Wednesday 26 October 2011


At the risk of alienating half the people reading this, it's time for me to make a confession : I think I'm starting to fall out of love with the LEGO Star Wars theme. Rabid Star Wars and LEGO fan I might be, but there's only so long that you can lie to yourself that all is well.

Set 7965 Millennium Falcon - Deja Vu ?

It's not the first time that I've had blasphemous thoughts like this. Some of you may have read a piece I wrote last year complaining about LEGO Star Wars remakes, and picked up on the odd grumble about a lack of creativity and imagination in the Star Wars line up. These feelings were intensified when I first caught sight of the LEGO Star Wars line up for the first half of 2011 and was, to be frank, massively underwhelmed, although the quality of some of the Summer 2011 sets calmed me down a bit. Even so, just look at the number of rehashes and remakes occupying the Summer 2011 line-up - Set 7965 Millennium Falcon is the third System scale Falcon we've had, Set 7961 Sith Infiltrator is the third System scale Sith Infiltrator we've had, Set 7877 Naboo Starfighter is the third System Scale Naboo Starfighter we've had, etc. etc. - see a pattern emerging here ? The new Naboo Starfighter has particularly irked me - minifigures apart, it's virtually identical to the previous version, an accusation I've previously levelled at the Set 8097 Slave 1. Pretty much all that's different bar the minifigures is the price, in fact - a 37% increase from the previous (2007) version.

Oh no - not another Naboo Starfighter...

Let's face it - it's increasingly all about the minifigures, isn't it ? It's sometimes hard to escape the conclusion that the actual LEGO models themselves are becoming a side show for the minifigure main event. For instance, pretty much the only reason that many people bought Set 7754 Home One or Set 7879 Hoth Echo Base was because LEGO were clever and included exclusive minifigures in these sets; certainly I've struggled to find many positive impressions of the models themselves. This focus on the minifigures might be wonderful for the minifig collectors, but it's pretty lame for those of us for whom it's the building experience and the finished model that gets the pulse racing rather than the minifigures, which in the main I can take or leave.

Set 7879 Hoth Echo Base - just about the minifigs ?

OK, so it's not all bad. LEGO haven't started to remake the UCS sets yet; in truth, they could keep pumping out a couple of UCS Star Wars sets every year for years to come and not exhaust all the possibilities, and that would suit me just fine. Similarly, I've been rather taken with the Midi-Scale ships that LEGO have released over the past couple of years, such as the Imperial Star Destroyer; it's just a pity that I seem to have been one of the few people to have liked these, and that we don't seem to be in line for any more of them....

Thing is, it's all very well for me to moan about all the remakes and repetition, but I suspect that the problem is actually with me rather than with the sets themselves. More specifically, I fear I'm outgrowing the theme. Even a cursory glance on the various discussion boards shows that this year's sets are, by and large, being extremely well received, and by the younger demographic in particular. And even I have to acknowledge that the newer renditions of some of the ships aren't at all bad. The Sith Infiltrator set is, for instance, better than previous versions IMHO. Similarly, while you could argue whether the new Millennium Falcon set is better than Set 4504 Millennium Falcon from 2004, it's still not a bad version of the ship at all.

The reality is that a whole new generation of Star Wars fans is starting to emerge. Whether this is down to the first generation of Star Wars fans indoctrinating their kids (and I have to hold my hands up on that score), the popularity of the Clone Wars TV series, the appearance of ever more versions of the movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, or a combination of all of the above, I don't know. But some of these kids weren't even around when the first or second iterations of the Falcon and other iconic ships were released by LEGO. Furthermore, many of the older sets are now rare and/or prohibitively expensive to get hold of, so for the youngsters the new versions are their first chance to own LEGO versions of the Falcon and other great Star Wars ships and vehicles. I therefore have to concede that it makes perfect sense for LEGO to release new versions of these sets, and that I'm so not the target market for these sets any more....

Set 10212 Imperial Shuttle - more like this please, LEGO...

So, given all this, will I keep religiously buying all the Star Wars sets ? Well, the urge to do so in order to keep my collection complete is a strong one, but I sense that there'll come a time when common sense will finally prevail and I'll stop buying them all; God knows my wallet will certainly thank me for it. When that point comes, I'll continue to pick up the new UCS sets, plus any remakes which are an advance on their predecessors, and any interesting original stuff, and that's it. Will that time come in 2012 ? I guess it just depends on what LEGO have in store for us....

