Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Having complained bitterly about the number of remakes and general lack of originality evident in the LEGO Star Wars line up over the past few years, I was pleased to see something a bit different in the 2012 LEGO Star Wars line up - Planet Sets.

I've been really looking forward to getting my hands on these sets and checking them out, and I recently took the plunge and snapped up Set 9676 TIE Interceptor and Death Star.

The packaging (above) is certainly original; in order to accommodate the Death Star, the box has a hole cut in the front and back through which the Death Star protrudes. This allows the use of smaller boxes and also helps to advertise the contents of the set, although trying to stack the boxes is a pain.... Handy, therefore, that the box features a tab on the top flap, presumably so that retailers can hang these sets from a rail rather than try to stack them on a shelf. Unlike other lower priced sets which generally open via thumb tabs, this box opens at the top and employs tape seals usually used in more expensive sets.

On cutting the seals, it took me a little while to extricate the Death Star without damaging the box. The only other thing in the box was a slim instruction booklet (below).

Surprisingly, given that the set only contains 65 pieces, 24 pages are devoted to the actual building steps. There's also an inventory of parts and 6 pages of advertising, including a nice montage of all the 2012 LEGO Star Wars minifigures to date (below)

The pieces which make up the TIE Interceptor and minifigure are contained within two bags which come sealed inside the Death Star. Truth be told, apart from the Death Star itself, there isn't much to say about the pieces which are in the main fairly unremarkable. A few of them (below) are worthy of mention, however. The printed black 4x4 tile with studs on one edge which displays the set info is of course unique to this set, as is the clear printed 2x2 dish which forms the cockpit window of the TIE Interceptor. The black 2x2 round tile with lifting ring (top right of the picture) is interesting; most people probably won't use it, but if you want to suspend your Death Star from the ceiling, or even from your Christmas Tree, attach this piece to the top, thread some string through the hole and you have a menacing bauble with which to rule the galaxy by fear. Or your house, at least...

The set comes with one minifigure - a TIE Fighter pilot (below).

According to both Bricklink and Brickset, this TIE Fighter Pilot minifigure only comes in two sets - this one and Set 9492 TIE Fighter. I have to admit that this information had me scratching my head at first; as far as I could tell the minifigure was identical to the one contained within Set 7958 Star Wars Advent Calendar. It was only when I removed their helmets (below - click to enlarge) that the difference became obvious...

The figure on the left is from the Planet Set, and the figure on the right is from the Advent Calendar. Other than the lack of head printing, there's also a suggestion that the printing on the Advent Calendar minifigure torso is perhaps slightly blurred and less well defined. I'm not sure if this is my imagination, a slight quality issue with this particular figure, or possibly even evidence of a different place of manufacture. I suspect it's probably just my imagination, but I'd be interested in your thoughts....

Also within this set is only the second official mini version of the TIE Interceptor ever produced, and I'm pleased to report that it's a good 'un. As well as being a nice-looking and swooshable model in its own right, I reckon that it's a pretty respectable representation of the subject matter, right down to the angling of the wings and the new printed clear cockpit window.

And so on to the Death Star (below - click to enlarge). Although it's entirely light bley in colour, it's far from uniform in appearance, sporting surface markings embossed in smooth plastic which stand out against the background which has a rougher texture. There's also the characteristic circular indentation on the upper hemisphere which of course represents the exit point of the Death Star's primary weapon. The two hemispheres which make up the Death Star join together to leave a gap along the equator; I assume that this is deliberate and is supposed to represent the trench within which the climax to Star Wars Episode IV : A New Hope is played out.

The final part of the set is a rudimentary stand to which the display plaque attaches and upon which the TIE Interceptor and its pilot are displayed; you can see all elements of the set together below.

I like this set. I think its a neat, original concept which brings together a number of different elements at a relatively low price point. Some have criticised the £9.99 / $9.99 RRP, but there's really no need to pay full price if you're patient - I got mine for 30% off on Amazon, and at £6.99 it's really very reasonably priced IMHO. In terms of the individual parts of the set, the mini TIE Interceptor is nicely realised and probably my favourite part, although the Death Star provides a fun way of storing the pieces when they're not in use and looks pretty good (albeit maybe a little bland) in its own right, And yes - I could see myself hanging it on my Christmas tree !

