Friday 25 October 2013

A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy....

Whenever there's talk on the various forums (fora ?) about which Star Wars sets are ripe for a makeover, a few 'usual suspects' invariably emerge. One of those fan-nominated prime candidates, Set 4480 Jabba's Palace, has now been the subject of a pretty decent remake in the form of last year's Set 9516 Jabba's Palace.  Set 4501 Mos Eisley Cantina is another set which features prominently in such discussions; is it indeed crying out for a remake, or should LEGO leave it well alone ?

There are actually a couple of different versions of Set 4501, although the differences are purely cosmetic. The set first surfaced in 2003 (blue box version), with an Original Trilogy black box edition appearing a year later. Both versions utilise the same core set imagery on the front (picture above - click to enlarge), although the design is embossed on the black box version and this together with the absence of the unsightly sidebar of the blue box version gives it a clear edge in the style stakes IMHO. The black box version above features the parts count in the bottom right corner which suggests that my set might potentially have begun its retail journey in the U.S. where I believe there's a requirement for the number of elements within to be displayed on the packaging.

The back of the boxes (below - click to enlarge) share a number of images which provide an overview of the set overall, the play features and the minifigures. The blue box version includes an additional image, that of an alternate build which can be assembled with the elements contained within the box; while I'm generally a big fan of LEGO printing images of alternate builds on its boxes and instructions, I can't in all honestly say that the bizarre creation here is much to write home about; maybe LEGO just let the designer's child loose with the elements and told them to build something....

The boxes are designed to be opened via thumb tabs, although the previous owner of my used blue box example was kind enough to carefully open the box by sliding a sharp instrument under the left box flap exactly as I would have done. My black box version is still sealed, so it was the blue box version that I built for this review.  The set contains a total of 193 pieces, and these fill only a tiny fraction of the box which is around 11 inches square and 3 inches deep; the box could have been half the size and there would still have been more than enough room for the contents. In addition to the parts there's obviously an instruction booklet, but no DSS.

In the case of the blue box version at least, the cover of the approx. 8.5 x 6 inch instruction booklet (above - click to enlarge) mimics the front of the box, with only the recommended age range omitted. The booklet contains 32 pages, although it feels like less. In addition to the building instructions there's a single page showing a couple of other Star Wars sets (below - click to enlarge) plus advertising for a LEGO product survey and the LEGO Star Wars website, which I'll wager looks a bit different now to what it looked like back then....

Colour representation in the building instructions is horrible (picture below - click to enlarge). Those white-looking 2 x 4 bricks in the middle of the build are actually light bley, and the 1 x 8 bricks on either side of them are supposed to be black, while the 1 x 4 x 1 panels on the sides are dark bley. It's disorienting to begin with, although you get used to it.

Given the modest parts count, the set contains a surprising number of rare and/or unusual elements, and you can see some of them in the picture below. The dark bley engine and 22L flexible hose in the top left of the picture are unique to Set 4501, as are all five of the sand red elements in the middle. Sand red is one of the rarer colours in the LEGO palette; according to Bricklink, only 39 different elements have ever been produced in this colour (click here for details), and if you exclude the various minifig parts you're only left with 25 in total, so to find 5 of those 25 elements in one small set is pretty cool. The dark red 1 x 1 x 1 corner panel only appears in one other set apart from this one, as does the tan 1 x 6 x 2 arch with curved top, while a number of elements - the dark red 1 x 2 x 1 panel, the dark red modified 1 x 2 tile with handle, and the dark red 3 x 2 left and right wedges, as well as the sand blue jumper plate - only feature in three sets in total including this one. All 21 elements in the picture are found in 8 sets or less.

In addition to being a repository of rare elements, this set is also a veritable treasure trove from the perspective of the minifigures it contains. A total of five minifigures come with the set, with the undoubted star of the show being Greedo (below - click pics to enlarge). A used example of this minifigure commands upwards of £20 on Bricklink and eBay, reflecting it's status as one of the more desirable Star Wars minifigures. Although by today's standards his relatively complex moulded and painted head isn't necessarily particularly unusual, back in 2003 it would I think have seemed quite exotic, and his painted arms would also have been a fairly unusual feature. Greedo only ever appeared in this set, and in addition to this his head, torso and legs are all unique to this minifigure, all of which helps in part to explain why he's so prized by collectors.

