“The box for this one said ‘Ages 8-14’!”

Lego products appeal to children (and adults) of all ages. Now, some advanced sets attempt to capture the look of iconic movie moments, eschewing playability for an “authentic” appearance.  

By Daniel Rose

As a child, I devoured the Lego catalogue from the moment it hit my mailbox. Leafing through the pages, I fantasized about adding each set to my collection. Facing the writing prompt “If I were…” in Grade 2 English class, I wrote a short story about being a Lego brick in my own collection – a very meta thought for a seven-year-old, but understandable given how much Lego was on my mind. Every time a new, expensive collection was released, I vowed that I would continue to buy Lego as an adult. Unlike most childhood dreams, oddly, this one came true.

My Lego short story was published as part of Staples’ “If I Were” story collection in 2002. I was pretty thrilled. Photo: Daniel Rose

Since the Lego Company’s famous plastic interlocking bricks were introduced in 1947, the company’s motto of “play well” (or leg godt in the native Danish) has inspired people of all ages to use their imagination to create and to recreate.  From movies and books to real places and things, Lego’s sets have used familiar places and themes as a frame for play. Play can take many forms, from the basic level of building the setting and characters to interactive elements (including projectile shooters and complex motors). For the most part, sets are inspired by their subject matter without being overly detailed, encouraging builders to use their imaginations to complete a scenario rather than providing a faithful recreation.

Spurred on by Lego’s official releases, communities of adult fans of Lego (or AFOLs) have created complex constructs based on popular culture, history and even existing Lego sets that attempt to perfectly capture the look of a particular place or thing.  Ranging in size and scale (and price!), these designs incorporate minute details – from the shape of a lighting fixture to custom-printing a sticker for a particular section of a wall – to build an authentic-looking creation. Recognizing the unique demands of these consumers, Lego has worked with these “master builders” to offer “advanced” sets that feature greater detail at a higher price range. Whether designed to fit the company’s iconic minifigures or at a more precise scale, these sets appeal to the desire of AFOLs and other builders to have “perfect-looking” recreated spaces while maintaining the tactile building element that has made Lego so popular. Interestingly, these constructs often sacrifice the greater “playability” of Lego in favour of “looking the part”, something which was lampooned in The Lego Movie through the character of The Man Upstairs.  Played by an indignant Will Ferrell, the character alleges that the way he uses Lego “makes it an adult thing”, rather than the toy it rightly is. I had never felt more represented, or hilariously caricatured, by a movie before, much to my own amusement.

Model 75192, configured in the classic Empire Strikes Back setup, takes up an entire table in my basement. Photo: Daniel Rose

Nowhere is the desire for accuracy more evident than in Lego model 75192 – the Millennium Falcon. Lego pulled out all the stops for Star Wars fans, who are notoriously fastidious in their demands for accuracy, to create a model that is nearly four feet long and three feet wide.  Released in 2017, the model incorporates information from official movie guides as well as the six films the ship makes an appearance in. With 7541 pieces (and retailing for an eye-watering $899.99 – before tax!), it is the largest Lego set commercially produced.* While the set features cross-sections of two of the ship’s classic rooms, allowing builders to use the eight included minifigures to act out scenes from the movies, more attention is paid to minute design elements.  Builders can swap out parts, such as the ship’s radar dish, depending on their preference for the original trilogy or the sequel trilogy. The set is the zenith of “authentic” official releases, demonstrating the extreme lengths builders can go to reproduce space. 

The scale of the model is gobsmacking – each of the six “vents” has the
same circumference as my fist. Photo: Daniel Rose

Model 75192 reveals the absurdity of the pursuit of authenticity. It replaced Model 10179, released in 2007 with a paltry 5 195 pieces (and 5 minifigures) in comparison. The intervening decade saw Lego design new parts and Disney release new Star Wars films; that is to say, that which was authentic previously is no longer a perfect recreation today. The same goes for unofficial constructions – the introduction of new design elements can make what was a faithful interpretation of a place or thing into an outdated caricature. This speaks to the importance of the imagination in filling the gaps better than an interlocking brick. Each recreation embodies the spirit of what the builder considers an essential part of the design. Even if the results never quite measure up, the pursuit of perfection is revealing.

Author’s Note: In the interest of clarity, I would like to note that I was one of the folks who purchased Model 75192, much to the chagrin of my savings and my common sense.

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