While the AFOL community writhes in disappointment following the announcement of the new ‘Ultimate Collector Series’ Hoth set, I am left wondering what’s gone wrong. The reasons people feel so let down are well documented and Rich, normally a stout supporter of exclusive high-end sets has already vocalised his feelings on the subject.
There are two issues at stake here for me and I’m going to separate them off first. Whether or not the set is labelled as UCS, there’s always the question of value: Is it any good in its own right and is it worth the money? That’s not what I’m concerned with; a set doesn’t, after all have to be good to be UCS, nor does it have to be good value. So I’m looking at that little gold label and I’m wondering: What makes a UCS set ‘UCS’? I have a feeling I know, in fact I have a feeling most of us do but nailing it down in black and white is different to feeling, so let’s take a look at this ‘pretender’ and see where it goes.
I made some remarks in my UCS Slave I review over a year ago that there were elements of play features slipping into what was supposed to be a hardcore display model and I remember feeling that some of them just didn’t need to be there. I forgave them those minor issues though because the rest was so utterly beautiful. It is this that makes me mindful of what I think should be the single defining feature of a UCS set: big isn’t good enough, it must be beautiful, it must look impressive, like a sculpture. I’m with Rich on this one; a UCS set should sit on display and look like a work of art. I think it’s pretty clear that the new Hoth set doesn’t really ‘meet the bar’ on that one.
I’m going to interject for a moment because I’ll tell you what I think it does look like… The replacement for the recently retired Death Star playset. Lots of figures, lots of features and plenty of action to be had. You might argue that the Death Star was a single unit, not a jumble of 4 different sets riddled with loose pieces, but I would say that that only goes back to how good the set is, as for what it it’s trying to be, product-wise, it looks to me like it’s just the new ‘biggest playset’. It should be noted that 10188 did not have a UCS badge on it.
So from where I stand, there’s two ways of looking at this Hoth set; either it’s a really bad UCS set, or it’s a big playset with a UCS badge on it. I know which way I’m leaning and I think it’s the second, and more worrying of the two. The more I look at this set, the more I think it just isn’t a UCS set at all, it’s so far from everything else that’s carried that brand that LEGO can tell me it’s UCS all they want, I don’t buy it. What I would buy is that they were working on the replacement for the Death Star and someone maybe realised that they don’t have a follow on for Slave I and the TIE fighter so they decided to ‘fill the gap’ by putting a gold badge on this one.
It’s all looking a bit ‘oh dear’ to me but the more I look into it, the more confused I get. The LEGO shopping site doesn’t use ‘Ultimate Collector Series’ as a tag and it’s only mentioned in the description for the TIE fighter, not Slave I. It’s the designer videos where the term is used the most though and and it’s noticeable that neither the Tumbler, nor the Helicarrier are mentioned as UCS sets in their videos. Most AFOLs might well consider them both to fall into that category though, so is the community guilty of assigning it to sets that it doesn’t actually belong to? Perhaps the community has, to some degree, expanded and taken to heart what was once a loose tag into a solid and respected theme. If this is the case, why wouldn’t LEGO want to cash in on that community-driven buying power and slap a gold badge on anything over the £100 mark.
Either way, the fans have reacted quickly and with solidarity in their voice, and the damage is done.
Is the UCS brand dead now? I don’t think so, but wounded? I would say yes. LEGO can go two ways with this now as I see it; if the next UCS set is a proper hardcore AFOL model of something new like a GR-75 Medium Transport or Nebulon B cruiser, or blow our sock off with a large static brick-built Rancor, then well we’re all-in and we just won’t look at the bottom corner of that Hoth playset anymore. But if it’s a ‘Battle of Endor’ with a bunker and some trees, a separate shield generator and host of Ewok minifigures, I fear you might as well change ‘UCS’ to ‘JABS’: Just Another Big Set and AFOLs will be left remembering when the Ultimate Collector Series used to mean something to them.
Our faith tilts on the edge, which way will it land?