Edit: Welcome everyone incoming from Digg or other sources. If you're not getting any images, it's because you can't hear the wailing keen of despair my server made at the sudden influx of traffic. Until the server recovers, I've uploaded the photo essay to my Brickshelf folder here, which you can view once it's moderated. I've also edited the image links to point to the BS deeplinks.
This set is no longer assembled. It used to sit on top of our 65" Mitsubishi HDTV, which was an old DLP in the huge black box school of design, but it came apart while moving to our new house, and the pieces got mixed in with the rest of my collection. I probably could have eventually rebuilt it, but the upgraded TV is one of the slimmer style DLPs and there's no place to put shit on top of it. Besides, I wanted the parts.
To answer a few questions and comments that get asked repeatedly here and at Digg:
1. You can find some of my other creations at Flickr, though I'm slow about taking pictures of things I build.
2. Currently I'm working on a few starships, a Technic-scale transformable G1 Optimus Prime, and a Mass Effect-style assault rifle in 1:1 scale. As a couple of those have been WIP for over a year, no idea when I'll finish any given thing.
3. The Death Star II set cost $300 at the time of purchase.
4. Based solely on the cost of the official sets I've purchased (1 piece = 10c on average), I probably have a minimum of around 15,000 individual Lego pieces. This does not include Pick-a-Brick and Bricklink purchases, so the actual total is likely at least twice that. This sort of thing is hard to estimate accurately, and my collection is small compared to some in the AFOL (Adult Fan Of Lego) community.
5. Actually, you'd be quite surprised at how much being a 34-year-old AFOL gets you laid.
Anyway, on with the article that brings everyone here.
Since I'm starting to get spam now, I'm disabling comments. I think we said pretty much everything that needed to be said about this thing over the past two and a half years, and I appreciate all the kind words. Go see Flickr if you have any interest on what I'm building now.
I've been wanting a Lego set I can really sink my teeth into. The little $5-20 sets are nice, and often have some great pieces, but I end up just craving more when they're done.
I wanted the Star Destroyer like nobody's business, but there's two problems. One, they're almost impossible to find, and two... where would we put it? It's huge, it's like several feet long.
Finally... I caved. It's not a Star Destroyer, but at almost 3500 pieces, it definitely scratched my itch for something challenging that I can sink my teeth into. And with that, I bring you a photo essay on the making of the Death Star II, as seen in Return of the Jedi.
Just opening the box was an experience. There were, by my count, a metric fuckton of pieces, and when I opened the four neatly packaged boxes nestled within the main one, there spilled out enough bags to nearly cover our dining room table. The instruction book was the size of a calendar, and as thick as a magazine.
I began at 2:30pm. The first order of business was to sort the pieces. If you've ever put together a Lego set, then you know it can be maddening sometimes to find the exact part you're looking for--and that's just in a set with a few hundred pieces. Putting together Lego sets as an adult, I've developed a system for organizing pieces, and apparently it's similar to the one used by a lot of "professional" builders. Pieces smaller than 1x3 plates get their own pile--or in this case, since there were often hundreds of a single piece alone, they got tupperware containers. I had so many different types of pieces to sort that I ran out of tupperware and had to use 6oz plastic cups.
Larger pieces get assembled into a kind of latticework that keeps them together and somewhat compact. By the time I was done, I had amassed four and a half piles of the 2x8 plates alone, each pile having about 32 of them stacked in a spiral. The purpose of the spiral and alternating assembly is to make sure there is always an overhang so that the topmost pieces can be quickly separated from the pile. This ended up working out extremely well, so well that even the Tadlet was able to easily grab pieces for me when he was helping build.
I had so many tiny pieces that I actually had to commandeer one of my sorting bins for modeling parts for the temporary job of holding really tiny and unique pieces. As you can just barely see beside it, some things, like the radar dish pieces, didn't really need or lend themselves to a container, and simply got their own pile. Finally, there were a few dozen one-off pieces of which there were only one or two each, and I consigned all of those to one single cup.
Ready to begin, I wanted one good picture of the spread of parts. That is what 3,449 Lego pieces looks like.
This thing is so massive and heavy that I would have deemed them insane if they'd started with anything other than the framework that holds it up and the stand on which that rests. And sure enough, that's what they did. As you can see, the engineering of it is quite ingenuous, utilizing many technic beams and connectors in a sensible fashion to ensure the weight of the whole thing is held up and together securely.
The Tadlet is 5 now, and he practically jumped for joy when I asked him to help me put it together.
