The LEGO Star Wars sets from Rogue One, released in late 2016 and early 2017 to support the movie, include several of my favorite LEGO Star Wars sets of the past few years, like the fantastic 75172 Y-wing Starfighter and 75155 Rebel U-wing Starfighter. I’ve hoped that LEGO would return to world of Rogue One, and with the recently released 75251 Darth Vader’s Castle LEGO returns to the first Star Wars Anthology film.
The set has had mixed reactions from LEGO builders and collectors since it was first announced several weeks ago, but how does it actually stack up?
The packaging, instructions, & sticker sheet
The box for Darth Vader’s Castle is oriented vertically, highlighting the height of the structure.
Inside the box, a small cardboard sleeve attached to the box contains the instruction booklet, protecting it from further damage — beyond the plastic sleeve that instructions for larger sets already come in.
We ordered our copy of the set from Amazon.com, and we’ve heard that some copies of this set arrived with damaged boxes because Amazon, by default, shipped the set in the set box itself rather than an Amazon.com box. If you’re planning on building the set, this is actually a fantastic way to conserve cardboard and save a bit of a tree. However, if you’re planning on displaying the box, reselling the set, or even just sending it to someone for Christmas, you can choose to get the set shipped in Amazon.com packaging instead.
The set includes ten numbered bags, plus an unnumbered bag with large plates.
The sticker sheet is protected inside the instruction booklet’s wrapper, and includes numerous Sith designs and Imperial architecture details.
The first two bags include the parts for the “chibi” version of Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced starfighter, which we’ll cover later in this review. The next three bags include the parts for the base of the castle, including the “lavafall” spewing from the structure on Mustafar.
The three-sided base’s walls are modular, but attach to each other sturdily.
One of more noteworthy aspects of the tower’s base is just how many stickers you have to apply on the rear/interior side. Repetitive design patterns are an expected part of any structure, and the base is fairly repetitive, with seven pillars that all have stickers on both the vertical panels and 2×3 slopes. Fortunately, the monotony is broken up by various hidden details we’ll return to when examining the finished model.
The sixth bag adds the plates for the main floor above the base, along with several key details on that floor (Darth Vader’s Bacta tank in particular).
Bag 7 includes a mountain of plates and tiles for the front facade of the castle, with the eighth bag providing the parts for Darth Vader’s meditation chamber on a middle floor partway up the tower.
Like the three-sided base section, the tower itself is also three-sided, with separate bags providing the parts for each side.
The facade sections all angle inward, connected to the base with bars and clips. The top floor further reinforces the connection between the sections, with a Technic pin securing the angled, circular floor.
The two side wall sections each include small protuberances and hinge brick pieces, which hold the middle floor safely in place, since it’s only actually attached to the front facade section. It’s a clever bit of LEGO engineering to create a sturdy, flat surface at an angle to the three sides it’s connected to.
The finished model
75251 Darth Vader’s Castle depicts Fortress Vader on the volcanic planet Mustafar as it appears in Rogue One, based on previously unused concept art by Ralph McQuarrie. The box photos don’t really do justice to the set, which comes across as a stubbier version of Orthanc from The Lord of the Rings. But in person, the tower stands 16″ (41cm) high.
The top of the tower includes a platform behind the tuning fork split, through which defenders can fire a stud-shooter.
The lower section around the main floor has trans-red windows surrounded by imposing vertical sections.
The dark tan corner BURP pieces on either side of the base frame the black edifice nicely, highlighting the central orange lavafall.
Of course, the real fun is in the exposed back of the tower, which has four levels with play features.
The lowest level inside the base is shaped to fit Vader’s TIE fighter, though the bottom of the base is open, so you won’t be able to carry the tower around with the starfighter parked.
Although they’re about the same size, the miniaturized version of Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1 starfighter in this set is completely different from the one in 75159 Death Star. This version uses 2×2 triangle tiles rather than wedge tiles on the wings, for example. It’s a great little rendition of the iconic vehicle, at home alongside Boba Fett’s Slave I from 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City. These little vehicles are one of my favorite aspects of these large-scale playsets.
Both versions fit Darth Vader, helmet and all. Apparently he doesn’t need to see out the front viewport since he uses the Force…
Oddly, the back of the starfighter has a clip so you can attach Darth Vader’s lightsaber — the Dark Lord of the Sith wouldn’t want to lose his special laser sword in the depths of the Unknown Regions now would he?
