The LEGO Star Wars line’s latest massive set in the Ultimate Collector Series is 75252 Imperial Star Destroyer, clocking in at a whopping 4,784 pieces and two minifigures, with a price to match the part count (US $699.99 | CAN $849.99 | UK £649.99). Depicting Darth Vader’s flagship Devastator seen at the end of Rogue One leading into the first moments of A New Hope, this is the first UCS ISD since 10030 in 2002 and the first UCS set since 75181 Y-wing Starfighter nearly 18 months ago. But is there more to this huge LEGO set than gray wedge plates? Let’s find out…
The packaging & instructions
The new UCS Imperial Star Destroyer ships in a large square box similar in both size and design to the huge box that so surprised us when 75192 UCS Millennium Falcon arrived on our doorstep exactly two years ago. The front of the box shows the ISD Devastator over Tatooine, without the stand, and with the Tantive IV flying alongside (or below — about to be swallowed into the docking bay). The “Ultimate Collector Series” branding is unambiguous in the upper banner of the box. It’s worth noting that the detailed retail box ships in a large, plain cardboard box that fits snugly around the retail box, but the damaged corners indicate that the shipping box is no proof against the inner box getting roughed up in transit.
The back of the box shows the LEGO model in a more realistic setting, complete with the stand, specification plaque, and minifigures, as well as the Rebel Blockade Runner attached near the port side bow.
In what we believe is a first for large LEGO sets, the box includes instructions on how to open it, with a small graphic of a utility knife cutting open the tape holding the flaps closed.
Opening the outer flaps reveals inner flaps printed with the Imperial logo beneath a top-down view of the ISD. This is a subtle touch that heightens the “premium” perception of the set, though no LEGO Star Wars set has yet achieved the same feeling of luxury in its packaging as LEGO Technic sets like 42056 Porsche 911 GT3 RS three years ago.
White inner boxes contain all of the parts for the set — there are no loose bags alongside the inner boxes. Each inner box is printed on the top and sides with schematics of the LEGO ISD.
As with the UCS Falcon, the printing on the sides of the boxes fit together to form a different design, showing the ISD from the underside.
The single sticker in the set is the specification panel. We’ve been saying for years that large stickers are incredibly challenging to apply correctly, with much less margin for error (and a lot more sticky surface area) than smaller stickers, and that LEGO should be printing the UCS spec panels — something that our friends at Brickmania have done for their own “UCS-style” sets like the B-17 Flying Fortress. We’ll continue repeating this recommendation until LEGO considers making a change.
The instructions are in a 440-page, spiral-bound book, just a few pages shy of the UCS Falcon’s 466 pages. There are 1,015 steps, so quite a few less than the Falcon’s 1,379 steps, in line with the lower part count in the ISD.
As with all UCS sets, the instruction book includes introductory material from the LEGO Star Wars team. Head of design Jens Kronveld Frederiksen reprises his role introducing the set.
Subsequent pages include details about the Star Wars vehicle as it appears in the Classic Trilogy, including interesting insights about the construction of the movie props. There are also two lengthy interviews with Jens Kronveld Frederiksen and Senior Designer Henrik Andersen. Unlike instructions with shorter introductory sections, our copy of the set that shipped from LEGO HQ in Billund, Denmark (so presumably the global or European version) only includes the intro materials in English, with copies of the instruction book in other languages available online.
Parts for the set are packaged in nineteen groups of numbered bags (totaling 52 numbered bags) plus six unnumbered bags (for a grand total of 58 bags of parts) and one loose 16×16 plate. Two years ago we criticized the random order in which the UCS Falcon’s bags were packaged in the inner boxes, and LEGO has improved this by packaging the numbered bags in order. However, the unnumbered bags were distributed randomly throughout all the white boxes, forcing us to dump everything out anyway to ensure we had all the necessary parts that went along with the parts in the numbered bags. (It’s possible we missed the correlation between the numbered bags and the larger parts in the unnumbered bags, but as we began building, it certainly felt random.) While progress on grouping the numbered bags more logically is appreciated, inclusion of the larger pieces in unnumbered bags that are distributed seemingly randomly has the same effect — forcing the builder to dump all the bags out, retrieve the necessary (unnumbered) bags, and then repack the numbered bags until they’re needed later.
Stands for LEGO sets are generally built at the end of the instructions and attached to the bottom of the finished model. The stand for the UCS ISD is directly integrated into the structural frame of the model, so it’s the very first thing that you begin building. The first bag includes the two minifigures, which we’ll return to later in this review. The first three groups of numbered bags (we won’t be covering the build bag-by-bag across all 19 groups and 58 total bags…) produce the stand, the triangular Technic frame, and lateral greeble strips.
By the end of only the first set of bags, the central Technic core of the ISD is complete, comprised of Technic panels held together vertically along the axis of the ship by Technic beams.
The second set of bags provides the upper surface of the central core, extending it forward toward the bow. These bags also produce the frame for the rhomboid rear profile of the vessel.
The rhombus or lozenge-shaped section at the stern where the engines are housed are reinforced with cross-braces.
Around the mid-section of the ISD, angled red Technic panels provide another vertical surface that will later support the weight of the skin built from System plates and tiles.
These extensions from the central core are integrated into the stand, distributing the eventual weight of the completed ship.
The first portion of the build using “regular” (System) LEGO doesn’t begin until the third group of bags and step 129. These bags produce two identical strips of greebles, including the lateral quad-laser batteries. Although building two long, identical strips of greebles might seem a bit repetitive, we simply built both in parallel, just doubling the parts we were looking for with each step. This made these sections feel much less repetitive, given how varied the surface of the strips are along their surface.
The greeble strips include blocks of bricks with Technic pin holes used to lock them into the frame. While a long, floppy strip of stacked plates isn’t particularly sturdy on its own, placing each strip on its side and locking them into the Technic frame yields a surprisingly sturdy outer frame to which the lower and upper surfaces will be attached next.
The next twelve groups of bags — and nearly 500 steps in the instructions — produce the lower and upper surfaces of the ISD that attach to the frame. These sections are indeed quite repetitive, with identical building techniques (stacking large plates with some minor surface detail).
The gray monotony is punctuated from time to time by building less-flat sections of the surface — the main docking bay, reactor dome, turbolasers, and the bank of engines at the rear. Similarly, although the base surface is simply mirrored left and right, the surface details themselves are asymmetrical.
The long greeble strips attached to the frame include 1×2 plates with towball sockets. These provide attachment points for the surface skin sections, which have extensions with corresponding towballs.
LEGO has been making use of towball connections more and more recently for unconventional connections — the excellent LEGO Stranger Things 75810 The Upside Down used towballs to attach the inverted upper and lower sections of that build, for example. Although the towball connections do provide some flex (as we show in the photo below), once all of the sections are attached and the superstructure is added over the plate sections, they are fairly secure.
After several hundred pages of building flat surfaces, the bridge section comes as a welcome relief. Bag groups 15 and 16 produce the iconic bridge tower that sits above the triangular surface of the Imperial Star Destroyer. Like the rest of the LEGO ISD, the bridge tower has a Technic core with plates on the surface. However, the skin sections attach to the Technic core via more conventional techniques than towballs — 1×4 bricks with studs on their sides, brackets, and a few clips. The base of the completed bridge slots onto the yellow sections extending up from the central Technic core of the ISD, secured in place with axles. At this stage, the rather top-heavy bridge tends to sway from side to side a bit, but this will be addressed later when we build the superstructure around it.
The next two bags (17-18) produce the two largest sections of the superstructure, surrounding (and securing) the bridge. These sections include inverted antennas that drop into the yellow 3×2 plates with holes in the base of the bridge tower. In other words, these superstructure sections sit on top of the surface of the ISD, but they are not directly attached — there’s nothing but gravity holding them in place. Although most builders are unlikely to flip the whole ISD upside down, anybody tempted to show off the ventral docking bay may find themselves rebuilding large sections of the superstructure as it falls crashing to the floor.
The final bag group (19) provide the parts for the forward section of the superstructure as well as the microscale Rebel Blockade Runner. These also include asymmetrical greebling, and they attach to the main superstructure segments with a non-friction Technic pin, held in line with a Technic axle pin. The low-friction attachment is important, as we’ll see later in this review.
The adorable little Tantive IV attaches to the port side greeble strip near the bow, hanging a few inches off the side via a clear bar. The Rebel Blockade Runner itself is easy enough to attach and detach from the bar via its single-stud connection, but removing the rod connected to the ISD via a click-hinge can be quite a hassle — the base of the click-hinge tends to come off of the greeble strip every time (the clutch of the click-hinge connection between the bar and the base is much stronger than the clutch of the plate-to-plate connection from the base to the greeble strip). And then, trying to reattach the base to the greeble strip sandwiched between the upper and lower surfaces is also a hassle. Clearly, the display bar for the Rebel Blockade Runner was not designed to be removed to display a “clean” ISD without the Tantive IV.
