Posted by Jeremy on December 31, 2018 at 03:55 PM CST
When LEGO made the official announcement on August 31st, 2017 that they had re-designed the classic and record-breaking 10179 Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon it came after months of rumours, speculation and Easter egg teases that had fans and collectors stewing with anticipation.
And when the declaration finally came it wasn't with great fanfare and tumultuous applause, but a simple update to the LEGO Star Wars theme product page. Such understatement for such a momentous reveal had everyone scratching their heads and asking why was the proclamation so low key?
Before we look at LEGO's drivers we need to roll the clock back a decade to February 11th, 2007 when the news that LEGO, without any marketing preamble, had added 10179 UCS Millennium Falcon to their LEGO Star Wars roll call. At the time this original mega-build had topped out at 5174 pieces - a staggering (for the time) 1727 parts bigger than the previous UCS record holder - and LEGO were understandably hesitant about dedicating a large proportion of their resources and production facilities to what could amount to be a 5000 white elephants. (As history has shown this model eventually became such a white whale for many collectors that its growing value against gold spawned a trope.)
Back in 2007 there was no way for LEGO to effectively test the market's demand for such a large set while keeping its development at the skunk works underneath Billund apace with the required delivery date and - under the likely assumption that any pre-sales hype would deter the target AFOL/Star Wars collecting demographic from making other LEGO purchases in the run-up to its release - its existence was kept under wraps.
And so when the news first broke - without any leaks at all - LEGO gave consumers two months to catch their breath and get pre-orders in before the set became publically available on March 31st. Those who got their orders in before the cut-off had specially printed packaging with the much sought-after First Edition badge in the lower left corner and a numbered certificate of authenticity sealed within the box.
A certain amount of confusion still exists around this initial production run, with many people assuming that the COA was limited to it, but photographic evidence shows verified certificates up in the 14,000s, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that the numbering nearly reached 20,000. Nor is it fully understood how many First Edition-marked boxes were printed but the consensus is that the badge is exclusive to the first run of 5,000 models.
Against all odds, it sold well. Fantastically well in fact, and LEGO extended the model's availability well past the normal year and a half years; eventually retiring it late 2009 (though it didn't fully sell out until June 2010). Since then, as data provided by Retiringsets.com shows, the lifespan for the big ticket sets has been lengthened considerably as a result of 10179 Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon's massive popularity.
In the intervening years, its value on the secondary market had risen so high that sellers could expect to make nearly 600% profit. It's not inconceivable that LEGO took note of this, and with the increasing preponderance of newspaper and blog articles guiding would-be investors to hoard LEGO sets in the hope of future earnings, legitimate LEGO fans were becoming increasingly irritated by brick bankers.
Combatting this in any capitalist society would be fruitless and so LEGO apparently took the view that the high prices, fuelled by investors greed, meant that the demand for a greeblied-to-the-max Millennium Falcon was really being driven at a grassroots level by the real fans of LEGO and that a market for an updated version existed.
Interviews and Q&As given (check out Bricket's superlative interview with Hans Burkhard Schlömer for some great insights) after the release of 75192 Millennium Falcon tells us that it's been on the mind of the LEGO Star Wars design team ever since the last one sold in 2010, but the decision to revisit the ship that broke both the record for the Kessel Run and the largest piece count ever was a tricky one to make.
Experience tells that us that sometime in early in 2015, with the upcoming 40th anniversary of Star Wars looming, the pin was pulled and the designers got down to business. Typically a LEGO set is budgeted in advance but, as with 10179 Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon, the final recommended retail price wasn't assigned so the marketeers at LEGO wouldn't have that most vital piece of information to work with and had to get creative.
What they did have was ground effect - the assertable knowledge that the appeal of a new Millennium Falcon aimed at the adult market was deep-rooted - and the Internet, and looking back it's easy to see the trail of breadcrumbs that lead us to that fateful day at the end of August 2017. At the time, however, the fog of war made things less clear and the vast proportion of the Star Wars collecting community was so deeply embedded in Hasbro action figures that the building excitement in the LEGO camp largely went unnoticed.
Our focus on Rebelscum was much wider and the whole build up and post-release coverage was tracked closely with nearly 100 news posts documenting the marketing and distribution history of 75192 Millennium Falcon.
The first clue, which was roundly scoffed at the time, came on August 31st, 2016. The innocent inclusion of a silhoutted Millennium Falcon on the packaging art of 75159 UCS Death Star was picked up quickly when LEGO shared the press release for the re-release of 10188 Death Star from 2008. What we didn't know then was that 75192 Millennium Falcon would get its official announcment exactly a year later.
When the rumour mill went into shutdown the hoax factory picked up the slack with a number of purported leaked images that were quickly and roundly debunked as April 1st jokes. Personally I was aware of the existance of the set, as a result of working on the Ultimate LEGO Star Wars book with DK in March, 2017. I had signed a Non Disclosure Agreement which, while I couldn't leak any information, meant that it was easy to filter out the fake news.
