One of the best ways to gauge the success of a toy is its ability to appeal to generations of children without changing the formula. There are a few that come instantly to mind — Playdoh, Slinky, Lincoln Logs and of course, LEGOs.
My first memories of LEGOs involve dumping them from a large bucket onto the floor and trying to figure out something to build with the colorful, plastic interlocking bricks. Usually, my limited abilities could only muster a house with a very square roof or a poor replica of The Great Wall.
I was never incredibly adept at making masterpieces on my own, but enjoyed playing with the blocks once in a while. Fast forward a couple of decades to our first trip to Comic-Con when we encountered oversized LEGO creations featuring characters from Toy Story and Harry Potter.
So, while shopping that Christmas season, we decided to try our hand at the modern LEGO playsets and chose a set based on The Weasley’s home from the Harry Potter series, The Burrows. We put it together on Christmas Eve night last year in a few hours while watching Christmas cartoons and have decided to make it a Maddy tradition.
Unlike the buckets containing a mix of various sizes, these new sets have ridicuously detailed instruction panels, allowing you to build miniature worlds, one piece at a time.
Since we had such a wonderful experience with The Burrows, we requested my in-laws buy us a larger LEGO set this Christmas. It’s been an incredible way to connect, a great family activity, and a nice escape from the internet/iPhone/other electronic devices.
So, on Christmas morning, we open our gift to discover a LEGO Millennium Falcon, complete with a slew of miniature Star Wars characters to go with it. A week later, we set out on the mission to tackle the monochromatic blocks that promised to look like Han Solo’s prized ship.
We dumped out the various bags, containing the more than 1,200 miniscule blocks, hooks, caps and rods that would bring the Falcon to life. And we were greeted with not one, but three instruction manuals on how to build this massive replica of Star Wars’ famed ship. After wondering how an 8-year-old could put this together alone, we began separating the parts by color and shape and continued our mission.
Piece by piece, layer by layer, the Falcon started taking shape. First, the floor gave way to the control room and area where Luke honed his Jedi skills, I could almost hear him say, “With the blast shield down, I can’t even see. How am I supposed to fight?” (Coincidentally, the set also comes with a LEGO Luke complete with reversible head and blast shield.)
We spent hours in our toy room upstairs, fighting off the leg-fall-asleep syndrome and the carpet imprints onto our skin to configure our miniature ship. The almost-hexagonal frame became a second nature to us as we replicated designs that would make up the exterior panels of the ship. One of my favorite features in the removable chamber that slides Luke in and out for the dog fight with Tie Fighters.
When we finally snapped the cockpit on and placed Han inside, there was much celebration, although our chihuahua was presumably unimpressed. We placed the Falcon next to its slightly larger twin in our collection (which we did not have to assemble.)
After conquering the Falcon, Duane decided to surprise me with the complete Hogwarts set for my birthday. Our nieces and nephew had gotten us an addition to the school which we put together in a few hours on Christmas Eve, so we were eager to attach it to the larger set.
Again, we were met with three instruction booklets laying down the challenge for the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry.
This time, we tried a new strategy in which we each took a book and started putting together the bags corresponding to our chosen book. We then interlocked them when completed.
The detail of the set is remarkable, from the Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms to the Great Dining Hall to the Owlery to the image of Sirius Black in the fire place. Many of the most intricate details of these sets are never seen by the naked eye, yet it was not overlooked.
While building these sets, I couldn’t help but wonder who designs them? Do they have LEGO engineers sitting in a room, jotting down every minute detail — every sticker placed, every joint locked?
With theme parks now in California and Florida and building sets based on multiple movie franchises and beyond, LEGO is challenging the imaginations and budding architectural skills of generations of children to come, and all of us adults who remain children at heart.