April Infiltration

A certain virus is infiltrating the world and the Sith are to blame for it! No, of course I’m just kidding around. It’s true, though, the April issue of the LEGO Star Wars magazine comes with a mini model of the Sith Infiltrator spacecraft, if minus a Darth Maul figure.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, April 2020, Cover

Though barely even visible in The Phantom Menace, the ship has become somewhat notorious and a fan favorite on its own. Once you actually do your research the shape is immediately recognizable even though personally I think LEGO has not been very successful in capturing it in one of their many attempts, neither in big sets nor as a Microfighter. As far as that goes, this version is kind of okay, but without the name printed on the front page it would be hard to discern what it is supposed to be. I’m not going to complain about a “free” goodie, but it definitely lacks volume in the aft section.

On the bright side, and for me the highlight of this little package, it comes with the new 3×3 dome piece introduced with the The LEGO Movie 2 sets last year, specifically the Unikitty & Friends set (70822). The grey version so far has only been used in the Trafalgar Square (21045) set in the Architecture line, so this is extremely valuable if you are a MOC builder and may warrant a purchase of the magazine for that reason alone. It may just take a bit to hunt it down given the current situation out there.

I’m certainly past the core demographic age, but the comics are quite appealing. The main comic ties into the failed Solo film and thus feels a bit like recycling content that they had produced for it and didn’t want to throw away, however, I must admit. The posters are okay and the games/ puzzles can occupy your time for a few minutes. In a time where many people are stuck at home for weeks on end one should be thankful for small diversions.

2-22-2020-R2-D2

It again feels like I was writing my review just yesterday, but it’s true – another month has passed already and here we are with the March issue of the German LEGO Star Wars magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, March 2020, Cover

This edition comes with an R2-D2 droid minifigure. This hasn’t been included for the first time, but since it’s been like two years when it was featured last, enough people will have missed out to appreciate it reappearing. There’s definitely at least one guy out there that might want to have this droid sans crooked printing. Yes, I’m of course talking about Mr. Jang of Jangbricks fame on YouTube. how he always seems to end up with misprinted versions is indeed quite baffling.

In addition to the main figure there’s some pieces to build an imperial mouse droid, so that’s a nice little addition. Next month’s issue is supposed to include a Sith Infiltrator and judging from the preview image this could be a cool thing and yield some nice parts for the collection.

The rest of the magazine follows the usual pattern and where the games and puzzles are concerned the Star Wars version of these magazines at least offers some challenge and isn’t just a five minute affair. The main comic with Darth Vader partaking in a pod race of all things first had me confused, but ultimately is pretty much resolved as you may expect. Still, it’s a nice funny spin on a bit of lore and Vader/ Anakin‘s history.

One thing particularly worth noting are the posters, which use a somewhat abstract linocut/ woodcut style. That makes them almost “living room ready” like professional commercial posters. If the colors were tweaked a bit and were more intense and the paper was of better quality, I’d be tempted to actually put up the Boba Fett/ Slave 1 one. So overall this is one of the better editions of this magazine series and you should definitely check it out!

Strike Out!

Going from not so exciting to pretty much *meh* the February issue of the LEGO Star Wars magazine has arrived.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2020, Cover

This feeling of dissatisfaction of course primarily stems from the rather inglorious model included this time, the value of which to me hovers somewhere around the zero mark. Don’t get me wrong, there have been simplistic models in the past, but at least they always contained some interesting and unique parts or at least ones in interesting “rare” or new colors. This TIE Striker is really as mundane as it gets and has been trimmed down extremely to the point of barely being recognizable. Ironically it would have been easy to fix/ improve the whole affair by using larger wedge plates for the wings/ radiator surfaces and bulking up the fuselage ever so slightly with some more plates.

