On a chilly London night in the middle of September, Den Of Geek sent me to a special launch event for the new Star Wars LEGO kit: the Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon (product number 75192), the latest brick-based incarnation of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
This set has 7,541 pieces, making it the largest LEGO set ever produced. It’s priced at £649.99, but it’s doubtful that LEGO will struggle to sell them: I walked by Leicester Square’s LEGO Store, on the way to the launch event, and Star Wars fans – replete with woolly R2-D2 hats and handy foldable chairs – were queued outside the shop. They were waiting for it to open at midnight, in the hope of buying an Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon before anyone else.
Minutes later, inside a nearby hotel conference room, I waited with a coffee and a cookie and a group of other journos, as Jens Kronvold Frederiksen (Director of LEGO Star Wars Design) and Michael Lee Stockwell (Design Manager of LEGO Star Wars) sat down behind their gobsmacking creation.
To give you an idea of scale for the picture below, these chaps are average-to-tall human beings, and to the right of the Falcon you can just about see a selection of average-sized LEGO Minifigures.
Yep, it’s ruddy massive. I learned that straightaway, and then I learned these fun nerdy facts, during a 45-minute Q&A, with the master builders Frederiksen and Stockwell….
21. They’ve been wanting to do this for years
“Is there ever a wrong time?” jokes Frederiksen, asked why now was the right time to launch a new – bigger than ever – LEGO Millennium Falcon. “It’s now ten years ago since we did the first one”, he added, referring to the previous Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon (product 10179), “and we know that it’s been highly requested.”
“We’ve been thinking about it for years”, Stockwell admitted, “wondering when the day would come and we’d actually get started again.” In the end, the Falcon’s importance in the new trilogy of films helped LEGO get the green light on this project, and so work began.
“We wanted to make big improvements this time around,” Stockwell teased, but we had a blueprint to go from [thanks to the previous LEGO versions of the ship]. That was really good, so that was our starting point.”
20. Feedback from the fans was taken on board
“When doing something like that [taking a previous design and improving it], we’re looking very much into consumer feedback”, Frederiksen revealed, building a better picture of the early design process behind this brick-based beauty. LEGO aims to find out “if there has been some problems or if there are some requests.”
“And one of the things [they found out this time] was, that they [the fans] were missing the interior on the first one. So that’s why we’ve added interior pieces to this model”, Frederiksen added.
Interior areas on the new LEGO Falcon include the cockpit, the corridor area and the iconic seating zone with the Holochess table.
19. Distributing the weight was a challenge
“Quality is the main thing for us,” said Frederiksen, talking about the lengthy process (over a year) that it took to get this design right, “so it needs stability, and knowing that it works right is something that takes a lot of work and a lot of builds.”
“Adding more than two thousand pieces to this model, compared to the original, stresses the structure”, Stockwell added, revealing that weight distribution was one of the biggest challenges of this design. “We had to make sure that we could do that, and still produce a model that you could pick up and move around. That was probably the biggest challenge.”
18. The design process wasn’t 100% digital
“Designers work in different ways”, Frederiksen explained, answering a question about how much design time is spent on computers these days, as opposed to actually working with physical bricks. “Some designers they are building digitally, and some are designing building with bricks.”
“Hans [Burkhard Schlömer] was the lead designer on this model. He’s usually building digitally, but, of course, to check on stability and build-ability – all these things – pretty quick in the process, you need a physical model. So, we have had physical models around from the early start.”
17. Han and Leia have breathing apparatus
“We wanted to add newness,” Stockwell told us, “and that’s why you have Han Solo and Leia with breathing apparatus – that was something we had not done before.” As I did, you might have missed these tiny details if you’ve only seen online images of the set. But yes, you can spin Leia and young Han’s heads around to reveal variant versions of their faces, in which they are wearing breathing masks.
This design flourish alludes to The Empire Strikes Back, where Han, Chewie and Leia donned breathing masks to explore the belly of the space slug in the asteroid field near Hoth. Sadly, the designers opted not to give Chewie’s Minifigure a breathing mask: since Chewie’s LEGO head and hair all comes as one piece, they would have had to put a spare Chewie head in the set to achieve this.
16. The Porgs were quite a late addition
A question rings out across the room: “How late in the day were the Porgs added to the model?” Whoever asked this one was tapping into something that a lot of people have wondered: were these creatures – the cutesy residents of Ach-To, who’ve been keeping Luke Skywalker company during his exile – added to the set at the last minute because of all the press they’ve been getting?
“It came pretty late in the process”, Stockwell admitted. “At the time, we didn’t know a lot about them. We know a little bit more now…”
At this point, Frederiksen interjected: “But we can’t say anything!”
