Tuesday 13 September 2016

Every Cloud....

Around this time last year Bricks Culture editor Tim Johnson and I were discussing which collectible set I should write about for a Bricks Culture "Sets to Search For" article, and for a number of reasons we settled on Star Wars Set 10123 Cloud City. The article duly appeared in Bricks Culture Issue 3, as reported by me here in a Gimme LEGO posting. That was back in October 2015, and given that almost a year has now passed I asked Tim if he'd mind me reproducing the article here on Gimme LEGO and he generously agreed. So here it is below, together with a few extra pictures that I shot prior to disassembling the set - enjoy!

If you conducted a survey among LEGO Star Wars fans and asked them which set they would most like LEGO to remake, there’s every chance that Set 10123 Cloud City would be high on the list. In a theme notorious for regular rehashes of the most important Star Wars vehicles and locations, the tibanna mining colony of Cloud City, which floats above the gas giant Bespin, is unusual in having been immortalised in LEGO on only one occasion to date, and that was back in 2003.

At the time of its release, Set 10123 Cloud City was the biggest location-focused Star Wars play set that LEGO had ever produced; prior to that the largest LEGO Star Wars sets consisted of detailed versions of Star Wars vehicles, with key scenes from the movies generally consigned to small vignettes in modest, inexpensive sets. The Cloud City set is effectively a collection of vignettes representing some of the key scenes from Star Wars Episode V that were played out in Cloud City locations. These include Han Solo in the carbon freezing chamber, Lando Calrissian selling out Han and Leia to Vader in the conference room, and Luke’s lightsaber confrontation with Vader prior to the celebrated paternity revelations. It was the first time that LEGO had collected together a number of vignettes and tried to fashion them into a cohesive set.

Truth be told, LEGO’s efforts weren’t entirely successful. Unlike the later 2008 Set 10188 Death Star which skillfully fused multiple vignettes into a cohesive and instantly recognisable model in its own right, Cloud City has the feel of a collection of disparate modules which, while connected physically, seem stylistically disconnected with little in the way of shared DNA between them. Furthermore, the overall layout of the model, with its linear arrangement of modules augmented by a right-angled spur halfway along which gives rise to a walkway and a huge landing platform, feels more like an awkward sprawl rather than a cohesive whole. And about that landing platform…. It really is huge, occupying fully half of the set’s footprint, and it’s also empty and literally crying out for an appropriately scaled Millennium Falcon or Slave 1 model to occupy it. Problem is neither are included - a critical omission. It could reasonably be argued that the inclusion of one of these iconic craft would have significantly increased the projected cost, and since LEGO sets are designed to a target price this would have meant significant sacrifices elsewhere in the model. You suspect however that some prospective purchasers might have baulked at parting with US$100 or the UK equivalent seeing how so much of the footprint was given over to a barren landing platform.

On the plus side, the build is enjoyable, not least because of the variety afforded by the different modules, and there are some fun play-features included. The carbon freezing module, for instance, incorporates a winch mechanism for lowering Han into the carbon freezing chamber, followed by another mechanism for switching him with a black printed 1 x 2 x 5 ‘Han Solo in Carbonite’ brick which then emerges when the winch is reversed. Also, a number of quasi-destructible features are included in another of the modules with a view to being triggered while Luke and Vader fight it out with their lightsabers. I’d furthermore defy any LEGO Star Wars fan not to enjoy posing the Luke and Vader minifigures at the far end of the catwalk while playing out the denouement to Episode V.

Prospective purchasers looking to buy the set now might be surprised by the cost of the set on the secondary market, particularly given the criticisms above. For a pre-owned, complete and boxed example you’re looking at paying upwards of £500, while a new, sealed copy will cost twice that. Poor sales of the set back in the day may go some way to explaining this, but there’s another more important factor at play here and that’s the minifigures. Collecting LEGO minifigures has become a hugely popular pastime in its own right, with Star Wars minifigures at the vanguard. Set 10123 Cloud City includes seven minifigures, of which four just so happen to be unique to the Cloud City set, and it’s this that’s driving the aftermarket value. The jewel in the minifigure crown is the Boba Fett minifigure. While he appears in a multitude of Star Wars sets, Cloud City Boba Fett is the only version to feature printing on his arms, shoulders and legs; expect to pay upwards of £100 for this minifigure in used condition, or £150+ for a new copy. The other exclusive minifigures are Cloud City versions of Lando Calrissian, Luke Skywalker and Leia, and while these don’t command quite such extravagant prices you’re still looking at upwards of £100 for the three of them. Given this, it’s no wonder that prices of the set as a whole have gone through the roof.

If you’re a LEGO Star Wars completist then I’m afraid you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and stump up the cash; at least you’ll enjoy the build once you’ve recovered from the shock, not to mention resting a bit easier in the knowledge that you’ve managed to bag one of the more collectable pieces of the LEGO Star Wars jigsaw. Current aftermarket prices mean that that the set is harder to recommend to anyone else, though – while it certainly has its merits there are better sets out there for less, and the clever money is on LEGO releasing another Cloud City set one day. Maybe….


  1. Anonymous13/9/16

    Yes, the minifigs are standouts, but the set value w/o the minifigs is still extremely high. The box can fetch 100, the instructions 60-75, many individual piece values are comparable to rare UCS pieces.

    1. Agreed - while the minifigs are clearly a key driver of the aftermarket value, the set has become desirable in its own right. It's not altogether clear to me why that is, given that it's really not a great set IMHO, although rarity plus the fact that LEGO still haven't remade this set 13 years on from its release are probably part of it.

  2. I got this set right when my dark ages finished, and also picked up the Millenium Falcon and AT-AT which came out around then - 3 very nicely executed sets, and it well and truly sold me on getting back into Lego. The Twin Pod Cloud Car and the 2001 Slave-I sets both fit nicely at the same time on the landing platform also.

    The modular Jabba's Palace sets that came out in 2003, were a cool concept, and it makes me wish that Lego had pursued some modular set building with the Star Wars line. Releasing a few extra rooms/areas each year to build on a Hoth Echo Base or Death Star modular sets would be cool, and an inexpensive way to build up a really sizeable set, without compromising on the content. Sometimes it seems like Lego focus a bit too much on vehicles and ships.