The comic has some nice panels featuring Yoda that would make for great posters, but no such luck. Instead we’re treated to the usual poor CG stuff this time featuring Vader and Luke. the activities department is sparse, to say the least with only three simple games/ puzzles. On the bright side, the price has been corrected down back to 3.99 Euro, but you just feel that there are fewer pages. Also the next issue is looking a lot more attractive judging from the preview page, so there’s hope yet…

B-Grade A-Wing – Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248)

Of course some of the sets for the latest Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker had been out since late October, but only now that the movie is out things are actually making sense in terms of how realistically the models represent the vehicles and how they fit into the story. One of them is the Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248).

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Box

As I wrote in my short review of the film, this is one of the fighter craft you barely get to see. It’s only visible for a few moments in the Rebel‘s jungle hideout in the run-up to the big final battle with some protagonists chatting in front of it. There are a few glimpses of alternate A-Wing fighters in different liveries, but overall we don’t get to see them that much. Then again this is of course true for most other ships as well that were only stuffed into the movie as fan bait for one last appearance.

Initially I didn’t have plans to buy the set. I was a bit torn on my inside since I had my eyes on the nice Dark Green parts, the canopy is of a type I don’t have yet in my collection and even the fins are new to me, but overall it just didn’t appeal to me as a must-have item. The actual vehicle is simplistic in structure and design and so naturally the LEGO version of it would not make for the most exciting model, either. Therefore I rather spontaneously picked it up when it was on sale in a drugstore.

To me 20 Euro still feels a bit too much, but it’s definitely better than the 30 Euro LEGO envision. It’s definitely not worth that and the price once more feels artificially inflated by licensing requirements, which may not necessarily be LEGO‘s fault but rather to blame on Disney then. Even as a die-hard fan you should see to it that you get it at the lowest possible retail price. There’s simply not enough content there that would justify it costing more than 20 Euro.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Overview

Why keep I bickering on about the price again already you may ask? Well, by its nature an A-Wing is flat as a flounder, meaning any representation in brick pieces will mostly be an affair of plugging together a bunch of slopes and making them look nice. There is not much volume there, which can easily be verified both from above and the bottom. The main fuselage of the model is literally not higher/ thicker than three bricks in most areas. In fact the bottom featuring any extra plates is merely a concession to stability requirements, not so much that they may have wanted.

Because of the flatness everything is built around a large cockpit tub piece. I get why they used this approach, but to me as someone who is more interested in getting universally reusable parts rather than large solid mold ones with limited versatility and flexibility that’s not very attractive. Conversely, it already eliminates quite a bit of the fun in building when you would have been busy for those fifteen minutes longer building your own cockpit frame structure from more regular parts.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Bottom View

Limited options as the shape may offer, it’s captured nicely by the designers. From certain angles it almost looks real. Given that this isn’t the first A-Wing ever I would take this kinda for granted, though, cynical as it may seem. There’s only so many ways to skin a cat and eventually even less experienced builders would arrive at similar construction methods, given enough times and of course all pieces being available. An experienced LEGO-employed designer should not have any difficulty at all with this.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Front Left View

In light of not much actual official information being available by ways e.g. of a specific “The Art of Star Wars” book for the latest movie and no way to re-watch it on Blu-Ray or DVD, the details are hard to verify and you have to rely on what you can find in the depths of the internet. Except for absence of the usual “lumps & bumps” (antenna blades and hoods, hinge covers etc.) everything seems to be represented.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Cockpit Interior

Things can be made to look a bit more detailed with some stickers, but as you well know I never use them, anyway. That’s why the cockpit canopy also looks a bit weird (aside from the fact that it is not 100% the correct shape to begin with). I really wish LEGO would always print those parts. I really can’t imagine anyone having fun applying thin sticker strips on a transparent part. The risk of messing it up and ruining the look is just too great.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Front Right View

While for the most part the fuselage is okay, everything really falls apart at the engine section, in particular the aft parts. This is supposed to look very much like the long gondolas on a Y-Wing with only a constrictor ring at the end, but here it just looks plain wrong. Those disk wheels really cannot be the answer, can they? Despite having produced tons of round parts, wheel hubs and different mudguard arches there is not a single piece in LEGO‘s repository that could actually be used to represent a thin ring in this scale as would be required.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Aft Right View

Similarly, the many visible Technic parts rub me the wrong way. The landing skids are just as bad as the engine and even the guns just don’t feel right, even more so since they are attached with only a single pin in a way they can easily be brought out of alignment.

