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.

Boring Blue Elegance – Han Solo’s Landspeeder from Solo – A Star Wars Story (75209)

It’s been a while since I reviewed Moloch’s Landspeeder (75210) from the Solo – a Star Wars Story movie, so I’m kinda late giving you my opinion on its counterpart, but bear with me.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Box

The reason why I’m late to the party is that originally I didn’t plan on ever buying this set. When the tie-in sets for the movie came out fresh last year I pondered the idea for a while without actually having seen the film, but then decided against it.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Overview

The reasoning for this may sound ludicrous – the vehicle just looks too slick which not only makes it so stand out compared to the more rugged, used look in Star Wars, but also feels kinda boring. To me at least, since though I can get behind a nice car model and sure would love to buy e.g. the Ford Mustang GT (10265) from the Creator Expert series, I’m anything but a car aficionado. The circumstances under which I may like a vehicle are very specific and they figured into the buying decisions for this set insofar, as somehow that attempt at capturing that feel of 60s and 70s cars like the aforementioned Mustang, a Corvette, an Oldsmobile or whatever you may consider your favorite from that era just didn’t click with me. Not in the movie, not on the LEGO set.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Left View

None of that is of course LEGO‘s fault and I’m not going to say that the model is bad. It’s in fact surprisingly good within what the limited design would allow in terms of making things interesting. If anything, this impression of the design being a bit out of place in the given context is most definitely what is impacting its reception the most. If you appreciate a little design exploration then you’ll love it, if it ruins established Star Wars design tropes for you then you’re going to seriously not like it.

My moment of revelation came when lately my need for Dark Blue parts increased due to dabbling with stuff based on the Deep Sea Creatures (31088) and I began to see those tiles etc. in a different light. Apparently many people share reservations similar to mine about the landspeeder, so this set doesn’t appear to sell that well and has dropped noticeably in price. I got my example for a mere 17 Euro, but on average it retails for around 20 Euro now. The original 30 Euro MSRP aren’t that unusual for these types of sets, but especially in this case feel like “the Star Wars tax” , i.e. licensing fees, is/ are making things unnecessarily expensive.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Top View

With my expectations being pretty low, I didn’t think I’d be enjoying the build that much because it would be simple and thus short, but it is surprisingly complex and takes just that bit longer that makes it feel like you got your money’s worth in terms of the fun of actually assembly duration. It’s in no way negative and the actual building process has a nice overall flow. There are a few repetitive bits like plugging on a ton of brackets to attach the half-cylindrical shapes on the sides, but it never gets to the point where it would be a nuisance. There’s always enough variation across the individual steps.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Front View

The techniques employed aren’t revolutionary, but work very well and retain the elegance of the original. Walls aren’t overly thick, there is a sort of detailed interior and even the airfoil section in the aft is not overly massive. During the build things can be a bit confusing and nerve-wrecking, though, as in many places Lime 1 x 1  studs are inserted that have you wondering whether they will remain visible later on. Thankfully all of them disappear behind or under other elements, making for a very clean impression. Personally I also like the use of Tan for the interior instead of the usual greys, giving the look of fine leather.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Right View

People have speculated about the origins of the asymmetrical layout of the exterior, with the left side merely exposing the innards due to the covers having been shredded in an accident or something like that. That has led some of them to rebuild this side in the same fashion as the right one to get a better maintained/ repaired/ factory-fresh version of this speeder. While it’s certainly a valid interpretation of the circumstances, it’s not one I share. Point in case: As soon as you try that, the model loses its optical balance. Therefore I’m inclined to think that this is more a matter of a) conscious film-centric design using the asymmetry to add interest and b) even if they were closed, the left side covers likely could still have been shaped and arranged differently.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Aft View

This point could be debated endlessly, naturally, and is very much a matter of personal view, but since the spoiler wing most definitely is intentionally designed with different left and right sides, I would argue that it’s not too far-fetched to assume the left side of the entire vehicle could have looked different once, too. Either way, exposing some of the tubes and wires is still nice. To me it feels like they could have gone even further and really tried to include more of the engine turbine, its fuel lines and electrical cabling.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Reactor Insert

