Last week was May the Fourth day, meaning “Let’s sell you some Star Wars stuff” day. Aside from that one time I got this TIE Fighter for cheap, I usually don’t go too crazy about it and under the circumstances it would be extremely difficult to properly “celebrate”, anyway. However, I figured it would be a fitting excuse to talk about General Grievous’s Starfighter (75286). I got this model back last year and the photos also have been catching dust on my harddrive for a while, but somehow I never got around to create a review. In a way that’s now saving my bacon while I wait for some other stuff to arrive.
Pricing and Contents
There’s no way around it, so let’s get to the real problem with this set right away: It is expensive as hell for no good reason. I didn’t mince words when I called it a travesty in the headline because it really feels like like an exaggerated bad version of reality. Point in case: LEGO are asking you to shell out a whopping 80 Euro for a 490 pieces model. Crazy prices are nothing new, but it’s one thing to consider those 5 Euro on a Disney set and accept them with grinding teeth vs. paying what amounts to a 170 % price of what a set should cost even by LEGO‘s own established metrics of around 10 Cent per part, give or take balancing out a few things for larger and smaller parts. Despite nobody being happy about it and the mechanics not always working in practice, it’s still a valid basic guideline. So what has happened here?
It doesn’t take mind-reading abilities to figure out what you may be thinking and whatever is your first thought on the matter is probably just as right. Yes, it’s all this Star Wars licensing nonsense and someone somewhere trying to skim the cream off the top. Now of course nobody knows the exact details of those licensing deals, but it is all too clear that there is something very specific going on here. Either someone thought Grievous would be particularly valuable to fans and they could easily be coerced into buying this set at any price or they need to pay residuals to a designer who no longer is on their regular payroll. To me these are to the two most likely reason, but naturally it could be anything. In any case, it smells of unabashed corporate greed.
Thankfully, not all hope is lost, Obi-Wan Kenobi, since there’s always the self-regulating powers of the market even if there are apparent limits on how much discount you can get on a model for which your favorite retailer already pays a steep wholesale price. I got my package for 57 Euro back then and recently I’ve seen the price drop to 42 Euro in a crazy promotion. This means that you can get the model at a decent price, but likely only if you barely sleep and scour Amazon and other sites at crazy times. That said, you should probably settle on somewhere between 54 and 60 Euro as the “best” price, which is still somewhat expensive for a model of this ilk.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, a big contributing factor to the insanity of the pricing are the minifigures. General Grievous is a pretty obvious candidate here, even though at least he has been in two other sets in this white version at least, as much as everyone and their mum may criticize it as being the wrong color (as indeed in the movie his armor is a color similar to Tan).
That’s not the end of it, though, as the unnamed Airborne Clone Trooper is exclusive to this set. As you would imagine, that makes him a highly coveted commodity not just for people who would want to build a diorama of the Battle of Utapau. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw that one of those figures goes for up to 30 Euro on Bricklink even now that the set is still is available. Utter madness!
Finally there’s of course Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, as he’s the one commandeering the vessel after Grievous‘ demise. Compared to the others, he’s almost too mundane. Anyway, all figures are done well enough and the detailed prints on the clone trooper alone are quite amazing. Only the white areas on Grievous‘ robot arms are way to transparent, which given the price of this set is a notable lapse in quality. I almost feel that in this case it would have been smarter to not print those elements at all if they can’t manage to get a proper opaque white on the Dark Bluish Grey pieces.
Naturally at the heart of the set is General Grievous’s Starfighter itself. But wait? Does it actually belong to Grievous. To me the simple answer is that of course it doesn’t. For one, in the The Revenge of the Sith movie it is ever only flown by Obi-Wan as he secretly makes his way out after his presumed dead. The second reason I doubt it actually belongs to Grievous is the disconnect between the droid army’s other vessels’ design and this one. So its attribution is merely based on the evil robot leader potentially having it used once coincidentally.
What little info I could dig up in a quick web search seems to confirm this, as more or less his appears to be just another iteration of typical Utapaun fighters. In fact overall it more or less feels like one of the designs they used for the Naboo fighters based on 1950s car designs as explained by Doug Chiang himself on one of the bonus DVDs (can’t remember which one). It may have been one of those leftover designs too good to throw away and they repurposed it to serve as the Belbullab-22 Fighter, which apparently is its technical designation.
