Over the last few years, LEGO has released a number of limited-run sets and sold them at non-LEGO events like San Diego Comic-Con. Invariably, the sets reflect highly collectable subject matter like Star Wars and Marvel super heroes. We reviewed Detention Block Rescue (the set LEGO sold at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year), and we recently purchased the New York Comic-Con exclusive 41498 Boba Fett & Han Solo in Carbonite BrickHeadz on eBay for $105 so we could bring our readers another review of a set you may not be able to get yourselves.
41498 Boba Fett & Han Solo in Carbonite includes 329 pieces, and while it was sold at the event for an already inflated $40, its original price during NYCC frankly doesn’t matter — it’s currently available ranging from $110 to $300 for Buy It Now listings on eBay and $112 to $145 for Amazon.com marketplace listings. This review, in addition to providing a vicarious build experience for those not privileged enough to attend NYCC or able to purchase the set on the secondary market, will discuss LEGO’s business practice of releasing limited-run products in ways that prevent most actual builders and LEGO fans from ever getting their hands on the set.
The box and packaging
Unlike any other LEGO sets we’ve built, the box for Boba and Han slides open vertically. The top and bottom halves of the box are sealed with a piece of LEGO BrickHeadz tape, while the two halves of the box are made from a premium heavy-duty cardboard that’s even thicker than the boxes for LEGO Ideas and Architecture sets (the two other themes that are marketed beyond the core ages 5-12 and AFOL demographics).
The top and sides of the box show top and side views of the completed BrickHeadz, while the back of the box shows alternate views of the characters.
Each BrickHeadz character comes in its own bag of parts, with a separate mini-booklet of instructions.
While the instructions reference numbered bags (#1 for Boba Fett and #2 for Han Solo in carbonite), the actual bags are resealable bags with small stickers that have a quality control code and a 7-digit number that indicates which comes first — it’s also fairly obvious from the sand green, brown, and dark red pieces in the first bag and all the light gray in the second bag.
The instructions themselves use glossy paper that’s a bit thicker than regular instruction booklets.
Overall, it’s clear that the intention is for the box to serve as long-term storage for the set’s contents. I also suspect that the two parts bags were hand-packed, adding to the feeling of a “small batch” or even “artisanal” set akin to Chris McVeigh’s custom kits.
All BrickHeadz sets are built on the same basic building plan, with a small body built studs-up, stumpy legs and arms, and a large head built studs-out with a pink 2×2 brick for a “brain.”
There isn’t much in the way of new techniques with Boba Fett, who follows the pattern of every previous BrickHeadz character. Boba Fett is a fairly brief build. The 40-page instruction booklet spans just 42 steps, with very few sub-assemblies and many steps only adding three or four parts.
What’s remarkable — and very disappointing for LEGO builders who can’t afford the exorbitant secondary-market price — is just how many printed parts add detail to Boba Fett, with six unique printed pieces not available in any other set. We’ll return to this point shortly.
Han Solo in carbonite is a bit more involved, with a 52-page instruction booklet (though the actual number of steps are the same as for Boba Fett).
In addition to the SNOT (Studs Not on Top) techniques that we expect in all LEGO sets — and studs-out BrickHeadz in particular — by now, Han Solo uses some interesting half-stud offset techniques so that his legs/feet jut out only a little bit from the block of carbonite. Han Solo himself is built studs-forward on brackets, while the sides of the dark gray frame he sits in are attached studs-out to 1×1 bricks with studs on one side.
Hilariously, Han Solo includes a pink 2×6 plate at his core, since there’s no room for a 2×2 pink brick for his brain.
One of the cool things about Han Solo is that the block of carbonite sits on several clear half-panels so that the block can “float” for transport.
While Boba Fett rests his tiny toes on a regular BrickHeadz stand, Han Solo’s block of carbonite slots into a larger 6×12 stand.
As you’ve seen in the photos so far, the set includes numerous printed pieces that are unique to this set. Boba Fett alone has a printed belt (1×4 rounded arch), visor (1×4 tile), shoulder armor with the Mandalorian mythosaur skull insignia (1×2 cheese slope), battle-damaged helmet (2×2 rounded slope), and kill stripes (2×4 tile). As monochrome as Han Solo inevitably must be encased in carbonite, even his BrickHeadz model includes eight printed 1×2 tiles in two designs plus his closed eyes on 1×1 round tiles. Each model also includes a 2×4 “New York Comic Con 2017” tile.
That’s a huge amount of printing for a limited-run set, especially when most Star Wars sets include giant sticker sheets rather than printed parts. This is disappointing for avid builders like us and probably for many TBB readers as well, given that we’ve seen how prior exclusive sets were not re-released in mass-market form later, radically limiting the availability of highly desirable printed pieces. Again, more on this as we reflect on the set overall later.
The finished models
I’ll acknowledge that BrickHeadz are not for everyone. TBB’s own Iain Heath has even satirized the whole phenomenon with his Rejectz series of custom creations, and behind the scenes we sometimes groan at the number of custom BrickHeadz we have to wade through when looking for LEGO creations to highlight here on the site. Nevertheless, I personally really like the concept — they’re adorable! — even though I’m not driven to collect the ever-increasing array of LEGO characters and line them up on a shelf somewhere like Funko’s infinite range of POP! Vinyl dolls.
