Thursday 12 September 2019

End of the Road?

As I've previously mentioned on these pages, I have LEGO Star Wars to thank for rescuing me from my LEGO Dark Ages. Specifically, it was the arrival of 10188 Death Star in 2008 which started my slide down the slippery slope. My wife bought me the set as a Christmas present, and I bet she's regretted that decision ever since....

Following the arrival of 10188 and its construction over the Christmas holidays I was basically hooked. With my passion for both LEGO and Star Wars rekindled I became gripped by a mania of sorts and decided to try and get hold of complete, boxed examples of all of the LEGO Star Wars sets going back to the first appearance of the theme in 1999.

Most of the sets were reasonably easy to find on eBay back then if you were patient, and the majority weren't particularly expensive either. A few, such as 10123 Cloud City with its exclusive Boba Fett minifigure (above) turned out to be harder to track down than most and/or painfully expensive, but they were thankfully in the minority. As chronicled in this old post I also had to make some tricky decisions about exactly what to collect, for instance whether to restrict my growing collection to retail sets alone or whether to also pursue rare promotional items such as the 2012 New York Comic Con model of Luke's Landspeeder below. I eventually opted to focus on collecting the retail sets. Promo sets would be welcomed with open arms when the opportunity arose, but they'd be considered "nice to have" additions rather than a part of the core collection.

As it turned out, however, securing a copy of every retail set to date was only the start of the story. Because while I was picking up old retired Star Wars sets, LEGO was hard at work releasing an ever-increasing number of new sets every year, and after you've invested the time, effort and expense of tracking down the full back catalogue, you feel almost obliged to pick up all the new sets too in order to stay up to date. LEGO released 13 Star Wars sets back in 1999 when the theme first appeared, and 19 sets were released the year I started my collection, so staying up to date wasn't as financially prohibitive back then. The problem is that since then the number of releases has continued to increase to a point where there were 69 LEGO Star Wars releases in 2018. Not all of those were retail sets, granted, but if I'd known how the release schedule would explode over time I might have thought twice about starting to collect the theme back in 2008....

Looking back, even prior to the announcement of the LEGO Star Wars licence extension in February 2012 my enthusiasm was starting to wane, as I confessed in this posting in 2011. Central to my disaffection was the sheer number of remakes of previously-released sets. Many of these remakes, such as 7877 Naboo Starfighter above, were arguably not even a meaningful improvement on previous versions, unless of course you consider an increase in price to be an upgrade. A growing focus on minifigures in Star Wars sets was also becoming a frustration; my love of LEGO is principally founded on the building experience rather than which minifigures a set contains, and it was starting to feel like the build was being included as an afterthought in some sets (for example 7879 Hoth Echo Base below) with the minifigures being the main driver for the release.

And yet despite my misgivings I've continued to dutifully pick up all of the LEGO Star Wars retail offerings year after year up to and including 2018, and I've also made a start on the 2019 sets. The thing is, however, it's felt like a particular slog this year, with relatively few sets really getting me excited. And so it is that with no end in sight to the annual tidal wave of Star Wars sets I've finally made the decision to stop collecting them. It stops right now, so no 75235 X-wing Starfighter Trench Run (below) for me....

Obviously this decision has been a long time coming. While there hasn't been anything in particular that has finally forced my hand, my previous complaints about the number of remakes and preponderance of minifigure-focused sets are as relevant as ever this year. To that you can add my lack of enthusiasm for the increased number of sets aimed at younger children, particularly the 4+ and Microfighters offerings, and the prevalence of sets such as 75235 above and 75237 TIE Fighter Attack below which feature crude, basic builds. All things considered, there seem to be fewer and fewer Star Wars sets of interest to me this year, so it's time to see sense and call a halt to this expensive and space-occupying obsession.

Before anybody points out the obvious, namely that I'm no longer the target audience for LEGO Star Wars, let me be clear that I'm not criticising LEGO for their continuation of the theme. While I have concerns about the way that the company does things sometimes, for instance lining the pockets of scalpers by releasing hard-to-find promo items as discussed here and here, Star Wars continues to be an extremely popular and successful product line for the company, so you can hardly blame them for continuing to pump out sets year after year. After all, youngsters are discovering the Star Wars universe for the first time every day, and the remakes of classic vehicles are serving their needs. Furthermore, LEGO can hardly be faulted for the disappointing and uninspired vehicle designs which populate the newer Star Wars movies and series'.

