LEGO Icons 10497 Galaxy Explorer: Classic Space has never looked so good [Review]

LEGO’s first space sets with minifigures were released in 1978, and the following year one of the most iconic LEGO space sets hit the market: 497 Galaxy Explorer (or 928 in the European market). In the decades since, this line has come to be called Classic Space, and the Galaxy Explorer, in particular, has gained mythical status. Now as part of the company’s 90th-anniversary celebrations in 2022, LEGO is releasing an homage to the fan-favorite spaceship with an upscaled and detailed rendition, 10497 Galaxy Explorer. The 1,254-piece set can be pre-ordered now for US $99.99 | CAN $129.99 | UK £89.99 and will be available August 1. Let’s take a closer look and see if this new Galaxy Explorer is worthy of the name.

The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

Unboxing the set and contents

The first thing that catches your eye about this set is the retro stylings on the packaging. If you’re of a certain age, the yellow stripe with blue text on the upper left corner of the box is sure to kick your nostalgia into high gear, and the simple background with moon dunes will set your senses tingling. The stripe on classic sets read LEGOLAND, but here it bears the set name instead.

I’m not lucky enough to have the original set in my collection as I’m a bit too young to have experienced the original Classic Space theme new, but Dave Ingrahm from Cape Madness lent me his fantastic copy of 497 Galaxy Explorer for comparison. This particular box doesn’t have the yellow stripe, though some copies of 497/928 did. Beyond the stripe, however, there are a few other differences. The 10497 box is a bit larger since it includes 1,254 pieces compared to the original’s meager 318 pieces. The new set also doesn’t include the landing pad, but we’ll talk more about that later.

In looking at both of these boxes, I was stunned at just how clear and easy to grasp the box art was. In many cases of nostalgia, we’re biased toward what we grew up with, simply because we grew up with it. But I don’t think that’s the full reason why I’m in love with this box art (both old and new). From a graphic design perspective, this box art just presents the set’s contents so much more clearly than many modern sets. For instance, I grabbed the closest current set I had from a “space-ish” theme, and the difference is stark.

Around back, the nostalgia trip continues with simple panels showing the ship’s features, most of which were included in the original.

Opening the set reveals nine bags of parts, plus the manual, a small paper insert noting LEGO’s transition to paper bags (none of which were present here), and a loose black 8×16 tile, which for a moment I thought might be a UCS-style info placard that I’d overlooked, but it’s actually the ramp at the ship’s rear. Notably, there’s no sticker sheet in sight, as all decorated elements in this set are printed.

As I was unpacking the set, I was feeling more excited than normal, because the set just felt old school. It took me a minute to put my finger on it, but then I realized that it was the colors. There are no pink and green or tan bricks hidden inside the framework. In fact, later on, I discovered that the instructions call this out explicitly, using only colors that were available in 1979, with the exception of medium stone grey, which replaced light grey in the early 2000s. I understand and appreciate LEGO’s modern philosophy of including brightly colored bricks inside models for easier building, but sometimes it’s nice to go old school. The instructions also include a bit of introduction to the set, including a note from LEGO family heir Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, who says that the original set was one of his favorites. Fan-turned-designer Mike Psiaki was the creative impetus behind this update, which he says he’s wanted to do since joining the company a decade ago.

Now let’s turn to the parts. There’s only one wholly new element, a 1×2 half-circle tile (part ID 1748) in light grey. The 2×2 round tile has been around for decades, and the 1×1 quarter-circle tile was introduced in 2016. The new half-circle rounds out the family. Two are included in this set.

Another notable inclusion is the trans-yellow 12x6x2 windscreens, better known as the UCS X-wing canopy. They’ve appeared in this color once before in 2014’s 70816 Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!, another Classic Space-inspired set. The two windscreens are loose in the parts of Bag 7, and mine showed up a bit worse for wear. The canopies should have been loose in the box or in their own protective bag where they wouldn’t jostle with other pieces during shipping. The scratches on one of the windscreens are distinctly noticeable.

The printed elements are a veritable goldmine of remixed nostalgia. While none of these elements are original to the 1979 set, three of the pieces are from the golden age of LEGO Space. The white and grey slopes are from 1986 and 1987, respectively, and the 1×2 tiles from 1990’s M-Tron theme—technically this one is the subtly updated version released in 2020. The rest of the designs are unique to this set, though they channel the style of the classic elements. The original set included blue 1×4 bricks with LL928 (for the set’s European set number). This time around they get enlarged just like the rest of the set, with printed 1×6 bricks.

While I absolutely love all of the tiles, two, in particular, caught my eye; the 2×4 blue tile printed with a more detailed version of the Classic Space logo with moon craters, just like the original set had on a 3×6 slope. The other is the radar screen, which is an update of a tile I remember well from my childhood. I was surprised to learn the original only came in four sets between 1995-2000, none of which were space sets. This updated design includes a little easter egg with the Blacktron triforce marking an incoming ship.

