Nerd Goals: The 501st Legion

Not long ago I had a serious conversation with my wife after telling her that I had a confession to make. She was, understandably, concerned. We’ve been happily married for ten years now. I’m fortunate that she supports, embraces, and frequently indulges in my multifaceted “geekdom.” Remarkable compatibility is a great thing in a marriage!

 

Finally I took a deep breath and dropped the bomb…

 

Me: “Sweetheart, there’s something I’ve always kind of wanted to do that I want to tell you about. After keeping it in my head for a while I think I’m ready to say it out loud….”

Wife: <worried look>

Me: “My ultimate nerdy goal is to join the 501st Legion.”

Wife: <eye roll>

 

That’s right, I want to be a costumed Stormtrooper.

 

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Let’s back up a bit… I’m not a religious person, but my lifelong love of Star Wars can most likely qualify as a religion. That fantastical far, far away galaxy from a long time ago serves as as much of a comfort zone in adulthood for me as it did in my childhood. I can safely declare that my perpetual fascination with George Lucas’s whimsical imagining of good versus evil will never subside.

 

The characters in Star Wars are second to none. Its heroes are worthy of adoration and emulation. However, it’s the villains who have always captured my interest. The bad guys have it all: Power, raw emotion, galactic might, OCD-pleasing visual consistency, and humble room for improvement in their engineering/design departments. I’m Team Empire all the way!

 

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So where can this obsessive love be practically applied to the real (boring) universe? I learned the answer to this question several years ago when I first heard about The 501st Legion. For the unfamiliar, the 501st is an all volunteer organization of costumed Star Wars enthusiasts. Stormtroopers are the primary focus with countless sub groups for other types of troopers, non-armored characters, heroes, villains, bounty hunters, etc. The list is long enough for an opening title crawl because the Star Wars universe is really THAT BIG.

 

Members of the 501st and its plethora of Garrisons are committed to admirable extremes. Ever been to a parade or an event where you saw characters in full Star Wars garb? Did they look like they could have just finished a battle with Rebel scum? That is the 501st Legion!! It’s important to note that Lucas Film *does not* officially endorse the 501st thanks to those pesky copyright laws. Instead, the 501st enjoys a well-earned status of mutual respect and understanding with Lucas Film which keeps everyone in line. They are rightfully the preferred costuming group which is often used by Disney for certain events. The most important result of this unofficial arrangement is that members of the Legion are forbidden from selling their costume creations or doing anything that would result in profit earned.

 

The requirements for Active Membership, a pinnacle of fandom, are incredibly rigid. Costume standards are strictly enforced to ensure members maintain a standard deserving of the Galactic Empire. Next time you see a costumed Stormtrooper at an event, take a second to appreciate the fact that what you’re seeing is the result of hours upon hours of painstaking, handmade effort. Members must make everything themselves to protect the relationship they have with Lucas Film (and vicariously Disney). Techniques are learned, honed, and practiced thanks to other troopers contributing experience to a legacy of honoring a shared obsession. All this effort is to join the ranks of other members marching in parades or visiting sick kids in hospitals. They’ve turned a love of a fictional universe into a powerful force in the real world.

 

Now that you hopefully have some respect for the Legionnaires and what they stand for, let’s get back to that underwhelming confession to my sarcastically unsurprised bride…..

 

One of the newest movements by the Legion struck me as the perfect time to share this longtime nerd goal with my better half. A t-shirt fundraiser was arranged in total support of the Make-A-Wish foundation. Their first goal was 2000 shirts to raise $20,000. The ultimate goal is 5000 shirts for an amazing $50,000+ raised. I jumped at the chance to join the first 2000! This was a great opportunity to spell out my true desire to elevate my fandom to the ultimate level. As far as I can tell, my wife is very supportive of this goal… she’s pretty damn cool so I expected nothing less.

 

The 501st’s cause is really an amazing one so please help them hit the goal of 5000. At the time of writing this post they are sitting at 4265 with twelve days to go. It’s an achievable milestone that will make an enormous difference in the lives of kids who need it most. Help make Vader proud!

