When our favourite theme celebrated its twentieth birthday last year LEGO was made to realise that their fans and collectors had aged two decades as well, and the reasons (some might say excuses) that drove LEGO Star Wars set sales had changed too.
Trying to keep ahead of the curve, LEGO took a closer look at what fans did with their sets and came to the conclusion that the increasingly important market of adult collectors deserved some attention. The first trial products aimed at grown-ups arrived at Star Wars Celebration Chicago and San Diego Comic Con in 2019 with the release of two exclusive busts.
With the concept's launch taking place at large social events meant that LEGO couldn't be too restrictive on who they were aiming the busts at and so the sets were marked up as being suitable for 14+, a limit that enticed adult buyers but didn't discourage children from showing interest.
Collectors liked that 75227 Darth Vader Bust was made available at the LEGO booth at Celebration and during a co-ordinated period Target. The reveal of the 77901 Sith Trooper Bust was tied in with The Rise of Skywalker costume exposé that Lucasfilm hosted during the convention, and while it didn't have the immediate popular appeal that the Darth Vader bust had, it - being a convention exclusive - was snapped up by voracious collectors. The only critique fans had to share was that the distribution of 77901 Sith Trooper Bust was limited to San Diego Comic Con and, unlike the Darth Vader bust, there was no retail outlet for non-attendees to tap into.
The earliest incarnations of these helmets goes back to 2005 when Erik Varszegi, one of the model designers at LEGO, built a Darth Vader model that was used as a competition prize. Elements of this were eventually used in 75227 Darth Vader Bust, which he co-designed.
Developing high-end sets for adults is nothing new to LEGO; the Ultimate Collector's Series has been around for nearly the full lifespan of the Star Wars theme and new models - like this year's 75275 A-Wing Starfighter - have continually been added to the subtheme. However these large and technical sets were aimed at LEGO fans who liked the challenge of a detailed build and didn't tap the largely untouched adult Star Wars collectibles market, which is subtly different.
Looking to further develop a range of sets designed for adults who valued display over play, LEGO bumped upon a range of Star Wars collectibles that Master Replicas and Riddel had a great deal of success with during the last trilogy - scaled-down model helmets.
Having already drawn inspiration from popular spaceships, characters and locations in the Star Wars galaxy, LEGO realised that the source was filled with iconic costumes, weapons and armour and decided that the buildable model helmet was the way to progress. Model designers Niels Mølgård Frederiksen (75277 Boba Fett) and César Carvalhosa Soares (75274 TIE Fighter Pilot and 75276 Stormtrooper ), under the watchful eye of the Star Wars team's design director - Jens Kronvold Frederiksen.
Asked where the how three initial buildbale model helmets were born, César explained that they were "a natural concept that arose in some of our creative boosts and brainstorms" and added that he and Niels built sketch models of many different helmets to help them understand how to approach the new line, as well as how to determine the appropriate 0.45 scale.
"We did discuss different scales for the helmets, but decided on this size, because they are big enough to get the shape and details right, and easy to display, as they do not take up too much space." commented Jens.
Niels, who also worked on the SDCC exclusive 77901 Sith Trooper Bust, added that designing the helmets was "like sculpting in clay. You add a bit here and there, then remove some again. Try out different shape-elements and plates, to get that detail or contour you’re looking for" before sharing that his favourite aspect of co-creating this new subtheme was that it evolved organically, rather than growing through a rigid process.
Jens was clear that the intended building experience was of significant importance and "by marking them 18+ it gave us less restrictions regarding building complexity. Without these restrictions, we can make far more detailed and accurate models" meaning that the designers could use building techniques that they'd normally avoid when creating a set for a child.
The high-end allure of the new buildable helmet line starts with the packaging, and if you're the kind of person that when given a present openes the card first and takes time to appreciate the wrapping paper then the eyecatching graphics and card stock quality is going to appeal.
