Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, LEGO® Space is one of the great evergreen themes of the Minifigure era. One of the terrific aspects of the theme was the way that the overall design would periodically evolve, introducing new colour schemes and minifigure designs.
The theme arrived as we saw a resurgence in science fiction and space fantasy entertainment on the screen: led by films such as Star Wars, and on the smaller screen by Doctor Who, Blakes Seven and Battlestar Galactica, our imaginations were primed for journeys beyond the stars. The Space Shuttle Enterprise had been undergoing test flights from the back of a 747 Jet, and a we were excited for a new era of space exploration commencing, with the Space Shuttle Columbia ultimately launching in 1981.
These early series focussed on exploration, mining and the perils of space travel itself. It took 8 years before an enemy faction arrived, providing an outlet for dramatic conflict within the stories that were told.
Join us, as we set about exploring the print advertisements for LEGOLAND Space, and continue through the classic space era. Most of these advertisements are from Europe in a variety of languages. I have endeavoured to provide translations of these.
In the Beginning
In the beginning, there were only a few sets to be seen. In 1979, all of our advertising shows a group of space explorers on a moon or planet. At this time, branding is inconsistent: we see German Advertisements referring to both “LEGOLAND Space” and “LEGOLAND Raumfahrt” – literally ‘Space travel’. The example of Italian advertising I have seen lists ‘Spazio’ – Space, and the Danish – LEGOLAND Rumfart: Spacecraft. The Swedish advertisement I have below says “LEGOLAND Rymt” – LEGOLAND Space. In all cases we see the familiar Classic Space Logo. Interestingly, it appears on different angles in a couple of the advertisements.
LEGOLAND Space turns the journey through space into an exciting adventure
[Set for launch in the large LEGOLAND Space competition! 1st prize: Flight to Cape Canaveral! Big participation poster in your toy trade.]
LEGO is a new toy every day
The Palette Evolves: 1981-83
While some of the above ads may have appeared as late as 1981, they have been using the same stock images seen in the original run of advertisements. However, as we moved forward, we saw the introduction of widespread use of white bricks, and also the introduction of transparent blue These were added to the palette occupied otherwise only containing blue, transparent yellow and grey. White had previously had restricted use in the Space sets. We also start to see some of the earlier sets reimagined with different colours, wings and wheels, maintaining new life in the series. Using this techniques, it becomes possible to frequently recycle the Space sets, so there is always something new to be found, but the overall structure of the line remains fairly consistent.
While maintaining the general style of the ads, the LEGOLAND Space/Spazio/Raumfahrt/Rymd/Espacial banner at the top of the advertisement has been replaced by the simple diagonal LEGOLAND banner in the top left corner of the page.
In 1982, we start to see some advertisements featuring purely space, rather than terrestrial, based play. These advertisements highlight the excitement and adventure associated with space travel, as well as the dangers – such as being struck by an asteroid mid flight. this represents the origins of storytelling within the advertisements. There is also an emphasis on ‘sending for supplies’ – perhaps a subliminal cue instructing consumers to buy more LEGO Space sets…
The advertisement above on the left is interesting as it is amongst the first evidence free play being illustrated in the LEGOLAND advertisements.
This one below is not so much an advertisement as a description of a competition: count the
Nineteen eighty four: Not the Orwellian Dystopia.
One of the interesting aspects of the Space theme at this stage was the absence of conflict: all of the spacemen were working together to explore the universe. We see a subtle shift in the colour palette again this year, with blue wings appearing, and a propensity to add a the triangular framework element with a tube at the pointy end wherever possible.
The arrival of 6591 Robot Command Centre generated a number of different advertisements in German, one of which appears almost word for word in French.
We Are Not Alone
In 1985, there are a couple of significant changes: we see a dramatic departure from the previous ‘house art style’ of publicity (we had started to see a change in the style presented inLEGO Town/city a little earlier). After 6 years of exploration we also see the arrival of the first extraterrestrial intelligence, with the arrival of mysterious robots.
We see one advertisement set in space, constructing a new space station, while the other appears to be on an earth like planet with many trees, and a mysterious purple light. We also nee the ‘Call outs’ appearing in a yellow box on the artwork, rather than the previous ‘newsprint style’ we saw previously.
