Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I went to see my very first movie in a theatre. My dad took me, and it was to a double feature of both Star Wars, and the then-new Empire Strikes Back. For a kid who was four years old at the time, the combination of huge screen and sound and amazing (for the time) visuals left a very deep impression. Obviously, I loved it, and I’ve been a fan of science fiction and space battles ever since. However, unlike many people at the time (and since) the movies did not turn me into a true “Star Wars fan”.
I don’t know why, but I never took to the Star Wars toys, and while I enjoyed the movies, by the time Return of the Jedi came out, I didn’t particularly care about going to see it. I liked Star Wars “okay”, but compared to Transformers and G.I. Joe, it just couldn’t hold a candle. By the time I got to see Robotech, it was clear to me that there were other Sci-Fi franchises out there that just held my interest more. This has been the case ever since, at least until very, very recently.
One thing that didn’t help was that the few Star Wars models that were available when I started building models (when I was about 12) weren’t very good. Some were alright, but since I didn’t have a love of the franchise or anything, I couldn’t be bothered to sink effort into them. As I got more into modelling and anime, and discovered Gundam (and other series), this lack of Star Wars kits didn’t really bother me.
Over time, though, I have increased my interest in Star Wars, although through a rather strange and circuitous route. One thing I always liked about Star Wars was the vehicles. They were futuristic, but from the past. They were high-tech, but gritty and realistic. It’s an aesthetic that may not be entirely unique, but it is rare, especially compared to the hardware in anime. Thus, as I have gotten older and have had more chance to get to know Star Wars, I’ve come to appreciate the franchise as a result of learning about and studying its military equipment.
Now I have all kinds of Star Wars vehicle replicas (those “Titanium” die-cast models, Lego kits, Micro Machines, etc.), but until just recently, no models. The reason was that I just couldn’t be bothered, even still. I haven’t been that impressed with what I’ve seen form Western sources, and the Fine Molds kits from Japan were too expensive for me to consider. Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into a local hobby shop and saw some of the new Bandai Star Wars kits!
I had heard about the Bandai kits, but was surprised that the store had any! Now, if it’s one thing I know, it’s that Bandai knows how to make a good kit. I looked at some of them and was impressed! Unfortunately, they still seemed a bit pricey. However, one kit jumped out at me: it was the kit of the U-Wing from Rogue One.
My favourite Star Wars vehicles are Gunships/Dropships. I love the Republic Gunship best of all, but I also like the New Order Transport (that LST-looking thing), Wookie Gunship and anything else that is a heavily armed flying box. No wonder, then, that I took to the U-Wing right away. It’s part X-Wing fighter, part Y-Wing fighter and part garbage dumpster, all stitched together in that magical Star Wars way. With cool engine pods, swing wings and Huey-esque door guns, how could I NOT fall in love with the newest Rebel assault transport? I already had a Titanium and a Lego set of it, so I figured the kit would be the perfect way to compliment them. Added to that was the fact that it was in scale to my Gundams (1/144) and it came with all this extra stuff, like two assault tanks and a Tie Striker (oh, and a stand)!
Excitedly, I plopped down the cash and raced home to see what I got. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The Bandai Star Wars kits come in fairly subdued boxes. I’m used to the hyperkinetic art of Gundam boxes, so the largely black Star Wars kits look, in my eyes, quite “formal”. The U-Wing is no exception, athough the box lid is a bit busier simply because there are three different vehicles in this one kit!
The top of the box shows a U-Wing (clearly the focus of the kit) streaking in front of a mountain. It’s not overly dynamic, because there’s not a lot of room for background, and all its doing is zooming. Still, it’s a nice piece of CG art and it gives the U-Wing its typical hodge-podge look will retaining a very purposeful air. I do like the four blue booster trails too. I don’t have much with four engines on it, so that’s definitely an attractor to my eyes!
The TIE Striker takes up the bottom right half of the box and really doesn’t do much for me. The Striker is one of those designs that’s something of a love it or hate it one. I don’t mind it, actually, and I like the idea of an atmospheric TIE variant, especially one with high-mounted wings. It reminds me, in shape, a little bit of the Snowspeeder, another design I’m fond of. However, from some angles the Striker looks odd, and the aspect presented on the box is definitely one of them. It looks more like a tennis ball hanging from a pair of roof trusses than it does a legitimate fighter, and It’s hard to take the design seriously from just that art alone.
Surprisingly, the Attack Tank looks pretty cool in the bottom left corner. The art has a few of the tanks in formation, and there’s an obligatory Stormtrooper-esqe Empire Bad Dude giving what appears to be a Fascist salute from the commander’s turret. Given that this isn’t really a tank so much as a flatbed hover-truck with guns on the sides, the art makes it look pretty mean. What’s really weird is that it’s not even mentioned on the “title” on the front of the box!
