Not quite real – Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242) from Star Wars – Resistance

As this blog shows, I’m certainly not the biggest of Star Wars fans and on the few occasions when I decide to buy such a set, I usually choose the safe option with stuff I know and like within my limited understanding of the series’ lore and canon. That’s why getting the Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242) was a bit of a surprise even for me, probably due to this having been a rather spontaneous buying decision simply because the set was on discount.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Box

That in and of itself is a bit of a statement, as I genuinely don’t think this set merits the full asking price of 50 Euro. Make no mistake – once assembled the model is actually quite large, yet at the same time it feels very light in terms of the sheer volume of pieces you get. The point here is that if it wasn’t for the very elongated wings there would be very little to see. This in my view is one of the more general design flaws with pretty much any TIE fighter variant – endlessly building the large wings/ cooling panels and then attaching them to the tiniest of fuselages consisting mainly of the cockpit – but let’s not get distracted by this too much. Anyway, if you get this set for around 35 Euro that’s a more realistic price.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Overview

I don’t know much about Star Wars – Resistance, the animated series this is based on. Ever since the Clone Wars these animated series have declined in quality and it simply puts me off too much. However, one can’t deny that they have spawned a lot of interesting characters vehicles, locations and so on, so it happens that this set actually contains the one version of Poe Dameron that I do like. That’s how it should be – in his red pilot jumper looking gruff and ready for action. The other figure is of course the ace pilot himself, which seems a rather coveted minifigure due to the unique helmet.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Figures

Let’s address the one big elephant in the room – the hugely incorrect shaping and structure of the actual body/ fuselage. I may not know much about Resistance, but that much is clear: Just from looking at video snippets and still images available on the Internet it’s painfully obvious that they got it completely wrong. It looks like they were working of concept sketches and then tried to figure out how all those pencil strokes translate to struts, wings and exhaust nozzles.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Aft Left View

Essentially the model’s construction is completely backwards from how it is in the series. Instead of the “dagger blades” in the front protruding from a massive body with the shorter aft wing sections being integral, everything is more or less just plugged on. Similarly, the white regulator pistons are just there for looks, but make functionally no sense whatsoever. The point here isn’t even that it wouldn’t have been possible to do it differently, given that the construction already makes quite some use of SNOT building techniques. It just seems to me that the designer wasn’t able to think this through from an engineering standpoint.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Aft Right View

The other area that suffers, but for a different reason, is the windshield/ canopy/ cockpit glass dome. The problem here is that LEGO cheapened out and just re-used the standard TIE-Fighter windshield/ Imperial Throne Room window part for the umpteenth time. I understand that this may be a question of keeping the cost manageable on a set that just may not be that popular, after all, but even then I can’t feel that this is one of the rare cases where I would rather have an actual bulbous dome piece (even without prints or stickers) rather than something that feels like it has been used way too often in the last decade.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Cockpit Area Closed

The cockpit interior is okay for what you can achieve at this scale, but of course feels crammed. It’s another area where choosing different pieces for the actual canopy roof (e.g. the curved hinge panel) combined with a genuine dome piece would have done a lot and allowed to squeeze in yet another part to serve as the steering column for instance.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Cockpit Area Open

The one thing that mitigates and softens all my complaints and niggles is the fact that strictly on its own and without regarding the Star Wars context the model still looks quite imposing. The elongated wing blades with their pointy tips make it look very fierce and aggressive. For me it is also very reminiscent of some engineering diagnostics tools and alien artifacts found in many of the Star Trek TV series and movies. They often used these two-pronged (tuning) fork designs as a basis for devices that detect obscure sub-atomic quantum vibrations or as daggers of other species.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Front Right View

Once you build it you also realize that the model turns out way larger than either the box art (and the somewhat small box itself) or any photos suggest. The plain black/ white/ gray color scheme is misleading and cheating the eye quite a bit and I suppose even my photos can’t convey this convincingly. It’s about 40 centimeters and lucky for us it’s also quite stable and robust once you have finished it. It doesn’t always feel that way during the build while you’re plugging together those thin wings, but once everything is in place and mutually connected it holds together surprisingly well.

Naturally some care is still advised as is some attention when handling it. Those pointy ends sure could be dangerous to a smaller kid who struggles handling such a model with its small hands. You wouldn’t want all the drama when they stick it in the eyes by accident. Also too much flexing around of the long, bendy parts will still make snap them of and drag smaller parts along. That’s even more the case since for once LEGO had the good sense of replicating the majority of the war paint pattern with buildable elements rather than relying on square miles of stickers. You wouldn’t want those tiles to fly around your room like after a catapult launch.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Front Left View

The underside feels a bit barren. The model sits very flat on the table, so for a static display this is not much of an issue, but somehow I still feel that there would have been room to add a few more details. Especially the fuselage pod likely could have used some more inverted slopes to create some gentle transitions for the wings and by doing so also cover up the ratcheted hinges used to attach everything.

