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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lego 6932 Star Defender 200

Well, here's Futuron's Flagship; Stardefender 200.  I've looked forward to its arrival for a long time. While it was not my first Futuron set, it was the one that spurred the collection into being, and through my childhood it was the Lego spaceship that held my fascination even as others came and went.  It's beautiful, sleek, elegant, and bristling with lasers.  This is the ship meant to send Black-Tron scrambling for cover, and it does its job magnificently.

Before 6932 Stardefender 200 arrived, Lego spaceships were pretty much rehashes of a wedge or rocket one after the other.  They were wedges and rockets that would go on to be classics and beloved sets, but they could not foretell what was about to arrive when children opened their catalogs in 1987.

Star-defender 200 was like nothing that preceded it, with a completely alien profile that hinted at 2001: A Space Odyssey with its pods, before casting that notion aside and pairing the pods with an epic central fuselage.  The whole center was completely dominated by the big transparent blue window, and the 200 emblazoned on its top.  Here was Lego innovation screaming; the Golden age hath arrived, with thunder and roar, never forget this creation, for it harkens to the new era.  After today everything is changed.

Enough with the theatrics.

Stardefender 200 was one of a handful of sets to introduce the new octagon canopies.  It was also in the first wave of Futuron and shared in the small tidal wave of sets with brand new giant canopies.  If it was not the best Space set of its time, that's only because it had to share the moment with 6990, the mighty train, yet another innovation in Space.

As with spacecraft from before; Stardefender sported detachable portions indicated by arrow prints, namely the pods.   The back of the pods were adorned with transparent red rocket tips ,behind blast cones, that still are the creme de la creme of 1980's Lego space geeks like me.

In a new twist, the pods could be attached to each other.  This combination formed a small ship, reminiscent of a Tie Bomber without its panels.  Unfortunately; it has no weapons, and is most assuredly an escape system for when a fight goes terribly wrong.

The cockpit covered enough space for two spacemen...the yellow dudes (Oh Goody!) and their handy dandy rover, which was designed to lock into place when the canopy dropped down...albeit, and here is Star Defender's only flaw.  You couldn't lock the canopy down, which wouldn't be a big deal, if the canopy wasn't so big as to naturally flop open when given the chance.  In this one capacity, 6884 Aero Module managed to best its greater cousin.

If you are one for space combat, it should be noted that Stardefender 200 has 6 running lights/laser cannons, depending on how you want to decipher its transparent parts.  I kind of don't think those coils that loop into camera bricks are meant to merely generate hi-beams.  Much of the character of the ship is derived from its front mounted transparent red dishes mounted on pennants.  The visual impact denotes a hint of menace, while also adding charm to the model's over all look.  This ship is like a swan, elegant, sleek, and if you got too close, like those kids I saw at a park once, you'll discover a violent side beneath its placid demeanor.

Finally, the underside of the ship is festooned with 6 engines.  I can only imagine the megaphone part must help swing the ship around to dish out damage almost as fast as a flying saucer.  Might as well scream like a banshee: "Dodge this Renegade!"  I don't often think about the lack of friction in space, but those megaphone engines offer a nice touch to the propulsion system.

So, that's Stardefender 200, one of the greatest Lego Spaceships ever produced, it was so successful as a design that the shape was revisited in 1991 by Blacktron: Future Generation.  My goodness,  I finally understand the design influence...perhaps all of Black-Tron: Future Generation is comprised of stolen vessels, and updated Black-tron ships.  I never thought of that before, but it could be twisted and skewed to make a certain kind of sense.

Anyways, here's the copycat; 6981 Aerial Intruder.  It's not as clean a model, implying that Black-Tron scrapped Star Defender 200 for parts before resuscitating the derelict ship's skeleton after Space Police left a dent in their primary fleet of doom. 

Yeah, I like the sound of sounds awesome; and that kids, is how you start a story with Lego.

Now then; let's take a look at 6932's interesting bricks, flotsam, and etc.

