G.I. Joe: 30th Anniversary Skystriker

Ever since the debut of the Skystriker mock up at Toy Fair this year, I had resigned myself to being a contrarian. While every Joe fan in attendance at the Hasbro presentation cheered, and while everyone glued to their computer monitor hopped up and down in gleeful anticipation, I kind of shrugged my shoulders and said "eh".

That's nothing against the Skystriker. The infamous F-14 Tomcat has long been my favorite G.I. Joe air strike vehicle, but it was those key words that now went against it... "long been". Yeah, I love the Skystriker. I've always loved the Skystriker. Ever since I bought it already, almost 30 years ago.

While so many G.I. Joe vehicles are based on the mythical "future tech" of the 20th and 21st Century, there were a select few vehicles that were based so tightly in realism that they sort of hurt their own long term viability. The Skystriker is one of those vehicles. While stuff like the Hurricane, the Condor, the Night Attack Chopper, and the Conquest are so future based they can work in almost any environment, Hasbro had made the Skystriker as an F-14 clone, looking exactly like the famous jet fighter. That is a huge point in its favor with many collectors, but when Hasbro re-releases it in 2011, it can end up looking somewhat out of place, even has a 30th Anniversary homage.

Not only is the design itself somewhat dated, but it is based so closely on the tooling of the original version that the play value and the toy aesthetic seems a bit too much like "been there, done that". In my case, over the past 28 years, I've built up a little formation of three of the vintage Skystrikers, so having a fourth one even with updated tooling wasn't something to get all that excited over.

But then a funny thing happened. I was on vacation in Western Massachusetts with my family a short while ago, and I had to take advantage of being within striking distance of Target, since I don't have any within 70 miles of my home. So I took the plunge and started asking toy department employees if they had any, supplying the DPCI number eagerly. I got two early strikes, but then I spoke to a third person, who was more than agreeable, and took down the number, squacked on her radio, then turned back and asked "how many do you want?" I will admit, I hesitated for a second, but ultimately just chose "one". And, dammit, I have to say, holding that boxed item in my hand, I had one hell of a big smile on my face. Yes, this was in essence the same Skystriker I had first owned in 1983, but here I was again, buying it at retail, 28 years later, and it felt pretty neat.

That neat feeling really hasn't gone away yet.

I sort of made a project about the Skystriker assembly, putting the vehicle together and applying the decals during the 14th episode of What's on Joe Mind, and even with the imposing amount of stickers, I plowed through them and the plane almost seemed to come together on its own.

But the question still remains...how do I review this thing? I mean, come on. It's the Skystriker. It's the crown jewel of the G.I. Joe air force, even if it is almost three decades old. Any Joe fan who is reading this review is likely well aware of the level of bad ass that this plane has. With that in mind, though, I do think there are enough differences between the classic and this version that its worth breaking it down in simple terms.

First and foremost, the size of the plane is almost surprising. It comes in a much smaller box than the vintage version did, because it requires a bit more assembly. The front section comes as a separate piece that plugs into the rear, while the sweep wings clip in, and the various other fins all hook securely into place. It ends up in a much more compact package, but once built is the same size as the original.

The plastic feels different than the original as safety standards have changed significantly in the past two-plus decades. As my podcast teammate Gary has mentioned several times, there are no springs in the landing gear or the sweep-wing assembly this time out, which is cool in some ways, though I will admit my landing gear don't pull in quite as snug as the original. I was a bit dismayed that one of them actually flops out a bit from the landing gear door, I would imagine, because that spring is not intact.

The wing-sweep function itself is fantastic, and works just as seamlessly as the original (floppy landing gear aside), though like many fans I question why Hasbro didn't re-engineer it just a bit to make it so the Skystriker landing gear could be down while the wings were swept back. Would have made storage a heck of a lot easier. Hasbro explained this away by saying they wanted to pay tribute to the original, but in my mind, if there are improvements to be made, with the engineering technology these days, you should be making them.

I have heard several complaints around the 'net as well, about the missiles and the issues they have staying attached. By and large, mine have been fine, but perhaps I'm just lucky. They did require a bit more elbow grease to get them attached to the pegs, and I will admit, I haven't run around the house going "FWOOSH FWOOOOSH!!!!" a whole lot yet, but so far, my missiles are staying put.

I have also heard some complaints about the updated color scheme, going with a more gray body than the previous white. Personally, I like the change. The combination of gray and black tailfins really calls back to the Sunbow cartoon (though, yes, the Skystriker was white in the cartoon) and also differentiates the vehicle a bit from the original. My only real issue is the fact that the way the "red white, and blue" stripe stickers are designed (transparent instead of white) the colors are not accurate, which is a shame.