With the microscale Rebel Blockade Runner finished and in place, the UCS Imperial Star Destroyer is complete.
The finished models
There’s no denying that at first glance the UCS ISD is impressive. At 43″ (110 cm) long, it is truly huge. It’s also very heavy — the whole thing (albeit including the packaging) weighs nearly 28 pounds (about 12.5 kg). Compare this to the shipping weight of the UCS Falcon at 29 pounds (13 kg) and the sheer volume is not far off — a point we’ll return to again later in this review. The whole thing feels like it would fit right at home in the lobby or the middle of a conference room table at a tech startup. And in fact, Iain Heath did exactly that with the 2002 edition of the UCS ISD at Tableau Software during their pre-IPO, pre-acquisition days. Of course, Iain’s version was enhanced by a giant red space Kraken, so it was rather more exciting than the original UCS ISD, which everyone I knew felt was rather dull.
With 360° details, the UCS ISD is no less impressive from any angle. The top-down view shows what it would look like to a Rebel pilot diving in for a bombing run.
But “impressive” is not the sole dimension of what makes a LEGO set desirable. The vast majority of the set’s 4,784 pieces are gray plates (at least by sheer volume, if not specific part count), and as a result much of the surface of the ISD is covered in studs — a fact that’s painfully obvious when you view the ISD head on. LEGO designers have famously said that the LEGO Group “likes their studs,” and studs remain an important part of their end product’s design language.
And yet, we have to wonder what an additional $100 to bring the ISD into line with the UCS Falcon’s price might have brought us in terms of a less-studded appearance. And it’s not something you necessarily have to imagine: We recently featured a smooth-hulled custom LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer by Rubblemaker based on a design by Raskolnikov. The original design by Raskolnikov included a full interior and clocked in at over 15,000 pieces, but it’s not hard to imagine what some extra tiling would look like on at least the upper surface.
Closer inspection reveals a highly detailed, asymmetrical surface from prow to stern, on both upper and lower hulls. Greebling appears on every lateral (or vertical) surface between hull sections, and the greeble details are not mirrored on left and right sections. But stepping closer to examine the interesting greebles just makes the studded look of the overall hull even more apparent. Nevertheless, key details like the axial defense turrets (the ridge that looks a bit like a three-car train in front of the superstructure) prove just how closely the LEGO designers paid to subtle details.
Each side of the top surface next to the superstructure features three turbolaser batteries with a heavy ion cannon turret in the fourth spot. These rotate, and you can elevate and depress the cannons to point them at your preferred targets. Looking at movie stills and scale modeling references, it’s true that the ion cannon turret is rounder and smoother, with a blockier shape for the turbolasers. But I’m not at all convinced by the use of 1×2 rounded plates with holes in the studs for the sides of the LEGO turbolasers
The bridge tower sits on the superstructure, with deflector shield generator domes on either side that will be familiar to any gamer who’s had to destroy them in order to take down the shields and destroy the Destroyer. The mast that appears directly over the bridge (between the domes) varies based on the sub-class of the ISD — the Imperial I-class Star Destroyers like the Devastator feature a tractor beam targeting array, while the Imperial II-class Star Destroyers featured in later movies like the scenes during the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back feature a communications array instead. Given that the LEGO UCS ISD depicts a particular scene and thus a very specific ship, I’m glad that the LEGO design team got this detail right.
The back and sides of the bridge tower have larger areas without surface details, again relying on studded plates for texture.
Notable here from a parts standpoint is that BB-8’s dome appears in unprinted form for the first time (in light gray, of course).
We’ve mentioned the “greeble strip” sandwiched between the upper and lower hulls a few times already, but let’s take a closer look on the finished model. Although much of the greeble strip remains in shadow, there are cutouts that reveal interesting sections.
Some of the best details on the whole ISD are the lateral quad-laser batteries on each side of the ship. If you look closely, you can see that the quad-lasers are built studs-out, with two 2×2 round tiles facing out from each other. This is achieved by inverting tiles with a stud and a hole. Then, by sandwiching these inverted tiles in inverted 2×2 boat hull studs, the completed sub-assembly takes on a rounded look. Attached to the greeble strip with a towball and set in a cutout, the quad-laser has a high range of movement.
