In the world of Doctor Who, it's readily accepted that insides and outsides can exist in different dimensions, and that different time zones can be visited as easily as if they were different places. If you can swallow such conceits, then you're likely to share my view that LEGO's Death Star playset is one of the greatest LEGO sets ever released in any range. Whilst its half-hearted exterior couldn't hope to measure up to that of the majesty of the Death Star II ultimate collector's edition set, its movie-hopping interior boasts more genuine detail and finesse features than the total sum of previous Star Wars LEGO offerings. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece of a model.
When this near four-thousand piece set arrived, the first thing that I did was to assemble its twenty-four minifigures, as recommended by the first of its heavy, ring-bound instruction manuals. Any Star Wars character of note who ever set foot on board either of the Empire's ill-fated battle stations is included here, and some of them in more than one incarnation. Luke Skywalker, for instance, appears in three different guises – firstly, in his farm boy outfit from Tatooine; secondly, in a unique stormtrooper outfit; and thirdly, as a fully-fledged, mechanical-appendage-sporting, black-clad Jedi Knight. Han Solo, similarly, appears in an exclusive stormtrooper outfit as well as his usual attire, alongside his constant companion Chewbacca; an Episode IV-styled Princess Leia; a cloaked Obi-Wan Kenobi; and the saga's seminal droid duo, C-3PO and R2-D2. Death Star stalwarts Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin are present and correct too, as is the hard-to-find Emperor Palpatine, here equipped with his Return of the Jedi lightening. The minifigure count is than rounded out with a couple of stormtroopers; a brace of rare, red-clad royal guards; and no fewer than four imperial droids. Whilst it's true that many of the minifigures included in this set have been improved upon since (particularly Luke and Leia), there is still not a set that stands up to this one when it comes to the quantity and quality of its minifigures.
Building the Death Star itself was an even more rewarding experience though, particularly as I eked it out over a few weeks, tackling one of the set's four internal boxes at a time (at £274.99, I had to make it last). Once the foundations were in place, the first floor offered all manner of tantalising treasures, including the infamous ‘trash compactor' (complete with compacting walls and Dianoga monster); tractor beam control room; and gaping chasm across which Luke and Leia must swing. As the build progressed, I didn't only get the satisfaction of being able to build superlative second floor rooms such as the ‘Vader vs Obi-Wan' hanger bay; throne room; and detention block, but also the pleasure of seeing how they interrelated with the rooms already constructed. The detention block, for instance, boasts a rubbish chute that leads, as it should, to the trash compactor; the throne room, meanwhile, is equipped with a fully-functional lift. Even the set's top tier, which stands only half as tall as the two below it, was not without reward as it allowed me to recreate the moment where Vader choked one of his subordinates around the conference table (“I find your lack of faith disturbing…”), not to mention that in which he loomed behind the overconfident Tarkin as the Rebel base honed into view on the monitor before them (which can easily be flipped round to be replaced by an image of the doomed Alderaan, depending how destructive you're feeling).
The gigantic space station is colossal once assembled, taking up a nearly half a square metre wherever it's set down. Naturally, I lament the absence of an exterior – LEGO could have finished the model with a series of hinged grey walls to provide a more authentic finish without taking too much away from the playability of the spectacular interior, but even so, this set's finished model is as clearly the Death Star as LEGO's intricately-detailed ultimate collector's edition display piece. How could it not be with that menacing green death ray extruding from its distinguishing dish?