Last January, Lego promised that its 90th anniversary would be one to remember: the company agreed to revive one of its classic Lego themes (such as Space, Castle, and Pirates) with a new adult Lego set.
But it turns out we’re not getting just one nostalgic bomb today – the company has decided to bring back the classic Space and the classic Castle at the same time. First, Lego unveils the Galaxy Explorer, an enlarged version of the original iconic Lego starship that will be available for pre-order today. And second, it announces the Lion Knights’ Castle, which – at $400 and 4,514 pieces – is easily the most intricate and impressive castle playset the company has ever produced.
I’ve spent days looking at the high-resolution photos of each set you’ll find below, marveling at the detail and hidden play features. But I didn’t have to do it alone: I also spoke to their lead designers Mike Psiaki (see also: Titanic, Saturn V, Aston Martin DB5) and Milan Madge (Space Shuttle Discovery, Pirates of Barracuda Bay, Central perk). I even spoke to Niels Milan Pedersen, a 44-year veteran who co-created Lego Pirates and Forestmen, worked on many classic space themes, and designed many of the most iconic fortresses, castles and ships, including the Castle of the Black Knightthe Royal Knight’s Castle I was lucky enough to own as a child, and the legendary Black Sea Barracuda†
And I’ll be damned if the new castle doesn’t surpass them all.
Trapdoors and secret passages. Lift-and-drop drawbridge and portcullis, now with hidden chains and counterweights built into the kit, instead of the exposed strings I had as a kid. The most fortified towers of a Lego castle to date, complete with arrow slits. A water wheel tuned to a grindstone so that the baker can grind flour for his bread. A royal bedroom and an arsenal packed with weapons and a dungeon and a small banquet hall and enough ladders and stairs to actually connect most of the levels. Lion Knights and Black Knights and Forestmen and mini stables and an ox-and-cart and an outdoor food stall.
“We really wanted to evoke the feeling you got when you opened the catalog as a kid and saw this huge landscape with the market village and the farmers,” says Madge. As a result, the set has 20 mini figures, more than all but the biggest Star Wars, Marvel and sports sets†
Oh, and did I mention that a lady with a crown rules the whole thing and… a lot of these minifigs are women?!
But perhaps the most incredible thing for me is how the whole set transforms. I wish I had a video to show you as it took me a second to wrap my mind around it with just stills – from the outside it looks like a closed castle even with the set flipped open, and double like when it’s closed. As a thought exercise, take a look at the water wheel in the images above. Does the river flow next to the castle, or does the river run through it? The answer is both†
Designer Milan Madge says the closed/open design was the goal from the start. His team’s main influences were the original 1978 yellow Lego castle, which swung open the same way on hingesand the 6086 Black Knight’s Castle with its asymmetrical, castle-on-a-hill design. “We want this to be something you can play 360 degrees around. We wanted to make it completely fenced in so you had walls on each side.”
But Madge and Psiaki also shared a love for 6066 Camouflaged Outpost, the hideout of the Foresters, and decided to hide the cheerful men and women in the new castle as well. And when I say ‘inside’, I mean it literally:
“If you’re on the drawbridge at the wrong time you’ll be thrown in the dungeon, but the bushmen have a sneaky little system of caves to break you out – there’s a hidden network under the castle that you can only find by species to take the model apart,” explains Madge.
“We found that there’s only one place in the whole model that isn’t occupied by some story,” he adds. “Yes, there is very little empty space underneath, everything is used for something,” it sounds in Psiaki.
Speaking with Niels Milan Petersen, who designed many of the sets that inspired the new castle (including the Black Knight’s Castle and Camouflaged Outpost), I get the sense that the Lego designer with the longest tenure is pretty proud — but maybe a little too. bit jealous of what his fellows can do with a budget designed for adult fans of Lego?
“We always put so much in that we had to get out again,” Pedersen says. “The prices weren’t that high because people didn’t spend that much on toys in those days and that was always the concern for us.”
“It was much more thought that it was just for kids because at the time, you know, adults wouldn’t admit they were playing with Lego, that’s pretty new.”
He recalls how one of his original castle models had a blacksmith and a small kitchen before he had to remove them. Another had stairs leading up to the towers that were deemed too complicated and expensive – and he thought kids would definitely care! “No, they didn’t, but they noticed there was a chimney on one of the buildings and there was no fireplace connected to the chimney. That’s what they really noticed! Kids are funny that way sometimes – the figures can just fly to the towers.”
The other things he had to forgo at the time were slingshots and trebuchets “because they were considered weapons”, but Lego designers were slowly winning the battle there. In 1989, he and the late Jens Nygaard Knudsen, creator of the Lego minifigure and Lego Space, had convinced the upper echelons to not only equip a pirate captain with his own signature face (instead of the smiley face), but also projectile-shooting cannons. stand (though not in the US), pistols and muskets, and a pirate flag with skull and bones. Those were all fights with then-owner Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, he says.
“The Jolly Roger… he really didn’t want me to put a skull on that, that was the limit, he didn’t want to see that.” They tried countless versions without it, but it didn’t look right. “So Jens and I went to his private home one evening, we went in for a coffee and we talked for a long, long time. Finally he gave in and said yes, okay, make your skull on that flag, but you have to make him smile somehow.
And they did. In 1995 they also left him a trebuchet: my childhood Royal Knight’s Castledesigned by Petersen, has a small rock flinger on the battlements that you can move with one finger.
Today, the former fisherman mainly makes new parts for Lego for sets by other designers. He has designed minifigures such as the original skeleton and more recently muppet show figures such as Kermit the Frog, as well as multifunctional elements such as the feathers in the Forestmen’s hats and knight helmets – which he says were originally designed as spines for minifigs to hold as well. “Back in the day, when you started making an element, you were required to foresee that the element could be used for at least 10 years.”
The new Lion Knight’s Castle goes on sale August 3 for Lego VIPs (it’s a free sign up) and August 8 for everyone else. Which oddly means you probably won’t get the new Forest Hideout set (a remake of Petersen’s Forestmen’s Hideout) free with your purchase, as it’s available through June 22. For now, here’s one last photo of the new castle.