LEGO’s largest mech ever has landed, bringing with it a wave of 1980s nostalgia. Based on the cartoon TV series that began airing in 1984, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, this huge robot has taken a long, winding route through LEGO’s product development, arriving more than two years after the project surpassed the 10k-vote mark needed for LEGO to assess the project. With 2,321 pieces, 21311 Voltron is the largest Ideas set to date. It will be available to LEGO VIP members beginning July 23, with full availability Aug. 1, and it will be priced $179.99 USD.
Watch our video review here, and read the in-depth full review below:
For those who didn’t grow up in the 80s watching Voltron: Defender of the Universe or its original Japanese source material GoLion and Dairugger, the mighty mech is an ancient weapon created toby the forces of good. Voltron isn’t just a huge robot, though. It’s made of five smaller parts, each bearing the shape of a lion and piloted by a member of Voltron Force. The Black, Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow lions can each function independently, fly through space, and pose formidable threats on their own, but as they say, when their powers combine…
Voltron has also been rebooted as a TV show by Netflix and Dreamworks titled Voltron: Legendary Defender, with six seasons released and more on the way. The LEGO set, while acknowledging the new show in some of the press materials, appears to be entirely based on the original series. The popularity of the Netflix series no doubt also played a significant role in LEGO’s decision to forge ahead with creating a $180 set based on a 30-year-old franchise.
The box contents & stickers
The LEGO Ideas team has been pushing the boundaries of what sort of sets are possible with the crowd-sourcing platform, and they’ve come a long way since I was involved with the very first Ideas set back in 2012. At that time, we were limited to staying in the sub-$50 range, but several recent Ideas sets have crested the $100 mark, with Voltron leading the charge in closing on $200. As with other large Ideas sets, however, there’s good value in that money, falling well below the $0.10-per-piece average, coming in a little shy of $0.08 per piece. So despite coming in a box the same size as the NASA Apollo Saturn V, the extra 400 pieces make Voltron’s box feel especially loaded. The parts inside are broken into 16 numbered bags, with a packet containing the set’s six instruction manuals and small sticker sheet.
The sticker sheet includes just five stickers showing the lion’s numbers, which the accompanying text in the instruction manual notes can be applied in several different orientations, as the lions weren’t numbered the same in every episode of the original series. However, the outer coloring of the numbers strongly indicates to which lions each belongs.
The lions are built independently and combined into Voltron at the end. Thus, the six manuals break down to one per lion, with a final booklet for Voltron’s sword and shield, along with detailed instructions on how to combine the lions into Voltron. All of the manuals are fairly short, with the exception of the Black Lion, whose complex build makes for a longer manual.
The sixth manual has eight pages of background on Voltron, the fan designer Leandro Tayag, and the design process. We sat down with the design team in LEGO’s Billund, Denmark, headquarters, and they told us that more than any previous LEGO Ideas set, Voltron was a challenge to translate from a fan design to a model that could be easily built following instructions and would withstand the transformation process. In fact, at one point the project was nearly scrapped, saved only by Model Designer Niek van Slagmaat. He was so passionate about the project that he offered to work on the design after hours for two months until he perfected a version that could work. The instructions show a variety of iterations the model went through during the rigorous design process as the team contemplated different scales. All five members of the LEGO design team are credited in the instructions, including for the first time the Building Instructions Developer, Jean-Marc Lanoix-Warrer.
The build begins with the Yellow and Blue Lions who make up Voltron’s feet. With the exception of the color and a few minor details like the shaping of the heads and details along the back, the pair are identical in construction. Of course, the Yellow Lion is actually the LEGO color Flame Yellowish Orange (AKA Bright Light Orange) rather than true yellow. The body is a rigid structure reinforced with Technic beams. Throughout all of the models, pairs of top and bottom brackets with plates across them are used to “sandwich” the parts in between, creating an extremely robust build. Here, it also aids in the color stripes down the lion’s sides. There’s a large hole in the back of each lion where it will join the main assembly to become Voltron.
As the feet, the Yellow and Blue Lions have to transform into a wide enough structure to support the colossal robot’s weight. Their heads and chests will later become Voltron’s feet, so they’re a separate subassembly that can rotate around an axle between the lions’ shoulders. A small rubber tire on the underside of the chest gives Voltron a bit of gripping power, too. They’re interesting builds, though a bit tedious doing them twice.