15. Fifteen hours would be a quick build
I asked, “What do you think is the quickest amount of time that someone could build this in?” People laughed. Frederiksen jokingly responded by saying, “you have to go home and negotiate with your girlfriend.” He was right on the money there, to be honest.
“It all depends on how you approach it,” Stockwell said, rightly pointing out that some people would want to build it quickly while others would want to savour it. Of course, your level of experience with LEGO would come into the equation as well.
One of the other journalists, who I’m very jealous of because they got sent a set, chimed in at this point. He said he’d done ten hours of building already and he has about five left. “You’re quick, then,” said Stockwell.
14. The instruction booklet includes classic concept art
The instruction manual for this set includes original Star Wars concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, including paintings and sketches, to give fans an idea of the history behind the iconic design of the Millennium Falcon. Don’t expect to see this additional content on all your future LEGO sets, though.
“I think this one is a special case”, said Frederiksen. “It got a special treatment. […] The Millennium Falcon has such an important role, and such an interesting history, it was just easy to add a lot.” Only the most iconic designs deserve this kind of booklet, by the sounds of it.
13. LEGO knows that no one likes stickers
Another person who already has the set (damn them!) mentioned next that a lot of the pieces come with printed elements on them, meaning that there aren’t many stickers in the set that which have to add on yourself. Was that a conscious decision, because everyone hates the stickers and no one can never do them right?
“Believe it or not, there’s always a conscious choice to avoid stickers,” Stockwell stated. Frederiksen added, “I think, in this case, we wanted to really make this a premium experience. So that’s why you see a little bit more printed elements this time.”
12. The designers welcome cool customisations
“We have of course seen all the extremely cool things that people have created [by customising previous Millennium Falcon LEGO sets]”, Frederiksen said, when asked whether the designers took into consideration that fans might want run lights and wires into their models.
“It’s also inspiration for us”, Stockwell added. “I think the only thing to say about that is just, we can’t wait to see what people come up with this time.” He talked a bit about fans who made the back of the ship light up on previous versions of the Falcon, noting that it should be possible to do that again with the new one.
Stockwell also praised fans who had put their Millennium Falcon builds inside glass-topped coffee tables. “Things like that are just so cool,” he enthused.
11. A First Order prop was reused in the Falcon kit
“I’m pretty sure that the shield from the First Order Trooper is used in the [Millennium Falcon] model as a hinge plate”, Stockwell told us, after one journalist asked if there are any random Easter Eggs hidden in the kit.
“And we designed it that way,” Stockwell explained. “When we designed that element we made it fit the system so it could be used as a building model.” And if you like that random piece of trivia, you’ll love the final entry on this list. So keep reading!
10. The cockpit includes a brand new brick
When asked if the team had to design any notable new bricks for this set, Stockwell said, “Yeah, we did. We definitely had a goal to make as many upgrades as we could. The cockpit is notably an element that was specifically designed for this set. What’s great about the element is that, it does this set justice and provides the newness we were looking for, but at the same time, it’s an element you’ll probably see show up in other LEGO sets from other product lines.
“It works in the system like all the rest of our elements do, and that’s always the goal when we’re producing an element – we do exclusive Minifigure accessories, but when we’re doing an element, it’s got to work with the rest of the system.”
9. It will probably be the biggest LEGO set for a while
“It was a conscious decision”, said Frederiksen, explaining that this was always intended to be the largest LEGO set yet. “It was absolutely something we wanted – to create the ultimate LEGO set.”
But how long do they think it will hold the record for biggest set? Is there anything in the works that might top it? On that topic, Frederiksen said, “Well, we can’t say anything about what we’re working on, but honestly I don’t think there’s something right around the corner. It’s going to be a tough one to beat.”
8. The kit was tested by kids
On the topic of how this LEGO Falcon was tested during its development, Stockwell said, “We put it in the hands of children, to see: how do they touch the model? How do they build the model? How do people that know absolutely nothing about LEGO pick up this model and move it?”
Tests like this were vital to ensuring that the kit is perfectly weighted and properly stable. But despite testing the product with children, the designers know that this set is primarily aimed at “big kids”.
“The age marking on our boxes is something we take very seriously”, Stockwell said, and the decision was made to give this set a 16+ rating.
7. It is “swishable”, depending on your strength
One journalist asked, “How swishable is it?” And everyone knows exactly what he means – can you run about your house with this, swooshing it about through the air and making ‘pew-pew’ noises?
Stockwell offers a deadpan response: “How strong are you?” Then he goes on to explain that there are instructions in the booklet on how best to lift your completed Falcon.