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

So Bad it's Almost Good

After last week's Harry Potter nostalgia-fest I've got another blast from the past for you this week - Set 7159 Star Wars Bucket. Truth be told, if I hadn't been on a quest to collect the entire LEGO Star Wars back catalogue then I probably wouldn't have touched this one with a six foot barge pole. As it is, I picked it up from eBay for around £40 plus postage in late 2009. Although I never really had any intention of building the set, for whatever reason I just fancied putting it together last weekend, so here it is....

This set, containing 292 pieces and released in 2000 at a price of $25 (I'm not sure of the UK retail price), is an oddity on a number of levels. Let's start with the packaging (above - click to enlarge). To my knowledge this set is unique among Star Wars sets in that it comes in a square bucket, akin to some of the starter sets filled with basic bricks. And it's not any bucket either - this one's a black bucket speckled with silver, presumably designed to simulate a galaxy far, far away. Each of the 4 facets of the bucket features a sticker showing off features of the set; all four stickers on mine are a bit crinkled but still intact at least. There are four larger-than-life LEGO-embossed studs on the lid, and a black plastic carrying handle on the side.

The instructions are another oddity; at first glance they seem like your typical LEGO instruction manual. Closer inspection of the front cover (below) however reveals that not all of the set is actually shown in the picture - bizarrely, Anakin's podracer has been missed off. The same is true for the identical picture stuck onto one of the sides of the bucket. It's hard to believe this would have been done deliberately given that Anakin's is by far the most recognisable podracer in the whole set. It almost makes me wonder if the set was originally not supposed to contain Anakin's podracer - perhaps it was initially supposed to complement Set 7131 Anakin's Podracer which was released a year earlier, and then someone realised that the scale was totally wrong, and that they'd better throw a stripped down version of Anakin's podracer into the bucket as well.....

The building instructions themselves are easy to follow - clear, and with none of the colour confusion that some instruction manuals can be cursed with. One of the best things about the instructions is the series of little cartoons which can be found on the pages alongside the building steps (some shown below - click to enlarge)

You can see a selection of parts from the set below. I was surprised to discover that funky trans-neon orange 1x6 bricks are actually unique to this set, as is the trans-green 1x2x1 panel, while the trans-red panel, red 4x4 round brick and dark grey cylinder have only appeared in this and one other set. All other pieces in the picture have appeared in just three or four sets.

The set contains 3 minifigures. Well, maybe make that 2 and a half, but we'll get on to that in a moment.... First we have the earliest version of everybody's favourite Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks. This version of Jar Jar appears in a total of 5 sets, and while the design is quite good, his head does have a distinctly unfinished, unpainted look. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the more colourful version of Jar Jar in Set 7929 The Battle of Naboo, however.

Next we have young Anakin Skywalker. This version of Anakin appears in 3 sets and is fairly unremarkable, sporting a yellow pre-fleshie head, freckles and a simple tan Tattooine outfit.

Finally, mercenary and hitman Aldar Beedo (pic below from Wookieepedia)

Truth be told, his LEGO rendition in this set is a total dog's dinner - he's a bizarre fusion of battle droid and roof slope, and couldn't look less like his movie persona if he tried. The one saving grace is his interesting head, but all things considered, this minifigure really wasn't LEGO's finest work....

Notably, LEGO produced a new, single-piece version of Aldar Beedo (below) in 2001 for Set 7186 Watto's Junkyard. It's unpainted, but it does at least look a bit more like him this time...

Aldar Beedo figure (from
Once you've recovered from the shock of Aldar Beedo and picked your jaw up off the floor, it's time to start on the podracers themselves. First up is Anakin's podracer. Not including mini versions, LEGO have produced four versions of this podracer over the years. Set 7131 Anakin's Podracer and Set 7171 Mos Espa Podrace came first in 1999, followed by this one in 2000, and most recently the excellent Set 7962 Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba's Podracers in 2010.

