When the 2011 second-wave sets were first leaked, the reactions for most sets was the same we'd felt in recent years: "meh, too expensive." But then everyone glanced at the revision of the Episode I classic podracers, and what was in there, and the buzz was on. Early previews pointed to a sharp looking, well designed set from an area that didn't get a lot of love in recent years.
Episode I is rightfully hated by pretty much anyone who's ever had it inflicted on them, but the podracer scene was one of the highlights. Edit
: Okay, I relent. I was apparently confusing Anakin in this with the video game, or the rest of the movie. I stand by the fact that it was too long. Changing it above to reflect what everyone has been telling me, so I don't have to go watch Episode I again!
But LEGO managed to take a bad scene and make an awesome set in its original run; 7171 Mos Espa Podrace was a great set with good build quality and a lot of parts that had never been seen before (and a few that haven't been seen since). It wasn't without its flaws, especially in the minifigure area, but it was a welcome site to see updated. Especially around here, with some of the fun FBTB has had with podracers in recent years.
So, the real question here is, can a set live up to the hype, revisisted 12 years later? Especially when it comes in with (a few) less parts and one less podracer?
Yes, yes it can. I won't beat around the bush on that part; I know I can be harsh in some of my reviews, but this set is just a joy to build. Yes, there are some places it could be better (*cough* price *cough*), but at the same time, it reverses a trend we've seen in redesigns making the sets worse.
The new set only includes two podracers, Anakin's and Sebulba's, thus the name, and drops Gasgano's podracer. From a parts perspective, this obviously stinks a little, but let's face it, these are the only two pods that matter. They were the key antagonist and protagonist in the scene, and people only remember other racers or their names if they happen to toss in Star Wars Episode I: Pod Racing on the N64. And that's an outside shot.
Along with those pods and their stands, we also get 5 minifigures, all new or revised: Anakin, Obi-Wan, Watto, Sebulba, and Wald (the Rodian that was on the pit crew). Conspicuously absent are the pit droids, but those were brick built, so it's possible to make your own.
Obi-Wan is featuring a new printed reversible-face, now with a massive cleft-chin printed on, and a little bit of a line if you reverse his head to the smirk side. I'll admit, when I first looked at this face, I thought it was a printing error, just based on the very odd placement. Instead, it's supposed to be there, and it makes it look like he's been snacking on too much chocolate and forgot to wipe his mouth off.
The torso printing is also revised, with a lot more lines on the tunic and better detail on the belt. It's a good fusion of classic minifig styling and the updated printing we've seen with Clone Wars stuff. In addition, the backs of all minifigs in this (and most other second-half sets) are printed as well.
Anakin is likewise revised, and also a reversible face. Unlike Obi-wan, which just goes from scowl to smirk, the two sides of Anakin are completely different. The normal "unhappy" face looks similar to the old one, with darker freckles and white highlights on the eyes. The other side features an amazingly-intense scowl, goggles, and is worth a good laugh. That or we should be terrified of it.
Instead of hair or the simple grey helm in the old set, we have a new variety of the rebel helm with "worn" printing. While I miss having the goggles removable, this helm looks so much better, and I want a dozen of them. Other than that, torso is similar (but with better printing) and legs are still stubby.
To appreciate exactly how much better Sebulba looks now, it's important to understand what he looked like before:
That's right, he was basically like a 2 cent plastic army guy. Minifigure was a stretch in this case, it was just an ugly molded one-piece part. The new figure? This:
Okay, how's that for a change? Looking at this figure, you can see the lessons LEGO learned in doing Toy Story improved on. A lot of the "oddball" minifigures from the TS line were light plastic, like this, and not traditional minifigures. The problem was, most felt like cheap junk. This one, ont he other hand, is solid. It feels like a LEGO part should feel. Instead of the tiny studs, it has clips similar to battle droids, though a bit thicker. There's still a danger of it breaking though if pulled off too much, so just be aware. There's a foot clip for his control foot, and studs for the arms. All-in-all, this is an amazing upgrade over the old figure.
