I’ve just finished watching the first wave of episodes of Dragons Rising, and something struck my mind: Rapton, Lord Ras, and the Imperium Claw soldiers all fly the same type of small craft- a so called Chariot – which carries one rider and deploys a flotilla of drones to aid the hunters in their hunt for Dragons. That said, in the sets related to the series, the chariots are all a bit different to each other. At the same time they seem just a little bit familiar. And then there are the droids in the Dragon Power Spinzitzu sets…
And it got me thinking. Are these sets revisiting Classic Space, with a contemporary aesthetic?
Where Am I Personally coming From?
In principle, I am a Classic Space Fan. When I was young – and minifigures were first released, I spent literal hours poring over the LEGO Catalog, looking at the sets I would not own for over 40 years, and dreaming about what I would love to play with. A couple of my friends were fortunate enough to have had 928 Galaxy Explorer. Another had 918 One Man Spaceship (and, in my mind, this still represents peak simple spaceship design for a single minifigure). But in our household, we had a reasonable collection of general parts, a good number of smaller town sets, a smattering of knights and a couple of Technical sets (as they were in the early days). Our Classic Space sets were somewhat limited, but they took us to the stars, and let us drive around a bit once we got there.
They were 885 Space Scooter; 886 Space Buggy; 889 Radar Truck and 6801 Moon Buggy – also seen in some catalogs as Space Scooter, but I don’t necessarily want to cause unnecessary confusion by duplicating names. All of these craft seem to have made their way back into my hands after 40 odd years.Not necessarily our original models, but turning up in the course of bulk lots and the like.
885 Space Scooter was the prototypical delta wing craft, with many similar craft following on in Classic Space, and continuing in some shape or form as we entered the System Era, and indeed, moving on through the noughties and the Current era of animation. It is a true classic, and remains my favorite set to this day. Not necessarily the best AFOL Build Experience (that honor goes to Rivendell in my book) but it remains my favorite. When presented with the handful of elements required to put it together, I could still do it by heart after 40 years.
Sets of this scale were essential to learn about how to put a LEGO model together. Once you built it (often in 15 minutes or less), the pieces were easy enough to seperate. Any resistance to disassembly would be rapidly disappeared through the application of a Mark I Brick Seperator.
Most kids of the 70s and 80s used this tool. You probably still have one: I still use mine every couple of weeks. It’s behind my lips and infront of my tongue. You get the idea.
From there you could play with the elements in any way: mash them together into something bigger, smaller or just plain different – either based on a picture on the back of the box, or something just pulled out of thin air. And once you were done, you could throw the original model back together in just a couple of minutes. To me, these one man commuter vehicles were core to 1970’s-80’s childhood LEGO Space Experience. My adult Classic Space experience, with relatively unlimited budget has been restricted only by time, storage and display space. These smaller sets did not take much storage or display space (unless you become a completionist) or indeed time to assemble compared to the larger sets and, on top of that, they did not occupy a significant part of the pocket money budget.
But in recent years, we have been without a dedicated space theme, with the possible exception of a friendly wave from LEGO City every few years. So, when I was given the chance to take a look at the latest wave of Ninjago sets, parts of them felt strangely familiar.
To an extent, I had been quietly bemoaning the absence of many of these small spacecraft in recent years, but then I realised that they turn up in the Ninjago range as a polybag or side build in a larger set, from time to time. Not as often as I might have expected, though. Small side builds like these come up from time to time on Monkie Kid as well – either as flyers, boats or jet powered Skateboards.
As such, I was delighted this year to see that, with the relaunch of Ninjago as Dragons Rising, half of the sets in the range seem to have some form of side build that riffs on small flyers or droids from the Classic Space era.
Let’s take a look…..
Come, Fly With Me!
As I mentioned, there are a few small flying craft in the range that also gave me Classic Space feels, even if they only bear a passing resemblance to their antecedents. Let’s take a closer look. Even though these ‘chariots’ appear to be the same on screen, each set contains a slightly different reimagining, each riffing on a different Classic Space Set.
