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Wars standards with all its canon-vs. non-canon mess created when Disney took over and declared a lot of the old lore no longer valid, but it’s still enjoyable and, which I guess is important, structured well enough so even a casual fan like me can follow the story.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…

Failure Explained? – A Look at Solo – A Star Wars Story

Since I’ve already reviewed two sets associated with the Solo – A Star Wars Story movie (see here and here) I figured, now that it’s available on Blu-Ray/ DVD/ Digital, it would be time to take a look at the film itself and possibly find the reasons why it failed to make an impression in cinemas and how that may relate to the LEGO sets.

Solo - A Star Wars Story, DVD, Cover

The movie itself in my view is not as terrible as all those reports about the changes and the turmoil behind the scenes made it sound. What becomes apparent rather quickly, however, is the “Too many cooks…” problem. Even if you are not a Star Wars buff at all you will quickly notice the constant shifts in tonality. There are very dark scenes depicting the evil side of the syndicates and The Empire intermingled with supposedly funny bits and action pieces and you can tell that they all come from different versions of the script right down to the very different shot compositions used by the different directors and production units. It’s highly inconsistent and only underlines that the movie and the people producing it in the end didn’t have much of an idea what they wanted it to be.

Where it totally fails is the interpersonal relations between the different characters. You never buy into that relationship between Han and Kira and neither do you ever feel that the interactions between Han and Beckett or Han and Lando serve any other purpose other than providing a background for exchanging some quips or old-man-wisdom. Even Han‘s relation to Chewie isn’t really explored and comes about very casually as if you could meet any stranger on the street and be life-long best buddies the next day. A lot of that can be blamed on very poor acting. Most of the time it’s simply incredulous and artificial like a B-movie and by that I don’t even mean Alden Ehrenreich‘s failed Harrison Ford impression which he was forced to put on.

Regardless, the whole thing is entertaining in its own way. The Conveyex train heist is easily the best sequence in the movie and if more stuff of that kind would have been included, it would have been quite a ride. Unfortunately the other action scenes don’t live up to it and like many other parts in the movie feel dragged out. E.g. the scene with the Maelstrom beast feels unnecessarily long. You really find yourself thinking “If the gravity well is really that strong, why doesn’t this beast die already?”. Similar observations can be made elsewhere, leading to the simple realisation that excising some of that filler stuff would possibly have made for a better, more exciting movie.

Getting to the LEGO-specific parts, things turned out as I feared. Most vehicles are barely even in the movie and if they are, only very shortly. According to the bonus materials of the Blu-Ray there were plans for a whole story thread involving Han in a TIE Fighter, but this isn’t in the final version, so any you see on-screen are just small renditions used as background filler. The Landspeeders are also only in the first ten minutes and then completely forgotten. For the most part the only vehicle that regularly and consistently appears on-screen throughout the entire duration for better or worse is the Millenium Falcon. This lack of exposition of the individual vehicles clearly isn’t helping sales.

What’s also not helping is the half-baked nature of some models. When you watch the movie, LEGO‘s poor efforts on the Imperial Conveyex Transport (75217) and the Imperial AT-Hauler (75219) really become agonizingly obvious. It’s not just that the train is way too short/ small and incomplete, but the figures and some construction features in the sets make it painfully apparent that the whole scene was initially meant to play out completely differently and LEGO just didn’t have any opportunity to adapt their sets, no doubt based on early concept art, to the later script changes. So by all means this is a bloody mess.

Overall I feel once more vindicated that LEGO perhaps would do better to let Star Wars rest for a while. As this example shows, chasing every buck and hopping onto the bandwagon isn’t doing them any good, least of all when a movie totally bombs just as this one did. I also can’t help the impression that neither side, meaning Disney and LEGO, are committed enough to really care for the products. It feels too much like that Monday morning call: “We need something by Wednesday for presentation on Thursday, so the CEO can sign it off on Friday.” . Everything looks thrown together with the barest minimum of effort while at the same time maxing out the profit margin. Under those conditions it won’t be long before even the most ardent Star Wars fan finally gets fed up for good…

Dino Time! (Round Two)

As previewed back then, the second volume of the Jurrassic World movie tie-in LEGO magazine Dino Special came out today here in Germany and of course I had to check it out, though a bit reluctantly.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Cover

As I said in my original article, I would have much preferred to get another dino instead of a minifigure. Now of course this little matter kind of resolved itself in an unexpected way, but I’d still prefer to get one more of those little green goblins or for that matter perhaps even a third variation on the theme. The matter isn’t helped by the Owen minifigure being rather generic and to boot being included in several of the commercial dino-themed sets currently available. This diminishes the value of the mag further for people already owning one of those.

The parts for the surveillance post on the other hand are pretty useful, so not all is lost. There are some Dark Tan plates plus a good selection of brown parts which are easily reusable on other projects. The wedge part in Dark Bluish Grey for the roof is okay, though I would have prefered to build this from slopes, again for better reusability. The operator’s console is a printed part, but an old pattern that has been used a million times.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Poster

A little surprise is the centerfold poster, which actually almost looks like something that I’d put up on my wall. the image composition is interesting and it’s simple and elegant. In the English version the tagline probably reads Tyrannosaurus ROCKS. Overall, though, this isn’t a must-have magazine. There’s simply not enough incentive for the adult LEGO connoisseur because at the end of the day there’s nothing truly exclusive about it.

00Fail

Oh LEGO, oh LEGO! What has happened to you? You collaborate with companies on re-creating models that others would lick their fingers for, and then this?!

Sadly, the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 (10262) turned out exactly as I feared based on the first leaked image on that imaginary driver’s license card two weeks ago. In no way does it do the real car any justice. A while ago I was joking on Facebook that it looked like a customized Trabant (you know, that notorious vehicle from former Eastern Germany) and this is exactly that.