Watto is similarly revised, though not quite as drastic. He was a standard minifigure before, but a unified color with no printing. The wings were also part of the overlap (it's the same thing we see with Chewie, Ewoks, etc). In reality, it was kind of ugly, simply because there wasn't any detail.
The change to the new figure?
It's the same sort of jump we saw with Gungan's in the new 2011 set. The change is great, welcome, and amazing. The new color details are absolutely spot-on. The material is the same as what we have on Gungan's and Kit Fisto, but it works out so well on this character because it blends. Sure, he's probably still too big for what the figure should be, but that's the limitation of LEGO itself, and not that big of a deal.
The last figure, Wald, is a brand new to the line. The little Rodian uses the same mold as Greedo and Onaconda Farr, again with a different color (sand green). The eyes, especially, are more detailed in color, and look nice. It's a good addition to the minifig lineup, and I want more just to get more Rodians in the mix.
As an aside, it's just refreshing to see a set with non-Clone Wars faces, let alone multiple from the same release cycle. I'm not looking to stir the ugly face pot, but I like my minifigs like I like my music: classic.
As for the podracers, the easiest way to show the differences is to put them side-by-side with the new ones.
Obviously, the overall look of these is the same at first glance, but a little study shows exactly how many updates have been done. The entire thing has been redone. Starting with the cockpit, it's farther back and slightly wider. Obviously, we have stickers instead of printed bricks, more on that a bit later. It also tries to capture the front slope of the pod as seen in the movie.
The entire harness for the engine "reins" has been revised as well. Originally, these were just blue clips. Here, we see a nice technic setup that gives it a far more swooshable feel, and makes the whole thing far more durable. It still looks the part and adds a bit to the whole pod.
The engines are roughly the same length (though the full assembly has been lengthened by about eight studs), but most everything has changed. Obviously, the power bars are greatly simplified, consisting of a trans-pink bar usually reserved for sails. It's very simple, and certainly something that could be MOC'd with all the lightning bolts we'd had in other sets, but it works.
The center is still a classic cylinder engine, but most everything has been repositioned. Hinges give it some shape and let you reposition the flares on the front. Interestingly, the stickers on those look just fine, a situation where stickers work well. Coming out the engine, a hub brick replaces the old dome-top. I'm not sure how I feel about it... doesn't seem like it looks right, and looking at the movie picture, that's still the case. I'm tempted to switch over the dome from the old podracer and call it good.
The back of the engine is considerably more elaborate than the bricks and hubs of the old setup. To a point, this is just what you get with all the new parts we've seen in the last twelve years. Turns out that the Star Wars license has made most of that possible, and greatly expanded the available parts in the hobby. It shows here quite well. We have the spinner cylinders, thin hubs/gears, and technic parts that connect it to the stand. It all works, and we get a much nicer engine in the end.
Tying it all together is the new stands, which in a lot of ways caused the biggest buzz with these sets. Long technic bars/liftarms, all in trans clear? I have a feeling these will be a very popular (and expensive) part on Bricklink. There are six 15-stud length bars, and 4 bent varieties. One thing about them though, the plastic used in these is different from normal technic bars. These are far lighter and a bit more rigid feeling. When you pick them up, you just know these will be a bit more brittle than normal parts. It actually makes me a bit concerned in the future about these breaking.
The biggest difference these make is that the podracer is removable from the base, and can be easily swooshed around without putting stress on the ship. It's basically a handle, and it adds a whole mess of playability to these sets. Both of the bases are fairly similar... Sebulba's has an extra connection at the front to accomidate extra weight, but after that, they work well.
But before we get to Sebulba's pod, let's talk stickers. With stickers, I'm always a little bit torn. In a lot of cases, I get why they're in the set. It lowers costs (supposedly), and it lets you put stuff on bricks that normally wouldn't be printed. But where I don't get it is on stuff like tiles, where printing would be a snap. It's seems that'd be where the printing would be easiest, and on these parts, the printing would also be somewhat basic.
The use of stickers is always inconsistent, with some elements being stickered and some being printed. The Cars line was notorious for that, going to the point of printing custom pieces and using stickers on an element that is available on every pick-a-brick wall in the country.