LEGO Star Wars, Resistance A-Wing Starfighter (75248), Aft View

So where does this leave us? Given, how insignificant the fighter is in the movie and how limited its representation in LEGO parts, this is one of the sets that simply didn’t need to exist. It has limited value as a play set and next to other, more imposing Star Wars vehicles will also look quite boring in a collection. It doesn’t offer up much of a challenge that would stimulate your senses as a brick fan while building, either, since even that is kind of dull.

Therefore my conclusion is that this would only be truly worthwile for the most ardent fans of the movie or on the other hand if you can literally get it dirt cheap to keep your kids busy for half an hour. Most others can simply ignore this/ pass on it without missing much.

 

Looking back in…?

…Frustration? Anger? Bliss? All of them? End-of-Year summaries are a difficult thing and where LEGO is concerned, I sure have a bag of mixed feelings. So how was this year? Good? Bad? Terrible? Awesome? The answer is likely: “All of the above.”, so let me explain.

Personally I’m not that unhappy within the restrictions that I have to work within, anyway, meaning smaller, not too expensive sets. There indeed have been a number of good sets like my favorite Deep Sea Creatures (31088), a couple of excellent LEGO Friends sets that for once forewent the kitsch in favor of more palatable realism, a few surprising Star Wars models and even some of the The LEGO Movie 2 stuff was quite good. I also got a bit into Harry Potter and the new Hidden Side series also was surprisingly good.

On the other hand there has been a lot of frustratingly bad stuff in the same series I mentioned just as well. On top of that LEGO keep screwing around with Ideas by “improving” the sets in the opposite direction and over-optimizing them and this year has ruined Technic for me for good. Aside from the big and expensive showy models there is not much left there that would pique my interest. The smaller models are often just an embarrassment with their flimsy engineering. If that wasn’t enough, there’s that thing with a still barely functioning Control+/ PoweredUp system that gets stuffed into boxes with no rhyme or reason and makes models unnecessarily expensive for very limited return value.

On that note and on a more generic level I feel that the rift between relatively costly sets and the lower end is also growing. There’s definitely a dichotomy between pretty well-executed, large but expensive sets and many relatively lackluster packages in other price ranges. In addition it seems that LEGO are just trying too hard too see what they can get away with. There’s no way around it: Many sets feel unjustly overpriced and if it wasn’t for the magic powers of a free market regulating itself, i.e. discounts being available, this would be one heck of an expensive hobby/ special interest.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem LEGO haven’t learned that lesson yet and as the first previews for 2020 indicate, we’re in for another round of sets where you wonder how they even arrived at some of the rather ridiculous prices. That in itself could be considered a statement and what bugs me about the whole matter that they just don’t seem to care. In fact a lot of this customer squeezing has a somewhat desperate undertone and one can’t help but feel that things aren’t as rosy as the company will have you believe. Now it’s of course pure speculation, but there are some signs that things didn’t go their way this year.

First, of course The LEGO Movie 2 was an epic fail. In Hollywood movie terms it was a bomb and didn’t break even, which in turn of course affected sales of the sets associated with the film. A second wave was only rolled out reluctantly in August and just before Christmas all the remaining sets were shoved out in a sale with crazy discounts. That and just at the same time Warner Bros. not extending their deal and the development shifting over to Universal. Cynically one could say that a tainted property was dumped at a different outlet in the hopes of producing tons of cheap movies.

Another big bummer also right in time for the end of the year is of course the acquisition of Bricklink. This also fits the pattern of a company perhaps not doing so great trying to control the market. No matter what, it’s just bad for the AFOL community at large and repercussions are already felt only a few weeks after the announcements with major changes to sales policies affecting what can be found on there.

All things considered this may not have been an outright terrible year, but some of what has happened just feels unsavory and a few things have been set in motion that just don’t feel right. So far it also doesn’t seem that we will be off to a good start in 2020 and that is just as much reason for concern. There will still be plenty to buy and to cover on this very blog and I’m more than certain that just like this year we will get some more announcements every now and then, but overall excitement on my end is limited for the time being…

Snow Dino!