 

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Force Friday (September 30th – when the new Rogue One toys became available) arrived shortly after my overly dramatic confession. My minions and I hit up most multiple retailers in the Richmond, VA area looking for the variety of new collectibles. We bumped into a very nice fellow at the local Walmart who vocally approved of my daughter’s toy selection (Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels). After chatting with him, I learned that he’s actually Darth Vader and sometimes Darth Maul in the local 501st group. The fact that this encounter happened so close to openly embracing my goal definitely cemented my interests.

 

Our friendly local “Darth” told me all about Garrison Tyranus – Virginia’s chapter of the 501st Legion. Everything he said made it sound like a wonderful group of people! The entire conversation only intensified my desire to wear the armor. My son brings it up at least every other day reminding me how I need to become part of the 501st. Excitement aside, it’s incredibly daunting to even know where to begin. I’ve joined the forums and plan to start getting involved. Aside from that, I’ll hopefully figure out where the hell I’m supposed to begin with constructing my white suit. One thing at a time!

 

As I eventually get closer to accomplishing my goal I’ll be sure to share the experience here. In the meantime, I’m going to proudly wear my Make-A-Wish shirt while taking every opportunity to spread the word about how much good can come from the bad guys.

 

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To support the Make-A-Wish Endowment Fund please go to  https://www.booster.com/501st

 

To learn more about The 501st Legion and what they do check out their website: http://www.501st.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/The501stLegion/

LEGO Star Wars: Millennium Falcon

Do you stare longingly at those giant LEGO sets in stores? You know the ones, the $100+ sets with an obscene piece count that can make your inner child giddy through proximity alone. A small bead of drool escapes your lips as you scour your brain for any logical justification for spending money like that on a LEGO set. It’s in these moments that you ponder how being an adult is double edged sword…. On one hand, you make money that could buy yourself things that you’d dreamed of getting as kid. Then on the other hand, you have bills and stupid “adult responsibilities.”

 

This is an ongoing dilemma for me. My kids whine, “we need new clothes. We need to eat. It’s our job to occupy every free dollar you earn.” All the while, my brain is interjecting, “don’t give them your money. Buy LEGO instead.” The middle ground I’m forced into is to skip the sets on the high end of the dollar/pieces spectrum for more economical ones. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never bought a LEGO set I didn’t enjoy. As much as I do like these smaller sets, I still find myself locked into that longing stare time and time again.

 

In comes a book royalty check! Money has never once been my motivator for writing but it’s always a welcomed bonus. When those periodic checks do come in, I make it my mission to buy something LEGO-related and to take my family out for dinner (see – I do have a conscience). When my last check from 2015 arrived in the mail I was determined to finally get myself one of those big sets. It just so happened that I was going to pass a LEGO Store on a day trip to see family. The Universe clearly wanted me to get a big set because the timing was too good to ignore.

 

I regress into a childlike state whenever I’m in a LEGO Store. There’s so much wonder and possibility that getting excited is unavoidable no matter what age you are. Just beyond the entrance for this location was a table of sets marked down for their less-than-pristine boxes. I was drawn to it because something beautiful caught my eye – The Millennium Falcon. “Holy shit!” I thought and possibly said aloud, “there’s no way the Falcon is discounted.” Much to my delight….

 

It was! Thirty dollars off is nothing to shy away from. If you’re a fan, you know that LEGO very rarely gets discounted. It was a sign – I had to own it. Now it is my absolute pleasure to review it. I took pictures throughout the long build to highlight my favorite pieces or components. This review will be very reliant on those pictures I took because there is no better way to show why this one is worth the money.

 

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This set is no joke. With 1329 pieces in nine bags (compared to a normal set with 1-3 bags), you’re in for quite a project. My actual build time was probably around 7 hours. I’d work on it for 45 minutes to an hour at a time in the evenings. I tried to be extra-aware of my eagerness to get it built and thus kept myself in check. The plan was to build it AND enjoy the process. I’ll start by highlighting my favorite part – the minifigures!

