Blacktron to the Future?
It was 1987, and for the first time ever, a collection of LEGO characters that could be defined as ‘the bad guys‘ was released. They were’nt part of Town, they weren’t in any Castle; but they were in Space. And their name was Blacktron. Gone was the Classic Space logo from their torsos: this was a functional black printed torso, with white lines providing the detail, while the helmet was no longer the traditional shape, but rather a motor cycle helmet. Now with a visor. But for extra menace, the visors were an opaque black. The opportunity for incognito was remarkable.
This band of intergalactic secret-stealing rapscallions were the pinnacle of villainy for a couple of years, only to be succeeded by their more fluorescent sequel: Blacktron II (Electric Boogaloo??).
But Now they Are Back! And I think, for the better! Set 6894 Known in the USA as the BLACKTRON INVADER, it was also referred to as the BLACKTRON CRUISER in the UK/Europe – although the European catalogue in 1988 confused the labels for 6894 and 6941 (Blacktron Battrax or Blacktron Prowler).
Now, Blacktron has never been truly forgotten over the years, remembered in Space Police 3 ; and multiple collectible minifigures:
There were only 6 sets in the original run, released over 4 years.Thirty six years after their first appearance in the USA (or 35 since they appeared in Europe), Blacktron I is making a comeback in the form of a reimagined 6894. The new Blacktron Cruiser, 40580, will be released as a Gift with Purchase between January 1 – January 14 2023, in conjunction with purchases of $190 / €190 / £170 from LEGO.com or LEGO retail stores. No news on availability from Certified stores, or Australian buy in at this time.
Let’s take a look at the new set, and compare it side by side with the original: let us see what is new, what has improved, and where compromises have been made.
Let us start with the minifigures: this set some with 2. Well, one and a small brick-built droid. At first appearance, the Minifigure appears identical to the original Blacktron Figure: Simple white utilitarian printing on the front; black motorbike helmet with opaque black visor; black tanks, and no leg printing.
But wait: turn the figure around, and the biggest difference between the old and new figures reveals itself: Back Printing. While many figures have been historically dependent on accessories to give the full picture of what is happening, you can tell that this is a spaceman, even if the air tanks are missing: you have small tanks printed on the back, as well as communications equipment.
The figure also comes with a small brick-built droid: where the original was made using a ‘control panel’ element, this one is builton a small radar dish, with the body built from an Overwatch Blaster element. It retains a similar posture, as well as the transparent red 1×1 element on its back.
The instructions of this set are one of the biggest letdowns of this set: while the instructions in the original set featured the box art, as well as some alternate builds, the front of this manual; is plain white, with the outline of the plan view of the craft in black. I find myself wondering if this image is part of the reason the set is labelled for 18 years and up? I am not a fan of this look. I mean, how does it compare with the original manual from 1987? On the inside, printing is on a dark grey background, but not difficult to follow.
On the back of the manual is the triangular Blacktron symbol. It is in fact an inverted triangle – and not a direct ripoff of the Zelda Triforce. The symbol actually has its origins with the Hōjō clan, who came to power in Japan almost 1000 years ago. It has remained prominent in Japanese Graphic design ever since.
Comparing 40580 with 6894: the Old and the New!
Here is a quick over view of the elements: the new set o the left. The old on the right. The small elements on the tray in the bottom right corner are normal sized, but were hidden when we knolled out the elements. I’ve added them in a somewhat poor fashion afterwards. On the right are the elements for the 6894.
We begin construction with the front compartment of the ship, which incorporates the main cabin, wings and laser cannons. The 4x 10×2 transparent yellow canopy element introduced in Buzz Lightyears 76832 XL-15 Spaceship in 2022 is reintroduced here – bringing the most dramatic aesthetic difference to the original, which featured a 4x6x2 canopy.
I do love the way that the new decorations on the control panel reveal the outline of a 10497…suggesting a deadly game of cat and mouse with last year’s nostalgia driven powerhouse.
This longer canopy gives the craft a sleeker look. The cabin is divided into two halves: the front containing the relatively new redesigned metal detector element, while the back half features the current space chair element, which has evolved somewhat from the original used all those years ago. The front of the ship features the same 4x4x1 tapered wedge element first introduced years ago.
And this is possibly the most contentious aspect of the set: the wedge is not printed like the 1987 counterpart. Stickers are used for all decorations throughout the model. While this wedge has been relatively rare in recent years, and a sticker might be more appropriate than a blank element for more general use, it would have been nice to see some of these elements revitalised with updated prints, rather than the use of approximately 10 stickers throughout the build. That said, the stickers are typically placed onto flat, rectangular surfaces – and not too challenging for the experienced sticker placer. A spanner is included in the set, aiding to place stickers of their elements.
The increased sleekness of this craft compared to the earlier version has some flow-on effects: 3×12 wedge plates are used of for the wings, compared to the 4×8 with cutout used in the original version. Like the originals, they are secured by hinge plates above and below, and swing out, maintaining a slight forward angulation when fully opened. The cannons at the front are made using lightsabre blades, as well as black (slightly longer than lightsaber) handles. Transparent red studs complete the effect, looking like a ship ready to unleash electric death from above.
