Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The End of an Era

A passion for LEGO is generally a joyous thing, but it does have a couple of obvious downsides. One is the ever-present spectre of bankruptcy as more and more purchases are made and ever more cash pours into the Billund money pit. The other is the ongoing quest for places to store and display all the LEGO purchases.

I'm not sure how others deal with the space issue; for me it's a constant problem, and one that I've blogged about in the past. Right now it's a case of keeping most of my sets packed up in their boxes, while displaying a limited number of constructed models in strategic locations around the house. These locations are, I regret, highly regulated in my household - the LEGO equivalent of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. That having been said, I recently won a major strategic victory, persuading she-who-must-be-obeyed that it would be a good idea to display Tower Bridge in a communal location (i.e. our hallway). Previously only the Winter Toy Shop and the Winter Village Bakery were allowed in there. The benchmark appears to be aesthetic beauty. Or more accurately, my wife's definition of aesthetic beauty. Hence my Star Wars UCS sets are banned from communal locations, but Tower Bridge, the Toy Shop and the Bakery are deemed less of an eyesore and therefore grudgingly accepted. So a note to LEGO : please make the Star Wars UCS models less grey and angular in future. Make them pink, maybe. Or maybe not....

Winter Village Bakery and Toyshop - aesthetically pleasing, apparently.
Anyway, on 7th March last year I filled one of the designated display locations with a model. Not any model, however - it was Set 10179 UCS Millennium Falcon, the biggest, baddest Star Wars set ever. This collossus ended up on my chest of drawers in the bedroom (below) as there was, to be frank, nowhere else big enough to accomodate its prodigious bulk apart from the floor (not an option) or the dining room table (definitely not an option). And it's been a sore point ever since, my wife bemoaning the fact that it's pretty much the last thing she sees when going to bed at night, and then the first thing that she sees when she wakes in the morning. I of course can't see what's wrong with that at all, but there's no accounting for taste.....

The Falcon was briefly displaced from its lofty perch when we moved house last year, being carried carefully and gingerly in the boot (UK)/trunk (US) of a car from the old house to the new prior to regaining its position on top of the same chest of drawers in the new house, where it has remained until now.

But not for much longer. I've taken the painful decision that regardless of how many parsecs she takes to complete the Kessel run, it's time for Han Solo's "fastest hunk of junk in the Galaxy" to be decommissioned, and for the Fourth Plinth to be liberated in order that another model can have a taste of the limelight.

Any thoughts on what would be a fitting replacement for the Falcon ? I'm thinking 10221 Super Star Destroyer, but I'm open to suggestions.....

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

"You have reached your destination"

So, after all the build up and late nights, finally the event itself. Having spent much of my free time over the past few weeks building a succession of UCS Star Wars sets including the Super Star Destroyer, Death Star II, Venator and the Naboo Starfighter, it was with some relief that I got them to the UK National Space Centre (largely) intact for the Brickish Association "Spaciversary 2011" event. I say largely intact as the Venator experienced a substantial 'structural mishap' en route, but it was thankfully nothing that 20 minutes of rebuilding couldn't cure....

Anyway, I'm delighted to report that we managed to put on a spectacular Star Wars UCS show - all 17 official UCS models were on display, together with the unreleased Super Star Destroyer, and about the same number of magnificent MOC Star Wars UCS models which really didn't look out of place at all among the official sets. Collecting together all 17 different UCS models to date plus the Super Star Destroyer was a world first, and I have to say that seeing all the models together side by side was a real treat. You can find some pics below - click to enlarge.

Super Star Destroyer and Imperial Star Destroyer
Set 7191 UCS X-Wing
UCS heaven....
Too many UCS to list....
A few people had seen my review of Set 10221 Super Star Destroyer and came over to introduce themselves - cheers, pedro, lincolnwho and others who stopped by for a chat ! It was great to see how enthusiastic the attendees were about the models, and how excited people were to see sets in real life that they'd previously only seen in pictures.

Day 2 - MOC Republic Fleet
Day 2 - all the TIEs....

                                                     Cavegod's B-Wing

A real highlight for me was getting to see Cavegod's magnificent homebrew models 'in the flesh'. Many of you will have seen pictures on Eurobricks and Flickr of some of his creations, such as his huge AT-AT, the newly-completed Sandcrawler, Slave 1, TIE variants and B-Wing (above) but seeing them up close and personal was something else altogether. Witnessing the gasps of delight from watching kids (and more than a few adults as well...) as the massive motorised Sandcrawler lurched forward and lowered its front ramp was a reminder of the ability of LEGO to bring a smile to peoples' faces.