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Here comes The Sun

Can it REALLY be 6 months since the last newspaper LEGO giveaway in the UK ? Shocking. It seems like yesterday - I must be getting old.....

As the Brickset Forum and other online communities started to reverberate with the news that The Sun newspaper in the UK was preparing for another week of LEGO giveaways, I have to confess to mixed feelings. On the one hand, what's not to like about free LEGO ? OK, so not free, but free with a 30 pence newspaper (or 60 pence on Saturdays). So free enough. And the sets included this time round looked pretty good to me - Star Wars, Alien Conquest, Harry Potter, Creator and Cars themes were all represented. The downside is the unedifying feeding frenzy that ensued last time The Sun ran such a promotion, and the thought that it was going to happen all over again. Honestly, talk about bringing out the worst in the average Brit. The mad scrum at the checkout as people literally fought to get their small polybag of LEGO last time round was unbelievable - you got the feeling that some of those individuals fighting for their share would sell their own grandmothers for a pound. And then there's the greed - people lying to shop assistants that they wanted 25 sets for children's gift bags before then boasting to their friends on the way out of the store that they would get £5 for each set on eBay. Not a pleasant prospect at all.

But of course, the lure of those little sets, most of which hadn't previously been available in the UK, proved too strong to resist, and so it was with a heavy heart that I prepared to join the throng.....

The promotion started strongly with Star Wars Set 30053 Republic Attack Cruiser. This set was one of those that hadn't previously been available in the UK. Early reports on the Saturday morning spoke of a less frenzied situation than expected, with the major participating retail chain WHSmiths clearly better prepared this time round. Stores were inconsistent with their application of the specified "one set per person" rule, however, with some enforcing it rigidly, others happy to give away one set per newspaper purchased, and a minority seemingly content to give multiple sets out with just one newspaper, or indeed with no newspapers at all...

Set 30053 Republic Attack Cruiser
The Republic Attack Cruiser (above) was a nice little set - only 44 pieces, but undoubtedly small and perfectly formed. It passed the swoosh test with flying colours in my household, and whetted our appetite for the rest of the promotion. Sunday passed without further additions to the collection on account of the highly-publicised demise of The Sun's sister paper The News of the World, and then Monday was Harry Potter day and another set never before seen in this green and pleasant land - Set 30111 The Lab.

Clearly not much building to do with this one, the USP obviously being the Harry Potter minifigure, which while having appeared in numerous retail sets already, was still welcome.

Tuesday saw the appearance of Creator Set 30024 Truck; no minifig with this one, but nevertheless a nice little set, with the added bonus that once again it had never previously been available in the UK. Having managed to get duplicates of this one from my local WHSmiths, it's telling that all of my duplicates are already on their way to various trading partners overseas, so clearly a great set for trading as well as building....

Alien Conquest Set 30141 Jetpack was for me one of the highights of the promotion and was given away on the Wednesday. I've previously written of my affection for the Alien Conquest theme, and this set is one of only two Alien Conquest polybags to have been spotted in the wild thus far. Prior to The Sun promotion, the only way for most folks to get their hands on one of these at retail was as a giveaway with purchases over £50 at LEGO S@H, although a few found their way onto eBay, Bricklink and Amazon. I'm a sucker for these dark azure-coloured Alien Defence Unit (ADU) minifigures, and I was delighted to be able to grab a few of these sets. OK, so the actual jetpack is IMHO a bit rubbish, but I love the figure. His head is reversible, and I'm particularly partial to his 'pensive' look (pics below - click to enlarge)

Thursday brought the other set that I was awaiting most eagerly; Set 30121 Grem was my first Cars 2-themed polybag, and having already picked up all of the retail Cars 2 sets I was very keen to get hold of this one. Lots of pieces (54) for 30p, two printed parts, no stickers and a neat little model in its own right - excellent ! It comes with an awesome (and huge) trans orange and red flame piece and a nicely-realised moveable visor with trans blue glass. The sides and back of the model are perhaps a little plain, but it feels churlish to complain on this occasion so for once I'll stop...

