Saturday, July 30, 2011

Likely Destined To Collect Dust

7962 Sebulba's and Anakin's Podracers
The Chronicler's Rating - 2/5
Price ~ $90.00
Year Released - 2011

Lego has been producing Star Wars sets for over a decade now.  In that time they have created models of every possible vehicle, no matter how brief its screen time, and multiple incarnations of the most famous (the one notable exception is Queen Amidala's Royal Starship from Episode 1 but that is because Lego does not produce the bricks which would be required in chrome, although it does appear that we will be getting a figure of Queen Amidala in the near future…).  We have had no fewer than 3 releases (and in some cases more) of X-Wings, Millennium Falcons, Snowspeeders, Y-Wings and multiple other craft.  This fact begs the question why, in light of the plethora of every other craft that has a similar amount of screen time, is this only the second incarnation of Sebulba's and Anakin's Podracers ever released?

The Original 1999 Podracing Set
The intrigue is compounded by the fact that these vehicles are from Episode 1 and therefore Lego has had the entirety of the time they have produced Star Wars sets to make multiple models (as opposed to Episodes 2 and 3 which came out afterwards and have therefore had fewer years to be produced, not that that has stopped Lego from creating several incarnations of ships from them anyway) and that it is separated from its predecessor by a decade.  The answer lies in an unfortunate characteristic of all racing sets. 

In my collection I posses the largest Lego racing set ever released: 6395 Victory Lap Raceway from 1988. 

Featuring 4 cars, pits for each of them, a huge grandstand, announcers booth, mechanics truck and more it is the mother load of all race sets from our galaxy or any other.  I got it for my fifth birthday and must confess that despite its size and detail it sat on my Lego table and got played with maybe 2 or 3 times a year.  Why?  Simple: what do you do with a racing set besides... race?  The answer for most kids is nothing and so after the initial excitement and a week of playing race the sets get... boring.  That is what happened with my race track and I would venture that it is what happened with the previous version of this set for a bunch of kids back in the late 90s which is why Lego has waited so long to release another. 

I have written extensively about what makes a great Lego set if you have read some of my other entries you know that I consider the most important quality of any Lego set to be its playability.  Will the set continue to spawn original and creative play a month or even a year after it is first received?  If so then even if it has horrible pieces and is overpriced it is usually worth getting (if it has great pieces and is decently priced then all the better).  The problem with this set is that for most kids it will have very low playability.  With the cost of it being so high and with so many excellent Star Wars sets in a similar price range available at the same time (see 7965 Millennium Falcon) I would recommend that you steer clear of this one unless your child has repeatedly requested it specifically. 

I would warn you against this set.  First, as I explained above, race sets such as this can be hard to play with after awhile.  Furthermore the pieces and colors of this set are not that exceptional.  The orange of Sebulba's podracer especially will be difficult to use in your own creations.  If the playability is poor and the pieces not that great there is not a lot to redeem the set.  For this amount of money I would suggest that you look at some of the other Star Wars sets that were released at the same time as this one such as 7965 Millennium Falcon or 7964 Republic Frigate. 

This set is a very movie accurate representation of the vehicles from Episode 1. Furthermore, it is exponentially better than its predecessor.  The problem is that sets based on racing can get really boring when it is not possible to actually race the vehicles (case in point the failure of the recent sets based on the movie Speed Racer).  Other than whisking these podracers around the room and acting out a race there is no way for them to compete.  As such I see no reason to think that this set will avoid the fate of primarily being dust collectors which has befallen its many predecessors across multiple themes. 

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Mess With What Works?

7965 Millennium Falcon
The Chronicler's Rating - 5/5
Price ~ $140
Year Released - 2011

It is bar none the most famous ship in the Star Wars universe.  When the Lego Star Wars franchise was launched in 1999 all of us who were collecting Legos knew that it would just be a matter of time before Han Solo's beloved smuggling vessel was produced in Lego form.  The first incarnation was released in 2000 followed by a second version in 2004. 

The Original 2000 Version

The Second Generation 2004 Version
Since that time Lego has released a mid size version and a massive Ultimate Collector's Series model (priced at around $500) but has waited until now to release another "regular size" set of this, in Luke Skywalker's words, "piece of junk".  Fortunately, in the case of this model, Luke would be wrong. 

The Midsized Version

The Ultimate Collector's Series Version
Lego has wisely chosen to not reinvent the wheel with this set.  Though slightly sleeker and more uniform in color, there is very little substantive difference between this set and its 2004 predecessor (the only main difference is that the former had an escape pod which has been exchanged for Han's smuggling compartments in this version).  As the 2004 model achieved a nearly perfect balance of movie accuracy, great pieces, and decent price the fact that Lego has not started from scratch and has instead focused on making a few small but excellent improvements is great news!  The result is the best regular sized model of the Falcon to date. 

