Lego’s finally realized the power of the Dark Side.
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren— played by Adam Driver—pays serious homage to Darth Vader’s despotic wardrobe and villainy. It’s appropriate that Lego’s marquee Star Wars toy is Ren’s Command Shuttle; both Ren’s favorite political party/religion—the Sith—and Lego specialize in obsessive order and design. What were both Death Stars from the original trilogy except Herculean feats of architecture and engineering? What were both Death Stars except epic Legos?
Planet-sized weaponry requires a logistical feat of incalculable control and hubris. If we can appreciate the former Empire’s ingenuity, aside from the totalitarianism and murder, that engineering brilliance isn’t unlike the skills Lego displays in their construction kits. The rebels may have been morally “justified,” but they erased a testament to humanity’s full potential when they felled a machine with its own gravitational pull. Were there any real winners there?
Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle is comprised of 1,005 pieces, designed to be assembled by 9-14 year olds. I’m more than double that age, but that hasn’t stopped journalists in my demographic or Paste editor-in-chief Josh Jackson from indulging in the activity. But if I was really going to discover what it’s like to build the shuttle as Lego intended, I had to immerse myself in the context this galactic death harbinger was meant to be built. So for five nights, I went over my parents’ house and constructed the vessel of doom with my Dad, who snapped, threaded and cross-beamed the night away while nursing bourbon and ginger ales. That’s an apt recreation of my youth, complete with an LED-lit Christmas tree and niche British Invasion bands playing in the background. (I think that was Gerry and the Pacemakers? Why was there a band called Gerry and the Pacemakers?)
After those five nights, a heap of shining, right-edged toy blocks mutated into a badass replica of vehicular nihilism. But I was less enchanted with the end product than the process. Lego has made it very, very clear that the company promotes unconstrained imagination, most prominently in a movie that was way-too-good-to-be-a-movie-about-plastic-bricks. I get it—toss out the manual if you want. Put the rudder on the cockpit, Venetian blinds on the thrusters and Dracula in the cockpit because creativity. But Lego’s engineers are smarter than me, and the men and women who make those (mostly) textless instruction manuals are smarter than most of humanity. Any IKEA manual designer who’s experienced the exacting, pixel-perfect accuracy of a Lego instruction book probably attempted to hang themselves out of shame, but failed miserably because both the IKEA chair they stood on and the IKEA fan they swung the noose over broke on contact after being assembled from incomprehensible instruction. The illustrations here perfectly mirror the blocks, with one-to-one ratios in most cases.
This line of dialogue from my father cemented my admiration: “Tricky f*$#%s—I see what they’re doing.” Micro and macro, Lego makes the complex deceptively simple. Reinforcement rods, hinges, pivots and other mechanical strata line a toy made of infinite pegs and recesses. But the company’s genius comes through in guaranteeing you don’t mangle its divine blueprints. Holes that could be easily confused for neighboring holes are blocked in earlier steps, so that the reinforcement beam that allows the wing to fold can’t not enter the right gap. Likewise, one-peg units obstruct areas that aren’t meant to connect, and contrasting-colored blocks provide neat markers to know where larger units should overlap. It may be a stretch to call it idiot proof, but it’s not far off.
The biggest irony of Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle is that it’s piloted by a character played by Adam Driver. Up to this weekend, Driver has been most recognizable as Adam Sackler on Lena Dunham’s HBO show, Girls. Sackler is a messy artisanal trust-fund Brooklynite antagonizing over his rorschach future throughout an endless repetition of brunch and milk. That sense of perpetual indecision is the antithesis of this toy; here, a guiding power directs the creation of something ornate from a stack of raw materials. And I appreciate that.
Freelance journalists, editors and whatever Adam Sackler is/became, exist in a wind tunnel of derelict invoices, Obamacare bills and coffee shops. Lego is the epitome of order rewarded, even if that end product represents a machine used to blow other machines up. The eternal enthalpy against decay and entropy. The Brahma to the Shiva. Mr. Fantastic to Galactus. If one company can attract kids to toys oft interstellar destruction through the act of creation, that’s one hell of a Jedi mind trick.
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