"In the world of Doctor Who, it’s readily accepted that insides and outsides can exist in different dimensions, and that different time zones can be visited as easily as if they were different places. If you can swallow such conceits, then you’re likely to share my view that LEGO’s Death Star playset is one of the greatest LEGO sets ever released in any range. Whilst its half-hearted exterior couldn’t hope to measure up to that of the majesty of the Death Star II ultimate collector’s edition set, its movie-hopping interior boasts more genuine detail and finesse features than the total sum of previous Star Wars LEGO offerings. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece of a model.
When this near four-thousand piece set arrived, the first thing that I did was to assemble its twenty-four minifigures, as recommended by the first of its heavy, ring-bound instruction manuals. Any Star Wars character of note who ever set foot on board either of the Empire’s ill-fated battle stations is included here, and some of them in more than one incarnation. Luke Skywalker, for instance, appears in three different guises – firstly, in his farm boy outfit from Tatooine; secondly, in a unique stormtrooper outfit; and thirdly, as a fully-fledged, mechanical-appendage-sporting, black-clad Jedi Knight. Han Solo, similarly, appears in an exclusive stormtrooper outfit as well as his usual attire, alongside his constant companion Chewbacca; an Episode IV-styled Princess Leia; a cloaked Obi-Wan Kenobi; and the saga’s seminal droid duo, C-3PO and R2-D2. Death Star stalwarts Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin are present and correct too, as is the hard-to-find Emperor Palpatine, here equipped with his Return of the Jedi lightening. The minifigure count is than rounded out with a couple of stormtroopers; a brace of rare, red-clad royal guards; and no fewer than four imperial droids. Whilst it’s true that many of the minifigures included in this set have been improved upon since (particularly Luke and Leia), there is still not a set that stands up to this one when it comes to the quantity and quality of its minifigures.
Building the Death Star itself was an even more rewarding experience though, particularly as I eked it out over a few weeks, tackling one of the set’s four internal boxes at a time (at £274.99, I had to make it last). Once the foundations were in place, the first floor offered all manner of tantalising treasures, including the infamous ‘trash compactor’ (complete with compacting walls and Dianoga monster); tractor beam control room; and gaping chasm across which Luke and Leia must swing. As the build progressed, I didn’t only get the satisfaction of being able to build superlative second floor rooms such as the ‘Vader vs Obi-Wan’ hanger bay; throne room; and detention block, but also the pleasure of seeing how they interrelated with the rooms already constructed. The detention block, for instance, boasts a rubbish chute that leads, as it should, to the trash compactor; the throne room, meanwhile, is equipped with a fully-functional lift. Even the set’s top tier, which stands only half as tall as the two below it, was not without reward as it allowed me to recreate the moment where Vader choked one of his subordinates around the conference table (“I find your lack of faith disturbing…”), not to mention that in which he loomed behind the overconfident Tarkin as the Rebel base honed into view on the monitor before them (which can easily be flipped round to be replaced by an image of the doomed Alderaan, depending how destructive you’re feeling).
The gigantic space station is colossal once assembled, taking up a nearly half a square metre wherever it’s set down. Naturally, I lament the absence of an exterior – LEGO could have finished the model with a series of hinged grey walls to provide a more authentic finish without taking too much away from the playability of the spectacular interior, but even so, this set’s finished model is as clearly the Death Star as LEGO’s intricately-detailed ultimate collector’s edition display piece. How could it not be with that menacing green death ray extruding from its distinguishing dish?"
"Early last year, The LEGO Movie’s media dominance was briefly outdone by a news story revealing that America’s favourite dysfunctional family, the Simpsons, would be taking brick form in a very special LEGO set designed to celebrate their show’s twenty-fifth anniversary - and soon.
Fans of LEGO and The Simpsons alike wouldn’t have to wait long to get their hands on the family’s 2,523-piece Evergreen Terrace abode. But even before it shipped in February, the superset was being hailed as “the greatest LEGO set ever” based on its publicity material alone, and given LEGO’s forty-year history spanning dozens of themes and thousands of sets, that’s no small feat. Now I’ve not seen, let alone built, every single LEGO set that’s ever come out of Denmark, but of the hundreds that I have - my beloved Death Star and numerous star destroyers of varying size and hue amongst them - this piece de resistance trumps them all.
Various factors have conspired to make this so; perhaps the most obvious of them the Simpsons’ unprecedented suitability to the LEGO form. Not only is the show animated, but its colours are bold and its rendering is simple, which makes its reduction to colourful bricks far more aesthetically pleasing than a live-action Jedi or Hogwarts wizard. Most of Springfield’s inhabitants are even yellow to start with - a colour originally chosen by LEGO for its neutral ethnicity, only for Matt Groening to later take it and make it Springfield’s new white. There are no real losses and precious few compromises here - the transition is within a gnat’s wing of seamless.
Another secret to the set’s success is its scale. Eschewing timeworn LEGO building styles that used to frustrate me even in my infancy, the house is relatively spacious and, moreover, looks like a house from every angle. The number of backless buildings that I used to build that you could barely squeeze a minifigure into are just distant memories now - every room of the house is here, and is still readily accessible thanks to the removable roof pieces and garage, and hinged side wall. The garage alone is the size of most LEGO City dwellings, and the fully-equipped bathroom is just a working flush away from realism.
Indeed, the level of detail in the near half-metre-wide home is breathtaking. TV-accurate kitchen cupboards are teeming with kitchenware and tiny crockery; the garage is overflowing with borrowed power tools and gardenware, many of which are branded with apposite “PROPERTY OF NED FLANDERS” stickers (LEGO’s first-ever justifiable use of a stickers, I reckon). Bart’s bedroom, complete with Radioactive Man comic books and Krusty the Clown posters, is a work of LEGO art surpassed only by the lounge. The iconic family couch and old-school television set are each stunning to see, with the nearby telephone; staircase; sailing-ship picture and grand piano completing the timeless cartoon diorama.