“[Children] wouldn’t even attempt to try and pick it up, because of its size”, Stockwell also mentioned. From their observations, the LEGO team has noted that kids “identify with the figures, so when they can put the figures in the cockpit or into the interior, that’s what they really really love.”
6. LEGO is sorry for bankrupting you
At one point, a journalist reeled off a list of massive sets that have come out recently, and asked point-blank whether LEGO is trying to bankrupt its fans. Of course, this got a massive laugh. I wish I had thought of it.
“What do you want me to say?” laughed Stockwell, before regaining his composure. “Well, we are sorry that we have created lots of cool sets. We are sorry about that.”
Everyone laughed a bit more, before a serious question flew in from another part of the room: do the designers think that normal families don’t go for these big expensive sets so much? Do they feel they’re focusing too much on big sets which will only attract the hardcore fans?
“Well, I think there are a lot fans that like these big sets”, said Stockwell. “It’s still, our main thing is making toys. Definitely. And to have a strong portfolio with a lot of different products. Part of that is these, the bigger collector models. We love to create them, to show what is actually possible to do with LEGO.”
5. This model will influence future LEGO sets
“Everything we do influences our next step”, said Stockwell, responding to a question about how this massive and beautiful Millennium Falcon will influence the future of the LEGO Ultimate Collector Series and the LEGO Star Wars range. “We learn constantly – what works and what doesn’t. And we try and build on the stuff that does work, so yeah, this process will influence the next large model that we do.”
One journalist mentioned that fans are hoping for a new LEGO version of Cloud City, perhaps to tie in with the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back (which will occur in 2020). But neither Frederiksen nor Stockwell would be drawn to comment on what they may or may not be working on in future.
4. The variant dishes were planned from the start
For fanboy’s such as myself, it’s mightily impressive that LEGO have included the two alternate sensor dishes in this kit: the circular one that got knocked of during the Death Star run in Return Of The Jedi, and the rectangular replacement that was fitted at some point before The Force Awakens. Towards the end of the Q&A, I ask whether this tiny-but-significant detail was part of the plan from the start.
“It was absolutely something that was in from the beginning”, Frederiksen told me. “Part of deciding to make a new version [of the LEGO Millennium Falcon] was the role it had in Episode VII and the new trilogy. And then we thought, we wanna have a way to add something new and different, and give the fans the opportunity to have a model displayed in the version they prefer.”
3. And the dishes aren’t the only difference between the classic and sequel designs
Stockwell is quick to point out that the interchangeable dish isn’t the only extra piece that allows fans to customise their Millennium Falcon and make it match up with the version from The Force Awakens (as opposed to the classic original trilogy version).
“Here in the front, we have these small sections which can be clicked on”, he told us, picking up two tiny rectangular creations and attaching them to the two points at the very front of the Falcon. (You can see these tiny pieces in the image above, just in front of the spare dish that isn’t attached.)
“They are on the new version [in The Force Awakens]”, Stockwell explained, further displaying LEGO’s immense eye for detail. “We don’t know what it is. We don’t know why they’re not on the classic model. But that’s just how it is.”
2. There is LEGO inside the actual Falcon
Frederiksen and Stockwell told us that most of their interaction with Lucasfilm took place on computers: they were sent pictures of the original models to work from, and given access to a 3D digital version of the Millennium Falcon for reference. However, they did get to visit the real Millennium Falcon set while filming was taking place on The Force Awakens.
Frederiksen recalled an interesting detail he noticed on the set: “One of the set designers, he asked me, ‘hey, do you wanna walk up the bridge to the Millennium Falcon?’ And inside there was a control panel. And in the control panel there was a two-by-four LEGO brick. It was just painted grey like the rest, but it was there.”
You heard it here first, folks: LEGO exists in the Star Wars universe!
1. The Falcon’s dish contains a Ninjago hat
And finally, my favourite nerdy detail that I learned at this Millennium Falcon event: Stockwell revealed, towards the end of the Q&A, the unlikely origin of the circle within the round sensor dish. Here’s the story:
“Hans [the lead designer] actually said to me one day, he was struggling finding an element that we could use to put in the centre of this. I got this idea, so I ran down to the stock and I came back up, and brought him the hat – I think it’s from Sensei Wu in Ninjago. And at that point it was sand-coloured, because that’s what it was on the stock. He looked at that, and he said that would actually be perfect, because it had the right shape. And so, that element was then produced in grey for this model.”
How random, and brilliant, is that? Han Solo would surely be proud that this random piece from another universe was smuggled into his ship…