Cavegod's MOC AT-AT - my "best in show"...
"You lookin' at me ?"
Cavegod's MOC Sandcrawler

MOC Republic Attack Shuttle

In addition to the UCS display, there was an enormous amount of other stuff at the show. Dragon displayed an impressive collection of Star Wars sets including Technic, minis, and a load of system scale models (including all the system scale Slave 1's), while Ed, Annie, Stuart and Naomi unveiled their massive and quite superb Space Shuttle, complete with fuel tank, boosters and launching pad.

Ed, Annie, Stuart and Naomi's Space Shuttle
System Scale Slave 1's
Set 8010 Technic Darth Vader

Other highlights for me were Peter Salter's R2-D2 which moves, spins its head, and lights up, Skegga's whimsical "Early English Map of the Universe", and the Neo-Classic Space Galaxy Explorer by Pete Reid, Stuart Crawshaw and James Shields. I'm a total sucker for their Neo Classic Space stuff, having worshipped the 'original' Classic Space sets as a kid in the late 70's and 80's.

Peter Salter's R2-D2
Skegga's "Early English map of the Universe"
Set 928 Galaxy Explorer, Neo-Classic Space Style, by Pete, Stuart & James

In addition to the models on display, there were a number of other attractions including a large LEGO mosaic commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight, which was constructed one baseplate at a time by show attendees. The LEGO company themsleves also had a presence at the event, setting up an area where attendees could rummage through large crates of LEGO to build modules for a large Martian base display. And then there were the NSC's non-LEGO exhibits to keep people entertained, not to mention a guest appearance by Prof. Heinz Wolff, celebrity scientist beloved to some of us oldies as presenter of TV's "The Great Egg Race".

Yvonne Doyle's Endor Scene

Robert Clarkson's Sevice While-U-Wait, complete with fibre optics...

This is the second year that I've attended the Brickish Association's NSC event, last year as a passive observer, and this year as an exhibitor. I've thoroughly enjoyed both visits, and really hope the event continues for years to come. If you'd be interested in joining the association and maybe even exhibiting your own LEGO creations, or just want to find out what other exhibitions are planned, feel free to visit the Brickish website for further information.

<-- Super Star Destroyer review Part 1

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Set 10221 UCS Super Star Destroyer review : Part 2

So, now the set is unboxed and assembly of the minifigures and the mini Imperial Star Destroyer is complete (Part 1 of this review) it's time to get to work on the Super Star Destroyer itself....

The first task involves construction of the lower surface of the ship (picture below; as ever, click to enlarge) which consists of 2 layers of plates with a partial third layer adding extra rigidity to the outer and central areas. The pieces you'll need come packaged with the minifigures and mini Imperial Star Destroyer parts in the bags labelled with a '1'. You'll also need a bunch of plates from an unmarked additional bag.

One thing that struck me early on during the build was the frequent appearance of dark tan 1 x 2 plates and light blue grey modified 1 x 4 plates with 2 studs. There's really no reason to use either of these pieces - the dark tan 1 x 2 plates are seldom if ever visible and could just as easily have been light or dark blue grey like (almost) everything else, and standard 1 x 4 plates could have been used in place of the modified 1 x 4 plates with no perceptible effect on the build. I therefore reckon that the designer included these uncommon (dark tan) and brand new (modified 1 x 4 plates) parts as a kind of 'Easter Egg', to give the builder a nice little supply of these parts for their own creations.... You'll also find yourself blessed with a respectable number of the new-ish light blue grey 2 x 4 tiles if you buy this set when it appears at retail.

Oh, and another thing - what quickly becomes apparent is how much space you're going to need when building this monster. My desk space was quickly exhausted as the lower surface of the ship grew ever larger. So clear a large space before you start - the lower surface of the ship is just a taster of what's to come....

Once the lower surface of the ship is complete, it's time to open the bags labelled with a '2'. You'll also need the rest of the plates from the unmarked bag I mentioned earlier. All these parts are used to construct the rigid spine and outer frame of the ship, upon which the super-structure and upper surface of the ship will eventually sit. Predictably enough, the spine is made up of long Technic bricks joined with pins, and it attaches to the lower surface of the ship. The outer frame attaches to the spine via a series of hinge plates aligned at specific angles in order to recreate the characteristic 'dagger' shape of the craft. Notable on the outer frame is the use of a number of modified 1 x 2 plates with clip on top. This is another new part appearing for the first time in 2011, and the reason for its inclusion will become evident later on.