LEGO have released lots of different minifigure versions of Luke Skywalker, but the version found in Set 4501 was the first. This version initially appeared in Set 7110 Landspeeder back in 1999 (the first year of LEGO Star Wars) prior to being included in Set 7190 Millennium Falcon in 2000. It made its final ever appearance in Set 4501. The head and hair were included in a number of other Luke Skywalker variants, but the tastefully printed torso and legs are unique to this figure. There's no backprinting on the head or torso. Luke comes complete with a lightsaber, featuring a nice shiny chrome silver hilt.

Next up we have Han Solo. While unique to this set, he's actually almost identical to the version of Han Solo which appears in Set 7190 Millenium Falcon, differing only by virtue of the colour of his legs which are standard blue in Set 7190 versus dark blue in this set; the dark blue legs, which feature a printed belt and holster,  are exclusive to this minifigure. The torso, which sports a white v-neck shirt and black waistcoat, and the head, with its smirking expression and brown eyebrows, adorn a few different versions of Han Solo spanning a number of different sets. There's no backprinting on the head, torso or legs.

The version of Obi Wan Kenobi below (click picture to enlarge) is another minifigure which is unique to this set. The torso and head, neither of which are back-printed, have only ever graced two minifigures, both of which are versions of Obi Wan. Strangely, while Luke is provided with a lightsaber in this set, Obi Wan is not, which could potentially cause problems should they encounter a scarred sociopath with the death sentence in twelve systems while they're visiting the Cantina....

The last of the minifigures is a Stormtrooper (pictures below - click to enlarge). While his legs, torso and helmet are pretty standard Stormtrooper fare, the addition of a cloth pauldron and the rebreather on his back makes this variant unique to the set; Bricklink alternatively describes this figure as a Sandtrooper on account of these additions. Unusually, the Stormtrooper isn't supplied with the regulation blaster, instead sporting what looks to be some kind of balance bar, presumably to help him stay mounted on his dewback ride (see later).

Aside from the clutch of rare minifigures, another highlight of the set is the one and only appearance of the dewback (below - click pictures to enlarge). This sand green monstrosity is made up of ten separate elements not including the saddle and harness. The head has a limited range of movement in the vertical plane, and the tail articulates at the body and also near the tip, which attaches via a rather unsightly light bley Technic half pin. Similar to the original version of Jabba the Hutt which can for example be found in Set 4480 Jabba's Palace, the dewback is rather plain and would have greatly benefitted from  some printed detail. Even so, once the saddle and harness are in place and the dewback has a Stormtrooper on its back it actually looks pretty cool, as you can see below.

Having put together the minifigures and the dewback it was finally time to get stuck into some proper building, and I started with the landspeeder. It'a a very simple build, occupying a mere ten pages of the building guide, and you can see the finished model below (click pics to enlarge).

Although far from perfect, it's not a bad rendition of the X-34 landspeeder (movie still from Wookieepedia below - click to enlarge). Of note, it's the only version of the landspeeder that LEGO have ever produced which tries to approximate the colour of the subject matter - all the other versions LEGO has released are predominantly tan in colour. The model is fairly crude and maybe seems a bit too long, but I do like the way that dark bley flexible hoses have been used to create a striated appearance on the side and front of the vehicle. The vertically-mounted engine at the back sits on a sand red 4 x 4 plate, and the whole assembly tips back on a couple of hinges to reveal a small hidden compartment; that's it in terms of play features, apart of course from the ability to swoosh the model around the room, and in truth that's the most important thing....