 

Minifigures (not in the order they came out of the bags)

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Rey and BB-8 are probably my favorites. BB-8 is freakin’ adorable just like he is in the movies. LEGO did a superb job at capturing his charm in brick form. Rey is equally perfect with her freckles and even the style of her hair. No company is better than LEGO when it comes to mastering minute details to bring subtle charm and uniqueness to each character. I do wish Rey came with her staff instead of the little blaster; guess I’ll have to pick up her Speeder set to get that.
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The minifigures for Tasu Leech and the Kanjiklub Gang Member aren’t really anything special. Few brands have as many (named) obscure characters as Star Wars. Although it would be neat if all main characters along with this set, it makes sense that they’d pad it a bit with expendables. I will say that both are very different from each other so they don’t feel like the near-duplicate similarities that come with Storm Troopers, Imperial Officers, or other scene extras. Their differences will please collectors looking for variety rather than sheer numbers.

 

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The Finn minifig featured in this set is a tad underwhelming, to be honest. Plainness aside, I was very excited to have him because of his importance in this new era of Star Wars. LEGO tends to make their movie sets true to the scene and so any other variation of Finn would have been incorrect. It would be great if LEGO designed a set with the crashed TIE Fighter so Finn could have partial Storm Trooper armor printed on the minifigure.

 

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It wouldn’t be the Millennium Falcon without Han and Chewie! The ‘feels’ come back with a vengeance when I think about Episode VII being the last time we’ll get to see the pair at their rightful place behind the helm of the Corellian freighter. LEGO did an excellent job aging the two characters for accuracy. The version of Han Solo for this set definitely stands out from the others in my collection. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how the detail LEGO puts into characters only gets better with each version; Chewbacca is a perfect example of this improvement.

 

The Build

 

Make sure you have a decent-sized area for this one. You’d be surprised how much surface area it takes up only after a few pages. I grew excited when the skeleton frame started taking on the iconic shape (sort of).

 

 

It doesn’t take long before that skeleton frame is covered and the little interior details get tacked on. At this stage those details feel totally random. LEGO generally follows some semblance of symmetry so be ready to question whether or not you’re placing bricks correctly. The random placements fit because throughout its film appearances, the Millennium Falcon is referred to as “garbage” or a “hunk of junk”. Many of these random pieces needed to be turned or made askew in a way beyond their connecting design. This was a nice touch to give the ship a much more organic feel rather than a strict, clean grid.

 

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The biggest flaw with this set are the infernal decals. As I’ve frequently stated in past reviews, I despise decals. Unfortunately, The Millennium Falcon is chalked full of damned decals for some very important details….

 

 

Thankfully, LEGO printed a few pieces. If the Holochess piece was a decal I would have certainly botched its application. Some of the other small tiles were printed while many were placed practically side by side with decals.

 

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In order for the curved walls to be formed it essentially has you building a linked chain which is fixed on its side so it can bend upon attaching to the body. Once all of the walls are in place it is surprisingly sturdy considering how few places are actually attached to the rest of the build.

 

 

There were many steps that involved bricks used in ways I wouldn’t have thought of. Many of these pieces are less common than what is normally included. If this were any other set, I would likely cannibalize them for future builds.

 

 

The engines are very cleverly designed. While using the same linked chain technique for the other walls, a flexible blue tube was worked into the link so that once it was bent for placement you had the perfect radiant blue ship engines.

 

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As the supporting outer shell is placed you also finalize many of the hidden compartments perfect for smuggling. There’s also a great vertical seating that’s built in for both the upper and lower cannons to be manned. Later in the build there are lots of familiar components which are gradually brought to life right down to the landing gear below.

 

 

LEGO found a compromise for how to make the set look good from the outside while making the finer details on the inside accessible for play – the outer hull is made of individual flaps that fold up for access to the inside. Each flap has its own little details to give the Falcon its trademark “hunk of junk” look from the outside.

