Save for a few exceptions – Count Dooku’s curved handle, Asajj Ventress’s symmetrical hilts and Ezra Bridger’s blaster/saber binoculars combo – LEGO Star Wars minifigure lightsabers haven’t changed much since their introduction in 1999. Chrome hilts have long since faded (in more ways than one), making way first for standard light grey and now metallic silver elements, and the colour of the blades has also shifted with changes to transparent plastic.
Beyond those minor updates, though, the design language of the LEGO Star Wars theme’s more elegant weapon (from a more civilised age) holds up just fine more than two decades on. But thanks to a promotional set from 1999, we now know that it could all have been very different.
To announce its first-ever licensed theme at the end of the last millennium, the LEGO Group produced a small fold-open display box featuring duelling minifigures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. At least two copies of these are known to exist in the wild – the most recent selling online for an eye-watering $5,500 – while some sources estimate as many as 200 were produced.
What’s most striking about this promotional model, however, is its minifigures’ lightsabers. While the weapons we know and love use standard LEGO 4L bars for their blades, the elements included in what’s technically the first-ever LEGO Star Wars set (it debuted at Toy Fair three months before the initial wave of sets arrived in stores) are actually rounded at the end – in stark contrast to the 4L bar’s flat tips.
A rounded tip is technically a better representation of Star Wars’ lightsabers as they appear on screen, which makes those prototype elements more accurate than what the LEGO Group eventually went with for its final products. Why exactly it made the switch is less clear: the 4L bar was actually designed specifically for those early Star Wars sets, including 7101 Lightsaber Duel and 7121 Naboo Swamp, so it’s not like the LEGO Group reverted back to an existing piece instead.
It also went to the trouble of creating those rounded blade elements for its promotional sets, so they must have been in consideration for the wider range at some stage. But given they haven’t shown up in the 23 years of sets that have followed since, chances are good that they’re never going to, either. Which, accuracy aside, is probably a good thing: who wants to start replacing two decades’ worth of lightsaber blades?
Take a closer look at the LEGO Star Wars Toy Fair 1999 set by clicking here.
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- I like to think of myself as a journalist first, LEGO fan second, but we all know that’s not really the case. Journalism does run through my veins, though, like some kind of weird literary blood – the sort that will no doubt one day lead to a stress-induced heart malfunction. It’s like smoking, only worse. Thankfully, I get to write about LEGO until then.