LET ME TELL YOU A STORY May 1999: Episode I, the Phantom Menace is released. After a long wait, there has been quite a lot of hype. I first saw Return of the Jedi when I was 13. I am now 30. Well, when I say it had been a long wait, we had been granted some interim amusement in the form of ‘Spot the Difference’ as we watched the Special editions. Adding new material and music, we kept some of the great ‘head bashing into wall’ bloopers from the original, but they took out some of my favourite tunes. Whatever happened to the great ‘Jub-Jub’ chorus at the end of what felt like it could afford to be considered The Final Film (Now we just call it Episode VI)? What happened to Sy Snootles great puppet performance at Jabba’s Palace? But despite all this, the time had come to sit back, relax, and see how the story panned out. Or at least started…
The Phantom Menace left me feeling a little frustrated. It felt like it was aimed at a 10 year old kid. As had all the films before it. Perhaps the film wasn’t the problem. Perhaps it was my failure to be a 10 year old kid anymore. (today of course, if you are a ten year old, you can watch all of the films over a couple of weeks, but we had to grow up with the stories in real time, and while the target demographic probably never changed, members of the audience definitely did.
In the meantime, George Lucas was happy to ride on the tails of cinematic greats: while Episode IV owed a lot to being a bizarre mashup of the Seven Samaurai, The Battle of Britain, The Dam Busters and Laurel and Hardy; The Phantom Menace was happy to borrow from Ben Hur. I am particularly thinking about the chariot race. Or was it the pod race?
Flash forward 20 years into the present day, and the Boonta Eve Pod Race remains a highlight of a film that perhaps did not live up to our hopes and dreams. Was this because it was a bad film? Or just because it failed to tell the same story as episode IV? I’m not much of a film critic, but one thing that I have always found appealing in the older Star Wars films were the shout outs to the nostalgic aspects of cinema, that predated me. The Battle of Britain, ‘Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into’, Tarzan, Ben Hur.
Of sequences from Episode I depicted in LEGO sets, out options have been somewhat limited over the years. The most frequently revisited concepts in LEGO sets have been Pod Racers, the Sith Infiltrator, Naboo Star Fighters and the Trade Federation’s Armoured Assault Tank and Multi Troop Transports, with a couple of nods to the Naboo security forces speeder, and the Gungan Submarine. Looking at the sets released over the years, perhaps the Sith Infiltrator has had the most dramatic change in appearance, as building techniques and elements available for use have evolved over the intervening 20 years.
Any of these sets could have been considered as worthwhile design icons of from Episode I. The first three were all revisited in the 2014-15 sets – probably the last time Episode One was given a good outing in the LEGO Star Wars range. The curves on the Gungan Sub could probably be improved on BUT I find its overall shape somewhat reminiscent of a few of the sets in the Marvel range recently, and perhaps doesn’t serve to inspire builders in the same way. A vignette of Darth Maul and Qi-Gon Jinn fighting it out in 2017 was the last we saw of this particular episode.
And so it comes down to the Pod Racing. Perhaps not only the most dramatic scene in the move: so much had been building up to it, and despite the foregone conclusion, the drama was still present. Rewatching it recently, I was amused by Sebulba being presented as the mousche twirling villain of the piece. Reminding me of Jack Lemmon’s performance in the Great Race (viewed through the eyes of 12 year old. I am unsure how well this film will have aged, and have not wished to risk bursting the bubble on this one), his unsubtle sabotage of Anakin’s pod racer amuses me to this day.
I was a little distracted by other aspects of life at this time to have played the Nintendo 64 Pod racing game, but I struck me at the time to be the ideal gaming scenario from the film, just as X-Wing had been an ideal game based on A New Hope, a few years earlier.
Plainly the LEGO Designers felt that it was an important sequence too, as there were three sets released in the first two years depicting Anakin’s pod racer, amongst others, each designed at a different place in the market:
Anakin’s Podracer 7131, was part of the initial wave of Episode I sets, released in 1999. With Anakin, Padme and a pitdoid, the ‘levitating effect ‘ was achieved with the aid of tan coloured bricks and plates – merging in with the desert background.
The Mos Espa Podrace 7171, released in the same wave as 7131, featured a virtually identical podracer for Anakin, as well as one for Sebulba, and Gasgano. The set includes 10 figures in total, including Qi-Gon, Padme, Jar-jar banks , R2D2 and three pit droids. At the time, the RRP was $90, compared with 7131 at just $15!
