Me and my Lego Death Star

05 Apr

Luke and Leia about to make their perilous swing. Lego-style.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing for two major events in my life. Firstly, this weekend I’ll be getting married to my lovely fiancee Claudette down in New Orleans (we’re actually down here right now, enjoying some jazz and Hurricane drinks). Secondly, and probably considerably less important, was doing my taxes. Believe it or not, the two ended up becoming related, resulting in a Lego Death Star.

In looking at my past year’s expenses, which I track very carefully now that I’m a freelancer, it became clear to me that I’m fairly miserly. I grew up poor, which has made me a tightwad when it comes to spending money. So, with the wedding coming, I figured why not go out and buy something frivolous?

Enter the Death Star. As a $500 toy, there probably isn’t a more frivolous purchase for a grown man.

Nevertheless, Lego - particularly the Star Wars kind - is a growing hobby among adults, as I wrote about in a story for MSN (I’ll link to it once I see it go up). Many of us grew up with the toys, so it’s ingrained in our psyches. The same can be said for Star Wars.

The designers know this, which is why they’re designing ever-larger sets with thousands of pieces. The Death Star has 3,803 elements and is intended to be a challenge (check out the new 2,127-piece R2-D2 coming in May). Moreover, Lego seems to have a special attraction for those of us who deal with technology. After looking at screens all day, it’s nice to actually do something with your hands for a change. Some tech people farm or garden, I build Lego.

In any event, about a week ago I marched into the Lego store at the mall with purpose. I told one of the clerks that after months of consideration, I was finally ready for the Death Star and that he was to “lay it on me.” He got genuinely excited and exclaimed, “Alright!” like he was the one getting it. There’s something about this set that makes instant friends of dorks.

As is obvious, it comes in a big, heavy box. I had to carry it two-handed in front of me through the mall, much like you’d haul a 2-4 of beer. I wandered out back to my car with a grin on my face as passersby marveled at my purchase (or my exceptional geekiness).

When I got it home and cracked it open, I was surprised to see four sub-boxes inside. Most Lego sets come in the equivalent of one of these. I had considered buying my Death Star on a recent trip to New York, where it’s considerably cheaper (Lego says this is because of shipping costs and variations in exchange rates between the Canadian dollar and Danish kroner), but I’m glad I didn’t. I’d brought luggage with me specifically to pack the pieces, but in retrospect it was clear I had horribly misjudged how much space they’d take up.

The other clue that I wasn’t in Lego Kansas anymore was the instruction booklet. Not only did it tally 260 pages, it had ring binding! You know, like legal briefs, regulatory documents and federal budgets. Indeed, the manual weighed more than any of the individual four boxes, making it the heftiest part of the set.

Speaking of which, the above picture shows the content of just one of those boxes. Multiplying that by four and the daunting challenge ahead became clear.

Five hours in, I’d managed to complete the first floor and plow through the first box. I’d never tried a Lego set that took more than two hours to complete, so I was a little discouraged. My back hurt from sitting hunched over a table and my brain and eyes were fried from sifting through pieces. I couldn’t help but think that there should be a warning on the box that tells adults to take it easy while building because it’s easy to hurt yourself.

The Death Star also comes with a veritable army of minifigures, as opposed to the handful that most sets have. My favourite is Emperor Palpatine, on the front right, because of the little electric bolts that attach to his hands.

After getting a good night’s sleep, I went back at it. Five more hours and I’d hit the two-thirds-done point. By now, the structure was starting to take shape and the individual sections were becoming clear. I could tell that the bottom section, for example, would be the Luke-Leia rope-swinging part while the second floor was clearly going to be the Emperor’s throne room.

Five more hours and at last, I had a finished product. The Death Star was finally completely and… I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive. Ahem. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

After 15 hours of back-breaking labour - I’m only slightly exaggerating - I had finally finished my Lego masterpiece. Now I’m stuck with the problem of figuring out where to put it. If I had my way, it’d be proudly displayed on the middle of the living room coffee table, but Claudette will have none of that. I’m going to have to find some room in my office for it, where it will doubtlessly distract me from my work for weeks to come.

Over all, I’m left with a few impressions. First, it’s clear I’m addicted to this stuff. I hadn’t even finished the Death Star before I started thinking of the next set… which could potentially involve leaving the Star Wars universe for the real world. The Tower Bridge set, a recreation of the London landmark, has even more pieces, with 4,287. That might take closer to a full day to construct. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

Secondly, I was also blown away by the obvious quality assurance Lego applies to its products. I couldn’t help but ponder what a Herculean task it must be to ensure every Death Star ships with all the necessary pieces. Missing even one key element can be disastrous and extremely disappointing during a build. While two or three pieces were indeed missing from my set, they were easily replaced with other similar spare elements packed in.

On the downside, I’m not sure the Death Star can ever be disassembled and rebuilt, which is how you extend or revisit the fun part of it. The manual instructions correspond to the numbered plastic packages that the pieces come in. Once the pieces are out of those packages, it’s impossible to keep track of them. It might not be impossible to rebuild the Death Star after figuratively blowing its reactor core, but I’m guessing the 15-hour build time would easily double if you’re dealing with just one giant mound of pieces. Maybe that’s a good thing? I’m sure I’ll test this theory out some day.

In the meantime, thanks for reading about my diving deeper into geekdom. As I joked before, the Death Star is a suitable wedding gift to myself because it says, “Sorry ladies, this one’s taken” like nothing else I can think of.

I’m taking a short break for my nuptials and will be back to blogging on Tuesday. Enjoy the weekend, I know I will!

One of the coolest features: a TIE fighter bay. True nerds will recognize this as Vader's personal ship.


Posted by on April 5, 2012 in lego, Star Wars


5 Responses to Me and my Lego Death Star

  1. peteevans

    April 5, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Congrats on getting past her defenses — Claudette’s nerd shields were clearly not designed to repel geek power of that magnitude.

  2. JWo

    April 5, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Aww. You never know what your significant other will find attractive! I piqued Matthew’s attention because I knew the difference between the Millennium Falcon and the Enterprise, and also scored bonus points with my knowledge of TNG. Congrats and have a blast this weekend!

  3. russellmcormond

    April 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Wow — and I thought it was geeky of me to have purchased and re-watched all the Star Trek TOS (series and movies) recently, and growing a collection of DVD’s of Dr. Who

  4. Taft

    April 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    It’s sad to hear you wouldn’t be able to disassemble and reassemble the set since that was a great joy of the Space Lego of my youth. What if you kept all the pieces in different containers based on their colours? I’m also curious about the height and width of the finished product.

    Thanks for the great blog Peter!

    • petenowak2000

      April 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Grouping all the pieces by colour is probably the way to go if I’m to try a second go. Overall, it’s pretty big, maybe a foot and a half tall and a foot wide.


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