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.
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 , 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?