SAN FRANCISCO--If you were walking down Second Street here yesterday morning, and thought you might be losing your mind, let me reassure you: Those really were life-size Lego Chewbacca and R2-D2 models and the world's-largest Lego Millennium Falcon.
On March 31, Legoland California will pull back the wraps on its brand-new "Star Wars" Miniland, an all-new interactive area at the amusement park that will feature more than 2,000 individual models from the George Lucas-created universe.
And yesterday, as part of a small tour to promote the new attraction, several Legoland personnel swung through CNET's headquarters here to show off some of the best of the models that will soon be entertaining kids and adults alike at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif.
As part of my Road Trip at Home series, I got the chance to take a look at the models--all of which were designed and built at Legoland Germany and then shipped mostly assembled to California. The Legoland people brought only a few models for me to inspect, but even that small collection was enough to stop almost every passerby in his or her tracks. After all, who can help doing a double take if you see a giant Lego Millennium Falcon resting on a cement pedestal on an average city street.
According to Legoland California master model builder Gary McIntire, Lego's retail "Star Wars" line has been the most successful in the company's history, so it should come as no surprise that Lego and Lucasfilm got together to design and build a full-scale Miniland.
"Putting Lego and 'Star Wars' together is a natural," said McIntire. "It's like peanut butter and jelly."
Over the course of 13 months of development and construction, eight master model builders, as well as two animation electricians at Legoland Germany designed the 2,000-plus models that all told required more than 1.5 million bricks and weigh 1.3 tons. Legoland Germany, as well as the company's flagship park, Legoland Billund in Denmark, and Legoland California will each get a "Star Wars" Miniland. Most of the models were made three times at the German model shop, with full sets of the models being shipped off to Billund and Carlsbad.
The models are based on all six of the live-action "Star Wars" films, as well as the animated "Clone Wars" series. The Miniland will feature models that depict one scene from each of the six live-action films and from "Clone Wars." From the original three films, visitors will be able to see Lego renditions of Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine--Uncle Owen's farm; the cantina; and the starport, where the Millennium Falcon will be installed--the Rebel's Hoth refuge from "Empire Strikes Back;" and the Endor system from "Return of the Jedi." As well, from the prequels, the Miniland will feature scenes from Naboo, Geonosis, and Kashyyk and Mustafar. Finally, "Clone Wars" fans will recognize a scene from Christophsis.
Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and more
Yesterday, I only got a chance to see life-size models of Chewbacca and R2-D2. But visitors to Legoland will be able to lock eyes, so to speak, with both of them, as well as a life-size Darth Vader.
According to Lego, planning for the attraction began in March 2010, and involved in-depth consultation between Legoland and Lucasfilm. Among the reference materials used in designing construction blueprints for the models were pictures and drawings of figures, vehicles, spacecraft, landscapes, and more.
"The model designers used a special Lego drawing paper for this, on which one square is equivalent to one Lego knob," a "Star Wars" Miniland release reads. "In the next step, they calculated how many bricks and which colors and forms would be needed for the models. For particularly difficult model parts, prototypes are first built, before the model is constructed brick by brick. To help the Lego models last longer, all of the bricks are glued together and then sprayed with a special UV coating."
And how many bricks are used in the individual models? It's hard to say in the case of many of them. But suffice it to say, it would be beyond most fans' budgets to build even one of the large-scale models I got to see yesterday. The Millennium Falcon model required 19,000 bricks, while R2-D2 came in at a healthy 15,000 or so, and topping the charts was Chewbacca, McIntire said, at about 32,000 bricks.
But while a cursory look at the Millennium Falcon made me think that perhaps the model builders had created some custom bricks just for this project, McIntire assured me that wasn't at all the case. Each and every bit of the models is "pure Lego," he said, save for some wiring for lights. "That's something we really pride ourselves on," McIntire said, referring to the builders' refusal to use special bricks in any of their models. "We don't cheat."