LEGO Star Wars, Black Ace TIE-Interceptor (75242), Bottom View

In summary this is actually an interesting model. You just have to completely lobotomize yourself and get the thought out of your head that this has anything to do with Star Wars. It more or less hasn’t – that is, beyond the basic concept shared with all TIE-Fighters. Taken as a standalone effort this could be a nice generic competitive racing space vehicle or an equally generic fighter interceptor. If you’re thinking along those lines, it may be a worthwile investment. Otherwise it’s likely only for die-hard Star Wars fans that collect everything or are hooked by the underlying TV series…

Holy Night, Silencer Night!

Cheap headline puns aside, the December issue of the LEGO Star Wars magazine has arrived surprisingly quickly. Feels like I was writing about the November one just the other day.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2019, Cover

Thematically it matches the previous mag in that we get more variation on the TIE fighters, this time by ways of Kylo Ren‘s TIE Silencer as seen in that scene in The Last Jedi where he’s hesitant whether or not to blast the bridge with his mother Leia on it to bits and then it happen’s anyway, leading to that notorious Mary Poppins moment later on. The model isn’t anything special and sadly I can’t help but feel that it is once more an example with the designers to “optimize” more and more, using less and less pieces. Given the recent price increase not a satisfying trend.

At least they make good use of the mobile radio piece for once. Being a regular buyer of LEGO Friends stuff I already have a ton of those since basically every set dealing with nature exploration and pet rescue missions has them, so I couldn’t say I have much need for adding four more, but it’s okay. Just beware what you are getting and how it my clog up your storage.

For an end-of-year/ Christmas issue the mag is pretty forgettable unfortunately. The posters are terrible and there’s not too many activity bits. I guess you’ll have to find other ways of distracting your kids while decorating the tree or baking cookies. The comics are okay, though the one with the Ewoks feels oddly off-canon and out of place. Younger readers might not even know who these furries are.

Not the best issue and the preview for the January one doesn’t hold much promise, either, but of course I will get it, regardless.

“Weep for the future, Na’Toth!”

I’m always one to sneak in a quote from my favorite sci-fi series of all time, Babylon 5, but sadly the melancholic undertones and the literal meaning of that particular one ring all too true for LEGO‘s first half year line-up for 2020, it seems.

I shared a few thoughts on Hidden Side and Speed Champions already a few days ago and now that images of the sets for City, Creator 3in1, Friends, Ninjago, Star Wars and Technic have been released, I feel like I’m stuck in a “WTF?” loop. The blunt and short version would be that about 70% of the sets are garbage, 20% are kinda okay and there’s only about 10% of sets that I would consider reasonably good. As if that weren’t enough, the ratings aren’t even consistent with what you would likely think, knowing my preferences and tastes.

Personally I’m most disappointed by the Friends sets. Why? To me they feel like a definite step back. This year was quite good with the water rescue theme and an equally sea life inspired fun fair theme, including the occasional interesting crossover of both worlds. Most notably everything was a bit toned down to the point of being almost realistic in terms of colors used. There were sets like the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) that took this so far they would almost qualify as Creator 3in1 or Expert Modular Buildings with only hints of the typical Friends-related colors giving them away.

Unfortunately it seems this will be no longer the case and it’s back to wacky color combinations, overall flamboyancy and gaudiness plus non-realistic construction of e.g. vehicles. Aside from a few new pieces and recolors there is little to find there that would attract me. I even almost broke into loud laughter at the ridiculousness of the new hair salon looking way too familiar for comfort. To say it would be a rip-off of the one from three years ago would be stretching the truth a bit too hard, but the similarities are to apparent to dismiss.

Ninjago this time around doesn’t do much for me. The new cyber space theme with all the neon transparent colors and overall sharp-edged, aggressive design looks a tad too much like Nexo Knights reloaded. That doesn’t mean I might not buy one or two of the smaller sets just to check them out and get a few extra parts, but I think I’ll mostly pass. The last two years I bought a few sets and I guess that will have to do for now until another Shuricopter or similar comes along to tingle my taste buds.

