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Wars standards with all its canon-vs. non-canon mess created when Disney took over and declared a lot of the old lore no longer valid, but it’s still enjoyable and, which I guess is important, structured well enough so even a casual fan like me can follow the story.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

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.

July Falcon

With the Friends and City magazines being so all over the place in terms of quality these days, oddly enough the Star Wars one has become a staple to look forward to every month. It may not be particularly glorious, but given the focus on a single subject you can at least manage your expectations. Sometimes it’s even really good.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, July 2019, Cover

The July issue perhaps doesn’t fall into that category. The mag itself is pretty lackluster, but at least you get some decent parts to build a mini Kessel Run Millenium Falcon from the The Last Jedi movie. It’s stacked together from a bunch of 4 x 4 and 6 x 6 round plates with some wedge plates in-between, making for a nice, stable model to swoosh around with. Interestingly, it also uses three of the newer 1 x 1 upwards brackets, so that alone is a good way of boosting your stock of that part.

The only weak spot is the cockpit made from a 1 x 1 cone in Transparent Black. It’s not reinforced by a bar inside and only sits on a stud of one of the aforementioned brackets, which itself is merely loosely plugged into the underside of the little protruding plate. That is to say it tends to come off as soon as you touch this area. I wish they’d come up with a more robust solution here.

As I said, the magazine isn’t t that great. The comics are okay (though even here you can see stylistic differences due to them having been drawn by different people), but you can forget the posters and puzzles. Yes, it’s “bad CGI/ bad photos” alert again and the few simple puzzles barely keep anyone busy for longer than three minutes. Just odd, considering how well they seem to handle this in the City mags. The target audience for Star Wars would actually be older and shouldn’t mind a bit of a challenge….

June Walk(er)

Last month’s IG-88 wasn’t exactly a priority item for me, as I really prefer buildable bricks with my LEGO magazines, so the June issue of the Star Wars mag represents a return to form of sorts for me.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, June 2019, Cover

The model purports to represent an AT-M6 walker as seen in The Last Jedi, but to be honest it looks anything but. The lanky feet and overall flimsy construction simply don’t impress. The model is basically just a collection of hinge plates of various types. On the positive side it has the small 1 x 1 rounded hinges in Light Bluish Grey, which aren’t as common as some might think. Most sets use this part in Black. There are also two 1 x 3 on 1 x 2 jumper plates in that same lighter grey. This part is just so useful and has become indispensable ever since it was introduced last year, so one can never have enough.

The comics are okay, with the Vader droid one actually possibly not being that much off-canon, at least from my passing knowledge of these things. Allegedly indeed clones and droids were used as decoys and training partners. The other is dealing with a mishap involving an AT-M6 and a TIE Fighter, which kind of undermines the whole point and only shows how flawed the concept of these walkers is to begin with. On that note, though, I would have loved a nice large poster showing the various walker types as nice illustrations rather than just having three very specific ones pointed out on a page in their LEGO-fied form. With a bit more thematical consistency those mags could be so great even for adults…

February Space Bomber

Following closely on the heels of the Friends magazine is the Star Wars edition to which I actually genuinely had been looking forward already. Yepp, of course because of the mini model which is quite decent this time around after the last few rounds last year hadn’t been that satisfying in that department.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, February 2019, Cover

Now of course the Resistance Bomber is easily one of the most stupid fictional vehicles ever cooked up in the Star Wars universe and it isn’t helped by how it is used in the opening sequence of The Last Jedi. I could talk myself into a rage frenzy just explaining how literally nobody on the production teams seems to understand even the most basic principles of bomber tactics and safety procedures. However, all the same I can admit without shame that the LEGO version looks oddly attractive and has some nice parts, so I almost considered buying it once if it wasn’t for the somewhat too high price that killed of that project. But I digress…

The model included is a reasonable rendition and comprised of 36 parts, though not particularly special ones. The only thing that stands out are the two 1 x 1 transparent round tiles with grip bars used to mimic the aft gunner positions at the bottom of the bomb shaft and the rear end of the main body. They’re still used relatively rarely despite being around for quite some time now. The rest is more mundane, but the parts being in Light Bluish Grey for the most part makes them universally usable, so that’s fine with me.

The rest of the mag is okay, though to me it feels weird that they’re still milking the The Last Jedi movie and derive stories from it over a year after it was released. The kids won’t mind, though. In any case, I’m already looking forward to the next issue, which will contain a mini Slave 1. In contrast to the bomber it’s easily one of the coolest vehicles, downright iconic I dare say, and of course due to it also being relatively colorful, this shall make for some interesting parts and a nice little model.

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…