X-34 landspeeder from Wookieepedia
The Cantina itself completes the set, and you can see the finished structure below. It's made up of three distinct sections - the booth in which Han and Greedo 'work out their differences', an arched entrance and a tiny bar area. The sections are joined by brick hinges which allow some degree of flexibility in arranging the sections relative to each other. The tabletop between Han and Greedo (a tan 2 x 4 plate) tips up to reveal a hidden compartment that's just big enough to conceal Han's blaster - handy, that.... I have to confess to quite liking the sand blue, tan and dark red detailing even though it's almost certainly just an affectation - I'm pretty sure that in Star Wars : A New Hope no such decoration was visible inside or outside the Cantina.

Everything comes together as you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge). While the set has undoubted play value, at only 193 pieces there's obviously not much to it, and it was clearly never designed as a display piece. Given the limitations of the set, it's easy to see why the fan community is clamouring for a remake - there are few more iconic scenes in Star Wars than those which take place inside the Cantina, and the possiblities from a design and minifigure perspective are almost endless. In fact, bearing in mind LEGO's tendency to release updated versions of older sets (sometimes over and over again....) it's actually quite surprising that they haven't already remade this one. I certainly wouldn't bet against it.

Set 4501 Mos Eisley Cantina was available at retail between 2003 and 2005, at a RRP of £27.99 / US$30. It contains 5 minifigures, of which 4, including the popular Greedo figure, are unique to the set. It also contains the dewback, which is similarly unique to the set. Overall, therefore, it's not hard to see  why the set is prized by collectors, and why it commands such a hefty premium in the aftermarket - Bricklink prices for a boxed example start at around £90 / US$145. If you're lucky you might find a cheaper example on eBay, although eBay sellers are increasingly wise to the resale value of LEGO these days and price accordingly.

Mostly on account of the high aftermarket price, it's hard to recommend the set now unless you're a Star Wars completist and/or a minifigure collector. It's not that the set is especially bad, just that as previously stated there isn't really much to it, so unless you really can't help yourself, there are better sets to spend your hard-earned cash on.

A pair of landspeeders from Set 4501 & COMCON024 

Monday 14 October 2013


So having hopefully tempted you with my Great Western LEGO Show (a.k.a. STEAM) preview last time out, how did the event turn out ? Well, keep reading to find out....

It was far from ideal having to put in a full day's work on the Friday before STEAM while others were already at the venue setting up their displays and taunting me with their updates, but finally it was time to load up the car with a couple of crates full of AT-AT parts and a travel bag and set off for Swindon. The journey should only have taken about 90 minutes, but a combination of an accident on the M4 motorway and Swindon's infernal one way system meant that I didn't get there until nearly 10 pm. Luckily Martin and Darren were still up for a curry so we headed down to the local Indian restaurant for dinner, followed by a rendezvous with other exhibitors back in the bar at Jurys Inn in time-honoured STEAM fashion before people gradually drifted off to their rooms to get a few hours sleep before the big event.

After a quick breakfast on the Saturday morning, I confess that I was feeling nervous as I made my way to the event venue. When I originally built my UCS AT-AT walker it had taken me ages to get it fully assembled, and having dissassembled it for transportation to Swindon I was dreading having similar problems on the morning of the event. Sadly, my pessimism turned out to be entirely justified.... After carefully unpacking the sections on arrival at the venue, everything seemed to be coming together nicely, but just as the beast seemed to have been successfully reassembled it suffered a terminal systems failure and came crashing down, suffering what I feared would be show-stopping damage in the process. As I stared at the wreckage in horror it was hard to see how the situation could be retrieved, but salvation was at hand in the form of Pete Brookdale (cavegod), designer of the original UCS AT-AT and a fellow exhibitor. To his massive credit, he immediately stopped assembling his display and dived into the wreckage of mine, helping to repair the substantial damage and get my AT-AT back on its feet quicker than I could ever have believed possible. Pete, you are a legend and I salute you ! Having helped to get my AT-AT up on its feet, Pete then assembled his, and for the first time ever we were able to witness two of the monsters standing proudly side by side; you can see photographic evidence of this below (click to enlarge).

