Toy Review: Combiner Wars Leader Class Starscream

Hello my name is AddAltModeR  and I am a Starscreamaholic. The backstabbing Seeker is probably my single favourite Transformers character. I love the design of the Seekers in general and, having done a postgraduate degree in Renaissance Literature, I really have been primed to appreciate the theatrical — nay, positively Shakespearean — extent of his villainy. Here’s a character who can truly be relied upon to betray you; putting the “deception” into Decepticon time after time after time. Starscream toys are my weakness, and I have more versions of him in the plastic than any other character. In that respect, I guess I’m a bit like Megatron: I know full well that Screamer is bad for me but I just can’t resist keeping him around!

Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.

Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.

Hasbro’s new Leader Class Starscream has just been released as part of the Combiner Wars line although – like other Leader class figures we’ve picked up, such as Megatron and Ultra Magnus — he’s a standalone toy who doesn’t participate in the combining gimmick. Originally built for the Generations line as Jetfire (complete with some of the nastiest red metallised plastic weapons I’ve seen), the mold was remodelled for Combiner Wars and first released as Thundercracker. I was pretty sold on Thundercracker after reading FigureFan Zero’s great review of him; and seeing the blue Seeker in the plastic at Auto Assembly only confirmed those positive first impressions. It’s quite refreshing that Hasbro released Thundercracker first this time, giving the most intelligent Seeker a bit of love and some time in the spotlight.  But a red and grey recolour was inevitable and fangirl that I am, I decided to resist the temptation of Thundercracker and wait for another Starscream to add to my collection.  Was he worth the wait? Read on and see…

So here he is. The release schedule for Combiner Wars seems to be so messed up, it’s impossible to predict when the various waves and products will actually hit the shops. Does anyone else have a mental image of Hasbro execs just chucking darts at a map to decide what comes out where and when? Having had to wait so long after the alleged release date to get my hands on Leader Class Megatron I hadn’t expected to score a Starscream for months yet as it seems he’s only just become available in the US. But yet here he is. I ordered mine from In Demand Toys by way of Amazon (since I had some tasty Amazon credit to use up, thanks to a bonus voucher reward I’d earned at work. Don’t you just love it when employers help fund your Decepticon habit!)  First up, bigs props to ID Toys for not overpackaging their parcels. Some of the other Transformers I’ve mail ordered from elsewhere have arrived in a box, in a box, in an outer box so large that I suspected for a minute I’d been sent an actual tank / car transporter rather than a toy one. And that really isn’t necessary at all so it was good to see Screamer packed just as securely as he needed to be.

Boxed shot

Boxed shot

Box-wise he comes in the standard Combiner Wars packaging, with the logo and an artist’s depiction in the bottom left. There’s no comic with this one, although there is one of those  character cards. Does anyone else find these pretty pointless? I’m not much of a fan, but then I didn’t buy him for the trading card.

Robot Mode

No, I bought him to get a decently large old-school (i.e. G1) looking Starscream without having to go all the way and sell a kidney for the Masterpiece version, and though there are a fair few things that I think could have been done better with this mold, he certainly delivers in that respect. Whereas the CW Megatron and Ultra Magnus toys are heavily influenced by the character’s recent appearances in the IDW comics, Starscream is more straightforwardly G1 inspired. The IDW Screamer is now rocking the mostly red Armada aesthetic anyway but the CW Starscream toy appears in his classic colours of grey, red and blue and even comes packed with a crown in reference to one of the best scenes from the 1986 Transformers The Movie.

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Prior to this toy’s arrival one of my biggest reservations about him was the amount of grey plastic. There is an awful lot of unpainted plastic on this figure and I worried it was going to look a bit cheap. Pleasantly, when he’s in hand he actually looks a lot better than in some of the promo shots I’d seen. Grey predominates for sure, but it’s actually quite a nice shade, neither too dark or too light, and plenty of sculpted detailing and lines – particularly on his null-rays and on the inside of his wings – really help to add texture and variation. That said, I would still have preferred to see the red stripes and Decepticon sigil featured on the inside of the wings too. They look fantastic on the back, it’s a shame we don’t have that detail both sides, the bottom lines of the inner wing are crying out for some paint to be honest.

Gorgeous details on the rear view in bot mode

Gorgeous details on the rear view in bot mode

The other glaring omission here is the red stacks on his shoulders. These are a classic part of the Seeker silhouette but to honest I wouldn’t have missed them too much here if it weren’t for the indentations on both sides of the shoulders which do seem to draw attention to their absence. As Figure Fan Zero has noted, there’s an obvious gap in the market here – and in the figure — for 3rd party companies to step up and fill! I’m sure it’s only a matter of time!