The Star Wars bucket, released in 2000 is a curious creation: the podraceers are not as detailed, and indeed the set feels as much like a ‘Basic Parts pack, or Classic set, with included instructions to build some pod racer like vehicles, as well as a brick built version of pod racing opponent ‘Aldar Beedo’
The 20th Anniversary Edition
When revisiting Anakin’s pod racer for this 2019 Anniversary release, perhaps more is owed to the version seen in the 2011 set 7962 Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba’s Pod Racers. This version of the set featured transparent technic elements to form the frame connecting the pod engines to the cockpit. There have been a few changes in this new model, including longer and chunkier more detailed nacelles, with the addition of dark orange and silver elements.
And so we come to the new build: 75258 Anakin’s Podracer 20th Anniversary edition. Unlike most of the sets produced as part of this year’s 20th Anniversary celebrations, this vehicle actually first appeared in the cinema, and again in LEGO form, 20 years ago.
We get three minifigures: Anakin – with short legs, a tunic and aviator helmet with goggles, teen Padmé Amidala, with black mid-length legs, unprinted- unlike those seen in the Wizarding World Collectable Minifigures last year-, and a new hair piece. Her ‘street clothes’ seen here are very close to those seen in the 1999 original albeit with a greater level of detail. Anakin is the same figure seen in this year’s 75223 Microfighter Naboo Starfighter. As far as accessories are concerned, I can understand Anakin carrying a spanner, but perhaps casual street clothes Padme should not be carrying a blaster? I suppose Mos Espadrille is a bit of a rough place to visit. Unlike that original, we do not have a Pit Droid providing support for Anakin, but we do have the 20th Anniversary Figure of Luke Skywalker – X-Wing Pilot. Luke comes with a lightsaber – including a silver handle. His yellow head features a single sided face print, with eyebrows printed on.
The Build comes in three parts: the Cockpit, and base followed up in the second bag by the starboard nacelle. During a brief diversion at the start of bag 3 we put together the minifigures, and then complete the port nacelle.
The development of the 1×2 curved slopes, as well as wide spread use of brackets and other SNOT (Studs not on top) Bricks in the intervening years of set design has gone a long way to contributing to the original sleek aerodynamic design of the cinematic version. There are a few stickers to place here. Be wary of the stickers on that 1×3 slope which are designed to line up with the offset plates beneath it. I may have taken more than one go to get these right…
The nacelles appear to maintain the shape they started with all those years ago, but they have become far more intensely greebled, compared to previous versions. this change has been for the better I believe. The change in the power coupling has also been an improvement in design, getting closer and closer to the version seen in the movies.
Overall, I like this new design, and I believe that this is an improvement over previous version’s of Anakin’s Podracer. The introduction more Curved and SNOT Elements over the years has improved the screen accuracy of the model. It does almost run the risk of becoming over greebled.
I do believe that this is a missed opportunity to include another competitor in the race – particularly when you consider some of the moulds that were produced around the turn of the century, or even a pit droid, although I believe many of us should be able to construct one using various table scraps at home. Some of the Podracer Drivers have been depicted as single color- single mold figures. Quite a shame for some of the most colourful characters to appear inThe Phantom Menace, and all serving to expand the Diversity of the Star Wars Universe.
The Minifigure selection is good, although perhaps Anakin could have benefitted from the printed ‘podracer goggles’ seen in the previous version. the Luke Skywalker X-Wing pilot is a great flash back figure, and the silver lightsaber handle is a nice touch. I give this set three point five out of five Arbitrary Praise units.
In Australia, this 285 part set costs $44.99, in a similar price bracket to 75200 Anch-to Jedi training, 75214 Anakin’s Jedi Star Fighter,75215 Cloud Rider Swoop Bikes and 75229 Death Star escape. It is the only set currently available that relates to episode I, with the exception of 75223 Microfighter Naboo Starfighter and 75224 Microfighter Sith Infiltrator (Both Priced at AUD15.99)
What do you think of the 20th Anniversary Podracer? As someone living in the dark ages when the original was released, I am glad to see it back. I was also surprised, on rewatching recently, how much potential still exists for sets relating to the Phantom Menace. Twenty years may well be long enough to develop an appropriate level of nostalgia for a film that I have been fairly indifferent to for so long. Why not leave your comments below, and give some thought to our great Minifigure Habitat for a Disney figure competition (details below). Until Next Time,
While you are here, have you heard about our building contest, where you can win a set of Disney Series 2 minifigures? You can read about it here. Entries close May 12th 2019
The set reviewed in this article was provided by the LEGO Group’s AFOL Engagement Team for review purposes. All opinions, however, are my own.