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…

A non-UCS Cloud City

Remember when a few weeks ago I wrote that LEGO Star Wars is in deep shit? That same pile of manure just got even deeper with the official announcement of the Betrayal at Cloud City (75222) set. Everybody expected it, everybody wanted it and now everybody is disappointed by it. Yupp, that’s pretty much the unanymous reaction of 90 percent of users.

Aside from the fact that 350 Euros is just plain crazy for a 2800 pieces set, when just a week ago they released a 6000 pieces set for 400 Euros (Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle (71043)), the major letdown is the toyish quality. Similar to the Death Star (75159) it’s a puppet house style arrangement of rooms, featuring little vignettes that depict scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. That would be terrible for an Ultimate Collectors Series (UCS) model to begin with, but the people at Promobricks have corrected and commented their post, citing it as the first set of a new Master Builder series – as if this changes anything. It still is pretty lame and terrible. Many others feel the same, but I’ll leave it to you and your favorite YouTube channels and news sites to make up your mind based on more info.

Since LEGO seems to be subscribed to irony these days, it isn’t missing from this release either. Many of the details would make wonderful sets people would buy on their own because they’d exactly be what they want – reasonably priced sets with an acceptable number of parts resulting in a good rendition of the scenes and vehicles. I myself could totally get behind the Slave I for instance und would be willing to spend 30 Euros on it or something like that. However, with these items now being part of this large set this isn’t going to happen and both parties lose in the process. LEGO isn’t going to see any cash from this crowd.

It will of course sell to other people like desperate parents and relatives looking for an expensive Christmas present for their kids once a year. Perhaps you might even come across some younglings who bug their caregivers about it, though perhaps not for reasons one may think. To them it will be just one huge play set independent of all this Star Wars stuff. Whether or not this even will get them hooked and turn them into genuine fans is anyone’s guess.

Overall I think this is another big miss for LEGO. I just don’t see who this is supposed to address other than people with too much money who buy every set, anyway, or the aforementioned special cases. Most critically it spectacularly fails at reconnecting people with the original Star Wars saga and it won’t do much to rekindle the enthusiasm for those old movies, which by all means it could have and should have done at least.

It could have been the perfect gateway drug to get people enthused for more sets, if you want to put it that way and take this cheap attitude towards the whole affair. Still, even that is now called into question and instead people will be even more careful in what sets they invest their money. Total marketing disaster? I surely think so, but that’s just me, of course…

August Freeze

Fitting the current summer heatwave here in Germany we get a bit of a cooling by ways of the latest LEGO Star Wars magazine. The August edition contains the Hoth probe/ tracking droid as seen in The Empire Strikes Back for what feels like the umpteenth time, but with a twist.LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, August 2018, Cover

The droid itself looks as unattractive as it always has, but at least comes consistently colored in all black this time, at least in the visible parts. The interesting bits are the few extra parts to simulate the icy surface of the planet and a transparent antenna beam, with the whole affair acting as a pedestal for the droid.

Unfortunately it’s really super simple, so despite this addition the value on the parts and the parts count don’t even come close to the average 35 items of other models bundled with this magazine. It simply could have been more elaborate. Interestingly enough, the comic this time around is pretty interesting and stretches over eight pages. Still, it doesn’t really make up for the lacking model.

Maybe for the next version of the droid (that undoubtedly will be coming again one day) they can sit down and make a droid with one of the larger 6 x 6 or 8 x 8 dishes, some real slopes on SNOT bricks for the body and moveable arms with hinges? One can always dream…

Time to take a Stand – 75532 – Custom Display Stand MOC

When I wrote my review of the Star Wars speeder bike, aside from the brown color my second biggest gripe was the ugly stand it is mounted on. This has been on my mind quite a bit and I’ve been doodling around with various ideas for a while until I settled on a design.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Clean Underside

First you need to get rid of the old support struts, which is easy enough. The only real caveat is the beam for the megaphone-like auxiliary intake on the right, which requires you to use two 6L beams with half width. I also cheated by removing the bushings used as spacers, but that’s nothing anyone would really notice. I also removed the arrow shooter gun and mechanism since I plan on adding a more correct looking small gun later. I just haven’t got that parts yet. This also requires to use some 4L half width liftarms and replace some pins, but isn’t really anything convoluted.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Custom Stand Detail