Seen from the rear, the seven engines dominate the Imperial Star Destroyer’s stern. The engines themselves are nothing fancy — the usual large cone pieces, tubs, and barrels with trans-light-blue pieces representing the visible engine exhaust. But this is an instance where “nothing fancy” makes a lot of sense. The LEGO designers discuss in the instruction book’s introduction that they specifically wanted to emulate some of the construction techniques used in the scratch-built movie props, and light fixtures as engines are one example of this simple solution. So in this context, these large cone pieces are an homage to the prop masters at Industrial Light and Magic.
The LEGO designers relied on references and other source material directly from Lucasfilm, giving them a huge advantage over us mere mortals who might attempt to recreate this same Star Wars vehicle. Although these details don’t appear in the usual reference books that feature the ISD, the LEGO version includes flaps on the large engines as well as 1×2 jumper plates that add detail to the exposed underside of the plates that make up the concave engine area.
The underside of the ISD is dominated by the stand, which is not removable since it’s built into the Technic frame and helps to distribute the weight of the huge model. It also doesn’t have quite as many stud-free areas or surface detail, but it does include major structures like the docking bay and reactor dome.
The main docking bay includes rails for capturing and launching TIE fighters, along with a single tiny TIE fighter built from just a handful of pieces.
Like the microscale Tantive IV, the tiny TIE is rather adorable, though less so in all-black with 1×2 wings that are distractingly not square — a basic, iconic element of the TIE/ln starfighter’s design. And at only 7 pieces, it would have been fun to have several of these to fly escort duty, or variations such as the TIE bombers used as boarding craft.
The ill-fated Rebel Blockade Runner fits snugly inside the main hangar bay, attached by its sensor dish. This single-stud connection isn’t particularly stable, and even though the hangar bay does include magnetic clamps built from firehose nozzles, we fiddled with the clamps and there’s no obvious way to secure the Tantive IV except via that single stud.
As we noted earlier, the Tantive IV fits on a trans-clear bar that hangs off of the ISD’s greeble sandwich near the prow.
The Rebel Blockade Runner is a lovely little microscale version of the iconic ship that carried Princess Leia away from the Battle of Scarif into the skies over Tatooine, enabling her to spirit away the Death Star plans in R2-D2. One unfortunate detail is that the Blockade Runner’s bridge is built from white fez pieces attached to a pneumatic T piece, resulting in a highly visible black gap between the two sides of the bridge at the ship’s bow.
Here’s the newest Tantive IV alongside the recent 75244 Tantive IV released just a few months ago (part of the Master Builder Series and not marketed as a UCS set). What’s remarkable is just how much detail is preserved even at this minuscule scale — key details like the bank of eleven engines at the back (achieved with some nice half-stud-offset building), the sensor array, and the double turbolaser battery.
One important aspect of a model this size is portability — you have to be able to move it around, even if it’s just from your favorite build table to its eventual display location (on the conference room table at your office, obviously). The reason the two front sections of the superstructure are attached with low-friction connections is so that they can be removed easily, without stressing any of the other connections, revealing the central core that then serves as a handle.
I’m not known for my upper-body strength (though my hairy forearms are world-famous), so reaching over the wide ship to lift the ISD single-handed was possible, but not comfortable, especially with the center of gravity just aft of the handle. The ISD felt much more secure when I supported it with another hand on the underside.
The official product description identifies the two minifigs in the UCS ISD set as “Imperial Officer and Imperial Crewmember.” The dark gray officer features a unique torso with a lieutenant rank badge with dual-molded legs. The crew member also has a unique torso, with arm printing. Neither the kepis with the Imperial insignia nor their heads are unique.
Printing of course extends to the rear of the torsos, and the dual-molded legs look particularly great from the rear. Since both characters are wearing the short kepis, they don’t have alternate expressions.
In the two years since the UCS Falcon launched with seven minifigs, LEGO has split the original Ultimate Collector Series into two separate series — the UCS line remains with sets like the UCS Y-wing and now the UCS ISD, and they’ve added a new “Master Builder Series” (are we ready to abbreviate it “MBS”? Let’s start now…). MBS sets are defined as sets more often focused on locations, with many play features and lots of minifigs. 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City was the first example of an MBS set (raising concern at the time that LEGO was retiring UCS sets) with 18 minifigs, and LEGO has since also released 75244 Tantive IV with six minifigs. LEGO has since recategorized 75159 Death Star with 23 minifigs as an example of the MBS line, even though it is not explicitly branded as such.
