Tag Archives: Star Wars

The Darth Mall

One of the great things about LEGO is the opportunity to be silly. And it doesn’t get much sillier than ridiculous puns.

I’ve joked about our local shopping centre being “the Darth Mall”, usually around Christmas when it really is. So when considering whether to get the Duel on Naboo set with birthday money, I had to have a go at building it for real.

The thing is, C-3PO and R2-D2 make a far better pair of shoppers than Darth Maul.

Obviously there’s not a lot to say about this sort of creation, but I’m quite pleased with the shopping trolley.

Building Together

All three of my kids love LEGO, but of the three of them, my son is probably the biggest fan.

One of the main ways we spend time together, in fact, is building together, though it often deteriorates into him providing the ideas and direction and me making it work the way he wants it to be. Of such collaboration have many dragons and mechs and Ninja machines been built.

This was a different kettle of sushi.

Father-and-son building time

He’s a fan of the Star Wars Microfighters game on LEGO.com, and so when he asked me to build him a TIE fighter microfighter I smiled and said “You’re a good builder. You can build it yourself”.

So he did. Then he had me build the X-Wing, which is obviously an AFOL’s creation on the Microfighter theme rather than a nearly-six-year-old’s, but allowed him two ships to have a battle with.

And really, X-Wings are hard. I remember that from my own childhood before there was a set for that.

A few days later I came home from work to discover that he’d made this lovely little charging/refueling/repair station all by himself. No help with the concept, nothing. Absolutely brilliant!

Of course, it’s a bit more rainbow than I’d have tolerated even as a six-year-old, but that’s at leas partly a legacy of my wife. A non-builder with the attention to detail that makes a really superb brickfinder, she had no patience at all with his Daddylike early insistence on everything being the right colour as well as the right shape and carefully wore down his resistance to the Rainbow Warrior concept.

I’m particularly fond of the crates of tools, but the whole thing oozes brilliance.

So I’m trying something very difficult. I’m trying to stop my itchy AFOL builder’s hands from taking over and let him build his own stuff.

…And I thought they smelt bad on the outside!

With this model I return to something I usually seem to enjoy: small models.

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Luke Skywalker riding a tauntaun is hard to pull off at minifig scale; at least, when you don’t have a proper tauntaun. I’m fairly happy with how this built one has turned out.

You’ve got to admire a creature that can handle Hoth’s extreme cold better than an unmodified speeder; remember that when Luke didn’t get back to Echo Base, they couldn’t go and look for him in their speeders because of issues with adapting them to the cold.

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We see that even tauntauns can keel over and die of hypothermia, but the fact that you can take a tauntaun out into weather that will ground a speeder is impressive. Hardy little beasts, these things are. And they don’t need much in the way of support infrastructure the way machines do.

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It’s actually one of the better features of the original trilogy. High-tech blasters and space fighters work alongside domesticated animals, which are used in the sorts of situations in which you’d be likely to find them: poor, lower-tech regions and situations in which you might not want to reveal your presence with too many high energy signatures.

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Anyway, here’s Luke on a tauntaun. Enjoy.

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“Oh No! A Rancor!”

As superb as the Star Wars universe is for the designs of its vehicles, characters and sentient races, its alien animals leave something to be desired. The asteroid creature from The Empire Strikes Back is probably the worst offence against reasonable alien biology (it lives in vacuum. Obviously it doesn’t need to breathe. But how does it survive? What does it eat? How does it move from one space rock to the next? And I don’t even want to get started on the improbabilities involved in its finding a mate), but very few of the creatures are all that well-designed.

The Rancor’s one of the better ones, if you discount the improbability involved in it acting (and possibly looking) like a troll. A biped that’s obviously not built for running, like most of the Star Wars bestiary, it’s designed simply to be monstrous. This accounts for almost every one of the Star Wars bestiary, from Naboo’s gargantuan monster sharks to the Dianoga from the waste compactor (which preys on our fear of snakes) to the Acklay (impalement) to the Rathtar (tentacles and bizarrely abnormal motion).

Anyway, I looked at my organiclike ice mech and thought to myself, “you know, I bet I could build a Rancor.  Build one, that is, not buy a giant-sized minifigure equivalent.”

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I’m not sure whether my Rancor or LEGO’s own large minifigurelike moulding is a more accurate size representation of the creature that Jabba keeps as an entertaining way to dispose of unwanted guests.  But LEGO building is typically a little flexible as far as scale goes.

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Now, the Rancor is obviously carnivorous, but even though it’s a biped, it doesn’t seem like it’s built to run down its prey. In Return of the Jedi, it lurches around the dungeon slowly; it does not leap or run. This suggests a scavenger, but. A scavenger of that size ought to have no problems with a little bone. Also it’s slow-witted enough not to try to use its hand claws to dislodge the bone from its mouth, and most scavengers are fairly smart (look at rats). Of course, its hands are huge compared to its mouth, but the fact that it has gasping hands at all suggests a level of intelligence that it doesn’t actually seem to display all that much. On the other hand, though, devouring surprised victims in an enclosed space doesn’t take a lot of brainpower.

