Wednesday, 7 March 2012

"The damage doesn't look as bad from out here"

Continuing on the recent (and unintentional) Star Wars focus, I've been building another 2012 Star Wars set this week.

Given the wealth of sets old and new which I could have built, it's strange how the selection process works. Despite Set 9490 Droid Escape not exactly setting me alight with excitement, I found myself really wanting to crack open this set because I wanted to take a closer look at a couple of the minifigures within. But more of them later....

Aside from the obligatory 2012 Darth Maul branding and the picture of the minifigures (which becomes ever larger and more prominent every year, for obvious reasons....), there's a simple but nicely staged picture showing the escape pod and minifigures on Tatooine's desert wastes. The back of the box below (for all pictures, click to enlarge) shows a few action shots and highlights the 'play feature' of this set, namely the ability to pop open the escape pod and release the droids within.

The box has thumb tabs for easy opening, but fellow obsessives will no doubt leave these intact and instead stick with a sharp knife to carefully release the contents.... Open the box and you'll find the 38 page instruction booklet, two sealed bags of parts, a sticker sheet and two loose large half-cone parts which will form the body of the escape pod.

Loose sticker sheets floating around inside boxes make me nervous as they often get damaged, but mine (below) thankfully survived intact....

The cover of the instruction booklet (below) is similar to the box art, although the graphic representations of the minifigures are absent, presumably to avoid things getting too cramped.

The building steps were easy to follow, and I'm delighted to report that colour discrimination issues didn't rear their ugly head here at all - black looked like black, and there wasn't any of the confusion regarding black, dark and light bley that I've experienced in the past. LEGO seem to have finally made a concerted effort to nail this colour discrimination issue, as evidenced by the fact that back pieces now have a thin white border around them in the building instructions (below) - bravo LEGO for finally sorting this, and let's hope all instruction booklets going forward get this treatment.

In addition to the 31 pages of building instructions, the booklet also contains an inventory of parts, some advertising for other 2012 Star Wars sets (including the neat minifig gallery I mentioned last week) and even the brief comic strip below....

You can see a selection of parts below (click to enlarge). None of the parts are unique to this set, but the light bley semi-circular bricks have only appeared in 3 sets including this one and the light bley half-cones in five sets. Oh, and for reasons unknown I'm a big fan of the round corner 4 x 4 bricks (big macaronis) which is why they're in the picture...

And so on to what for many will be the highlight of this set - the minifigures. There are four of them, of which three are new. Let's start with the Sandtroopers, which I was particularly looking forward to taking a closer look at. You'll have seen many Stormtroopers spread across multiple sets over the years, and admittedly the Sandtroopers are just a variation on a theme, but what really struck me is the level of detail on these guys.....

I love their sand-staining, which almost looks hand-painted, and the worn, gritty look that it gives them. As you can see above, the figures also feature back printing, printed legs and a pauldron. Even the pauldron has a pattern on it. And under the helmet the minifigure heads are painted. Outstanding.

Next up is C-3PO. I must have scores of C-3PO figures already, but this new version (below) really ups the ante, with painted eyes, wiring visible on torso and more detailed back-printing.

You can see new Threepio below on the left, with an older version on the right for comparison. Evolution rather than revolution, but I think LEGO have done an excellent job improving this figure - thumbs up again.

The final figure is R2-D2; this is the only figure which isn't new, having appeared in a total of 8 sets stretching back to 2008. Compared with the other more detailed figures in this set, Artoo is starting to look a little plain, and has no back printing on his "torso", but he still does the job OK. Quality issues rear their ugly head with the little chap below, however - the head printing isn't level and looks untidy.

Once the minifigures have been assembled it's time to get to work on the Sandtrooper speeder bike; this is a quick and simple build, and you can see the finished product below. I don't recall ever having seen a Sandtrooper sat on a speeder bike during the Star Wars films and therefore don't know what the bikes are supposed to look like; if however they're supposed to look like the speeder bikes made famous by the Endor Speeder Chase scene in Return of the Jedi then this one looks a little insubstantial...

Finally the escape pod. This is a simple but interesting build, featuring a control panel and ample space to accomodate the droids. There are unfortunately a number of stickers to apply, including large panels which need to be carefully applied to the half-cones making up the body of the escape pod. I can see an awful lot of people building this set and winding up with a messy end result on account of stickers not being applied carefully enough. Most probably won't care. I, unfortunately, do care and thus didnt enjoy lining the blasted stickers up and trying to get them perfectly straight. Still, at least there aren't any STAMPs I suppose.

Stickers notwithstanding, I think the designers have done a decent enough job on the escape pod, with key features such as the engines nicely captured, both in number and configuration, although the source material (below) doesn't seem to have a markedly tapered body like the LEGO version.

Image from Wookieepedia
You can see all of the different elements of the set below (click to enlarge); apologies for the lack of a Tatooine-style tan backdrop, but hopefully you get the point.

As you may be aware, there is a previous version of this set; Set 7106 Droid Escape was released in 2001 and is more modest in size, weighing in at only 45 pieces versus 137 pieces for the newer version.

The 2001 version of the escape pod has a nice printed body rather than stickers but is otherwise less detailed than the newer version, which I think is superior overall. Set 7106 cost a mere $6 at the time of its release, as against $19.99 / £19.99 for the current version, but a higher piece count and double the number of minifigures do at least in part help to justify the price hike for the newer set.

Overall I like this set; the minifigures are the clear highlight, with the new Sandtroopers being a personal favourite of mine, and the compact speeder bike and new, improved escape pod add some decent play value. Some folks in the UK were lucky to recently get this set at £8.50 from Asda, a surprising 57% discount from RRP, but given that this deal is I think now gone you can at least pick it up for 25% off RRP here. Folks in the US can buy the set here. No discount for you, although since your RRP is cheaper than the discounted UK price anyway I have no sympathy....

Image from

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