"We wanted to communicate that with the new style of packaging, but also with the products themselves, which are meant for display more than play." he said when asked what the new qualities the helmets offered to the over 18's market.
Quite clearly Jens is the kind of guest who would bring only the highest quality chocolates to a dinner party.
Each of the three sets begins with the same internal framework that first featured in 75187 BB-8 (later used in 75230 Porg and then 75225 Yoda), and anyone with experience building BrickHeadz will instantly have flashbacks. The similarity between this signature line of collectible figures made of LEGO bricks and the new buildable helmet subtheme is obvious, leading some Star Wars collectors to dub them BucketHeadz.
Asked if LEGO had ever entertained the notion Niels laughed the suggestion off, saying "not that I remember, but with the humour we have in the LEGO Star Wars design team it could very well have happened."
With the skull complete the build leads on to the layered panels, and while the back and side panels are a litle repetative it is the front - or face - that allows the designer to show off their understanding of Star Wars and the skill with LEGO bricks.
While attaching the panels Jen's comment about having fewer construction limitations came to mind, because the side facets have fewer points of contact than normal and there is slightly less clutch action (aka grip) than most builders are used to. A steady hand and a touch of patience is all that's needed, so put away any thoughts of modelling cement.
75274 TIE Fighter Pilot
While this helmet's most eyecatching feature is the paired Imperial roundels situated above the visor, it is the air lines that Cesar is most proud of. Once he had settled on the overall shape of the helmet he concentrated on getting the twin hoses right before building up any detail.
"We really wanted to incorporate them in the model and so we used train wheels and flexible tubing to achieve the final result."
Curving the hoses back to connect to the base is nearly as satisfying as the effect that the printed plates of the visor's nose bridge creates.
While very similar in shape and detail, the helmet of the Empire's cannon fodder is relatively simple in comparision. Following the same pattern, the build begins with the core, moves on to the curved pate, back panel, front visor and sides before finishing off with the jowly mouthpiece.
Also designed by Cesar, it was the eye slits that presented him with the biggest challenge.
"They needed to be in the right shape but also angled across the sides of the face."
His success was achieved by using sloped black elements connected by hinges to maintain the curved appearance of the helmet.
75277 Boba Fett
Varying slightly in build order, this dented helm doesn't stick to the top, sides and front formula that the other two buildable helmets followed but instead moves from one panel to another and back again - as if further building up the mystique of this mysterious bounty hunter.
Faced with the challenge of high expectations it wasn't the trademark dent or the rangefinder that presented Niels with the biggest hurdle, it was the yellow banding on the left side that kept him up at night.
"We really wanted to achieve this detail brick-built, as using stickers or decorations in that area of the helmet would have been impossible."
Once he figured out that layering the strips using the SNOT technique would work the rest of the design didn't take long to complete.
The final touch to each build is the addition of the display base and name plate, giving each one the touch of sophistication that earns it the right to a public footprint.
Each model helmet takes an hour of concentrated effort, or an hour and a half with background distractions. One word of advice: make sure your hands are clean because the smooth bricks, particularly those of 75274 TIE Fighter Pilot helmet, aren't forgiving of greasy finger tips.
While the finished models don't rise to - much less above - the standard set by the Ultimate Collector's Series sets, they do provide a very accessible product to the collector who wants to liven up the background of their home office in time for the next Zoom meeting. And with their $59.99 price point they are far more affordable, giving encouragement to the cautiousStar Wars collector who wants to make a casual foray into LEGO without disappearing down a rabbit hole.
When asked what other helmets would you like to see next, Niels happily expressed that he "always liked the helmet of Boushh. AT-AT Driver is also a personal favourite of mine and when it comes to Rebel helmets it’s probably the B-Wing and Y-Wing helmet. I just love their weathered look and many different painting styles and decorations."
With rumours of a line of mosaics coming out, does the new 18+ line of LEGO sets create opportunities for replica lightsabres and blasters? Head over to our LEGO discussion forums and add your voice to the conversation.