I built the stand from transparent liftarms that I scraped together from various sources. They are rare and I was under the illusion they would look good, but as it turns out, there is a glaring issue with them in the truest sense. Since the areas between the pin holes are also hollowed out (in contrast to conventional liftarms, that are solid/ fully formed in these regions), depending on how light hits these regions you get a glittery mess that doesn’t looks transparent at all. I was pretty disappointed to say the least.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Custom Stand Detail

As they are, the current transparent liftarms look okay on a dark shelf where the shadows can seep through and obscure them a bit, but my thinking is that LEGO should start producing better solid versions, ideally even with a slight greyish tint and polarizing effect. The pins would of course also need to be made from the same materials. I’d even buy a dedicated “display stand” set with such parts if only they offered it.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Custom Stand Fixation Points

Interestingly enough the stand can be easily integrated into the existing construction because basically after removing the old supports and the arrow gun you get access to some pre-existing nooks and crannies where the “fingers” of the stand can slide in. They are far enough apart, so they don’t affect the balance of the model in a negative way and at the same time this is stable enough to rest the model on.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Custom Stand

Construction of the stand itself is straightforward. Since you can only get the double-elbow and 15L liftarms in transparent, your options are limited, anyway. therefore it essentially boils down to plugging the parts together where they can possibly overlap and adding a few extra axles, pins and connectors here and there to make the construction more rigid plus some bushings to get the correct 4L width of the aft prongs.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Custom Stand

Of course this can be spun any way you like and if you’re not getting strung up on a specific color and have a wide selection of different liftarms and connectors, you sure could easily come up with alternative designs. Regardless, perhaps this can be useful in some way. If you have questions fire away in the comments.

 

Brown giant little Thing – 75532

If I was terribly wealthy, collecting scale figures could easily be one of my hobbies. In my youth I was quite a bit into doing little maquettes and figurines using colored clay/ plasticine and even today it fascinates me how those artists go out of their way to scale reality and capture tiny details. There are of course some excellent collectibles from companies like Sideshow, but since they are financially far out of my league, I have to settle for smaller, more attainable options, whether that be cheaper toy store products or alternatives like the LEGO Star Wars Buildable Figures. One would at least think that way, but it’s not that simple, either.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Box

Like with so many things LEGO these days, there’s literally a dark side to these figures just as well. The blatantly obvious answer could be that they are merely another way of milking the Star Wars license. There’s per se nothing wrong with that, but in order to do deliver, they better be good and unfortunately that is not the case a lot of times.

Of course it comes down to those figures using skeletons similar to the old Bionicle, Hero Factory etc., which by their nature are very robotic. In turn they really only work for similar characters in the Star Wars universe – Droids, Stormtroopers, Jango Fett and a few others. Basically everything that disguises their human form with harnesses and armor plates. For the rest – not so much. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or weep when looking at Chewbacca, Rey, Finn and Poe in this format.

What makes this even worse is that despite the pricing being relatively reasonable (again given the current state of affairs with LEGO, not in absolute terms), they don’t offer much incentive to actually buy them by providing additional details. Many of those figures could easily look twice as attractive with some extra parts or a custom pedestal made from bricks reflecting their environment. Imagine Chewy standing in a hallway section of the Millenium Falcon, Rey being strapped to Kylo‘s torture chair and so on. You get my drift. The one exception that already plays on that idea therefore is the Stormtrooper on the Speeder Bike for the time being.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Left

Before we even get into the details, let’s talk about the most contentious issue here: color. Of all the possible choices, the Reddish Brown (or poop brown as I like to call it) seems the most undesirable one, Yes, those speeders are some sort of dull, dark-ish brown in The Empire Strikes Back, but just not this exact color.

In addition you could argue that there would be specifically camouflaged versions for every environment and this opens it up to any color from White for snow environments to Tan for deserts to Sand Blue for more generic city patrol duties. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that they could have aimed for something a bit more fresh.