UCS AT-ATs by cavegod and drdavewatford
UCS AT-ATs by cavegod and drdavewatford

In addition to his AT-AT, Pete had also brought a brand new MOC which was receiving its first ever public airing - a huge UCS Rebel Transport (below - click pictures to enlarge). I confess that I was somewhat underwhelmed when he first showed me photos of the thing a couple of months back - the subject matter is inherently pretty ugly IMHO - but Pete's LEGO rendition turned out to be considerably more impressive in the brick than it was in his photographs - big, imposing and skilfully realised. The icing on the cake was a couple of Tim Goddard's X-wings which made for a superb fighter escort.

Rebel Transport by cavegod

Rebel Transport by cavegod
Rebel Transport by cavegod; X-wing by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha)
Our Hoth display was boosted by the presence of a third AT-AT walker, albeit with a twist - Sam Pearce had brought his excellent collapsed AT-AT model (below) which was rather ironic, considering my trials and tribulations setting up that morning.... It added some welcome minifigure action and humour to the display, and was complemented by some turrets and a small, woefully outnumbered rebel force. The Rebel defences were something of an afterthough - the turrets were actually built and added during the course of the first day of the event - and it's an aspect of the display that we might develop further if we decide to exhibit all the Hoth models together again on a future occasion, particularly if I can get round to finishing my shield generator.

Crashed AT-AT by Sam Pearce
Rebel Defences by Sam Pearce

People surged into the venue as soon as the doors opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning and the place remained pretty full until late on Sunday afternoon. Much of my time was spent just standing next to my display chatting to enthusiastic attendees of all ages and answering tons of questions, typically "How many pieces does the AT-AT contain ?", "Is it glued ?", "Where can I buy that set ?", "How much did all the parts cost you ?", "Surely those aren't proper LEGO parts ?", "Can I buy that from you ?" and of course "Where are the toilets ?". I did however manage to get away from my display now and again and check out the other exhibits, and the standard was incredible. Probably most impressive of all was a spectacular collaborative castle display - The Land of Tigelfáh - created by eight talented builders, all whom richly deserve a name (and Flickr) check : James Pegrum (peggyjdb), Harry Russell (Kǻrrde), Thomas Coleman (Malravion), Luke Watkins Hutchinson (- Derfel Cadarn -), Barney Main (SlyOwl), Colin Parry (Cuahchic), Jimmy Clynche (Invicta Bricks) and Steven Snasdell (workshysteve). Aside from the sheer excellence of their display, one of the most impressive things about it was how cohesive it was. I would have expected eight separate builders to have produced something of a patchwork, but in the event their display was superbly realised and meshed together beautifully. I took tons of pictures but none of them remotely do the display justice I"m afraid; I've nevertheless included a few below just to give you a flavour of their achievement. It was I believe the culmination of two years planning and building, and watching the eight builders tearing their display down at the end of the event, knowing that the display would never be reassembled again, was quite poignant.

Tigelfáh Castle by James Pegrum (peggyjdb)
Tigelfáh Abbery by Colin Parry (Cuahchic)

The Land of Tigelfáh

The Dark Isle by Luke Hutchinson (- Derfel Cadarn -)
Another other standout display was Bright Bricks' half-scale brick-built Rolls Royce Trent 1000 jet engine. Commissioned by Rolls Royce themsleves, I'd previously seen the model featured on a host of websites after it was unveiled at the opening of the 2012 Farnborough Air Show, but it was the first time that I'd seen it 'in the brick' and it's amazing. Over 150,000 bricks have been used to create a working replica of the engine complete with a ton of moving parts such as the fan blades which suck air into the engine. You can see a couple of pictures below (click to enlarge) and (on some devices at least) a short video.

Rolls Royce Jet Engine by Bright Bricks
Rolls Royce Jet Engine by Bright Bricks

Located next to the AT-ATs was a huge model of Space Shuttle Endeavour attached to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters. Build by Ed and Annie Diment, Naomi Farr and Stuart Crawshaw in less than a month, this 30,000-piece model was accompanied by a display of pretty much every space shuttle set that LEGO have ever released.

