Friday, 21 July 2017

Alt. Space

There seems to be so much love for Classic Space right now that it can be easy to forget quite how many other Space subthemes LEGO has released over the years. Although I was lucky that my youth coincided with the late 1970's Classic Space sweet spot, I subsequently missed much of the space-related goodness that followed on account of my lengthy LEGO Dark Ages. Ironically enough, it was another space theme - Star Wars - that ended up dragging me out of the darkness, but it turned out that a whole bunch of interesting LEGO Space offerings had come and gone during my absence. I've therefore been on a mission to gradually fill in the gaps ever since.


One of the LEGO Space subthemes that I missed during my lengthy hiatus was Space Police. LEGO released a clutch of Space sets under the Space Police banner in 1989, and I assume that these sets were well-received since the company subsequently decided to follow them up with a number of Space Police 2 sets a few years later. Released in 1992, 6897 Rebel Hunter was the third largest set in the Space Police 2 line up as measured by parts count, and I was delighted to find a boxed, complete example of the set on eBay a few years back which I gratefully snapped up. The front of the box (above) shows the craft flying over a barren planet surface against a backdrop of a blurry starfield and a green laser grid. A price label from sadly-departed UK retailer Woolworths can be seen in the top right corner; allowing for inflation the £13.99 retail price would be the equivalent of £26.57 in today's money according to the Bank of England's Inflation Calculator - decidedly expensive for a set containing just 140 elements and two minifigures. The back of the box (below) highlights a couple of the set's play features as well as showcasing three alternative builds.


The set contents are contained within a white cardboard tray which fits neatly into the outer box. In addition to the set's 140 elements there's a single instruction booklet, the front cover of which you can see below. The instruction booklet comprises just 16 pages from cover to cover; unlike current instruction booklets all the pages are taken up by the building guide, and advertising is conspicuous by its absence.


The back cover of the instruction booklet, which is dominated by a stylised image of the completed build, can be seen below. One of the set's main play features, a portable prison pod, is showcased bottom left together with the set's two minifigures.


Bricklink prosaically names the set's two minifigures as Space Police 2 and Blacktron 2. Space Police 2 can be seen below. This minifigure has appeared in a total of seven sets. The white torso with its green, black and red print is exclusive to this minifigure, while the green legs with white hips have only appeared as a part of two minifigures including this one. The head, which is printed with a red brown fringe and eyebrows plus a black headset, has featured much more widely, appearing as a part of 24 minifigures across almost 50 sets in total. While the black helmet has graced literally hundreds of sets, the retractable trans-green visor has appeared in just 14. This minifigure is provided with an accessory in the form of a white loudhailer which is presumably supposed to represent a blaster.


This minifigure is kitted out with black airtanks which you can see in the image below. These largely obscure the back of the unprinted torso.  The back of the head is also unprinted.


Bad guy Blacktron 2 (below) has appeared in 14 sets across both the Space Police 2 and Blacktron 2 Space subthemes. The white torso with its black and lime Blacktron 2 print has appeared as a part of 3 different minifigures and can be found in a total of 16 sets. All of the other constituent elements making up this minifigure are extremely common, appearing in one hundred sets or more; the head is printed with the classic LEGO standard grin pattern, while the visor is trans-neon green in colour.


Similar to the Space Police 2 minifigure, Blacktron 2 carries a pair of black airtanks. Once again the torso is unprinted, as is the back of the head.


The build proper commences with construction of the portable prison pod (below) with space inside for a single minifigure. The structure incorporates a hinged trans-green 4 x 4 x 4 1/3 windscreen element which is printed with the Space Police 2 logo and which has only ever appeared in three sets.


The prison pod is carried inside an open cargo bay, and this is next to be built. The walls of the cargo bay are made up of a number of hinge brick assemblies, and a couple of black 1 x 2 tiles printed with a red arrow, which can only be found in eight sets, provide some cosmetic embellishment. A trio of black Technic axles form a roof of sorts over the cargo bay, and the reason for this seemingly odd design decision will shortly become clear. The section of the ship between the cargo bay at the rear and the cockpit at the front features a couple of interesting elements that I hadn't seen before, namely a red modified 3 x 3 x 2 facet brick bottom, on top of which is a trans-green modified 3 x 3 x 2 facet brick top. The red facet brick is unique to this set, while the trans-green brick has only ever appeared in a total of three sets including this one.


The lower half of the cockpit consists of a specialised light grey 11 x 4 x 2 2/3 inverted slope element which has only ever appeared in four sets, while the cockpit canopy is made up of a hinged trans-green 10 x 4 x 2 1/3 windscreen element which has only ever appeared in three sets. The cockpit can accommodate a single minifigure with ease and is empty apart from a printed 45 degree 2 x 2 slope which serves as a control panel. The cockpit is flanked by a couple of red 1 x 4 antennae which attach via a combination of modified 1 x 1 plates.


The front and rear bounds of the cargo bay are made up of light grey modified 2 x 4 x 2 bricks with holes on the sides. This useful element can only be found in a total of four sets in this colour, and there are three of these elements in the set. Four black 4 x 4 x 5 stanchions attach to the anti-studs on the sides of the modified 2 x 4 x 2 bricks, and a jet engine is attached to the base of each of the stanchions. You can see the completed Rebel Hunter ship together with both minifigures below.


The ship's cargo bay provides the set's most interesting play feature. As previously described, the cargo bay walls incorporate a number of hinge bricks which enable the walls to flex outwards. When the walls are fully extended, as in the picture above, the prison pod is held firmly in place. When however the walls are flexed outwards the prison pod is released and the back of the ship is pulled forwards; at maximal flexion (below) the rear of the ship is pulled forward by around 50mm. The presence of this mechanism explains the use of Technic axles for the cargo bay roof - as the rear of the ship concertinas forward the axles slide through holes in Technic bricks at the rear of the ship; admittedly the protruding Technic axles look a bit untidy, but it's a price worth paying for the inclusion of a neat play feature.


Overall, it has to be acknowledged that the Rebel Hunter isn't the prettiest LEGO craft that you'll ever see - "quirky" is probably the politest way to describe it. That having been said, I'm a big fan of the colour scheme, and the build also incorporates a number of cool play features, particularly the unusual prison pod release mechanism. Design-wise, inspiration has clearly been taken from earlier Space subthemes, but there's also a nod to the future in the form of an increased reliance on more specialised elements (not least the distinctly POOP-like light grey element making up the lower half of the cockpit) and the inclusion of Technic elements.

When I conclude my reviews of retired sets I'm often reluctantly obliged to report that a complete, boxed example of the set in question will cost you an arm and a leg. On this occasion however I'm pleased to reveal that copies of the set actually seem to be very reasonably priced on Bricklink, with at least one boxed example available for less than £20 at time of writing. Copies of the set also occasionally crop up on eBay which is where I found mine; my complete, boxed copy set me back just £15 plus postage, although that was admittedly a few years ago now. Not a classic, then, but still worth picking up at current prices if you have any interest in LEGO Space I reckon.

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