Even if you stick with the brown color, you could have thrown in a few elements in Dark Orange, Dark Tan or other colors to add a bit more variety to simulate field repairs with quickly swapped parts or wear from usage. In fact I would have even accepted a bronze/ copper metallic color. That’s what it looked like to me on the box art for a long time, anyway, until I actually researched the contents.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Left

Why is that so important to me? Of course I’m always thinking ahead. If I ever disassemble this piece, what am I going to do with quite a bunch of brown Technic panels, liftarms and connectors? Of course I won’t exactly know until I cross that bridge, but it seems to me that unless you intend to build e.g. a military aircraft from the 1930s with a Bakelite seat there would be limited use for those elements unless you hide them under other stuff. That said, life tends to give you unexpected surprises, so I’m reasonably optimistic that I would find some good use for them, no matter what.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Right

As it is, there’s quite a few of those panels and as you would expect, they are mostly used to simulate the hoods and covers, but also the air guiding panels at the front. Many of them are attached a bit flimsily with often only one pin/ axle holding them, but for something that most of the time presumably will end up as a static exhibit in a showcase, it seems okay. You just have to take care to readjust everything after you handled the model and may inadvertently have whacked the panels out.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Aft

The overall proportions are okay, though it seems the model would have to be even longer for a perfect rendition. I guess there’s simply no longer crane arm/ mast in LEGO‘s portfolio. That’s not a big thing, though. The whole set already is pretty huge once assembled, something I always underestimate. You’re going to need quite some shelf real estate for a good presentation.

Most technical details on the bike are represented adequately – within the limitations of the Technic line. The foot supports on the real thing for instance appear to be partially arched/ curved/ at an angle, here they are mostly straight. Minor stuff. Other items are a bit *meh*. An example for this are the thee Tan colored small liftarms in the aft. Unless you investigate, you probably never figure out that they are supposed to represent the rolled up tarp those bikes carry around. I’m pretty sure they could have represented it easily with an actual piece of cloth and some Minifigure belts/ head bands repurposed as straps. Or perhaps there is even some rolled up sack or something in the pirates-centric series. That is to say it could have been just that bit better and it seems they didn’t go the full mile.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Underside Aft

Similar things could probably be said about the two engine exhausts. With some printed-on fan blade imitations being readily available at the right size in the Jakku Quad Jumper and other models would it have been too difficult to include them here as well? It’s one of those things that riles up people so much about LEGO – inconsistent design and leaving out Cents worth of elements for no good reason. Apparently they have no issue with throwing in their arrow shooters in every kit on the other hand, which is another of those questionable things.

While we’re there – the supports/ stand aren’t/ isn’t that great. For one they are fully integrated into the actual structure of the bike, which is pretty evil. I get that they want kids to hold the thing like a pistol and fire the shooter, but it’s probably safe to say that everyone else doesn’t care for this feature. In the interest of clean looks and satisfying collectors, it should be a separate piece that can be plugged on and off with some pins.

I’m definitely going to give this a makeover because the balance is also a bit wonky. Someone didn’t consider that despite its length the front section is lighter than the aft with its larger number of parts and thus greater weight, so the model is always prone to tipping over backwards. The black parts also make everything look very dark and give a wrong impression about how the thing works, so as a third point it would have made perfect sense to have transparent elements for the stand. After all, this is a hover bike with “magic levitation” that when under power never actually rest on the ground.

As an alternative, and that brings me back to my hubbub from the introductory paragraph, they could have included some piece of ground made from bricks. Granted, it would have had to be quite a lot of bricks for a stable connection and decent representation, but it might have looked cool to see this resting on a hidden liftarm in a fern bush, a rock or some toppled over tree trunk. If I were more into traditional stub-based LEGO, and had the parts, I’d definitely already be at work on something like that.

Lego Star Wars, Speeder Bike (75532), Underside Front

Regardless of all my niggles, this is actually a nifty little model. As a Star Wars fan you get one of the better Buildable Figures, as a Technic aficionado you get some good parts that you may not yet have (and in a not so common color to boot). This makes even more sense when you consider how cheaply it is being sold in some places. Even if you splice out and write off the figure, this could be totally worth it, assuming you have a project where those brown elements can be used to good effect.

In any case, I believe it illustrates my initial point. Those figures are so much nicer when presented in some context. So while it’s pretty likely that LEGO will axe this series at some point (sales seem not so great here in Germany, judging on how overcrowded with last year’s leftovers store shelves always are compared to other series), adding more collector value might actually be a way of turning this around.