Space Shuttle by Ed (Lego Monster), Annie (Mrs Monster)
Naomi and Stuart (OptimalControl)
Orbiter by Ed (Lego Monster), Annie (Mrs Monster)
Naomi and Stuart (OptimalControl)

Ian Greig was another builder who served up a space-themed display, showing his Tintin-inspired moon rocket (below - click to enlarge) while his other half Julie had some neat Dr. Who-inspired creations on show including a Cyberman vignette.

Tintin Moon Rocket by Ian Greig (Bluemoose)
You're all Mime now by Julie Greig (jujem71)

Renowned spacer Tim Goddard had a bunch of cool stuff on display. In addition to his X-wings mentioned earlier, he showed some models which will feature in his soon-to-be-released collaboration with fellow space guru Pete ReidLEGO Space: Building the Future. Tim's no one-trick pony, though - one of my favourite models in the whole show was one of his non-space-related creations (the Micro Viaduct below), and he also had a dragon on display which was later seen paying Tigelfáh castle a visit....

by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha) and Pete Reid (legoloverman)
by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha) and Pete Reid (legoloverman)

Dragon by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha)

Micro Viaduct by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha)
I thought that one of the cleverest exhibits was another of Stuart Crawshaw's offerings. He reimagined a host of different official LEGO sets in the style of 1980's LEGO space theme Blacktron with some cracking results. His Blacktron-inspired rendition of LEGO's Horizon Express, for instance, was excellent, as were a number of other models across a variety of LEGO themes. I was particularly amused to see a Blacktron version of the Indiana Jones Shanghai Chase vehicles that I reviewed here just a few weeks ago.

Blacktron display by Stuart Crawshaw (OptimalControl)
Blacktron Horizon Express by Stuart Crawshaw (OptimalControl)

Blacktron Shanghai Chase by Stuart Crawshaw (OptimalControl)

Rod Gillies sci-fi display was another that caught my attention; while not exactly a purist approach, his model entitled "The Unit 13 Incident" incorporated a working plasma plate and plasma ball and looked really cool, while the distinctly Steampunky "Mister Brunel's Jaeger" was a bit bizarre but intriguing nonetheless....

"The Unit 13 Incident" by Rod Gillies (2 Much Caffeine)
"Mister Brunel's Jaeger" by Rod Gillies (2 Much Caffeine)
Saturday just flew by, and almost before I knew it it was 5 pm, the public were being ushered out of the venue, and I learned that my beloved Watford Football Club had secured a decent 2-1 away victory at Huddersfield. And both AT-ATs were still standing, so an excellent day all round.... The day's work done I returned to Jurys Inn, and there was just time to grab a drink or two in the bar and watch Manchester United squeeze past an unfortunate Sunderland side in the evening kick-off before heading upstairs for the exhibitor group dinner. Dinner was followed by the traditional Saturday evening STEAM auction and then more drinks in the bar before exhaustion caught up with me and I crashed out.

Sunday dawned beautiful and sunny, and having set up the day before most people got to head off to the venue a bit later compared with the Saturday. On arrival at the venue I peered nervously into the main exhibition hall half expecting my AT-AT to have collapsed overnight but was delighted to see it still defiant and upstanding. The museum opened its doors just before 10 a.m. and once again the venue rapidly filled with eager visitors.

LEGO City College by drdavewatford
In addition to my AT-AT, I had also brought my LEGO City College MOC (above) to STEAM; this formed part of a display of models (below - click to enlarge) that Brickish Association members had previously showcased within LEGO brand stores. Regular readers of this blog may remember my College MOC from a couple of previous posts (here and here) and it was nice to have the opportunity to show it again. Perhaps my favourite of all the showcase models on display was Jason Railton's lovely lighthouse (below - click to enlarge) which was a late arrival on Showcase row.

Showcase row
Permanence by Jason Railton (joefish (;_}{)
Ralph Savelsberg is a much admired designer and builder of cars and military aircraft, and he brought a few examples of his craft over to STEAM from the Netherlands where he's based. Pride of place went to his 1/36 scale B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber (below - click to enlarge) - how those massive wings don't droop beats me - although some of his models of iconic British vehicles are no less impressive, with Morse's Mark 2 Jaguar possibly my favourite of the lot (although alas also the most poorly photographed....).