To LEGO’s credit, they’ve even included one of the family’s cars rather than save it for a separate set. Homer’s pink but deceptively robust automobile is the spit of its immortal title sequence self, complete with radioactive rod, boot and all, and to my delight it can even fit two minifigures inside it side by side, yet still look quite at home beside the standard-issue one-man LEGO City cars. It’s one of the set’s greatest triumphs, and a particular hit with my toddler, who’s spent hours playing with it and only managed to break off the aerial on its bonnet (which is more than can be said of Homer, if its dents are anything to go by).
The set is not without its omissions, however. Bart’s trademark treehouse is nowhere to be found, disappointingly, and so will probably form the basis of a future set. Likewise, the family’s long-suffering pets, Snowball II and Santa’s Little Helper, have slipped through the cracks between pencil and brick - at least for now.
As for flaws, whilst the house’s tiled floors offer a polished finish seldom seen in a LEGO creation, posing the minifigures on them is as difficult as building a house of cards. You can’t even sit them all on the sofa together in order to recreate your favourite iterations of the show’s famously fluctuating opening titles as there isn’t enough room for one thing, and Bart and Lisa’s standard-issue Yoda legs don’t bend for another. Purists may also lament the liberties in layout taken by the designers as, for all its stunning features, the rooms aren’t all where they appear to be in relation to one another on television.
My biggest gripe by far though is the minifigures, who, as since proven by the recently-released (and unreservedly excellent) minifigures series, could have been a lot better. Homer, for instance, looks half asleep here, which might well sit well with his work attire, but does beg the question as to why the version of Homer included in the supposedly flagship set is an out-of-the-house variant. Similar could be said of Marge, who looks decidely flighty in her seldom-seen apron. I’ve no complaints about the more recognisable Maggie and Lisa, save perhaps for the woeful absence of Lisa’s trademark sax (which would accompany her in the subsequent minifigures series), but Bart looks worryingly mischievous, even for him, and even Ned Flanders’ aberrantly open eyes are blighted by an apron that he’s hardly famous for.
In all though, the set deserves its lofty repute, and having paid a lot more than £179.99 for Star Wars sets of similar size, I can’t even quibble about the cost - brick for brick, it’s an absolute steal. Bring on Mr Burns’ nuclear power plant, Springfield Elementary School and Moe’s!"
"With my family's appreciation of all things Frozen - Frozen toys, Frozen games, frozen food - we were understandably excited by LEGO’s long-overdue release of Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle. As soon as the first UK retailer started offering it at the RRP - as opposed to massively inflated eBay prices - we snapped ours up and had it built within an hour, sparking several “Just stay at home...” days and hours of delightful daddy / daughter LEGO play. It seems that the tale of “Dark Vader” and his Imperial fleet laying waste to Elsa’s icy fortress has infinite permutations.
A similar price and size to Rapunzel’s Creativity Tower, which has been a centrepiece of our sprawling Disney / Star Wars / Ninja Turtles / Simpsons / Friends LEGOpolis for a year or so now, the ice palace boasts a comparable number of rooms and features, and an extra minifigure too in the shape of Olaf, who’s cobbled together from a few existing pieces and a specially-moulded headpiece with a wonderful, removable carrot nose (parents will be pleased to hear that the set even includes a spare carrot, as our original went astray after about fifteen seconds). The two Friends-style mini-dolls are similarly detailed; Elsa’s cape sparkles on its underside, while Anna’s unique hairpiece captures her distinctive ginger-grey locks and bonnet flawlessly. Both include tiny holes so that various crowns and bows can be applied at your little girls’ discretion, and one of Elsa’s hands comes with an optional “frozen fractal” attachment that makes her appear to shoot an icy bolt at her torch-wielding sister. The only disappointment is that Anna’s bonnet doesn’t come off - not that it stops my daughter trying to prise it off with everything from LEGO brick separators to screwdrivers.
And whilst a £34.99 price tag leaves no room for a clumpy-walkin’ Kristoff mini-doll, or a duplicitous Prince “Horns” one for that matter, we do get a minuscule version of Kristoff’s sleigh, which is a welcome addition despite only having room for one mini-doll and not having a reindeer named after an old England manager included to pull it.
The palace itself seems to delight my daughter, though even she, at just three years old, questions the inclusion of an ice cream parlour on the ground floor of Elsa’s spontaneous, ice-spun mountain refuge. Whilst the fact that neither this cosy, commercialised parlour nor the picnic area outside it weren’t shown in the movie doesn’t automatically mean that they weren’t there, they are so absurdly out of place that it seems all but certain. The colouring of the bricks used is also open to criticism, particularly when it has been expertly demonstrated what could have been accomplished in a stunning LEGO Ideas submission which is now just eight hundred or so votes away from being considered for production.
However, the set’s differently-coloured pieces are at least loosely drawn from the movie’s palette, and they do make for a far easier build, which I especially appreciate now that I’m trying to get my daughter to follow the instructions and build her sets herself. Other parents of those well under the set’s recommended 6-12 age range will also really appreciate the palace’s many large, almost DUPLO-sized components (though there’s many a fiddly icicle too, mind).
And it isn’t as if the set bears no semblance at all to the film; it’s just not as good as it could and, I feel, should have been. But as the balcony area, snowflake spire and icy staircase all evoke the sense of the film if not the specifics, I’ll... let it go."