The model is a remake of the older set 8095 and therefore inevitably shares some commonalities with it. I never had the older version, but apparently the cockpit canopy is the same and the overall design of the central section is quite similar. However, the engine gondolas have been changed completely and along with them the wing sections. Additionally, the fuselage has also been given a workover especially in the aft section. A lot of this comes down to the availability of new parts and techniques. While this does not always mean that reissues of older sets are necessarily better, I think here it pays of in spades.
Of particular note are the various 2 x 8 curved slopes that with their gentle curvature help to capture the complex surface of the original vehicle. This is further aided by the 1 x 2 wedge slopes used in several places. Understandably there are still limitations, but it makes for a fair approximation in many places.
One thing I definitely don’t agree on is the use of the stud shooters for the guns. Not only is their placement wrong (they should be much further out and closer to the gondolas), but also is their appearance just completely iffy. According to my limited research they are actually retractable gun pods with aerodynamic covers. On the older model they made at least an attempted to mimic this with some 1 x 1 cones. in hindsight with what I know now I would likely simply leave them off if I were to build the model again.
Despite the overall elegance of the model, the rear support strut/ control fin remains a bit of a weak spot in terms of appearance. As so often, the blue pin holding it doesn’t look good and in its down position the housing into which it retracts is an open chasm. The attachment point appears correct, but at least the hollow area is not according to pictures of the real thing. This is rather regrettable as clearly there is ample room inside that would have allowed to flesh this out with more curved slopes to close at least some of the gaps. This is yet another area where I would invest some time to come up with a different design for a permanent display model.
The vehicle is naturally dominated by its large gondolas/ engine nacelles. Those would make for an insane thrust-to-weight ratio if this were real and the fighter could likely easily outrun and outmaneuver a lot of other crafts, including more nimble smaller fighters. The building process for those nacelles is rather involved, to say the least. Even with quite a bit of experience at building LEGO it was somewhat convoluted and took me longer than I had expected. This is not least of all due to the compartments on the sides that can be opened thanks to a sliding mechanism. This is a nice touch and certainly cleverly executed, but since there is technically nothing in the set to put in there it feels a bit unnecessary and self-indulgent. It complicates the construction process and turns what otherwise would be a simple affair into a bit of an exercise.
Despite the model looking pretty solid and decent from several angles, it becomes apparent from other angles that there is a lot of optical trickery going on. The area that stands out the most here is the front section of the engines and the transition to the underside. I’m fully aware that there is no perfect wedge or slope piece that they just could have slotted in, but maybe at least they could have filled in some of the gaps with more plates. Just sayin’…
How much the design relies on cheating your eyes also becomes clear when you turn the model on its head. It’s pretty barren and similar to my previous point it might not have hurt to slip in a few plates or inverted slopes here and there even if thankfully none of this mess can be seen in the regular pose. On that note: The single arrow shooter in the middle is just weird and yet another element I’d simply not use next time.
One final note on the cockpit: People have been criticizing it heavily for the incorrect shape of the canopy, using the Dark Tan slide rails and the Black slide bricks, but realistically one can only complain about the latter. Yes, it’s just lazy that LEGO didn’t produce this part in Dark Bluish Grey. The slide rails can be easily explained away as being some leather padding and for the canopy the rationalization has to be that unlike Mega Construx or Cobi LEGO simply don’t do new molds these days unless they can re-use it for other sets as well. So for what it’s worth, while it may not be perfectly correct, it is probably as good a representation of the genuine article as we are ever going to get.
Sadly, this is one of those sets where one feels a strong urge to drive to the LEGO headquarters, demand to speak to the CEO and slap him in the face for allowing such dumb things to happen in his company. This set could have been a hit if it wasn’t for the outrageous price. The construction is solid, the build is challenging, but manageable and the result looks very acceptable. At something like 45 Euro it would likely even have attracted some non-Star-Wars builders just for the aesthetics and enjoyment of building cool vehicles.
In its current form, however, it will never reach this status and only be remembered as one of the most shameful attempts by LEGO to gouge its loyal customers. Sure, there will be enough people who still buy it and I bet you that next year when it goes end-of-line there will be a race to pick up the last packages with massive clearance discounts, but overall the demographic for this set is certainly limited. It’s in a very specific niche and LEGO really can only blame themselves for ruining it.
With a more acceptable price this could have been a sales hit, but as it is, its good sides in no way compensate for the aggravation of feeling scalped out of your money. So for what it’s worth, think long and hard before committing to a purchase. If you have the slightest doubt in your mind, just stay away. This essentially is really only for hardcore fans or people who plan on selling off the minifigs to refinance the rest.