 

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Before long the Millennium Falcon is whole with the exception of its nose and cockpit. The “nose” is build as two separate sections that hook onto the main body. Each section conceals the spring loaded missile launchers in a way to prevent the play function from tainting the true-to-the-source design.

 

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The cockpit is printed on clear plastic. I was terrified they’d resort to a decal with this part too. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. The assembled cockpit section slides on in one piece then is affixed to the whole. This part is one of the few weak design points in the entire set. Removing the piece to take a minifigure out or put one in is a bit precarious. It would have been incredible if it was sized so that more than one minifig could be seated inside. Of course, this would have to practically double the size of the entire set to keep things proportionate.

 

 

After attaching the cockpit you have bittersweet completion! The end build is hefty, to say the least. Here it is whole then with the flaps opened.

 

 

My rating of the LEGO Star Wars: Millennium Falcon #75105 is a perfect 10 out of 10.

 

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BONUS!

 

For me, half of the fun of collecting is finding a way to display what you’re so proud of. The Millennium Falcon is worthy of pride, yet when it sits flat you can’t appreciate the full size/design from a straight angle. This simply will not do! So I designed my own stand for it using clear bricks which is attached to the (very secure) landing gear of the ship. The end result was better than I could have hoped for. I plan on doing a full write up on LEGO display ideas in the near future. When I do I’ll also include instructions on how to make your own stand.

 

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LEGO Star Wars: Droid Escape Pod

LEGO continues their push to recreate classic scenes in brick form with their spring releases. Much like the brilliant Carbon-Freezing Chamber, the Droid Escape Pod #75136 provides a nice selection of minifigures (for a small set) at a reasonable ticket price. I’ll break down my thoughts into a few key points.

 

Minifigures

 

There are two separate Jawas included with the set. This was a major draw for me since I (shockingly) didn’t have any of the little guys in my sprawling Minifigure collection. The only differentiator between the two is that they have unique weapons. I believe one is intended to replicate the stun device used against R2D2 in A New Hope.

 

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This is the third C3PO to join my collection. It’s not all that different from previous appearances, however, subtle changes in his leg printing were made. I love how much LEGO has advanced their standard level of detail as the years and decades have passed. Here’s a picture of the three I have in my collection – it’s like night and day when comparing the earlier versions to this one and the red armed version from Force Awakens.

 

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The middle one is what comes with the Escape Pod

 

Confession time…. This is my first “normal” R2D2. I know… I’m a disgrace. I already had the snowman version from the advent calendar but had never grabbed a set that had good ol’ R2. It’s good to have him join my brick horde! Even though I have no tangible basis for comparison, I hear there are enhanced details in the print coloring.

 

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Set/Build

 

Overall, it’s a pretty simple set. The piece count is low (more on that in the next section) so it won’t take long to get everything together. There are a few interesting techniques in regards to flipping the build around to expand from another direction. The way it is structured for the pod shape with a playable opening is clever.

 

 

Its biggest flaw is the reliance on decals… I HATE DECALS. For those of us with meaty paws, placing a detail is like defusing a bomb. Unbeknownst to me, I actually placed one decal without realizing the component needed to be flipped around. Once I flipped it, the little asshole sticker was oriented wrong. An obscenity-filled scratch session fixed the problem, however, that little wrinkled corner made when I peeled it off will always be there laughing at me…

 

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Monkey funking decals

 

One of the major highlights is the tile piece printed with the Death Star plans. Tiny details like this bring magic to LEGO. From a play standpoint, the Death Star tile inserts into the panel on the pod then can be removed when the droids escape.

 

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The sensor panel is a decal, unfortunately.

 

Value

 

There’s a lot to like about this set. It has plenty of playable features with enough minifigures to recreate the scene. I’ve heard many complain that the price point is too high for a set with only 197 pieces. The thing about The Droid Escape Pod, is that the set is almost an afterthought for there being four distinct(ish) minifigures. Had they limited it to one Jawa I think it would need to be a $19.99 set. All things considered, $24.99 isn’t a bad ticket price for what you get.

 

My rating of the DROID ESCAPE POD (set number) is 7.5 out of 10.

 

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