Monday, May 14, 2012

Lego Themes a History - Part II

In my last entry I reviewed the history of the 4 themes which are considered the original "core" of Lego's product line.  In the last 15 years there has been an incredible amount of branching out in Lego's product line from these initial primary categories (Technic and Duplo are considered alternative product lines so I am not including them in this discussion).  Lego has ventured into the depths of the sea, into the world of licensing, dug deep beneath the earth and invented whole new categories of toys.  In this entry I am going to briefly review the history of the 5 longest lasting Lego themes other than the core 4.

Star Wars
Clocking in at 13 years and counting Star Wars has eclipsed Pirate and is well on its way to toppling Space and Castle for a place in the top three of longest running themes. 

The original X-Wing Fighter set from 1999
Fueled by the fandom of adults, the resurgence of interest in kids spawned by the prequels and television series as well as just generally appealing models, the Star Wars line has been phenomenally successful.  It has spawned new pieces, building techniques and price points.  The success of minifigure based sets within the Star Wars theme heavily influenced the shift towards "minifigurecentric" products that now dominate Lego's product line.  The theme has now settled into the general pattern of the core 4 with the revamping of sets every 3-6 years (in town you see it with police stations etc. and now we see it with all the classic ships: Millennium Falcons, X-Wings, etc.).  With the recent announcement that the license has been extended for another 10 years it is a safe bet that we will be seeing sets from the galaxy far far away for long long time.

Second to Star Wars in terms of longevity is the Bionicle line.  These toys were the first in a new genre dubbed by Lego as "constraction" (construction + action).  Relying heavily on Technic type pieces this theme was fueled by an original storyline. 

The original group of Toas from the first Bionicle product line
Bolstering sales during a very weak time in the company's history Bionicle is credited with almost singlehandedly saving Lego from a takeover.  No longer in production (and replaced by the far inferior Hero Factory line) these sets are a niche favorite with AFOL's and one of the defining childhood toys for a whole generation of kids. 

Harry Potter
Though not continuous in its run, Harry Potter has been around almost as long as Star Wars.

The original Hogwart's Castle from 2001
It was Lego's second foray into the world of licensing and is responsible for temporarily displacing castle for a time.  Sets now range across all of the books/movies though with the final installment of the movie franchise having come and gone I am guessing that this theme is now gone for good. 

Before the Indiana Jones license Lego filled the swashbuckling archeologist niche with an original character: Jonny Thunder. 

2003's Dragon Fortress, from the last of the original Adventurer's subthemes
Eventually spanning 4 sub-themes (5 if you count the Pharaoh's Quest theme from last year as a re-boot, which I do), including desert, jungle, dino island and orient.

Originating in the early 90s the Aquazone theme was one of the first major deviations from the core four.  Originally pitting two opposing faction against one another (Aquasharks and Aquanauts) the theme went on to include an additional 3 sub themes (Aquaraiders I, Hydronauts and Stingrays) before being discontinued. 

The massive Neptune Discovery Lab, the Aquanaut's undersea base
Lego made additional forays into the ocean depths with the Divers theme and Mission Deep Sea which was part of the Alpha Team series.  Aquazone was officially rebooted a couple of years ago with Aquaraiders II which saw man face off agains giant sea creatures.  The theme was, however, short lived and no new installments have come out in the last few years. 

Overall the branching out from the core 4 has been, by and large, fantastic.  Lego's product line has included some truly spectacular themes as a result of that deviation and the company has been the better because of it.  Certain themes like the Wild West and Bionicle have achieved revered status and there are many who lament their discontinuation even to this day.  There have definitely been some colossal failures (my older readers will remember Galidor *shudder*) but the good has definitely outweighed the bad!