On we go to the bags labelled with a '3', and after applying some decoration to the outside of the frame, it's time to embark upon the most time-consuming part of the build - the construction of the command bridge and the super-structure. This includes gradually mapping out 2 internal spaces within the body of the ship with stickered control panels and walls which will become the command bridge.

The Command Bridge

Vader briefs the Bounty Hunters

As previously stated, it's disappointing that in a set of this size and cost we get stickers rather than printed parts, but the saving grace is that at least we're not cursed with STAMPs. In truth, it's hard to get too exercised about the few stickers in this set; aside from the name plate, none of them are even visible from the outside, being hidden inside the command bridge, and if you're going to be buying the set as a display model rather than as a playset (which I suspect will almost certainly be the case) then you'll never see them anyway. So not a big deal in the great scheme of things.

It's at this point that we go into full-blown greeble overdrive; as you'll no doubt have seen from the publicity shots of the model, the super-structure of the ship features extensive surface detailing, and it's this aspect which occupies much of the building time. It's certainly not the most exhilarating part of the building experience overall, but the final effect is I think well worth the effort, eventually creating a pretty good illusion of what is effectively a small city in space.

The next phase of construction involves opening the bags labelled with a '4' and building the two display stands, which fix to the underside of the ship via a couple of Technic axles and lift the ship by around 14 cm. Then it's time to carefully apply the sticker containing the set information to the black 6 x 12 tile supplied and attach this to the base of one of the stands. I remember the old days when we had to put a whole bunch of 1 x 8 tiles on top of a large plate and then apply the set info sticker on the top of the tiles. I've been critical in the past of the unnecessary use of large pieces in sets when a number of smaller more generic pieces would do just fine, but in this case I will definitely make an exception - applying the set information sticker to a large 6 x 12 tile gives a much neater result.

The remaining parts in the bags labelled with a '4' are used in the construction of the removable roof section which covers the command bridge; this greeble-covered construction slots into place over and around the stickered command bridge structures and rests upon tiles; it's not physically attached to the surrounding structures by studs, but it's nevertheless held quite firmly in place by virtue of its position.

Removable Command Bridge Roof Section
I suppose that if for some reason you were inclined to lift the ship above your head and turn it upside down, there's a fairly good chance that the command bridge roof would fall off and land on your head. But given that there's absolutely no reason to do that, you'd only have yourself to blame.

Once the command bridge roof section is in place, the super-structure extends uninterrupted for more than half the length of the ship, which is a lot of greebles...

Next we open the bags labelled with a '5' and turn our attention to the rear section of the ship and the engines. The two smaller lateral engine sections were quickly completed prior to embarking upon the much larger central section. All the engine sections attach firmly to the frame of the ship via a combination of Technic axles and pins. There's certainly no shortage of engines on this ship, although compared with the engines on an Imperial Star Destroyer or even Tantive IV Rebel Blockade Runner they look suspiciously small to propel such a massive beast through the void. That'd be a question for Kuat Drive Yards, however, or maybe even George Lucas; LEGO designer Kurt Kristiansen seems to have done a pretty good job of recreating the source material in LEGO form, which is all we can really ask of him....

Once the rear engine sections have been attached, we're on the home straight. Bags labelled with a '6' and bags labelled with a '7' contain the pieces for the upper surface of the ship, which is constructed in two parts. These take no time at all to build considering their considerable size.

Once built, they attach to the outer frame of the ship by way of the modified 1 x 2 plates with clip on top that I mentioned earlier. Pleasingly, they slide into the clips with a satisfying and reassuring 'clunk', and once in place, they take some shifting. A few final greebles later and we're done ! All that remains is to suitably position the mini Imperial Star Destroyer alongside it's (considerably) bigger brother and Set 10221 Super Star Destroyer is complete.

In conclusion, the Super Star Destroyer is the 18th official UCS set that LEGO have released, and it's clear that they've learned lessons as they've gone along. Notably, the ship has a much more robust and stable feel to it than its nearest relative, 2002's Set 10030 Imperial Star Destroyer. I often joke that it wasn't even possible to look at that set without it breaking, the principal culprit being the magnets which hold its upper and lower surfaces in place, but which are barely powerful enough to manage the weight. The Super Star Destroyer thankfully dispenses with the magnet system. Instead, a more stable arrangement of 1 x 2 plates with clip on top to hold the upper surface in place is employed. Truth be told, despite its size, the ship just feels better bolted together than Set 10030, and for that I'm grateful.