The same is no doubt going to happen to City – I will try to get the animals in some form, but overall it’s probably fair to say that I don’t care much for the umpteenth re-tread of the police and fire patrol topics. They may be unavoidable standards for every new generation of four-year-olds every year, but on the whole it’s getting a bit stale. I’m also flabbergasted by the insane pricing. I would have loved to have children in my life, but seeing this I’m almost glad I don’t have to put up with my little tykes pestering me over those expensive toys.

Star Wars in a weird and wonderful way this time around isn’t the worst of the lot. Okay, it’s still all very much “been there, done that” and “more of the same”, but I find it oddly palatable. The new Poe Dameron X-Wing in its orange/ white livery with the huge rounded intakes looks pretty imposing and attractive to my eyes. If you already have the current one and the black one before it than this will make a nice third one to add to your line-up.

The smaller, figure-centric sets look okay, too, and, which I find pretty important, are not priced outrageously like e.g. the notorious Snoke’s Throne Room (75216). My favorite set of them all, though, has to be the Microfighter one with the Bantha. Similar to this year’s one with the Dewback it ticks all the boxes with me and I can’t help it. I just have to have it. In fact chances are this is one of the few sets I might buy more than once. It’s just too cute!

In the Creator 3in1 series of course the new building stands out. It’s nice to see LEGO having revived this tradition and the new toy store looks tasteful enough. It just looks awfully small even compared to the pet shop from earlier this year, so I’m not sure if it’s actually worth 50 Euro. This may be a case for waiting for the right discount to come along. Other than that I have set my sights on the set with the Dark Red dragon, though in actuality somehow the alternate scorpion build is what fascinates me most. Beyond that what I said earlier applies – I may pick up some of the other packages if I feel like it, but have no immediate urgent plans.

finally let’s talk about the debacle that is Technic. Yupp, you heard me right. Once again I think they are totally ruining the series. Once you subtract the “big” models like the Liebherr excavator or the Land Rover, you are pretty much left with what can only qualify weak shadows of great sets like the Claas Xerion and similar from only three years ago. In this short time the series has really been run into the ground and now only exists down in the dumps. Even their lame attempt at being funny by creating a super mini version of the aforementioned Xerion somehow misfires. At least I didn’t get that satisfied grin when you hit the punch line in a joke…

Here’s the thing: If you are a complete newbie to the series you are going to love the smaller models. The beach buggy isn’t half bad and neither are the pull-back drag racer and racing truck. Even the stunt show combo thing will go down well with kids. I also like the idea of actually floating boat parts. Sure, they’re too large for your bathtub swim, but will be fun during the summer in the pool. However, after all those sets clearly aimed at the younger audiences there is this terrible, terrible gap of nothing.

Some would call it “Models that define what Technic is supposed to represent.”, but that is perhaps a bit too grandiose. Still, one can’t deny that something is missing and this feeling will not be alleviated by the yellow crane, which itself might leave some unsatisfied due to it’s somewhat simple construction. On the bright side at least it brings back the yellow no. 5/ 6 panels (among other parts) and I’m sure people will buy this set in masses just to repair/ rebuild/ rebrick older sets where this was used.

Still, none of that can cover up the fact that the set itself is not the most attractive. Given the circumstances, this sure wouldn’t lure me into LEGO these days. In fact most of these Technic sets represent what has deterred me from even picking up the hobby for ages – crude, unsophisticated and toy-ish looking models. I know I sound like an old grandpa harping on about the better days, but that’s just how I feel.

So where does all of that leave us? If I were to make it sound positive in a very sarcastic way I would say that I can save lots of money, at least in the price ranges that are attainable for me. That’s good because of course I’m always on a tight budget, but at the same time also just sad. You know, at the end of the day I sometimes don’t know what’s more frustrating about being into LEGO: Not having enough money to buy the sets you actually want or standing in the aisles and wondering what to buy because the available choices are bad. With this cycle I’m definitely going to experience the latter a lot once I have exhausted the “good” options…

 

November TIE-Up

Nobody likes price hikes, so the November issue of the LEGO Star Wars magazine now costing 4.20 Euro instead of the previous 3.99 was not a pleasant surprise at the newsstand. As long as there is some good value attached that 5 percent increase would acceptable, though, so let’s see if that does add up.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2019, Cover

For me this is determined primarily by the parts included in the mini build and I have to say it’s pretty good this time around. There of course have been any number of small scale TIE Fighters already and one would think that this subject has been done to death, but the one included with the mag surprises with yet another novel approach. That is in particular how the large cooling panels (a.k.a. wings) are attached inverted by ways of the new T-style brackets. Logically then on a symmetrical model you get two of those. To somewhat cover up the now exposed undersides of the plates you also get four inverted tiles and it never hurts to have those, either, be it just to make your model undersides scratch-proof to prevent damage while the are standing on your table. all nice stuff to have from a builder’s perspective.

