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 

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous26/10/13

    This has always been one of my most favorite sets ever, though mostly for nostalgic reasons. This was the first Star Wars set I ever owned. I actually got it before I had even seen Star Wars and I remember I used to imagine the land speeder flying out into space. I am now a huge Star Wars fan and I know better, but this set is a big reason for that.

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  2. What a cool set to get you off the mark, although I can only imagine how bemused I would have felt about the contents if I hadn't seen the movie prior to getting the set.... The names of the minifigures alone would probably have done my head in.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous12/11/13

      Ya, my imagination went wild when my dad told me that the guy in the white armor was called a stormtrooper.

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