Organic, but unhealthy? – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444)

Due to the pandemic the new year is only taking off slowly in LEGO land and by that I mean really slowly. Whereas last year many sets of the new wave were readily available long before Christmas or on the first day of the new year, this year it feels like everything is stuck in molasses and barely moves forward. You couldn’t go out there and buy some sets even if you were willing to pay quadruple their MSRP. Neither LEGO‘s own supply chain hasn’t caught up nor that of the retailers themselves and that’s not just because of many stores being closed under lockdown. That’s why I’m all the more glad I could at least snatch up some new releases such as the LEGO Friends Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). Let’s see what it has in store for us.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Box

Contents and Pricing

The set contents is what one at this point would call “typical” Friends fare – a main building, another little side build for a vehicle and a bunch of unimportant “filler” extras along with the figures. After that the simple question is how much it’s worth to you and in this case it means 30 Euro official retail price. I’m almost inclined to call it acceptable, but only almost. While there have been sets with less content for the same or a higher price, my main issue here is that everything feels very “lofty” and doesn’t have enough volume and weight. There’s many small parts and a bunch of large ones, but very little in-between that typically would constitute the bulk of a set and gives you that feeling you got your money’s worth. Five Euro less definitely wouldn’t hurt anything but LEGO‘s revenue. Thankfully street prices are a bit more moderate and I got this for 22 Euro off Amazon. It might therefore in fact drop below that magical 20 Euro mark some day.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Overview

Figures

The LEGO Friends figures/ minidolls have long been stagnant with the ever same Mias, Andreas, Emmas, Olivias and so on dominating the scene and being in every package. This was then further exacerbated by the fact that they always looked nearly identical with barely any variations in their clothing or hair styles. This already had slightly improved over the last two years with more varied attire and the girls sometimes even diverging considerably from their associated color schemes, but was still very limited. It seems that this year LEGO have finally heard the uproar of the crowd and plan on improving the situation with a much more diverse cast.

The first thing of note is of course that now we get actual kids, i.e. little sisters and brothers to the teenage girls. These are apparently based on the smaller dolls introduced last year for the Disney story books. I haven’t dug those out, but it might be interesting to substitute a few components and outfit the little girl who goes by the name of Ava with Elsa‘s dress or something similar. She’s cute either way, so she makes for a nice addition to the family with her blue dress with the floral print.

The same can however not be said for the “grandfather”. I don’t quite know where even to begin, but the name is as good a starting point as any. Marcel is a pretty uncommon name here in Germany and to boot, a “young” one at that which only proliferated here in the 1970s and 1980s. So for all intents and purposes, a grandpa with that name would be in the mid-forties like me and that just doesn’t track. Now of course this may be all different once you consider other regions and their cultural background like in Poland and France, but this little conundrum perfectly illustrates that having explicitly named characters is not always the smartest thing to do.

The more important thing, however is that Marcel does not at all look like an elderly person. This is really a case of “What were they thinking?”. It’s ridiculous. He looks like a teenager in a costume with a bald cap and there’s really no way to put it nicer. This is an epic fail on pretty much every level. It does not at all enhance the set and is kind of creepy like one of those scary clowns.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Figures

Bits and Bobs

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Extra Bits The set comes with a number of loosely scattered extras such as a diner table, some stools and a Bagel. It’s ultimately all pretty useless and the separate nature of the bits will only ensure that those are the ones that get first swallowed by the carpet monsters. I can’t quite understand how LEGO gets away with their EU-compliant small pieces warning, but then is able to put such stuff in the sets. Clearly another small plate to plug on everything wouldn’t be too much to ask for?!

The Juice Cart

The juice cart is a familiar sight and has been done to death in many City and Friends sets in one form or another. The only real difference here is that this actually uses the proper tricycle frame that has only been around for two years and so far has rarely been used in place of the older conventional bicycle found in some earlier versions. That and of course the new for 2021 wheels with a Trans Bright Green spokes disk and Bright Green rims. Not much more to say about the matter. It’s done well enough, but nothing special.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Right View LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Left View LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Juice Cart, Front View

New Parts Galore

Before moving on to the main attraction, the Café itself, let’s have a look at the new pieces it comes with or more specifically some new color variants. Some of them are actually parts that have long existed, but surprisingly never have been done in Bright Light Orange or Dark Pink. There’s also some new elements in White. For the sake of efficiency here’s a simple straight list:

In addition there are the green wheels I already mentioned plus the White gazebo arches with the decorative elements, that haven’t been around for a while. There’s some more 1 x 1 round slopes in useful colors like Tan and Medium Nougat and finally the 1 x 2 slope for the cash register comes with a new, more contemporary print, something we’re going to see for a lot of printed standard elements this year.

The Building

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Front Right View

The building pretty much follows the standard Heartlake City formula – a central pavilion with curved windows in the center, extended on the sides. As I already wrote, this one feels very light and air-y because in large parts it is built as an open kiosk with a pergola on one side. The absence of more solid walls and frames with “glass” certainly can be felt when holding the model. It’s rather light and the main contribution to the weight are the plates everything is built on.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Front Left View

As you can see, on the left side of the building there’s a small “vertical garden” with some vines creeping up the pergola and a small raised plant bed in front of it. It’s an interesting touch, though arguably the space could have been used even better and the bed extended more forward with more “cabbage” leaves and carrots. It also would have made a ton of sense if they had expanded it in the back as well with a small greenhouse or similar, as effectively this area isn’t used for anything else. This also becomes clear in the reverse view.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Rear Left View

The small kitchen/ food counter is okay, but doesn’t really do much for me. Neither does the food selection, which kind of brings me to a point: It’s called the Heartlake City Organic Café, but all they seem to have on offer are sloppy sandwiches and Bagels with tomato slices and lettuce. This is in particular disappointing, as they easily could have spruced up things with a number of existing parts. After all, there is an existing green minifigure head with melon stripes just as there is a matching 1 x 1 melon quarter tile. Similarly, there is a pineapple minifigure head, a banana piece and an apple. It should have been pretty much a no-brainer to include those items. They also could have used the cloud puff piece for blue grapes like they did in the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) and at long last there might also be value in having the cherry pieces in Yellow or Orange to use as Lychees or Physalis. They certainly missed some opportunities.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Rear Right View

The center section comes with a small seating area with the new round 3 x 3 tile serving as the table top. That solution is clearly going to become standard pretty soon, superseeding all previous ways those tables were built. My point, however, is a different one: Given, that the loose bits mentioned further above are stylistically identical, wouldn’t it have been perfect for the plate here to be just those three or four studs deeper to put them there? I really feel a massive *facepalm* slap noise approaching…

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Center Section

Pink is the weirdest Color?