The comics don’t tie in with a specific story line from the movies and thus function independently, with clear references to The Force Awakens and The Empire Strike Back, however. They’re both drawn in the new, more dynamic style and here’s hoping that this will be the new norm. The posters are also pretty good and I’m almost tempted to put up the first order pilots one just for giggles. If you care remember there is a commercial, quite similar poster out there and it could be funny to have them side by side. The games and puzzles feel a bit light in this issue. I admittedly have no idea how long a simplistic dice-based strategy game with only a handful of planets to conquer can keep your kids distracted, though…

October Jedi Fighter

October is the time of year where the leaves on trees turn yellow, so it seems a fitting coincidence that the LEGO Star Wars magazine has some prominent use of this color on its cover this month. In fact even the insides could be called autumn-ish with lots of browns, ocres and similar colors featured in the comics.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, October 2019, Cover

One of the comics revolves around a desert-based adventure, though, so there’s no direct relation. On the other hand the second comic hammers this home even more by being a direct tie-in to the little Jedi Interceptor model that comes by ways of the buildable parts.

Personally I don’t care much about any of the Jedi fighters because they always look kinda ineffective in the movies and series and probably really don’t stand much of a chance in a larger battle. The model is an adequate representation of Anakin‘s vehicle from Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, though, at least at this tiny scale. No particularly extraordinary or rare parts to skim for your collection, but Yellow and Dark Bluish Grey pieces are at least pretty universally usable for different types of projects, so no complaints there.

The magazine itself feels a bit light with only two relatively simple puzzles to keep your kids busy and the already mentioned comics. Not much there to distract the kids for too long, unfortunately.

September Trooper

With the magic 50th issue in August, the race up to the next fifty is now on with the September edition of the LEGO Star Wars magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, September 2019, Cover

To celebrate that anniversary, belated as it may be, someone figured it might be a good idea to include a Stormtrooper minifigure. People are clamoring for this all the time and this seems to be so much in demand, they likely could bundle another variant with every second issue without the subject ever being covered to the point of getting stale. In this instance it’s not the “cool one”, though, with it actually being a First Order version rather than one from the original first movies, which most aficionados still prefer.

Still, not a bad move if you have bought any of the sets for one of the movies in the last three or four years and want to bolster your troops. In fact I would predict that quite a few people will buy more than one copy of the mag. With those figures being in such high demand everywhere, prices on Bricklink are not necessarily cost-effective to build larger line-ups and in the end the math could add up, even if paying 4 Euro for a figure may seem steep at first.

The rest of the magazine once more is indicative of the meandering back and forth between “barely acceptable” to “okay” to “almost good” in terms of the quality of the comics, posters and puzzles, all very apparently depending on which team took responsibility for any given month. This one falls in the upper half of this range and therefore isn’t that bad. I always like it when in particular the puzzles are reasonably complex and not dumbed down as if only three-year-olds read the mag.

Space September

As a science fiction fan of sorts and a nerd with a general interest in exotic scientific subjects like quantum physics, astral dynamics and so on of course I love myself some space-y stuff even in LEGO form. This month’s issue of the LEGO City magazine caters just for that.

LEGO Magazine, City, September 2019, Cover

The content is derived from the current space exploration theme. Unfortunately for my taste it’s a bit too simplified with many large and specific parts and kind of crude looking models, so my interest in buying some of those sets is a bit limited to say the least. That’s why I’m all the more pleased to get some of the stuff that is contained in those sets on the cheap, in a manner of speaking, by ways of the mag.

Most notably that covers the new 2019 geode-type piece, i.e. a rock with a crystalline transparent mineral inside. I have to say it really looks nice and interesting when the light refracts through the sharp edges and facets when the rock is backlit. The magazine comes with the Dark Orange and Trans Light Blue version with some other combinations being found only in the commercial sets for the time being. The second piece of mention is the printed 1×1 round tile for the robot face which due to its generic look should find some creative uses.

The minifigure is just the generic astronaut and unlike the cover image may make you think, it neither comes with a special face or an alternate hair piece so you could present it with the helmet off. It’s adequate for basic play scenarios, but not much more than that. Similarly the comics and games this time around can’t disguise that they are more of a marketing pitch for the new sets than really deep content. Therefore the real value of this issue will genuinely depend on whether you are into any of this space stuff and can overlook the shortcomings or are a regular buyer, anyway.