If your child is a fan of Star Wars you can rest assisted that they will be asking for this set (or if they are not the asking type, secretly longing for it).  There is no downside to this model, it will not easily fall apart leading to frustration during play, has excellent pieces in very useful colors for when it gets taken apart and will be incredibly fun to play with.  Even the price, though high, is justified by the excellence of the ship and the high piece count.  I would highly recommend this set to you. 

No Lego Star Wars collection is complete without a Millennium Falcon.  Lego has waited 7 years since releasing the last version of this ship and they may wait just as long again so I would encourage you to get this set while you can.  Whether you want to re-create scenes from the movie or act out your own original adventures in the Star Wars universe this set will be a great addition to your collection.  If you or an older sibling has either of the previous 2 renditions of this ship then there is no need to get this one also but otherwise get this set!

When compared to its predecessors this latest version of the Millennium Falcon rises to the top as the best version yet produced.  No Star Wars collection can be called complete without including the most famous vessel in that universe.  However, the potential buyer can rest assured that in purchasing this set they are not just fulfilling an obligation but are acquiring a truly excellent model in every respect.  I highly recommend this set to all. 

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Buying Lego Sets - A Guide

I have written previously on how to buy second hand Legos and also how to potentially get incredible discounts if you a willing to purchase sets minus their figures.  These are, however, special cases and not very helpful to the would be buyer who just wants to purchase a currently available set at the best possible price. 

Because of Lego's expansive world wide brand recognition and the fact that none of their competitors are really serious threats Lego prices vary very little from place to place.  They also rarely go on sale and when they do the savings are usually quite minimal (I have collected Legos continuously for almost 3 decades and can count on one hand the number of times I have seen sets on sale at greater than 10% off in a retail store that was not going out of business).  In light of that if your primary goal is speed and you don't mind paying full price you can walk into pretty much any store and  purchase the set you want with assurance that another place in town won't be selling it cheaper.

I got very excited as a kid when the set pictured below was 3 dollars cheaper at a Wal-Mart we stopped at while on vacation (my hometown did not have one at that time). 

My excitement over three dollars in savings was justified because a difference in regular price of even that paltry amount is rare between major retailers.

As Lego's product line has expanded the major retail stores (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) have not greatly increased their shelf space.  As a result they tend to carry only the "best sellers" so to speak.  They will have most of the major sets, but will likely not carry all of the sets for a given theme so depending on what you are looking for they may not have it.  They also usually do not have specialty sets like the Imperial Flagship which i had to order from as it was the only place you could get it.  

If you want the best for selection or are looking for something unique there are 3 places to go.
            1. This one is obvious but it still needs to be stated.  Every set available  is on sale here.  Around Christmas they usually run a sale where if you spend enough you don't pay shipping and they will run year round promotionals where they give away little sets.  
            2. Lego Retail Stores: These stores are factory direct from Lego and are basically their shop at home site in a retail setting.  Same sets and same prices, the advantage of course is that you don't have to pay shipping.  They also have monthly events which often involve give aways and have sale racks as well.  These retail stores are now located in many major cities, check here to see where the one nearest to you is.
            3. Toys R Us: Lego has some sort of special relationship with this national retailer and as a result they too have a fairly comprehensive selection.  The advantage of Toys R Us is that there are a lot of them around and that you, again, don't have to pay shipping.  They also run regular sales often buy one get one 50% off which can result in substantial savings.  The disadvantage is that their prices are always about 10% higher than everywhere else so unless you are taking advantage of a sale this is probably your most expensive option. 

While there is no silver bullet that will always allow you to avoid paying regular price for a set I have had some success with the following buying options. 
            1. The online retail giant will often be a bit cheaper than everywhere else.  And, as most sets are over $25 many orders will qualify for their free shipping.  Their selection is roughly equivalent to the other large retailers, they will have the best sellers but not necessarily everything else. 
            2. eBay: When buying on eBay look for a buy it now option.  Often sellers will take advantage of the sales I described at Toys R Us (buy one get one 50% off) and then sell the two sets at 80-90% of MSRP.  Especially if they give free shipping this option can end up saving real money.  Bidding on Lego sets on eBay, however, is something I would recommend that you avoid.  Prices almost always go sky high above what you can walk down to Target and pick up the set for, this phenomena is something I don't understand.  I got this harbor set from eBay $10.00 off MSRP with free shipping.

