Where were you when the LEGO Star Wars theme launched twenty years ago? For me, it began with the January 1999 LEGO Shop-at-Home catalog. The front cover promised “LEGO Star Wars action” on pages 6 and 7, and it did not disappoint! My eyes widened at the sight of LEGO versions of the X-Wing and TIE-Fighter. As soon as the sets hit store shelves, I gathered my allowance money and purchased the Landspeeder as my very first LEGO Star Wars set. Now as an adult, I find the story behind the beginnings of LEGO’s first licensed theme just as exciting.
The foundations for LEGO Star Wars arguably existed long before the launch. Space exploration was a big topic of interest in the 1960s and 70s, giving rise to hit space-themed TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. In 1977, Star Wars was released and became a blockbuster hit. During this period, LEGO too began embracing the space age and released the first Classic Space sets in 1979. Instead of lightsaber battles and dogfights, the initial emphasis of LEGO was on exploration. Conflict would eventually make its way into LEGO space sets with the introduction of the thieving Blacktron I faction in 1987. The relationship between these defined “good guys” and bad guys” was relatively tame, keeping in line with founder Ole Kirk Christiansen’s commitment to not make “war toys.”
Keep reading about the historic launch of LEGO Star Wars
It’s hard to believe, but trains are now more than 200 years old, going back to the early 1800s for the most rudimentary steam-powered rail engines. This model by Nikolaus Löwe shows one of the first such engines constructed, which hails from 1815 and was known as the “Steam Elephant” due to its large trunk-like smokestack mounted on the front. Nikolaus has done an excellent job recreating the lattice of ironwork with bars and clips surrounding the boiler. Interestingly, he’s chosen to photograph it on a brass model track, which although not LEGO does look mighty nice.
While Rome wasn’t built in a day, Kevin J. Walter probably built the Collesseum in a few hours. Made in the style and charm of the LEGO Architecture series. What made particular design possible is the new Arch 1 x 2 Jumper element to construct the arched columns in an accurate manner at this scale.
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Seeing one of your national icons made in LEGO always gives a wholesome sense of civic pride, like the Mount Rushmore build we shared recently surely did for our American readers. However, living in a small country like Slovenia as I do can make such events scarce at best. Luckily for me, Isaac Snyder has given me this satisfaction and luckily for you, he has informed you about the largest cave castle in the world. Predjama Castle was first mentioned in 1274 as a small defensive fortress built inside a cavern with 6,5 kilometres of cave systems and a vertical 130-meter high cliff behind it. In 1570 it was expanded in the Renaissance style and remains this way to the present day.
The microscale build captures the real castle perfectly, as you can see from the reference used by Isaac. The build looks simple at first glance, until you start looking at the seams between bricks and notice how many difficult half-plate offsets and angles are scattered throughout the build. The landscaping is spot-on too, from the slanted cliff extending over the castle to the grass-covered hillside below. My favourite part is the staggered bricks on the side of the rightmost tower
Click to see the castle recreated in LEGO by local builders
The story of the Trojan horse is one of the most well known in ancient Hellenic lore. In the classical version, following a fruitless and decade-long siege of the city of Troy, the Greeks constructed a gigantic wooden horse in which they had hidden their finest warriors. The Greeks feigned defeat, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night, the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war. It was a brilliant coup, though historians have argued its veracity ever since. Regardless of whether or not the Trojan horse actually existed, Martin Harris wonderfully brings the story to life in LEGO form with his depiction of that fateful gift-giving moment.
One has to admire the simple but imposing Trojan walls and gate, which stood up to 10 years of determined Greek attacks (the angled walls are a great touch, though a bit more landscaping around the bottom edge would help break up the abrupt edges). The Trojans lined up along the battlements and the Greeks laboriously pushing the horse depict the sheer scale of this creation. Continue reading
I’m a sucker for history and trains, and Rob Winner delivers on both counts with this slice of the Illinois Midland Railway in LEGO-form. According to the builder, the real line was only 1.9 miles long. This was in large part because of a crooked businessman making big promises and running off with the community of Newark’s money. Regardless, the little town made use of the railway to connect with nearby Millington. Rob’s model is meant to represent the railway during the 1940s, back when World War I veteran William Thorsen was running the show. Thorsen is depicted with the vehicles he operated, including a Vulcan 0-4-0T steam engine and Ford Model T railway inspection car.