The four legs are identical, attached to the body with ball joints, which provide stiffness although the range of motion is limited to a single plane. The lower limb sections are connected with click hinges, making the final poses awkward. Interestingly, each of the legs employs 1×2 bricks with grooves rather than standard 1×2 bricks, even though the groove is invisible in the finished model. It’s a nice touch for the model designers to provide these more uncommon elements when they can.
The Black Lion is drastically larger than the first two, as he makes up Voltron’s torso. It contains some marvelously complex techniques to support the incredible forces of holding together 2,000 pieces while still transforming. The Black Lion’s torso is built separately from all four legs, as the leg/shoulders are removed and repositioned during the transformation.
The back of the torso employs an interesting technique with 2×2 half-tiles placed into bright light yellow headlight bricks. Another nifty bit of brickwork is just above them in the form of Technic pins and clips, which lock the axles for Voltron’s wings sturdily into place.
The bottom of the Black Lion’s chest contains the Arusian seal, which is ringed in silver elements and employs a pearl gold lug wrench for the center cross. The end of a pearl gold 1×2 grille tile sticks out above it, forming the seal’s gold crown.
The Black Lion’s front shoulders, which become Voltron’s arms, use a combination of ball joints and gears to introduce massive friction into the equation–enough to support Voltron’s arms outstretched while wielding his sword. The shoulder assembly attaches to the Black Lion’s torso with a series of clips.
Like the front legs, the Black Lion’s hind legs are removed and rotated during the transformation process, though they’re attached with Technic pins rather than clips. Voltron’s stance is thanks to the legs splaying outward a little, a rigid angle set in place with some clever LEGO math. 1×5 Technic plates span the studs between two hinged segments, permanently affixing them at a slight angle. It’s very solid, and can easily support Voltron’s weight.
The Red and Green Lions are simple builds with comparatively little internal structure. Unlike the larger lions, they have segmented bodies since they serve as Voltron’s arms.
With five different colored lions making up Voltron, the set is awash in bright colored elements. Naturally, there are lots of elements in red, green, blue, black, and bright light yellow, along with lots of grey elements which are used for details on all the lions. As with other Ideas sets, there are no new element types to be found here, though there are plenty of parts in new colors, and these are just a sample of some of the more interesting ones. The lug wrench has previously only appeared in three colors, but as always it comes prepacked with the rest of the toolset, even though only the lug wrench is used. The bag is the old perforated style, which brings some awesome nostalgia for 80s LEGO (yes, they’re usually packaged this way).
Voltron is the best parts pack for precious metal elements of any set in recent memory, with a whopping 33 elements in silver and gold, plus extras of a few. They’re all painted metallic, though, not true chrome, which LEGO has almost entirely stopped producing. The metallic paint lacks the luster of chrome, and also picks up scratches quite readily, so handle with care.
Although the set includes a sticker sheet, most of the elements are printed. The four smaller lions all employ 2×2 tiles on their shoulders printed with a silver mechanical pattern, for a total of 16. The top of Voltron’s head is a black shield tile printed in dark red and silver, and Voltron’s mouth is a 3×1 double inverted slope, an element which has never before been printed.
All five lions range in size from the small Red and Green Lions to the massive Black Lion, and they make quite a pack.
Let’s start with the smallest lions, the Red and Green Lions, piloted by Lance and Princess Allura. Long and skinny, these lions have the most posability, since they’re jointed in the midsection and neck. This only allows side-to-side movement, though, and no vertical motion. The legs are jointed in two places, allowing for a fair amount of positioning. Although the shoulders are attached with Mixel balls, the joints are inset into the body reducing the range of motion to a simple rotation. Each of the lions features a bit of silver detailing on the head.
And speaking of heads, the shaping is quite a tremendous feat considering the scale. Although the lions’ overall shaping is mostly hampered by their alternative purpose, the heads are remarkable examples of brick-building organic creatures using mostly simple elements. The smaller Red and Green Lions have fixed mouths with a dark grey Technic pin receptacle for holding Voltron’s sword and shield, but the larger Blue and Yellow Lions have movable lower jaws.