2 in white as well
 2 in black as well
2, this is similar to the part in Cosmic Laser Launcher, but without the removable transparent blue canopy.
2, also in white
2, also in white
 2, also available in white; for some reason I have three in my set...

Unique Parts
1, special print, I'm not overly fond of the 200, as I think the Cosmic Laser Launcher print is better, but the 200 adds value to a lineup with five of these window pieces, and that is never a bad thing.

Well, that comes to thirteen pieces, most available in an alternate color.  Outside of these elements Stardefender 200 has a much stronger showing of bricks than most of the other sets; 20 percent, or 41 parts, of the set is comprised of non-slope bricks, I wish I could say that was great, but it's barely a splash next to the rest of the line.

Before we discover 6932's building possibilities I thought I might make mention of a singular problem that is prevalent in Futuron sets.  There are three colors in Lego that are especially susceptible to sun damage, blue, old light grey, and white.  Unfortunately, Futuron's primary color is white, but this can be a double edged sword for both buyer and seller.  If you're not especially concerned about sun damage you can usually expect to save some 10-30% by choosing to buy the sets with more aged and sun damaged pieces.  Since Star Defender 200 was the first Futuron set I purchased I didn't avoid the sun damaged elements, but since then, I've done my best to avoid the phenomenon in my pickups.

There were white parts in worse shape, but...I replaced them.  
All in all, not too many, and so it wasn't a disaster...just turn them to cover the sun 
damaged side.  I've heard Oxi-clean will restore sun damaged pieces to the original color, but I've yet to try it.

Also, get yourself a Brick Separator, Lego sells them in the building accessories section, and they are not only good for getting finicky parts separated, but also for protecting your investment from your fingernails...I've accidentally damaged the corners of newer pieces, and given that vintage Lego sells for a're not really saving money by not having one.  Some newer sets also contain them.

Let's turn our attention to some alternates, shall we.

First up, a small base defender. 

Second, here is the coolest alternate I think I've made so far.  On one side it carries a small hovercraft.

On the other side, there is a small rover.

I think the fact that I was able to make two small unique vehicles, and attach them without disturbing the look of the main model is great.  I have no doubts, parts wise, this is the best balanced Futuron toy.

This was my first collaboration alternate as I had a friend walk in and suggest an engine and access hatch.  there's the guy in back servicing it, and you can see the raised panel which separates the pilots from the engine during flight.

All in all, Star Defender doesn't disappoint.  If I could ask for anything additional in this set, I guess I'd ask for either, a pair of tools, i.e. walki-talky and wrench, or a small robot with those robo arms...beyond that this set is perfect; and practically all the other Futuron sets have those parts. So...this plus any other Futuron set is automatic bliss.

Before we say goodbye, let me share a little something with you; of all the Futuron sets, this one has the best secondary market prices relative to size, and there's almost always at least one on Ebay.  I suppose it might have been super popular, and every 80's kid got one, but for whatever reason, the asking prices for this set tend to be reasonable.  So if you were to ask me which Futuron set to buy if you could only get one...Get this one.  Best Prices, Best Availability, Best pieces, Star Defender 200 is Best. 

Final Grade: A
Pros: Balanced part assortment, easy to get, good market value for buyers, unique print, awesome model
Cons: Yellow Spacemen, No space tools

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lego 6953

Greetings blog readers, Lego fans, casual droppers-by of happenstance.  We are entering the late phase of this blog's first forays into space.  I'm running short on small sets because I've been holding up some of the best and biggest for last. 

To start off, I thought it would be nice to show you Futuron's small base; 6953 Cosmic Laser Launcher. 

In the olden days it was common for Lego Space themes to have a base, in fact it was almost a requirement.  Only two Golden era themes challenged this requirement; namely M-Tron, and Space Police II.  For M-Tron ditching the base proved successful, in part because of its mobile juggernaut.  Unfortunately, Space Police II lost something by not having a prison facility.
But Futuron was a special case, because Futuron put out two space stations; in the same year.
Add to this yet another space station from Classic Space and you have yourselves a banner year for Space Stations.  There hasn't been a better year, than 1987, for Lego Space Stations.  