The build

It’s immediately obvious as soon as you dump out the contents of Bag 1 that while this Galaxy Explorer may be channeling nostalgia in color and design, these are not your childhood pieces and techniques. There are lots of Technic to frame out the ship rather than the large grey plates of the original.

The build kicks off with the first red space minifigure and a micro build of a robot. The robot first appeared in 1987’s 6809 XT-5 and Droid. All of the parts in the original droid are still in production, so this one is a perfect recreation.

The Galaxy Explorer’s frame will be familiar to most LEGO fans who’ve built large ships in the last decade or so, such as any version of the Millenium Falcon. Long Technic beams outline the design with a whole host of other Technic elements filling in the gaps.

The Technic frame is eventually sandwiched between plates, starting with the bottom. The retractable landing gear is incorporated right from the start, unlike the original set’s fixed landing gear which is tacked on in the final steps.

The original set formed the swept-back fuselage with slopes which created a stepped effect, but this design angles it a bit more with the fuselage walls tilted to form a smooth slope.

If you’re thinking that so far, the ship’s silhouette doesn’t really match the Galaxy Explorer, you’d be right. The outer wing segments are built as subassemblies and then attached relatively late in the frame’s construction.

One technique that shows just how far LEGO designs have advanced is the smooth edges on the wings. Even 10 years ago this technique wasn’t generally found in LEGO sets, let alone 40-plus years ago. These smooth edges are attached with SNOT bricks on an angled plate, and the whole thing is linked to the frame with a very clever series of connections that rely on the black espresso handle to bridge the awkward spacing.

With the edges attached and the framing covered up, we finally have something recognizable as a Galaxy Explorer, albeit a very large one.

Now let’s finish out the fuselage and engines, starting with the cargo ramp in the back. The ramp, which uses the black 8×16 tile, is a very interesting design because the tile is simply captured in the mechanism, rather than being attached. A 1×5 Technic plate on the bottom of the tile bumps against the ship’s frame to keep the ramp from extending too far, but otherwise, the tile is completely free-floating.

Next, we’ll add a bit of detail to the interior of the ship with some beds and scientific equipment in the rear compartment before moving on to the canopies. The large yellow windscreens are attached back to back as close as possible, thanks to a neat little technique that uses some stud reversal to lock in the hinges.

The rear cargo compartment houses one of my favorite techniques in the whole set, with brick-built arrows on the compartment’s doors. In the original set, these arrows were printed 1×2 bricks, and I’d have expected them to be printed elements here too. But instead, the designer found a way to create perfect arrows out of bricks, using a white pentagonal shield tile as the basis. I think the results speak for themselves.

At this point, all that’s left are the ship’s engines and the tiny crew vehicle, which we’ll look at in the next section. The Galaxy Explorer is powered by four large engines: two on the wings and two on the back of the ship. Each engine is built with a variety of cylinder elements and has a transparent red thrust glow in the middle.

The minifigures

The set includes the same minifigures as the original: two Classic Spacemen in red, and two in white. Both torsos have been available in some form, though the white one has been far more common, with the full white spaceman coming in 70841 Benny’s Space Squad in 2019, identical to the one here. Since the 80s, the red torso has only been included in a few small promotional sets about a decade ago, and the red classic helmet hasn’t ever been re-released, making this the first time in more than 30 years you can have a brand-new complete red spaceman. A wrench and walkie-talkie are included as accessories for them, mirroring the accessories in the original.

The little rover that loads into the back of the ship is the sort of classic build I loved when I was a kid. With just a handful of pieces you get a solid four-wheeler that lets your imagination fill in the gaps.

The finished model

The Galaxy Explorer is as fine a re-imagining of its iconic forebearer as it’s possible to get in an official set. If a fan were designing it without regard to it being an official toy, I could see a few minor changes, such as the wings being studless, but LEGO designers intentionally maintain a certain amount of studs to keep the classic “LEGO feel.” So we’ll chalk that up to a stylistic difference rather than a complaint, and it’s very hard to find fault with this set outside such trivialities.

There are plenty of great play features. Up front, all four minifigures can sit in the cockpit, with the front two getting an array of controls.

Behind them is the crew compartment with two beds (that can accommodate the awkward air tanks) and some electronic equipment.

Around the back, the large cargo compartment is covered by two folding doors. Combined with the deployable ramp, it makes the perfect spot for storing the small rover.

This cargo area would naturally not be pressurized like the rest of the inside of the ship, and one upgrade the new Galaxy Explorer gets is that there’s now a bulkhead separating the crew and cargo compartment, complete with a sliding door. (We’ll ignore why the minifigures are perpetually wearing air tanks even inside. They don’t have facemasks, after all.)