            3. This site is the Lego collector's bread and butter.  It is like eBay exclusively for Legos and minus any bidding.  Any set, past or present, is available here.  The advantage to this site in terms of new sets is that due to the competition you can usually find them a bit cheaper.  These sellers do the same thing as the eBay sellers but  often with slightly tighter margins due to all the competition which means slightly better savings.  Furthermore if you are willing to get it slightly used or minus the minifigures you can realize even more savings.   I picked up the castle below which retailed for $100 for a mere $20 because it was missing a few parts that I replaced with a subsequent $5 purchase.

One warning is that the online sellers are located all over the world so be careful to make sure the store you are buying from ships from your country or your shipping costs will be through the roof. 
            4. Craigslist: This options is the most hit or miss of all the options but it also has the greatest potential for savings.  You can often find people who are moving or moms who are trying to clear out a kid's room and are offloading Legos, including new ones, cheap.  Not something to depend on, but it is worth checking. 

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Heroes Are Coming...

Yesterday the Lego blogosphere exploded with excitement (I would almost go so far as to say delighted pandemonium!) at Lego’s announcement that it had signed a deal with both DC Comics and Marvel. 

Details are sketchy but at this time it is known that Lego has received rights to pretty much all of the most well known characters from the comic book world (Batman, Superman, X-Men, Etc.).  For parents and others who want to be savvy buyers here is a little insight into this decision by Lego. 

Star Wars was the first and, to date, far and away the most successful of Lego’s franchises (followed by Harry Potter and then the rest of the pack: Toy Story, Indiana Jones, Prince of Persia etc.).  The reason for this is simple; the Star Wars universe is enormous.  When compared to say Toy Story which has only three movies to draw from Star Wars has a huge advantage: 6 movies, a TV series and an expansive library of video games, books and other media on which to base sets.  Harry Potter has been the second most successful for the same reason: a large pool of material to draw from.  With this license Lego has opened up a world that just might rival Star Wars in size. 

Unbeknownst to me my timing yesterday in writing about how to take advantage of the minifigure craze could not have been more perfect.  Even more than Star Wars you can rest assured that these sets, whatever they end up looking like. are going to be drive by the exclusive minifigures they contain.  This makes perfect sense; Lego is being very savvy here in reading its market.  My guess is that the collectable minifigures which have been released in several waves over the last 2 years were intended to test the market and see just how deeply the willingness to pay top dollar for figures ran.  Based on the success of those figures and this announcement I would say that Lego is satisfied that the market is ready.  And I would have to agree.  These sets are the perfect next step in the path that Lego has been taking its product line in the last several years as they focus on figures as much as the rest of the set.

With the final Harry Potter movie in theatres and no new Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story or Prince of Persia films on the horizon Lego needed a new movie franchise to follow.  There are a swath of new Super Hero movies coming out in the next few years (more X-Men and another Batman movie, not to mention Thor and Green Lantern currently playing) so all these characters are both coming back to the minds of previous fans and being introduced to a whole new generation of potential fans.  Lego has had incredible success in taking advantage of movie franchises and has wisely moved to get a piece of that new action.   

The final reason is probably the least prominent in Lego’s mind, but there is no doubt that it is true and will result in huge sales for them.  The Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL) community is made up of every kind of person.  However, a lot of us are geeks or nerds (depending on how you define each of those terms).  Although I myself have never been into comic books a lot of AFOLs were as kids and many still are.  Although we make up a small percentage of Lego’s sales (less than 10%) we are still diehard fans and this series is assured to contain sets that will make both a large percentage of AFOLs and Legos primary audience (kids) delighted.

Well done Lego, brilliant move!

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler   

See FBTB for more! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Advantage of the Minifigure Craze

I have a confession, I just do not understand the obsession with minifigures that has taken hold in the last 10 years.  Before Star Wars came on the scene in 1999 minifigures were what I still consider them to be: necessary utilities.  A plane needs a pilot, a castle needs guards and a pirate ship must have a crew of scalawags, these are the roles and purposes of minifigures.  Necessary, absolutely, but the reason you bought a set, not a chance.  That is still my mindset which makes the concept of a minifigure being the primary reason one buys a set, or as of late even a collectors item, impossible for me to grasp. 

Lego has taken full advantage of this craze.  As Star Wars led to more and more licensed themes more and more figures patterned after famous characters, and then each of those characters in specific scenes, emerged.  Lego realized as time went on that people were buying these sets as much for the figures as the ships or locales.  The phenomenon has slowly bled out into the non licensed themes and therefore now pervades essentially all of Legos product line.  The end result is that sets are more expensive then similar sized models from just a few years ago all because they contain "exclusive" minifigures.  For those of us who do not get caught up in a euphoric experience upon finally having that elusive figure in our hands swallowing some of the new prices can be a difficult pill. 

