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Ahsoka's Starfighter & Vulture Droid

Lego
by Artemis

I'm not a fan of store exclusives, especially when the store in question has been muscled out of Sydney by Toys Я Us, and the nearest remaining outlet is so far away that you have to go on a diesel train to get there because it's beyond the reach of the rail network's electrical grid. Mind you, there are plenty of worse examples of the practice - at least when you're after Lego (particularly Star Wars Lego), you can be reasonably sure that when you get back to civilization, you'll have a good toy to show for your troubles.

Using her wits, piloting skills and Jedi training, Ahsoka flies her Clone Wars starfighter in a daring space battle against Separatist droids.

This is a set that's attracted some amount of criticism, due to a combination of cost (a perpetual source of low-grade grumbling from Lego fans - though, again, at least you get a good product for your dosh, compared to other overpriced toylines, which is most of them these days) and re-use of earlier designs. Both the Delta-7B Aethersprite "Jedi Starfighter" and the Vulture droid have been sold in previous sets - the Aethersprite solo in 2002 with Obi-Wan, and in 2008 piloted by Anakin, and the Separatist Vulture droid no less than three times, with increasing levels of complexity, in 1999, 2005 (paired with an Eta-2 Revenge of the Sith-style Jedi fighter), and 2007 (in Phantom Menace Trade Federation colours, paired with a Naboo N-1 fighter). The buzz droids first featured in a 2005 set, and of coure Ahsoka's appeared in several Clone Wars sets too - all that's really new is the astromech. So is Lego just being lazy? OAFE's crack team of investigative journalists will find out. (Hey, if Fox News can claim what they do is "journalism", so can we - at least we've seen the stuff we talk about.)

Ahsoka's starfighter is the headline act, so let's look at that first. The ship is based heavily on the 2008 model, but stops short of being a carbon copy. Colours aside, there are aesthetic variations in the design and decoration of the wings, and most notably the central hull is larger and heavier, with large angled bricks (pre-painted with Ahsoka's "Jedi star" hull art) extending forward almost to the tip of the nose, where the earlier model sported a flatter nose, with proper bricks only appearing further back where the droid compartment began. The new model also makes use of more stickers - the tail is left blank, but along with the printed nose pieces, stickers adorn panels of the wings, and the sides of the cockpit, augmenting the white patterns provided by surface bricks, and adding in Ahsoka's own lime green fighter trim. A shortcoming of these stickers is that, being printed on transparencies, the white areas applied to red bricks aren't as pure white as the actual white bricks - a slight colour inconsistency turns up when they're side-by-side, although it's far from disfiguring. The whole thing is a bit over 10" long, larger than it looks at a glance.

The fighter's workings, such as they are, have also been reworked: gone is the "droid ejection system", which never worked anyway (I rebuilt my 2008 Aethersprite without it), and in its place is a sliding section which allows both flick-fire missiles beneath the wings to be fired at the push of a single prong at the rear of the fighter. Sadly, this doesn't work much better than the droid ejector did - these plain flick-fire missiles rely on being hit just right to get some proper flight, and the twin-firing mechanism is just too imprecise to achieve that, so they don't so much fire as drop. Ah well, better luck next time - at least there's no negative impact on the ship's looks.

Crew consists of Ahsoka - identical to the minifigures in previous sets (the AT-TE, the Twilight (no, not the sparkly vampire one) and the Republic Y-Wing), armed with the usual green-bladed lightsaber - and her astromech, R7-A7. Here, as with the starfighter itself, there have been some changes made: previous Lego astromechs suffered from the paint apps on their heads being applied top-down, meaning that the detail all ended up on the top of the dome, while the side missed out. R7's head detailing comes right down to the edge of the dome, just like it should be, and thus we finally have the definitive model for Lego astromechs, which hopefully all subsequent ones will follow. (Contemporary sets, like the current Death Star playset and the new Tantive IV, also feature the new-look astromechs.)

Moving on to the bad guys, the Vulture droid is very much a copy of the 2007 Trade Federation, just coloured in Separatist blue and grey rather than the earlier brown; there are a couple of minor cosmetic differences, but nothing worth noting. The wing assemblies are mounted on hinges allowing them to swing down and serve as legs for the droid's walker mode - the wings themselves can be closed or opened, and swivelled on their long axis, but due to the small size of the model there's no room for any other joints, so they can't angle their legs the way you see them doing in the films and TV show. The head is mounted on a twin hinge so it can crane forwards in walk mode, and can swivel from side to side - moving the head back to flight position locks the swivel so it doesn't flop around. The droid has two flick-fire missiles, and a selection of stickers provide hull markings on the fuselage and details on the head. The Vulture isn't an overachiever by any means, but it does its job well enough, and fits in with the larger Hyena bomber very nicely.

The buzz droids - putting aside how much I detest the blasted things for eating up 90% of the screen time of what should've been the most spectacular capital ship battle ever committed to film - suffer from being very small, and having a lot of detail to cram in. In pure accuracy terms they fall pretty short of the mark, with the bodies having to be much larger than normal simply to accommodate any kind of design, leaving the twin shell domes which dominated the original design more like add-ons here. With no room for any kind of spider legs or sophisticated toolkit, the droids attach to their prey by a standard pair of droid legs, and sport a single circular saw. I can't say I feel to harshly towards them, since a Lego buzz droid to scale with the rest of the set - or even vaguely to scale (they're about as tall as a minifigure) - is a practical impossibility, but even if I didn't dislike the droids to begin with, I doubt I'd make much use of them; they've been tucked away in the back ranks of my Lego Separatist droid army, and there I expect them to stay.

The price of Lego sets varies a little - there's a rough correlation between price tag and brick count, but since bricks can be all sorts of sizes, and sets can be compact or sprawling, it's not uncommon to find a set that seems small for its cost. This is one such - it's not extortionate, but there are better-value Star Wars Lego sets out there, if you're not collecting the whole line. If you are, though, or if you're an Ahsoka fan, don't be disheartened - this isn't the rip-off its critics may claim. It's no bargain, but the redesigned Aethersprite is quality work, the Vulture remains a good quality small toy, and the improved astromech is a pleasant surprise. If you just want one Star Wars set, look to some of the others, but if you have a particular reason to want this one, don't hesitate to snap it up. Hopefully you won't have to go as far as I did for it.

-- 11/28/09


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