Review: 75041 Vulture Droid
Do you know why the Trade Federation lost the Clone Wars? Well, because they were just pawns in an overly complicated plan by Palpetine to eliminate the Jedi, consolidate power, and overthrow the rightfully elected government of the Republic. Ignoring that, though… it was because they were bad at designing their primary weapons to fight the war: Droids. In one of the early Clone Wars cartoons (as I’ve only watched the first season, I only know the early ones), there’s a comment where Ventress points out to some planet playing the Norway game in the war that their droids outnumber clones 1000 to 1. Which is a good place to be, assuming that droids were actually a decent weapon.
They were not, for the most part. The few that were designed well as machines (droidekas come to mind) were too few in numbers compared to the battle droids that were effectively walking platforms to deliver weapons to your opponent in case he was disarmed. At least with the only starfighter in the droid army, the Vulture Droid, we finally had a ship that was designed as a robot instead of ship that you were supposed to plug a robot in to to fly. It was like the Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica… there weren’t Cylons flying the ships, the ships were Cylons, in the same way that a drone is a robot, not a robot that you stick a guy inside to make sure it stays all robot-y.
Well, at least the Vulture droids were like that. All of the previous iterations of the Lego Vulture / Droid fighter were just the fighter by itself. No spot for a pilot, no guns that could be conveniently removed by the very thing it was trying to kill (like happens all the time in the Clone Wars cartoons), just a robot that was built to fly around and shoot things. There have been four different versions of the droid fighter before this one: the original back in 1999 for Episode I, the one bundled with Anakin’s Starfighter for Episode III (which was very similar, just in blue instead of brown), another Episode I version that came with the Naboo Starfighter in 2007, and a blue one with Ahsoka’s Starfighter in 2009.
The original one was the only one that came as a stand-alone set, and it was just a 62 part $6 set. Remember when Star Wars had $6 sets, and those weren’t even the smallest sets in the lineup? Let it sink in for a second, and realize that those memories are just a sign that you’re an AFOL that starts all of your stories with “back in my day…” The next step is complaining about how expensive a hamburger or a soda is. I’m willing to bet that if you counted up the parts for all of the previous vulture droids, you’d barely be over the 205 part, $25 set that is 75041 Vulture Droid. This thing is now monstrously large compared to its earlier versions, and costs a lot more too. It could also be one of the biggest steps back that a ship re-release has made in history (and this is a history that includes the Sith Infiltrator).
Part of the brilliance of the cartoon was that it made the war actually seem more real and impactful. In the movies, the issue was that the whole of the conflict was between machines and clones, and a very tiny portion of the galaxy had any real stake or risk in the fighting (non-Clone deaths in battle were limited to Neimoidians on ships, Geonosians on their planet, and Jedi). It made the clones actually have some purpose other than disposable soldiers, and it put real risk on the planets where fighting was going on. Now, the droids were just the horde that was killing and invading cities and planets, and there was some real urgency to the conflict.
This is a movie set though, which is why I’m very curious why it includes a Neimoidian fighter as it’s only “minifigure” in the set. Or why it really needed a minifigure. We do get two droids, a pilot battle droid and a new buzz droid design.
Buzz droids I get, because they featured prominently in the opening of Episode III, which this set is from… sort of. This is a total redesign of the previous version, which is a relatively “rare” figure, only showing up in Ahsoka’s Starfighter, the original tri-droid ship, and the Ultimate Space Battle I’ve alluded to as one of my great Lego regrets. Normally, the brick-built droids aren’t a problem to build after the fact, but these guys have those custom domes that will set you back a little.
There are some other changes as well, most notably using the grappler accessory for the front and switching to antenna as legs. That necessitates using a trans-smoke cone on the bottom, since those legs couldn’t do anything to actually hold up the droid, but this does make for a more stable build.
The difference between the old and new is really striking when you put them side-by-side, and this guy stands as a real bright spot in the set. Sure, it’s more flimsy in the legs, but at least it looks similar to what we saw in the movie. The old ones are just awful. The legs were useful on everything other than the droid, the saw was far too big for the figure, and I’m not sure why, but it always made me think of seeing a mascot only wearing a giant head, and having normal legs showing on the bottom.
My liver can’t take me watching the PT more than once in any given 12-month period, so I’m going to have to rely on someone else’s knowledge here… but does this guy ever really show up at any point in the PT? I remember Newt right before Anakin murders him (while I do not approve of his youngling-killing policy, I am in favor of his annoying senator killing policy) along with the rest of the separatists, and they were being guarded by droids. I remember Neimoidian controllers on the big ships, and Grievous only hung out with droids, being a brain in a big walking metal body. Oh, and eyes.
I do not really remember seeing Kermit here in his conquistador hat and musket, and that seems like the kind of little detail that could pierce through the haze that I drink myself into for these movies. This guy isn’t a bad figure, per se… he just makes absolutely no sense in this set. Much like our Wookiee buddy in the AT-AP, I question the logic on bringing a musket to a laser gun fight, and also wonder if the hat is the result of a lost bet. That being said… that torso and the printed legs are just fantastic, and I bet we’ll see more of it pop up in future contests we have that require custom figures.