All hail me!

All hail me!

So often Starscream toy designs give you a choice: pose-ability or stability, pick one for you cannot have both. I guess it’s what comes from a character with a large wingspan, a chunky chest and skinny legs, often with heeled feet, he’s invariably top-heavy. Most G1 influenced Starscreams stand pretty solidly but have limited articulation, whereas other incarnations (I’m thinking particularly of the Prime and TFA versions) can hold an array of poses but are prone to toppling over. This Starscream falls into the stability over pose-ability camp. He stands nicely despite those huge wings but there’s not a whole lot you can do with him in terms of dynamic poses. The way his back pegs into the wings means that his waist doesn’t swivel at all which is kind of disappointing. I understand that his wings limit how movable his hips can be but this doesn’t explain the lack of articulation on his hands and wrist. Not every toy can have fully movable fingers like CW Ultra Magnus does; but — though I really like the look of Starscream’s chunky gloved-looking hands — it’s a shame to see tubular hands and non-articulated wrists on a figure of this size.

More positively, his shoulders do allow a good degree of motion, so it’s possible to stand him aiming his null-rays at in a wide array of targets. He also has super-sturdy joints in his knees which means that — while I never even bother administering the one leg test on a Starscream toy, they always fail it — he can pose really nicely with bent knees, either running, shooting or, most likely, reluctantly sucking up to Megatron, so that’s a welcome touch.

Although his articulation is limited, strongly jointed knees do allow for some great crouch poses

Although his articulation is limited, strongly jointed knees do allow for some great crouch poses

I’m always amused by fake kibble: the chest windscreen that isn’t used in truck mode on CW Optimus (among others) is a classic example. But this isn’t something you usually find on Seekers so it’s a surprising but rather fun twist to see it implemented here. The cockpit on Starscream’s chest is not visible in jet mode! Dah dah dum! The real jet cockpit is tucked away behind his wings. Scandalous! This unusual design choice does allow for a much greater level of detailing on the chest area and I really like the sculpt and colouring on his fans and vents here. The fake cockpit itself is a lovely colour but if it could have been done in the same plastic as the real cockpit that would have been even better. Still, it’s quite fun to see Hasbro mixing things up a little even in such a G1 homage.

Fake cockpit alert!

Fake cockpit alert!

Let’s talk about the head now. Starscream’s head and neck articulation is great and I really like the overall shape and detailing of his helmet, especially the gold on the side vents. He has light piping, although – as with most characters with wings or large backpacks – there’s not much chance to draw in light so the overall glow effect is limited. He also has light piping on the rounded detail on his forehead. While also clearly intended to recall his G1 design, the subtle glow effect on the forehead details here also puts me in mind of Starscream from Transformers Animated (and his clones) who are kept alive only by the allspark fragments lodged in their foreheads. Starscream’s expression is well sculpted here but rather than displaying his trademark smugness, he’s surprisingly serious. Perhaps, seeing as he has a crown here, that’s the consequence of actually having some power rather than just scheming for it. Certainly this is something we see with IDW’s Starscream who is the leader of the NAILs and sometimes does seem grim-faced with his responsibilties rather than just insufferably arrogant (although he is that too). This guy definitely still feels like Screamer to me but I was surprised not to see him smirking just a little more here, like he is on the box art!

A surprisingly smirkless Screamer

A surprisingly smirkless Screamer

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CW Starscream box art. Ah that’s where all the smirk got used up!

TFA1

Screenshot of Transformers Animated Starscream whose forehead embedded allspark fragment is recalled by this figure

Accessories

Starscream comes with the aforementioned crown as well as his classic null-rays, two additional blasters and a launcher. The crown is a silly, gimmicky touch but it’s nicely designed and painted and sits firmly on Starscream’s head. For me it’s one of the little touches that makes this figure standout, and a decent budget substitute for a masterpiece Screamer. Because I’m basically huge kid I’ve also had fun seeing which of the other ‘Bots can wear it. Turns out Ultra Magnus rocks it pretty hard, however uncharacteristic that would be.

The duly appointed KING of the Tyrest accord

The duly appointed KING of the Tyrest accord

The weapons are all a vast improvement over the ones that featured with the original Jetfire version of this figure since they’re not done in that garish red shiny stuff. The null-rays are the best, but I almost don’t consider them accessories. They can be removed and remounted in other 5mm ports but the arm-mounted rays are so much a part of the classic silhouette that I wouldn’t put them anywhere else. I particularly like the cable/tubing details as well as the traditional fins sculpted here and the figure gets away pretty well with mounting these on the forearms rather than bicep area (as is more screen accurate) since the overall size and shape of the null-rays makes it look as if they join higher up than they really do.