LEGO Creator Expert, James Bond Aston Martin DB5 (10262)

James Bond Aston Martin DB5, Photo ©2018 The LEGO Group

Of course there were and always will be limitations in capturing the complex curves of elegant cars just with LEGO and all the curved slopes in the world won’t change this, but this is disappointing, both when viewed as a LEGO aficionado and a fan of the James Bond movies (well, at least some of them, including Goldfinger with the great Gerd Fröbe).

LEGO Creator Expert, James Bond Aston Martin DB5 (10262)

James Bond Aston Martin DB5, Photo ©2018 The LEGO Group

What makes this even worse is that they didn’t even bother making this a special color. It would have been nice to at least get some metallic parts, but apparently all they could manage is to doctor up the photos so heavily to make it look like it has a metallic coat sheen when it’s actually just plain grey. Funny enough this more than seems to confirm that they were fully aware of this and still cheated.

So in conclusion this is yet another of the many half-fails of this year with ugly models in weird colors being sold at slightly mental prices. Nothing to see here, really, though I’m pretty sure there will still be enough people buying it.

Honesty Reward!

Sometimes things work out in a weird way and so despite not really having an intention to buy one of the Jurrassic World sets, I still ended up with one of the promotional Velociraptor Play Pen (30382) bags that you would otherwise get if you were to buy products from that range of a certain value. How did I do that? That’s an anecdote so odd, it’s definitely worth telling.

LEGO Promotional, Velociraptor Play Pen (30382), Bag

I was on the road yesterday in the next big city close to where I live, Leipzig, and for a few years now (three or four, I believe), we have our own LEGO store, so I always make it a point to at least stop by and sneak in, looking if I can get something that fits my limited budget, ideally at reduced prices. There wasn’t much in the way of actual sets, but I picked up a bunch of minifigures and shovelled a few hands of loose bricks into a small Pick a Brick cup since it doesn’t happen that often that you get Sand Green 2 x 1 bricks en masse.

I paid my stuff and then left the premises to check out some other shops in the mall and all the while I had this nagging feeling that something was off and I didn’t pay what it should have cost. So when reorganizing the contents of my backpack I took the chance to check the receipts whether I had missed some discount or something like that and there it was – they young lady operating the cash register had missed on checking in my PaB cup and the bill was 10 Euros short.

Since I’d like to think I’m an honest guy, after all, I returned to the LEGO store and in slightly theatrical fashion dug out the unpaid cup and asked, whether I could still keep it even if I hadn’t paid for it. Imagine the stunned looks! After the first moment of surprise had settled, I jokingly said that I would only pay it if I got one of those dino bags. Of course I would have paid either way, but the guys played along and as a reward for my honesty I really got one of the bags, which is great! Now little baby T-Rex from the magazine set has a friend to play with! 😉

LEGO Promotional, Velociraptor Play Pen (30382), Overview

The set itself is simple enough, but what of course stands out are the Dark Blue elements, which LEGO uses throughout the entire Jurassic World series. They also match the little Velociraptor‘s colors since he goes by the name of Blue due to his dark side stripes. Personally I just love those toned down, soothing colors. For my taste the set could have been a bit wider/ have had more depth, but at least judging from photos it seems that even the commercial sets are more built like narrow facades, so this would fit the theme.

In any case, I’m a happy camper and such little funny incidents show that “Life finds a way!”, as Dr. Malcolm always says in the movies. Thanks again to the staff of the store for being game and indulging me!

Dino Time!

This week had a nice surprise by way of a LEGO Magazine dino special as a tie-in to the upcoming second Jurassic World movie.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Cover

As a goodie, the mag comes with a poly bag of LEGO parts, the most important of which is of course the little baby T-Rex. This little critter is/ will be included in some of the thematic large LEGO sets for the movie as well, but since it’s unlikely I will buy any of those (not enough value for money on the parts, though some of the dinosaurs look quite nice), I figured I take the opportunity and get the mag.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Poly Bag

In addition to the little dino it also has two eggs, which unfortunately are not specifically colored or printed like real dino eggs would be (most likely some sprinkled camouflage pattern in earthy colors). A nest for the eggs is provided based on the octagonal “crow’s nest” / sail platform part onto which you are supposed to clip some brown 1×1 hinge/ bar holder parts. The surroundings are created with some grey wedge bricks, some plant parts featuring the newer 2018 flower stem element with a pin and a single leave plus a few tiles. A 6×6 wedge (triangular) plate as the base in Dark Tan.

Other than this ground element, unfortunately neither of the other parts is specifically colored to match the prehistoric/ jurassic theme, which really is a shame. Especially the nest could have looked much more interesting in a natural color or by at least providing a round tile in such a color to put on top. Also the flower stems could have had at least one blossom each. We’re not talking about something exotic here, just some minor parts literally worth pennies. To illustrate my point, I plugged the little tyke onto my doodle plate that I use to experiment with techniques and arrangements.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Dino Vignette

Little T-Rex himself looks very convincing and has a nice printed-on pattern. Of course the scientific merits can be discussed endlessly, but for what it is and for the usual target demographic, this should do just fine. If these kinds of things are up your alley, buying the mag wouldn’t be a bad thing, even more so if you have some use for the other parts.

LEGO Magazine, Dino Special, Dino Detail

Unlike the normal regular LEGO Star Wars and so on magazines with their ever same parts or minifigures, I totally think this is worth it. Grab it while you can still get it, assuming your country has these LEGO-themed magazines! There’s a second one supposed to come out in August, but sadly it won’t have any more dinos and just a minifigure and some parts. I would much have preferred to get the Velociraptor version of the dino baby in grey/ green/ blue, but I guess LEGO are going to keep that exclusive for the retail sets for a while…