The outcry amongst the AFOL community was big when the first pictures of the new UCS Death Star appeared – no surprise: it looked exactly like the old one!
Generally you can expect quite a significant progress in design over a time period of 8 years. This applies for Star Wars sets just as it applies to more traditional Lego themes. Each year they just become a little bit more refined and efficient. They often make better use of space, are more sturdy – and the lines become just more elegant, making the older versions appear increasingly blocky when going further back in time. With the Death Star though you don’t have to worry about this. The old one from 2008 looks just as “new” as the upcoming 2016-version…
This doesn’t means, there aren’t changes. The Minifigures got their long overdue update with nicer printed torsos and heads. Especially Han Solo got some attention. He got a newly designed hairpiece. Also Lego somehow put about 200 more pieces into it with adding details here and there, but apart from that the new Death Star is very, very much like the old one.
It appears to me that the steadily healthy sales-figures had quite a significant impact on the design of the new version: the set was supposed to retire already last year, but demand kept going, so it is plausible that Lego just wanted to do an update on the existing set with only minor changes. It after all works well for over 30 years now with their police stations. Never change a running system. Especially if your customer-base is changing every couple of years anyway.
But is the Death Star really comparable to the sort of sets? I think not. UCS means after all “ultimate collector’s series” and is therefore quite obviously focused on adults. Or kids with parents who are willing and able to drop a five (!) hundred Euro for a Lego set. In conclusion this means of course that people, who recently put quite a significant amount of money on the table for the old one, likely don’t feel an incentive to buy just another same set, which is about 95 % the same, even if the Minifigures are much nicer. I can really understand if the new set quite upsets a lot of fans.
I also have to say that I didn’t like the Death Star set much anyway. I can understand the reasoning behind its layout though. Actually the very first Star Wars playset from 1978 followed the very same concept, but this doesn’t means it works for me. And especially not as a display-piece. It has not really an “outside”, which for me takes quite a lot of display-value and beauty away. As a consequence the actual outside shape is just made up of the edges of blocky walls, which isn’t the most elegant solution. The interiors though, are very film-like and quite cute. They clearly make each for itself nice display-pieces and offer tons of possibilities to re-enact scenes from the films and invent a couple of new ones. Darth Vaders almost-microfigher-scale Tie Fighter though looks quite superfluous. All in all, the set looks uneven. It tries to be an impressive display piece, but also a playset at the same time. It achieves the latter quite impressively, but rather fails in the first case. It just lacks elegance.
So what could have been done better? I clearly vote for an outer shell. At least half of the surface should be covered with a easily removable surface, to give it at least some display value as large space prop, that works together with the star destroyers. Consequently, the edges of the walls should be smoother too. After all there are plenty of tiles and slope-pieces available today to make this not an impossible task – and it would look just so much better. Also I would take a closer look at the interior layout. Maybe make individual scenes detachable from the “core”-build. Or make it arrangeable in different ways. We are talking after all about one of the top-of-the-line sets Lego has to offer. So it should have to offer features worthy of that. The Disney Castle, which has been released just a couple of weeks ago shows nicely how to combine a impressive outside appearance without sacrificing interior space too much.
In conclusion, I can – to a degree – see the reasoning behind the decision to not decide too much. Lego played safe and as long the sales-figures are doing fine, you can argue they did the right decision – at least from a marketing point-of-view. They missed however the opportunity to present something spectacular and – different. Something you would expect for this price. Lego offers just so many more possibilities to create interesting and elaborated builds than this blocky monster we got presented here. It isn’t a really a bad set though. Certainly not. Its just rather quantity over quality and another weak UCS after the infamous Hoth-set. Lego did release a quite impressive number of sets this year. Some were really great and in the spirit of Lego. Others though just, like the Death Star, appear more like big cash-ins.