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by Artemis

You've got to hand it to Attack of the Clones - the prequels may have been lacking in plot, pacing, dialogue, acting, direction, pretty much all the building blocks of cinematic drama, but when it came time to just line up a couple of armies' worth of clones and droids and have at it in full-scale warfare, the movie finally brought its A-game to the table.

The intimidating All-Terrain Tactical Enforcer is an assault vehicle that offers support to the Republic's clone army, obliterating threats to friendly infantry and reinforcing tactical control. Wading through the savage din of battle, the walker's sure-footed, six-legged stance allows it to cross crevices and climb otherwise impassably rugged slopes. Its massive turret-mounted missile launcher bombards fixed emplacements or smites slow-moving aircraft, while six laser cannon turrets swivel quickly to devastate faster line-of-sight targets. In the event of a close assault by enemy infantry, an AT-TE can dismount its two squads of troops to enter the fray and secure the immediate surroundings.

In other words, it's a tank with passenger seats. Monstrous as the AT-ATs were in Empire Strikes Back, there's no getting around the fact that they weren't the best-designed war machines in the history of vehicular belligerence. To paraphrase General O'Neill, the AT-AT is a weapon of terror; it's made to intimidate the enemy; the AT-TE is a weapon of war, made to kill the enemy. It may not be as scary as the f&%*-off big walkers that followed it, but with its broad footprint, its low target profile, its quick deployment avenues and its 360° defensive fire arcs, it makes a whole lot more sense.

The AT-TEs are manufactured by Rothana Heavy Engineering, but since they're in a galaxy far, far away and the shipping costs from there to here would be ruinous, Lego have stepped up with a Terran-made version. The set consists of 798 pieces, and took me a bit over two hours to build (accompanied by Star Blazers DVDs, now that the Tour de France is over - Lego's fun and all, but you've got to have something on in the background while you work). Stage one is the basic chassis, starting with the floor and building up the central structure that becomes the carrying handle - since this'll wind up taking the whole (not inconsiderable) weight of the vehicle when you pick it up, it's very solidly built, with two one-piece D-frames anchored securely into the underbelly. Unlike the real AT-TE, which has a concertina segment in the middle allowing it to turn its "body," the Lego one is a solid piece from front to back, so there's no joints to worry about when carting it around by the handle.

Next comes the legs - six of them, with regular legs fore and aft on each side, and two powerful drive legs mounted in the middle. These are almost symmetrical - the forward legs have one angle-faced 2x1 block each that the rear ones lack, so don't go assuming they're identical or you'll get to the main turret and wonder why there aren't enough blocks for the pivot housing. That aside, you can do both kinds of legs simultaneously, just mirroring the designs as necessary, if you want to - the instruction booklet goes through each leg one by one.

None of the legs are really articulated - the fore and aft legs swivel at the top of their length, but they have elastic bands holding them up so they don't droop when you lift the vehicle, and when it's on the ground those legs take its weight anyway. The drive legs, ironically, are more or less ornamental - they pivot at the "hip," and due to the joint being angled they can be moved forward and backward a little way, for display purposes if you want, without their feet losing contact with the ground. All six feet have loose ankle pivots; they're bottom-heavy, so they hang in their proper position when you pick the walker up.

Once the basic structure is in one piece and standing on its own, the cockpit goes on in two stages, forward and rear modules - the rear would be where the spotter sits, if the set had room for one. This is also where the stickers start coming into use, being applied to the sides of the cockpit to replicate the hull markings, and semi-transparent stickers over clear blocks duplicate the slanted viewports on the sides of the driver's capsule. Incidentally, none of the set's stickers are applied to more than one block, so all's well on that score.

Once the cockpit is in place the forward laser cannons go on. These use a new piece (to me, anyway), a balljoint unit composed of a housing mounted on a 2x2 plate, containing a two-piece ball of identical hemispheres, each with a Technic-style plug mount in its centre (which the shaft of the laser cannons attach to). These are quite nifty, and could have all sorts of uses if you're using this set's parts on other projects. The upper cannons are mounted on armour plates which incorporate triggers for the forward-firing spring-loaded launchers. After they're in place, a bit of interior detail goes on, in the form of some kind of power generator, or something, that fits into the forward crew bay, behind the seats.

Finally we get to the hull armour. Both front and rear main plates are symmetrical - left-to-right, not front-to-back - so they can be assembled in tandem. They attach via hinges to a lower armour plate, which in turn fits onto a swivel joint on the chassis - this lets you angle the armour properly, and cleverly-designed pieces underneath the armour, and on top of the leg housings, slide together to ensure the perfect fit is made. The rear of the vehicle is covered by an angled plate sporting two more ball-mounted laser cannons, a removable troop bay (with another of those power thingies) goes inside, and then both halves of the top armour go on (with their various hull-markings stickers attached), hinged at the vehicle centre, with the primary turret mounted on a sturdy 4x4 rotating plate. And there you go - stick that in your separatist movement and smoke it, boys.