The sides of the box, at least, tell the full story. The one side shows three views of each of the vehicles included, as well as finally showing what, exactly, is IN the box! There’s a picture of the U-Wing, TIE Striker and two (2!) Assault Tanks. Yes, that’s right. There are actually four 1/144 kits in this box. I don’t know why they give you two tanks, but I’m not complaining. I’m sure I can find a use for them with my Gundam Ground War sets! The other side of the box shows each of the kits and highlights some of the features, such as the swinging wings on the U-Wing, the Striker’s repositionable radiator panels and some detail shots of the U-Wing’s cockpit, gear and engine pods. The focus is clearly on the U-wing first, the Striker second and then… oh yeah, we’ve got tanks, too.
The box is very shiny and nicely done, but the big bonus is the English box copy! Since just before the end of 2016, Bandai has been putting full English write ups on the boxes and instructions. This really completes the package, as far as I’m concerned, since I hate seeing write up and not knowing if there’s a cool detail in there that I’m missing! The box itself is about the size of a normal HGUC kit (like a Jegan, say), but it’s surprisingly small for what it’s supposed to have inside. This caused me to wonder about the complexity (or lack of therein) of these kits.
I should have known not to worry when Bandai was involved. As I have come to expect from what I personally feel is the world’s premier kit maker, the parts are all beautiful. What is interesting, though, is that there aren’t that many of them. This is also true for the larger scale kits, but it shows up more on the small scale ones in this box. There are only four main racks, and two of these are for the tanks, and are thus duplicates. Bandai manages to fit a U-Wing and a TIE Striker, then, on two racks! Well, it’s actually 2.25 racks, since there’s a small extra runner on the one tank rack for the U-Wing’s dark components, but who’s counting.
Also typical of Bandai, there are multiple colours of plastic in the box. There’s a rack of white and two of dark greyish black, as well as a “composite” rack, which includes the medium grey for the Striker, some white, clear and red “laser effect” parts. This multi-colour moulding may not matter if you’re going to primer and paint everything (which I encourage people to do, of course), but it’s good for non-painters, which helps Bandai sell more kits. It also adds a lot of visual interest to the box’s contents. Once you’re used to Bandai’s colour moulding, going back to any other “monochrome” kit is, really, rather anti-climactic.
All of the pieces are extremely fine and very well detailed. There is a lot of recessed panel lining on all of the kits, although it is most apparent on the U-Wing, just because it has the largest pieces. There are no “bald” or “uninteresting” areas on any of the kits, though, and the fine radiator detail on the Striker’s wings is phenomenal. This is what I expect from a good quality kit, in any scale, and Bandai delivers it in the very compact 1/144 format. It’s going to be critical to minimize paint application on these kits so as not to obliterate the panel lines and fine greeblies with paint. Since I normally paint sci-fi stuff by hand, this is going to require either great care or a change in approach.
There are also two stands included with the kits, one for each flying vehicle. These aren’t action bases, like you sometimes see in Gundam kits. Nope, these look to be pretty simple, square base, one-position stands that do the job as simply as possible. However, looks are deceiving, and these are SWB-15 units. (I’m assuming that SWB means “Star Wars Base”.) These actually DO have some poseability, and can be both pitched and rolled into a few neat positions. They’re not going to give you endless positioning options, but they are appropriately sized and somewhat flexible, and for that they deserve respect. As a note, the instructions mention using the Action Base 2 for the kits too, should the desire and/or opportunity arise. However, it seems to me that this would be a bit overkill given the small size of the finished kits.
There is something of an interior in the U-Wing, and there are tiny cockpit seats with figures in them (one is K2S0 and the other is Cassian Andor, but good luck at 1/144: It could be anyone!), and there is a bit of detail on the walls that go down into the transport hold. Unfortunately, the side doors and main ramp don’t open on this model, but at this small scale, I’m glad. That would be extra complexity, and it isn’t needed. One thing that rocks amazingly hard is how Bandai did the U-Wing’s engine pods. Like the X-Wing, the U-Wing has four cylindrical engine pods. With the amount of fine detail on these kits, I could only imagine the pain of sanding down seams on these things. Well, Bandai took care of that for us all; the engine pod turbine housings are cast as SINGLE PIECES. Yep. You get four “cans” for the turbine housings, including the turbine faces moulded right in. If that’s not amazing moulding, I don’t know what is.
One thing that I do find very odd about these models is how Bandai has chosen to deal with the cockpit transparencies. For one thing, there aren’t any on the TIE Striker. There’s just a plate with the requisite framing and panels cast in blackish plastic. That’s not impressive at all, and it means that there’s no cockpit detail in the TIE at all. As for the U-Wing, there are transparancies for the side and ramp windows in the cargo bay, as well as a full clear cockpit. This is the weird part. On the U-Wing (and other kits, like the Snowspeeder) Bandai has decided to give modellers a choice; either go with a full-glass canopy or get a solid canopy with NO clear part in it!
So, a clear canopy that can be masked and painted I get. The lines on the canopy are very, very fine though, so to mask it will even likely require me to re-etch the faint panel lines so I have something to cut masking tape against. However, the glass-less frame is the part I find completely bizarre. What good is that? I mean, if you don’t want to mask the transparent part of the cockpit, there are even decal frames to help you out, so what good a glassless canopy frame is I cannot even fathom. It’ll look weird if it is used, so why bother?
