In 1978, LEGO introduced the first Classic Space sets. I was 7 years old and totally thrilled. Now LEGO has returned at long last to that theme with the new 21109 Exo-Suit set from LEGO IDEAS.
I guess that this isn’t the first new Classic Space set recently… or even this year! That honor could arguably go to the 70816 Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, Spaceship! from The LEGO Movie, which I also have enjoyed building. But since that was technically a movie themed set, I’m giving it to this one. First Classic Space set in decades!!
Like all LEGO IDEAS sets, this was designed by a fan, Peter Reid from the UK, and he and his fiancée Yvonne are immortalized as the two minifigs in the set, Pete and Yve (probably a first on several levels for LEGO). Peter is also a co-author (with Tim Goddard) of the book LEGO Space: Building the Future and a contributor to LEGO Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life. He submitted the Exo-Suit design to LEGO CUUSOO even before the Ghostbusters set was submitted, and it was the first CUUSOO/IDEAS set that’s totally based on an original idea rather than some existing thing (like the Japanese space ships) or a movie or video game.
The original exo-suit design was far too flimsy to ever be made into a LEGO set, so it involved significant redesign work and cooperation with LEGO designer Mark Stafford to make the final design workable. The details from Peter’s original idea are significantly changed, but the overall character is preserved and it’s a pretty sturdy little model.
Another groundbreaking thing about this model is the involvement of AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) in the marketing for the set! This article on New Elementary talks about how a group of AFOLs were brought in to come up with a way of presenting the design, including the “EXO-SUIT” logo.
Anyway, back to the actual building experience of the set. Like the other IDEAS sets, it has the nice black box with the hinged lid, like I talked about in the Ghostbusters review. I am sad to say however that it takes significant disassembly to make it fit in the box with the lid closed. You have to take off the whole front and bottom parts of the “torso” to get the lid closed. The instruction book is also printed on black background, but as there is no dark brown hair in this set, the contrast is adequate to build the set without trouble.
First off as with most sets we build the two minifigs, Pete and Yve. There’s something about building a minifig with the Classic Space logo on the front and the air tanks that just makes me smile. I do miss the old fashioned helmets however – the modern ones just don’t have the same shape. I know the old ones had flimsy chin straps – a fact that was even poked fun at in The LEGO Movie – but I still wish they’d built a version that was sturdier but kept the old shape.
In addition to the minifigs and the exo-suit itself, we also get this adorable robot turtle, which is one of Peter Reid’s trademark items: it’s been featured in a lot of Peter’s photos on Flickr for some time, and in the LEGO Space book, and it’s great to see it in a LEGO set. There’s also a little platform with two yellow cylinders, to give the exo-suit hands something to manipulate. Between all the text at the beginning (builder information and back story) and all these things, you don’t actually start building the suit itself until page 28 of the book!
The construction of the exo-suit is pretty much what one would expect: a torso with some brackets and ball joints, and arms and legs that attach.
The torso build starts off fairly standard, with fairly straightforward uses of bricks, plates, and brackets, but there are a few cool decorative elements (greebles). On the bottom rear of the torso there is a pair of hubcap elements and on the front below the cockpit there is a pair of nozzle guns used as decorative elements. The cockpit is surrounded by a cool structure made from two of the Friends handlebars to provide an octagonal type shape, which is pretty neat. The front of the torso is held together by a whole bunch of clip-and-bar connections, which is a nice technique.. On the bottom there is a printed 2×2 inverse tile I hadn’t seen before (it’s also in two Chima sets), with a printed pattern that looks like fire from a rocket engine.
After the torso, we build the legs and feet. These are pretty intricate. The heels feature a rotational joint so that the feet can stand flat on the table/floor/whatever no matter what angle the legs are posed at. Ball joints at the ankle, knee, and hip provide tremendous range of posable movement. On the fronts and backs of the legs are greebles suggesting the mechanics driving the leg motion – a “shin guard” subassembly on the front, a telescope (hydraulic cylinder?) clipped to the back of the lower leg, and a bit of Technic mechanism in the front of the thighs. The one thing that seems flimsy on this entire build is the use of binocular elements on either side of the feet – they don’t fall off easily, but they wobble and feel like they’re about to.
The arms have some clever design elements as well. The shoulders are the only ball joints here; the elbow is just a friction pin joint, and the forearm, made from a barrel piece, allows free rotation of the hand with just enough friction to hold a pose. The claws are a bit oversized, but effective.
Overall the color scheme is well chosen – grey of course matches the old Classic Space colors (though of course it’s the modern stone “bluish” grey, which I don’t think is actually bluish), but a mix of light and dark grey, and some silver, keeps things visually interesting.
There are no new part molds in this or any other IDEAS set, but there are new colors of existing parts, and parts that are new this year (according to the Brickset entry for the set):
- Minifig parts in green with the Classic Space logo on the torso – the legs are nothing new in green, but the torso, air tanks, and helmet are new in this color.
- The new inverted dome piece, which I first saw in the Parisian Cafe set in dark red, is now available in light stone grey.
Going back to the Classic Space theme is a definite win for me, and to be honest they had me with that planet logo from the beginning. The fact that it’s a great build is just gravy. Absolutely it’s a great primer in how to build mecha or other free standing models. The parts inventory provided will enable all manner of limbed mechanical creations to be built. It’s a perfect gift for someone who was a Classic Space fan in their childhood and likes LEGO but doesn’t have an extensive adult collection. Or even if they do – I bought a second set.
(And no, much as I wish they would, nobody gave me a free set to review. I paid full price. Twice.)