We finish up our story of Bursledon Brickworks Museum volunteer Bob Palmer, with a quick…
May the force be with you
You know you’re a serious collector of Lego if, when you move house, the first transit van load is just for your Lego sets, and the ‘death star’ model has to be held on your lap for fear of breaking…
Waking up on Christmas morning and rushing down to see what Santa has left under the tree for you, you can’t beat it. Everyone who keeps the light of childhood burning feels the same way. The excitement of searching through the pile to find your presents, giving them a shake to see how they sound and excitedly ripping off the paper to reveal the prize within. Imagine the surprise when you and your partner each open a large box to discover that you both have the same thing from each other!
It all started simply enough. In June of 2005, whilst looking for a toy for their friends who had just had a baby, they spotted the Star Wars Millennium Falcon Lego set in a local toy shop. They were both blown away by the attention to detail and build quality of the final model and, although, obviously, not the thing for a young baby, they both made a mental note that it would make an ideal present for each other. As Craig says “I was quite gob-smacked by that since, while I have a good memory, Kat generally can’t remember what happened last week, never mind remembering something from June to December”. (LOL) This, it turns out, is when they both realised that their common interest in Star Wars had found an outlet they could both share.
Craig has been a Star Wars fanatic since childhood and Kat had always enjoyed the films. For Craig, the youngest of three brothers, it started one Christmas when he was five years old and his brother sat him down to watch Star Wars for the first time. From the opening credits he was hooked. Three years later, his brother took him and seven of his friends (bundled in the back of his van) to watch Return of the Jedi at the cinema. At the same time, conforming to the stereotype, Craig was fascinated with cars and all manner of vehicle related toys as a boy. His interest continues to this day and having a degree in Maths means that he is right at home with specifications, catalogue details and all manner of statistics. Kat, on the other hand, took her degree in English. Not so far removed from Star Wars as you might at first think. One part of her course, Science Fiction & Science Fantasy, was to research and write an essay on intertextuality in two influential sci-fi films – Star Wars was, to her, an obvious first choice. Studying the film as part of her research reignited the interest she had always had in science fiction in general.
Like most of us, they both remember having basic lego kits as kids. The toys were originally designed in the 1940s in Europe and have achieved an international appeal, with an extensive subculture that supports Lego movies, games, video games, competitions and four Lego themed amusement parks. Lego is a truly remarkable product. The simplicity of its design belies it’s infinite variability. The first sets, with their brightly coloured bricks, naturally appealed to younger children. Their robustness, virtually indestructible aside from being set fire to or swallowed, made them a big hit with parents. Being made of plastic ensured that they could be chewed, stamped upon and generally abused, with no ill effects. Older children and adults alike are only limited by their imaginations of what can be created. Craig, it would seem, was ahead of the curve when it came to what to make with his Lego sets. His imagination was set on fire having seen the Star Wars film and, from an early age, he was building his own space ships long before the modern day sets were available. Craig has, apparently, always wanted to build a room sized Death star.
So what is it about Star Wars Lego that holds such fascination for Kat and Craig? “To be honest”, says Craig, “it’s not that it’s Star Wars particularly. We both have fairly intensive IT jobs that require keeping lots of, metaphorical, plates spinning at once. What’s great about our hobby”, he continues, “is that not only is it something we can share, but just as importantly, it’s one of the few things that we have found where you only need to focus on the thing that’s directly in front of you. No distractions, no background tasks or in-depth planning. Just a straightforward, one step at a time, single point of focus. It’s actually quite relaxing. The other aspect, of course, is that we have something physical, or tangible, to show for our efforts at the end of it”
Craig and Kat’s hobby is not just an interesting, shared pastime. The Star Wars Lego sets are highly prized collectors’ items, with a worldwide interest, that increase in value almost as soon as they are released. Careful monitoring and selection has meant that what sets they have collected are actually a wise investment. An extreme example is their prized ‘Millennium Falcon’ model. At the time of purchase it cost £380, the most the pair have ever paid for a lego set. In the second-hand market the set is now worth around £700! With his encyclopaedic knowledge of the set numbers and contents, Craig used to scour the internet auction and shopping sites searching for the elusive missing items from the catalogue. With all of their sets purchased from new, they are quite particular about what they collect. Craig even wrote a software application that scanned known websites and kept him up to date of any sales or bargains. Sometimes this has meant importing sets from abroad. He has, in fact, bought forty from the United States alone. It’s by careful scrutiny of the Internet sites that bargains can be found, as long as you know what you’re looking for. The current favourite, for both of them, is the ‘Blockade Runner’, bought at a bargain price of £200 when it should have been closer to £300. It’s been a busy five years since they first started collecting. These days, he is content to be a little more selective and thinks that they are down to around ten ‘nice to have’ sets that they would like to own. Aside from that, he concentrates on ‘collectors editions’ and ‘special anniversary’ releases, the next being the 30th anniversary of ‘The Return of the Jedi’. Rather bizarrely, some of the most collectable items are the mini figures that come with the sets. It’s not unheard of for Lego to include ‘unannounced’ figures in sets or for ‘limited editions’ to contain figures not included with the regular releases. This has created a group of collectors who specialise in this niche area.