I do like that the U-Wing can be built with gear up or gear down, and separate “closed” gear footpads are given to cover up the gear bay holes if you go with the “flying” mode. The landing gear looks good, but note that this luxury only applies to the U-Uing, not to the TIE as well. The TIE is a very simple model, almost an “extra” afterthought, kind of like the tanks. It has only a few pieces. Another thing that’s got an “afterthought” vibe to it are the laser effect parts. They’re really just tiny beam saber blades, but they’re in a very dark, un-laser-y (?) red. It’s like the Rebels are trying to win by squirting streams of Strawberry Cream Soda at the Empire. Not only are the “beams” short and oddly-coloured, they attach to the U-wing’s front guns in a very clunky fashion with a weird adapter piece. I don’t like them, and I think they will make a finished kit look cheap and toy-like.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are typical Bandai, but a bit different too. For one thing, the art on the cover is quite eye-catching. It’s very basic, but very “zoomy”, and I like the way that the kit’s contents are displayed “coming at you”. Some of the pages of the building sections are in partial colour, but mostly the diagrams are in black and white, with grey shading. They look just like Gundam instructions, which means they’re clear, concise and easy to follow. Since there’s also English in there, there’s no excuse for messing up! I doubt it’d be possible to do that anyway. The low part count of the kit will help with avoiding confusion, too. If anything, the instructions give the impression of being very “sparse”. I guess I’m used to Gundam instructions where there’s more going on in a given step.
There’s a full-colour painting guide, of course. It is very nice, and is helpful in determining exactly how to paint the models, assuming you intend to stick with the paint schemes given by Disney/Lucas/Bandai. Now, one great part of something like a U-Wing is that there would be multiples of them (I’d think) and that means that when it comes to painting, the world is your oyster. Well, that might be a bit much, but you know what I mean.
If there’s one other thing I know about Bandai, it’s that usually their decals are stickers, and that their stickers… SUCK. Despite how great the Gundam kit, it almost always comes with either foil stickers, that are okay, but largely inappropriate for a serious modeller to use or plastic stickers. While the foil stickers can be a letdown, the plastic ones are just… ugh. They’re the same kind of thick plastic that used to be on ‘80s G.I. Joe vehicles, and believe me, that is NOT COOL on a model. They conform to nothing, stick poorly, silver like crazy, peel at the corners easily and generally are a class 1-A travesty-in-the-making.
So, what do you get with the excellent sprue in this box? You guessed it: bloody plastic stickers. Are you serious? C’mon. Get real. Thankfully, it’s as if Bandai could hear my groans and growls of complete disdain and warranted contempt, because there’s also… ready for this… real decals! Yes, you get two (Count ‘em, 2!) separate, and nearly identical sheets of decorations. One is the aforementioned hated plastic stickers, the other is a beautiful set of waterslide decals.
The decal sheets contain the striping for the U-Wing, as well as the cockpit frames for the Tie Striker, and the full cockpit cover for the U-Wing’s glass canopy. The difference in both professionalism and usefulness of the two sheets is immediately apparent when looking at them. It’s a lot like looking at Michelangelo’s David and then comparing it to some barely-recognizable clay garden gnome made at some drunken “girl’s night out” at a local pottery studio.
I’ve only used Bandai’s waterslides a couple of times before, but in each case they were very nice, quite flexible and they conformed extremely well. However, I have noticed they have a tendency to be rather transparent, so keep that in mind, especially if you use the glass canopy and paint the inside black, or something. It’s going to show.
I love Star Wars vehicles and the amount of thought that gets put into creating futuristic designs that are both practical and exciting. The U-Wing is definitely one of my favourites of all time, so to have such a nice kit of it, especially in the same scale as an HGUC Gundam, is quite a treat. Getting all the bonus stuff, like a Tie Striker and two Assault Tanks is just a bonus, really.
For those who are hardcore into Star Wars and modelling, these new Bandai kits seem like they’re going to be able to scratch your itch pretty competently. They are beautifully moulded and detailed, and they don’t seem that complicated. They are a bit pricey for what you get, piece-wise, but it looks like the engineering in them is going to make up for that. The various vehicles in this kit are all very modular and should go together without any significant problem, I think. The issue will be making sure that you can get them together once parts are painted. I know from experience that Bandai’s tolerances are very tight.
Even though there are some small, dainty parts in this kit, I don’t think they’re going to be a problem for even a novice modeller. Certainly, younger modellers might need some support from a parent or older modeller to cut some pieces off the racks, but other than that, I don’t see any problems. These little guys are simple enough to train new hobbyists while being visually interesting enough to keep them not only invested in the project, but also coming back for more. What modeller-parent wouldn’t want to share both Modelling and Star Wars with an interested child?
There’s no shortage of opportunites for experienced modellers to really go to town on this box-o-kits, either.
So, you get four interesting and varied kits in one box. You get nice decals and fantastic engineering, and it all looks pretty awesome, I must say. If you like Star Wars, space ships, assault transports or Kinder Egg capsules that have bat wings, then when you see this kit, you should grab it. Just remember to Force-Choke the plastic decals; I find their lack of usefulness disturbing.