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Star Wars Minis

by yo go re

When Lego first decided to branch out to licensed properties, they turned their attention to what Jill Wilfert, senior brand manager, called "the gold standard in licensing," Star Wars. They began the line with a nice mixture of new and classic items and quickly proved that they could handle a line of this caliber.

The sets were (mostly) scaled to the standard Lego mini-fig size, and sets ranging from Darth Maul's speeder to the Millennium Falcon provided a wide variety of price points. There were some complaints that a licensed line with a built-in storyline went against the imaginative free-play that Legos had always embodied, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The only problem with the line was its intended scale. The Millennium Falcon, easily one of the most popular ships, was a bit too small for the figures, yet still too expensive for most buyers. One of my favorite vehicles, the AT-ST "chicken walker" was undersized and only came with Chewbacca, not any Imperial troopers. And there was absolutely no way that any of the gigantic Star Destroyers would ever be even remotely feasible at that scale.

Lego has dealt with their price and size problems in a very smart manner: by splitting the line. While there are still "full-sized" sets coming out, complete with more Lego Star Wars people (and man oh man, do I want those Jabba the Hutt sets), they've also branched out into Star Wars minis.

The minis are approximately 1/100th scale, and each built with only about a dozen pieces. Since the completed ships fit in the palm of your hand, this really opens up the possibility for the larger vehicles. Can you picture an AT-AT scaled to Lego-person size? It's have to be humongous. Scaled to fit with the mini sets, though, it would only be a few inches tall. Imagine a Milleniumm Falcon that fit on a CD case. Or setting aside three feet of shelf space for a Star Destroyer.

To build interest in this line, Lego released a promotional set: a mini TIE figher. Limited to the first 5,000 respondants through the Star Wars fanclub, the TIE will not be available at retail. Those were quickly snapped up, so anyone wanting one now will have to search pretty far afield. Made from only 12 pieces, the TIE is only 2" tall and 1¼" deep. Too cool!

The first series of minis is now hitting store shelves, and it covers a nice variety of the films. In fact, with four sets released, four movies are represented. The sets have a great new packaging. Rather than the thin plastic bag or plain cardboard box in which most small Lego sets arrive, the Star Wars Minis come in a molded plastic clamshell.

As you know, I normally complain no end about how stupid clamshell packaging is. In fact, clamshells won the first ever Worst ToY award. So how can I now be praising them? Well, it's because Lego remembered what McFarlane Toys and Marvel Legends forgot: the point of a clamshell isn't to permanently entomb the toy; a clamshell is supposed to be resealable, so you can display your figures and still have a handy storage solution. A clamshell should snap closed, not be welded shut at the factory. I don't dislike clamshells so much as I dislike those who cauterize the edges.

Rather than blandly mimicing a blister card, Lego's clamshells have a nice stylish design. The right edge curves away, and the shape of a standard eight-bump Lego brick is rising forth. Not only does this look cool (and function well; the "brick" on the package is entirely compatible with the real things), but it also allows the boxes to stack horizontally without the curved edge causing them to topple.

The graphic elements are printed on a carboard insert which folds perfectly into the box. Inside that sleeve, the Legos are bagged just like any other set. The clamshell is hinged at the bottom, and careful design assures that the box shuts tightly. You can tell a lot of work went into this packaging, and it really looks nice.

But enough plastic. On to the toys!

As the original Star Wars nears its conclusion, the rebels lead a daring raid on the Empire's new Death Star. Set #4484 lets you command Luke Skywalker as he pilots his X-Wing into the trenches with Darth Vader hot on his trail. With a tiny R2-D2 riding shotgun (sort of), the 3" X-Wing is perfect. The wings adjust between flat and attack positions, and the giant boosters almost look ready to glow. Vader's TIE Advanced, set apart by its curved wings, is a sleek black death machine, complete with tiny little control pod.

Young Anakin Skywalker proved his skills as a pilot before he even left his homeworld. Pick up set #4485 and you can recreate the end of The Phantom Menace's exciting podrace. Anakin's blue and yellow pod faces off against Sebulba's orange and black ride, and despite the small scale both are built in their own distinct way. The set includes clear support pieces to simulate flight.

At the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, the rebels are forced to vacate their icy Hoth base when the Empire arrives. Duplicating this scene, set #4486 features a Snow Speeder and an AT-ST. The Speeder is surprisingly movie-accurate. The slanted wings each bear one large cannon and can rotate appropriately. There's a quite obvious canopy and afterburners, despite the ship only being a little larger than a quarter. The chicken walker looks great; its ridiculous square head is brimming with weaponry, its distinctive legs bend as they should, and the cockpit rotates. Built from about 50 pieces, it stands 3½" tall.

The Jedi finally got a ship of their own in Attack of the Clones, and set #4487 presents that as well as Jango Fett's Slave I. The Jedi Star Fighter, stylistic ancestor of the X-Wing, is built from angular red and white blocks and looks quite cool dogfighting with the bounty hunter's blue and tan ship. Slave I is reproduced here in its vertical flight mode and the wings, amazingly, can even be repositioned for the ship to land. I'm also impressed that they managed to include the two tiny guns on the ship's "tail."

Included with each set are a few extra blocks. Purchase all four, and you can build the twin-pod TIE Bomber to round out your collection. So far three out of four TIEs have been produced in just the first series of minis - hopefully a TIE Interceptor will be headed our way soon!

While the Star Wars Mini line is not perfect, and there are still a few scale issues (though they're much less noticable than before), the line is off to a good start. The smaller size opens the door to many elements which were previously ludicrous. While a full-scale Death Star is still outside the realm of possibility, a detailed trench is now an achievable goal.

-- 02/25/03

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