The next leak came right before April Fool's Day when images of the Summer 2017 sets surfaced thanks to a Dutch online retailer. Eagley-eyed milfunters noticed that the 75180 Rathtar Escape had an image of the Millennium Falcon tucked away on the box's right hand panel. Some believed it to be nothing more than The Force Awakens75105 Millennium Falcon, but others pointed out that the details on the mandibles were from an unknown build.
With 2017 being the 40th anniversary of Star Wars the 40% discount on 75105 Millennium Falcon - the only extant model of the spaceship - during the May The 4th Be With You shindig at LEGO outlets seemed less than circumstantial, but fans weren't totally convinced it was an Easter egg clue. However, the slip-up in search term results on the Shop@Home website that occured on May 10th was seen as purposeful, rather than accidental.
After this LEGO became less circumspect with the placement of their teasers, and went out of their way to share the news that they had somethign very big in the pipeline. The first giveaway was on July 18th, 2017 when LEGO set designer Hans Burkhard Schlömer updated his setography on Brickset.com and included that he had been "working on a much, much, much, much, much, much larger set" that would be revealed on September 1st, 2017. Given that this was posted on Brickset.com - one of LEGO's top tier community stakeholders - and that Hans was the one holding the MicroFighter Millennium Falcon in the 10257 Creator Expert Carousel designer video there was no way this was a mistake.
Two weeks later the action shifted to LEGO's social media platforms with a series of rapid-fire teases. On the 1st of August an image of 10528 Creator London Bus box was shown next to a much larger box shrouded by white paper. Digital manipulators employed their X-ray filters and claimed to be able to see an outline of very Falcon-like mandible. The rest of us saw a sailboat.
Exactly a week later - a pattern that, over the next month, would become the norm - the trick was repeated with the manual to the 10257 Creator Carousel was used as a scale for the shrouded instruction manual. Though post on Twitter claimed that the 194 pages of the 10257 Creator Carousel manual was going to be dwarfed by "2.56 times bigger!" got expectant LEGO fans and Star Wars collectors in a tizz, there was still some hesitancy whether it was a Star Wars set or not.
August 15th arrived, and with it a 20-second long video with a caption that declared that "#LEGOStarWars is assembling its biggest set yet!" that would be made available on October 1st. And while that news was startling in itself it was the file name of the video that caused an uproar because, seemingly by accident, the meta data revealed that the title of the file was "MF - UCS MF 15 sec HERO Teaser video" and confirmed that LEGO was trolling its fans.
The marketing campaign got magnificently derailed when a promotional flyer from China made the rounds on August 22nd. To their credit, one day later LEGO (literally) picked up the pieces knowing full well that the cat was out of the bag, and the next two clues were the piece count - revealed to be 1,619 pieces more than 10256 Creator Taj Mahal - and the news that this upcoming set was too big for the largest bag provided.
Eight days later the full and final announcement was made and, exactly the same as 2007, 75192 Millennium Falcon was officially added to the LEGO Star Wars product page at the shop@home website. This time around the full weight of social media was used to back up the reveal, with videos simultaneously shared on Facebook and Twitter too.
With all the cards on the table, all LEGO had to do next was sit back and wait. But they didn't - and the marketing campign kept rolling in order to keep the hype going another fortnight when 75192 Millennium Falcon could be purchased for the first time.
Along with the set's initial announcement came news that members of the VIP rewards (a free loyalty card) programme would have the opportunity to get their orders in first - over the weekend of September 14 and 15th - while the rest of the public waited for October 1st to roll around.
At the same time the publicity train for Force Friday II, the products launch for Star Wars: The Last Jedi taking place the next day on September 1st, was at full steam and LEGO wasn't going to miss out on an opportunity to co-opt fervour for the new movie with the launch of the latest UCS set. With collectors balancing up eleven new sets from The Last Jedi against the new Falcon, LEGO upped the ante and produced three limited edition posters of the new Millennium Falcon model in stylised action movie action scenes, to be made available on September 1st, 2nd and 3rd with an appropriate purchase. Shoppers who called in to a LEGO Brand Store over the Force Friday II weekend were able to walk away with a gatefold promotional brochure that showed off the details and features of the new set.
Not to put potential buyers of 75192 Millennium Falcon off, LEGO pulled another rabbit out of their hat and announced an unexpected bonus: VIP card holders who ordered their 75192 UCS Millennium Falcon on September 14 and 15th would receive an exclusive VIP card for their effort and faith. What benefits the card offered, and how much a boondoggle it would become was unknown at the time.
Even before sales started things reached fever pitch, with pre-sale eBay listings going up for two or three times more than the sets recommended retail price.