I can confidently state that the 'cubist' version in the Star Wars Bucket (below - click to enlarge) is the least accurate rendition of the lot by some distance - blocky and basic in the extreme. Unlike the other versions, it does at least score points for having sturdier flexible linkages between the engines and the pod meaning that there's no need for an ugly brick-built stabilizer to hold everything together and stop it falling apart, but that's it - I can't think of any other redeeming features at all. Apart from the printed blue slope on the front on the pod, maybe.

Moving swiftly on, the next podracer to be built is I believe a version of Neva Kee's podracer - a FG 8T8 Twin-Block 2 Special (pic below from Wookieepedia)

The LEGO version (below) is at best vaguely similar to the source material in overall design and colour scheme but that's as far as I'm willing to go. Disappointingly, there's no Neva Kee minifigure to go with it....

Next up is Aldar Beedo's podracer, a MARK IV Flat-Twin Turbo Jet. It's a good job that the Aldar Beedo 'figure' was included in this set, as without it the identity of the predominantly blue and yellow podracer might have been hard to ascertain. Some similarities between the source material and the version in this set are evident - the yellow markings on the front and the red engine exhausts - but you could be easily forgiven for missing them.....

MARK IV Flat-Twin Turbo Jet (From

LEGO subsequently produced another version of this particular podracer in the Watto's Junkyard set (below) which was larger and marginally more accurate, although for some reason it dispensed with the blue and yellow colour scheme in favour of blue and white.

The identity of the final podracer in the bucket wasn't immediately obvious to me, but some rudimentary research suggests that it's probably Clegg Holdfast's podracer - a KV9T9-B Wasp.

(Image from Wookieepedia)
You can see the LEGO version below. It was the green cones protruding from the front of the engines that gave it away.

In addition to the minifigures and podracers, the set also comes complete with a start/finish gantry, and truth be told, it's probably the most elegant part of the set...

You can see the entire set in all its glory below....

So what on earth to make of it all ? Well, it'd be easy to just write this set off as a poor quality Star Wars Episode I cash-in and move on. And's that bucket that's got me wondering whether I'm completely missing the point. Remember what I said at the beginning, namely that the set "comes in a square bucket, akin to some of the starter sets filled with basic bricks". Well, maybe that's exactly it. I'd guess that most if not all of us have at some time or another heard the criticism that licensed sets, and particularly the Star Wars sets, throttle creativity because they contain so many custom parts and not enough basic bricks and plates. Well that's a criticism that applies far less to this set than it does to most Star Wars sets. So maybe I accidentally got it right at the beginning after all - this set is basically a Star Wars-branded starter set, designed to contain a much greater proportion of generic elements than your average Star Wars set, and even packaged like a basic brick bucket. Just to further push this theory, the set contains 4 basic tyres - you can see Aldar Beedo standing next to them on the front cover of the instructions. These tyres appear to be entirely redundant - podracers don't have wheels. But two of the podracers do use wheel hubs in the construction of their engine exhausts, and it's no coincidence that the tyres fit perfectly onto those wheel hubs, should you decide to take the podracers apart and build something else with the pieces...

So in summary, to say that the models in this set are rudimentary would be a gross understatement - if you're looking for a set which will provide you with some good-looking podracers to play with or display then this certainly isn't it. But the whole package is undoubtedly a one-off and a curiosity, and as a LEGO Star Wars collector that alone makes me glad that I own it.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Once upon a time......

......I bought a lot of 4 used 2001-2003 Harry Potter sets from eBay. I've had a number of bad experiences buying Harry Potter sets from eBay; maybe it's the fact that they tend to have been originally owned by a predominantly younger, less careful demographic, but the boxes have generally been 'tired' at best, and pieces are invariably missing, regardless of whether the sets are described as 'complete' or not. On this occasion, I was delighted to land the sets for a very good price, and waited with bated breath for them to arrive. To my amazement, 3 of the sets were complete, and the boxes were in pretty good condition. I wasn't so lucky with the fourth, however - Set 4720 Knockturn Alley. Again the box was in a surprisingly good state, but there were pieces missing. Lots of them. About 80, to be precise, which is around 40% of the total.... A brief and cordial e-mail exchange with the seller ensued, and it yielded an appropriate partial refund which was offered unprompted. And so it was that I began my quest to replace the missing pieces....

