LEGOLAND California's Peter Ronchetti and builder Matt Slagle speak to StarWars.com about going back to Jakku, LEGO style.
In The Force Awakens, Jakku may seem like a planet that everyone (except Rey and Poe) is trying to get away from, but now, Jakku is a place you’ll want to visit at LEGOLAND California. An entire set of model dioramas from Star Wars: The Force Awakens just opened last week with several scenes from Jakku now part of the Carlsbad theme park, and overshadowing them all is a 16-foot-long model of the Star Destroyer Finalizer.
Announced last fall, the new The Force Awakens cluster of dioramas now takes center stage in the LEGO Star Wars Miniland, and just as Jakku was first seen in night and then in day, the premiere of this new area was held with both evening and daytime events. First, on the night of March 8, Star Wars Rebels voice actor Sarah Michelle Gellar (the Seventh Sister) officially pulled the switch to power on the lights for the massive First Order Star Destroyer and the scenes down below on Jakku. Then, on the morning of March 9, Peter Ronchetti, general manager of LEGOLAND California Resort, used a LEGO lightsaber to cut the ribbon, opening the exhibit, but not after Finn revealed himself to stop a surprise interruption by a First Order officer and his squad of stormtroopers, all from the Imperial Sands Garrison of the 501st Legion.
Containing over half a million LEGO bricks, The Force Awakens scenes depicted in this cluster include a six scenes taking place on or above Jakku:
- Kylo Ren disembarks at Tuanul village as stormtroopers secure the village and Poe and BB-8 plan their escape
- Rey rescues BB-8 from Teedo astride the Luggabeast
- Poe and Finn’s escape in a stolen TIE fighter from the Star Destroyer Finalizer
- Finn escaping the wreck of the crashed TIE fighter
- Rey, Finn, and BB-8 are pursued by stormtroopers through the streets of Niima Outpost
- The Millennium Falcon is chased by First Order TIE fighters in the Starship Graveyard, which features a massive crashed Star Destroyer
Many of the scenes have interactive animatronic or sound features, including Rey on her speeder zooming back and forth between her fallen AT-AT home and Unkar Plutt’s shop at Niima Outpost. Standing tall over the scenes on the ground is the colossal model of the Finalizer, the Resurgent-class Star Destroyer and Kylo Ren’s flagship. The Finalizer serves as a central focal point to the entire Star Wars area as the Jakku display sits at the center of LEGO Star Wars Miniland and is surrounded by the existing model dioramas representing worlds of Episodes I through VI: Naboo, Geonosis, Mustafar and Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Hoth and the Forest Moon of Endor. Rounding out the area are the LEGO Star Wars Gallery of large-scale versions of the most popular LEGO Star Wars minifigures and the humongous Death Star model display.
StarWars.com was at the opening and spoke with LEGOLAND California Resort’s general manager, Peter Ronchetti, as well as with Matt Slagle, one of the Master Model Builders who helped design and assemble the new dioramas at the theme park. Here’s some of the cool info that they shared on building Jakku brick by brick, and guiding us around the new exhibit.
1. Setting course for Jakku. When it came to capturing iconic scenes for their new display to showcase The Force Awakens, the design team decided that Jakku was the planet they wanted to highlight. Ronchetti describes the new set of displays: “The cluster adds up to a retelling of the first thirty minutes of the film. If you are familiar with the film, all of the key scenes are right here.”
Slagle went into more detail of how Jakku was turned from film to LEGO bricks: “It’s a long process," he says. "Master Model Designer Nik Ehm is the guy who did the main design of it. From the basic level, we start out with deciding what do we want to portray. We have a two-hour long movie -- we would love to build the entire movie but it’s not practical on this scale. So we decide, ‘What are the big, iconic moments? What will people instantly recognize?’ From there, we start designing things, picking out ships and scenes. It’s a lot of research. A lot of watching the movie -- at work! ... It’s really doing a lot of research and being really familiar because when you’re designing a ship you have to have a real intimate knowledge of what the ship looks like to get it exactly right because you will have people who will know what exactly it should look like.”
2. The Finalizer takes flight. At over 16 feet in length, the Star Destroyer Finalizer is now the longest Star Wars model ever built for the LEGO Star Wars miniland. A mammoth spike, it stands above the ground diorama in space at eye level for adults, while Poe and Finn’s stolen First Order TIE fighter flies in circles beneath it trying to escape, helping to create the sense of scale for the model. Ronchetti noted that the Finalizer contains 350,000 LEGO bricks, and adds, “I love the way it looms high. Design-wise, that was an interesting challenge to create stability because it’s obviously very heavy with all those LEGO bricks. As you can see, it takes a very substantial support to carry it. So it’s an unusual design challenge that our team had to address.”
Just how heavy is it? Slagle had the answer for us: “I made the joke earlier that I single-handedly installed it. But it weighs like 1,800 pounds. It took us all afternoon to install it. We have 350,000 LEGO bricks that are encased around a steel structure inside it. So it’s a whole process to get it into place with cranes and lifting. That in itself is a whole another hurdle to jump over, especially in such a limited space. We don’t have a ton of space in the area.”