From the first wave of sets that marked its return to the brick world in 2018, LEGO Harry Potter has quickly found its place as one of the LEGO Group’s leading themes, thanks predominantly to two key areas of focus.
The first of these has been on allowing story and character to drive set design, with simple but smart building techniques capturing all the authenticity and detail that, combined with exceptional minifigure selection, immediately immerses the builder in the world of Harry Potter.
Look at any set released in the theme since 2018 and you can almost immediately tell from not only which film or book it is from, but also which part of the story it is telling. That strength in capturing such deeper layers within the LEGO sets works so well, because it is story, character and location that defines Harry Potter as a franchise and continues to drive its popularity.
This careful approach to story-telling within the sets is just as importantly matched this second time around on the Harry Potter license with another key area of focus from the LEGO Group – to experiment. Alongside a strong range of minifigure scale sets, the theme has ventured with both feet into completely different areas of creativity, producing one-of-a-kind sets like the spectacular microscale behemoth that is 71043 Hogwarts Castle, and the mechanical wonder that is creature-based set 75979 Hedwig. That willingness to test new concepts has resulted in some of the best LEGO sets to have come out in the last couple of years across all themes, let alone within LEGO Harry Potter.
Both these aspects of approach to LEGO Harry Potter in 2020 – story driven design and out-of-the-box concepts – are not only reflected in 75978 Diagon Alley, but absolutely embraced. Capturing not only a shop but an entire row of notable outlets from the iconic secret London location of the books and films, 75978 Diagon Alley dives deep into its source material’s story and environment, at a scale previously unimaginable and currently incomparable even by the LEGO Group’s recent standards.
— Set details —
Price: £369.99 / $399.99 / €399.99 Pieces: 5,544 Minifigures: 14
— Build —
Coming in at 5,544 pieces, 75978 Diagon Alley is second only in LEGO Harry Potter piece counts to 71043 Hogwarts Castle and, at £20 more, it’s now the most expensive in the theme’s history. And just like with that 2018 giant set, the construction process for 75978 is extensive.
However, with Diagon Alley as its source material and several shops from that location included in the model, it’s a far more compartmentalised build process, as you work from shop to shop, completing one or two magic-themed stores across a 32×16 baseplate before moving on to the next one. Each one of the four separate builds comes in at a design level similar to the large scale modular buildings of the Creator Expert line, albeit taking a fascia front and open back approach that allows for more of Diagon Alley to be built within the set, as opposed to Creator Expert’s closed dolls house approach.
With such differentiation in theming, story, design and colour scheme between the shops of Diagon Alley, building 75978 rarely drags. Instead, it’s a process that is filled with unique flavour and experience, from bag to bag and shop to shop – in many ways, building 75978 Diagon Alley feels more like building four large, almost completely different sets that have come all in the one, gigantic £369.99 box.
The first of these sets-within-a-set is Ollivander’s wand shop and neighbouring Scribbulus, where, right from the very first couple of bags as you put together the lower level interior and the edge of the cobbled road along Diagon Alley, it’s clear every detail possible is being worked into the model. Indeed, from exterior windows that are beautifully curved either side of a door with the sign ‘Makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.’ to the interior staircase that swivels out to reveal boxes upon boxes of wands, everything that you remember about Ollivander’s in particular, from reading the books and watching the films, is wonderfully captured in brick form.
Following on from Ollivander’s and Scribbulus is Quality Quidditch Supplies and a small entrance to The Daily Prophet. QQS’ eye-catching exterior glows in LEGO form but also hides a curious and subtle build technique reflective of the design team’s insistence on accuracy – the shop’s frontage is ever so slightly angled. We won’t ruin how that has been achieved, but, it makes for a nice surprise midway through construction and an effect, once you’ve built, that will have you looking beyond the hot pink and red colour scheme in front of you. Inside are two floors that expertly capture Quality Quidditch Supplies’ particular layout, from the display of mannequins in Quidditch gear to the Firebolt in the window that Harry admires during Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the bookcases holding uniforms and the ‘feel free to test-fly any of our brooms’ sign underneath a display of broomsticks.
Next door is Flourish and Blotts, with Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in between (artistic license may have been taken in this one’s location, as in the book it is listed as next to the Second Hand Bookshop). Flourish and Blotts is the store Harry wanders into and meets second year Defence Against the Dark Arts professor – and famous wizard author – Gilderoy Lockhart (and soon after where Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy come to blows). The store’s walls are lined with books whilst the professor signs copies of autobiography Magical Me at a desk. It’s a scene and an interior so simply and expertly captured in the LEGO build, thanks to a few smart build techniques for books, and, a subtle use of colour to reflect the dimmer lighting of the interior. It sits in sharp contrast the bright colours of the ice cream parlour next door, where Harry spent almost every afternoon at during a two-week stay at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The fourth and final baseplate build of 75978 Diagon Alley is the Weasley twins’ joke shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, the brightly coloured and tall building that crops up at Number 93 Diagon Alley during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A great number of Fred and George’s uniquely-named products with unusual side effects made for some dazzling signs and displays during its in-film appearance, and a great number of these are wonderfully captured in sticker and brick form here. A large amount of time is given over to the location in the book and film, and the same care and love for the extravagant shop has clearly been put into its LEGO design.
