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Echo Base

by Artemis

It's a funny thing - the movie was called Star Wars (later "A New Hope," but to all right-thinking fans it will forever be just "Star Wars"), and yet there was a distinct lack of sizeable battles going on. A few Jawas get toasted, the Falcon blows up a wing of TIE Fighters, and the big finale is a kind of aerial bar fight between a couple of dozen guys at most. That's not what I call a battle. Hoth, now, that is what I call a battle.

Imperial forces are invading the Rebels' secret base on the ice planet Hoth! As Han Solo leaves for a mission on his tauntaun, snowtroopers attack with their heavy repeating blaster. It's up to the Rebel Alliance troopers to fight back with their missile-firing defense turret and trench with figure-flinging battle action.

This set's called "Echo Base," but it must be acknowledged, Echo Base was a wee bit bigger than this - it's more like an Echo Base Expansion Pack (at least it's not randomized), but that's no bad thing. Lego has favoured Hoth with several releases over the 10 years it's been giving Star Wars its best, and they can't all be giant boxes. This small set is a little vignette of the Battle of Hoth, a neat assortment of figures and set pieces on its own, or a decent addition to any previous Hoth sets you might already own.

The big claim to fame here is the first ever Lego tauntaun, a cute beastie just a fraction over 3" tall, with the standard Lego beast-of-burden notch in its back allowing a saddle piece to be plugged in. The tauntaun's been redesigned a little, naturally enough to fit in with Lego's figure style, with the surfaces smoothed down, and several areas like the forelimbs, snout, and belly displaying distinct blocky corners rather than perfectly curved forms. The legs don't move, but the arms swivel at the shoulders, and since they're separate pieces the horns can also twirl around, if that's what you want. There's a soft bridle piece, sized to fit snugly in the grip of the rider's Lego hands, with the bit split in two for easy insertion into the tauntaun's open mouth. One odd oversight is that the set doesn't include spare grey bricks to fill in the back cavity if the saddle isn't used - not that you'd need an extensive collection to come up with the necessary pieces elsewhere, but Lego normally includes the extras with horses and so on, so it's odd that they didn't here. Oh, and you can't open up the belly, but that's more understandable given the design.

Besides their favourite mode of transport/winter bedding, the Rebels also get a trench and turret, connected by a flexible power cable. The trench is (obviously) actually a raised parapet, but let's pretend - it's built from various sloped white bricks that give it, in its blocky way, a plausible packed-snow look, and has room for two figures to stand inside. They do so with one foot on solid "ground", the other on a tilting platform which when pressed abruptly will, as the description says, fling the figures, or at least dislodge them dramatically. (Obviously it's to represent the trench being shot at; it's weird the way the description makes it sound like it's an inbuilt feature of the trench itself. Maybe they're like the self-detonating panels Starfleet likes to use for its bridge stations.) There's also an equipment locker on one side, which can be opened, or you can just assume it represents the turret's power unit or something.

Which brings us to the turret itself. A previous set ("Hoth Base") included one of these too, but Lego's designers rarely seem to re-use instructions and take the afternoon off, so this is a different model - same height, but slimmer, and with a cylindrical "body" rather than octagonal. The body hinges open to allow a figure to be placed inside - I'd have thought the whole point of a turret like that was that you could operate it remotely from the nice safe trench - and besides the ornamental laser cannon, includes two flick missiles, which are fired via a simple twin rod arrangement built into the back. The hatch can also open, so if you've got a suicidal Lego Rebel he can go up there and make a target of himself.

The set includes three Rebels: Han Solo and two anonymous Rebel soldiers in winter gear. Han is sporting the usual blue jacket and brown trousers (the Hoth Base set included one of him too), but also gets a special piece of headgear to represent the thick hood of his jacket, which also extends some way down his chest to make it all look like one piece of clothing. The Rebels are identical, and unlike Han's smirk they just have the usual Lego smiling face - their helmets feature a new visor design though, more angular than the kind used for previous Hoth troopers (which isn't a drawback when mixing them - with the Rebellion being, you know, a rebellion, it's entirely plausible to mix different kinds of gear; only the Empire can be bothered to go in for standardization). Both troopers carry blasters (one short, one long) and backpacks, while Han gets a pair of binoculars - his tauntaun saddle also carries a short blaster.

Up against them are a pair of snowtroopers, identical to those seen in earlier sets - their main feature, structurally speaking, is their combined helmet and backpack, and since the facemask has open eye holes the heads inside are plain black rather than detailed. One trooper has a short blaster, while the other gets to wield the big heavy machine gun blaster, a small but well designed piece with a clear base providing support while three antennae pretend to be its legs, and a black cable (solid, not soft) connecting to a battery pack.

Overall it's not an especially impressive set, but at its price you wouldn't expect it to be - it's cheap and cheerful, easy to assemble and fun to play with, and a good addition to any Lego Star Wars collection.

-- 08/02/09

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