As ever, if you need to replace missing pieces then you pay Bricklink a visit, and all your wishes will be granted. If you take a look at the inventory for the set, however, you'll maybe see why it wasn't quite as simple as usual on this occasion - this set contains more than its fair share of sand blue pieces, which being one of the more uncommon colours produced by LEGO over the years, can be harder than average to track down. Anyway, to cut a long story slightly shorter, partly as a result of the need to track down some uncommon pieces, but also partly because I just dragged my feet, it took me 18 months to track down all the missing parts. Finally the job is complete, however, so it's time to build....

You can see a picture of the box above. It's smaller than the box for 2010's Harry Potter Set 4737 Quidditch Match despite containing significantly more pieces. So clearly there's been some LEGO box inflation since 2003 to go with the price inflation.... As well as a picture of the finished set, the front of the box also features a photo of an oh-so-young-looking Daniel Radcliffe wearing his Hogwarts uniform. I was pleasantly surprised to see a photo of an alternative build on the back of the box - I thought they'd stopped doing that long before 2003, but clearly not.

The instruction booklet is unremarkable, featuring identical artwork to the front of the box minus the youthful face of Daniel Radcliffe. The are 34 pages of building instructions plus a couple of pages of adverts, including one for the PC CD-ROM game Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Some of the colours in the printed building instructions look distinctly odd - dark grey pieces look light grey in the instructions, for instance, and black looks like dark grey. It threw me slightly to start with, although I eventually got used to it.

You can see a selection of pieces from the set below (click to enlarge). None of those pesky sand blue pieces are available in more than 2 or 3 sets, and the sand blue 1 x 1 plate can only be found in this set, which is also the case for the trans-green goblet and the 1 x 2 tile with the "spooky green hand" printed on it. That "brain in a jar" piece has only ever been available in this and one other set, and the same goes for the 1 x 1 bricks with the eyes printed on them.

The set contains two minifigures - Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy - which obviously pre-date the appearance of flesh-coloured heads in the licensed sets. In contrast to his smart appearance on the front of the box, Harry is wearing a crumped sand green top. Villainous or not, at least Lucius had the decency to get dressed up for his appearance in this set, and his tie, waistcoat and jacket are pretty dapper. Neither figure has any back printing, though. Both figures are unique to this set, although their prices on Bricklink seem surprisingly reasonable considering, so minifig collectors need not despair.

At a mere 209 pieces the build is predictably quick. After assembling the minifigures the next task is to build the chimney section (pics below - click to enlarge). This has a rudimentary play feature to allow Harry to travel through the "floo network" - lift the dark grey 4x8 plate on the front, pop Harry inside and then pull the dark blue handle on the front whereupon the floor slides out from underneath Harry and he tumbles out the chute at the back. Hardly rocket science, but I'm sure the kids love it....

Chimney - front
Chimney - back
The other part of the build is the shop itself. From the front this is dominated by a large bay window on the right, though which you can see the elusive trans-green goblet and other treasures, and an arched doorway flanked by flames and a couple of owls on the left.

From the back (below) you can see inside the shop, where a glowing neon spider lurks in wait on the roof, and spooky artefacts and potions sit on the shelves. The bay window and doorway pivot on a hinge allowing some basic reconfiguration.

You can see the various elements of the finished build below, complete with Harry, and Lucius with a dodgy looking potion.

Although I've seen all the Harry Potter movies, I have to confess that I wasn't familiar with Knockturn Alley. According to Wikipedia, turns out that it's "a dark and seedy alleyway" leading off from Diagon Alley, and that many of the shops in Knockturn Alley are devoted to the Dark Arts, the largest of these shops being Borgin and Burkes which sells "sinister and dangerous objects". I guess that explains the spooky green hand and brain in a jar, then.... As you probably know, 2010's Set 10217 Diagon Alley included a version of Borgin and Burkes (pictured below), and it's pretty evident that the Knockturn Alley set is basically Borgin and Burkes under a different name. The two versions share the "chimney with floo network" play feature, the bay window shopfront, and the Lucius Malfoy minifigure, but the similarities end there with the modern version being a massive improvement on its predecessor.