Not including the protruding weapon barrels, the walker measures a touch over 15½" from end to end - it's a big, impressive-looking construct, ideal for display if you're a Lego enthusiast (and you all should be). As mentioned, the drive legs can be posed - as well as that all six laser cannons have the full range of their balljoints, the railgun turret can swivel 360° and tilt up and down, both hull sections open so figures can be put inside, the rear troop bay (seating four) can be removed, and the cockpit hinges open at the front, allowing the driver's capsule to be slid out like a little sled. The handle, when not in use, drops down into the middle of the vehicle - it's got pegs keeping it from dropping too far, and is easily extended. If, for whatever reason, you don't fancy the handle, it's perfectly stable to carry the vehicle by lifting from underneath the body, in between the legs.

Custom pieces are quite limited - as I said, the balljoint is new to me, and rather ideal for representing the AT-TE's turrets, but it's a piece that'll have countless applications, so that shouldn't count as a negative. The use of stickers and printed pieces doesn't extend to anything too specific - two 2x2 flat-top discs bear the "spoked wheel" emblem of the Republic (later to lose two of its spokes and become the Imperial emblem), but everything else is abstract shapes which would look at home on any space-based construct. The only really limited pieces I noticed were in the feet, the soles of which are pretty obviously AT-AT feet - the round pad surrounded by four square "toes" - but even that could find plenty of uses.

The set includes five figures - well, five and a half. The "half" is Rotto, a pudgy little green slug thing that's evidently Jabba the Hutt's son, or something along those lines - he's a 100% custom piece, a solid body with plug-in arms that swivel at the shoulders. The others are all standard Lego figures with the usual custom helmets/hairpieces and whatnot to augment their paint. First up is Anakin Skywalker, galactic hero and first-class idiot - he's got a black body with a printed robe design, brown sleeves and black hands, and a fairly convincing impression of his thinking-he's-clever smirk, plus the scar across his right brow, beneath a tousled hairdo. Next is his apprentice (poor girl) Ahsoka Tano, a cute little Togruta who Anakin apparently nicknames "Snips"; we can only hope she nicknames him "Jerkwad" to even things out. She's from the Aayla Secura Strip-Jedi school, wearing tight pants and a wrap-around bra instead of the usual robes - since she's quite young (about 14, it seems) her "torso lines" are kept to a minimum, giving her the impression of a mid-adolescent figure. There's no paint on her back, incidentally, making it look like her bra is a stick-on job - I guess Anakin's too busy whining about his destiny to tell her "No Padawan of mine is leaving the temple wearing that!" Both have the standard Lego lightsaber hilt - Anakin's blade is blue, Ahsoka's green (though it's a rather yellowish neon green).

Since neither of them - or Rotto, for that matter - are likely to be bothered driving themselves anywhere, the AT-TE gets two clones to man it. First up is a standard Clone Trooper, in Phase I armour, the one that's more Jango Fett than Stormtrooper. He doesn't have any designated accessories, although the rear troop bay of the vehicle contains two long-stock blaster rifles he could use. Accompanying him is a special character Clone, Commander Rex, distinguished from his fellows by blue sleeves and blue markings on his armour and helmet, and several add-on pieces: a "skirt" (which immobilizes his legs), a shoulder mantle, and your choice of a rangefinder doohickey or a visor for his helmet - the packaging shows him with either depending on the photo, but Wookieepedia indicates that he has the rangerfinder. He also has two short blaster pistols. The AT-TE set incudes two complete sets of these Clone Trooper add-ons - as well as all of the above, each includes two little missile thingies, the purpose of which I haven't a clue.

While it might have been nice had the set included a full complement of troopers - four more, to fill the troop bay while Anakin and Ahsoka sit up front in the passenger bay (the real AT-TE takes 20, 10 in each bay, by the way) - that's really just being greedy, and if you're into army-building that much, there are Clone Trooper packs to buy. But it is a slight gripe that Rex - evidently a character of some import to the storyline of Clone Wars - has to either be the driver or gunner of the AT-TE just to keep it fully manned, which in turn means removing the "skirt" piece so that he can sit down. One more Clone can't have hurt, I'd say.

Lastly, the AT-TE needs something to fight - and, as if to underscore how the whole war was a set-up that the Separatists were set up to lose in the end, this armoured gun-toting behemoth is up again a single battle droid on a STAP skimmer. It's a simple little model, but well-designed, and built into it is a stand (composed of a disc base and "cannon" neck, both in clear plastic) allowing it to zip around, until the awesomely beweaponed battle tank puts it out of its misery. Sucks to be you, Separatists.

Undermanned though it may be, the AT-TE is a great Lego set. The build is enjoyable and quite clever, there's a wide variety of useful blocks if you want to take it apart and build other stuff, and as a display piece it's quite visually stunning. Best of all, the inclusion of Ahsoka in this set means you don't have to buy the Twilight to get her - which is great, since that ship is the ugliest piece of junk ever to infest the Star Wars galaxy. This set is terrific, and has me seriously contemplating getting more of the Clone Army ground machines (the Gunship is pretty much inevitable - it's got the yummy Asajj Ventress, after all).


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