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Friday, September 2, 2016

LEGO Star Wars Death Star returns: My thoughts (UPDATED)

Another UCS release, another Internet full of vitriolic comments that frequently delve into libel and personal attacks against LEGO employees.  Here's my take on it all, complete with several heaping servings of counter-snarkiness (update Sept. 3: plus now more objective analysis and some responses to additional hate I've received off-site for daring to think for myself and not blindly join the hate train!).


The original set's $400 USD in 2008, adjusted only for inflation, would be around $450 USD today.  The updated set has 200+ more parts and 3 more proper figures.  In 2008 dollars the updated set should have been roughly $425.  In 2016 dollars that would be approx. $475.

Now looking at a constant baseline for value, the updated set is $25 USD or 5% overpriced.

Update Sept. 3:  On a whim, I decided to try another purely mathematical method for calculating today's value of the updated Death Star.  We LEGO fans have used $0.10 as a nice round price/part ratio for years now, and though the basic reality of inflation makes holding onto this single number indefinitely an absolutely unreasonable proposition, I will employ it once more here today.  However, it is quite universally accepted that the four "parts" that make up a minifigure are worth significantly more than four 1x1 bricks or studs.  My observations have led me to value an average minifig in a set at around $3.50 USD apiece -- a number still comfortably lower than the retail price of the CMF figures that are produced at lower quality.  On this basis, the updated DS has an all-time record 25 x $3.50 = $87.50 worth of figures which must not be ignored in a value determination effort.  It then has 4016 - (25 x 4) = 3916 remaining non-figure parts, and even at the increasingly unrealistic $0.10 ideal price point, that's $391.60 worth.  This creates a total value of $87.50 + $391.60 = $479.10.  This paints the set as 4.4% overpriced, strikingly close to the previously-referenced inflation-based projection.

Completely different purely numeric approaches into which any potential personal bias simply cannot factor, essentially one single result.


Overall I'm glad the UCS Death Star is back on the market.  The original was still selling decently well when it was available, so it's good that people who still want it will be able to buy it at retail again, rather than having to pay "investor" prices for the original (which, interestingly, jumped straight to $500+ USD immediately after the discontinuation -- recognize that number?).

Price, as per the emotionless, fact-based simple analysis above, is about 5% on the high side.  To me, 5% in 8 years is not something to revolt over, especially when I consider that this 5% number will, itself, be neutralized by inflation in less than 4 years, or half the original set's lifespan.

Minifigure updates are overdue and the new Han hair looks good. The addition of more proper figures/droids is welcome.

Responding to The Hate:

"LEGO designers have gotten lazy."
  • This is as valid as saying they have gotten Pluto, or chartreuse, or insert any other irrelevant, completely senseless word here.  This was never, in any way, a project to redesign the Death Star.  It was a simple update (the second for this set, by the way).  LEGO did not deprive deserving LEGO fans of their 2016 UCS AT-AT birthrights. The man-years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of development budget (anyone who thinks this is an exaggeration has never worked in product design and/or completely ignores a little thing called "salaries") required for a new UCS set were not available to this project.  Those man-years and hundreds of thousands of dollars were assigned to other sets, many of which have already been on the market being happily bought and enjoyed by many thousands of fans around the world.  Calling LEGO designers "lazy" is just spiteful slander.
"We're having to pay a Disney tax."
  • At best misinformed, but frequently a lazy (!) old scapegoat argument. Data shows conclusively that LEGO spreads licensing fees across their entire product line.  Licensed theme sets have no additional fees included in their retail prices that are absent in original IP sets. You can spend some quality time looking at prices & price/part ratios at Brickset to confirm this.  I do so regularly, myself.
"LEGO has gotten greedy. It's $100 additional cost for $0 additional value."
  • Most observers (myself included) reacted with shock to the sudden change of retail price by a factor of $100 USD.  That's a large number and a lot of money, period.  It begs the question, "why?" See the "Objective" section above.  Release to release, accounting for inflation (which is a must for any reasonable debate & comparison), it's actually $50 more cost for about $25 more value if you consider the parts and figures.  However, I do think it can be argued that the ~200 new non-figure-related parts can be ignored in a value discussion as they mostly fail to add to either play or display values, instead contributing to durability, ease of build, updated internal building standards, etc.  There are still 3 more minifigs, so there is definitely some additional value, though it does not add up to $50.
"This isn't worthy of the UCS designation." 
  • The UCS designation was applied to the original, and remains on the update. Whether the set is "worthy" of this stamp is debatable, but the factors behind that debate have not changed in any way.  If the Death Star is unworthy now, it was unworthy years ago, (begin maximum sarcasm here) back when LEGO was not "lazy" or "greedy" and they made things for fans and not for money (end sarcasm).
"This is just a re-release. How dare LEGO try to trick us into believing this is a brand new set?"
  • Nobody is trying to trick anyone into believing anything. LEGO said, and I quote, "The Death Star is back!"  Nowhere have they said, in any way, "look at this brand new never-before-seen design that we spent a full UCS development lifecycle to bring to you!"  This is an update to a pre-existing set.  That's all.
"Because of this and Attack on Hoth, we're not getting two proper UCS sets this year."
  • This is partially true.  The Hoth project took quite a fair amount of internal effort to bring together, regardless of how the finished product was received by fans.  It also took up a new UCS set "slot," if you will, for the year.  The Death Star update, however, did neither.
"I already have the original, now they want me to pay $100 more for some different figures."
  • I refuse to be at all diplomatic in responding to that statement -- it is just completely false. Again, the updated DS is an update.  LEGO is not targeting owners of either of the older revisions of this set, with the new minor update.  In my opinion it's quite thoroughly ridiculous to suggest that they are or would. 
Update Sept. 3:  "JANG, a lot of collectors hate everything about this, so obviously hating is the right thing to do.  Why won't you just get on the bandwagon already?"
  • Because for one thing, I'm not "a lot of collectors."  I'm me, and I'm going to share my opinion, straight, no matter who likes it or not.  Also, more to the point, I don't feel I have any rights bestowed by a higher power to receive a brand new 4,000+ piece display-only set made exactly to my personal liking every year.  I don't feel I have the right to have anything I specifically want manufactured by anyone, unless I'm directly paying an individual craftsman for a specific custom piece of work.  More than that, I know that I, as an adult fan of LEGO, am in the extreme minority, the single smallest blip on LEGO's market radar.  My value to LEGO as a consumer is a single digit percentage of that of any 7-year-old, as it rightfully should be.  My personal wants do not and should not drive what LEGO does.  The company doesn't exist for my personal entertainment (nor that of other people like me).  Thus what I personally want in LEGO sets to display in my home does not factor into my evaluation of the quality or value of any of their products.
Update Sept. 3:  "Clearly because you're not joining the hate train, you're sponsored by LEGO or trying to get sponsored by them."
  • As false as can be on all accounts. The LEGO CEE team offered to put me on their free set recipient list long ago and I declined. Ask them yourselves -- their email addresses are readily Googlable. It's a deep, deep shame that so many people automatically default to attacking the character of anyone whose opinion they disagree with, suggesting any differing point of view must be the result of a corporate sell-out or some form of "brainwashing."


A sudden $100 price increase definitely sucks.  However, it sucks a lot less when you consider the reality of inflation.  To avoid so many cries of "this sucks" in the future, all LEGO can do is regularly adjust for inflation the prices of products that are going to remain on the market over an extraordinarily long term. Of course, folks would say that sucks as well. This updated Death Star's build is practically unchanged, but the figure selection got an overdue, major upgrade.  The value based on parts & figures in the 2016's re-release is about 5% worse than what we got in 2008, but 5% doesn't strike me as a number worth rioting over.

All in all, I personally think this whole thing is about as big of a deal as LEGO is making it, which is not much at all.