Here are the other two.

Polaris 1 Spacelab (Classic Space: White era)

Monorail Transport System (Futuron)

 Futuron was matched in space station numbers by Unitron, but that theme was drastically smaller in every other way, and hideously underdeveloped.  Currently, Classic Space holds the record for most space stations released by one theme; seven counting only those with a baseplate and a structure on it.  Which is to imply that the number of bases could be more.  Clearly; having ten years to work with has its benefits.

But this is in danger of becoming a history lesson, I think it's about time we talked about Cosmic Laser Launcher.

Cosmic Laser Launcher's base is a rocket launch platform in the shape of a 'C'.  It has two mission control windows and an opening and closing hangar mechanism with bigger windows for readying a manned rocket; or as some have called it, the flying toaster oven.  You can load up the rocket from a little truck that has to be the saddest excuse for a space buggy ever made; but it gets the job done; kinda.

Once the rocket is loaded onto the launch pad a knob in the back can be turned to force the giant windows apart and lift the rocket toward the heavens.

The rocket is rather distinctive, lacking a typical cylindrical fuselage in favor of a box.  It sports a pair of trans blue solar panel wings that as of this writing are still unique to this set.  As a part of the model, the rocket serves its purpose, but it is decidedly mediocre by itself, and combined with the transport truck it lacks pizzazz.

The truck matches the tiny rovers from Stardefender 200 and Aero Module up to the halfway marker, before derailing into overly simplified construction that unhappily serves to drag the full model's good looks downward.  Seriously; it's not good.  A hinge to lift the trailer up would have helped it with function, but there's no way to get around its vanilla looks.  As an aside, this rover is the only Futuron set to use the old metal wheel axles.  I'm not entirely sure why that is, but it further distances the design from resembling a Futuron set.  I like the inclusion of the metal axle wheels for variety's sake.

I used to dream of owning this set one day, but once I saw it built I felt a tad disappointed; as it seems skeletal and limited in playtime appeal.  You see, I already have Polaris 1 Spacelab, and if you put these two rocket launch pads side by side there isn't even a contest for which one is better.  Polaris 1 Spacelab is a much denser model, and it's beautiful, and distinctly lovely in that old space style; it's a wonder Lego greenlit Cosmic Laser Launcher for the same year.  It might have been better to release it in 1989, alongside the final run of Futuron sets.
Then again, that would only have served to cast a shadow over Cosmic Laser Launcher's cool launching function.  In 1988 Black-tron's 6987 Message Intercept Station copied Cosmic Laser Launcher's best feature and made it seem even better. 
Cosmic Laser Launcher just couldn't win, it was second best rocket launch site when it released, and it played second fiddle to the too cool for school bad guy base that came out one year later.  Talk about having it rough.  With all this in mind it's a good thing 6953 wasn't Futuron's only base.

It's not all doom and gloom for Cosmic Laser Launcher though, I'm sure you've all noticed by now anyways.  This set has two red Futuron Spacemen.  It's one of only two sets with the red variant.  That is awesome!  Not to be outdone, the Lego company saw fit to bestow this model with a proper handful of desireable parts that can't be found in any other set.   My favorite unique part happens to be this printed window.

So just as I was beginning to convince you that this set wasn't all that special, I went and turned this notion on its head.  This small Rocket base may not be perfect, but it is one of the Futuron theme's three most sought after models; and it earned that place with exclusive parts, innovative construction, and near exclusive red spacemen.  Cosmic Laser Launcher's lauded place on collector's shelves was not assured, as it arrived right in the middle of one of Lego's biggest space station release waves, but it's managed to find its own niche of devoted fans; and I'm one of them.