As you well know and as is pretty much self-evident with someone buying Friends sets I have no issues with the sometimes all too flamboyant colors. Yet, as an graphics artist I still like things to be reasonably tasteful and therefore I have a minor peeve with this set. As I already wrote when reviewing the Panda Jungle Tree House (41422) I just hate it when they throw on those Dark Pink elements as if to scream into everyone’s face “Yes, you are holding a LEGO Friends set in your hands!” and that seems to have happened here as well.

I can’t shake the impression that this may have been designed in other colors initially and then the switched around stuff after the fact, but in a very sloppy, unsophisticated way. What makes this so bad is that the answer is really so simply: Use the brighter pink! To illustrate my point, I’ve created some mock-up graphics based on one of the photos. It looks so much less obtrusive with Bright Light Pink, don’t you think? They could easily have gotten the best of both worlds this way. Of course it could have looked even more awesome in the Dark Green variant, but one shouldn’t expect too much.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Organic Café (41444), Building, Alternate Colors


Concluding Thoughts

This is an odd set and I’m torn between liking its bright, friendly appearance, but also disliking its run-off-the-mill construction, the lack of size/ volume and an overall simply weird approach to that healthy food thing. You can kind of feel that there once was a good idea behind it, but the execution leaves quite a few things to be desired. However, as someone obsessed with wanting to have as many pieces as possible in as many as possible colors, my consolation is that for a relatively low price you get a lot of previously unseen parts/ color variants and despite a certain lack of finesse the rest is at least useful in a broader sense.

At the end of the day you can buy this set relatively risk-free as it fits many scenarios and will blend in with pretty much any existing Heartlake City buildings you may already have. It just has limited value on its own. And seriously consider having a talk with your kids about actual healthy nutrition…

Explorer-ing the Cold – LEGO Explorer Magazine, February 2021

It’s pretty cold in large parts of Europe currently and even in the area where I live we had a decent helping of snow those last few days, not to speak of other regions like Madrid that struggle with more than one meter thick layers, something only occurring every 50 years or so. That’s why it seems all the more a fitting coincidence that the February issue of the LEGO Explorer magazine is based around everything to do with the Antarctic and Arctic polar regions.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Cover

The first pleasant surprise in the contents of the mag is a quite comprehensive overview of the various penguin species, those funny birds that can’t fly and inhabit large regions of the Southern hemisphere from the Antarctic up to the southernmost regions of Africa and South America. There’s actually another double spread after the one in the picture. I haven’t checked for completeness and exactitude of the details, but for kids this should be more than enough to digest.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Info Pages

There’s some more info about animals on the central poster, this time with an emphasis on the Northern regions, including a Snow Owl. Sounds familiar? I sure hope so!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Poster

There’s several pages dedicated to puzzles, quizzes and drawing activities, which under current lockdown conditions is good news for parents. Your kids will be busy for quite a while, even though most of this stuff is till too simplistic for my taste. I feel the magazine should orient itself towards a slightly older audience instead of trying to be only for third-graders…

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Puzzles and Quizzes

The buildable model is of course a penguin as well. At around 7 cm tall it’s reasonably large. The beak looks more like that of a Tucan or Puffin, though, meaning it’s perhaps a bit too large for its own good. At this scale the rest of the model likely would have to be twice as large for reasonable proportions. The construction is nothing special, as this is essentially just a stack of 4 x 4 plates and SNOT bricks and brackets in the middle onto which a bunch of slopes and plates are plugged sideways. No extraordinary pieces, but you can never have enough different curved slopes. You never know when you will need them.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Extra  LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2021, Extra

Overall this issue turned out better than I had anticipated from the preview in the last one and it feels pretty satisfying, all things considered. The penguin model is appropriate and feels like you got some good value for your money and the rest of the magazine feels rich enough to warrant spending your money on it.

Chopper Time! – LEGO City Magazine, February 2020

Different year, same subject. I guess that’s basically what you could say about the police-themed LEGO City sets. Of course this topic is a staple of the series and while this magazine is based on last year’s wave, we’re already getting new sets this year. The transition/ integration will be pretty seamless, I’d wager, so even the old sets will have their value. Let’s see what the February issue of the companion magazine has on offer therefore.

LEGO Magazine, City, February 2021, Cover

The comic is still mostly based on the money heist theme that dominated/ dominates the current wave, whereas the new sets for 2021 seem to head into a slightly different direction, which is already hinted at as well. I’ll not spoil it here and leave it to everyone to discover on their own, but it’s a funny twist. One can only hope the humor carries over to the physical set(s).

LEGO Magazine, City, February 2021, Comic

The poster would be okay, but unfortunately the English “Never Stop!” doesn’t at all translate that directly to German in an elegant fashion, so the “Niemals Stoppen” reminds me of a hacky translation done by a fifth-grader in his second year of learning the language. Makes me wonder who’s doing this stuff at Blue Ocean, as the proper way to do it would have been easy enough – you turn it into a question: “Stoppen? Niemals!” Done! So I guess the poster is a bust, after all. At least the mag manages to retain a decent number of activities, puzzles and quizzes, which in these times should be a welcome distraction for your kids when they get tired of all that homeschooling under lockdown conditions.

LEGO Magazine, City, February 2021, Poster

The buildable extra is not much to write home about, as it only uses some very, very basic techniques and for that reason also doesn’t include any fancy parts worth mentioning, but overall it’s okay. It’s decently sized and sufficiently conveys the idea of that baby-sized James Bond helicopter from You only live twice, used here as a mobile police unit. The pilot adds another police offer to the squad, but unfortunately neither has an alternate face nor an extra hair piece.

LEGO Magazine, City, February 2021, Extra

While not super exciting, this issue offers some acceptable value and for that at least it’s worth picking up. For my own personal taste it’s a bit stale, so I’m hoping they’ll move on to the new stuff soon-ish and we might get some cool gangster figure and such.

2020 – A Space Tragedy – LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904)

Today we are going to have a look at a set that most of us actually never will get their hands on as a real, packaged set in a nice printed box. This is of course due to the specifics how the LEGO Star Wars Nebulon-B Frigate (77904) came into existence and the circumstances surrounding its limited availability. So without further ado, let’s have a look at what brought us here.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Front Left View

The Haves and the Have-Nots

When it comes to this set there is a huge divide between those that were lucky enough to get an original package, those who didn’t and the large rest of the community, whose only option is to rebrick it from scratch. I belong to the latter, pretty obviously, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the matter, regardless.