I'm also grateful for the numbered bags. I never thought I'd ever say that, but there you go. Thinking back, some past UCS building experiences have been at times a little frustrating, the frustration borne out of spending too long wading through literally thousands of pieces looking for the one small part I needed to proceed. While the piece hunt is to a certain extent a necessary part of my LEGO experience, in sets this big it sometimes risks crossing that line between pleasure and pain.... Within an hour or two of starting to build the Super Star Destroyer, however, it occurred to me that something was missing, and that something was episodes of frustration as I struggled to locate a necessary piece, interspersed with a nagging fear that the piece might actually be missing completely.... Take that away, and the build was actually quite relaxing, and no less enjoyable.

So what of the ship itself ? Well, compared with iconic Star Wars craft such as the Millenium Falcon, X-Wing, Imperial Star Destroyer and the like, the Super Star Destroyer appears relatively infrequently in the Star Wars films, and when it does, it's not on screen for long enough to be burned into the consciousness the same way as the household names above have been. This means that beyond recognising the basic likeness, I can't really comment on the accuracy of LEGO's reproduction other than to say that it looks about right, an impression which is reinforced by scrutinising the surprisingly uninformative images of the ship on the web. The only aspect which doesn't look quite right to me is the bottom of the ship which seems too flat; otherwise it seems to be a respectable LEGO likeness.

Overall, therefore, given that I can't get enough of the UCS Star Wars sets, you'd expect me to love this set, and you'd be absolutely right ! It's ridiculously huge, looks great, and is guaranteed to have all but the most fervent UCS fanboys shaking their heads in utter bemusement, which is exactly what a good UCS set is all about IMHO. Also, the finished model is stable, everything fits together as it should, and the numbered bags mean that frustration is kept to a minimum during the build. It's certainly not perfect - the flat lower surface doesn't look quite right to me, it has stickers rather than printed parts, and then there's the price - but it's indisputably a set in the grand UCS tradition and therefore a no-brainer to get hold of if like me you're a sucker for the big Star Wars ships. It'll be available at retail in September, so time to start saving....

And that's it for now, apart from one final reminder that this very model will be on display over the coming weekend (16th & 17th July) alongside the other 17 official LEGO Star Wars UCS sets, some spectacular fan-designed UCS-style models, and a host of other LEGO creations, at an exhibition being put on by the Brickish Association at the UK National Space Centre in Leicester. So come on over !

EDIT : Set 10221 Super Star Destroyer is now available to buy at retail ! UK readers can click on the image below to be taken to the relevant page on the LEGO S@H website; readers elsewhere please direct your browsers to your local LEGO S@H website and place your orders....

Happy days !

<-- Super Star Destroyer review Part 1          Super Star Destroyer on Display at NSC -->

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Set 10221 UCS Super Star Destroyer review - Part I

So, after all the build up, finally the review..... Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of interest in this set, so in order to include more information and pictures I've decided to split the review into 2 parts. This first part will focus on unboxing the set, the minifigures and the mini Imperial Star Destroyer that comes with the set, while part 2 will focus on the construction of the Super Star Destroyer itself and my overall conclusions.

Although this is a pre-release copy, I suspect the packaging is in it's finalised state. The set arrived in a sturdy outer carton with "LEGO" printed on it, just like the UCS sets I've bought at retail. The outer carton fits tightly over the set box within - so tightly in fact that it took gravity and some energetic shaking to free the set which eventually slid out (pic below - click to enlarge).

At 58 cm wide by 48.5 cm tall and 18.5 cm deep, the box is larger than the one which accommodates Set 10212 Imperial Shuttle, but considerably smaller than the box for the UCS Millennium Falcon, and somewhat smaller than the box for Set 10143 Death Star II which I happened to have to hand for comparison. The stylish dark blue branding is consistent with the other 2011 Star Wars sets, and the front of the box shows the Super Star Destroyer and the accompanying mini Imperial Star Destroyer above what I assume is the forest moon of Endor, with Death Star II in the background. Intriguingly, something seems to be attacking the Death Star, as evidenced by an explosion on it's surface, but no obvious assailant can be seen. There's also a graphic which reveals that the completed SSD model is almost 125 cm long, which I believe makes it far and away the largest model (in terms of size rather than its 3152 pieces) that LEGO have ever made, comfortably exceeding the UCS Imperial Star Destroyer and Tower Bridge, both of which are around 100 cm long if I remember rightly.

The back of the box (above) shows the Super Star Destroyer from the back, plus the mini Imperial Star Destroyer, the minifigures and some close-ups of various aspects of the model such as the name plate, engines and removeable bridge. There's also some advertising for a number of other LEGO Star Wars sets and the LEGO Star Wars III : The Clone Wars videogame.

