AMT/Ertl Darth Vader's TIE FIGHTER
Model, Article and Photos by Tony Bell
I am a geek.
I am a geek on many different levels; a multi-layered geek, if you will. Obviously I am a model geek, but aside from that I am a computer geek, an engineering geek, an airplane geek, a space geek, and a Monty Python geek. The list goes on.
But before all of that, I was - and still am - a Star Wars geek. The summer of 1977 saw the first Star Wars movie unleashed on an unsuspecting public. It was a special effects tour de force (Ha ha! Get it? Force?) that presented George Lucas’ fantasy universe with a realism and depth never before seen on film. That summer I was a ten year old boy with paper route money to dispose of and I became obsessed with the story of Luke, Leia and Han, plunking down my $2 at least once a week to sit in an air conditioned theatre and be transported to a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away. To this day I still experience a little frisson of anticipation whenever I hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare.
To stoke my obsession I bought trading cards, action figures, comic books, the soundtrack LP, pyjamas, baseball hats, Pez dispensers, and any other spin-off merchandise I could get my hands on. Strangely enough, model kits were the one thing I didn’t buy. I think I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do them justice, given my limited modelling skills at the time.
Fast forward nearly three decades later to December 2006. My seven-year-old son, a fellow fan and well aware of my love for Star Wars (“No, no, no Alec! Han won the Falcon in a game of sabbacc from Lando, not Jabba! Sheesh, get it right…”), decides that a model of Darth Vader’s Advanced TIE Fighter would make the perfect Christmas gift for me…
MPC first issued this kit back in about 1980, and in recent years it has been reissued by AMT/Ertl. Rattling around inside a cavernous box are some 50-ish parts, including four transparent parts, two for the model and two for the base. The breakdown is fairly simple, consisting of upper and lower fuselage halves, two-piece solar wings, cockpit bits, landing gear, various surface details and of course Darth Vader himself.
The detail on the parts is crisp and well defined. Compared to pictures in Sculpting A Galaxy; Inside the Star Wars Model Shop by ILM model maker Lorne Peterson, there are a few panel lines missing from the cockpit ball, and some of the detail has been simplified somewhat. Overall though, the kit captures the sinister, impersonal techno look of the movie ship very well.
The parts exhibited copious amounts of flash and some absolutely enormous sprue attachment points (e.g. 1 cm for the fuselage halves). My handy-dandy JLC Razor saw was the weapon of choice for removing the parts from the runners, and a piece of 400 grit wet & dry sand paper taped to my desk was used to sand the mating surfaces flat.
The cockpit builds up into a neat little unit that is trapped between the upper and lower fuselage halves. I painted the cockpit black and left it at that, not bothering to paint any of the details since I figured they’d be next to invisible anyway. Darth Vader comes in two pieces, front and back, that fit…well, let’s just say they fit where they touch. When assembled, he looks disturbingly like he’s having a poop. I suppose even a Dark Lord of the Sith needs a good BM every now and then (Use the Force!).
I glued Vader together with gel superglue and cleaned up the seam with files and sandpaper. I painted him with various blacks, ranging from high gloss pure black for the helmet and boots to dead flat very dark grey for the cape, with a couple of shades and sheens in between for other bits and a touch of silver, red and blue on his breastplate.
I painted the insides of the fuselage semi-gloss black and used sheet styrene to blank off some of the insides visible through the gaps in the cockpit. The fuselage halves were joined with liquid cement, clamped together and left to dry whereupon I cleaned up the seams with files, X-acto knives and sandpaper. Some of the scribed detail that was lost during the cleanup was restored with a razor saw.
The solar wings were also assembled with liquid cement, but left separate from the fuselage to facilitate painting.
Did I mention that I’m a geek? OK, so I actually researched the correct colour for the TIE Fighter…
Consulting my copy of Sculpting a Galaxy, I learned that the original studio models were painted Pactra “Stormy Sea Blue”, a colour that has been long out of production. As a substitute, I used Tamiya XF-66 “Light Grey” with a touch of XF-8 Blue added. I pre-shaded the model with semi-gloss black and airbrushed the grey, thinning it about 60% with rubbing alcohol and applying it in light coats to build up the colour depth to the point where the pre-shading was just barely visible.
I then mixed some white in with the grey and thinned it about 90% with alcohol in order to airbrush some highlights. I sprayed this mixture in a pseudo-random manner, concentrating on the centres of the shapes and panels, trying to create an evenly uneven appearance, if you catch my drift. Next I mixed a heavily thinned darker version of the grey and airbrushed the nooks and crannies and panel lines to give more depth to the finish. I gave some of the details a light drybrushing with light grey oil paints, sealed it all in with a coat of Polly Scale flat, thinned with distilled water and then masked and sprayed the black solar panels.
I attached the solar wings with five minute epoxy, which gave me enough time to get them aligned as best I could before it set. The cockpit transparencies are pretty thick, so I left them off rationalizing it by telling myself that the studio models didn’t have them either (apparently in order to avoid reflections from the blue screen backgrounds). The final step was to attach the laser cannon muzzles which were painted Humbrol Metal Cote steel, buffed to a shine and over painted with Gunze clear red.
I managed to finish this model inside of the week between Christmas and New Years, and had a blast doing it. My son was chuffed that I built it so quickly (he knows how slow I usually am) and graciously offered to store it on his bedroom bookshelf. I, of course, happily took him took him up on his offer…
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