When the news came that the flagship LEGO brand store in London's Leiecester Square was opening at 12:01 am on September 14th LEGO brought the goal posts forward by nine hours and the clamour to get to London early enough to be at the front of the queue was deafening. Once word got out that there would only be 150 sets available to purchase on the day there was a stampede of determined fans. The rush was repeated around the world as opening hours at LEGO brand stores were reached, as well as online where click/wait/refresh was the order of the day -causing the LEGO servers to stall. Within a few hours of it starting the unavoidable happened when it all came to a crashing halt with stores selling out and the shop@home postal crashing.
With all the success that LEGO had in hyping up the new Millennium Falcon, it was a shame to see it come so unstuck just as the ball started rolling and people took to their soapboxes to voice their concern. The three main criticisms being levelled at LEGO surrounded start times, lack of upstream bandwidth and variances in stock level distribution.
However the biggest impact on sales was caused by shoppers in North American incorrectly assuming that they could buy their's at the same time as European customers. The unnecessary traffic on the commerce servers caused a lag that had a domino effect, grinding the site to a crawl and then a halt.
Further irritation was caused by a distinct lack of information concerning the black VIP card. Very little was known about this in advance, and the "More Information" link on the LEGO website took visitors to the LEGO Star Wars theme shopping page. It only got worse when collectors discovered that those who attended the launch night gala event received their VIP cards in a special commemorative envelope, while the VIP hoi polloi who did their shopping in regular business hours would have to wait to get theirs in the post. (And wait they did.)
Bad news that the online demand had decimated not only the VIP Early Access allocation but the October 1st release stock as well was followed by good news as when, in a gesture of goodwill, the exclusive black VIP offer was being extended from the opening weekend (September 14 and 15th) to the end of the year. This was a decision that would come back to haunt LEGO, and never before has the term "a victim of their own success" been better illustrated. Not all LEGO stores had been wiped out, and shoppers farthest from the bright center of the universe camped out on the steps of their local LEGO brand stores and didn't go away empty handed.
Job done for the marketing team, so time for public relations to pick up the pieces. Taking note of the number of community requests to clarify the situation around the limited edition VIP cards LEGO provided an information page promising a "full year of Star Wars-themed offers" in 2018.
The rest of the year passed in a "will it/won't it come back into stock" haze, but with thousands of VIP back-orders being filled very few sets percolated through to bricks and mortar shelves. Despite the gloom hanging over the UCS subtheme fans were still willing to gossip about what 2018 would bring, with a re-release of the 10179 UCS Star Destroyer and a new Cloud City being the most talk-about possibilities. And then with the New Years fast approaching word started to circulate that European customers would receive their black VIP cards by the end of November, it looked like the clouds were breaking.
By this time last year the cause of all the delays in distributing those 75192 Millennium Falcon bought in the last quarter of 2017 became clear with word Walmart, Target, Amazon.com and Toys "R" Us and all carried the set for the RRP set by LEGO from late January.
February 1st saw the start of a "full year of Star Wars-themed offers" with a card holders receiving double VIP points on any LEGO Star Wars purchase (with the exception of 75192 Millennium Falcon) until February 28th. The email received by Club 75192, as Rebelscum dubbed the black VIP card group, had hints at what else was going to be offered - exclusive contests/rewards/access - and no-one got excited. Members had to wait until the May The 4th be With You celebrations when, for the cost of a $35 LEGO Star Wars purchase, they could get themselves a blueprint of the new 75181 Y-Wing Starfighter plus an automatic entry to a sweepstakes to win an 18 carat white gold R2-D2 minifigure.
All went quite until June 26th when LEGO sent an email out to black VIP members letting them know that a winner had been drawn and the next phase of a "full year of LEGO Star Wars-themed offers" with a polybagged 40298 DJ minifig. The exclusive four day offer came with two caveats: the minifig had already been released and it required another LEGO Star Wars purchase.
That left the exclusive access until last, and when it arrived right at the end of the year it didn't slip but stumbled into the room, tripping over its own feet, to tuck the Millennium Falcon into bed before letting itself out quietly. A catastrophic start saw the exclusive VIP Frame being accidentally listed as an item which anyone could buy, and a short notice email going out to card holders was as confusing as it was illuminating. Originally the offer ran to the end of January 2019 - making the promised year of exclusive contests/rewards/access exactly 365 days long - but the promotion's end date was later adjusted to December 31st*. On the positive side the bags of bricks arived considerably faster than the card it was designed to hold - and less than a week later the secondary market was full of listings.
It is very apt that the last promotion of the black VIP programme is a coffin for a card that you will never use again. Valē black VIP card, valē.
With the end of the year comes the end of the black VIP card programme, and with Club 75192's doors closing the newest UCS set joins the rank and file of all of the other LEGO Star Wars models. There will be no parades, or parties and this is likely to be the only euology the marketing campaign for 75192 Millennium Falcon receives.
"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."
UPDATE: In true Club 75192 fashion the end date of 5005747 VIP Frame was extended to Jan 31st, 2019 at the last minute.