The smaller blue blasters can be pegged onto his wings or his legs and swivel quite smoothly to be pointed either upwards or downwards. Then finally there’s the launcher which he can either hold in his tubular fist, or stow on his leg. This does have a firing mechanism and be warned, this thing is pretty lethal! The slightest pressure on the button will launch the projectile. I managed to shoot myself in the face with the damn thing several times just while adjusting Starscream’s pose. The easy triggering is very in-character, though: “I didn’t meant to shoot you in the back my Lord, it was an accident” grovel grovel.

Starscream's launcher — watch where you point it!

Starscream’s launcher — watch where you point it!

Transformation

There’s not too much to say about Starscream’s transformation. There are 16 steps, which isn’t that many for a toy of this size. Having already spotted that the cake cockpit was a lie, there were no great revelations here, though it did feel a little odd not to have to remove the guns on his legs before transforming him! The sequence is reasonably intuitive if a little to tricky to implement due to the stiffness of many of his joints. I like how the whole robot head and torso flips away from the wings and turns around and how his ‘Bot mode packs away neatly on the underside of the jet which also pegs together with pleasing solidity.

Jet Mode

While I have a few criticisms of this Starscream’s robot mode I have little but praise for him as a jet. Combiner Wars Starscream turns into a seriously nice jet which displays beautifully courtesy of a little flip-out stand and also rolls forward well with little landing wheels. The lovely colour detailing on the wings which is sadly lost on the back of his robot mode really comes to the fore here and his Decepticon logos look superb.

One seriously sexy jet

One seriously sexy jet

Probably the most impressive feature of Starscream’s alt-mode, is the cockpit — the real cockpit — which is not only intricately sculpted, but actually opens up to reveal seating for — presumably Diaclone — pilots. It’s such a neat touch.

I love the detail inside the cockpit

I love the detail inside the cockpit

All of Starscream’s weapons can be reattached to the underside of the wings in jet mode, and while I find additional weapons often look incongruous in vehicle mode, these really fit well here, adding some serious firepower to the classic Seeker silhouette but without detracting from the overall aesthetic the way so many oversized car-roof-mounted guns do. Smooth, yet powerful, this has to be one of my very favourite iterations of Starscream’s jet mode.

There's nowhere to stash the crown in jet mode so Screamer is going to have to fly really carefully!

There’s nowhere to stash the crown in jet mode so Screamer is going to have to fly really carefully!

Overall

I’d been hankering after a larger Screamer for my growing collection for a while now and, while he does have his problems, this one certainly fills that niche and it’s good to have him. I’m sure this is a toy who’s going to see some attention from customisers, mostly I’d guess to fill in those shoulder gaps and add additional paint detail on the robot-front facing side of the wings. I’ll certainly be interested to see what people do with this mold, and I haven’t ruled the possibility of taking a few steps in that direction myself. There’s much that’s good about this toy but it would be nice to see him improved still further. It’s only what Starscream believes he deserves.

Size comparison with CW Megatron

Size comparison with CW Megatron

If I’d forked out full release price of my own money for this figure I think I’d be a little disappointed, which isn’t to say he’s bad, just that he could be so much better. But as he was effectively a present from my place of work (and probably not what my boss had in mind as a reward) I really can’t complain at all! If you love Starscream then you’ll probably want to find a place on your shelf for this crowned specimen who certainly makes for a decently solid, nostalgic robot figure and a gloriously sexy jet. But then again, I know what us Screamfans are like. If you love Starscream, chances are you’ve already got this one!

Did I mention that i like Starscreams?

Did I mention that I like Starscreams?

B isn't keen on me sitting Starscream on the arm of our sofa, and neither is cuddly Optimus.

B isn’t keen on me sitting Starscream on the arm of our sofa, and neither is cuddly Optimus.

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8 thoughts on “Toy Review: Combiner Wars Leader Class Starscream

      • At least it has replay value for anyone who likes to complete challenges, level up their gear and tackle the other difficulties. I struggled with the combat at first, but started to fare better once I started to master the art of counter attacks.

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  1. What a nerdy blog! It’s an honor to be followed by such true poindexters. Ahh the Transformers. Starscream would backstab Megatron, Megatron would find out, Starscream would grovel for forgiveness…oh 80’s where did you go?

    Like

    • Hi! Thanks for commenting. Yeah we’re pretty incorrigible around here. I sometimes think Transformers are a bit like the nerdy toy robot version of the Commedia De’llarte: the way that character archetypes persist across different incarnations of the franchise is very enjoyable. Starscream is great precisely because he’s so reliably treacherous and Megatron never seems to learn!

      Liked by 1 person

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