The rear of the first module features some layered 1×2 rounded bricks with bars. This element was introduced last January, and has already been demonstrated to be the Most Valuable player in the Monkie Kid Combi Mech/ Mei’s Dragon Jet combination. Here is used in combination with pairs of clips to retain a modularity previously achieved using technic bricks, in conjunction with bricks with integrated connecting pins. This new system works well: requiring less effort to join sections together or pull them apart.
The centre module of the ship forms the cargo hold: it carries the droid, hammer and spanner, as well as a box containing obsidian ingots. Or ingots of some other black material. The doors are formed with simple panels/banners – held in place by angled claws inserted into headlamp bricks. A hinged row of bricks forms the upper surface, and has integrated the ‘bazooka element’ or ‘space camera with side sight’ on the surface.
The bottom layer of bricks on this cargo module alternates stripes of yellow and black. There are some transparent red elements at the rear end, giving the impression of running lights.
In the previous version, the hatch of the cargo hold was built using a couple of Castle panels (although, you probably saw them here before they appeared in Castle. The hatch approach is more stable than the old version (in my opinion), and the alteration from the shape of the original gives this a more greebled apearance.
We move onto the tail, and return to our yellow stripe along the side of the front and rear compartments. the tail is actually 3 separate modular components, compared to a single module in the original. The rear section looks great on the back of the cabin section, and features half octagonal plates covers in transparent red tiles (as opposed to the transparent red plates of the original). There are very few transparent plates larger than 1×2 in the current parts library, and I am not surprised that we did not see a return to the original form here, as nice as it would have been.
The aft tailplane and jet are separate modules, again clipping into the MVP Bricks. Clipping these into place allows the jet section to be placed studs down, allowing a sleek look.
Overall, I like the look of this new craft. I wouldn’t be lying if I were to say I may have wept a little when I first saw it!
While the length may have been determined by the size of the windscreen, I think this is probably a better look than might have been afforded by a trans yellow 4×6 windscreen in the style of an X-wing fighter: it gives this craft a distinct identity of its own, as a reimagining, rather than substituting 1:1 new elements for old. It incorporates contemporary building techniques, and brings a sleek new look, and I feel better functionality than the first. The new clips are a functional improvement over the technic pegs: easier to line up, and easier to connect.
I can only hope that the new torso miraculously appears in Bricks N Pieces this year,
While the sleek appearance feels more like a stealth craft than the original from 1987. With both versions, you can drop out the cargo container, giving a sleeker looking reconnaissance or strike ship.
Is this a better set than the original? This is a hard call: it will never replace the full experience of opening a villainous space set as part of your childhood, 35 years ago. I believe the use of clips, rather than pegs, make the modular sections easier to work with here, compared to the original.
This set was pre-empted to a certain extent by the appearance of a Blacktron ship appearing on a screen of the 10497. I am wondering if they are currently engaged in a little game of cat and mouse, as they scoot through the star systems, vying for supremacy.
There are some things that I didn’t particularly like about this set – but I also think they are inevitable in this contemporary LEGO Corporate Milieu:
- The dependence on stickers: risk of attaching the triforce upside down or back-to-front on the cargo module
- an opportunity not taken to reintroduce transparent-red plates.
- control panels also need stickers, these small ones are quite fiddly.
- Only available as a gift with purchase: not available as a general retail product. This is probably the real kicker! The rumored $190 / €190 / £170 threshold is expensive, and while easy to rack up for many people at the start of the year, might still be more than people are willing to invest. Hopefully it will come up again at other stages of the year. [Australian threshold is yet to be confirmed]
However, there are some things that I think position this set above the previous version:
- New Blacktron torso, with rear printing.
- sleek design; incorporation of the 4x10x2 windshield
- New clip mechanisms improve the modularity of the set.
- the look when the tailplane is attached to the cabin section is greatly improved.
- you get a set of Blacktron I stickers!
As a grown-up with a leaning towards nostalgia (even if it isn’t my personal nostalgia), I do not think I will be able to walk past placing a coupe of qualifying orders in January, to build up a fleet of these craft. I cannot truly fault this model, and I would be tempted to attempt a colour shift to blacktron 2, using the transparent bright green canopies seen in Mei’s Dragon horse Racer and similar; or Space Police 1, using the red canopies that have been appearing lately in MK sets such as the Ultra Mech or Galactic Explorer
And of course, no revisitation of classic space factions would be complete without some olde school photo shoots…with both the old and the new ship.
This set is lined up to be a Gift with Purchase with purchases from LEGO.com over $190 / €190 / £170 threshold, Other currencies are yet to be confirmed. [Australia, through the certified stores: $310 Purchase 1/1/23-14/1/23] I can see lots of people looking forward to this set – particularly the NEW Blacktron Torso, should it become available through Bricks n Pieces later in 2023 (fingers crossed!)
I do wish these sets were available to purchase, or even able to be redeemed for VIP points. But what do you think? Does this set interest you? Why not share your thoughts in the comments below, and until next time,
This set was provided by the LEGO Group for review purposes. All opinions are my own.