Their interest in Star Wars extends beyond the Lego sets into a comprehensive world of memorabilia and collectables. These range from the complete set of published books, DVD films and documentaries, (some as original VHS Tape recordings and, lately, Blue Ray versions of the Clone Wars) right through to board games such as two editions of Trivial Pursuit and ‘Mr Potato Head’ figures. They’ve attended the O2 arena in London to hear film soundtracks performed by the LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) in 2009 where, as a surprise to everyone, George Lucas made a guest appearance. Kat and Craig’s claim to fame is being within touching distance of the ‘great man’ himself. When the couple were married, 3 years ago, the Star Wars interest extended to having the reception tables named after characters from the films and cutting the cake with a ‘lightsabre’. In fact the wedding album has an artistic photograph of their wedding rings held by the lightsabre of ‘Darth Tater’ (the Mr Potato Head figure).
Finding the time to actually build the sets is quite difficult. Their ideal scenario, depending on the size of the set, is to be able to set aside a weekend, or a couple of days over a holiday, to be dedicated ‘build it’ days. Most sets, around the 1000 brick size, take about 4-5 hours. Anything above 2000 bricks takes about 2-3 sessions over several days. They have an unspoken ritual that just sort of falls into place as they go, without much discussion. On goes the kettle, as everything is always better with a cup of your favourite brew. Sometimes they even have a biscuit, but that leads to the potential problem of eating a lego piece and trying to attach a piece of biscuit to the model. Next up, choose the appropriate background soundtrack or movie to set the right atmosphere. For the smaller sets one of them will ‘find’ whilst the other ‘builds’. If it’s a larger model, they will both work together to do some preparatory work. First, check the box contents; are all present and correct? Then, lay out the parts according to build order as indicated by the manual (if present). Probably time for another cuppa by now. Mentally prepped, organised and refreshed, it’s all system go.
But they’re not short of offers from friends to help build models and have had one or two lego parties for special occasions. To celebrate Kat’s 30th birthday, Kat and Craig, with assistance from Craig’s best friend, built the famous ‘Death Star’ model over three days after Christmas. The total number of sets that they’ve collected so far has now reached 105, comprising just over 70,000 bricks, with only 20 of the sets actually having been built. Kat and Craig always build from new. The original plan was to save the model building for holidays and special occasions. They have since realised that, if they stuck to this rule, it would take them over thirty years to complete just the models that they have now! A way to go yet then.
So what’s left? The main room in the house, set aside for all things gaming and cinema, is rapidly filling up. Many of the larger models are dotted around the house. The home office, lounge and various nooks and crannies are all home to completed models. They have a large eaves cupboard to store the unopened, unbuilt models. They’ve already moved once with the entire collection and would not relish it a second time. In an ideal world, Craig would like to have a dedicated space exclusively for displaying their prized collection. Kat would love to have somewhere to be able to set up the models to recreate movie scenes. Maybe a loft conversion is on the cards? But that’s not the end of it; Craig has literary aspirations. He’s reading his way through the book collection at the moment, not only enjoying them, but brushing up on the expanded universe and, more importantly, researching what kind of areas have not already been covered. Ideally, he would like to write his own book. With his depth of knowledge and attention to detail, he’s better placed than most to know what is required. Better mark it in your diaries (or if you’re Kat and Craig, it’s actually a Lego advent calendar.)
Watch this space [pun intended]