My love of TIE fighters (and Ewoks) is well documented. I’ve owned every version of the ship, minis, Chibis, and the like included, back to that very first TIE Advanced vs. Y-Wing set in 1999 and the first TIE fighter in 2001. I don’t often buy multiples of any sets other than battle packs or clearance unless I have specific projects in mind, but I liked the last TIE fighter enough that I purchased enough that I’ve been able to use them for gifts, mods, reviews, and still keep one tucked away for my daughter. I haven’t quite been able to justify getting the 6″ Black Series TIE fighter yet, but that’s not to say I haven’t been attempting to justify it.
Just sayin’, I like me some TIE Fighters. One of things that Star Wars, specifically the original trilogy, did so well, was to break away from the idea that space ships look like planes (and something that the PT did way too much). There were certainly inspirations in there, but that first time you saw a TIE, it looked so unlike standard spaceships that it just stuck in your brain. It also spoke to the nature of the Empire, throwaway, mass-produced ships that won with numbers instead of skill. Plus, there were just so many jokes you can make with a name like TIE fighter.
I was really looking forward to reviewing 75101 First Order Special Forces TIE Fighter even after I found out that the 517 part set was going to carry a premium $69.99 price tag along with it. The set is only visible for a few seconds in the teaser, but in those seconds you see it kicking some serious butt. We don’t know a whole lot about the Special Forces, what’s going on (or even if those are Imperials flying it), or how many of this particular TIE exist… we just know it’s got a flashy red and black styling going on and it seats two pilots. I liked Rey’s Speeder well enough, and love the source for this ship, but that price and the fact we’ve had a lot of TIEs lately mean that this ship has a pretty tough hill to climb….
I still haven’t decided how I really feel about the Special Forces color scheme, but I do like that there’s a break in the hegemony of the First Order (and get hope that there’s likely going to be a regular TIE fighter eventually). One thing I have liked about the Force Awakens stuff, in general, is that all of the ships feel like evolutions of proven designs instead of just re-skinned and reused. The LEGO builds are all distinctly different in enough ways where you don’t feel like you’re getting the old one again.
The First Order forces certainly seem to be getting the bigger share of representation in the sets we got this year… I’m curious to see how it goes next year once we get Battle Packs, but right now, they’re in half the sets but have a lot more figures overall. This set is a solid army builder with four figures that are all generic, un-named troops. We get two identical TIE pilots, which both fit inside that little cockpit ball, what LEGO calls a First Order Crew (and who looks like a gunner), and a First Order officer.
LEGO needs more generic faces… these guys are using the same mix we’ve gotten with Stormtroopers and clones lately and don’t come with alt-faces. They are different from the existing TIE pilots, in pretty substantial ways. The helmet is obvious, with the addition of the breathing tube that’s going to break pretty easily. The front is the more smoothed look that the Force Awakens figures have, and there’s detail printing that includes a Stormtrooper-looking visor (which Rey also uses).
The torso is probably the most substantial departure from previous TIE pilots, with lines indicating a flight suit that’s a lot more fitted and stylish. The central panel also compliments the hose, which makes for a nice effect. I’m glad they didn’t add a bunch of clutter or add shoulder pads or something for that.
The crewman is a curious figure, and one I hope shows up elsewhere. Stormtroopers assembled look really cool and all, but anyone who’s been in the military knows that guys like this are what really make up an army (numbers vary, but it’s around a 1-to-3… it’s called the Tooth-to-Tail ratio). That’s why I always loved getting officers, crewmen, gunners, and all the people like that. It makes for better setups in scenes, and you want something other than just soldiers to really make a scene feel real.
The crewman uniform pattern is fairly simple, and repeated on both sides. Nothing flashy or overly ornate, and it just works here. The uniform is also apparently inspired by the Batman school of Master Building. I am sort of curious about the helmet, though… is there like a screen in there or is it literally a bucket that they wander around in darkness with?
The officer, who apparently really, really, loves some sharpies, is a pretty fantastic little minifig with questionable tastes in hats. I know he likely didn’t get to choose the hat, but I don’t this whole Flying Nun thing that the First Order has going on. The real standout here, though, is that we have a generic officer character who is a person of color, thus increasing the count of Imperial officers who are also people of color up to one! At least I don’t remember any others… there certainly weren’t any in the movies.
I like this figure, really, but I do wonder what all of that stuff on the front is. Did they decide to get rid of the rank insignia in favor of a school supply-based hierarchy in the First Order? Was the CEO of Staples the new Emperor, and that’s why they’re keeping his appearance and details under such close wraps? I suppose these are all questions we can get answered in December…
This set most certainly isn’t a glorified battle pack… in truth, the only set I’d apply that tag to in the Force Awakens lineup is the Snowspeeder (which I’ll likely be savaging next). At first glance, this set seems like a color skin of the previous TIE fighter, but that preconception falls apart within minutes of starting the build. If you’ve built the old set, you realize how much different this guy is right away.