The pilot droid is a curious addition that really highlights my biggest beef with this set, which I sort of alluded to in my opening and will cover below in the ship review. I assume that his inclusion here is just a designer that doesn’t understand what a robot is, and that a ship that is a robot does not require another robot interacting with it in order to fly around. Much like having a battle droid carry around a gun, the ship can just fly itself. Of course, this is a droid carrying a gun and meant to fly a ship that doesn’t need him.
If you’re keeping score at home, this is the fifth variation of the pilot battle droid that we’ve gotten. The originals were tan with blue print, then it was just a blue body, then this guy with tan printing and a variety of arms. They are all equally pointless. His head might as well have a giant bullseye painted on it, because I know which droid I’d shoot if I saw his ship coming at me. If the Jedi would have bothered to just train up some Clone Snipers, the war wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of months.
I actually liked the design and idea of the Vulture Droid, as a ship. Unlike the Clone and Jedi ships, it actually had a unique look compared to a lot of other stuff (though that general aesthetic has shown up a lot of places since), and it actually behaved more like a droid than a fighter. In an army full of stuff that made no sense, this thing actually did. It also was sleek and small, the kind of thing you could fill up a battle with. The new version? Not so much…
I’ll be fair, my favorite feature of the older ones wasn’t an accurate feature, that the wings could fully close. If you look at the design for the ship, the wings were always separated, and the ship could walk around like a cat when it sat down (because running on a battlefield makes more sense than flying, I guess).
But this thing is just huge compared to the old one. Look at it next to an older one, it’s more than double the size (and stickers)! That bulk makes it look very out of place, or like it’s an entirely different ship, and that doesn’t seem to fit these things at all. They were the big bombers of the Droid fleet, they were the little swarming flies that used overwhelming numbers instead of raw power (in short, they were TIE fighters without that pesky, unreliable pilot).
The big difference in the bulk, outside of just larger parts (which the wing(s) certainly have), is the new, complicated, technic-y struts for expanding the wings. The new struts are certainly a lot more solid than the old solution, which was nothing but a plate connection on the original two and battle droid arms on the last two. That being said, it’s just ugly and comes off as somewhat lazy as a design. Nothing about it feels like it’s anything more than bulking up parts. While the old version was somewhat flimsy, it worked and didn’t consume a lot of parts. I would have much rather seen the increased part count put towards making the thing actually walk, or make the wings come off as rounder (or offset forward, like they’re supposed to be).
My big problem with the set though… is that there’s a * bleep * cockpit in the thing! This was a Vulture Droid, as in the whole ship was the droid. It doesn’t need a pilot. It shouldn’t have a pilot. For once, I’m not going to blame Lucas for bad design (I did enough of that with the Battle Droids). This is all on the Lego designer, because it’s just a feature added for playability that doesn’t add anything, and ends up hurting the set (much like that cannon in the Sail Barge). Kid’s don’t need to put a pilot in there to fly it around. This is just a waste of parts and space that ruins the build.
Like a lot of the other Star Wars sets, the Vulture Droid adds the new flick-fire bricks, but still keeps the lasers on the outside wings like the previous versions. It’s a curious, since the defining feature of these ships was the relatively tiny/thin body and the big legs. With this new one, the center is just huge by comparison, to accommodate the new launchers, and it just looks wrong. I would have much rather seen the launchers fit into the wings or struts somehow, or just use the old flick-fires, instead of… this thing.
That’s really the story of this set. There have been a few remakes that missed the mark (Sail Barge comes to mind), but most of the time, Lego actually improves on a set when they remake it, even if not expected (Republic Gunship, Jedi Interceptor, Wheel Bike, AT-AP… this could be a very long list). The reality of Star Wars is that all of the system sets have more or less been done. Sure, there are a few lingering things out there, but for the most part, we’ve gotten everything, and it’s all re-releases in the OT and PT space. It’s just a real shame that what should be a simple and little set was trumped up and made worse than the simple, little sets we had before. If this would have been kept smaller and put into the $15 Battle of Saleucami range, this could have been a perfect set. But at $25, it’s firmly in the “skip it” category. There are better sets for the same money, even if you just consider them for parts.
What I liked
- Even though he doesn’t belong in the set, and a musket is just a lazy part, the Neimoidian Warrior’s torso and leg printing make him a cool figure
- New Buzz Droid is a huge improvement over the old one
- Gotta love almost any sand blue and dark blue parts
What I didn’t like
- Worst value for parts in the $25 set line at only 205 (even though the V-Wing has less parts overall), a single minifig that makes no sense, and a couple of droids. A lot of those parts go to the buzz droid (16) or to the struts for the wings
- A robot ship does not need a robot pilot. All of the old ones got this right… adding it here just wrecks the build
- New mechanism for the wings/legs doesn’t fix the problem with it walking and just feels like a big waste in parts
Verdict: 2 out of 5. This is a real step backwards from the previous versions, and it doesn’t fix the biggest inaccuracy (walking legs) while adding a few new ones (like a cockpit). It’s only the part selection and the buzz droid that really keep this from being worse.
You can get 75041 Vulture Droid, and the rest of the early-2014 Star Wars sets, at Lego Shop@Home.