The robots are a little inconsistent with their message: are they friendly or dangerous? In one they are helping out, in other they have landed on earth, but no-one can understand what they are looking for…
Everything Changes: 1987-1989
This is the year when life in LEGO Space becomes a little different: we see the arrival of Futuron – a new design for our classic spacesuits. We now have a dramatically different palette of White, blue, a little black and Transparent blue. Grey is now relegates to the baseplates. This is the year we see the arrival of the 9 Volt monorail in Space: a suitably futuristic mode of transport for the environment.
We also see the arrival of the Blacktron faction: our first ‘bad guy’ figures: with their vehicles and bases in black and transparent yellow, there is no doubt as to who the bad guys might be!
So much so that in 1989, we see the arrival of the first Space Police sets, charged with helping to rid the galaxy of the Blacktron menace. With a bold new colour scheme, they have been revisited several times since.
Most importantly, at this time we see the ‘perspective grid’ stretching out across the sky: It also appears on the boxes of the sets at this time. For some reason, this is a frequently used element in 1980’s design – especially science fiction: the television series of Hitch hikers guide to the Galaxy used it, the Galaxy Song fromMonty Python’s meaning of life used is… in a somewhat bizarre and confronting way. It has most recently been used by LEGO on the packaging for the LEGO Ideas Voltron set.
I am also intrigued at the Swedish advert below, referring to the Black Dragons: perhaps Blacktron is also a ‘regional’ name?
At this time, we also start to see dramatic sculpted landscapes to enhance the display of the sets being advertised. In latter times, the landscape starts to fit in around the sets, rather than merely acting as a pedestal, as in the early Blacktron advertisements.
These advertisements for Space Police sets are probably some of the more overt examples of story telling in the advertisements at this time.
This time we see a radical redesign of the exploration craft, and red and black, with transparent fluorescent yellowish green canopies: the M-Tron theme ran in parallel with Blacktron and Space for a few years. I am sorry to have missed this era in LEGO Space!
I love the way in which these sets are incorporated into the tunnels and mountainsides. This is certainly a terrific era for space. But we are heading for another change:
Branding Goes Global: Ice Planet 2002 and Blacktron II (1992-1993)
The arrival of Ice Planet 2002, with its dramatic colour scheme inspired this brilliant diorama: with a mixture of real and simulated ice, you can see the peril that the Blacktron team are experiencing. The glowing purple moon in the sky completes the completely alien nature of the environment. It is at this time too that we see global branding starting to take effect- the theme title ‘Ice Planet 2002’ is used regardless of the language of any local market.
By this time I was well and truly in my dark ages, and I have no recollection of seeing this short-lived series at all. Returning to the civilian exploration theme, free of antagonist, the ships return to the familiar white and trans blue (with black and trans fluoro yellowish green trims) – similar in style to the original Futuron theme. This artwork, with the main picture in deep space, as well as an alien landscape diorama.
The German advertisement at this time also features an advertisement for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Film ‘Versprochen is Versprochen’/Jingle all the way. perhaps as a reminder to get all the great toys for your children for Christmas before they are all sold out.
Well, this concludes our survey of LEGO Space related advertisements – from its beginnings in the late 1970’s through to the mid 90’s. During this time we have seen the the Classic spaceman go from two colours to five; the rise of Futuron and Blacktron and the arrival of the Space Police. We have met the M-Tron team, and briefly greeted the Exploriens. Over this time, LEGO Space served to foster a sense of optimism, and development of a questing mind, seeking fantastic adventure, for a long time without a designated ‘bad guy’. The advertisements have progressed from simple layouts with a black backdrop to complicated multicoloured starfields and complex alien landscapes.
I hope you have enjoyed this little journey. Feel free share it with your friends and communities. If you like, you can check out the advertisements used for Trains and City over this time period by following the links.
If Space was your thing, what was your favourite period for the LEGO sets? Why not leave your comments below, and follow the Rambling Brick to continue the conversation. Until Next time,
All images courtesy of the LEGO Group. Thanks to Daniele Brovida for assisting with translation.