The Christmas holidays have jumbled up the release schedule of the various LEGO magazines quite a bit, so the next few weeks will be a bit of a race to keep up with those costly trips to the newsstand until the cycle is in sync again.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2020, Cover

The Star Wars mag comes with a rather unspectacular Snowspeeder model. Not that there would be anything wrong with Snowspeeder, it’s just that it doesn’t have that much to offer in terms of interesting details in the first place and shrinking it down won’t improve upon this, understandably. Most annoyingly the model looks very stumpy with no provision having been made for the short rectangular aft area and everything having been chopped off immediately behind the wedge section. For a freebie it’s okay, but it just would have been nice to get a more accurate model.

Since the price has gone up again and is now at 4.99 Euro, a bonus extra has been thrown in to console users and to preempt a larger uproar. Depending on which packaging you manage to get you either get a Snow Trooper or a young Luke Skywalker with blond hair minifigure. That’s okay for the time being, but regardless, asking so much for a few printed pages and some lightweight extras is pushing it…

The content of the pages is the usual mix of an acceptable comic, some very limited games and the usual adverts for other publications from Blue Ocean. The poster provides a facepalm moment in that it depicts the UCS Snowspeeder (75144) set from last year that you can no longer buy. Kinda stupid to whet people’s appetites and then leave them disappointed, should they decide to investigate the details.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, January 2020, Cover

The LEGO Jurassic World magazine was a bit of a surprise release. There had of course been rumours and even confirmed info that there would be new issues coming out for 2020, but no actual dates were ever mentioned. If you remember, I wasn’t necessarily that satisfied with the older ones as were likely many other buyers (they basically always appeared to be dumps of surplus Owen figures and such), but it seems this is headed in a new direction and more effort is made to make them attractive. Let’s see how long that will last.

The first mag in the new series comes with a nice little T. Rex model, which with its 65 pieces even provides some longer-lasting building fun than the usual models lumped together from half that number of parts. The result is indeed reminiscent of the large T. Rex from set 75936, which I now thankfully had an opportunity to build, in terms of colors and also features some very useful parts like 1×1 brackets or the 1×2 curved slope wedges in Black that are also used for the toes on the giant version. After assembly it really looks the part and in a way is cute. My only small gripe is that there are a few too many black and dark grey parts that would have benefited from having been done in one of the brown colors as well.

A stand-out item this time is the poster with the T. Rex breaking through the wall, which is really something I could see myself actually putting up somewhere. The framing could be a bit better with a bit more visible wall, but let’s be thankful for small things. The comic is okay and funny enough there are more puzzles than in the Star Wars mag to be found here. It’s just odd how inconsistent this is at times. The best part for me is the preview of the next issue hinting at an equally complex Triceratops model, so there is definitely something to look forward to.

The German version here also comes with a free album and a sample pack for the new collectible stickers, but I can’t tell you much on that, being that aside from the free extras no actual stickers were sold at my news agent’s yet. I’ll probably just give the album to one of the neighbors kids and drip-feed them the leftover stickers I surely will get more of when buying other LEGO magazines…

Risen or Fallen?

Since it’s kinda relevant to LEGO, even if only tangentially, I figured I’ll sneak in my review of the latest Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker here. I won’t obsess about the sets too much, as the involvement of the various vehicles is rather minor, after all, but more on that later.

Going into the movie I did not have a particularly predetermined opinion. Of course I already had read and watched some written and video reviews and knew how potentially unsatisfying it could be, but suffice it to say the movie is not nearly as bad as those negative reviews make it sound in my opinion. Sure, it’s not without issues and has a lot of lapses in logic even by Star Wars standards with all its canon-vs. non-canon mess created when Disney took over and declared a lot of the old lore no longer valid, but it’s still enjoyable and, which I guess is important, structured well enough so even a casual fan like me can follow the story.