Set 30121 Grem
Friday was Ninjago day - Set 30082 Ninja Training to be precise - and the promotion was rounded off on the Saturday by another Harry Potter offering - Set 30110 Trolley - complete with Harry Potter minifigure, a beautifully decorated white owl, and a nice little collection of pearl gold round 1x1 plates.

So the verdict ? Well, whatever you think of the Sun newspaper, there's no denying that this was a cracking promotion for many LEGO fans. Clearly your perception will depend to some extent on your opinion of the sets on offer, but from where I'm standing there was a nice variety of themes represented, and some interesting and hard-to-find sets were included which was much appreciated. My personal favourites were Set 30121 Grem and Set 30141 Jetpack (or more accurately, the ADU minifig wearing the Jetpack...), but none of them were terrible, and all seem to be in demand in the US and elsewhere which gives us Brits some useful trading leverage.

Most people I spoke with felt that the actual process of getting hold of the sets was less chaotic and misery-inducing than last time round, with generally (although not always) more stock in branches of WHSmiths, fewer shortages, and less aggro. Many people managed to secure multiples, and few people were left completely without, although the lack of a comprehensive mail-in option was a bit of a pain. All in all, it was a cheap and reasonably easy way to get your hands on some neat little sets, and as such the promotion gets a big thumbs up from me. Expect the next one in around 6 months time...

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Here there be Dragons...

Or more specifically, Set 3724 LEGO Dragon. Ages I looked for this set. Years. I'm not quite sure why - as a Star Wars guy this one should've just passed me by like so many other older sets, but for some reason it just appeals to me. And you know how it is - you keep an eye out for it on eBay and elsewhere, it hardly ever appears for sale, and gradually you just want it more and more until it becomes an obsession.

This set was released in 2001 and falls within the motley crew of sets making up the 'Sculptures' category, alongside such oddities as Set 3723 LEGO Minifigure and Set 3450 Statue of Liberty. He is I believe a representation of Ollie, the LEGOLAND mascot. To the eternal shame of the LEGO community I'm betting this set didn't sell well, which explains the relative dearth of good boxed examples on eBay and Bricklink.

So if nobody's selling at a reasonable price and you just have to have the set then what to do ? Well, time for some D.I.Y., that's what. Step 1 : visit Bricklink and obtain the parts inventoryStep 2 : print out the parts inventory, and Step 3 : source the parts. Simple. OK, Steps 1 and 2 were simple. Sourcing the 1538 parts proved a little more challenging, however......

On the upside, the set contains almost exclusively basic bricks and plates rather than the collection of highly specialised parts that many modern sets are composed of. Also, there wasn't such a diversity of different pieces than is often the case for other sets. The downside is that some of those parts are nevertheless relatively uncommon, not least because they're green and hence haven't appeared in many other sets. Take for example part number 2357 Brick 2 x 2 Corner. This set contains 142 of these parts in green. Problem is that this part in green has only ever appeared in 14 sets, and aside from Ollie, no more than 4 of these parts have ever appeared in any one set.... It's at times like these that you thank the Maker for Bricklink. Honestly, what are the chances of anyone having 142 of these pieces for sale in green ? Well, amazingly I found a UK-based Bricklink seller with 150 for sale - good work, fella ! To cut a fairly long story short, I sourced the majority of pieces via Bricklink over a 6-month period. A few I obtained via LEGO's own LUGBULK programme, a few more I found in the Pick a Brick walls of a couple of LEGO Brand Stores, and the remainder I got by badgering a certain Brickish Association member who is renowned for hoarding huge numbers of bricks - you know who you are ! You can see all 1538 pieces, minus the tan baseplate, in the picture below (click to enlarge). As usual, for ease of building I sorted everything into parts 2 x 2 studs in size or less, plates greater than 2 x 2 studs, and everything else. I'm betting there's more green here than in any other official set....

Next I needed a set of building instructions. An attempt to buy these on eBay failed as the seller mysteriously lost them after I won the auction..... Thankfully, LEGO are kind enough to archive building instructions on their site, so obtaining the instructions to Ollie was ultimately simply a case of directing my browser here to download a copy. Thank-you, LEGO, for offering this extremely useful service.

So finally I was able to start building, and I'm delighted to report that it was a moderately challenging build, in stark contrast to the excessive hand-holding evident in many modern sets. Large numbers of pieces were often called out at a time, and similar to the builds for Set 7194 Yoda and Set 3450 Statue of Liberty the "view from above" style of instructions demand a reasonable degree of concentration and proficiency.