The rear section is by and large the weakest part of the model. It looks like nothing in the movie, as it’s basically just the aft of a historic automobile where the round rear lights have been replaced with the jet exhausts and the two large boxes stand in as bumper bulges in order to cover the actual mounting points. Inevitably they couldn’t do much about it, so it looks pretty iffy, even more so since LEGO to this day hasn’t done a proper jet nozzle element and the ever same wheel hub elements are used instead. As a minor, they could have done them in silver at least.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Closed Hood

As seen throughout this article, the model can accommodate the two minifigures just fine and the proportions look okay-ish. The model has almost the size of Moloch’s Landspeeder, which depending on what shots from the movie you look at could be about right or too big. It’s hard to judge, but in my opinion it boils down to the fact that LEGO‘s version of the Moloch vehicle is simply too small by comparison, or more to the point not “heavy” enough. Having minifigs furthers this impression even more. Therefore perhaps you should not put both vehicles immediately next to each other on your shelf or showcase.

LEGO Star Wars, Han Solo's Landspeeder (75209), Open Hood

On the whole this is a pretty decent model. It’s just not very exciting. The original was not used well in the movie and in fact that whole chase sequence to me felt forced and unnecessary (it seems they really just crammed it in to pull a cheap joke referencing the mishap later in the film). Inevitably that rubs off on the set as well and limits its attractiveness. It’s just not a must-have when every other vehicle in the Solo movie looks a ton of times cooler.

December Destroyer

Another month has flown by way too quickly and so it is time again to have a look at the latest LEGO Star Wars magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2018, Cover

Unfortunately it seems that the mag has run now for too long and overstayed its welcome, as the quality of the content appears to be getting worse with every issue. Those two posters look like an inexperienced intern at a media agency hacked them together on a bad Monday morning. *yikes*

The comic takes a stab at The Last Jedi and while it looks like they are adapting the more dynamic drawing style also used in the City magazines, it is still a far cry from the quality found there. The terrible, infantilistic writing doesn’t make it any better, though of course one has to concede that I’m way beyond the target age. Incidentally I also think that having one of those walkers on a vertical poster would have been a lot cooler than the shoddy LEGO Millenium Falcon from Solo – A Star Wars Story. It’s like they didn’t even try to make an effort.

The Star Destroyer model is okay-ish, but not particularly attractive. It’s really just lumped together from a bunch of wedge plates, which could be useful one of these days, but don’t do much here. Most annoyingly the few extra parts like the engine section or the bridge are attached so flimsily, they always come off. Not much energy and consideration was spent here, either and in contributes to this “all over the place” feel of the mag. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would manage to produce consistent issues centered around a single subject/ theme?

Overall this isn’t the best mag and rather disappointing, considering that around this time of year one’s always hoping for something special and lavish in time for Christmas. Someone didn’t check their calendar and this is absolutely forgettable…

 

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…

Expensive Brick – Moloch’s Landspeeder from Solo – A Star Wars Story (75210)

The Solo – A Star Wars Story movie is going to be released on Blu-Ray/ DVD/ Digital tomorrow, so it’s fitting to review a model based on a vehicle featured in the film – Moloch’s Landspeeder (75210). Not having seen the piece in its entirety and only relying on the bits and pieces you can find on the Internet like the trailer, I’m not going to obsess about how realistically the set portrays the actual film prop, though, and will judge it on its own merits. From what I hear, the vehicle is barely used in the film and only seen in a few shots, so it shouldn’t really matter that much, anyway.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Box

First let’s get the big elephant out of the room: once again the price. Yes, if you buy this at full price, LEGO not so kindly ask you to part with 50 Euros, which is outrageous and simply totally bonkers. At around 460 pieces this means a per-piece cost of more than 10 Cents, making this even more insane for such a relatively small model consisting almost completely of smaller standard parts. It’s really like LEGO (and by extension Disney) have gone completely off the rails and lost their marbles, attempting to gouge the customer here. There’s really no way to put it more nicely. So by all means see to it that you get this set as cheaply as possible during a sale/ special promo. Biding your time and waiting patiently can save you a good chunk of money. I did so and got my lucky break unexpectedly one Saturday evening when I was able to order the set for just 30 Euros.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Overview