All of this is to say that LEGO have actively lowered expectations for what LEGO builders should expect in terms of minifigs from current and future UCS sets. Their decision to split the UCS brand doesn’t limit the disappointment that this $700 UCS set includes only two no-name minifigs. A $700 set represents an opportunity to provide builders and collectors with a broader range of interesting characters, though the choice of the Devastator seen primarily in the first few moments of A New Hope may have limited their options.
Nevertheless, both of these minifigs feel like the fun exclusives you’d find in an Advent Calendar and not one of the key selling points for a $700 set.
Conclusions & recommendation
The release of a new Ultimate Collector Series set is one of the major, marquee events of the LEGO Star Wars calendar each year. And with nearly 18 months since the last UCS set’s release in May 2018, both speculation and anticipation have been running high in the LEGO fan community. While undeniably an enormous engineering improvement over the 2002 version that had a tendency to droop at the bow, with a much higher level of detail from the numerous “greebly bits” released over the past 17 years (not least the ubiquitous roller skates), 75252 Imperial Star Destroyer still leaves much to be desired. And that’s the key point we alluded to earlier in this review, namely desirability. We can objectively recognize the improvements to both engineering and detailed design, but the overall impression — once you get past the first impression of awe from the sheer size alone — is that of a giant gray wedge peppered with thousands of studs.
Some of these criticisms are inherent to the subject matter — a UCS ISD will always be a giant gray wedge. But in the 17 years since the release of the first UCS ISD in 2002, fan builders have demonstrated that a sleeker look is certainly achievable. Such surface detailing may have diminished the monotony of the panel sections that make up the majority of the build. Similarly, the impoverished minifig selection isn’t overcome by the fact that the minifigs themselves are very well designed.
And then there are the space considerations. We’ve joked a couple of times about putting this on a conference room table at work, but there’s some truth to this — both of us who worked on this review have significant space in our homes dedicated to building and storing LEGO, and we have literally nowhere to store or display something like this.
Finally, there’s the matter of choosing to release the Imperial Star Destroyer as the first UCS set after the UCS/MBS split a year ago. Let’s side aside for a moment that this is a re-release — plenty of LEGO builders who can afford a set like this today certainly weren’t collecting huge LEGO Star Wars sets 17 years ago. Over the past couple of years, Chris Malloy (who collaborates with me on all our LEGO Star Wars reviews) and I have talked with hundreds of LEGO Star Wars fans during our book tour for Ultimate LEGO Star Wars. As two people who literally “wrote the book” on LEGO Star Wars, we’ve been asked dozens of times what vehicles, vessels, or locations LEGO hasn’t released as sets yet that we’d love to see. When it comes to potential UCS sets, there’s no question in our mind that Mon Calamari ships like Admiral Ackbar’s Home One or the Profundity from Rogue One or the Raddus in The Last Jedi would all be great new choices for the UCS line. After all, no Mon Cal starship has ever been depicted in a LEGO set. That made sense 17 years ago, but LEGO’s parts palette has evolved considerably in nearly two decades, providing plenty of curved slopes to achieve the organic shapes of these Rebel and Resistance capital ships. It’s just disappointing that LEGO repeats boring (albeit certainly iconic) designs like the ISD rather than covering major gaps like the Mon Calamari ships.
Ultimately, then, it’s hard to recommend dropping $700 on an Ultimate Collector Series Imperial Star Destroyer whose primary attribute is merely “impressive.”
LEGO Star Wars 75252 Ultimate Collector Series Imperial Star Destroyer is available now to LEGO VIP members, and will be available to the general public on October 1st. The set includes 4,784 pieces with two minifigures and retails for US $699.99 | CAN $849.99 | UK £649.99.
LEGO provided copy of the set to The Brothers Brick to review. Although LEGO set an intended release date for the reviews of September 5, LEGO failed to ship the products before that date. Rather than rush to publish a hasty review, we at The Brothers Brick took the time to bring you the quality of review we feel our readers deserve. We hope that LEGO will be able to provide products in a more timely manner in the future, especially for products as large and with as much community interest as this one.