The front of the cockpit sticker is fine. The slope ones are acceptable. The tiles on the side are kind of lazy. Sadly, the ones that looks the worst are the ones that have the most reason to be stickers, the vents stuck on the engine. The blue just looks out of place on the engine, because it looks like a sticker. Much like slapping an Type-R decal on a Toyota, no one is being fooled. I'm not sure how you brick-build this to make it look better, but anyone up to a challenge should take that on.
Now up to Sebulba's podracer.
The differences here are a little more pronounced than on Anakin's pod, especially around the engines. But let's start with the cockpit. It's actually a bit simpler than the old one, and that's not a bad thing. We have rounded slopes on the back (with no printing or stickers), nice 1x4 orange tiles (which I want more of), orange round bricks and domes (also, more of). There are also two bars that act as wings or flares or... something, on the front. I don't know what they are, and I'm not willing to watch Episode I to find out. I am going to miss the orange classic engine cylinders though, even if the new build looks closer to what it should be.
The rein connectors aren't as elaborate as Anakin's, but still are a technic part to connect instead of clip. It's hard to show how much of a difference that can make, but those clips were the one of the biggest issues on the old podracer sets, and popped off all the time. The flow between the engines and cockpit on both builds is also a lot more natural, and absolutely spot-on to the movie. They just look exactly like you'd expect them to look if these engines were flying through the desert.
The engines are noticeably different on the two sets. It's obvious that the exhaust ports are different, with the addition of huge orange wheels (introduced with Rock Raiders/Bionicle in 2009) on the back. These are held through a technic pin and sport a large dish in the middle, then use some pearl metallic arms and bars on the back. This is a huge step over the bricks and wheels of the old podracer, and just look sharper.
The rest of the engines are similar, with a lot of pearl gold bars (4L and the 6L staff-style ones) positioned on clips. As greebling, they fit in quite well, and like so many other color varieties in this set, I want more of them. The flares on the old set are more shaped, with wings making up the black part, a white stripe added as an accent, and more greebling detail on the top. We also get the saws positioned where they should be, instead back on the cockpit like the old build (and we don't have those weird technic ones in the middle).
While these both use hinge bricks like the old one, the addition of the rounded domes we first got with Prince of Persia sets are here in black and hold it into place. While it would have been nice to see more detail on the bottom section, these look sharp. I'm just not sure if the square or the wing looks closer to the movie... when I look at the movie shot, it looks square-ish. But as a set, it looks nicer sitting on a shelf.
That's been the big theme of the stickers in this set. On Sebulba's podracer, they all look just fine. They fit in, and seem like they belong there. On Anakin's, they were out of place. I don't know what to make of that.
Final thoughts on the set? It's great. The piece count is a lower than the old one (about 100 less), the price is the same ($90 USD), and there's one less pod. But in the old set, piece count was inflated by the race pieces, brick-built pit droids, and ugly stands. The pod that's gone isn't really all that big of a deal (especially since with the new parts we're getting, we can probably improve on it and build a nicer one in the new style), and the two remaining are quite a bit nicer.
As for the build quality, this set, and to be honest most of the sets in the mid-year wave, are just nicer builds than we've had in recent memory. This set was just fun to build, finding all the new part varieties, and just seeing all the changes. Some stickers were fine, some out of place, but it was still just fun. The last system set I had this much fun building was probably Republic Gunship redesign. It's just that fun of a build.
However, I have to get a little bit of a soapbox here. This isn't a ding on the set itself, and I'm not factoring it in to the review. But there were more than a few bricks that I saw that didn't fit the normal quality I'd expect, especially in a $90 set. A few of the rounded orange bricks still had sprue marks on the ends. A minor complaint, maybe, but it's still very apparent. My Anakin's helmet didn't fit quite right, I had to work on it to get it to fit quite right. The pearl gold bars also were showing marks where they were knocked out of the mold. I'm going to request replacements from LEGO, but still, it would have been nice to see better parts.
Build Quality: 9/10
Reviewer's Tilt: 10/10
Final Score (Average): 9.17
Verdict: Buy. This is the best Star Wars set we've seen in a long time. Pick it up at Shop@Home