Sunday, 10 June 2012

Galaxy Force Starscream

One character who's had a bit of a raw deal over the history of the TransFormers toyline is Starscream. The scheming Decepticon Air Commander/Second-in-Command has always been a popular character due to his many and persistent plots to usurp Megatron, and yet the toys tend to lack a certain something. The Unicron Trilogy presented three (mostly) new forms for Starscream but, while Armada's was bulky and unwieldy, and Energon's was little more than a G2 Cyberjet on a slightly larger scale, Galaxy Force brought us a Starscream that was both worth of the name, and a brilliant homage to the G1 character's Cybertronian 'tetra-jet' form.

Vehicle Mode:
When I first saw Galaxy Force Starscream, my initial impression was that the designer was referencing the ship 'Lord British' from Konami's Gradius series - the shape is very similar (bar the fin extending from the underside) and the colourscheme is essentially identical. He's a bit bulkier, of course, but that just makes him look closer to the G1 cartoon's 'tetra-jets'.

The second thing to hit me was that this is clearly a spacecraft, rather than a jet intended to fly in-atmosphere - the wing size/wingspan just wouldn't be enough to keep this thing aloft, almost regardless of the amount of thrust those large engines could put out. It looks like it'd be more at home operating as a starfighter, with two guns mounted just behind the cockpit and a (spring-loaded) missile launcher slung under the nose. The two guns by the cockpit look as if they're meant to rotate, but they don't... Although I believe the Supreme class version of this model (the official US/UK Cybertron Starscream) did have mobile guns. Unfortunately, that was a ridiculously huge model and contained no other significant upgrades to this, more sensibly sized Japanese version.

That said, this model shows signs having had electronic lights and sounds at some point in its development. An area on top of the craft, just behind the cockpit, looks as if it was intended to contain a speaker, and there's really no reason for the back end to be as big as it is other than to include space for batteries.

On the downside, he does suffer from 'Visible Robot Head Syndrome', with it barely concealed towards the rear of the craft, between two raised parts that could, conceivably, be missile launchers (you can tell I've never seen the TV series, can't you?) but, worse than that, you can quite clearly see the robot's hands sticking out underneath the rocket engines at the back... and the closest this model comes to an undercarriage is a set of three wheels mounted in protrusions on the underside.

The colourscheme is almost as much G1 Jetfire as it is Starscream (in fact this model was used for a Jetfire-inspired Shattered Glass Starscream in 2008's BotCon set), with Starscream's traditional blue component replaced with black and touches of gold. The way the colours are applied is very fitting for the character, though.

While Starscream's key-activated gimmick does work in his vehicle mode, it doesn't serve much of a purpose - I'm not sure how much use two wing-mounted blades are to a spacecraft or a jet. The Supreme class version replaced one blade with a null-ray cannon, but I gather that was due to Starscream having had one of the blades ripped out in the TV series...

One oddity in this model is that the nose is made of rubber. I know there is a habitual use of rubber for any spiky, protruding parts these days, but the rubber used here is fairly stiff so, while the nose is unlikely to snap off, it could still cause a fair bit of discomfort if you managed to jab yourself.
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Robot Mode:
Viewed from the front, Galaxy Force Starscream features more than a few echoes of his old G1 self - the wings which were on his back are now parts of his arms, of course, but the silhouette is uncannily similar. Even the G1 model's jet intakes are referenced by the possibly-missile-pod things either side of the head.

In many ways, this model is quite blocky and unwieldy, yet it manages to overcome much of this through decent articulation and overall awesomeness of design. The arms are the biggest problem - they're very chunky, not least because of the key-activated gimmick, and the forearms seem almost bizarrely stumpy.

There's also a strange echo of Armada Starscream, in that there's a fairly huge amount of vehicle mode mass just hanging off his back. It doesn't extend half as far as the Armada model, however, as it's mainly just the two halves of the tail fin, opened up and swung down (mostly) out of sight. Also like Armada Starscream, much of the torso is basically the nose of vehicle mode (though the very tip is actually the feet) so he brings new meaning to the word 'cockpit' due to the position of that particular vehicle part on the robot's body.

Unsurprisingly, there's not a massive difference in the distribution of colours in robot mode - perhaps a bit more visible black - again, substituting for Starscream's more traditional blue - but the overall look still fits the character well.

The head sculpt is a mixed bag - it's a brilliant homage to both to G1 Starscream and both the previous Unicron Trilogy Starscreams... and yet the expression is uncharacteristically neutral, particularly when compared to more recent incarnations, but even Armada Starscream had a slight smirk.

While the key-activated gimmick really comes into its own in this form, it's still not a brilliant feature... it works very well, and looks great... but I can't help but think that a couple of blades mounted on his arms like that aren't going to be very useful...  Rather cleverly, the single key slot on Starscream's back, behind his head, causes both blades to pop out simultanously. One of the improvements offered by the Supreme class version is that each arm had its own key slot on the shoulder, meaning the weapons could be deployed independently. I can't help but think the spring loaded missile launcher is a bit weedy - and extremely plain-looking - considering the bulky, powerful form of the robot.
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In theory, this is a really easy model to transform, but the size, shape and jointing of the shoulders does actually interfere with getting the legs into position for vehicle mode. Everything else moves smoothly and reliably, making Galaxy Force Starscream a simple yet satisfying toy.

Articulation is pretty good, considering the bulk of the figure, though there are some limitations. The outward movement of the arms at the shoulder is all for transformation, not for poseability, and the forearms may be stubby, but they do move pretty well, though the wrists are fixed. The legs are surprisingly unaffected by the hanging crotch, but the feature that really helps Galaxy Force Starscream's poseability is the large heel spur. It's there to counteract the top/back-heaviness of the figure, but it can be angled downward to support just about any kind of 'bended knee' pose as well.

The strangest thing about this model is the omission of electronics, particularly when you consider the existence of a battery compartment in the body:
I kind of wish I knew the story behind this... I believe the Supreme Class version does have lights and sounds though, going by the video reviews I've seen, they're really nothing special...

This is probably my favourite incarnation of Starscream, other than the original Masterpiece version and the Leader Class movie version. Something about the design suggests a rather more dangerous version of the character than the toyline has seen in a long time.

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