There’s no denying that the film is overstuffed, which contributes a lot to the inconsistencies and jumps. Now it would be unfair to totally bash Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi, as it sure has a few good moments, but the fact of the matter remains that it didn’t do much to progress the overall story arc and was to busy turning everything on its head when it didn’t need to. Had it not squandered so much valuable time with pointless story points, it most definitely would have been easier to tie up everything in episode IX without it feeling rushed.

Personally I was a bit miffed by the many, many unnecessary small cameos and guest appearances, too. It seemed everybody & their mum wanted to get one last moment on screen for bragging rights or was brought in as fan service, yet very few of those moments carried much meaning, either. It didn’t help that they also introduced several new characters that had to get their due as well. Arguably some of them were planted as seeds for spin-off movies to explore their past or send them on their own adventures, but still… It felt unnecessary.

The overall story isn’t anywhere as dramatic as the trailers made everyone think and Disney once more have proven that they are the masters of deceptive trailers, with many of the shots used in the trailers not being what you may have thought or more or less being pretty unimportant in the film itself. That goes for instance for the Knights of Ren who ultimately act as just another hunting party chasing the heroes, the much touted Sith Troopers, who are barely actually seen in the film but just as well applies to the secret fleet. The final battle is not even close as impressive or innovative as e.g. some stuff in Rogue One.

Probably owing to the overall forced nature of the script, the acting is quite terrible at times. Much was made of Palpatine‘s return, but to be honest, his appearances feel like extracts from some cheap B-movie. It’s just so over the top, at least I could never take it seriously. Similarly, a lot of dialog felt like it had been ripped from a textbook on what not to do in writing school. Some of it was extremely cheesy and the less Poe Dameron we get, the better. I’m sure it’s not Oscar Isaac‘s fault, but this is as one-dimensional as it gets. At least the interactions between Kylo Ren and Rey were pretty good. I even liked the idea of them actually physically sharing the world when communicating through the force.

The comedic elements felt a bit out of place. I didn’t mind Babu Frik, but the “hairdryer on a wheel”, D-O, really didn’t have to fill the “yet another cutesy robot” niche. Him having of course important info on where to find Palpatine‘s secret hideout was a bit too convenient. Likewise, the whole plot with C3-PO built around the same premise of deciphering Sith glyphs didn’t make too much sense. It also seemed to me they didn’t quite know what to do with BB-8 as well this time.

Visually the movie is of course pretty impressive, but these days with even Open Source 3D programs like Blender offering an unprecedented level of realism one can take that pretty much for granted, even more so on a 200 million dollar budget.My favorites include the ocean simulation on the planet where the Death Star crashed, which made me almost seasick, as well as some other environmental stuff. The space battles left me pretty underwhelmed and just felt too static. You know, those Star Destroyers lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery was perhaps not that believable, after all.

On that note: Of the vehicles you can buy as LEGO sets only a handful get notable screen time those being Kylo Ren‘s TIE Fighter, Poe Dameron‘s X-Wing and of course the Millennium Falcon. Most others have “blink and you’ll miss it” moments, are disguised and/ or can only be partially seen for the majority of the time or like the new Sith TIE Fighter with the triangular panels only appear as background filler. That makes it at times nearly impossible to judge the validity of LEGO‘s representation of these items and you’ll likely have to wait for one of those tie-in art books to come out.

So what’s the verdict? As much as the movie is riddled with flaws and shortcomings I still enjoyed it. However, there can be no denying that it could have been so much better. My biggest gripe is that JJ Abrams seems to indeed have been focused too much on pleasing a certain type of fans and it shows how things have been bent into place. It’s just too obvious that many characters didn’t need to be there and it’s equally apparent how some of the new characters along with open-ended story threads for existing ones were planted for future movies.

After all, most of the actors are quite young and there’s nothing speaking against another Rey-centered trilogy ten years down the line, as much as Disney may proclaim they have no plans for it currently. Mark my words – they’ll do it because passing up such an opportunity to make more cash would be stupid. Who knows, by that time we probably all have dissected The Rise of Skywalker and watched it a million times and the speculation game will start all over again…