How Lucasfilm approved LEGO Star Wars sets in the age before video calls

These days, the LEGO Group can show off its Star Wars sets to Lucasfilm via video call – but when the theme first got going, the approval process was far more hands-on…

This story is just one of dozens included in LEGO Star Wars: The Force of Creativity, which is available to pre-order at LEGO.com now and ships July 20.

When Chris Gollaher started at Lucasfilm in 1998, he spent a lot of time using the fax machine. While that’s a good example of how times have changed, it’s not the only one – the way that Lucasfilm approves the LEGO Group’s Star Wars models has shifted over the years. 

Back in the early days, members of the LEGO design team actually travelled with their models to Lucasfilm. There was a good reason for that: if any elements fell off in transit, they would need to be put back in exactly the right place so that Chris and his colleagues would properly understand how the final model looked and felt. By going there in person, the designers could quickly fix the models on site.

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Chris remembers being presented with the Technic droids that launched in 2000, which spanned 8000 Pit Droid, 8001 Battle Droid and 8002 Destroyer Droid. He was impressed with this unique LEGO expression and by the fact that they were all functional, but the LEGO Group’s former Vice President of Innovation remembers taking those particular models to Lucasfilm too.

In fact, Ole Vestergaard Poulsen and his colleagues were not sure that 8002 Destroyer Droid was going to work when they demonstrated it for Lucasfilm. It was supposed to fold up into a ball, then when you rolled the ball version along, it was supposed to pop up into fight mode. The night before, in the hotel room, they couldn’t get the model to work properly.

Fortunately, when they did roll it along the boardroom table at Skywalker Ranch (the headquarters of Lucasfilm until 2005), it worked exactly as intended. Ole was relieved and, back in Billund, had the model tweaked further so that it would be more consistent by the time fans were sitting down to build it.

LEGO designers would have the opportunity to spend a little time in the local area when travelling for work, so the designer of 10030 Imperial Star Destroyer was very relieved when the meeting to approve the massive, 3,096-piece model lasted all of 10 minutes. He was then free to explore San Francisco and make the most of the travel opportunity.

It isn’t just the final model that’s approved by Lucasfilm though. As LEGO Star Wars sets are developed, the company is involved in every stage of the process – setting the assortment, looking at sketch models, checking minifigure prints, reviewing the packaging designs and all of the other aspects that crafting the products entails.

As the world becomes more connected, there are fewer occasions for the designers to travel all the way from Denmark to the USA. They can set up calls and show the models on camera, they can send over hi-res photographs, they can send over digital models… it’s even easier for Lucasfilm to see what the LEGO designers are doing and have input at each stage of the process.

The unique capabilities of the LEGO System are illustrated by a story about a specific set. Chris recalls reviewing 7962 Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba’s Podracers (a 2011 set) with Design Director Jens Kronvold Frederiksen. He noted that one aspect of the model didn’t look quite right – Jens agreed with him, then went straight to the brick drawers and produced the perfect element to resolve Chris’s concern. It was solved within a matter of minutes thanks to Jens’ knowledge of the LEGO System! 

Naturally, Lucasfilm’s focus is on ensuring that the products accurately represent the vehicles, locations and characters seen on screen. Ever since the beginning though, there has been an understanding that the LEGO Group isn’t aiming to produce precise replicas. Chris and his colleagues are aware that the designers are creating a build experience that will result in a Star Wars model imbued with LEGO DNA.

Emails and video calls might have replaced the fax machine, but Lucasfilm is still embedded in the process of creating LEGO Star Wars models, ensuring that the products present a galaxy far, far away as authentically as possible. Even if every set isn’t escorted across the Atlantic Ocean anymore, the teams gets together a few times a year either in Billund or San Francisco to catch up, make plans and ensure that the partnership continues into its 26th year and beyond.

You’ll find more stories and anecdotes like this in LEGO Star Wars: The Force of Creativity, which is available to pre-order now. Find out more about the book in our interview with Graham, and check out all of our LEGO Star Wars 25th anniversary features.

Featured image background: Maggie Osterberg, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Deed

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Author Profile

Graham E. Hancock
Graham was the Brick Fanatics Editor up until November 2020. He has plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects, including LEGO Star Wars: The Force of Creativity. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education.

Graham E. Hancock

Graham was the Brick Fanatics Editor up until November 2020. He has plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects, including LEGO Star Wars: The Force of Creativity. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education.

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