, but nevertheless an item that some might want to avoid.
Other toys and games with spoilers/previews include the “Lightsaber Battle Game,” the “Mustafar Final Playset,” “Battle Arenas” and the trading-card game. As always, the temptation of flipping over the box and looking at the back should be avoided, but what “Star Wars” tradition is more familiar than accidentally discovering a villain via the “collect these other figures” section on an action figure’s packaging? As far as the flagship four-inch figures are concerned, Obi-Wan Kenobi (both “Jedi-Kick” and “Slashing Attack”) gives away nothing new, “Force Combat” Mace Windu looks great with the purple lightsaber that Samuel L. Jackson insisted upon, “Separatist Army” Battle Droid is ready for his anonymous slaughtering, and “Lightsaber Attack” Anakin is worth picking up just for the scowl on his face. If only Hayden could emote as effectively.
“Already know you that which you need,” Yoda once said, and you should take his advice now. If you’re going to keep reading beyond this point, you might want to consider a few more words from the master: “Once you start down the dark path … consume you it will.”
Still here? Then let’s consult “Call Upon Yoda” for a few plot points. “Three years have the Clone Wars waged. Joined by General Grievous the Separatists’ armies are. A dangerous cyborg he is, who leads the forces when defeated by Anakin Dooku is.
“Mistrust of the Jedi does Palpatine instill in Anakin,” the doll continues, “as worried of him the council becomes. Meet with his secret wife Amidala, Anakin does. With child she has become. Knowledge of Anakin’s secret and painful dreams of Amidala’s death, Palpatine has and use this fear he will. Revealed Grievous’ location is. But choose Obi-Wan the Jedi Council does, increasing Anakin’s anger and mistrust of them. On Anakin’s helplessness Palpatine preys — tempts him with power of the Sith he does. Troubled is the young Jedi.
“Arrive on Budopan, Obi-Wan does, secret base of Grievous it is. Difficult battle with Grievous Obi-Wan has. But victorious he is, with a blast inside the weak underbelly of Grievous. The end of the war this signals, Mace Windu believes. But his treachery revealed is as supreme power Palpatine retains. Watch, Anakin does, a battle between Mace and Palpatine. Chooses his path, Anakin does …”
Still looking for more? Throw on your Bib Fortuna costume and go get in line at your nearest toy store. On the first minute of April 2, Yoda will reveal all that and far too much more. Who knows? If you squeeze his hand the right number of times, maybe he’ll even cough up the plots to episodes seven, eight and nine that Lucas once promised he’d make.
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