Originally intended as an exclusive only sold on-site at what was supposed to be this year’s San Diego Comic Con, inevitably there were ever only going to be limited numbers of this set out there. This has been the case with other sets in the past years as well, and while it always has rubbed me the wrong way not having access to them, I was mostly fine with that, given that they were small sets that would, though fun to rebrick, not necessarily be something I would go crazy about. that and of course that without the equally exclusive minifigures just rebuilding them would not have the same value. I may not like it, but I do get the mechanics of a “collectors” market, if you get my meaning. However, with the Nebulon-B Frigate things were a bit different and perhaps that why things went sour so quickly when due to the Corona pandemic things changed.

With Comic Con being cancelled, but the sets already produced (due to the long-ish lead-in times required for manufacturing and logistics), LEGO had to look for a different way of distribution and wouldn’t you know it – sadly all too predictably they did so in the most stupid and moronic fashion possible. They only distributed it through their own web shop and Amazon – both times only in the US, apparently. So far, so good. However, what then aggravated many American fans even was the way it was handled: There were no clear dates of availability announced, so people never knew if and when they could actually order their copy, yet somehow scalpers managed to order sets in bulk off Amazon long before. Similar things happened on the LEGO online store, where the set appeared out of nowhere for one day and was quickly sold out.

See where this is going? Yes, many fans ended up empty-handed and even YouTubers like Jangbricks rightfully criticized how this was handled, as even he struggled to get a box for his reviews. As a result, this ended up being a situation of those who have an d those who haven’t and everyone was jealous of their neighbor who was lucky enough to snatch a package. This situation could probably not have been entirely avoided, given what the product was originally intended for, but it certainly could have been mitigated with better planning and communication, leaving a lot more potential buyers a whole lot less frustrated. In fact one wonders why LEGO themselves didn’t deal with this better, given that it caused quite a shitstorm of bad PR for them.

To rebrick or not to rebrick, that is the question!

Things being what they are, most would-be customers that might have bought the set were faced with the question of either buying it for a whole lot of money from them scalpers or rebricking it from scratch using their own parts. This is usually a tough decision, as rebricking a set can be many times more costly than the original package. This in particular happens when a set contains specific minifigures, rare parts or rare color variants of a piece and you have to scrape things together from multiple sources, including expensive additional purchases from Bricklink and similar sites.

However, fret not! Surprisingly, rebricking this set is quite affordable. German site Stonewars.de did the math using LEGO‘s official Bricks & Pieces service and arrived at a total cost of around 55 Euro. This may change a bit depending on where you live and what exchange rates are for your own country’s currency, but all things considered this is not bad and a far cry from the insane amounts of money I feared this would cost. This is perfectly manageable even on a limited budget and even I might have considered it, despite my reluctance to ever even rebrick official sets or build other people’s MOCs. Also the set does not contain any minifigure at all, so you don’t have to go out there and buy expensive old figures just to kit-bash/ fig-barf together that Rebel officer that might have been included.

However, what really won me over despite my usual reluctance to rebrick official sets or build other people’s MOCs, is the fact that I knew that I had a considerable number of pieces already in my repository, including some more elusive ones like e.g. the new binoculars/ droid head and the single (!) grey skeleton foot I had. Funny enough, after those last few years my buying weird Friends sets and LEGO magazines seems to have paid off at least a little. Knowing that I could get about  70 percent of the way soothed my nerves and made the whole operation viable.

Going through my boxes and picking out sometimes tiny parts was still a pain in the butt, though. It costs a lot of time to sort this stuff into their little partitions and then just as long to fish them out using tweezers when they hide in that corner you can’t get your fingers in. In addition I still had to order some elements, most notably a bunch of those brackets in Dark Bluish Gray. I have tons of them in other colors, but LEGO only did the darker grey version in some sets last year, none of which I had bought. I also threw in some other items such as a bunch of studs and the Fez cones for the engine exhausts (had a few from the Hidden Side Ghost Firetruck 3000 [70436], apparently, but not enough), but nothing too dramatic.

For other items I decided right out of the gate to substitute colors or not bother about any of that, because they either wouldn’t be visible at all or the different colors would not affect the overall appearance. I did so after carefully studying the digital instructions and in fact later during the build realized that I could have taken this even further. For instance many of the Dark Tan 1 x 2 plates are merely used as fill elements underneath other pieces and you can basically use any color your have at hand. You only need to go with the original suggestion for a handful of locations where they are genuinely visible and help to convey that rusty, slightly rugged look.

Some elements I would have liked to replace, but things didn’t coalesce in a favorable way, meaning mostly I would have had to waste another 10 Euro on shipping costs on buying a few tiny pieces from another Bricklink seller, so I didn’t. One such piece are the many 1 x 1 teeth elements used to hint at streamlined coverings, hatches and protrusions. I used the Pearl Silver ones I had in many places instead of the Light Bluish Grey version, the latter of which – you guessed it – is kind of rare and thus not readily available in sufficient quantities with every of my favorite parts dealers. I might fix this at a later point, though.

The Model

After my long-winded ponderings let’s have a look at the actual model for a change. What can I say? I think it’s beautiful in every way and manages to hit the right balance between looking like an adequate representation of the original, capturing the scale and proportions and yet still recognizably looking like a LEGO model. Hard to say what exactly it is, but it simply looks very elegant with its long center beam section and the greebly surface.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Front Left View

Some of the elegance of course has to do with color choices. The original, while not exactly flamboyant and mostly a flat grey, has a few colorful areas, but the model designers instead opted to give it a classic “paper” look and pretty much keep everything in Light Bluish Grey, with a few Dark Bluish Grey and Dark Tan highlights peeking out here and there. This no doubt has to do with a) LEGO not having all the correct colors in their portfolio, anyway and b) the so-called “scale effect” where colors despite technically being exact matches look different on differently sized objects. More to the point it seems they realized that going with those greens, yellows and browns sprinkled in that you can find on the original movie models things would have gotten too noisy and distracting. I’m also pretty sure they even tried this out on their prototypes and it looked kind of wrong.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Aft Left View

With that in mind, it’s clear that the appearance is defined by the surface structure much more than actual colors and to that effect they essentially throw every small part (and the kitchen sink) into the ring. There’s a ton of 1 x 1 studs and modified plates, similar 1 x 2 plates and tiles, including the ingot piece as well as some of the weirder stuff I already mentioned. Additionally, there is a considerable number of tiles, slopes and jumper plates and some of them have only come out in the last two years, so no matter how you skin it, this model couldn’t even have been done in this way, shape and form until recently. I guess one could say they had all the pieces in place (no pun intended) just at the right time.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Aft Right View

The model itself is around 30 cm long and about 20 cm tall. In terms of scale it fits what in the model ship building sphere would be the 1/350th or 1/400th scales, meaning every detail would be pretty tiny and thus simplifications and creating the illusion of geometry with light and shadow are common techniques. Thankfully this set does not have any prints or special stickers to take this even further, or else rebricking it would have been even more of a pain. Could have been cool, though, to have some numbers, badges and squadron insignia as well as perhaps some tiny dots for the windows on some elements.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Front Right View

