In 1999, the Danish toy company Lego made a big announcement: it had signed a license with Lucasfilm Ltd. to produce a series of toys based on the Star Wars films, the first time in the history of the company that made a I try like this. The move was not without great scruples within the company; for decades, it had avoided such deals, but competition from other toy brands was looming, and company officials were worried about being overtaken. The decision would eventually push Lego to become one of the largest toy companies in the world.
In the past two decades, the Star Wars Lego kits have become a core product for the company, with new kits that include hundreds of characters, ships and locations of the franchise that are released annually. With the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, it is likely that this tide of products will not disappear soon.
I grew up building things with Lego toys, so when the company announced that it would launch the Star Wars kits in 1999, it was the merger of two passions. I remember vividly having arrived home from the summer camp to a package I had ordered from that first series: Luke's dirt slider, the Snowspeeder and the Endor Speeder bikes. Over the years, I would add many others to my collection, including the company's first TIE hunting kit in 2001. Last week, Lego sent me a kit of their next line, their last Imperial TIE fighter. Excavating my original kit, it's amazing to see how toys have evolved over the past 17 years.
My old TIE fighter captivated me in 2001, but the last model would have left me completely perplexed. It is much more robust than its predecessor, and considerably more detailed, it looks much more like its counterparts on the screen than the original. But this kit also sheds light on another trend: since 2001, Lego has released almost a dozen variations on the TIE fighter. Each model has some changes since the last, but the point remains: Lego is essentially launching and re-launching the same vehicle every two years.
Jens Kronvold Frederiksen, the Lego design director for Star Wars, tells me that working on the Star Wars brand can be a challenge because, often, they are designing the toys while the movies are in production and, therefore, , they change. The TIE fighter, on the other hand, is a fairly consistent fixture in the universe.
"TIE Fighter and X-Wings are so iconic and are something that should be available to fans and consumers, more or less all the time," he says. And while there is a great demand for the most iconic ships of the franchise, "we want to improve them."
Take the original blue and black TIE fighter, for example. Frederiksen recalls that originally, the assets of the film that the Lego team was working on made the color of the ship look light blue. "Later, we noticed that" no, that's not blue ", which led to the upgrade in a later model to the true gray coloration of the ship.
There were other improvements over the years as well: "Lego in general has developed a lot, we have many new elements available that allow us to create much more detailed designs". This is especially evident when comparing the two kits side by side. My original model contains several very basic pieces of Lego: simple flat and angular bricks. Jan Neergaard Olesen, the designer of the newest model, noted that as the company has introduced a series of new and specific bricks in recent years, allowing them to include "specific details, and may be more accurate" when it comes to of the vehicles that are recreating. "We, as designers, try to find those elements and say: 'Hey, can we get this exact detail [from existing elements]? & # 39;" says Olesen. These small, specific pieces make up a more complicated kit: this year's toy features 519 bricks, compared to 171 insignificant bricks used in the 2001 model.
But Frederiksen points out that the company is not only re-releasing the same kits over and over again; they are continually retouching and changing the designs. "We must make sure that [builders] sees the next model as better than the previous one," he explains. The company pays close attention to consumer comments to determine what consumers complain or expect. Olesen says that they are always looking back "to what worked in the previous version and, of course, adapting it to the new version".
The TIE fight line, explains Frederiksen, is a good example of how they have incorporated consumer feedback to improve the line, from official comments to what people say on fan sites, YouTube videos and social networks. In the original kit, it was difficult to get the mini-figure to sit on his four-post seat. "We [also] had some problems with wing stability," he says, adding that, as a central sphere connected to two large flat surfaces at 90-degree angles, the ship's design is particularly difficult to replicate. Comparing the two models, it is clear that the two wings flat on each side of my original swing pretty, held by a pair of pins on each side.
The recent TIE fighting models now present a completely different approach. The 2012 TIE fighter graduated in a cabin and wings a little more sophisticated; it was followed by an even more sophisticated model in 2015 with the release of The Force Awakens. In the 2018 model, the pilot sits on a flat surface and is held in place by a small control yoke. Four support bricks in the cabin are hooked on the same number of handles on the wing. The result is a much more solid connection.
Olesen notes that while the stability of the wing required a fair amount of work, it also did so to ensure that they could separate without destroying the rest of the toy. To determine its durability, the design team recruited the efforts of a group of six children to test it. Both Lego designers pointed out that children want to focus on having fun playing with toys, instead of wasting a lot of time rebuilding them if they break. "We try and ensure that children do not have a bad experience by assembling the model again."
Something that Frederiksen and Olesen mention again and again is the focus on the gameplay and enjoyment for children. Lego has launched a series of high-quality, extremely detailed Star Wars toys aimed at older builders in recent years, such as a snowplow and a huge Millennium Falcon of 7,541 pieces. But while their other offerings are also more sophisticated than their predecessors, the focus remains on ensuring that toys are not too complicated to build and are fun to play once built, a delicate balancing act that will continue to improve with each future model .
The Lego Solo kits will arrive at toy stores on Friday. The Imperial TIE fighter will cost $ 70.
Photograph by Andrew Liptak / The Verge