Recently however, I found a way for a collector like me who really doesn't care all that much about minifigures to take advantage of the craze.  I found on a seller who purchases brand new sets, removes the figures and weapons and then sells them and the rest of the set separately.  Since he can sell each figure at a price anywhere from $5 to $20 based on their "exclusivity", and the market is all abuzz for figures, he in turn can sell the rest of the set for upwards of 50%-%60 off MSRP.  For a person like me who already has more than enough figures to make up the difference this is a fantastic opportunity.  I picked up 7189 Mill Village Raid for $30.00 and the discontinued 7097 Troll's Mountain Fortress for $45.00.  Brand new together those would have cost $170.00 and I picked them up for $75.00.  Now this would not work for someone looking to start building a collection but if yours is well established it can be a great opportunity!

I fully recognize that for many collecting minifigures is a joyful part of their Lego experience.  If that is you fantastic no condemnation here.  In this department I am squarely old school and it just doesn't do anything for me.  To each their own!  But as long as the craze continues I will happily buy brand new sets at greatly reduced prices and populate them with some of my many smily faced minifigures!

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler   

Saturday, July 9, 2011

This Is Not The Set You Are Looking For...

8092 Luke's Landspeeder
The Chronicler's Rating - 2/5
Price ~ $25.00
Year Released - 2011

It is very easy to be taken in and deceived by this set. Yes this set has set has a great selection of minifigures from the movie. Yes it is the most movie accurate Lego version of Luke’s Landspeeder from Episode IV A New Hope produced to date. And yes it has a good array of accessories and colors. But at the end of the day Lego sets are meant to be played with and the simple fact is this: in the movies this vehicle is nothing more than a car (and within the context of the Star Wars world a junker car). Car sets have their place in a city scene (how else are you going to do police chases?) but when mixed in with the rest of a standard Lego Star Wars collection which inevitably includes a variety of cool space ships bristling with weapons this set is going to stand out as exactly what it ultimately is: a non-flying, unarmed and relatively slow looking people mover. One can only reenact the famous “These are not the droids you’re looking for” scene from the movie so many times before that becomes… boring, and then what are you going to do with this set? The answer is not much.

I would recommend that you pass on this set due to the simple fact that I can’t think of any compelling reason to buy it. All the figures in this set have been readily available, with only minute cosmetic differences, in a variety of other sets both past and present. The value of this set, while not horrible is not terrific. The pieces, while not terrible are nothing special or exclusive. And, for the reason stated in my intro 9 out of 10 kids will be bored with this set after no more than a week. While movie accurate there just isn’t that much in terms of playing that can be done with a set like this.

If you have been wanting this set I would advise you to reconsider and spend your money on something else. While this set may look cool it isn’t going to be very fun to play with in the long run. A set very similar in price to this one is 7915 V-wing, this is a fighter and in my opinion much cooler. You will get much more use out of a set like that in the long run than this futuristic car. The only exception I would make is if all of the following is true for you: You are relatively new to collecting Lego Star Wars (if you are not you probably have an older version of at least half of these guys) or you don’t have any of these figures and really want them. If those two statements are true then this set is a fairly cheap way to get all these figures (especially R2-D2 and Threepio) at once. If however you are planning on collecting a lot of Star Wars sets you can rest assured that you will end up with all of them before too long so I would just wait.

For the most part vehicles in Star Wars are very cool and translate into Lego models with lots of play potential. The Landspeeder however just is not one of them. Remember that ultimately this is just an old beat up car and an unarmed one at that. To reiterate one final time the question one needs to ask before buying this set is what will I do with it once the excitement of having a really movie accurate model wears off? If you can come up with a good answer to that question then go for it, otherwise I would pass on this one.

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Requisite Shout Out

Tripod Invader
The Chronicler's Rating - 4/5
Price ~ $20.00
Year Released - 2011

It would be breaking some sort of unspoken sci-fi rule for Lego to produce a product line based on aliens invading the earth and not have a shout out to the mother of all alien conquest stories: HG Wells' classic The War of the Worlds.  Tripod Invader is that requisite set.