Not having seen the movie and being fully aware of the pricing madness, why did I want this model in the first place? Well, as a graphics artist I probably have this odd sensibility of enjoying simple, but perfectly balanced forms and shapes and this strikes me as one of those cases. In a way it’s reminiscent of some design furniture with blocky legs and grand arches and while no doubt you could simply call it a flying brick, it’s an elegant one no less. Additionally, as someone who also was/ is into scale model building to some extent I also like the varied structure of the surface panels for a used, worn look.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Left Side

Being based on some simple design principles, the build is pretty straightforward. The model rests on wheels and can be rolled around, so you start off with creating a frame from Technic bricks onto which you then stack more bricks and plates to form the walls, capping them off with rounded bricks and arches. That’s classic LEGO for you. There are some oddities in that you need to leave room for the hollows, as a result of which some bricks’ ends hang loosely in the air. Once this would have been considered an “illegal” building technique, but it seems LEGO don’t care much for this anymore and instead have lightened up to a “whatever works” approach.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Right Side

The stud shooter seems totally superfluous (Then again, aren’t they most of the time?) and totally unnecessary. I can’t quite tell what it actually is on the movie vehicle, but there appears to be a jet intake/ outlet of sorts instead. It would have been perfectly possible to reproduce this with some parts and I think the model would have looked better for it. On the bright side, the mechanism is handled through the old perpendicular gearbox which is only used on few models ever, so now I have one of those as well and it might come in handy one day.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Aft View with closed Loading Bay

The aft box/ frame uses a sideways building technique, attaching the sidewalls with pins  to more Technic elements to get that inset/ spacing. I was extremely wary of this as it means that almost up to the final point only a few steps before finishing the model those walls will wiggle around a lot, making you wonder if this is meant to be this way. Only when you add the top to bridge the two sides will it stiffen up and stop wobbling around. I feel that this makes the whole affair unnecessarily delicate and it could be disconcerting to less experienced users. Naturally it also increases the risk of inadvertently breaking of those arches while their ends hang loosely in the air.

LEGO Star Wars, Moloch's Landspeeder (75210), Aft View with open Loading Bay

The loading bay is likely used quite differently in the movie, but on the model it holds supplies for the Corellian Hounds. Those are ugly as hell and I don’t feel that LEGO has done anyone except the figure collectors a favor by including them. I certainly wouldn’t play with them if I was a child. The same could be said for Moloch‘s figure. It looks kinda disgusting and unattractive even if it may fit into the lore of the film and be technically correct. Speaking of which – I believe the engine exhausts on the actual vehicle are blue, so LEGO probably got that wrong.

Overall this isn’t the most attractive model and LEGO make it unnecessarily difficult to sneak it in as a casual purchase due to the way too hefty price. On the other hand, if you can take it for what it is, it’s still in a weird way enjoyable. It’s a relaxing build with some interesting techniques, it just quite likely isn’t a model you would keep around forever. It’s simply too forgettable and doesn’t hit the right beats for a collector’s item. For me it’s also once more a nice collection of very reusable bricks in Dark Tan and Dark and Light Bluish Grey, which made this a justifiable purchase, after all. If none of that applies to you, keep your cash and buy something else.

 

 

TIE me up, TIE me down – 75211 – Imperial TIE Fighter

I guess I should count myself lucky, but somehow that warm fuzzy feeling just won’t come. Exactly the opposite is true – the Imperial TIE Fighter (75211) from the Han Solo – A Star Wars Story movie leaves me rather unhappy on so many levels.

The huge irony here is that I got it as a gift, or more exactly as a prize in a questionnaire, and to top it of, one of the many that pop up on the LEGO website itself, no less. So yes, I’m totally going to complain about a free lunch here, but perhaps you still care to hear me out and even share some of my reasons and concerns. I even tried to swap this set for another one via some open Internet marketplaces, but alas, things didn’t gel and since I didn’t want the box to sit there forever, I decided to build the model myself, after all.