Once completed, the four separate builds can be locked together with Technic pins to make for an incredibly long and sizeable section of Diagon Alley (they can also be placed two by two and back to back). On the front side of this final four build-long display is a street packed with activity, colour and points of interest, as the old English town architecture of aged brickwork, timber frames, ironwork and glass frontages is wonderfully expressed in brick form and vibrantly coloured various shades that tower two storeys tall over minifigures. And on the back side of the street are several shop interiors crammed full of story, played out through clever build details and efficient and smart graphic design on the stickers, all of which has been balanced against providing enough space to let each location’s colour palette breathe and more than one minifigure comfortably stand within.
— Characters —
With 14 minifigures (and the larger figure Hagrid) included in 75978 Diagon Alley, the design team has relished the opportunity to offer a brilliant mix of characters central to Diagon Alley with all of them (bar Hagrid) either wholly exclusive to the set, or new in design. Indeed, in that sense, the entire line-up is one of unique minifigures.
More important than collectability, though, is relevance and design. As we keep saying with LEGO Harry Potter, one of the ways it has re-established itself as a strong and consistent LEGO theme has been in minifigure selection – choosing the right characters to appear in the sets most relevant to them. This has been met with 2020 standards of graphic design across every minifigure, and, expert selection of which outfits to wear, again in keeping with each character’s appearance linked to the location, setting or part of the story being told within the set.
This is an approach that is no different with regards to the selection included in 75978 Diagon Alley, nor in the standards of design applied to them. From the early years versions of most of the characters – leading with Hagrid and Harry – to the Weasley twins of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, every minifigure has a home, role and purpose within this set, across multiple years of the Harry Potter story too. Such is the authenticity to their design – for having been taken straight from their descriptions in the books and appearances in the films – these minifigures act as final pieces to their respective builds within 75978 Diagon Alley, to immediately take you back to the story, scene for scene, page for page.
Harry Potter fans couldn’t ask for more, even if due to the number of appearances across the seven books and eight films that Diagon Alley has had there may be a few missing characters that come to mind. Was anyone else hoping for a LEGO Ian Brown minifigure with self-stirring mug? Maybe series 3 of the Harry Potter Collectible Minifigures can deliver that…
— Price —
Very much in keeping with 2018’s 71043 Hogwarts Castle that delivered on experience, build, story, play and display, 75978 Diagon Alley gives you everything you could want, and at a similarly stratospheric price. It’s not a set most of us can walk into a LEGO store and immediately purchase, but, it is a set to hold hope of saving for, to behave really good through the whole year for, or to not upgrade the car or replace the washing machine for.
It’s a lot of money to place into one LEGO set, but, such is the way in which it delivers on all expectations you may have going into it, it’ll never feel like you’ve spent too much on it. For those fortunate enough to ever be able to buy and build this set, there will be no regrets. Just, make sure you have space for it, as it’s over a metre wide when all put together…
— Pictures —
— Summary —
LEGO Harry Potter is fast becoming one of the LEGO Group’s most consistent and high-quality themes, for such continued output of engaging sets that celebrate everything about their source material in ways that have builders immediately transported back to the books and films. And building 75978 Diagon Alley is no different – it’s a wonderful and immersive re-read of the books, re-watch of the films, and retelling of well-known stories, scenes and chapters that have given this location life and its characters unusual first impressions and memorable encounters.
In Harry Potter’s first visit to Diagon Alley, J.K. Rowling notably wrote of the activity, life and atmosphere of the place, before describing what it looked like, reflective of the importance of character and story that the location would go on to play. Importantly – at such a high price for a LEGO set – 75978 Diagon Alley not only faithfully recaptures Diagon Alley as a series of interesting and unusual stores, but also that same sense of character within every brick, behind every shop window and through every doorway.
Every aspect of design is carefully considered, every brick included is needed, and every possible detail relating to the story, characters and location has been captured in 75978 Diagon Alley. In many ways, it’s just like every other LEGO Harry Potter set for achieving that, but, on a truly massive and unique scale.
Support the work that we do at Brick Fanatics by purchasing your LEGO at LEGO.com by clicking through via one of our affiliate links. 75978 Diagon Alley is available from Tuesday September 1, priced at £369.99 / $399.99 / €399.99 and will be listed on Brick Fanatics’ Top 20 LEGO Sets List.