 Before I move on, I want to add a side-note.  1987 was the first year of Golden Era Space Lego, and the second to last year for Lego Space; although it was all but dead by 1987's year end.  From 1987 through 1993 the Space theme ushered in a new era of complex functionality that was spurred on by these two pieces. Don't be confused by the gear as it is an internal portion of the box and not a true separate part

Only two Space themes from the era ignored these parts, Black-Tron: Future Generation, and Space Police II.  But Ice Planet 2002 brought them back for one final hurrah before they went away forever.
While these were not the only parts that demonstrated the advancement of technical functionality in Lego sets from the period, they were central features of several flagship models.  Lego Space continued on into 1994-95 with Spyrius and Unitron; the last of the space themes that did not concern themselves with aliens, but as stickers arrived and these incredible moving parts were left by the wayside, it was quietly understood that the greatest era of Lego Space had ended.

Well, that was a bit sentimental, not gonna lie, I may have shed a tear writing that, but, there are parts we need to get to.

What does Cosmic Laser Launcher bring to the table?  First up I want to bring up the parts that were common, but only appear in 6953 for Futuron

1, also comes in white, this is the most common color, but it is uncommon. 
1, also comes in black, this part is rare in any color.
1, also available in transparent red, it was rare in white, but has recently been available in a handful of new sets.
2, This is the only Futuron set with this piece...huh, who'd have thunk it?
2, and this is also only in this Futuron set, for such a common brick, this is rather surprising.
1, also available in white, I'm shocked there aren't more of these.  Very common.
4,  somewhat common
 2, decently easy to find
2, very rare, but not unique
2, the most common color for this part
1, not hard to come by
1, also available in white
2, a reasonably common part
1, Fairly common otherwise
2, not especially rare
3, as it turns out it's available in Futuron Dacta, but as we're ignoring that educational toy, this is all we've got.

Next up, I want to visit the 6953 exclusives, and boy are there a bunch, although, one of them is so exclusive, even I don't have the part.
2, unique, also available in the reverse colors
(Edit)---I'm mistaken, somehow I overlooked a set from 1984, it turns out this 1x4 striped brick was previously released in 1053 Community Buildings, so this part is unique to the Cosmic Laser Launcher in Space and in Futuron, but it could be had elsewhere.  I believe this is an early example of the sets that would become known as Dacta; note the teacher checking the kids' creations.

2, available blank, or otherwise patterned, but no other set has this print
2, unique, also available in white
1, unique, if you have this piece, you are blessed, I had to settle for a substitute
You will notice that I use this piece.  That's because the original part is incredibly hard to find, I can't even quote you a price, because, I can't find one.  As it turns out this striped version is very common by comparison and would be in the list above, if it was the actual set piece.

Wow, I knew this set had some exclusives, but If there were any doubts about its pedigree, doubt no more, this set brings a ton of parts to Futuron, and even to the world of Lego at large.  This parts list pretty much sums up its claim to fame.  It has 35 special parts for Futuron and is 3.5% unique.  That's amazing.

So, now it's time to build some alternates, here's a sample Alienator/Walking Astro Grappler ripoff.  Don't know what those are???  Look em up.

 Who said Futuron didn't have factionalism?  

Next up, I've built a Hyper-drive Manufacturing Plant

Finally, enjoy a Saucer Centurion style spacecraft, complete with  removable rover.

Like most of the Futuron sets seen so far, Cosmic Laser Launcher eschews any significant quantity of bricks for a heavy supply of plates and sci-fi parts.  It has a better than average selection of bricks, but not near enough to cover for the theme as a whole.

If anything, Brick supply is the Futuron theme's achilles heel.  We've got four sets to go, and only two of them are likely to have any kind of presence for typical bricks; which form the backbone for most Lego constructions.

Final Grade: A-
Pros: Exclusive Prints and transparent parts, Red Spacemen, Baseplate, Lots of Futuron specific parts are unique, Turntable, slick function
Cons: Popular with collectors (which translates into expensive), Heavy plate quantity, low brick supply, poor vehicle design