The 5 minifigs which come with the set are shown on the side of the box, as is currently the fashion for LEGO Star Wars sets. We'll return to them later.....

Cutting the seals on one of the end flaps of the box reveals a number of inner boxes (below) numbered 1 to 3 and similar to what we've seen in other UCS sets in the past. The instruction manual gets its own slimmer box which it shares with the DSS. All the inner boxes are glued shut and quite challenging to open neatly; I slid a sharp craft knife down the end flaps and prized them open.

The instructions, all 226 pages of them, are spiral bound and heavy. The front and back covers reproduce the main images from the front and back of the box.

UPDATE : you can now download a copy of the instructions here. Warning - it's a big download !

Opening up the instructions, and then the inner boxes, reveals something I don't recall having seen before with a UCS set - numbered bags ! I've stated in the past that I'm not a fan of numbered bags - it makes the build too quick and easy for my liking, and removes some of the challenge. I'm sure this speaks volumes about my masochistic personality, but there you go. That having been said, with sets of this size, it can get frustrating spending ages looking for one small part amongst thousands of others, so maybe numbered bags are not such a bad idea for the biggest sets. We'll see....

The instructions are typical LEGO high quality, with easy to follow steps and part call-outs to help ensure that pieces aren't missed. The only real downside is that colour discrimination isn't ideal - black doesn't really look like black on the instructions, which has the potential to cause confusion for the unwary. The instructions also contain a full parts listing (below) as well as some advertising.

You can see the sticker sheet below. Half of it is taken up with the characteristic UCS name plate, and it's good to see that a typo evident in early publicity shots has already been corrected. The other stickers are dressing for the ship's bridge - windows, control panels and the like. I'll make the predictable comment that it would have been nice to have been provided with printed pieces for the bridge rather than stickers, particularly as the licensed Cars sets seem to be overflowing with printed parts, but I think we're all resigned to the fact that stickers are here to stay in the Star Wars sets.

So enough of the preamble, and on to the build ! The first task is the assembly of the minifigures, followed by the mini Imperial Star Destroyer, and then the lower surface of the Super Star Destroyer (which I'll cover in Part 2 of the review). All the necessary parts for these steps can be found in the bags labelled with a number 1.

The set comes with 5 minifigures - 3 bounty hunters (Dengar, Bossk and IG-88), Admiral Piett and Darth Vader.

A version of Dengar has only appeared once before, in Set 6209 Slave 1. The new version (below) has a more complex torso print, more printing on the head including a white wrap and scars, and different headgear. He also has a rather nice backpack, which includes a 1x1 Plate modified with Tooth in an interesting metallic dark grey colour.


Bounty hunter Bossk (below) appeared for the first and only time in the recent 8097 Slave 1 set, and it looks to me like the figure included with the Super Star Destroyer is exactly the same as the Slave 1 version.


A version of the assassin droid IG-88 (below) has also only appeared once before, and again it's in Set 6209 Slave 1. The new version (below) is slightly taller than the previous iteration, has a printed head, and is Dark Bley in colour as opposed to the silver colour of the original version.


Admiral Piett (below) has never previously appeared in a LEGO Star Wars set, although truth be told thanks to the uniform he doesn't look a great deal different to any number of previous Imperial Officers released over the years... There are differences, though - more red/blue insignia on his uniform, a different belt/buckle combination and a more serious facial expression set him apart from his previously-released underlings....

Admiral Piett

Last but definitely not least, Darth Vader. As far as I can tell, it's the same version of the Darth Vader figure that appeared in the 10212 Imperial Shuttle set, right down to the markings on his torso and the light bley head with dark red scars under his helmet.

Lord Vader, of course...

Once the minifigures have been assembled, there's still one further step to be negotiated prior to embarking on the build of the Super Star Destroyer itself - the mini Imperial Star Destroyer. This is slightly smaller than the only other 'official' mini Imperial Star Destroyer to have been released, 2004's Set 4492 Mini Star Destroyer, and it attaches to the side of the completed Super Star Destroyer by way of a couple of transparent 12-stud long bars. It certainly gets the thumbs up from me - it's cute and eminently swooshable !

Having just finished building Set 10143 Death Star II which, coincidentally, comes with a mini Super Star Destroyer, I couldn't resist grabbing a picture of the two minis side by side; it can't be often that the Super Star Destroyer, in the foreground, gets an inferiority complex, but for once it's the little brother....

I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of my set review; I'll post Part 2 over the next few days, which will walk you through the construction of the Super Star Destroyer itself, plus my overall conclusions.

Super Star Destroyer review Part 2 -->