Despite the model looking relatively straightforward, building it isn’t always that simple. The most obvious limitation is that you are often dealing with very long, but also very thin parts just one stud wide. This means that handling is delicate and things are not always as stable as you would like. This is in particular the case with the forward section, which uses a lot of 1 x 1 bricks with studs on the sides that are stacked into small towers and then only stabilize once you add the plates on the sides. It’s not a big deal, given that this is a display model and some fragility has to be expected, but some attention and care is required. I had some of these bits fall off a number of times.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Detail Front, Top View LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Detail Front, Bottom View

With regards to the many smaller elements it pays off if you spend a little time orienting the pieces so they have uniform and straight gaps and run in parallel or perpendicular to the edges and surface they are aligned to. I’m sure I still missed quite a few, but it really helps or else your model can look pretty crooked. On the other hand there some limits to this with many elements literally only hanging on on stud and thus remaining movable later. I also was particularly irked by the slope pieces used to shape the upper deck of the rear section not fitting as close together as I would have liked. That’s one of the areas I might have constructed differently if this were my own MOC. Of course that’s always easy to say and other options like using for instance this brick instead may have other disadvantages. you never know until you try, obviously.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Detail Front, Side View LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Detail Aft, Left View

There are a few other slightly annoying things like the frontmost upper antennae always falling off easily due to the binoculars piece they are plugged into not even having a full depth anti stud to connect to the jumper plate that holds it, but overall everything is where it needs to be and you’d be hard-pressed to find alternate solutions to some design problems.

LEGO Star Wars, Nebulon-B Frigate (77904), Detail Aft, Rear View

The Stand

As you already may have noticed, I constructed a slightly different stand for my model than the one proposed in the original instructions. This came about for a number of reasons. For one I didn’t have the curved slopes they used in their version just as I didn’t have a sticker or a printed tile to use for the plaque. Therefore the forward protrusion with the hinge mounts would be redundant.

Second I also think the original design is simply slightly too large for what is necessary plus that weird construction at the top with the curved slope standing out so much just looks ugly to my eyes. I’m not claiming my solution is the ultimate achievement, but it feels better to me. You can of course come up with a million other designs just as well as long as you keep the general positioning and structure intact. The model is very front-heavy and thus in order to balance things out the stand’s pivot also has to be very close to the front section.

At the same time you don’t need a super large pedestal as long as it has enough surface area and is reasonably heavy so the model doesn’t tip over because the center of gravity is too high. I would even wager you could construct something pretty small from a bunch of 6 x 6 plates and Macaroni round pieces, if you add some fishing lead inside. Well, whatever floats your boat will do in a pinch.


Concluding Thoughts: Everything wrong with LEGO Star Wars

In my headline I called this a tragedy and sadly it is – just not in the way you may think at first. The point here is that this set on so many levels illustrates what is wrong with LEGO Star Wars by getting so much right. It’s a well thought-out model that looks amazing, is reasonably enjoyable to build and at 40 Euro is very reasonably priced. Most importantly it brings something entirely fresh to the whole line by representing a vessel that previously hadn’t officially been done and to boot, it does so in a very collectible scale. This would have sold like crazy as a regular retail set!

Now compare that to the umpteenth X-Wing or TIE Fighter, half-baked “Battle Packs” models of iconic scenes and locales that are barely recognizable because they have been reduced to a mere shadow of the original. Need I go on? To me, the Nebulon-B Frigate is a perfect example of how things could/ should be vs. the crappy reality of what we actually get. The model shows that it’s absolutely not the fault of the designers – if they can come up with this, they sure could crank out a whole armada of vessels in this scale – but rather that the decision making further up the chain is to blame, be that LEGO or Disney/ Lucasfilm.

With all that in mind one would hope LEGO have learned some lessons from this little debacle and are working hard on it. Re-issuing this set as a regular one would be a start and I would even buy it, despite already having rebricked it and then from there they could move on to all those other big crafts like alternate Nebulon variants such as the Y-shaped C version or the Empire‘s armored one, a Tantive, a Hammerhead and yes, of course all the Star Destroyers you could want.

I certainly wouldn’t mind having a line-up of approximately equally sized models on the shelf in the 30 cm range even if it means different actual scale, not dissimilar to what Eaglemoss did with their collectible Star Trek vessels. Am I hoping for too much?

Dalmatian Invasion – LEGO Friends Magazine, January 2021

While I was prepared for a flood of new magazines to come out due to the festive season’s unusual timing this year, this was somewhat mitigated by a slight delay in the LEGO Friends magazine. It arrived two days late at my resident newsstand and then I didn’t get around to actually writing the article. Go, figure! So here we are for a slightly belated look at the January edition.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2021, Cover

This one is all about “speckled dogs”, as they call it, a.k.a. Dalmatians and similar dog breeds. As usual the comic just isn’t my thing, be that the annoyingly cloying writing or the nightmarish depiction of the girls, but at least this time they had the sense to squeeze in an info page featuring adorable puppies all over the place.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2021, Info Page

This continues on one of the posters and while it would be a good idea to veer away from their ugly CG abominations – oh my, did they screw it up with one hell of a lousy photo montage. The dog on the left looks completely fake and out of place! I wish they had just used the original photo of the right dog and sized it to fully cover the poster, including omitting the purple arch. Really makes me wonder what hacks are working at Blue Ocean… *sigh*

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2021, Poster

As has been an ongoing trend, unfortunately, the buildable extra is as lo-fi as you can imagine. at this point it’s probably safe to say that I have way too many of those Magenta jumper plates and Flame Yellowish Orange round plates that I’ll never use for anything. Even the dog isn’t anything special, as it’s just the variant with the grey eye patch that can also be found in many of this year’s sets. If at least they’d create special prints to fit the topic of the mag, this would greatly enhance its desirability and usefulness.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2021, Extra

So for all intents and purposes this is not a great issue, but I guess anything is better than nothing while parents are stuck at home with their kids with schools closed and all that and will buy it, regardless.

