Wednesday, 24 August 2011

"That's no moon....."

".....It's a space station". OK, so Ben Kenobi was actually referring to the first Death Star at the time, but it's too good a quote to worry about minor details like that.....

I bought Set 10143 Death Star II from an eBay seller back in early 2009 for a little under £150 + shipping. Not MISB, unfortunately, but complete and boxed with instructions. That I didn't get round to building it until a few weeks ago when when it was needed for the Brickish Association exhibition at the UK National Space Centre speaks volumes about my lack of enthusiasm for the set. As a LEGO Star Wars collector I was always going to buy a copy, and I could certainly appreciate what looked like an impressive bit of design from a technical perspective. Truth be told, however, I had a strong suspicion that the build itself might turn out to be a seriously tedious exercise in stacking grey plates one on top of another for days on end. Building large Star Wars UCS sets can sometimes get a bit repetitive, and Death Star II is particularly grey, and carries the promise of considerable repetition. Still, duty called, so I gritted my teeth and got stuck in.....

It's a big set - 3441 pieces, which by my reckoning means it ranks fifth in the all-time list of biggest LEGO sets ever ranked by piece count. Released in 2005, it had a RRP of £249.99 in the UK, or $269.99 for our American cousins who really don't appreciate how lucky they are when it comes to the price of LEGO in their country....

The solitary instruction manual is spiral bound and thinner than I expected given the huge piece count. The instructions were clear and easy to follow.

As usual, I sorted the parts into 3 large crates - small pieces 2x2 or less, plates larger than 2x2, and everything else. Predictably, the vast majority of parts were plates - literally a dispiriting sea of bley swimming before my eyes....

After sorting was complete, the first building task was to construct the stand, around which Death Star II would gradually coalesce. Serial build pictures can be found below - click to enlarge.

Consistent with other Star Wars UCS sets, Death Star II comes with a plaque (below). This attaches to the base of the stand and gives us Star Wars obsessives a number of invaluable nuggets of information to bore everybody else to death with. Did you know, for instance, that Death Star II is 160 kilometers in diameter and has a quadanium steel hull ? No, me neither. I almost hesitate to mention that Wookiepedia gives the diameter of Death Star II as 900 kilometers, but we'll not get into that right now....

Once the stand is completed it's time to start building the actual Death Star itself. First of all the sections forming half of the Death Star's equator are constructed and put into position.

(Rotated 180 degrees)

Then it's time to start carefully attaching the panels which make up the outer surface. These panels are connected to each other via the use of Technic Connectors angled just right to approximate the curve of the Death Star's surface - clever and effective.

(Rotated 180 degrees)

The next stage of the build is the construction of the complex exposed sections (below) which give the Death Star II its iconic "work in progress" appearance in Return of the Jedi. These sections are built up layer by layer, and are predictably fiddly and repetitive to put together. As a result, the "x 2" which appears in the instruction manual when the first of these sections is completed must rank as one of the more depressing sights in my LEGO building career to date....

Tedious or not, the finished effect is pretty impressive. Manoeuvring the two completed sections into place (one of them upside down) was tricky and took a few attempts, but once installed I could breathe a big sigh of relief.

(Rotated 180 degrees)

The gap between the upper and lower exposed sections was then covered over, completing the 'equatorial trench' running around the entire circumference of the Death Star. Some external detailing (hanging down over the lower exposed section, visible in the picture below) was also added at this stage.

The next job was to complete the sphere by constructing the surface of the last remaining quadrant. Once again, the panels making up the outer skin were connected by way of angled Technic Connectors, with a large space left to accommodate the Death Star II's primary weapon.

Just prior to installation of the final panels came the long-anticipated task of constructing the Death Star's superlaser, replete with a riot of neon green laser fire.... Yep - "that thing's operational !"

Then the final panels were put into place, completing Death Star II. The icing on the cake was a mini Super Star Destroyer (SSD) which was placed into orbit around the main model.

You can see the finished model below, no doubt caught in the act of firing on a hapless MC80 Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, and complete with its orbiting SSD.

So the verdict ? Well, it's certainly bigger than I expected, and it weighs a ton. It's also less fragile than I thought it would be, having survived being hauled around my house to various display locations and also being transported to and from the recent Brickish Association display at the National Space Centre entirely intact. The build technique used to approximate the Death Star's surface curvature is clever and effective, as is the method used to mimic the 'unfinished' areas of the space station, and while close-up you can obviously see gaps between panels, the model looks pretty impressive from a bit further back. And as I think the pictures below demonstrate, while not exactly accurate, it's certainly an immediately recognisable representation of the source material.

(Picture from

In terms of the overall building experience, yes - it was, as expected, pretty repetitive at times, although not as tedious as I thought it'd be. It's hard to estimate total construction time as I split the build over a number of evenings and was slowed down by the process of trying to capture a reasonable set of pictures as I went along. Plus I'm just a really slow builder anyway.

As stated earlier, the driver for building the set was a display of Star Wars UCS sets at the UK National Space Centre in July 2011. You can see a picture from the exhibition below, showing the finished model in the esteemed company of a number of other UCS sets.

So in summary, it's an impressive model which utilises some clever building techniques. Sure, it was a bit of a slog to build at times, but not half as bad as I expected. And it's a serious parts pack if you're into bley plates.....

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