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly Jang. People don't understand the complicatedness of redesigning a whole new set, especially one of this size; if they had made a completely original design it would have added another hundred dollars onto the price tag to pay for the development process etc. Very well-written and thought out post. This is why I follow you! Keep building!

  2. Very well, thank you.
    (From Portugal)

  3. This requires people on the interwebs to think about things like Inflation and the value of money. Then factor in 200+ more pieces. All of which they wont do. Your analysis is spot on. Still I am glad my kids are not into Star Wars, already hard to afford the Nexo Knights and City stuff they want. :)

  4. Completely disagree. The points you try and "debunk" are all valid. It's a pattern (if only from 2 sets so far) the average parent is not going to pay 530-550 (depending on tax) for a Lego set. Those prices are realistically meant for AFOL. If you upset your "customers with money" it will backfire. Will this set sell? Yes. Will it sell like 2008? Highly doubt it and rightfully so.

  5. Eh, I'm not buying the inflation argument as if price per piece isnt a thing anymore. If it's 4000 pieces, it should be $400. Thats how it was in 2008 and that's how it is now. Doesn't change simply because it's an old set being refreshed. It's strange jang is using this logic, because then he should be okay with basically any set being ~.12 cents per piece these days due to "inflation". Yes there was a 200 part increase but that doesn't justify the price.

    1. Totally agree dude, it's just another money grab by greedy people.

    2. I just have to say- I am definitely no expert on the subject but I do know that some people are Totally resistant to any change, as if it's a horrible thing. You should just accept that inflation does happen, and Lego has to inflate their prices as well to survive. If they never increased their prices, though you call it "greedy", they would not be able to make money. If plastic prices soar, then so do the prices of things made of plastic, namely Legos.

    3. True, but you never see any deflation to balance it out. No instead they just get more and more overpriced.

  6. In your calculations you missed the fact that the original set was selling considerably cheaper at price per part than the rest of the range. So all that has happened is this set has been brought into line with the rest of the theme. Star wars Lego today is about 25% cheaper ppp than in 1999(with a couple exceptions)not including inflation as well. Most of these angry people should be angry at themselves for missing their eight year chance at getting a bargain set.

  7. I generally agree and find the outburst in some forums about the updates DS unfair. But re Disney / Star Wars tax the one thing that comes to mind is the chrismas calendar.

  8. Do you think the price increase could also be due to the new Star Wars films, since Star Wars is now back in big screen popularity? I mean, its always been popular but when the original set came out there was only the cartoons and stuff, whereas now with the billion pounds-grossing or whatever Force Awakens and The Death-star focused Rogue One later this year

    1. This is actually something that I don't see many people (Jang included) not considering here. That's a valid point and I commend you for your critical thinking.

    2. It's a very reasonable hypothesis. However, see my simple objective arithmetic analysis above. Facts and cold, hard numbers should never be pushed aside in favor of an untested theory or emotional response.

  9. hi jang,

    i'm a big fan of your reviews. i do somewhat disagree with some of your points. i gave my thoughts about your review on

  10. Whether it's anger or love for this have to appreciate the passion for Lego bricks by all involved! ;-)

  11. I'm still probably not going to get this partially because my parents don't have $500 that they will give me for the same set I already got with a little bit more pieces and new figures. Also, I really wish that the Death Star came with an outer shell that could be clipped onto it so that way if you wanted to display it as a complete Death Star you could.

  12. I wish they could re-release Green Grocer and Cafe Corner as well... :)

  13. I have never understood the debate re certain LEGO sets being overpriced or "too expensive". If one feels a particular set doesn't offer value for money or one cannot afford it, don't buy it. Simple. While it may be damaging to a brand to annoy a certain sector of its market (in this case the AFOL community), nobody is being forced to buy anything! If it works for you then pay the price and smile. If not then don't buy it and stop complaining!

  14. Superb article Jang! Completely agree with all the points made and am genuinely astounded sometimes when so many people appear to know far more about what the market wants than the worlds most successful toy company! The 'Lego designers getting lazy' is my favourite undeserving comment, as an AFOL I am spoilt for choice every single year about what to buy and quite often have to be really strict with myself due to money and space about what I can buy. There are still so many sets I want from some superb lines that I cant even believe the word 'lazy' has been brought into it!