Speaking of stickers, holy crap. First not only does Hasbro give us like 150 stickers for this thing, but they make them customizable, so you can create a Skystriker for Ace, Flint, Shipwreck, Snake Eyes, or Duke! I absolutely LOVE this idea, but no way in hades am I buying five Skystrikers...I'll just have to pretend. Besides those customizations and the 32 #$#!@# No Step stickers, you can also choose between the vintage-like stars and stripes, or the more recent Pursuit of Cobra logo. Along with the logo you can either choose the aforementioned red, white, and gray colors, or the yellow and black stripes for along the wings. I was extremely tempted to go all out with the Pursuit of Cobra, but ultimately I made my choice to stick with the vintage colors. I was reminded by online buddy Firefox that the black and yellow colors were Pittsburgh Steeler colors, and I'll be damned if my plane is flying those colors around.

So far I've talked pretty extensively about how this Skystriker resembles the classic... now how is it different? Well, on the surface it is very similar. I haven't really closely examined every inch of the surface, but on a cursory look, most of the panels and sculpted in detail are present, though in a bit more detail in the newer model. Of course the most glaring change is the cockpit, which is no longer a two-seater. With the enhanced size of the later model figures, Hasbro apparently elected to give them a roomier cockpit instead of trying to shoehorn two larger figures into a similar sized pilot's chamber. My feelings on that are mixed. Sure, the F-14 traditionally is a two-seater, but since when are G.I. Joe or Cobra vehicles "traditional"? Couldn't this be a modified version of the F-14, designed as a single-seater? On the other side of the coin, though, there does appear to be quite a bit of room in the cockpit, so one would thing that engineering might have been able to make something work to keep everyone happy. But perhaps not.

One of the cooler aspects of this retooled cockpit is the twin joysticks. They are separately sculpted away from the surface of the plastic and add an insanely cool level of detail. If you're stubborn enough you can even get Ace to hold them both as he sits there, which is incredibly cool. I know a lot of fans are battling against the whole single-seat idea, and are desperately hoping that Hasbro at some point retools the front cockpit for two figures, but it's not a deal breaker to me, and ultimately the design is awesome, even if the crew is reduced by 50%.

So, from a design and execution standpoint, the Skystriker is pretty successful. It is sturdy, it's big, it has a great allotment of stickers, and a slightly tweaked (yet still pretty cool) color scheme. The sweep wings work quite nicely, though like many others I wish they had re-engineered them a bit. I don't have any issues with my missiles, but I recognize that a lot of folks are having those problems, so your mileage may vary.

Capt. Ace

While I have always been a bit luke warm about the plane itself, holy crap I've been in love with Ace since day one. This is an awesome looking G.I. Joe pilot and the true star of this show!

Keep in mind, I'm not normally one to be into pilot figures... I mean, it's a guy in a flight suit. How cool can the figure be? Well, Hasbro did some very cool things with this version of Ace, and I'm really surprised he doesn't get more credit.

I've made no secret of my love for the Pursuit of Cobra Skydive, and Ace uses some of those parts, which is cool to me. He also mixes in a helping of Resolute Duke and the standard flight suit upper legs, and the entire figure actually gels really nicely. For whatever reason I really dig figures that are larger than normal, bulky, yet still have a nice range of motion or articulation, and Ace covers all of that. For some reason, too, I really love the Resolute Duke torso with all of that intertwining metal plate and circuitry...it really looks nicely futuristic.

Hasbro does stick with the basics in the color scheme department, staying with a series of muted green shades, complimented here and there by black and silver. The result is a pilot figure that looks great even without all of his gear, and that's somewhat of a rarity.

Speaking of gear, Ace comes pretty nicely loaded with a vest, a leg harness, waist pack, pistol, and helmet. The helmet is far and away the star of the show, demonstrating an impressive attention to detail and knowledge of "future tech".

Ace is wearing a helmet based very strongly on the F-35 Helmet Targeting System, which is pretty state of the art (only serving to make it a little weirder to see this pilot behind the yolk of an F-14). Even though I know my share of military technology, I'd never heard of this before, and I love that they included it with this figure. Even if the Skystriker is more of the same, at least the pilot is decked out in 21st Century gear, which is awesome.

Of course the pistol he comes with slides neatly into the ankle holster, and I'm again amazed at how well Hasbro has been able to engineer these holsters, really scaling them down, yet retaining their functionality.

It would be easy for me to sit back and say that the Skystriker is boring because it's just a new version of the same old toy. And in fact, I was fully prepared to do that.

Yet, I do think Hasbro added a nice assorment of curve balls to the final product, and I totally realize that many fans don't have the vintage Skystriker, and can now focus their attention (and wallets) on this one. That is a good thing. Even for those of us who have the old school version, there are still things to enjoy about this one, even if I do wish Hasbro had invested these tooling dollars in an F-35 Lightning Aircraft to compliment the F-35 equipped pilot. The plane isn't perfect, but it's big, it's fun, and it makes a large population of collectors happy. How can I complain?


Pre-Order this vehicle NOW at BigBadToyStore.com!

To avoid having to buy four different Skystrikers, I used a little Photoshop to do comparisons between all tail fin stickers. This does not represent how they will actually look in real life! I have heard some complaints that they blend in to the black tail fins a bit too much.