Inside LEGO Life-Size Star Wars X-Wing Fighter With a 7-Year-Old
By Robert Kolker
Dad, youve got to tell me.
Dad, youre torturing me.
Has it been an hour yet?
How do you read that clock?
What are you writing down?
Were in the back of a black Mercedes, being driven to an undisclosed location
an airplane hangar somewhere in the tristate area. I know where were going.
Nate Kolker does not. He is 7 years old, a first-grader with dusty brown hair
and two missing front teeth. He is excited, mostly because he got to skip his
after-school program, but also because his older sister spilled the beans and
let him know this had something to do with LEGO.
The hangar is housing the largest LEGO sculpture ever made. I havent been told
what it is yet, exactly, but the company has offered us this chance to play with
its new sculpture a week before its debut in Times Square on Thursday, May 23.
(The sculpture is a promotion for The Yoda Chronicles, a new Star Wars show on
the Cartoon Network, and the first to feature not human characters but their
animated LEGO avatars, button eyes and claw hands and everything.) Ive signed a
nondisclosure agreement to embargo the information before that day, and so when
I smile and tell Nate I cant say anything, citing contractual obligations, Im
not even lying. Its one of those moments parents live for.
Then the ride gets rough. We get caught in traffic. The car lurches forward and
stops, and forward again. Nate says hes going to throw up. We open a window.
Before he has a chance to vomit, he falls asleep. After more than two hours on
the road, we arrive at the hangar, walking together through a narrow side door.
Before us is an X-wing fighter full-size, an 11-foot-tall and 43-foot-long
replica, 42 times the size of the LEGO X-wing you can find in the store (Star
Wars set #9493, if you must know). We meet Erik, one of a select few master
builders who work full-time for LEGO creating large models like this one for
store displays and media events. Erik leads Nate under and around the model,
explaining that the X-wing took 32 master builders more than 17,000 hours to
complete, using 5,335,200 LEGO bricks. The result is nearly 46,000 pounds, with
a wingspan of 44 feet. The fighter was built in the LEGO Model Shop in Kladno,
Czech Republic, then broken in to pieces and brought to America by boat. Its
final destination, after being paraded before tourists in Times Square (emerging
from a large-scale replica of a LEGO box), will be, naturally, the Legoland
theme park in California.
It occurs to me, looking at Nate, that I was 8 when Star Wars came out. I wonder
what I would have made of this moment back then. Erik seems as interested as I
am in what a little boy thinks of it all. We both stare at him, scanning for a
reaction. Nate is silent at first. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes. He still
says nothing. Finally, he says something.
Why didnt you make it with the X-wing open?
I had the same question, actually. Erik is ready for us. The X-wing is closed
when the fighter has landed, he says. Then, sotto voce, he allows that the
structural braces needed to prop open the X-wing in X formation would look like
Erik doubles down now, determined to dazzle the 7-year-old. He points to the top
of the fighter, where theyve remembered to place a full-scale R2D2. Nate
chuckles. He points at the millions of little LEGO bricks as Erik explains that
the bricks arent just glued together; theyre fused into one with solvent. Then
the whole thing is sprayed with some sort of polyurethane to make it shiny. I
wish it actually flew, Nate says dreamily.
Erik brings a ladder over and offers Nate a chance to sit in the cockpit. He
might be the first boy ever to do it. Nate nods and scurries up. Facing forward,
he notices that theres a huge TV screen inside. Erik tells us that the monitor
is for pictures: The cockpit is a photo booth for the kids who will board it in
Times Square. Nate nods; he likes photo booths. But he has a better idea:
turning the X-wing into a POV video game. Why dont you turn the thing on so it
looks like youre flying, too?
This gives Erik an idea. He brings Nate around to the back of the X-wing and
shows him a gray panel at about Nates eye level. Erik removes the panel and
shows Nate two knobs and a switch. He glances conspiratorially at Nate and turns
them all on. Suddenly, we all hear it: that crazy, high-low X-wing hum from the
movies, like an airplane engine but with more sizzle. Then comes the familiar
beeps and hoots of R2. Its like were in the Dagobah system with Luke.
Nates eyes are darting everywhere now. Where does the sound come from? Does it
come from inside the LEGOs? How long does it go? Until it runs out of huge
batteries? Erik is smiling. Then Nate starts speculating about what might
happen in Star Wars movies he hasnt seen (he is only halfway through Empire and
hasnt seen Episodes I through III).
Our visit is ending. Erik shows us the proprietary software he uses to design
models like these he can dump in any 3-D object and it is transformed into a
workable LEGO model. We shake hands and head back to the car. On the way home,
Nate is as talkative as he was quiet in the hangar.
It was awesome. It was really big and there were wires, but they made it so you
cant even see the wires. So you cant. And theres this little thing Im not
allowed to tell you about it, but its in the ship and it makes R2 talk and it
makes the engines fire. But it doesnt really float in midair. If I could, Id
build something somebody already built, but Id add a couple things to it. A
couple dozen. I thought they might have a preview for Episode VII, but they
didnt. And then you signed this thing that I dont know what it was. What did
you sign? I liked how you pull out this thing that looks like regular LEGO
pieces, but it isnt, and theres two switches straight ahead of your eyes and
one up here a little bit to the left, and then you switch it to the right and R2
starts talking and the engines start going. Thats when Yoda comes and saves
them, I think. Hey, look, theres the sun going down! Dad, you dont think I
liked it, but I loved it.
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