Could I have just left it untouched and bided my time to sell it with a profit in a few years when it’s no longer being produced? That is extremely unlikely since it’s already being sold with massive discounts ever since the movie totally bombed in cinemas. Anyone who considers himself a collector/ trader of antique LEGO sets will no doubt use this to their advantage to stock up, which totally ruins any hope of getting a decent price in the near future.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Box

The TIE Fighter itself is an unmistakable iconic design that even people who barely know Star Wars will recognize easily. That should be conducive to selling the models, but there’s the next problem: Since they appear in every movie of the series in one form or another, they have been done to death even in LEGO in the last fifteen years. You can do a web search and in there has always been some such model during all that time. Speaking of a certain oversaturation would be an understatement. Unless you are a die-hard fan who really needs to have every variation in his collection, chances are you won’t feel much of a need to get yet another of these things.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Overview

Of course it’s not entirely LEGO‘s fault. Or is it? Yes and no. As recognizable as this particular spacecraft is, it makes one hell of an example for what I do not perceive LEGO to be about – endlessly, tediously plugging together plates and other repetitive structures. The design is simply far from interesting when it comes to providing an enjoyable building experience nor does it actually showcase any advanced techniques or expose interesting details once it’s finished. The assembly more feels like a chore.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Front

Once you have finished the assembly you are left with a “So what?” feeling like you actually haven’t achieved much in those two hours it took. At least to me it’s a pretty joyless affair and I honestly don’t quite know what to do with the model. It’s too large to keep around with my limited shelf space, even more so since it doesn’t have any details worth exploring that would provide an excuse for keeping it.

Like so often, in my opinion this model suffers from the “150 percent scale” problem – had they built it bigger, they could have crammed in more details on the main fuselage, added round slopes here and there to make it look more realistic and all that good stuff. That would have ramped up the price, of course, but would also have resulted in a more classy-looking model.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Cockpit Detail Front

At least the model is extremely stable. Of course after a decade of basically re-doing the same design over and over you would expect this, but at least for that you have to give props to the designers. The main fuselage/ canopy are built on a massive bar made of Technic bricks wrapped with SNOT adapters onto which then again plate strips are plugged, making for an extremely robust “handle”. At worst you can accidentally pry off a few of the smaller sloped elements, but that’s easy to repair.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Cockpit Detail Aft

The massive wings/ panels are built separately and then slide into hinge clamps guided by some slopes, which makes for a very sturdy connection while at the same time allowing to disassemble them for transport. I was very skeptical about this, but it works surprisingly well and is almost indestructible.

The same can however not be said for the panel areas extending beyond the “core” where they are plugged on and least of all the grey frames on and around them. A bit too much pressure in the wrong places and you can easily see things cracking again. Not the end of the world and easy enough to rectify, but slightly annoying, regardless.

The fact of the matter is that I even would have been willing to accept this limitation and be more forgiving about it, had there been any special parts to mimic some extra details, but as it is, this is mundane beyond believe. It’s dull to the point that it makes you desperately crave for a single printed “computer screen” tile in the cockpit, because it is utterly barren except for the steering column.

LEGO Star Wars, Imperial TIE Fighter (75211), Minifigures

Not having seen the movie at the cinema (always wanted to go, but didn’t get around to it, so now waiting for its home media release) I can’t judge how realistic the minifigures portray the protagonists, but I definitely like the finely detailed prints of the camouflage patterns and mud splats. It makes them feel very lively and is a nice deviation from the typical extremely sterile look of most Star Wars characters.

The crux of the set as a whole is that it exactly shows why LEGO Star Wars is in such deep, deep shit. The unholy alliance with Lucas Arts/ Disney seems to keep forcing them to churn out mediocre sets as tie-ins to the movies while at the same time everything appears so micromanaged, it can ever only be more of the same we already have and everybody loses in the process.

Here it is particularly bad because the movie failed to make an impression, so LEGO (and the distributors/ resellers) are in a pinch to sell sets that barely anyone takes any interest in, because only a fraction of the populace ever saw the film and knows its story. You could predict that there will be a slight improvement and resurgence of sales once this becomes available on Blu-Ray/ DVD and streaming services, but the damage is done.

As I pointed out, I like a few aspects of the model like the clever interlocking mechanism, but on a whole the set doesn’t do anything for me. It leaves me emotionless and I won’t feel bad about dismantling it for using the parts in other projects. Those black plates could be handy for all kinds of roofs, after all, and I’m sure those long tiles and plate strips will find their use as well. I never would have remotely considered buying this set and if I had, I’d be even more disappointed. It’s really that bad.