While we’ve largely focused on the “good guy” sets like 75102 Poe’s X-wing Fighter from The Force Awakens since their release in September, our coverage would be incomplete if we didn’t also review “bad guy” sets like 75101 First Order Special Forces TIE Fighter. The set includes 517 pieces and 4 minifigs, with a retail price of $69.99, though it has been consistently 20% off at $55.99 on Amazon since nearly its release last September.
Now that we’re nearly a month after the movie’s release, I will reference SPOILERS in this review. Again, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I’ll share one non-movie spoiler, though: This is an unexpectedly awesome set — you need it.
The TIE fighter comes in four numbered bags. The first two bags build the cockpit and pylons, while the third and fourth bags each builds one of the solar arrays (aka wings).
The first bag includes the two TIE fighter pilots, and builds the base of the central cockpit. To attach three separate canopies and internal control yokes, you find yourself with a central module that’s got clips going every which way at first.
The second bag includes a First Order technician, and completes the cockpit and wing pylons. The pylons are built studs out, with brackets holding the external detail to a core built mostly from stacked plates and long Technic bricks, making the whole structure incredibly sturdy. The power cells around the ends of the pylons are mostly built from sets of clip plates with tiles on them, creating a rounded look that still reflects the square sections on the actual vehicle.
More clips terminate the pylons (this may be the clippiest set I’ve built in a while), at which point you open the third bag and begin building the first solar array. Even though they come in separate bags, the wings are identical, with the third bag providing the First Order officer and the fourth bag providing flick-fire missiles. Since the solar arrays are also vertically symmetrical, you end up building many components four times. This sounds far more repetitive than it actually is, since the arrays are built mostly from fairly large plates, and come together quickly. I was entertained to see that black roller skates are used as greebles — more later on the inevitable extras that come in each bag (heh heh).
1×2 plates with handles on one end sit at the center of the solar arrays, under the black detailing. These clip firmly onto the pylons to complete the set.
I’ll save my usual spiel about value and price-per-brick for the end with this review, since nobody should be paying MSRP for this set.
Released as it was in the third quarter of the year, the set doesn’t really include any stunning new parts, though at the time the 3 x 2 x 1 1/3 bracket was relatively new, as was the 1×2 plate with handles on both ends (though it’s now super-common, thanks to sets like the Mixels line). The wings also include four rounded 2×6 plates, which I first encountered at the beginning of last year in the Speed Champions cars.
The set includes three printed canopies — and not those crazy bubble-dome canopies of old. In addition to the iconic front canopy, the canopy for the rear gunner has a menacing red and black print.
…and the top hatch also has a highly detailed print.
The finished model
I’m glad I waited to review this set until after the movie’s release, and after the release of reference books from DK like Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary and Star Wars: The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-sections (two books every Star Wars builder must own). From the box and at first glance, it looked a lot like the OT TIE fighter from 2012, but with a black and red color scheme. Hardly.
The wing pylons are much thicker to accommodate the twin ion engines that give the TIE fighter its name — the engines having been moved there to make room for the rear gunner in the cockpit, of course. The ring of power cells around the outer end of each pylon also gives them a chunkier look.
I wasn’t entirely sold on the black-and-red color scheme prior to the movie’s release, but it’s clear that it’s a very faithful recreation of the red stripe denoting Special Forces. All but two small spots are brick-built (two very small stickers on a 4×4 roll cage that shapes the pylons), and this makes that side of the TIE fighter look like it was splashed with war paint. A TIE fighter with a stripe of red war paint. How totally badass is that?!
The central cockpit is much sleeker than previous TIE fighters thanks to the absence of the huge bubble canopy on the front of the set from 2012 (closer in profile to the original TIE from 2001).
Until the release of reference materials like the Incredible Cross-Sections book, there was a lot of speculation about the doo-dad that sticks up from one pylon. It’s a detail that even shows up in the mini-scale polybag First Order TIE fighter (seen in the comparison photo at right). “Is it a gun?” people wondered. It’s clear that the set designers were given access to detailed concept art or drafts of the reference books, because this is a detail that’s not very evident in the movie itself — it’s hard to see a small black detail like this on a black TIE fighter flying very fast against a black sky. But now that we have these high-quality reference images with detailed callouts, we learn that it’s a long-range communications antenna.
It’s the sort of detail that could easily have been overlooked in the LEGO set, and might even have gone unnoticed for the first several months of the set’s availability. Thus, I’m quite impressed that the designers chose to include it in the set.
The top hatch opens as it should, allowing you to put both the pilot and rear gunner in place easily. They both have control yokes as well.
The solar arrays use the same technique for the outer edges and bracing struts as the 2012 TIE fighter. There is a sticker sheet in the set, which just adds small red details to the wing pylons (on the 4×4 roll cage in the photo above) and the solar power converter in the center of the arrays (below).