Of all the little details on the original ship that have been included here in upscaled form, my favorite by far is the thruster jets on the sides. Although it hasn’t found a lot of use in my adult building, as a kid the brick 1×1 with 3 loudspeakers/rockets was worth its weight in gold, and it tickles me to no end to see this brick-built version.

Comparisons to the original Galaxy Explorer

So of course, the question we all want to be answered is how does the set really compare to the original 497/928 Galaxy Explorer? Let’s take a look at the 318-piece original from 1979.

I do miss the opening flap that many larger sets used to have. It’s such a cool feature that I remember from my childhood, but it also adds a lot of extra packaging material that will end up in the landfill for most buyers.


I had never built the original set prior to assembling this one for the comparison, and doing so brought to mind what’s sure to be a question on the minds of many old-school fans: why not just re-release the original set? I know I’m going to step on a few toes saying this, but what building this set showed me is that it would be a horrible idea. Apart from the technical issues of many elements being out of production, let’s face it: LEGO construction has not stood still for the last 40 years. The Galaxy Explorer is a brilliant set—for 1979. In the light of 2022, it is filled with terrible techniques (large plates stacked on other larger plates, and lots of very fragile attachments). If you have one in your collection, go rebuild it. It’s a wonderful, eye-opening experience and is genuinely a lot of fun. But let’s not pretend that it is in any way superior except as a nostalgia generator.

The new ship is about 1.5 times the size but maintains the same lines.

Apart from the scale, the biggest difference in the sets is the lack of the landing pad and launch command, including the coveted moon baseplate. Neither of these baseplates are still in production (nor are many of the wedge plates on the ship) so it’s no surprise that this was a non-starter. With the new ship itself taking almost four times the pieces of the original set, adding a similarly upgraded base would only have made this set drastically larger and more expensive.

The new set has an equally impressive number of printed elements, but I do miss the trans-yellow bricks and plate, all of which have been replaced with just the two large windscreens.

The minifigures are as close to identical as it’s possible to get, however. See if you can spot which crew is from 1979.

The little rover has grown bigger wheels and swapped the airtanks for a headlight (though the grey airtanks are included in a compartment on the ship).

If you’re like me and don’t have the original set yourself, here’s a gallery of the classic set.

Conclusion and recommendation

In the course of my reviewing for The Brothers Brick, I build a lot of interesting sets, from the 9,090-piece 10294 Titanic to the two-foot-tall 75313 AT-AT. And while those sets are truly incredible and I could speak at length about their techniques and the fascinating builds and how great the finished model looks sitting on a shelf, this set comes behind only the nostalgia-loaded 21322 Pirates of Baracuda Bay in making me feel like a kid again. And that is impossible to quantify, except to say that it makes me very happy. And if you grew up with Classic Space, or just have a deep appreciation for it, then this set will make you very happy too. It’s hard to imagine LEGO creating a better love letter to Classic Space.

10497 Galaxy Explorer includes 1,254 pieces and will be available August 1. It can be pre-ordered now for US $99.99 | CAN $129.99 | UK £89.99. It may also be available from third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay.

The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

8 comments on “LEGO Icons 10497 Galaxy Explorer: Classic Space has never looked so good [Review]

  1. winstonheard

    Does this have instructions to build the smaller versions of the spacecraft that they mentioned during the reveal?

  2. R-Typist

    Surprisingly reasonable price for this one, I’d have expected adult-targetted nostalgia set like this to have been €20 or thereabouts more

  3. dougalf

    This was right on the limit of Christmas and birthday put together back in the day. Seems cheaper now with way more parts. And I don’t have to wait for December :)

  4. jimmy

    It really is lovely, thank you for the review. If I have one quibble, it’s that I think the rear wing is just too large, too smooth, and has too many supporting fins.

    When mine arrives I will likely modify it to what I feel is a better match for the original set’s aesthetics: Six supporting fins instead of eight, with tiled stud-width gap between them. The wing itself I will change to be four studs deep front-back, probably using tile, modified 4×6 with studs on edges. I think that having some visible studs will help the wing harmonize with the look of the main gray wings which also have some studs showing, and that bit of texture will help it fit the look of the ship better overall. I’d also probably add perhaps a small end plate or something so it’s not just a perfectly flat surface, again to keep it similar to the way the main gray wings have been updated with the smooth edges.

    Overall that is a very minor complaint I have, and perhaps it’s better in real life than in the pictures. Can’t wait to get one!

  5. Michael

    Can’t order it for $99. Try almost double. It’s posted on site through your link at $99, but can only pre-order at higher rate through

  6. Chris Doyle

    @Michael – I just tried the link, and it looks like the pre-order window has closed. Are you sure you’re not hitting a third party site? That would explain the markup.

  7. Jimmy

    Yep, for me clicking on the link in the article to Lego USA shows it as $99, but the pre-order option is no longer there.

Comments are closed.