Originally released in summer 2012, 9516 Jabba’s Palace wasn’t the first time the LEGO Group visited the Hutt’s home on Tatooine, but it was the first time it had recreated its exterior. And by the following January, it had made international headlines for supposedly reinforcing negative Muslim stereotypes due to its apparent resemblance to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.
According to NBC News, a father in Vienna complained to the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria about the set after his son received it as a Christmas gift in 2012. And the community quickly took the fight to the LEGO Group, citing what it deemed ‘educationally and culturally objectionable defects’.
“The terrorist Jabba the Hutt likes to smoke hookah and kills his victims,” the Turkish group said at the time. “It is clear that the figure of the ugly villain Jabba and the whole scene serves up racial prejudice and vulgar insinuations against Orientals and Asians as sneaky and criminal personalities.”
The community even presented a detailed diagram comparing 9516 Jabba’s Palace with the Hagia Sophia, drawing parallels between the dome and a minaret of the building, and the dome and tower of the LEGO set. The internet – as you’d probably expect – went into meltdown.
One Forbes author was so surprised by the claims that he even labelled the entire thing a ‘spoof’, while another blogger called it a ‘publicity stunt’. But the LEGO Group took it seriously enough to issue a statement, pushing back against the criticisms of the Turkish group.
“The model in question is not based on any real building, [but] rather depicts a fictional scene of Jabba’s Palace on the planet Tatooine from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” Michael McNally, brand relations director for LEGO Systems, told NBC News. (Yes, that should be Return of the Jedi.)
“As is the case in all LEGO sets related to the Star Wars property, LEGO designers reproduce all structures, vehicles and characters based on the way they appear in the films. The company regrets that the group has misinterpreted what the LEGO Star Wars set depicts.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Turkish Cultural Community told NBC News that the group ‘cannot accept’ the company’s answer. “[The LEGO Group] wants to make war respectable by producing games for children,” Ata Sel said. “LEGO should show how to construct a peaceful world. LEGO is a big firm, with responsibilities.”
Three months later, then-chairman Birol Kilic said in a statement that the community had met with LEGO Group executives in Munich – and that the LEGO Group had subsequently agreed to discontinue 9516 Jabba’s Palace from 2014. However, the company again rebuffed this claim, stating it had always intended to retire the set by the end of 2013.
“It is not correct that the discontinuation of the product is related in any way to the [community’s] criticism,” came the official statement from the LEGO Group. “LEGO Star Wars [sets] usually have a life-cycle of one to three years, after which they leave the assortment, possibly to be renewed after some years.
“Jabba’s Palace was planned from the beginning to be in the assortment only until the end of 2013, as new, exciting models from the Star Wars universe will follow.”
In the end, 9516 Jabba’s Palace stayed on shelves for just as long as any other regular retail set (18 months to two years, on average), and was therefore seemingly not at all impacted by the complaints from the Turkish group, nor the controversy or international media attention that followed.
There’s nothing to suggest that any of that 2013 ordeal might consequently dissuade the LEGO Group from revisiting Jabba’s Palace, then – even if it hasn’t yet done so. And that means there’s no reason to immediately dismiss rumours of a new version arriving in 2022, although as with all rumours, it should still be taken with a pinch of salt for now.