Post-Christmas Double – LEGO Star Wars and Jurassic World Magazine, January 2021

The festive season this year has resulted in a bit of an odd timing for the release schedule of some of the various LEGO magazines, so this week the newsstands are full with new issues. That’s why I’m going to wrap two of them into a single article to not drag things out too much. Let’s begin with the LEGO Star Wars one.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2021, Cover

It comes in with relatively little fanfare, by which I mostly mean its utter lack of something genuinely fresh and innovative. In fact I intentionally chose the sample pages from the second, shorter comic because at least the raspberry-like pink fruits give it some pop. The bigger one is for the umpteenth time about Storm Trooper target practice, this time packed into a winter-y scenario. The posters are not worth talking about and feel like unused older designs and even if they aren’t, they’re just not good. Once more this issue is also very light on puzzles, so not much to do, either.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2021, Comic

The buildable model is yet another TIE Fighter, this time as the TIE Interceptor flavor more commonly seen in the newer movies. It distinguishes itself mostly by using this old clunker in a quite creative fashion and I must admit that at first it looks extremely lazy, but works surprisingly well, all things considered. It’s in fact even a bit of a missed opportunity that they didn’t actually include a printed transparent dish for the cockpit front, as due to the construction there’s a small hollow inside that would have perfectly passed as the pilot’s little cubicle office. BTW, the foil pack (and a free sample pack of the latest Ninjago trading cards) was stuck on using some very strong tape and that’s why I shredded the cover. It just wouldn’t peel off without damage.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2021, Extra a  LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2021, Extra b

On to more interesting things, we have the latest edition of the LEGO Jurassic World mag. Okay, the comic isn’t that exciting, either, it merely being yet another dinosaur chase, but at least one of the posters is halfway decent. The puzzles and activities are also pretty thin, so not much to report there as well.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2021, Cover

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2021, Comic

The comic stubbing your nose at the featured Stegosaurus of course has a clear reason, that being the inclusion of the herbivore in model form. Some describe them as one the dumbest dinosaur species, given their super small brain, but I suppose that doesn’t make him any less appealing at least in terms of the appearance. Those large, pointed armor plates sure are impressive as is the spiked, mace-like tail. I vividly remember when as kids we used to watch this old Czechoslovakian movie, prominently featuring a Stego vs. T-Rex fight.

The model captures the proportions well enough, though personally I would have wished it was slightly bigger. Though the color scheme is consistent with the earlier Triceratops and by extension the Mighty Dinosaurs (31058) set I also would have loved the colors to be somewhat more realistic. Those armor plates definitely weren’t grey! Either they were extremely colorful to serve as signal posts for peers and potential mating partners, were patterned and camouflaged to confuse the enemies or covered with meshes of blood vessels and skin to regulate body temperature. Whichever explanation you prefer, there would have been many better color choices.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2021, Extra a  LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2021, Extra b

As it is, you do get these six Dark Bluish Grey flag pieces and they’re attached using the same number of Green hinges (plus another two to which the neck and tail clip on) and you also get a whole lot of 1 x 1 pin hole bricks, also in Green. On the other hand there’s the Tan pieces such as the 1 x 2 inverted curved slopes and my highlight, the three T-style brackets. At least those should be more universally useful. All things considered I’m not complaining, though. The parts yield is good.

Overall nothing special for the end of the year in both magazines, but things do look a bit better for the upcoming issues. Some people already have the shorts in a knot for the green Mandalorian from the The Mandalorian Battle Pack (75267) coming to the Star Wars magazine and the next Jurassic World also looks okay according to the preview page, but I’m not going to spoil that one for you… 😉

Tiger Falls – LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423)

My hunt for this year’s Jungle Rescue themed LEGO Friends sets so far has been of limited success, given that prices due to the circumstances don’t seem to drop that much into a region that I would be willing to accept, but at least let me give you my views on the Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423) to bolster my review of the Panda Jungle Tree House (41422) somewhat.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Box

Contents and Pricing

The set consists of two main builds – the actual rescue balloon and a piece of landscape featuring a waterfall. The latter is more of the modest or even harmless kind as implied by way it’s built, i.e. it’s more your friendly “curtain shower” in the jungle than the river wild. Also included are of course the figures and the tiger cubs, but overall there is very little content. With that let me cut right to the chase.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Overview

The suggested retail price for this set is once more utterly ludicrous. I have no idea in what fantasy world LEGO live, but 40 Euro for this? That’s just insane. Now of course the detractors will be quick to come up with the usual rationalizations like there being some larger parts, but that’s just a poor excuse. Yes, while larger elements are slightly more costly, none of the parts in this set are actually new nor particularly complex or massive, thus not requiring overly complex molds that need to recoup their initial cost. There are enough smaller pieces in the whole LEGO portfolio that are much more demanding in terms of manufacturing.

So for what it’s worth, this is just another set where the company is trying to squeeze the customer hard and it’s just sad that retailers have to pick up the slack with discounts that curtail their own grosses whereas LEGO themselves are rubbing their hands and breaking revenue records every year. One can’t avoid but think that this is utterly intentional and part of their strategy to keep their hands clean. You know, it allows them to maintain the illusion of a premium product at a premium price and if the sets only sell at reduced prices, then it must not be their fault. *sigh*

Anyway, I got my copy for 30 Euro and while that’s not exactly cheap for so little value in return, it’s much closer to what I envision the real price for a set of this type should be. if we wouldn’t live in this crazy time of crisis there probably even would be a chance for this to drop around 25 Euro, but for now I guess this is as good as it gets.

Figures and Animals

The figures follow a similar pattern as Olivia and Mia from that other set, only this time it’s Andrea and Emma of course. They all have short pants/ skirts and the torsos have shirts and blouses with multi-colored patterns, some a bit more ornamental, others more like conventional random camouflage stripes and patches. Perhaps not the safest attire while traipsing through the jungle, but at least adequate in terms of wearing comfort under hot conditions.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Figures  LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Tiger Cubs

For the animals we get a measly two white tiger cubs and they don’t even have different prints. Compared to that you got three pandas in a cheaper set this feels extremely odd. It’s not the end of the world, but one of those “Wouldn’t it have been nice?” things. the tigers themselves look cute enough, but there just isn’t anything more to them.

The Balloon

I could of course make a whole song and dance about it, but the balloon just is what it is and if you look up any older Friends or Ninjago set you already may have stumbled upon it more than once. The large 1/8th radius shell pieces have existed for a while and due to how they work the underlying construction is always pretty much the same – the parts are clamped to the octagonal disk elements and on the inside they use Technic axles and connectors to get the right spacing. In fact you can even see that in the octopus carousel from last year as well.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Balloon, Front View

For me it’s a nice addition to get the elements in Dark Purple after having now amassed quite a few in White from other sets plus the eight Magenta ones from the octopus. Who knows, one day I might even put them to use on a steampunk-ish balloon air ship driven by a steam engine or something like that.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Balloon, Back View

The details of the balloon are otherwise severely lacking. Only the bare minimum has been done for the detailing of the main basket and the additional small rescue crate. Most annoyingly there isn’t even a ladder to climb into the basket and of course they could have included a bunch of ropes for securing the balloon or hauling in the tigers.

