Is there a better way to celebrate May the 4th than with some new Star Wars Lego? I certainly don’t know of it, which is why I went down to the local Lego store bright and early Saturday morning to pick up the brand new Sandcrawler. The 3,296-piece monstrosity is the first big, new, original-trilogy vehicle in some time, so I was naturally jazzed for it. At $349, it’s pricey, but it is one of the biggest sets Lego sells – not just in the Star Wars line, but overall. (Anyone wondering at this point why a grown adult may want to play with Lego should probably read this before continuing on).
I was immediately impressed upon cracking the box open to find 20 plastic packages of Lego, as well as a thick, 315-page booklet that resembles a car manual more than a set of toy instructions. It’s clear the Sandcrawler is something special, with a six-page introduction giving some background on how the Jawa scavengers of Tattoine use their rolling factory to collect and sell droids, plus an interview with model creator Olav Kroigaard. I’ve never seen such a preamble in a Lego instruction book before.
The first few hours and plastic packages were the most enjoyable part of the build since, with a big set like this one, you’re never really sure which section you’re starting with or why. It was obvious that the vehicle’s base was up first, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the instructions didn’t start with the tracks. This only became clear several hours later, once a strong foundation had been established upon which the rest of the Sandcrawler – including its locomotion apparatus – would depend.
While building that base, I couldn’t help but suspect that there was some Lego Technic strategy being incorporated – lots of interconnecting rods and complicated joiner pieces. Kroigaard, in the introductory interview, indeed confirms that this was his thinking while designing the Sandcrawler. With so many weird angles, he felt like he needed to use Technic elements to give the model some strong bones – and boy did he ever. Several hours in, with the basic frame in place and the model starting to look like something, I was impressed by how sturdy the construction was. When it came time to turn it upside down to attach the treads, I had no worries about solidity at all.
Every big Lego set has that tedious section where the same task needs to be done over and over for a couple of hours. Such is the case with the Sandcrawler’s tank-like treads, which are composed of 38 small black pieces each. With eight treads total, that’s a whopping 304 pieces – about 10 per cent of the set. My thumbs still hurt from snapping those tiny things together.
Still, once locked into place, the Sandcrawler was rolling along with a satisfying clickety-clack thanks to all those tiny pieces, with a knob at the back of the vehicle – assembled earlier – controlling the rear-wheel steering.
With the tedium over, it was back to the interesting stuff. Building up the vehicle’s walls and what would eventually be not one but two winches, plus the drawbridge-like ramp at the front, was another exercise in neo-Technics. By the time I got through putting together the driver’s cockpit, the removable roof sections and the various assortment of droids, I felt like I’d gone through a master builder course. The Sandcrawler incorporates so many complex systems in its interior that it almost doesn’t feel like a regular Lego set. It’s recommended for ages 14 and up, and it certainly is one of the most challenging sets I’ve ever built.
On the other hand, Lego designers also seem to be learning a few tricks for making their sets easier to put together. The Sandcrawler’s individual plastic packages, for example, each contained significantly fewer pieces than many sets of similar size. It’s a smart move as it breaks the model up into smaller, more manageable sections. At no point did my eyes feel glazed over from looking for pieces, which is usually the case. I did, however, get significant back strain from sitting hunched over my coffee table for the eight hours it took to build, but that’s my own damn fault.
Once completed, I was amazed by how much there is to do with the Sandcrawler. It drives along smoothly with its steerable rear treads and a sled-driving Jawa shoots down the retractable front ramp. The two winches have different claw appendages that can be attached to pick up droids and crates, which can also be pushed through side windows. The sides open up to reveal the interior while the roof sections can be removed to access various sections. And there are also plenty of mini-figures: four Jawas, a bunch of droids – including R2D2 and C3PO – as well as Luke Skywalker and, for the first time to my knowledge, his Uncle Owen. Luke even has a slightly cooler hairstyle than any other New Hope-era minifigure I’ve seen.
This is a great set for adults to build and a fun one for kids to play with. It has nearly as many pieces as the Lego Death Star, which is my sentimental favourite Star Wars set, but at $349 the Sandcrawler is considerably cheaper and therefore a better deal. It may very well be a toy the whole family – or close to it, anyway – can enjoy.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go down to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters…