But really? If you’ve got the time, lack of willpower when it comes to buying shiny things, space to house a giant plastic sphere, and the money, you actually might want to build it anyway.
Given how much I’ve written about Lego on io9, it’d be safe to assume that I’ve built a lot of it in my time. So when the company recently retired its old Death Star collector’s set (a set popular enough to have been continuously sold since 2008) to make way for shiny new version that was basically the same, with a few upgrades and new minifigures, I saw it as an opportunity to stretch my usual Lego habits: get a set I’d long been wanting to own, and build something considerably larger than any other Lego set I’d built before. When Lego released all of its new Star Wars products at the end of September to mark Rogue One’s “Force Friday,” I threw down a considerable chunk of money—$500, to be precise, making this both one of the biggest and most expensive Lego sets available—and eagerly awaited its arrival.
A few weekends ago, massive box in hand, I made way to my kitchen table and set to work. Then I opened the Death Star box, and suddenly started worrying.
Then I started sorting out bag after bag of Lego bricks out on the table, and started worrying even more.
The thing is, you don’t really think about the fact that four thousand pieces of Lego—4,016, to be precise—is a humongous amount of Legos until you see them splayed out on your kitchen table in an endless sea of studded bricks, threatening to consume everything in sight. Had I bitten off way more than I could chew? Was I actually going to finish it in a day, or even a weekend? Was I beginning to have a really bad feeling about all this?
I did the only thing an idiotic blogger who’d gleefully told his colleagues about buying something extremely dumb thinking it would make a great blog the week before could do: I sat down and started sorting Lego bricks like my life depended on it. Or, at least, my free time.
By the end of that first weekend, I mostly felt like I hated myself (for buying the Death Star), Lego (for making it), and the Empire itself (for designing everything in the exact two same shades of grey). The process of building a modern Lego set, unlike the sets of your childhood where you spent just as much time rooting around the box for the one piece you needed, is highly regimented—section by section, it’s divided and split into sets of bags, easily numbered so you know which exact amounts you need to build each specific piece. It tightens your focus into the moment-to-moment building of a set, rather than the bigger picture, regardless of how big that bigger picture actually is—in this case, the bigger picture is a daunting, 16" by 16" diameter sphere.
Sometimes that process is mundane—like repeating the pattern of building the same structure for a piece of flooring that you’ll end up doing another three times in a row to create each of the four layers of the Death Star, or the curved walls that will give the final playset its spheroid shape. Its in those moments you’ll hate building the Death Star the most, as your raw fingers, slowly being shredded by pressing down on pointy plastic bricks, get dragged into doing the same pattern over and over again.
But sometimes, that process is taking you through some truly clever and ingenious bits of design work that makes you appreciate the effort that goes into creating sets as lavish as these. The Death Star in particular is filled with “aha!” moments like this, because instead of just being a model of a spaceship or a vehicle, it’s a full-on play set.
The Death Star set isn’t really an accurate recreation of the infamous battle station—it’d be impossible, if not a little boring, to try and achieve that. Instead, it’s a series of vignettes of things you remember happening on the Death Star in A New Hope—and, for one section, slightly awkwardly, Return of the Jedi. So you get a bit that’s the trash compactor. A bit that’s the detention block Han and Luke break Leia out of. You get the bit where Obi-Wan disables the tractor beam. The aforementioned Return of the Jedi bit is actually the Emperor’s throne room, complete with highly unsafe giant chasms and falling gangways.
These little scenes are complete and engaging builds on their own, before you consider the place they take in the overall look of the final Death Star. They’re filled with play features that might seem simple when built, but while you’re putting them together, it will make you feel like the greatest engineer on the planet. Even something as simple as a winch-operated lift.
The fact that it took me over 20 hours to make the Death Star, all in all—spread out over two weekends—might seem like it’s far too much effort for a Lego set. But it was these moments of cleverness, how the thing you had no idea what you were building was meant to be until finally slots into a larger whole, that made that time feel well spent.
The other bit that made it worth it, unsurprisingly, was the cavalcade of delightful Star Wars characters you got to populate the Death Star with once you’d finally put it together.
No Lego Star Wars set is really complete without minifigures, and the Death Star doesn’t skimp on them, either. Aside from little brick-built bonuses like a mouse droid or the dianoga, it comes with 25 figures. You get your heroes...
A whole swathe of figures specific to Return of the Jedi for the Emperor’s throne room...
Imperial officers and droids...
Stormtroopers—two of which are Han and Luke in disguise, which have spare helmets to turn into normal troopers...
And, perhaps coolest of all, some extra Death Star personnel—Gunners and officers you can flesh out the generic areas of the playset with, whether its preparing to fire the superlaser, or standing around a briefing room:
While they’re all delightful figures on their own, like the Death Star itself, it’s only when the whole thing comes together that they truly shine. The Death Star is an amazing model on its own, but when you start fiddling with all the figures and mucking about with the actual playset elements of it all, it becomes more enjoyable than you could have possibly imagined. If you love Star Wars and you love Lego, and have got the time (and space) to dedicate to it, there’s not an exhaust port’s of weakness in sight on a battle station as wonderful as this.