For those of you who have either never read the book or seen one of the several movie adaptions (one of which gave me a year of sleepless nights when I was a kid) the primary vehicle used by the invading alien army are tripod walkers which look... almost exactly like this set, indeed Lego appears to have almost copied Mr. Wells' description word for word.  And really, why not?  There is something truly menacing about a 3 legged mechanical beast controlled by an otherworldly creature tromping around capturing innocent humans and storing them in a prison canister on its back the back cut off from any chance of rescue.  That essence is what Lego has attempted (successfully in my opinion) to capture in this set.

I heartily recommend this set to you on one condition: that your child or grandchild already has either 7052 UFO Abduction, 7065 Alien Mothership or something like one of those two from a previous theme.  My reason for this condition is simple, what makes the space theme awesome, and UFO sub themes in particular are the spaceships, not the ground vehicles.  When a kid imagines a futuristic sci-fi world I can guarantee you they are not picturing walkers, they are picturing spinning, zooming spacecraft first and foremost.  As such this set makes a great addition to an invading army that has at least one decent spacecraft in it.  If this set comes first it will do a lot of sitting until that spacecraft gets added so save yourself the trouble and this set the dust and get it second. 

There are a lot of great play possibilities with this set.  With a a capture pod, detachable craft and an alien clinger this set gives you lots of options right out of the box.  In addition it has excellent pieces with decent colors (minus the purple, but there is not very much of it in this set).  It is also a great price for what you get.  If you already have alien spacecraft, either from this theme or a previous space theme, the I would recommend this set to you.

Lego has done well in capturing the essence (and menace) of HG Wells' classic invading mechanical terror.  My only caution can be illustrated by sampling looking back at the long history of the Lego space theme, a history that is dominated by spacecraft with the occasional walker thrown in.  That is exactly the type of collection that will benefit from a set like this, one that has a lot of spacecraft so that this can be occasional walker thrown in.

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler

Friday, July 1, 2011

How to Buy Second Hand Legos

Over the years I have bought a lot of Legos.  I have bought them from stores, online, at garage sales and from friends.  I have bought sets, individual pieces and mixes of both.  And through it all I have found a simple truth to be pretty much universal: there is no way or place to get Legos cheap.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen Legos on clearance.  Second hand sites such as while amazing and wonderful (especially if you are looking for individual pieces for a specific project or need to replace parts missing from a set), are still not cheap (though they are significantly cheaper than buying parts off Lego's website!).  The best deals I have found through the years come from two sources: Pick-a-Brick walls at Lego stores (provided you take the time to really pack the containers tight, it usually takes me a minimum of 45 minutes per container... yes trips to the Lego store with me are incredibly boring for my companions, hence why I usually go alone) and the right kind of eBay sale.

I recently scored a great purchase on eBay which was the inspiration for this entry.  Buying Legos on eBay can be a tricky business.  Individual sets (especially those that are discontinued) are almost never a good deal, and many of the multiple set lots are priced by people who know the value of what they are selling which also precludes a good deal. 

There is, however, a sweet spot so to speak right between these two.  What you are looking for is someone who is selling a small collection who has not taken the time to go through and inventory the individual sets.  These are usually listed by pound (titled something like boxed 10lbs of Legos or something similar, the key search word is pounds or lbs).  These are usually moms who are cleaning out a kid’s closet in preparation for a move or as the kid is getting ready to go to college and is simply looking to free up space, not make money, by getting rid of a now outgrown Lego collection. 

The picture below of my recent purchase illustrates exactly the type of listing I am talking about. 

I paid $60 for this lot and it contains no less than $400 worth of sets.  Some of them are missing pieces but that is easily mended with a few purchases if you are looking for sets and that isn't even necessary if you are, as I was in this case, looking to get a bunch of pieces. 

Three quick warnings.  First, the great danger of buying unsorted lots such as this is that the mom usually doesn't know anything about Legos.  As such they are not (normally) going to be able to tell you what sets are in the collection so you are going to have to identify them yourself from the picture which takes a bit of knowledge (my trained eye could see at least 6 sets from the pictures on this one so I knew I was getting a good deal).  The second danger is that if the child to whom the collection belonged was not a purest, the Legos may be mixed with a variety of cheap substitutes such as Megablocks.  Look for some sort of statement that they are all Legos or check the picture, large amounts of bricks other than Legos will be obvious by their colors or shapes.  Lastly be aware that often these lots do not usually come with any instructions.  Lego has digital instructions from sets available in the last few years on their website but if the sets are too old you will need to go to a fan site that has instruction scans such as 

Buying Legos at a good deal can be difficult but it is also incredibly rewarding.  I love going through a huge box of new pieces and finding all the treasures contained inside.  Buying lots by the pound on eBay is a great way to make that happen!

Happy Building
The Lego Chronicler