As the legs, the Blue and Yellow Lions have slightly longer tails and beefier dimensions everywhere else than their arm counterparts. One irksome detail is that the rear legs are plantigrade with joints like a human leg, rather than digitigrade with the lower limbs bending forward like a lion. To remedy this no additional parts are needed, simply swapping the positions of the legs and feet. The swap also doesn’t interfere with assembling Voltron, so whether it’s an oversight or odd decision, it’s hard to say. I know my model will be displayed with the corrected legs.
As we’ve mentioned, the Black Lion is massive. Chunky and short, its overall dimensions are more bear than lion, and this is exacerbated by the fact that the back legs are fixed, with the only point of movement in the ankles. This lion, even more so than the others, has suffered compromise to suit the needs of a transformation into Voltron. On its back it carries Voltron’s wings, folded away but still cumbersome.
From the back, the Black Lion appears more like a baboon than a lion, with huge, rounded haunches and a stubby tail protruding from too high up the back. The lion’s face, however, is much better. The Black Lion’s head transforms into Voltron’s head, and the lower jaw is movable.
The Black Lion’s four limbs are removable, and as the first step in transforming into Voltron they are reattached–the fronts rotated 180°, and the back legs rotated 90°. The mighty red wings are then unfurled, and the lower jaw flipped down to become Voltron’s face, and the upper tilted down for Voltron’s helmet.
Next, the other lions individually transform: the Red and Green Lions simply tucking their limbs in close to their bodies, and the Blue and Yellow Lions doing the same, and then bending the heads forward to function as feet.
Now, all of the lions are prepared to become Voltron!
And at last, the powerful warrior stands ready to defend the universe.
Voltron is nothing if not well prepared, however. He summons a sword fit for a titan and a matching shield. Voltron’s hands, made of the Red and Green Lion’s heads, do not have fingers, only Technic pin holds. The sword is split apart at the hilt and attached to the pin holes, while the shield slips in from a single side with a Technic pin.
Voltron’s range of motion is limited to head turning and arm lifting, and the legs and feet do not move at all. The arms are easily able to support their weight, with the geared shoulders providing plenty of resistance even when wielding a sword, and the elbows and wrists with double ball joints similarly stiff.
Even with the sword outstretched, Voltron stands firm, not prone to tipping. At more than 15 inches tall, it’s hard to grasp how large Voltron is without seeing it in person. Here, an awestruck minifigure has wandered in from the wrong theme and stands beside Voltron’s foot to help give a sense of scale.
Voltron’s head is magnificent, with great shaping using common elements, and the crest on its chest also looks great. The brick-built crest is a great solution, and much more appealing to builders than a print or sticker solution.
Conclusion & recommendation
Fans have been designing giant robots out of LEGO bricks for about as long as LEGO bricks have existed, and they’re notoriously difficult to create. They want to fall over, the joints don’t hold well, and they’re too heavy to hold themselves together. So it’s already a marvel that LEGO’s designers have created a 15-inch tall mech that stands firmly on two legs and has strong joints. The fact that it also transforms into five lions deserves the praise of any well-informed builder. The lions themselves are adequate designs–not excellent, except in the faces–but the design idiosyncracies are easily overlooked in light of their transforming ability. Once assembled, Voltron displays none of the design compromises of the lions, except in a lack of mobility for the legs. Fan designer Leandro Tayag’s model looked good, but the official Voltron looks great.
One thing many fans will note is the absence of the pilots. Although the set is smaller than minifigure scale, the five pilots would have made a perfect addition to this set. Recent Star Wars UCS sets do exactly this, including minifigures regardless of scale.
For those who will inevitably view Voltron as a parts pack, it’s hard to go wrong. Voltron is priced well for what you get, and there’s a huge variety of elements and colors (five pages of instruction booklet #1 are devoted to the inventory, which has elements in 20 colors).
Most buyers, however, will be those who grew up watching Voltron: Defender of the Universe or those who are fans of the current show. And for them, there is no better piece of nostalgia than getting an excellent model of the universe’s most powerful weapon in LEGO form. As a display piece, it’s sure to wow anyone who recognizes it, and when you show them how it actually transforms into the lions, you just might make new LEGO fans.
LEGO Ideas 21311 Voltron will be available from the LEGO Shop Online beginning July 23 for LEGO VIP members, and starting Aug. 1 for everyone else. It is also available in limited quantities to San Diego Comic-Con attendees starting today. It has 2,321 pieces, and will retail for $179.99 USD.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.
Check out all the images from the review below, including some extras.