The engine shed plays its part well, looking weathered and forgotten. Rob pulled this off by adding vines and slightly tilting brown plates outward to simulate loosened wooden boards. It’s a stark contrast to Thorsen standing among railway equipment that looks well taken care of. Then again, he is their devoted caretaker! This juxtaposition is inspiring, symbolizing the fight to persevere against all odds.
This time of year is one of the busiest for toy manufacturers, including the LEGO Group. In an effort to associate the brand with holiday gift-giving, the months of November and December bring a flurry of wintry-themed advertising. While much of the LEGO Group’s current advertising campaigns exist online, the company has a long history of producing holiday advertising in magazines, comic books, and mail order catalogs (aka LEGO Shop at Home catalogs). Our elves have been hard at work, sifting through the archives for some of the LEGO Group’s most memorable seasonal ads. Hop in the sleigh and hold tight for a wild ride back through time.
See more LEGO holiday advertising through the years
Around this time of year, people enjoy the classic tradition of sending holiday greeting cards to one another. The LEGO Group, too, has dabbled in making Christmas cards over the years. Naturally, they’re LEGO-themed. From the 1980s through the 1990s, the UK LEGO Club mailed out Christmas cards to each of their members. The LEGO Group has also issued holiday greeting cards for its employees. For at least the past two decades, LEGO has included a card with each annual employee gift building set. They even designed cards for employees back in the 1980s. These cards often featured elaborate models designed by LEGO master builders that are quite interesting. Suit up and hop into our sleigh, because we are taking you on a nostalgia-filled trip through some of LEGO’s most memorable “Brickmas” cards.
Click to read the full article on LEGO Christmas cards
When Eero Okkonen set out to build a female archer, he found inspiration in nomadic cultures and the character of Lyndis from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. Eero has built a reputation for building impressive-looking characters out of LEGO bricks, and his archer is no exception. In this model, bright, bold colors and earth tones play off of one another to great effect. In terms of form, the figure’s pose is realistic, from the stretch of the bow to the flow of the dress.
Eero makes excellent use of certain elements, such as barrels used to form a quiver and a balloon tire for the hair bun.
Collective Brick to the Past are a team of expert builders who have been wowing crowds at LEGO shows and conventions in the U.K. with their vast historically researched dioramas. They’ve built massive LEGO displays about the Battle of Hastings, Viking raids on Anglo-Saxon Britain, and the Jacobite Rising. Their latest monumental project is the work of Dan Harris, James Pegrum, Colin Parry and Simon Pickard, and depicts Henry Morgan: Welsh Raider of the Spanish Main. It is their first project to be set outside the U.K. and is based on the buccaneer or pirate – that’s for you to decide – Henry Morgan’s raid on Lake Maracaibo.
The layout features some amazing 17th Century Colonial buildings, a sea fort based on Carlos de la Barra and an array of beautiful period-perfect ships. As always, the diorama has been meticulously researched and filled with all manner of details and surprises.
Dan Harris from the Brick to the Past team kindly agreed to tell us a bit more about the history that inspired the model, the research and building challenges faced in its construction and highlights some of his favourite parts of the layout.
See more photos and read our interview about this huge LEGO diorama
Last month, a story on LEGO bricks being used to help an injured turtle went viral. An Eastern box turtle was found with multiple fractures on its plastron (the name for the underside of a turtle/tortoise shell). Veterinary staff at the Maryland Zoo of Baltimore performed surgery, but they were concerned about allowing the turtle to move freely while healing properly. According to zoo employee Dr. Ellen Bronson, turtles take much longer to recover than mammals and birds due to a slower metabolism.
To help the turtle move without injuring itself again, Garrett Fraess (the Zoo’s veterinarian extern) and his colleagues sketched out some plans for a wheelchair…
Click here to read how people help turtles to recover…
Although not based on a specific aircraft, the latest model from Finnish builder Tino Poutiainen accurately replicates the wild, “held together with string and dreams” frontier of the early days of manned flight. Like the real-life Wright Flyer, Baldwin Red Devil, and other early turn-of-the-20th-century experimental aeroplanes, Tino’s model appears rickety, thin, and massively unsafe: he did a superb job of making the whole thing look like it’s going to fall apart as soon as its wheels leave the ground.