According to the Holocron database (Lucasfilm's official in-house continuity archive), there are five levels of Star Wars canon - G, T, C, S and N, in descending order of strength. The Sentinel-class landing craft (a.k.a. "the one that looks like a chunky shuttle) originated in the C-canon, from the Shadows of the Empire game, but is one of a handful of C-canon elements to subsequently be promoted to G-canon - the movies - by its inclusion in the Special Edition of Episode IV. If you knew any of that without looking it up on Wookieepedia, congratulations, you're more of a Star Wars geek than I am.
The Sentinel-class landing craft was a transport used by the Empire to carry troops, small vehicles and supplies. With its folding wing configuration and matching cockpit module, the Sentinel was similar to the Lambda-class shuttle.
Both vehicles shared the same manufacturers. The landing craft's exterior, however, was encased in armor plating 25% heavier than the armor of a Lambda. In its usual configuration, it could carry approximately six Stormtrooper squads, 12 E-web heavy repeating blasters, and 6 74-Z speeder bikes. The Sentinel was often used to transport troops between Star Destroyers and planets. The vehicle also made an excellent atmospheric transport and many Imperial garrisons had one of these vehicles. Several Sentinels were used on the desert world Tatooine, where they deployed Sandtroopers and their dewback mounts to search for the missing Death Star plans.
Yup, it's a big shuttle - I think I may have shot at one once in N64 Rogue Squadron, but that's as far as I go. But there's no such thing as bad Lego, so I bought it anyway - my Lego Rebels needed some Lego Imperials to shoot at, and I wasn't going to let them take pot-shots at Juno's Rogue Shadow, was I? And I'll admit, regardless of knowing next to nothing about all of Star Wars's Expanded Universe clutter (nor caring much), it's neat to see Lego kits like this representing vehicles other than those we've already seen a zillion times in untold viewings of the movies.
This kit - #7659, if you ever paid attention to the serial numbers - is a mid-size one, at 473 pieces; I can't be bothered counting, so I'm just going off the Lego website's tally.
It's an interesting build though, with several clever bits of Lego engineering buried beneath its shiny white hull - in fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the most challenging build I've encountered in my recent history of buying every damned Star Wars Lego kit I can find (damn you, Clone Wars!). Not that it's difficult, as such - if I'd been paying more attention to the instructions, and not so much to the Star Blazers DVD I had on while I was working (not to mention stopping to take photos every now and then), I wouldn't have had any issues, but it's still worth noting.
Stage one is the crew bay, which gets built fairly logically from the ground up. This incorporates the mechanisms for the missile launchers and bomb bays, but both are easy step-by-step constructs (especially the missiles, which are just the usual spring-loaded launcher with a fancy trigger mechanism built around them). The bay's top is actually part of the shuttle's main spine, so that's left off for now.
Next up is the spine,
incorporating the engines and the wing rotation mechanism. This is the tricky bit, since the mechanism sits between the engine cylinders, and thus has to be partially assembled on its own, then slotted into place, then completed in situ, sometimes in rather close confines. In order to synchronise the angles of the eventual wings the cylinders are locked in place early on, and the bolts later removed once the connecting gears are complete. The rotating mechanism, and the troop bay locks, are held in place by various J-frames mounted on the central spine, which is a series of technic bars locked together for strength - it's good enough to hold the eventual weight of the vehicle.
Once that's done - and in my case, dismantled and redone, but in my defence the awesome Saturn battle with the Comet Empire fleet was on at the time - the majority of the shuttle gets built, though by this stage all the mechanics are done, and the rest is just ornamental. The cockpit is a separate module that clips into place, and is actually free-tilting if you prod it from beneath, then the wings - plugging into the engine cylinders - and tail, and the top of the troop bay. The complete shuttle rests on two stands attached to the bottom of the bay.
The final vehicle is a lot closer in general shape to the Lambdaญญ-class shuttle - that's the one from Return of the Jedi - than a real Sentinel, which has a much flatter body,
but that's necessary to accommodate Lego figures inside it, since the real thing is at a far greater scale. The cockpit canopy is a neat smoky grey, largely obscuring the black-clad Imperial pilot inside, which is a nice contrast to the white hull - although there's no opening mechanism, which is a bit of an irk; you just have to pull the canopy off whole. The upper hull can be swung open (in three sections per side) to reveal the troop bay and missile launcher stations within, and in the rear the Lambda-style engines are represented by transparent blue discs mounted within an oval cavity - not an ideal reproduction of the curved shuttle engine design, but it'll do for a part not likely to be on display much.
The main feature of the vehicle is the wing mechanism, operated by a small knob beneath the engine outlet - the gearing jumps sizes inside the mechanism, so turning the knob results in the wings slowly swinging up or down, rather than flopping about too quickly. Speaking of flopping about, though, there is an unfortunate bit of play in the mechanism, which with the weight of the wings
acting on it - they're not huge, but there's no inner counterbalance - means that at the top of their travel, they tend to tilt over the vertical and just fall in to rest against the tip of the "tail."
Besides the cosmetic cannons beneath the chin of the cockpit, the shuttle is still well-armed. The twin missile launchers contained within the troop bay are fired by pressing triggers disguised as two of the four cannons on the forward hull. At the rear of the bay is the bomb mechanism, activated by pressing on a red switch mounted on a rubber 2x1 beam, so that they bounce back into position rather than remaining "open." The ordnance consists of little fluorescent bomblets, loaded from inside the vehicle - there are two in each bomb bay, and unless you're quick on the trigger, they'll tend to both fall out at once.
Since its main function is to move troops around, the Sentinel carries a couple - literally a couple. In addition to the TIE pilot steering the crate, and two Stormtroopers whose job seems to be operating the launchers, the shuttle has seating for two Sandtroopers - standard Stormtrooper figures with orange shoulder pauldrons
attached at the neck, much like the capes you get on other figures, just angled to one side. Sticking to the stated "six squad" capacity, I guess that means each "squad" consists of one-third of a soldier. The Sandtroopers have a long-stock blaster rifle each, held (rather loosely - it's a good idea to put them in after positioning the figures themselves) in floor-mounted peg tiles in front of their seats, and each of the gunners has a short-stock blaster stored alongside their launcher. The pilot doesn't have anything to defend himself with - harsh language it is, then.
It's a fun, mildly challenging build, but the final product is a bit confusing. If you take off the chunky landing legs and fit a proper stand to it (so it can be displayed with its wings down)
it'll make a nice display model, but only really if you have a collection of Star Wars Lego already - it's a bit too obscure to pass on its own. It's a troop ship, and five figures isn't a bad tally for a kit this size, but it's by no means an army-builder set. And while it's got a variety of play features - including the usual Lego spring-loaded missiles, which are a personal favourite, since they're actually quite strong, rather than the limp excuses for launchers you get on most toys nowadays - again its obscure origin counts against it, so far as being a toy goes; you just wonder why they didn't go for the Shuttle Tyderian instead, and leave the Sentinel to be a variant built by hardcore fans who'd probably have the spare parts to do the conversion anyway. Still, it's a good set - if, for whatever reason, you wanted an Imperial troopship, it won't disappoint.