There were many points where the instructions ask you to assemble more than one of the same thing, and this is the perfect opportunity to get a little boy's help--it let me put one together to show him how, and I had him follow along with me doing the same thing. This worked very well, as did asking him to fetch pieces for me. He is quickly learning the vocabulary of Lego pieces. :>
I was skeptical of the wisdom of allowing him to help with the technic pieces, but he picked it up very quickly when I showed him how to put the connectors in. There were lots of connections where he just wasn't strong enough to push them in carefully, at which point I'd either get one started and let him push it in the rest of the way, or let him put the finished piece in place on the model.
The finished framework. If it looks over-engineered to you, you're right--and it ought to be, considering the weight it has to hold. It was only now that I began to get an appreciation for how massive this thing was going to be. The thing is as wide as Tadlet's arm is long, and the top of it was at my head level when I was sitting down.
One of my favorite parts was putting together the pieces for the equatorial trench. While there were variations, the essential construction was the same for all of them, which allowed the Tadlet and I to have a field day with them.
The segments are connected end-to-end with clicking hinge bricks, which is what allows them to "curve" over the circumference of the model. You can't see it because I blur out Tadlet's face in any unlocked posts with pictures of him, but he's grinning proudly at what he helped do here. He has no idea what's yet to come.
At first I was wondering what the hell the two brown ship's steering wheels were doing in this set. They attach at the poles, and their purpose boggled me until I started putting on the slices of the outer hull. Some of them have technic pipes at the ends, and these pipes connect to the spokes of the steering wheel. Bless Lego's universal connectability.
The next step took most of the rest of the night. Remember those piles of over a hundred 2x8 plates? This is where the majority of them went. By the time I'd finished the first quadrant of the superstructure, my fingertips were numb and it was 10pm. I wasn't finished for the night, but I would have to move on to something else and save the second quadrant for the next evening.
The array of tiny details that went into the superstructure is truly amazing. The designers did a great job of capturing the feel of the unfinished Death Star, and the illusion is even more credible with both halves attached.
A closeup of the join where the superstructure attaches to the frame, albeit a bad picture. It attaches at two places--the pole and the core of the DS--and with a total of four technic connectors for each quadrant. You can also see the polar steering wheel part here, waiting for the northern hull slices to be attached.
The northern quadrant of the superstructure is attached. It actually balances fairly well at this point; the quadrant of outer hull on the right is nearly the same weight.
Time for more trench pieces. These were different than most of the others that had been made, owing to the fact that they're on the "exposed" hemisphere of the Death Star.
I would realize tomorrow that I shouldn't have attached this piece yet, nor proceeded with any of the other stuff I did that night, until I'd completed the lower quadrant of the superstructure and attached it. I had to remove this strip of the equatorial trench to get it in at all, and it was five times as hard as it needed to be.
Nevertheless, that night I proceeded in bliss...
..and a familiar shape begins to emerge.
This may look like a Lego necklace, but it's not.
It's actually the absolutely ingenious way they designed the dish for the superlaser.
This flap of hull attaches to the trench, and the technic axle and pipe assembly you see on the right is used to support the superlaser assembly.
In fact, it plugs into the axle you see on the lower right here. The dish part that you see is actually two large dishes and two small. The two small ones are fit to each other and go in the center of the "crater", while the two large ones are on the backside and frontside, with the small dishes sandwiched between them. The "teeth" of the crater assembly are trapped between the two large dishes, which is what keeps the crater assembly attached to the hull.
I thought I'd offer a picture of the outer hull slices in progressive stages of construction.
Almost done here. The superlaser beam itself is actually a real pain to assemble and align properly. At this point it was midnight, and I realized I needed to break for the evening.
I'm afraid I have no in-progress pics of the next day, but that's because they're mostly of things I'd already built: more hull plates, and the lower quadrant of the superstructure. This went by in a few hours, and when they were all attached... the Death Star was mine.
Twelve 1x8 black tiles are covered by a sticker here. All of the UCS (Ultimate Collector's Series) models have a display like this.
As the cherry on top of this model, it comes with a miniature Executor, Vader's Super Star Destroyer.
A shot from below, to show off the superstructure.
Putting this model together was actually physically taxing. My fingertips were sore by the end of it, but it was extremely rewarding, and would be a great project for a family or a couple of friends to work on together. The finished model measures about 19" in diameter, and there was really only one place for it in our apartment: my wardrobe. We have one of those modular Ikea PAX wardrobes, open-faced, and I have been trying to figure out what to do with part of it, since I don't actually have enough clothes to fill it. Since I have so many Star Wars Lego sets (and want more!), I think I may turn it into a diorama.