The interior of the lowest section looks like an Imperial hangar bay, with lights on the columns (which are of course stickers) reminiscent of the lighted walls on the Death Star.
Both sides of the base have small areas with several play features. One side has a Sith shrine with a holocron.
Although the key details are created with stickers, the red and black motif is striking, with tiny hooded Sith figures standing guard on either side of the pyramidal holocron crystal.
Popping open a small panel next to the shrine reveals a hidden chamber with a dark lightsaber handle.
On the other side of the castle’s base is a section that’s more utilitarian, with racks for stud-shooter ammunition and some kind of greebly mechanical device.
Reminding us again that we’re in the world of Rogue One, opening the hidden compartment on this side reveals a kyber crystal.
Darth Vader spends time in a bacta tank to heal the injuries sustained years earlier on Mustafar, as well as the depredations of the Dark Side. Thanks to a bit of practical magic (the set doesn’t come with lighting effects), the scene looks very dramatic!
The simply constructed tank opens upward so you can remove Darth Vader and get him out of his Sith skivvies and into his armor.
The middle level has a segmented meditation chamber, which appears to serve as Darth Vader’s office, where he conducts Sith business.
The chamber opens so Darth Vader can take HoloNet calls from his boss back on Coruscant.
While we rarely complain about brick-built solutions for features in LEGO sets, this might be a case in which larger pieces would have created a more domed look without as many gaps.
The top floor is a simple platform consisting of a single, large 8×8 circular piece with a large sticker. In the movie, this circular platform is on a lower level, were Darth Vader and Director Krennic discuss the status of the first Death Star’s construction.
Back on the lower level, a staircase and door provide access to the main floor.
Darth Vader’s Castle comes with five minifigs — Darth Vader in his Sith armor, naked Darth Vader, two Royal Guards, and an Imperial transport pilot.
Armored Vader is identical to the version in numerous recent sets, with the split helmet and soft cape. Vader as he’s seen briefly in the bacta tank in Rogue One is completely unique to this set — even the black breathing piece is only available in this color in this one set. Vader’s head, torso, and left arm are white, while his right arm and both legs are in silver to reflect the fact that Palpatine replaced the limbs Anakin Skywalker lost in his final fight with Obi-wan Kenobi with robotic prosthetics.
The back of Vader’s naked torso is printed with details like shoulder blades, and the back of his head is essentially identical to the printing on the back of regular Vader’s head.
The Royal Guards are also identical to the minifigs in sets like the current Death Star and 75093 Death Star Final Duel.
The other unique minifig in this set is an Imperial transport pilot — a variant of the Scarif Shoretroopers and tank troopers from Rogue One. This character variant appears to be a non-canon variant created by LEGO for this set, but we’d certainly welcome a correction if our research has fallen short. The transport pilot is accompanied here by a brick-built mouse droid.
The pilot has blue coloring to distinguish him from other Imperial trooper variants, but he has the same head shared with Clone Troopers, stormtroopers and First Order minifigs in helmets as well.
Conclusions & recommendation
While we were certainly impressed with a few of the building techniques and the many play features of the finished model, at $130 for just over a thousand parts and only one canonical new minifig, 75251 Darth Vader’s Castle is not a great value. Most of the parts are black plates, and the minifig selection doesn’t quite add up for a true Rogue One scene — a new variant of Orson Krennic or Vader’s attendant Vaneé would have made much more sense than a non-canonical blue pilot. Nevertheless, this set did exceed our expectations based on the official photos released several weeks ago, and we were impressed with the improved packaging, excellent naked Vader, and the adorable TIE Advanced.
While this review is undoubtedly mixed, we can certainly recommend the set to hardcore Star Wars fans as well as builders like me who’ve been looking forward to more sets from Rogue One. Given the mixed reaction from LEGO Star Wars fans already, we’d expect the set to be discounted 20-30% relatively soon (particularly on Amazon.com, the exclusive non-LEGO retailer). If the set were $104 rather than $130 (20% off), our recommendation would definitely be higher.
LEGO Star Wars 75251 Darth Vader’s Castle is available now from the LEGO Shop online ($129.99 in the US, $149.99 in Canada, and £119.99 in the UK) and Amazon.com, as well as third-party sellers on eBay and BrickLink.