The Waterfall

The small section of land with the mountain and the waterfall flowing down it follows the same design philosophy found in the other sets. That means it thankfully mostly uses “decent” colors and is decked out nicely with extra greenery on top. this particular model also needs to be lauded as for once it actually has a recognizable internal logic with a narrow path leading up to the top, a cave and several places to hide behind/ underneath the water curtains. This should at least give kids some ideas on where to place the tigers.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Waterfall, Front Right View

there are a bunch of other animals, but they feel a bit thrown together from what was left over in the LEGO factories. The small turtle from the Ocean Rescue series last year is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it should at least be a different color to add some interest and uniqueness. Similarly, I could have gone for a Coral colored frog to pose as a Strawberry Dart Frog. I blathered on about this in one of my magazine reviews already. Well, at least it seems next year we’re at least getting Bright Pink frogs one way or the other, so that’s something to look forward to. Re-using the old Elves bird on the other hand is really getting long in the tooth, especially since they can’t seem to even be bothered to come up with new prints. They really should do away with it and use other birds in nice colors.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Waterfall, Front Left View  LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Waterfall, Left View

The construction of the little mountain is adequate, but not outstanding. It does the trick, but like so many of these models it only stabilizes pretty late during the build. You spend quite a bit of time working on barely holding spindly long bricks and even the floor plates basically only stabilize once you have added the transparent arched panels for the flowing water. Funny enough, once you do that everything is pretty sturdy, give or take of course the large leaves that tend to come off occasionally. That at least, combined with the compact shape makes it easy to move the whole thing around and take it with you.

LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Waterfall, Rear View  LEGO Friends, Tiger Hot Air Balloon Rescue (41423), Waterfall, Right View


Concluding Thoughts

Unlike the panda set I found this one rather unsatisfying, mostly simply due to the absence of something special that would make you go “Ooooh” and “Aaaah”. It’s not bad, just kind of uninspired and generic. I would even go so far as to say that the waterfall itself might have made for a nice little 20 Euro set without the balloon while the latter just feels thrown on because they couldn’t come up with something better and needed to pad out the content and in turn the price. Likewise, the shortage of tigers and the lack of some small extras is simply disappointing.

Overall I therefore wouldn’t consider this set a must-have. You can sneak it onto your buying list if you have the money, your kid bugs you about it or you already have all the other models from the series, but otherwise you can easily pass on that one without missing much. It just doesn’t really add much that you haven’t seen before nor does it look that interesting, all things considered. It clearly feels like those work-mandated jobs where the designer wasn’t in a particularly good mood that day and didn’t put in much effort…

The Not-AAT – LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank [AAT] (75283)

My love-hate relationship with LEGO Star Wars is really getting weirder with every set I buy as I’m realizing that despite new stuff being added e.g. based on the The Mandalorian series I realize I care less and less. I totally blame this on the sets becoming less attractive in terms of construction and how they ultimately look while prices reaching crazy levels. That is at least in the lower price tiers I move around.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Box

The Armored Assault Tank [AAT] (75283) is one such case, unfortunately. The version, or more specifically color variant in this set, can be briefly seen in the Revenge of the Sith Kashyyyk attack sequence in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment and I’m pretty sure it also appears in The Clone Wars and other later materials based on the prequels. The more regular ocre-/ tan-colored version is of course more prominent, be that the final battle in The Phantom Menace or other such occasions. However, despite all this there is surprisingly little information on the vehicle, except for one thing that is certain:

AAT mini Mk. IV e or what?

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Overview

The elephant in the room is of course that this has nothing to do with a “real” AAT as actually present in the movies and series – not by any stretch of the imagination. If at all, this would qualify as a heavily redesigned next version, a smaller side version or simply a newly constructed vehicle based on the same principles. The irony here is that in fact I quite like it to some degree, as the larger turret and less ellipsoid overall appearance give it its own unique and distinct look, but it just bears zero resemblance to the original vehicles. It might still have looked cool next to its bigger brothers, though.

The Minifigures

One of the reasons I got over myself and bought the set are – drumroll – for this rare occasion the minifigures. As you know from other posts I don’t proactively collect them, but if I stumble upon one that I like and may want to use later, I keep them around.

Of course the main appeal here is Ahsoka. she had been done a couple of times in the past, but I feel that this is the first time ever her specific appearance with in particular her striped hood has been captured correctly. Can’t help it, but the figure just is extremely nice. Predictably, its popularity can only grow now that the character has appeared in The Mandalorian and a dedicated Ahsoka series has been announced for Disney+ as well. I’m pretty sure we’ll see lots of different versions from here on, but this is a good basis, no matter what.

In addition to Ahsoka herself we also get her personal bodyguard/ companion clone trooper for the first time, making this even more desirable. I’ve seen people on Facebook buying the set just for that and prices on Bricklink are also pretty crazy already. Finally there are two more Kashyyk droids, which are also kind of rare and fetch a good price. Earlier this year I sold some to someone intent on building a diorama with entire squadrons of them and apparently he had swept clean a lot of the market from the more affordable resellers already. So for all intents and purposes, it could be pretty easy to re-finance the whole set if you find people interested in the figures that you could sell them to.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Minifigures

Parts Cornucopia

In my world figures are nice, but parts that expand my portfolio are better, so let’s have a look at that as well. As you may guess from the sub-headline, the set doesn’t fare badly in this department. Many of the pieces, while not necessarily exclusive to this set, are relatively rare and either appear for the first time at all, have not been available in a long time or only in a handful of sets or are included in more significant numbers than previously in other sets. The individual parts are:

As always the point for me is to get as many of those pieces in one place instead of having to scrape them together from Bricklink or other sources at even greater cost and in that regard this set delivers. For me even more so since it has a few other parts that I didn’t have before like the curved wedges in Light Bluish Grey or the Dark Blue dishes. It’s all good stuff to have around just in case you may need it one day and you can’t go wrong with it.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Front Left View

The Price is still wrong

In light of the previous two chapters one might think that this is good value for money, but sadly it is not. For a bunch of pieces that essentially would fit into the volume of a slightly enlarged Rubik’s Cube, meaning a very small model that without its protruding gun barrels is 15 cm long, 15 cm wide and 15 cm tall, LEGO want you to pony up 40 Euro. That’s a big “No, Sir!” on my part and I can only once more conclude that they are pulling the prices for their sets out of their asses or throwing the dice in a drinking game. It’s just not worth that and seems ridiculous.

So once more I was biding my time until the set was closer to what I wanted it to be. At around 27 Euro I took the plunge, though I would have preferred for it to drop below the 25 Euro threshold. However, in the craziness that the year 2020 that seemed unlikely, given that there are genuine supply problems with LEGO vs. an extraordinarily high demand and so I didn’t put it off too long in order to not lose the advantage. Still, let me make it clear that I think that 25 Euro is actually the “real” price I would like to see this being sold for. Aside from a few larger parts and the minifigures there’s just not enough volume to justify more.