B-52 by Ralph Savelsberg (Mad Physicist)
Eddie Stobart Truck by Ralph Savelsberg (Mad Physicist)
Morse's Jag by Ralph Savelsberg (Mad Physicist)
Caterham 500 by Ralph Savelsberg (Mad Physicist)
Talking of cars, another of my personal favourites from the show was Ed and Annie Diment's model of an iconic LEGO set of my youth - Set 392 Formula 1 - lovingly recreated at 6 times the original scale and flanked by the original model complete with box and instructions. If you look closely at the large scale model (below - click to enlarge) you'll notice that they've even reproduced the stickers from the original set using LEGO - very slick !

by Ed (Lego Monster) and Annie (Mrs Monster) Diment
Another exhibit worthy of special mention was first-time exhibitor Simon Pickard's magnificent Battle of Thermopylae. This tells the story of how a small Spartan force under the command of King Leonidas held out for 3 days against overwhelming numbers of Persian invaders, a stand most recently popularised by the film "300". Simon's model is intricate and beautifully put together; I was particularly impressed with the rockwork, not to mention all the minifigures that he's managed to amass...

Battle of Thermopylae by Simon Pickard (brick.spartan)
Hopefully by now you're starting to get a sense of the incredible diversity of subject matter, the high quality of the builds, and the sheer number of excellent models on display. It's impossible for me to cover everything, not least because as an exhibitor I didn't have time to go round, examine and photograph all of the displays. Even so, here's a round up of a few more exhibits that caught my eye, and apologies in advance to those exhibitors whose work isn't featured.

Le Brique Parfum by Yvonne Doyle ({YVD})
by Yvonne Doyle ({YVD})
by Barney Main (SlyOwl)
by Barney Main (SlyOwl)
by Naomi Farr
2CV by Nick Barrett (TechnicNick)
Mini by Nick Barrett (TechnicNick)
by Richard Selby

In addition to the models above, I have to mention Simon Burfield's excellent Mindstorms creations, not least his amazing orange tank-like vehicle dubbed "The Beast" which is powered by more than 20 motors and spent the weekend being driven around the venue by a succession of excited children; my own little boy had a turn in it and absolutely loved it.

By around 4pm on Sunday attendance was thinning out, the mosaic (above) was finished, and I was seriously flagging; by 5 pm I was ready to pack up and go home. My AT-AT had done me proud - despite my misgivings on Saturday morning it was still standing as the last of the attendees filed out on Sunday afternoon. OK, so I had a bit of a mishap while I was taking it down and packing it away for the journey home, but we won't dwell on that.... After packing everything up and saying my goodbyes it was back on the road for the journey home and a well-earned rest - unquestionably another fantastic STEAM experience, and tired or not I can't wait for next year !

Big thanks are due to Martin Long and his faithful lieutenants Gemma and Jonathan for organising a cracking show - Martin assures us he'll be giving up his store next year and getting back to exhibiting, and about time too. Thanks to all the traders and caterers for meeting our shopping and subsistence needs, and to all the helpers - Sarah, sirKevbags and the rest - who helped out on the various exhibits during the show, held babies and mopped our fevered brows.... Although ostensibly an event for showing off the best of Brickish, STEAM is also a top social weekend, and it was great to catch up with Caz, Nick and Indy from, Matt from Jedinews, and a ton of fellow Bricksetters - Huw, atkinsar, kempo81, caperberry, Legopants, Legoboy, LostinTranslation, Supersympa, princedraven, carlq, CapnRex101, sirrich69 and a whole bunch of others. Thanks also to those folks who came over to introduce themselves as readers of Gimme LEGO, fellow Bricksetters, or both.

A final note : If any of the exhibits I've mentioned above have been attributed to the wrong builders then please let me know ASAP and I'll correct the information. Also, I've added Flickr usernames and links where I had them; if yours isn't shown then please get in touch and I'll add them.