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I suppose, too, it’s possible that this is a lamed or crippled specimen. It seems to have enough predatory instinct to kill, which suggests a hunter rather than a scavenger, but its slow forward speed combining with arms definitely designed to grasp and hold throw interesting light on its potential wild lifestyle. If it’s a lamed example, though, that makes more sense. As a pit beast in Jabba’s palace, it doesn’t need to move fast; perhaps it was intentionally lamed to prevent its escape.

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It could also be a specially-developed animal specifically created to serve as a gladiatorial opponent. Star Wars’ biotechnology doesn’t seem as advanced as all that (you get the impression that Kamino’s cloners are unusual), but if the technology exists, the Star Wars galaxy is the sort of place where it’s going to happen.

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Anyway, here’s my version of the Rancor, complete with a pseudo-Luke Skywalker for it to attempt to devour. Lloyd’s hair isn’t quite right for Luke’s, but in some ways it actually seems closer to Mark Hamill’s actual haircut than TLG’s. Go figure.

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Anyway, here he is. I hope Malakili would approve.

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Some Thoughts on “The Force Awakens”

Something a little less directly LEGO-related today. LEGO have, of course, released their line of sets from the movie, but this is not really a LEGO post. I’m branching out. Inspired by Luke Skytrekker’s “Thoughts on The Phantom Menace” et al, I offer my own “Thoughts on” the latest in the Star Wars saga.

The Force Awakens is a great Star Wars film. I like it a lot. But it’s not without its problems. Watching it again, I’m faced with a few issues. So these are a few thoughts on the film, things I find puzzling or problematic:

  1. Ugly Spacecraft. Star Wars is responsible for some of the most famous and iconic ships of all time. Ships like the X-Wing, TIE Fighter and Star Destroyer are instantly recogniseable even to non-fans. So why are most of the ships in The Force Awakens so monstrously ugly? Apart from the Millennium Falcon (which takes its “hunk-o-junk” status to new heights) and the second-generation X-Wing and TIE Fighter (which look like their first-generation versions and thus are not original) there is not a single handsome spacecraft in this whole movie. I talked a little about this last time, but it bugs me, so I’m talking about it again. Kylo Ren’s command shuttle is perhaps the best-looking ship from the film, and even that is a brutalist echo of the completely superior Imperial Shuttle. The First Order landing craft have a sort of WW2-esque LST functionality, but they’re graceless slabs of metal nonetheless. General Hux’s Star Destroyer (presumably it’s a Star Destroyer) is painted black and you never really see it. It might be cool-looking, but you can’t actually tell. But that Resistance landing craft is unforgivable. All the elegance of a flying brick and half the style, it’s one of the most monstrously ugly ships I’ve seen in a while. I suppose, with that side pod for the pilot, that it’s a sort of B-Wing derivative, but if so, why? The B-Wing is exactly the wrong kind of ship to derive a landing craft from. Why couldn’t it have looked like a Y-Wing writ large, or anything other than the flying metal bar we ended up with?

    It’s not LEGO’s fault. This looks like the movie version.

  2. Why the Resistance? For the purposes of echoing the Rebel Alliance, it works, but that’s not a reason that exists in the story. The Resistance is, we’re told, supported by the (New) Republic against the First Order. But why? Why can’t the Republic just send in soldiers to protect their citizens from the First Order’s attacks? Why is it necessary to have a Resistance? In the wake of the Empire’s demise, the Republic is the legitimate galactic government, surely. We’re told that the First Order arose “from the ashes of the Empire” (or some such), but they don’t call themselves the Empire as if they are the continuation of that government. The Republic are the government now. Which makes the First Order the rebels and the Resistance a sort of loyalist paramilitary. I begin to wonder why the Resistance’s job of opposing the First Order can’t be done by the Republic’s armed forces. Or if the Resistance is the Republic’s armed forces, why call yourselves that? It makes you look illegitimate, like terrorists rather than soldiers.

  1. Why do the bad guys have all the body armour? Seriously, why? The Resistance is supported by the legitimate galactic government of the New Republic. Why can’t they afford to equip their troops better? When the Empire got overthrown, all or most of the Empire’s factories must have passed into the hands of the Rebel Alliance’s New Republic, so they ought to be able to make themselves some. Even if they don’t have all-enclosing helmets for humanising purposes, they ought to be able to afford, and produce and distribute, at least some body armour for their troops. Possibly in Republic dark red, or green or something, to visually distinguish them from stormtroopers.

  2. That stormtrooper nunchaku thing. Ok, I can see the crackles of energy along it, but come on. Finn’s using a lightsaber, and that stormtrooper manages to parry with what looks for all intents and purposes like a physical weapon. And this is after lightsabers have been shown to cut through basically everything in the first six movies. As a fight sequence, this comes perilously close to my threshold of disbelief. And as a weapon, this thing makes little sense. You’re asking me to believe that the First Order has special anti-lightsaber weapons issued to members of every squad, just on the off-chance? Surely there aren’t that many lightsabers floating around out there? It doesn’t make sense.