Deceitful Appearances

The reason why the model lacks volume and by extension thus can never be even close to an accurate representation of the real thing quickly becomes apparent when you swivel around it and view it from different angles. What looks okay from the front such as the big curved armored hull quickly falls apart when viewed from its rear side. It lacks all the transitional areas and worst of all exposes the raw underlying construction. This continues throughout the mid section of the turret, which similarly only looks good from the front, but when viewed from behind just looks like they ran out of pieces to cover it up.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Aft Left View

Worse, still, this section is not accessible from the rear because due to the small size of the model they had to use the space for a double-width window frame that acts as the support for the top section.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Aft Right View

As hinted earlier, the turret is way to big, most notably simply too wide. However, you have to give the designers some props for at least trying. The problem here is that on the real thing this is a very complicated shape with complex curvatures situated very far aft on the vehicle. In fact from a “real” military standpoint this probably would not make a lick of sense on an actual tank with it tipping over every time the turret is rotated off-center or from the recoil when it fires a charge. It’s one of those fictional things that would easily be defeated by actual physics.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Front Right View

Anyway, for all intents and purposes the turret should not be any wider than the extended handle it’s situated on and I feel that this is a typical case where the LEGO side of things got too much in the way. I think they were too bent on making the cannon movable and then ran into trouble getting enough stability in there, so they had to make things bigger. See what happened here?

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Left View with elevated Gun

The gun can be elevated and swiveled around 180 degrees, but as I mentioned that probably isn’t realistic to begin with and in the movies I haven’t seen the tanks fire anything but directly forward. It’s a nice play feature for the kids at least, but really not much more than that. On some level that also extends to “those other guns”, which are actually range finders and small lasers for self defense. they look rather crude on the model and the ugly black color doesn’t help. At least I’m glad they didn’t eliminate all antennas because, as you know, all the droids are remotely connected to their control ships in orbit. The silver rapier sticks out a bit too much, though.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Left Top View with elevated Gun

Adding to the play value is the ability to at least place the two droids that come with the set in the interior. Not in the technically correct positions, but let’s be grateful for small things.

LEGO Star Wars, Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283), Interior Details


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this set fits the recent pattern of overpriced Star Wars sets whose value is primarily driven by the minifigures included while the models at best are adequate, but not great renditions of the originals they represent. This scheme becomes even more devious when figures are scattered across different sets. That is thankfully not the case here at least with no other specific The Clone Wars sets being available and requiring you to take out the purse just to get some company for Ahsoka, but this doesn’t make the situation any less unfulfilling.

As I already wrote, the tank itself is just fine. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the Star Wars universe and even on it’s strict LEGO merits merely comes across as an uninspired run-off-the-mill job more than anything the designers put much effort in. It’s what in the media and graphics design industry we would call an “intern job” hacked together on a lazy afternoon, or in this case a recycled design from a few years ago that wasn’t correct then and isn’t correct now despite minor modifications and updates thanks to new parts.

The irony here is of course that I can neither advise pro or against the set, as it has its merits. Some will love the minifigs, others like me may see this as a good chance to rake in some interesting pieces and all the combinations inbetween. The only thing you really need to wipe from you mind is that the model has anything to do with a Star Wars AAT and in that regard it’s a complete fail.

Flappy Bird – LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979)

As I’ve pointed out occasionally, one of my weirder LEGO obsessions or sub-genre collecting ambitions is to scrap as many animals as I possibly can together on a budget. Not all of them necessarily, with one obvious reason being the cost for mammoths, dinosaurs and some others and their rarity, another being that sometimes they simply not look good, but still, I have this dream…

In doing so I also try to be complete for at least some species and one of those are owls. This also means that occasionally I’ll stumble upon sets that I may just buy for the critters, but that thematically are still related, even if only tangentially at times, and the LEGO Harry Potter Buildable Hedwig (75979). Phew, what a long segway! So let’s have a look at this set, but before we do, a few thoughts on another matter or a bit of a rant, if you will.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Box

Harry Potter gets Owls wrong…

…as in completely wrong. It has always irked me massively that in the movies they are depicted as servile pets while outside those few specimen specifically trained by their handlers the reality is quite different. Okay, there are a number of docile small owl species that indeed are adorable when they dorkily move around and look like they need extra special care and attention to even survive, but for most other types of owls that isn’t true, in particular for the medium to large size ones relevant here.

Most of them are fierce and sometimes rather nasty predators that wouldn’t flinch at pecking your eyes out in defense of their young just like they are not necessarily friendly with each other when fighting over food or on a more general level even. Most are just loners going about their business on their own except when it’s mating season. The proof is in the pudding, as they say: Only last year I saw a bunch of Snow Owl adolescents fighting over food with their mother sitting nearby and guarding them and you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of that group. Oh, did I mention that those owls are much larger than they appear in films and on TV?

So for what it’s worth, as appealing as it may appear, given the mystique and mystery that surrounds owls, the notion of them being mail carriers of some secret underground postal service and Hogwarts students’ best friends is kind of far-fetched and ridiculous and sadly has led to a lot of misunderstandings and mistreatment even of real birds because inevitably too many people wanted one after reading the books or watching the movies. I therefore can only urge to leave those creatures in peace, even if you encounter their tamed versions in a wildlife park or zoo. They deserve to be treated with respect and not as a movie prop come to life!

Big and Small

The contents of the set are pretty straightforward – aside from the main build for the big bird there’s only one minifigure and in addition the small version of the owl, a new mold with spread wings for 2020 where older versions only had their wings folded and were perched in a resting position.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Overview

As someone who these days doesn’t care much about all that Harry Potter stuff anymore I won’t even attempt to pin down the exact canonical use of the Harry figure, though I believe it could be The Prisoner of Azkhaban ‘s winter-y setting, given that he apparently wears blue gloves and a scarf. Beyond that there isn’t really much to say except that it’s a good thing that someone had the idea of allowing everything to be integrated in the stand, so you don’t have items floating about separately and getting lost.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Minifigure

Is it a plane? Is it a bird? Is it Superman? It’s an owl!