Found in 71792 Sora’s Transforming Mech Bike, Rapton’s Chariot resembles the onscreen version more than any of the others. The craft has a small wedge plate at the front, and the visual lines are extended along this angle through the use of katanas. While using motorcycle handlebars attached to the front of the craft, there is also a stickered tile on an angle, calling back to the nostalgic 2×3 33º sloped brick with the golden space logo printed on. The rear end is raised up, and on either side of the central core, twin stud shooters angle outwards. The main challenge I have with this particular vehicle is how the small winglets attach to a 1×2 plate with dual handles (the part that many of us considered a laser on 885). the winglets feel they are restricted in how far back they can swing. With four stud shooters, Rapton’s Chariot is a relatively heavily armed craft.
That said, while I was swooshing this around, I found myself thinking of 885: Space Scooter.
71793 Heatwave Transforming Lava Dragon includes another small chariot build — this time being ridden by Lord Ras. This vehicle has an elemental orb catcher on the front and the entire front of the build is improved compared with Rapton’s chariot. The front winglets are able to be tilted back a little further for a more dynamic look compared to Rapton’s. The transparent orange 3×3 radar dish might be a little smaller than that used in 6801 Moon Buggy, but it certainly embraces the spirit of that classic model. In this case, the dish is attached to a 2×2 turntable plate, and as such, can be spun around on that central axis. A sloped brick rises up behind the pilot, and a 2×3 curved slope adds some interest to the shape. (Alternatively, it might also be drawing inspiration from models such as the UFO range’s 6800/6816 Cyber Blaster)
71798 Nya and Arin’s Baby Dragon Battle pits our heroes against an Imperium Claw General riding in a slightly larger twin propped flyer, with larger wings formed from elements previously used as tailplanes. This is a larger craft than the previous ones we have looked at, and feels like it fits into the same scale as 442 Two Seater Space Shuttle, or 6825 Cosmic Comet. The engines are comically oversized, but fit in the same region as the thrusters. It has a small tail unit, and like the others, attached stud-shooters. At least we don’t pretend these vessels are unarmed with scanners and radio beacons up front: these are plainly armed vessels!
Now, not all of the old school flyers were delta winged: towards the end of the System Era, both UFO and Exploriens themes had small flyers that were based on circular elements – some, like UFO were remarkably minimalist in their execution: a disc, some wings, a seat and some lasers, while the Exploriens were slightly more detailed.
In 71791: Zane’s Dragon Power Spinjitzu Race Car, the Imperium Claw Hunter and Imperium Guard Commander both ride on round, skateboard-like flying disks which carry some design cues from the the UFO 2543 Space craft and the Exploriens 6815 Hovertron: built on 6 wide dishes, triangular plates are angled forward to add to the feeling of concealed wings. (This set also adds one of the previously mentioned small droids to the mix).
Each of these new variations has a slight problem in my mind: all of the old vehicles had a plate with a clip that minifigures could be attached to, such as a walkie-talkie or a ray-gun. Unfortunately, this is sadly lacking in these new craft. They have to fly and wield their personal weapon of choice at the same time..
Are These the Droids We Are Looking For?
A feature of space sets from 1985 onwards was the appearance of the occaisional service droid: small droids that almost looked like that crazy lovechild of a feverdream and some Tablescraps. While they were a stalwart back in the 80s, we have seen therm return in the last year with the 10497 Galactic Explorer Reboot, as well as a the reinvigorated Blacktron Cruiser
Let’s take a quick look at the small droid side builds: these appear in the Dragon Power Flip/Glide/Spin sets – all with subtly different designs. With a small dish forming the base, they are a smaller size, but continue to incorporate SNOT bricks a and tiles, using studs with bar ‘espresso piece’ as their antennae, rather than the old lever elements. There is another with Golden antennae in 71791 Zane’s Spinjitzu Race Car
The arms are made of a variety of golden elements, and Kai’s opponent also wields a staff. The Droids included in the Dragon Power Sets are all intrinsically unstable, with boat studs underneath those included with Nya and Lloyd.