    So glad as well that once again you're standing your ground and keeping your thoughts as objective and unbiased as possible. I suspect that its one of the key reasons why you're popularity in recent years has increased so much!!

  15. I'm not sure I agree factoring for inflation makes sense, and I do have a reason.

    I have gone in and out of being an AFOL a few times over the years. In the early 90's I became a fan of Blacktron II. I really likes 6832 "Super Nova II" 40 parts, which I remember buying for about $4 a set, so that is a 10 cent price per part ratio in 1991.

    Now that is only 1 set, and possibly I remember wrong, so I looked up a Sears Christmas Catalog from 1991. There are 11 Lego sets in the catalog.
    The Airport Shuttle $149.99 767 Pieces is 19 cents per part, but it has a motor which makes a difference. The other 10 sets listed are:

    Lego Lagoon Lockup $23.99 193 parts 12.4 cents per part
    Caribean Clipper $49.99 378 parts 13.2 cents per part
    Rock Island Refuge $54.99 381 parts 14.4 cents per part
    Launch and Load Seaport $89.99 1080 parts 08.3 cents per part
    Pier Police $34.99 362 parts 09.7 cents per part
    Fire Control Center $40.99 533 parts 07.7 cents per part
    Spectral starguider $23.99 208 parts 11.5 cents per part
    Ralley Shock N'Roll Rac $29.99 225 parts 13.3 cents per part
    Aerial Intruder $28.99 267 parts 10.9 cents per part
    Space Shuttle Launch $41.99 423 parts 09.9 cents per part

    That is quite a range from from 7.7 p/p to 14.4 p/p but if you bought all 10 sets it would cost $419.90 and you would get 4050 parts for a 10.4 cents per part ratio.

    I'm not sure why, but the price per part ratio is still roughly the same place it was 25 years ago. This is why a 5% inflation increase over 8 years does not make sense to me.

    1. I totally agréé with you...Lego are cheaper today if you compare when i was young. I do the same with sears catalog 1984...and all Lego set was 0.10 - 0.14 per piece. So people should stop complain about price...and you know what? If they dont like the price, juste dont buy it.

    2. Agree, Lego are same price today they in 1991. Plus, i check price from sears catalog 1984 and the average price was the same!
      People should stop crying about price...if you dont like the price, dont buy it!

  16. Keep up the good work, Jang! And thanks for your reviews.

  17. I'm not sure why you'd decline the free set recipient aspect. Do you believe it would affect your partiality, or perhaps do you feel it's important to see how easy it is to source/afford sets to stay in touch with that side? Just curious about that decision.

  18. Wow, you are actually asked to join the bandwagon of haters? That's really extreme.

    I'm not going to complain about not getting what I want that I have to buy on my own, and I'm certainly not going to hate on LEGO for this. It doesn't make sense for me to hate on someone or something that is just doing their job. Sometimes the quality of their work might not be as good as before, but I understand that decisions have to be made, and sometimes against everything else.

    What really triggers me is the immaturity I see from people's comments. I sometimes here proper constructive feedback which is the "I prefer this/that" or "I think the LEGO set would function better with this/that", and then some immature people will say "This is really dumb/stupid" or "LEGO is lazy", or a form of it using profanity.

    Just because someone makes a decision we disagree with, does not give us any right to be rude or disrespectful to them. If someone wants to tell LEGO they aren't doing a good job, they should just tell them that they aren't doing a good job and how they can do better instead of giving them immature and rude comments.

  19. Hello Jang!

    I believe you have the right idea - And I completely agree with you. Not being biased or anything. I also think it is a little overpriced. For a little change in the figures it doesn't mean the price should rise $100.

  20. Agree 100%. Its tough to remember sometimes that all the people sending hate mail or posting crappy comments are just a very loud minority.