I'd been toying with the idea of writing a review of another one of my sabers for a while, and the re-categorising of the review boards gave me the final push I needed. So, I decided to write a review of the very first Force FX saber I ever bought - the 2003 Darth Vader, from A New Hope.
Starting with the hilt - this is one area where this saber is simply superb. Of the four sabers I own, this is definitely the closest in appearance and size to the original, and the SE/LE prop replicas. All of the main details are replicated faithfully, and the scale of the hilt as a whole and of its individual features is very accurate. One of my favourite things about the Vader ANH is the detail in the emitter shroud - the emitter coil is preserved on the inside, increasing the accuracy and overall 'real' feel of this hilt even further.
The weight of the hilt is also very reasonable - far lighter than the Mace Windu AOTC, but a little heavier than the 2003 Luke ROTJ. The positioning of some of the details of the hilt can make it a little difficult or uncomfortable to hold in certain positions, but if you try to use the same two-handed gripping technique on the saber that was used by Vader in A New Hope, things fare far better. This is definitely one that lends itself specifically to a double-handed grip, rather than one-handed, due to the fact that the rubber grips do not extend all the way up the hilt to the control box, and that the control box itself has the same lever-like feature sticking out of one side as was seen in the original saber.
The overall behaviour of the saber in terms of its movement and collision detection does leave a little to be desired, but again this can be mitigated somewhat by adapting your technique to obtain the best results. It is true that in the case of a straightforward left to right swing and then back again, most often the saber will only detect and make the appropriate sounds for the swing in one direction, and will more or less ignore the return swing. If swung faster and more randomly the sound detection and playback is better, although duplicate or incomplete swinging effects can sometimes be heard. I have found that it also helps to actually twist or rotate the hilt in your hand while swinging the saber - this results in the appropriate sounds being played more often, and thus gives an improved impression of the accuracy of the saber. So, whilst not the best of the FX Sabers in terms of its sensitivity, there are ways to compensate.
The collision detection is absolutely fine in my experience - it can be set off easily enough, without too much force or effort being required. There is however only one clash sound, although this is movie-accurate - Vader's saber only had one collision sound in A New Hope. In general, this saber's sound is not as loud as the very latest crop of sabers (the Anakin ROTS and 2005 Luke ROTJ in particular), but is certainly louder than the original Mace Windu AOTC, which was notoriously quiet and muted in character. The idle hum is the same sinister rumble as Vader's on-screen saber, and is clearly different when compared to the FX Sabers of other characters. The accuracy of the idle hum once again lends to the overall sense of 'realism' of this saber - all the sound effects are a very good match for Vader's Sith lightsaber.
The blade of this saber is, once again, superb. It is a bright, strong, consistent blood-red, as befits a Sith lightsaber. The brightness of the blade is excellent, and it is not duller than other sabers, as some have alleged - it is difficult to make a side-by-side comparison with the human eye of this and a saber of another colour, since red usually registers for most people as being duller than other colours, blue and green in particular. However, it is easily bright enough to cast a sinister, red glow around a room without any problem. Like all LED sabers, if one looks closely enough at the proper angle, it is possible to see the divisions between individual groups of LEDs at certain points along the blade. These divisions are not easily viewable, however - you have to be looking for them to see them, more or less. The power-up and power-down effects are extended when compared to most sabers, which again is a faithful replication of the behaviour of Vader's on-screen saber. All these features conspire to make this blade one of the best, and certainly most unique, of all the FX Saber range, in my opinion.
This saber takes six batteries, and the battery compartment is easily accessed by unscrewing the pommel and sliding out the battery compartment, as with all other sabers (with the exception of the original Anakin AOTC). I have never had any problems with the saber cutting out or being accidentally switched off during swinging - the power switch on the Vader ANH is very well-placed, and practically impossible to hit by accident due to its recessed position and small size.
In closing, it is worth noting that there is, as all regular readers of this forum will no doubt be aware (but new visitors perhaps may not), a later model of this Force FX saber - specifically, a version of Vader's lightsaber from The Empire Strikes Back. I have not had the opportunity to see or use this FX Saber myself, but I am told it addresses many of the shortcomings of the ANH - specifically relating to the movement detection and sound overlapping. There are other reviews of the Vader ESB on this forum that will no doubt help readers to contrast and compare the two versions, but from my own personal experience with the Vader ANH as a stand-alone saber (and also as my first) I would have no hesitation at all in recommending it to anyone.
In fact, speaking personaly, the 2003 Vader ANH is my favourite lightsaber out of all those in my collection. Even though some of the later sabers are unquestionably technologically superior - the Anakin ROTS in particular - it is the unique nature of the blade and sounds, and the excellent attention to detail and almost entirely accurate scale of the hilt, that make it a truly enjoyable saber to hold. When you ignite this saber in a dark, quiet room, and hear the hiss-crackle of a Sith blade springing into life as the sinister red glow travels up from the hilt, and hear it settle into a deep, low rumble, you are left in no doubt that this is the lightsaber of the Dark Lord of the Sith himself !
Full size: http://i82.photobucket.com/albums/j248/drysdalk/VADER-ANH.jpg