Posted by Jeremy on December 20, 2018 at 01:37 AM CST
Little worlds in a box have been around a lot longer than most people think with some of the first examples - typically included tin soldiers and revolved around warfare - started to appear at the beginning of the 20th century.
It's hard to say what the first LEGO Star Wars playset was without giving it some kind of definition, so for the sake of expediency a playset - at a minimum - should include minifigs, accessories and vehicles, buildings or scenery and are all made available in a single box.
Which makes 7121 Naboo Swamp the first, albeit limited, playset released as part of the LEGO Star Wars license. This simple depiction of the scene in The Phantom Menace where Jar Jar and Qui-Gonn, who was being chased by a pair of battle droids on STAPS, first met was released in 1999 and contained 81 pieces.
From this rudimentary starting point, the evolution of the LEGO Star Wars playset was slow, with 4501 Mos Eisley and 7257 Ultimate Lightsaber Duels (released in 2004 and 2005 respectively) being the only remarkable milestones. Two years later saw a huge leap forward with 7666 Hoth Rebel Base, and then again in 2009 when 8038 The Battle of Endor hit shelves.
For years there weren't any real stand-up-and-take-notice changes, and while the size and detail of playsets fluctuated according to price point it's fair to say that LEGO got a touch complacent.
That changed in 2016 with 75137 Carbon-Freezing Chamber; it was exciting, interactive, had a great selection of minifigs and really raised fans' expectations. Many hoped that this would herald the arrival of a series of Cloud City sets, including a second carbonite freezing chamber which woiuld enable Darth Vader and Luke to begin their fateful duel.
While this particular dream was realised - and will be the subject of another write-up - at the end of 2018, the time between 75137 Carbon-Freezing Chamber and 75222 Betrayal At Cloud City was a period of surprising improvements in the LEGO Star Wars theme and just in the last half of this year there have been three stand out playsets alone.
75203 Hoth Medical Center
With all the different snowspeeders, AT-ATs, wampas, Echo Bases, tauntauns, E-web cannons, probots, turrets, ion cannons and shield generators that have accompanied the numerous Hoth sets over the years it's nice that the battle weary and injured finally have somewhere to go to get their injuries treated again.
The build itself is free-flowing and fluid, with the assembly swapping from one hinged sections to the next and back again so that the tempo is varied and ruts are not stuck in. With this being the smallest of the playsets released this year, you'll soon get stuck in to playing out the treatment and recovery of Luke after his clash with the wampa. Attending to his needs is - spoiler alert - his sister, Leia, while the two medical droids keep an eye on his heart rate.
Regardless of the debate surrounding the so-called 75098 Insult On Hoth that was released under the guise of the Ultimate Collector Series in 2016, the addition of 75203 Hoth Medical Center certainly makes it a much more desirable set to achieve an almost-complete Hoth play environment.
This playset, which depicts the fate of Snoke, joins eight previous sets in the pantheon of LEGO Star Wars that re-enact fateful lightsaber duels - and like the two playsets that saw the end of Dooku and Palpatine the focus is on the environment, as much as it is on the adversaries.
While the minifigures are a pull, it is the rotating throne, spinning turbolift doorway and flipping combat floor panels - not to mention a section of deck that lets Rey be pulled towards Snoke's throne - plus surrounding pillars that creates a suitably dynamic atmosphere.
Perhaps the pièce de résistance (not a reference to The LEGO Movie, I assure you) of LEGO's 2018 playset offerings is the Dark Lord of the Sith's fortress of brooditude.
The arrival of this set was a shock to Star Wars and LEGO fans. Afterall, it was hardly seen in Rogue One and only deep diving fans would know the unusual story of its inspiration. And the fact that it was released as an exclusive through Amazon - presumably because it was a Toys "R" Us exclusive that fell through with the collapse of the firm - came as a complete surprise.
The build begins slow and small, and belies the fact that within a few page turns it rapidly turns into a dark and looming edifice of terror that - if it wasn't Christmas and is likely to scare off Santa - you'll want to put on the mantlepiece and light a roaring fire beneath it to create a truely Mustapharian effect.
It's a fun set to build and really encourages play. So much so that during the build I imagined a crew of Sith acolytes - lead by Galen Marek - using the Force to divert the lava flow river and lift the blocks of stone into place, and later found myself acting out Director's Krennic's short but eventful meeting with Darth Vader in Rogue One.
There are some fantastic features in the set - the spire holds a gunner's station manned by an Imperial Transport Pilot, Vader in his meditation chamber with a microfig of a The Emperor fills the second level while ground level is given over to two towel-toting red Imperial Guards with Vader in his bacta bath. THe bulk of the basement level accomodates a hanger for Darth Vader's TIE Advanced, but it is the inclusion of a Sith shrine - complete with holocron and a secret compartment hiding an ancient relic - that's the geekiest detail in the whole set.
Let's hope it's not too long before we start seeing modifications for the exterior landing pad so we have somewhere to park Krennic's personal shuttle - or perhaps the MicroFighter version might be more appropriate given the midi scale of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter. Sadly both of these products are out of stock/retired at LEGO but the keychain is still available.
Do you already own this set? Why not jump into our discussion thread and share your thoughts.
If you don't have one of your own you can buy it at LEGO - $129.99 / Amazon - $129.99 (exclusive) / eBay - approx $145.
All of the sets reviewed here are currently available at retailers like Walmart, Target, LEGO.com, Amazon.com and eBay.com. Shopping links may use affiliate schemes which provide a small source of income to help support our LEGO Star Wars coverage.