Shockingly for many of you reading this latest review from me, I’m not going to complain about flick-fire missiles! The launchers and the missiles themselves are so perfectly integrated into the set that the tips of the missiles serve as the laser cannon emitters. (Technically, they should be green, but I would argue from an aesthetic angle that two green knobs sticking out from the front of the black and red vehicle would have looked rather ugly…)
Given how sturdily the cockpit and pylons are built and how well they attach to the solar arrays, the TIE fighter is incredibly swooshable. I can flip it around vigorously with my wrist and it stays solid, which is far more than I can say for the floppy, rubberband-bound S-foils of Poe’s X-wing.
If I were to dig deep for one complaint about this set, it would be the absence of a proper heavy turret on the belly. That’ll be my first — and probably only — mod to this set.
I’ve always felt like LEGO didn’t put quite the same heart and soul into designing the rather monotonous minifigs of the Empire, and I assumed back in September that the same would be true for the First Order. I was wrong. Very very wrong, in fact. (And as I go back and build some of my Star Wars set backlog from my basement, it seems I’ve been wrong for two or three years.)
I don’t know if I can successfully capture in words how fantastic the First Order TIE fighter pilots are in this set. LEGO released a redesigned TIE fighter pilot helmet — one with a new mold that wasn’t just a black stormtrooper helmet — several years ago, and that’s what I was expecting in this set. “Close enough,” I thought. Again, dead wrong — the First Order TIE fighter pilot helmets are a completely new mold. The movie prop helmets have targeting sensors on their top that almost looks like a crest, and that is accurately represented. More importantly and surprisingly, the breathing hoses seen on the props in the movies actually extend down from the mask, using a rubber material attached to the ABS helmet.
Even LEGO’s official photos with their high production values don’t do these minifigs justice — you have to hold them in your hand to see just how excellent they are. With reference materials like the Visual Dictionary at hand, the only possible complaint about the pilots is that the helmet printing for at least one of them could have had the red streaks denoting Special Forces, since that’s the version of the TIE fighter depicted in the set.
Both pilots have printed legs, though the remaining minifigs in the set — a First Order technician and an officer — have plain legs.
All four minifigs have full back printing as well.
The heads for the three helmeted minifigs are fairly generic, but the officer is a darker-skinned gentlemen with graying eyebrows — a very useful minifig head indeed. None of the heads are double-sided.
Since the wings came in two separate bags, there was an extra greeble roller skate in each bag. Naturally, I put them to good use, imagining that this is how the First Order gets around the endless corridors of Starkiller Base.
Finally, I think it’s worth noting that the set designers chose the minifigs very wisely. The First Order TIE fighter plays its most important role in the movie when FN-2187 breaks Poe Dameron out of a detention cell aboard the Finalizer and escapes with him to Jakku. The rear-facing gunner position is a key plot point as the newly named Finn takes out the Star Destroyer’s guns and even a missile or two. But what a spoiler! Including FN-2187 and Poe in his original outfit (as I’ve done in this “what if” photo below) would have ruined the surprise of their escape.
Conclusions & recommendation
75101 First Order Special Forces TIE Fighter is a superlative set, not just for excellent minifigs like the pilots but for the main model itself. Aside from my well-known love affair with Rey’s Speeder, this may actually be my favorite set from the first wave of Force Awakens sets released last September. That’s saying a lot, with iconic fan favorites like the X-wing and Millennium Falcon to compete against.
I’ve never been a fan of the Empire’s aesthetic, and haven’t been super-impressed by much other than sheer scale (which requires substantial engineering complexity) for LEGO sets like the ISD or SSD in the UCS line. So I find myself surprised to feel so passionately positive about a First Order set. But I think this set deserves it. From the interesting build and well-integrated play features to the gorgeous minifigs, as well as its movie accuracy and high swoosh factor, this is one of the best LEGO sets I’ve built in a while.
At $70 for 517 pieces, it would be hard to recommend this set on value. But fortunately, it’s been on sale from multiple outlets over the last few months, and remains semi-permanently 20% off as of this writing from Amazon.com. Given that, you’d be insane to pay full price for this set, but hard-pressed to say it’s not a pretty good value for such a fantastic set at $56.
Buy this set. Heck, buy a fleet of them and invade D’Qar for all I care — I’m all mixed up and don’t know what to believe anymore!
75101 First Order Special Forces TIE Fighter retails for $69.99 and includes 517 pieces and 4 minifigs. You can support TBB by purchasing it from from Amazon.com (where it’s 20% off) or the LEGO Shop (at full price, but with VIP points). LEGO provided The Brothers Brick with a copy of this set for review, but free LEGO from Billund guarantees neither coverage nor a positive review.