Forty years ago, Classic Space was introduced – taking LEGO bricks where they had never gone before…
Looking up at the stars and imagining what might be out there has inspired generations, with greater scientific understanding only fueling a fascination with what happens beyond the stars. For those of a certain age, the best way to connect with a world of spaceships and futuristic technology was through LEGO bricks.
One year after the release of Star Wars in cinemas and three years after Space: 1999 first aired on TV, the LEGO Group introduced the Space theme to children. At the time it was just Space, as it had not yet earned the ‘Classic’ prefix that fans would later add, with the impact it would have on the LEGO range a complete unknown.
Just four sets launched the theme in 1978 – and while aspects of sets like 493 Command Center may be blocky, design techniques in sets like 462 Rocket Launcher were clearly a great leap forward at the time. 487 Space Cruiser is such a fondly remembered set that when DK Books published Great LEGO Sets in 2015, a micro version of the vehicle was included for fans to build. Looking at the original set today, even fans who did not grow up with it will recognise so many elements that are so often found in a bucket of second hand bricks.
What was so distinctive about those first sets, and something that would continue for years, is the blue and grey colour scheme. Rather than imitate other spaceships from other toy manufacturers, or mimic what was seen on screen, the LEGO Group opted for a distinct colour palette that would make the sets stand out. The trans yellow cockpits add to the unique look that Classic Space sets had, marking out a distinctive brand for the LEGO Group.
It was in 1979 that Space really exploded in scope, with the LEGO Group encouraging children to build an entire space station, or even a full blown space landscape. Specially moulded and marked baseplates were released, that are emblematic of the approach at the time, encouraging children to expand and combine the many smaller sets to make larger set ups.
At the centre of all of this was the Classic Space minifigure. When factions were introduced, this would expand beyond the original spaceman, but in the early years every minifigure was the same. A classic smiley minifigure face, breathing apparatus and a torso featuring the Classic Space logo – with the entire outfit in either blue, white or red. This was exciting enough at the time, as the minifigure was still brand new – the characters were clearly astronauts and the distinct outfits made it clear that they were doing important space work.
As the designs evolved over the years, with different types of vehicles added to the theme and the colour scheme shifting slightly for certain sets, a new subtheme was introduced in 1987 – Blacktron. This was a new faction of futuristic space dwellers, flying distinctly black and yellow spaceships. The following year would introduce Futuron, giving the regular spacemen flash new torsos and updated helmets with visors.
Subsequent years would see the arrival of Space Police, M-Tron, Blacktron II, Ice Planet, Spyrius, Unitron, Exploriens, UFO, Insectoids. The Space theme’s final year was 1999, with seemingly no room in the LEGO Group’s portfolio for it alongside the newly launched Star Wars. Space related themes that followed, such as Galaxy Squad and Alien Conquest, were clearly influenced by Space, while still undeniably their own entity.
The legacy of Classic Space continues in the modern LEGO era, with Benny the Spaceman included in The LEGO Movie as one of the core characters. What’s more, a little break in his helmet represents the real life pitfalls of those pieces, that ended up that way in the grandparent’s brick buckets. Benny’s role in the move is significant, as it demonstrates how much nostalgia part of the audience has for that particular theme.
What even better illustrates the longevity of Classic Space is attending and LEGO convention to find builders who have taken the classic design elements and constructed modern models based on the original theme. It shows just how far reaching a good LEGO theme can be, when those childhood memories spark a creative streak in adulthood.
Brick Fanatics will be transmitting more dispatches from distant LEGO planets about Classic Space this year, so be sure to check back for special features focused on the theme’s anniversary.