But given my penchant for adorable things, love of Star Wars, and appreciation for interesting building techniques and unique printed parts, I can’t quite express strongly enough how much I love these two characters.
My favorite Star Wars character is Han Solo, but my favorite character design is far and away Boba Fett. The BrickHeadz Boba Fett captures the legendary bounty hunter’s design perfectly, reduced to essentials through the process of miniaturization. I particularly like the angled 2×2 wedge plates in dark green that combine with the 1×4 printed visor tile to create the unique look of Boba Fett’s helmet.
Boba Fett also includes every detail you’d expect, from the targeting rangefinder in its flipped-up position to his half-cape and jetpack. I found myself swooshing Boba Fett around the room with his jetpack and sliding him behind the block of carbonite across the table as he hauled Han Solo off to the Slave I and a destiny with Jabba the Hutt (what would a BrickHeadz Jabba look like, I wonder…).
I love this set. I really do.
And therein lies my fundamental problem with the very existence of this LEGO set. If you or I could go into any LEGO Store or log onto Amazon.com and pay $20 to $30 for the pair (all regular BrickHeadz are $9.99 regardless of part count), I would be recommending this set to every LEGO Star Wars fan on the planet.
But I can’t make that recommendation, because the vast majority among the tens of thousands of you out there reading this review can never own this set. LEGO made just a few thousand copies of the set, which they sold to people who could afford to attend New York Comic-Con and had the time to stand in line for the set, a large number of whom immediately began selling them on the secondary market for an exorbitant markup. Not only can you never own the set, you can’t even build it yourself because it relies on a huge number of printed parts only available in this set.
Let me be clear: LEGO has every legal right to do whatever they want — they’re not a charity. I also do not necessarily fault those whom some in the LEGO building community are labeling “scalpers” — they were just able to be in the right place at the right time, and as non-builders themselves have no reason not to make any profit that the market can sustain.
And yet, I do take issue with LEGO choosing to make a business decision that creates artificial scarcity and keeps a highly desirable LEGO set out of the hands of all but a privileged few. As the small glut of supply after NYCC less than a month ago continues to dwindle, we expect the prices for this set to continue rising — SDCC exclusive BrickHeadz from 2016 are now going for $150-250 for a pair of characters or several thousand dollars for a full set!
For those of us who see the LEGO hobby as a community of talented and creative builders, LEGO’s business practices with these limited-run “exclusives” is simply unacceptable. The building community is a vibrant, diverse community that spans generations and economic classes. Business practices like this introduce far more obvious financial inequity than who does and who does not have a UCS Falcon — if you can afford to drop $250 on a set that only has 329 pieces, that demonstrates a level of privilege far above spending $800 on 7,500 pieces. The LEGO fan community must not be allowed to devolve into a marketplace of entrepreneurs in which an increasing range of “exclusive” products exchange privileged hands from collector to collector.
And no, “It’s just capitalism” isn’t a be-all, end-all rationalization for business practices of a multi-billion-dollar international corporation that damage a community that we as builders deeply care about. After all, profit isn’t the driving factor for LEGO here. The amount of money LEGO makes on an exclusive like this is negligible — LEGO may, in fact, lose money given the small production run.
So I also have to question the alleged strategy of exclusives somehow producing positive buzz for the brand. LEGO states that its five brand values are “Creativity, Imagination, Learning, Fun and Quality.” Whether stated explicitly or not, I also think that LEGO has strong brand values for accessibility and equality. As a fairly poor kid growing up in a very wealthy country, I treasured the small LEGO sets my parents and grandparents could afford to give me, and the quality of the products meant that they had high staying power. I never associated LEGO with wealth and privilege the way I associated large plastic model kits, RC planes, and other expensive toys my wealthier friends owned.
Despite the intent that many have inferred — to “build brand buzz,” apparently — the coverage and response to exclusives like this has been almost uniformly negative from the LEGO fan community, including this review itself as well as in the comments from builders and collectors in response to the set’s reveal as an exclusive. Assessments of LEGO’s intentions have ranged from greedy to elitist and exclusive. Hardly “Fun.” And certainly not fair and equitable.
LEGO, stop it. Just stop. After all, there’s an easy solution. If you’re going to release something that rewards convention attendees, follow the lead of other toy companies and release your limited-run products in limited edition packaging, or produce products that highlight the event itself (like Funco’s “Emerald Crusader” figure for Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle). But for the love of the LEGO fan community, stop creating divisions among us through the release of these limited-run exclusives.
Again, this is a fantastic LEGO set, and I genuinely applaud the designers who created these adorable Star Wars characters. But we just can’t condone release strategies that are designed to create divisions within the community we love. Through the re-releases of the UCS Falcon and now 10256 Taj Mahal, product planners at LEGO have demonstrated that they have little regard for the impact new sets create on secondary market prices, and that’s something we as builders — rather than hoarders or speculators — can respect. We can only hope that LEGO will re-release these “exclusives” in standard BrickHeadz packaging to a broader market, accessible to all.
You can’t buy this LEGO set from LEGO. LEGO did not send The Brothers Brick copies of this set — we had to buy it on eBay at triple its original price.