While my unhealthy need to collect all the Star Wars sets is now hopefully over, I do still anticipate picking up some of the Star Wars offerings. There's a good chance that I'll continue to acquire the UCS sets, for instance - the soon-to-be-released Imperial Star Destroyer above will surely be impossible to resist - and any sets featuring genuinely interesting new vehicles from the Star Wars universe (assuming we actually get some) will also be fair game. I might even be tempted by the occasional remake, providing that it genuinely offers something over and above previous iterations other than just a higher purchase price. What I won't be doing, however, is just buying Star Wars sets to keep my collection 100% up to date, and that thought fills me with relief. I really should have made this decision years ago.

Wednesday 31 July 2019

Letting Off STEAM

It feels like a lifetime since I last posted (here). On that occasion I was preparing to finish up my railway station MOC in preparation for its appearance as part of a display of modular buildings at the Great Western Brick Show a.k.a. STEAM in Swindon. I'm pleased to report that all the elements that I ordered from Bricklink to complete the build duly arrived as promised, and the MOC (below) was completed in good time for its public unveiling.

In addition to completing the sides and rear of the station, a couple of modifications were necessary in order to accommodate the transition from my LEGO city layout to the STEAM display. Firstly, I needed to mount the build on baseplates and tile around the edges. Then I needed to figure out what to do about the area under the two arches at the front of the building. In my city layout each of these arches encloses a stairway which descends to a subway platform on the lower level, but this wasn't an option for the STEAM display which is on a single level. In the end I blocked off each arch with a door, using reddish-brown tiles to mimic a wood effect as you can see in the picture below.

The rear of the building (below) follows the LDD design that I shared in my previous post. It's something of a temporary solution - while in place in my city layout the station has track running behind it, and the plan is ultimately to build a station platform at the rear of the building together with a canopy over the platform. Also, if I hadn't been in such a rush to complete the build for STEAM then I'd have embedded a few more skylights into the roof; unfortunately this'll have to wait until I have more time.

The left and right sides of the building take their design cues from the front, with almost identical designs employed for the various windows, sills and decorative lintels (below).

With the build complete it was time to pack up the station in preparation for the drive down to Swindon. I was planning to separate the building's four floors and pack them into a pair of large rectangular crates, but it turned out that the crates were too small to accommodate the ground floor so I ended up wrapping that section in an old bed sheet and carefully wedging it in the boot of my car. Thankfully all sections survived the journey and arrived at the venue relatively unscathed on the Saturday morning. Many of the exhibitors had already arrived and set up the day before, so I had the simple task of locating the station-sized plot in the almost-complete modular display and re-assembling my build in the allotted space.

You can see the station in position above (thanks to Jamie Douglas for the picture). As well as mobilising Brickish members such as myself to contribute a variety of modular buildings, display organiser Simon Kennedy did an impressive job of recruiting members to construct sections of brick-built road and pavement, vehicles, trees and various roadside structures which really brought the display to life. The lime green Porsche 911 that you can see in front of the station in the picture above was taken from set 75888 Porsche 911 RSR and 911 Turbo 3.0 and is the very car that I built for my Brickset review of the set. More pictures of the completed modular display, together with images of other LEGO creations that were shown at STEAM, can be found here on Jamie's Flickr stream.

Embarrassingly, it's taken me so long to write and publish this post that the 2018 event has long passed and the 2019 Great Western Brick Show is now fast approaching.... I'm pleased to report that thanks to the positive reaction to the 2018 modular display there will be an improved and expanded modular display on show at the 2019 event. This will feature a number of new modulars together with modified versions of some of the existing buildings, and there are also plans to add a canal, a railway and working street lighting. As a result of the inclusion of a railway I've been asked to modify my station to include a platform at the rear. As it passes behind the station the track will be elevated, so my next challenge is to figure out how best to attach a platform halfway up the rear of the building and somehow integrate it into the overall structure. STEAM 2019 will take place on the 5th and 6th of October so I'd better get on with it....