Set 4720 Knockturn Alley contains 209 pieces and would have set you back an expensive £19.99 / $20.00 when it was released in 2003. Standouts for me are the colour scheme featuring sand blue and dark blue, a number of unique pieces, and 2 minifigures which were never available in any other set. You'll pay at least £30-£40 (or the dollar equivalent) on Bricklink for a used, boxed example now, and truth be told, unless you're a Harry Potter collector I reckon you'd be better off saving your money for the spectacular Set 10217 Diagon Alley which, while more expensive, contains a far superior version of Borgin and Burkes plus Ollivander's Wand Shop, Gringotts Bank and 10 excellent minifigures.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Joy of Six

Well, you really have to hand it to them. Having created a whole new craze with the release of their Collectable Minifigures, LEGO have somehow managed to up the ante with each new series and keep them interesting, to me at least.... I have to confess I'd expected the appeal to wane with each successive series, but having recently taken delivery of a full set of series 6 (cheers, Huw !) I have to say that LEGO have really outdone themselves this time.

Sixteen new minifigures, and many of them are excellent in my opinion. Everyone will have their own favourites and here are a few of mine....

First up it's gotta be Sleepyhead (below). Honestly, how cute is that ?! The teddy's the star, but I also love that huge yawn, those bleary eyes and that tousled hair. And if you'd rather be greeted by a more restful face, turn the head round and you've got a placid, sleeping minifig. Superb !

Next up is Lady Liberty, the one figure in the current series which I got shortly after UK release. Having bemoaned my inability to find an affordable boxed example of Set 3450 Statue of Liberty in my "Bucket List" posting a couple of months back, I found a sealed series 6 Collectable Minifig pack under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day. Turns out my wife had spent some time in the toy aisle feeling up foil bags so she could get me the minifigure version of Lady Liberty to make it up to me..... And I wasn't disappointed - what a fantastic rendition, right down to the sand green torch, stone tablet and headpiece. Not to mention the dark green lipstick - a superb touch of LEGO style.

Then there's the Classic Alien figure, which for obvious reasons (if you're a sci-fi geek, that is....) I've named Paul.... An uncluttered, elegant design - perhaps too simple for some, but just perfect for my tastes. You also get a white ray gun, which you can only get with this minifigure, complete with a trans-bright green 3 stud long bar as a laser blast which is also not available anywhere else. So not only is he cool, but he comes with unique accessories....

The surgeon is also great, with her medium azure surgical scrubs, light aqua surgical cap, light bley syringe and (brand new) trans-light blue X-ray tile. For the City builders among us, such minifigures are great for swelling the population, and this one is quality.

An early favourite of mine from the publicity shots was the Clockwork Robot, a deliciously kitsch throwback to the classic 50's robot designs. The key sticking out of his back is a great touch, and he's already a firm favourite in our household, with my wife declaring him to be her favourite minifigure of the whole of series 6.

Finally there's the Butcher; while there's nothing especially outstanding about the figure itself, I do love his 'dual wield' T-bone steak and meat cleaver.... I have this image of the coelophysis dinosaur from Dino Set 5882 Ambush Attack running down the road with the T-bone in his mouth, being chased by the butcher angrily waving his meat cleaver.....

Thinking about it, there's barely a duffer in the whole series. The Skater Girl feels like she's been done to death in previous series, conceptually at least, but otherwise they're all neat. And that's no mean feat, given that this is the 6th series.

Are any of you struggling to work out how best to display all these guys, incidentally ? I know I have been. When there was just one series I was all for putting them in individual perspex prisons, but now there are 6 series of the things with more to come it's getting out of hand... I ended up constructing a 'gallery' (below - click to enlarge) to display my series 6 minifigures - it would have been black, but I didn't have the pieces I needed, so it ended up being dark bley.

Encouraged by the order I had inadvertently created, I decided to triple up the display, and threw together the 3-tiered affair below which can accommodate 3 series of collectable minifigures. When I get a chance I'll build another one to display the rest.

I'm lucky enough to own a couple of glass display cabinets, so my minifigure grandstands will go in there to stop everything getting caked in dust. Which is all very well until we get to Series 10, at which point there won't be any more room, so it'll be back to the drawing board....

Play well !