  1. Rey’s “instinctive” use of the Force. Luke had to be trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda before we saw him demonstrate the Force’s mental effects (on Bib Fortuna). He seems to struggle all the time with controlling his Jedi powers, at least until Return of the Jedi, when he seems to shrug off his inability and become a full-fledged Jedi even though when he left his training he was erratic at best. Yet Rey seems to pick it up completely by instinct without any instruction or guidance at all. It’s weird. If using the Force is that easy, it puts a whole different spin on the Jedi Council’s implicit claim to comprise every Light Side adept of the Force in the galaxy, and makes you wonder how many other non-Jedi Force-sensitives and untrained users there were and are. Now, Rey could be special in that regard, but the fact that she uses the Force so well so suddenly, without any training at all, is definitely odd.

  2. How much can Maz use the Force? Maz Kanata is one of my favourite characters from the whole movie. I’ve written about some of the differences between her and Yoda on my other blog, the more “serious” one, in fact. By her own confession, she is “no Jedi”, but “I know the Force”, she says in the next breath. It remains to be seen exactly what “I know the Force” means in practical terms, but every other character in the saga who has been able to say something like “I know the Force” (even if they never actually said it) has been a Force-user. Han Solo, in Episode VII, knows about the Force, a little bit, but I can’t see him ever claiming to “know the Force”. It’s a really interesting statement, and contributes to my personal certainty that there’s a lot more to Maz than meets the eye. (Incidentally, her LEGO incarnation is terrible. One of the worst expressions in LEGO of any Star Wars character). She appears to be using precognition when she talks to Rey, telling her that “the belonging you seek is ahead, not behind”, and that’s a Force power. Just because we haven’t seen her move stuff around doesn’t mean she’s not able to “do stuff” like Yoda is. She even has a lightsaber, at least for a while (though as Finn shows, it doesn’t take Force powers to wield a lightsaber). And she evidently retrieved that lightsaber either from the bowels of Cloud City or the surface of Bespin. I’ll let you decide which of those is more remarkable.

For all that, The Force Awakens is still a great movie. It’s like the storytellers finally woke up and remembered what the prequel trilogy studiously avoided: that the Jedi were first known as Jedi Knights. Fighters, protectors, soldiers. In the prequels, they’re more like monks than knights, but in the original trilogy they are almost always “Jedi Knights”. I like this.

Praetorian-class Imperial Assault Cruiser

I don’t build a lot of Star Wars models, but when my son wanted to rebuild my little Republic Assault Cruiser/Clone Trooper/Coruscant planet set, I got inspired to build something similar.

Praetorian-class Assault Cruiser

Praetorian-class Assault Cruiser

I envisage this as a kind of larger brother and successor to the Republic Assault Cruiser, so I’ve made a similar display stand that will also showcase an Imperial stormtrooper of the classic variety.

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Inspired by my success with the cruiser, I got creative for a follow-up microbuild of the classic Imperial shuttle.

The Imperial shuttle has to be one of the most elegant and stylish ships in the entire Star Wars universe. Kylo Ren’s command shuttle tries hard to echo it, but it’s ugly by comparison.

This is a serious problem with The Force Awakens, actually. Aside from the Millennium Falcon, which still rejoices in its “hunk-o-junk” status as one of the best-looking hunks-o-junk in the galaxy, and the second-generation X-wing and TIE fighter, which have to echo their iconic originals, all the ships in it are ugly. Disturbingly so, given the record of the Star Wars universe for producing beautifully iconic ships.

Imperial Shuttle

Imperial Shuttle

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Kylo Ren’s shuttle is one of the better ones, but it’s a brutalist copy of the Empire’s Tydirium-class. The First Order landing craft are okay-ish. They look like World War 2 LSTs that fly, which is fine given their role, but they are still just ugly slabs of metal.

The Resistance troop transporter, though, is unforgivable. All the dynamic elegance of a brick and none of the WW2 design ethic of the First Order’s landing craft. It is, quite simply, hideous.

With that pilot’s pod at one end I guess it’s meant to be a derivative of the B-Wing, but really, why? I know a landing craft doesn’t have the same coolness factor as a fighter, but still. The Resistance are supported by the New Republic and have the Mon Calamari and others to design their ships. Surely they could have made something more stylish than this.

The only other ship of note in The Force Awakens is the First Order Star Destroyer, and it’s painted black so you never really see it.

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Anyway, this is an Imperial, not a First Order, starship, and is thus better-looking. I expect it’s a product of the busy Kuat Drive Yards, like most of the Empire’s larger ships.

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I’m a little hazy on the exact role of an “Assault Cruiser”, but it sounds like it ought to be a planetary assault ship, packed with landing craft, AT-ATs and so on, and potentially capable of making planetfall itself.