Of course the most pressing question with this set is whether the designers were able to capture the shape and appearance of Hedwig appropriately. This is a bit of a two-fold issue to me. Did they manage to replicate a believable owl in the general sense? Absolutely yes! Did they manage to re-create a snow owl in particular? Totally not! To me this very much looks like a Small Owl or Kauz, as we call it in German. In fact if you took this at face value it would even match the actual size of these little critters, as most of them barely are taller than 20 to 25 cm.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Left View

The mismatch in proportions becomes very noticeable when viewed from other angles with the thing that stands out most being the lack of volume/ bulk in the main body, the shortness of same and also the wingspan not feeling right. In simple terms, everything feels just too small relative to the head size and the big eyes.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Aft Left View

The color scheme is built around an almost full winter plumage, meaning it’s nearly completely white with only a bunch of darker feather tips sticking out. Again, this is sort of the idealized “pure” Hollywood version, with most real examples showing a broader variety, including some of them looking very checkered with lots of gray feathers even after their seasonal changes. It’s perfectly fine for a movie-based character, after all, though. From a technical point it also allows them to keep things relatively simple with larger elements used in many places instead of having to add yet another ton more of those 1 x 1 quarter tiles in different shades of grey.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Right View

Speaking of which – don’t be under any illusion that despite the moderate size this would be a quick build. There’s lots of small elements being used here which can get finicky. they all need to be aligned properly to look the part and on top of that even some of the larger sub-assemblies have to be carefully put together and put into their final location to not block other elements as well as looking good. This can get quite a bit frustrating as for instance the tail feather parts attached to hinges tend to mess up at the slightest touch and you have to spend some time fanning them out correctly. The same applies to the wing tips, which depending on the actual pose you decide on may need to be tweaked to look accurate.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Right Top View

One thing you have to be clear about right from the outset is the fact that this model only really looks good from the top or for that matter any angle that does not allow you to see the undersides and the parts of the mechanism. This isn’t so much a criticism, as the designers really tried to keep these things sleek and to a minimum, but rather some preemptive advise. This may not look good on the highest shelf and instead should be placed at eye level or lower angles.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Right Bottom View

The mechanism is very well designed and I was actually quite impressed what kind of natural movement and wing positions it produces. This really cannot be stressed enough, as of course they simply could have settled for basic hinges and ball joints that have to be posed manually of even designed this in a fixed pose.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front Top View

The wing positions basically go from a gliding position with the wind also bending the wings slightly to a prowling position shortly before landing or grabbing the prey during the hunt. Other positions are certainly possible, but, and that’s a bit of a shortcoming here, may require to actively block the mechanism somehow or completely change it.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front View, Wings Raised

The point here is that, while the gear works well, given how small the overall construction is, it has a very noticeable cusp/ climax point at which the torque gets so much, you can feel the resistance before it tips over to relax. Again, this is simply owing to the smallness of the mechanics, not an intentional flaw. Getting smoother movement would have required to use larger gears and more intermediate steps to even out the forces.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Front View, Wings Drooped

Cranky Pedestal

The crank for the gear train is attached to the pedestal/ stand, which is built as the first item separately from the owl itself. Building the stand is just fine, but connecting it to the bird’s torso turned out to be a bit frustrating even for me. This isn’t even to blame on the Technic axle on the drive shaft, but in fact on the basic plates with which you join the top to the bottom and the brackets used to secure things into place with tiles shimmed over later. If things are misaligned even by a tiny amount, things just won’t snap together as intended and you have to try over and over again. It also doesn’t help that the instructions have an error that displays exactly this step wrongly.

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Crank Gear, Left View

The stand is an okay affair and the way they construct the angled part is certainly interesting, but otherwise not much to write home about. It’s also once more utterly unfathomable why they didn’t include a single printed piece, not even for Hedwig‘s name plaque. Given, that this clearly is more are collector’s model than an actual play item this should not have been an issue at all

LEGO Harry Potter, Buildable Hedwig (75979), Stand, Right View.


Concluding Thoughts

This set should appeal to many users – Harry Potter fans and owl lovers alike – but is not without its flaws. Most notably, and sorry for beating this to death, it’s “just some type of owl” and far removed from a reasonable rendition of the real Hedwig. You have to be aware of that just like the slightly tedious build process. I wanted to sit down for a relaxing, simple evening build and then reached a point where it ultimately took way longer than expected and I got very tired.

The price should not be much of a concern, as it starts out very reasonably at 40 Euro and you can pretty much get this set everywhere with at least 10 Euro off. Once you figure that in, all you can say that for those 30 Euro it’s pretty good in it’s own right, no matter what else. So if you haven’t made up your mind already, you can’t really go wrong with this set. The result is rewarding enough, the build is a manageable and it doesn’t cost too much if you just looking for something to kill a bit of time during this pandemic…

Explorer-ing Insects – LEGO Explorer Magazine, January 2021

So far the LEGO Explorer magazine always delivered the goods and overall has enriched the world of magazines and the January 2021 edition seems to continue this trend. Not exactly seasonally fitting for us here in Germany this time it’s about insects, something which you would more expect during the summer months or in spring.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Cover

The immediate positive takeaway of this issue is that it prioritizes actual info on the real thing rather than just plastering the pages with references to LEGO builds. At the same time perhaps not much of a surprise, though. They never really had a genuine insect-centric series and aside from a bunch of mini-builds and a few spider-like creatures in Creator 3in1 sets there’s not that much to draw on. I also remember a bunch of minifigures with different types of wings like the one with the bee costume in DC Super Heroes. Perhaps they could have had a page on that at least?

Otherwise there are several pages such as the one below dedicated to different insect species, including one on roaches even. Of course they could do entire books on this, given that there a millions of different types of insects on this little planet of ours. It’s by no means even coming close to being comprehensive, but a sufficient primer nonetheless.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Info Page

The poster is designed in a similar vein, though admittedly it shows that this was cobbled together from different sources. No budget to make it to a natural museum’s butterfly collection or a botanical garden, eh?! Seems unnecessarily cheap to me. That would also have opened up the possibility of using the back cover better. Instead of the photo background (a flower meadow) they could have used it to print some cut-out butterflies for a mobile or something like that on the slightly stronger paper stock. A missed opportunity somehow.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Poster

The buildable extra this month is a pretty large fire ant that makes use of differently sized round elements to represent the individual segments of the body. It looks a bit all over the place color wise, as of course LEGO do not go out of their way to produce extra parts for these little bags on the magazines, but at least there’s some nice Dark Red pieces. The Black and Trans Red dishes should be all too familiar to any Star Wars or Ninjago fan. The legs are made up from minifigure droid arms and are of the right kind with the hand not turned, so they are extremely useful for building extended hinges or railings. You also get seven of them (six plus one spare), so it would be a notable contribution to your parts stock.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Extra  LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, January 2021, Extra

This is a pretty nice issue more in line with what I imagine LEGO Explorer should be, meaning a focus on really teaching the kids something instead of being an advertorial for LEGO sets. I only wish they’d have the ambition to really make it polished and not rely on pre-existing stock content so much. It simply shows.