This last week or so, we have been counting down to the LEGO Group’s 90th anniversary. Today, we have reached the 10th of August 2022, and the LEGO Group are celebrating! After looking over the last 90 years, I thought we might take a moment to speculate about the directions that the company might take in the future.
Welcome back to our exploration of classic themes. When we last visited LEGO Town, it was in the process of becoming juniorized. The Classic Town that many had grown up with was becoming an almost cartoonlike parody of itself. From 1978 through to the early ’90s, Town had a certain degree of simplicity, but with style. It was always striving to be its best, held back by the limits of the system, rather than the ability of the builder.
During the ’90s we saw the diversification of design: elements were used across many themes, we saw a broadened colour palette, and as time went by, we saw more themes/subthemes depicting aspects of contemporary life: Paradisa, Divers, Race, Outback, Arctic, Spaceport, Extreme Team and Res-Q. Towards the end of this era, the traditional town sets – fire, police, construction – were labelled ‘city’ and we saw a juniorization of some of the sets; a reduction in complexity, and perhaps a slight step away from attempting a realistic appearance.
This year, I am looking at how LEGO Themes developed from those early days in 1978. Castle, Town and Space all developed in their own way, and they certainly don’t look the same today as they did back then! So as we take a ramble down Memory Lane, let’s look at how things were and how they have changed: scale, elements, colours and more.
For our first theme to track through time, I am looking at the theme that set out to represent the world around us: Classic Town. Over the years, this theme has evolved, with the LEGO City theme of today looking very different, yet incorporating similar subject matter. This investigation covers material released over more than 40 years. So it might take a little while. In this post, I shall cover LEGO Town from its origins in 1978 to 1990. Next time, we shall look at the System era (1992-1999). Finally, in the future, we will examine LEGO City and see how that theme compares with those in the early days.
Along the way, we will examine the scale, building techniques, elements and more. There will be lots of pictures, sure to provoke a degree of nostalgia. I’d love to know which sets you feel fondly about and what you enjoyed about these themes.
The last time I was having a chat to adult visitors at a public exhibition (remember those?), something came up on more than one occasion: LEGO® Themes these days are not what they used to be. It used to be pretty simple – you’d build the set (and it was probably Town, Space or Castle. Unless you were a bit younger – then it may well have been a Pirates set) – and you’d pull it apart and build something else. It might be one of the alternate builds on the back of the box, it might be something completely different. It may not have even been related to the original theme.
These days, many sets thrive on 3rd party IP, and the majority of the in-house, story-driven themes are tied in with either an animated series or an overly complicated app.
For those of us yearning for a simpler time, in a world where things have become increasingly complicated, things are looking bleak! Unless you want to go straight to the 4+ sets.
Since I wrote an overview of ICE PLANET 2002, I have come to make a realisation: I’ve been a little too focused on news, reviews, and product announcements lately. Not to mention that little podcast thing. Perhaps to the extent that I have started to lose track of what I find to be so enjoyable about LEGO play… the act of creation. I’ve taken a couple of days out from the routine to start playing, designing and MOCing again.
A little while ago, I took a look at the theme ICE PLANET 2002 – a LEGO® space theme from the early 1990s. The theme was set on the Planet Krysto, in the centre of the known Universe. With three different figures, this theme included the first female Space Minifigure, a distinctive colour palette and a return to the values of Classic Space.
I now find myself wanting to explore this world a little further: bringing the United Galaxies back to Krysto, and using this as the basis for some MOCs of my own.
Nearly thirty years have passed since the United Galaxies’ Forces launched their last expedition Ice Planet 2002.
The Odyssey Base has since been abandoned after a computer virus, planted by Spyrius agents, rendered its systems inoperative. The United Galaxies’s rocket research program has been moved to several decentralised locations. A strange, coded signal has been detected coming from the area of the long-abandoned base in the meantime. A code not used by the forces of United Galaxies But from whom, and why?The Space Police say that an uninhabited, abandoned planet is outside their jurisdiction. Others say that the Space Police just want to chase bad guys that they know.
And so a new expeditionary force is set up, drawing upon the expertise of the earlier researchers. Their mission: identify the source of the signal, secure any residual artifacts from the original mission and, finally, establish whether there is any threat to the United Galaxies. If the Union is being threatened, neutralise the source of the problem…with extreme prejudice.
Every year around this time, the LEGO Group presents its annual report: taking in all aspects of the company. The document always includes a small paragraph or two on which themes performed strongly in a given year.
While the metric used to define this performance has not been presented to the public, it gives us a good idea of the sorts of material that pepople are buying, and which themes are strong sellers. Prompted by some online discussion, I have gone back to 2011, and tracked down the strongest performing themes for the last ten years, as referred to in The LEGO Group’s annual report. What we found out may not come as a surprise at all. Or perhaps it will?
Join us while we look through the last 10 years – we will look at the themes directly referenced in the annual report, look at some of the highlights, and maybe even evoke some mild feelings of nostalgia along the way..