One of the best things about the original Star Wars trilogy and universe is the wonderful and memorable designs used in all the ship, vehicle, and building designs. None of it could really be called generic with all the peculiar designs adopted for craft like the Millennium Falcon, Slave 1, B-Wings, Sail Barges, and AT-AT. It can be said that very little design in the original trilogy resembles anything that was Earth-like. Yet it was all instantly recognizable, especially to a fan.
The Imperial Shuttle introduced in Return Of The Jedi, is one of those instantly recognizable and well loved iconic designs.
Released in the 2001 line up, the Lego shuttle does it's best to emulate the design of the original, despite being out of scale and having a very limited selection of bricks used in it's construction.
Like all other Star Wars kits before it, the manual starts with the assembly of the minifigures. Here we are offered a very generic pilot figure in black uniform and cap, the emperor Palpatine, with unique printed face, black tunic, cape, hood and a cane. This figure first appeared in 2000 in set 3340, later appearing in the Imperial Shuttle, and then in 2002 in set 7200, Final Duel. The version of the emperor in all these sets has a yellow face and hands. After the introduction of 'Fleshies' in 2003, the emperor figure was redesigned with a more true to life grey face and hands, released with 7264 Imperial Inspection, in 2006. 7264 was a slightly more elaborate re-release of this set.
Imperial Shuttle also includes the Royal Guard, resplendent in an overall red livery with a new mould for the helmet, a cape and spear/staff. Two are included in this set. The Royal Guard figure is among one of the rarer figures, having only been released in two other sets so far. A slightly different version was also released with the expensive Death Star, set 10188. The guards in this set had black hands instead of red featured in previous sets.
Construction of the shuttle begins with the assembly of the main fuselage. Assembly of the main fuselage is spread over 21 stages and 17 pages. What you have at the end is a rather bulky looking box that really doesn't look like much, let alone the makings of a State vehicle. Despite the shuttle having an over all colour palette consisting mostly of white, greys and tan, the internal construction of the fuselage utilizes plenty of bright blue and green bricks. These are hidden quite well by the time construction of this stage is over so don't worry, your model will not look odd.
The fuselage has a flap on the back that opens to reveal a compartment which will eventually contain a sled, built in the next section of the manual. The sled is made from only twelve parts, two of which are actually the spears used by the red guard figures. The sled is a seating area for the emperor and his guards and it simply slides into place inside the fuselage, via the rear flap. It's a bit of a tight fit when the figures are in place, and hardly a way for a dignitary to travel.
Construction continues with the front of the craft; the cockpit. This is another bulky looking construction but it is solid, having two main pieces - chassis and canopy, and using plenty of smaller pieces to fill in the gaps and add a little detail. Unlike the fuselage, the cockpit doesn't use bright colours for it's make up.
The canopy piece is a printed piece of slightly tinted clear plastic. The print isn't as white as the rest of the white bricks and so looks a little odd. It's more dirty white/light grey, almost as if it's taken some damage, if you can imagine that.
The cockpit attaches to the fuselage with two click hinges. These allow the cockpit to fall into the correct position, giving the shuttle it's distinct nose down appearance.
By now some of the more picky builders will notice that the cockpit only holds one figure instead of a half dozen a real shuttle could hold. At this scale though, there are a lot of inaccuracies with the Lego Imperial Shuttle. Most of these inaccuracies are largely internal or detail based, as from the outside the overall shape of the shuttle is almost spot on with it's movie counterpart. I think this is what Lego were aiming for, mostly. A true to scale shuttle would have to be of mammoth proportions, a UCS model along the lines of the Millennium Falcon, 10179. I think this would just be too impractical to realize.
At this point I could mention that I reckon the Imperial Shuttle is due a make over from Lego. This original is great, in my own opinion, but I'm sure something better can be made, something that will truly do justice to the Shuttle design.
Once the cockpit has been finished, construction moves on to the wings of the craft. These are fairly simple in design, mostly using plates in their construction. The use of some small Technic elements help give the wings their distinctive shape, and like the cockpit, a couple of click hinges attach the wings to the fuselage and allow the wings to be moved into their landed or flight positions.
A translucent yellow stud at the tip of each wing completes that authentic look.
The dorsal wing is created from a good handful of assorted bricks and slopes in three colours; white, light grey and dark grey. The dorsal wing and all the bricks that make it are all only one stud wide.
This wing is the weak point of the model and limits the swoosh factor. One false move and this wing will fly off and smash to the ground. Picking the model up by this wing is also not advised.
Apart from the obvious flaws in design inherently brought about by the scale of the model, the design does work. It's a little awkward to handle, and can be fragile if mishandled, but as a display piece it looks good. The shape is almost true to that of the movie version, making it recognizable at first sight. I think this is the most important aspect here. Like a lot of the early Lego Star Wars models, the designs were not quite up to the standards now set by latter models. From the X-Wing to the B-Wing, Slave 1 to Vader's Advanced Tie Fighter, all of these were flawed designs upon their first release. The colours were wrong, the scale was off, the size wasn't correct, something wobbled way too much. Yet all these early designs were recognizable as the craft they were trying to emulate, and all of these craft have been redesigned and re-released using Lego's new range of bricks and colours.
Maybe the Imperial Shuttle, as great as it is, will get the upgrade treatment it surely deserves.