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Republic Cruiser

by Artemis

The opening of Star Wars makes a big impact - the planet slowly looms into view, then this little zippy corvette (vessel, not car) races across the screen, and in pursuit comes the big, really big, massive Star Destroyer. That's a moment that lasts in the memory. The Phantom Menace harked back to it by opening with its own version of the Corellian Corvette - which was equally ill-fated. The lesson is clear: when John Williams's big opening fanfare dies down, do not be on a Corellian cruiser. It's bad luck.

The direct predecessor to the well-armed Blockade Runner Corvette, the peaceful Republic Cruiser was assembled in the great orbital shipyards of Corellia, and serves as a testament to the quality and fame of Corellian spacecraft design. The Radiant VII is a veteran of 34 years in service of the diplomatic corps of Coruscant itself, capital world of the Galactic Republic. The ship has endured many adventures, bringing Jedi Knights, ambassadors and diplomats to trouble spots around the galaxy on missions of security and vital political significance. Its interchangeable salon pods are well-armored and insulated against any kind of eavesdropping. In this safe haven, critical negotiations can take place and crises can be averted.

Like a lot of things in Episode I, the Radiant VII didn't really do much - show up, land, explode. At least the blockade runner got a couple of shots off before it got captured. But it's a big starship, and there are few enough of those about as Lego sets these days - mind you, with all of Star Wars' recent capital ship output being either Star Destroyers with extra bits stuck on, or misshapen Separatist lumps that got designed on someone's lunch break, it's no surprise.

Still, while it may have had all the storyline use of "You walk into the local tavern, and the barman says he's got an adventure for you," it's a pretty cool-looking ship, the Blockade Runner's ancestor all decked out in consular red, red being the colour of diplomacy in Star Wars, like the UN's light blue. I guess they figure with a series with "wars" in the name, a ship hoping for diplomatic immunity might as well be red to start with, otherwise you'll have to keep washing it to get the bloodstains off. Lego duplicates the SS Optimistic's design fairly faithfully, capturing all the key elements: the striking colour scheme, the angular center section, the three big engines at the back, the salon pod (being the shape of the Blockade Runner's bridge module turned sideways), and the big fancy communications array. It's a time-consuming build, at 919 pieces - put The Phantom Menace in the DVD player (it's best watched with only half your attention anyway) and get to work, and you're assured a couple of hours of enjoyable construction, with no excessively fiddly or annoyingly flimsy sections to trap the unwary.

The finished model is about 20" long, and rests easily on its four landing legs - it's weighted more towards the stern, but you have to nudge it pretty solidly to get it to tip that way, and falling over sideways is virtually impossible unless you forget to assemble the legs properly. There's an impressive array of detail built into the design, including the white markings incorporated into both the top and side construction of the hull, and pretty much every kind of radar dish imaginable in the comms array, of which the central spire can be rotated manually by turning the bottom end of it, which extends out beneath the hull. One minor disappointment, I found, is the engines - the cylinders themselves are big and powerful-looking, but within each one is just a little 2x2 clear red disc representing the glow, which makes the energy output of the engines look pretty weedy compared to the mass of the ship they're pushing. Also back here is the only area where, by the looks of it, the Lego designers decided they couldn't figure out how to do the ship's design: the "wing" the engines are mounted on is only meant to extend back as far as their fronts, with a pair of separate wings mounted further back biplane-style between the engines, but for stability reasons the Lego version just has a single wing extending back the full length of the engines.

The center section is oversized compared to the real thing, but that's deliberate, since it contains the majority of the vessel's play features. The whole dorsal hull lifts off, both angled "roof" pieces as one unit, revealing the interior spaces of the slanted sections - cramped, since the "floor" is at an angle necessitating a smaller flat floor inside, but still containing a lot of bits and bobs. To starboard is a console with a seat for one crewman, and a space for an astromech droid; to port a kind of equipment bay, containing a fold-out one-person skimmer, and a storage locker which can be lifted free of the ship - contents, a pair of binoculars and a blaster. The skimmer is entirely Lego's invention, not part of any plan for the actual vessel (not that I'm aware of, anyway), but it's a logical idea that a large ship like this would have speeders or somesuch thing for its crew's use when landed.

Deviating even more from Lucas's original vision, this baby's packing heat - in the movie it's allegedly unarmed, trusting in its diplomatic status to protect it (much good that did), but the Lego version's more pragmatic, and conceals twin laser cannons behind the front panels of the centre section. Levers on the sides of the hull push them forward, and the panels swing out of the way to give them a free line of fire.

The cockpit also opens, but since the hull spine is only four studs wide there is of course only room for a single pilot, rather than the two side-by-side that the real thing featured. There's not a lot up there, just room for the figure, and a control panel. The main reason, besides the lack of width, is that a lot of the "neck" of the ship is taken up with a mechanism that allows the salon pod to detach. The pod hooks securely beneath the cockpit and neck, but pushing a lever at the rest of the cockpit slides the whole thing forwards, and allows the pod to fall free - in the real ship it's only the front half of the angled cylinder that's detachable, but it is a proper feature of the vessel, intended to serve as a combination of swappable environment module for diplomats requiring non-human atmospheres or conditions, and lifeboat in the event of the main ship being disabled in an attack. The interior of the pod is pretty sparse - with the curved shell providing no "floor" for anything to be attached to, all there is is a pair of chairs mounted on the central column, with the top half of the pod sliding upwards off the pole to open it up.

The set includes five figures, two of which are obviously Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. But for the heads and lightsabers (green for Qui-Gon, blue for Obi-Wan) they're the same figure, decked out in the Jedi Order's standard Tatooine Dirt Farmer uniform, with flexible capes and matching hoods. Both faces are quite characterful by Lego standards - I'm not saying you'd recognise them if you saw the head pieces mounted on a generic body, but in context you can definitely see Liam Neeson's level stare and Ewan MacGregor's youthful determination.

The other three figures are the vessel's crew, two officers and an astromech. The officers - "Republic Captain" and "Republic Pilot" according to Lego - share the same body, but if you wanted to suspend a bit of disbelief you could say that the jacket makes it difficult to tell if the Captain has boobs, so she may be Maoi Madakor, the Captain seen in the movie. The astromech, R2-R7, is a green model that Lego pretty much just made up, though Wookieepedia says that it's been listed in some encyclopedia or other, so someone's probably busily working a trilogy of novels detailing its life story as we speak.

Given my way, I'd have ditched the slide-out laser cannons to free up the interior space they take up, and made the inside of the centre section a conference room or something - it'd be fitting for the ship, and the salon pod really isn't anything more than storage space for two figures. But while Lego hasn't done that, that have still provided a lot of versatility and play value, and as a display model the Radiant VII is big and impressive. It's a 2007 set, but - possibly because most kids don't recognise it, since it was only in 30 seconds of one movie - is still easy to find, and if you feel like building something big and Star Warsy, it's a good choice.

-- 06/21/09

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