It’s not just the color… which is interesting but I’m curious how it fits into everything. Hopefully we learn something like the Special Forces being a combination of the old Emperor’s Guards (thus the red) and Shadowtroopers or something like that. The TIE is noticeable wider than the older TIE, but I’m uncertain if it actually is supposed to be or that’s an artifact of fitting in some play features and a new mounting system.
There are three different windscreens that make up the set, each one different. The front one is the standard cockpit glass TIE pattern, except in transparent red. The back has a much more ornate pattern, more like what we get on the back of Sith Infiltrators. I really hope to see that part show up without the trans-red, because it could have a lot of utility. I’m thinking it’d be fun with a First Order TIE Bomber MOC…
The biggest change in building is the correction of what was the weakest (and the weakest) part of the regular TIE, and that was the fragility of the wings. Stacking the little bits and how it arranged around the center was just a pain on the last version, and touching the wings usually meant something was going to fall off. I’m glad to report that the first order apparently values ships that fly without falling apart, and this is using larger parts with better connections, without adding a lot of bulk.
There’s also a printed part on the top, which is red on black, instead of trans red. We saw this on the TIE Advanced Prototype, but it serves a sort of double-purpose here as an opening to get at the two different pilot seats. The top view also shows off the symmetrical design but asymmetrical color. I’m sure we’ll learn more as to why that is… probably something something blood, but I’m also hoping that not only are they Imperial Guards and commandos, but the Mandalorians decided to join up with the First Order as well.
The panels have another new attachment, which is somewhat of a surprise. With the UCS TIE Fighter employing what is one of the best designs I’ve ever seen, I was expecting that to show up in some form. It sort of did, since this isn’t using the big blocks to connect. However, instead of using bricks and angle blocks to lock it in place, this is using small click hinges that are part of the wing. It works, and it’s a lot sturdier than it would seem, but not as solid as the UCS or the prototype.
The cockpit itself isn’t any larger than a standard TIE, but has room to seat two pilots now. This is accomplished by building an opening that even tiny-legs Peyton Manning would have trouble fitting in to. Seriously, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more frustrating cockpit in a LEGO set before. I get that they’re not really designed for adults, but I have fairly average sized hands and the only way I could get pilots in and out was to remove the control stick and get the pilots in or just remove the entire top.
That bar that runs across makes it nearly impossible to position both pilots from the top; even if you do manage to get one of them in, the bulk of the first pilot makes it impossible to get in the other one. The back has a bit more space than the front, but it’s still pretty hard with the arch and the control stick in place. Speaking of that control stick… there’s also no way to get the figure to clip into it and sit inside. You can take off the top and sit it, but connecting the minifig to the stick makes the whole thing too bulky to fit inside… the helmets hit the arch. Worse, there’s no real way to seat the figure, because it’s just a tile inside with nothing to lock on to. The droid body looks interesting, but it’s not really designed to put minifig hands on. I get that there’s a size constraint here… but there has to be a better way to get minifigs to sit inside than what we got.
Putting the set next to the OT TIE highlights a couple of things. First is that the newer ship has a lot more bulk. It’s wider, obviously, but just the bulk around the connectors and the cockpit is substantial. Second… you’re going to end up spending money to buy the cockpit windshields from the TIE Advanced Prototype, because wow, does that bubble cockpit on the older TIE fighter just look awful when you put the First Order TIE next to it. This picture doesn’t highlight it well, because it’s head on… but the bubble nature of that glass is jarringly bad. Side-note… you can buy the TIE Advanced Prototype windscreens on Bricks n’ Pieces.
In spite of the low piece count, price, and cockpit problems, this is still a very fun set. Sometimes, a set is greater than the sum of its parts, and this feels like one of those times. Once you get the figures seated, the set simply looks great. It’s thicker, but it’s hard to tell if that’s how it is supposed to be or not. The new pilots are great, Commander Sharpie and his silly hat have use, and you want more of the technician. If the price goes down, there’s a great parts set here that we’d likely want more of, and I have a feeling that these sets will show up in a lot of displays. It’s enough that I’m going to call this a four out of five… it hurts a bit to get it at full price, but you won’t be disappointed. On a sale, this is a stellar deal, so keep your eyes open.
What I Liked
- Solid build with unique colors that improves some of the biggest issues with the old TIE
- New pilot integrates helmet and printing, even if the hose is likely to break, and the technician is a nifty little addition to the mix
- New connection mechanism makes for a swooshable ship, and a interesting assortment of parts
What I didn’t like
- The obvious thing is the price and number of parts… but that can be said about the entire Force Awakens line
- The cockpit is designed for someone with hands the size of my three-year-old daughter. Good luck getting the pilots in there
- Trans-red cockpit glass limits reuse potential of those parts, but it’s relatively easy to get them in better colors
Verdict: 4 out of 5 (though borderline 3 because of parts and price). You can buy 75101 First Order Special Forces TIE Fighter (perhaps the longest named Star Wars set ever) right now on LEGO Shop@Home!