Predictably, the build is from the ground up, and you can see Ollie's feet, legs, belly and tail appearing in the pictures below (click to enlarge). Apologies, incidentally, for all the reflections on the photographs - I found it murderously difficult to photograph this set with my rudimentary photographic set up....

His wings and arms are next; the wings attach to the body by way of hinge plates which permit a range of movement. Movement or not, however, his wings are really too teeny to generate any lift, so this is one dragon whose feet will remain firmly on the ground.... Or on a tan baseplate, at least.

And so on to the head. You can see how the mouth attaches to the rest of the head in the first picture below; the grey Technic pins on either side allow the mouth to open and close; in the finished model, gravity ensures that the default position is open. The eyes are superbly done, with white 1x4 antennae pushed though headlight bricks to make the pupils.

Surprisingly, the head doesn't rotate on the neck; you'd have thought that it would have been a no-brainer to mount the head on a turntable to allow it to turn, but for some reason the designer chose not to do this. It's an obvious and seemingly simple mod, however, so I may well do it myself. You can see the finished model below.

The verdict ? Just look at that face ! I defy anybody without a heart of stone not to love this set. He managed to beguile everybody in my household with his cheeky smile within milliseconds, and there was actually an argument about where he would be displayed with my wife insisting that he should reside in my son's room. Sorry, but no chance - he's going on my bedside table and that's that. I also thoroughly enjoyed the build; there's something profoundly satisfying about building with proper bricks and plates rather than employing a custom piece for every tricky curve and angle.

And so Ollie moves effortlessly into my top ten sets of all time, box or no box.....

Wednesday 5 October 2011

One Year On....

Almost exactly one year ago, I attended my first ever LEGO show - the 2010 Great Western LEGO Show (GWLS) at the STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway. I saw some amazing LEGO creations that day, met a number of people who I'd previously only ever encountered online, and had my eyes opened to a whole world of LEGO-related activity that I'd previously never been aware even existed. The whole experience made such an impression on me that I joined the Brickish Association there and then, and have since attended a number of other shows. Perhaps most importantly, a number of the people I met that day at STEAM I now consider to be my friends, rather than just usernames on a forum.

Anyway, GWLS 2011 took place last weekend. One year on, however, and I was attending as an exhibitor as well as an enthusiastic observer, so the event started on the Friday for me this year, with the majority of exhibitors arriving in Swindon a day early in order to set up. Having taken a car full of Star Wars UCS models (both official sets, including the then-unreleased Super Star Destroyer, and some homebrew models) to Leicester for the National Space Centre 'Spaciversary' in July, I got to travel lighter for GWLS as the focus is mainly on MOCs - only the UCS Venator and UCS TIE Fighter came with me this time round.

Proceedings starting in earnest on the Saturday morning with a reveal of Set 10223 Royal Joust, which was reported on these very pages. Doing the honours was none other than Jamie Berard (below), a LEGO designer famed for his work on the Modular Buildings and sets such as Tower Bridge. Jamie had travelled over from LEGO HQ in Denmark with fellow designer Morten Graff-Wang who's a designer on Creator sets such as Sonic Boom. The Royal Joust set was subsequently put out on display for show attendees to see, along with recently announced Set 10230 Mini Modulars (photos below - click to enlarge and see the detail) :

Jamie Berard (above) reveals Set 10223 Royal Joust (below)

Set 10230 Mini Modulars - due January 2012

At 10 a.m. the doors opened, and the people who'd been queuing patiently outside poured in. As well as the huge main hall, which was the venue for the displays last year, a large collection of Harry Potter-related creations and a Rhineland diorama were sited in a smaller secondary hall. In addition, this year the organisers had opened up a third hall where all the traders were located, plus a sizeable marquee area was set aside for catering. The end result was a significantly increased overall show area.

My original intention was to pick a few of my favourite creations from the show and feature them here. I have to say, however, that the sheer quality and variety of exhibits blew me away and it's been really hard to try and narrow them down to just a few highlights. I failed, basically, so apologies in advance for the length of this posting..... Apologies also to those exhibitors whose work isn't featured here, but with hundreds of creations on display, trying to show them all would just have been silly....