There are several soldiers within the Imperium which are decidedly ‘Droid like’ in their appearance – particularly if you remove their head gear: reminiscent of Spyrius’ Major Kartofski, as well as figures from UFO, and Exploriens – you get a novel android look – I am considering the Imperium Claw Hunters and the Imperium Guard Commander/ Imperium Guards. (Why are they wearing upside down frying pans?)
Here we have Lord Ras; Imperium Guard Commander; Imperium Claw General and Imperium Claw Hunter. Of interest: the prints are the same for the Imperium Guard Commander, Imperium Claw General, as well as Repton, seen in Sora’s Transforming Mech – although he simply runs around without a helmet. The Claw Hunter has a seperate torso/leg print, but it is consistent with the Imperium guard found in 71796.
With their Gold, Black and Dark-red colour scheme, they certainly feel as if they could be droids, or wearing some form of hi-tech Armour. Or indeed, metal casing with some exposed wiring. Lord Ras less so – he does appear to be wearing a dark red tunic with red trim. Of course, watching the series, it is apparent that they are ‘men in suits’ but I still can’t unsee what I first saw!
While I do not believe that this is in any way a renewed Space theme, I really appreciated seeing these little callouts to classic model design, even with their modern twists. This does reinforce my idea that Ninjago (and to a certain extent Monkie Kid) represent the ‘in-house’ contemporary spiritual extensions of both Classic Castle and Classic Space, remixed for the kids of today. Since they are both Fantasy-Science fiction themes, this should not surprise me! However, these little side builds seem more common in this wave of Ninjago sets than they have for some time. Is this going to continue into the future? Who knows .
Should I be surprised to see this sort of inspiration coming up in these sets? Reflecting on the old sets, it did feel that 885 was updated on an almost annual basis, during the Classic Space period, even through to the System Era. They are, essentially, the same model: adding a bit of blue here, a yellow hose there, lose the steering wheel and gain some levers: Before long there are none of the original parts, but its lineage is apparent. It is like the Ship of Theseus of Classic Space!
I appreciate that I might be clutching at straws, making this comparison. And in real life, you might suggest that ‘Classic Space’ means Classic Space men, regardless of colour, with Blue and /or grey and /or white bricks. Meanwhile, windscreens should be trans -yellow; trans blue or, on special occasions Trans Green. Of course, M-Tron; Black Tron and Ice Planet fans might have other ideas.
I would love to see more of these sorts of builds, even if they were to be having a life of their own, outside larger sets. Some more Polybags would allow us to create an Imperium Battle Fleet. I recognise that an Imperium Battle Cruiser is highly unlikely to become a set at any time soon. But if you decide to create an appropriately-coloured giant space ship, please let me know.
But in the meantime, I suspect the time has come to accept that we are unlikely to see a complete updated Vintage Space theme any time soon. The smart money is on Ninjago Dragons Rising and Monkie Kid providing the opportunity for some of those ‘old school style space models’ to exist. The company may well continue to reissue updated variations on past ships and bases through the ICONS range ( Please, give us a 30th anniversary Ice Planet set next year…), but I would be surprised if we were to see a full theme as we used to get, back in the day. In the meantime, I will seek out my joy and inspiration where I can.
You can find the new Ninjago Dragons Rising sets online at LEGO.com. These are the links to the sets specifically referenced in this article. [Affiliate Links Below – The Rambling Brick may receive as small commissions for any purchases made]
- 71793 Heatwave Transforming Lava Dragon
- 71792 Sora’s Transforming Mech Bike Racer
- 71791 Zane’s Dragon Power Spinjitzu Race Car
- 71779 Lloyd’s Dragon Power Spinjitzu Spin
- 71778 Nya’s Dragon Power Spinjitzu Drift
- 71777 Kai’s Dragon Power Spinjitzu Flip
I’d love to know what you think of this idea: are these side builds driven by ideas that have come before, in vintage Space themes? Or are they just the fanciful delusions of a middle aged man, clutching desperately at anything that reminds him of the halcyon days of a childhood long since passed? Why not leave your feedback in the comments below.
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The new Ninjago Dragons rising sets discussed in this article were provided by the LEGO Group for review and research purposes. All opinions, dreams and crazy fan theories are my own.