It's impossible to pick a favourite, but Steve Price's "LEGORENA" (below - click pics to enlarge) was certainly one of the highlights for me. It's got to be one of the most humorous MOCs I've ever seen, with literally hundreds of amusing little touches (a crowd-surfing Boba Fett, anyone ?) and clever details. You're still finding new things to admire and laugh about when you come back and look at it for the twentieth time.... As I understand it, this was Steve's first display. Good luck trying to beat this next year, fella....

Awesome - someone needs to send this pic to Lars....

Another highlight for me was Carl Greatrix's (Bricktrix) train display. His Mallard (below) is already on my list of Flickr favourites, and it was fantastic to see it for real and watch it hurtling around his stunning layout, hauling beautifully detailed rolling stock. His cattle truck is another Flickr favourite of mine, and this also made an appearance  as part of his display. Amazing.

Mallard by Bricktrix
Bricktrix's Cattle Truck
Next up is some of James Sutton's stuff. He was already in my good books for offering up his huge Yoda model with the light-up lightsaber for the Star Wars UCS MOC display, and in addition to that he brought some other fantastic Star Wars-related stuff which you can see below. His 6x scale minifigs were some of my favourite creations of the whole show, and his rendition of Han in carbonite is just genius ! Pleasure to meet you, James and if you're reading this then please shoot me a link to your Flickr stream and I'll add it here.

Moving on, I really have to mention the Harry Potter display. This was a collaboration between Eleanor Thorn (Skegga), Kevin Matthews (Dragon), Andrew Danielli, Robert Clarkson and Irene McMahon, and consisted of various locations from the Harry Potter universe which were recreated in loving detail.

Above and below : Hogwarts Great Hall by Skegga

Defence Against the Dark Arts Classroom by Andrew Danielli

Quidditch Pitch and Owlery by Robert Clarkson

Hogwarts East Wing by Robert Clarkson
I've featured it before, but since it's one of my favourite MOCs ever, there's no harm in mentioning it again.... Pete Brookdale's (cavegod) AT-AT has had rave reviews everywhere it's been featured, and along with his enormous UCS Sandcrawler it was the centerpiece of the Star Wars UCS MOC display at GWLS. A total of 14 MOCs were on show, plus the official UCS Yoda set and Set 10212 Imperial Shuttle which Pete and I built live at the show.

A round up of some of my other favourites from the show can be found below. Special mention goes to Gary Davis (Bricks for Brains) for his amazing bust of Yuri Gagarin, and to Pete Reid (Legoloverman) and Yvonne Doyle ({YVD}) for their exquisite Sherlock Holmes-based creation - mmmmm, sand red !

Gary Davis' Yuri Gagarin Bust

Holmes and W.A.T.S.O.N. by Peter Reid and Yvonne Doyle

Hawk jet, made out of 2 x 4 bricks by Gary Davis

Eyrietown by Rod Gillies
Haradford Castle by James Pegrum and Barney Main
Westminter Abbey by Warren Elsmore, Stuart Crawshaw,
 Ed Diment and Naomi Farr
Also a mention for Peter Salter (Ickelpete), who in addition to his R2-D2 which I featured in July also brought a black Dalek which I didn't get a decent pic of but which was utterly awesome. Not only did it look amazing, but it moved, rotated its head, and even uttered "Exterminate !" on demand.... Hopefully it'll appear on his Flickr stream in due course. And video, Robert - we need video with sound as well as lots of pics please !

In addition to viewing all the MOCs and shopping 'til they dropped, show participants could also help to construct a huge LEGO mosaic section by section over the 2 days of the show. The finished mosaic can be seen below.

Anyway, guess I'd better wrap up..... Apologies for the Oscars-style ending to this post, but enormous credit and thanks has to go to Martin Long and his team of helpers for organising and running the show. Big thanks also to LEGO designers Jamie Berard and Morten Graff-Wang who were in attendance for the whole duration, chatted for hours to exhibitors and the public alike, and attended the Brickish Association social event on Saturday night where they were subjected to a non-stop barrage of questions and (unsuccessful) attempts to find out about future sets - cheers guys, you were great sports! Thanks to STEAM for being excellent hosts, and to Jan Beyer from LEGO for his great support of the event. And most of all, respect and kudos to all the exhibitors for bringing the most amazing collection of models to the show, and to almost 6,500 people for visiting on perhaps the hottest October weekend since records began.