In an exclusive interview, the LEGO Star Wars design team behind two Episode VI-themed sets takes StarWars.com behind the bricks.
You want these, don’t you?
If you love LEGO Star Wars and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, the answer is yes. Revealed just ahead of Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023, the LEGO Group has created two dynamic new releases celebrating the 40th anniversary of Episode VI: the Endor Speeder Chase Diorama and the Emperor’s Throne Room Diorama, building sets immortalizing two of the film’s most iconic sequences in LEGO bricks. They arrive May 1 and will be available for pre-order soon.
Both sets were designed for adult fans and make for great display pieces, while still allowing for interactivity. The Speeder Chase set consists of 608 pieces, and includes three LEGO minifigures (Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and a Scout Trooper), two removable speeder bikes with transparent stands (allowing the bikes to tilt, conveying movement), two buildable trees, and more forest elements. The Throne Room, an 807-piece release, includes Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Emperor Palpatine minifigures (complete with lightsabers and Sith lightning), rotating throne, and more. Both sets also feature a plaque with the Return of the Jedi 40th anniversary logo and a memorable quote from each scene. For fans of the last film in the original trilogy, it is pointless to resist — as Darth Vader himself says in the movie.
In advance of this reveal, StarWars.com caught up with LEGO Star Wars designers Jme Wheeler, Jackson Hughes, and graphic designer Madison Andrew O’Neil to discuss the making of these creative tributes a classic.
StarWars.com: The Speeder Chase building set set has an amazing sense of movement and visual depth. Can you talk about the design process and achieving this look?
Jme Wheeler: Thank you! That’s a great question. The speeder bike chase is all about speed, and creating a sense of movement with a static three-dimensional object can be tricky. I like to approach vignette builds in a similar way as I would if I were creating them as an illustration. Of course, with an illustration you can use things like blur or focus to create movement and depth, but there are plenty of other ways of conveying these things.
For example, while the trees are quite far apart from left to right, they are very close together front to back. By placing the speeder bikes between them, it ensures a sense of depth. The action feels less static because it is taking place within the scene, as opposed to simply in front of a background. Having the leaf canopy completely intersect at the top of the model also makes the action within seem more confined, and hence “faster.”
Placing everything at a diagonal within the vignette also means that the scene will remain dynamic no matter what angle you view it from. Lastly, by tilting the bikes, it signals that they are actively moving, instead of simply being sat static upon posts.
StarWars.com: Are these new speeder bike builds? If so, how did you approach scaling them down to this size?
Jme Wheeler: These are indeed new bike designs. Given the higher age mark on the set and older target audience, it afforded us the opportunity to capture as many details as possible. I can promise these are built in a completely different way to all of our previous speeder bikes, so even longtime fans will have a brand-new experience building them. Our ever-expanding catalog of elements means we constantly have new opportunities to approach the same subject matter in fresh new ways.
StarWars.com: How did you go about translating the throne room set, which was rather large, to this scale?
Jackson Hughes: When I think about the throne room on the Death Star II, the visual feature that stands out the most to me is the massive circular window that frames the Emperor’s throne. When designing the LEGO diorama, we knew from the start that the window would be the most important built feature and that it needed to be huge. It’s so iconic and immediately invokes the scale and mood of the scene. From there, the stairs, control consoles, and lower platform are all in the vicinity and have memorable moments in the film, so we felt it was important to include those. They add balance to the model and allow a builder to recreate many moments from the film.
StarWars.com: As a designer, did you come to learn or appreciate anything about the shooting set while bringing it to LEGO form?
Jackson Hughes: Absolutely. The first time the throne room is shown in the film, there is a clear sense of direction. Luke has one choice. Forward and up. Toward the throne, toward the Emperor. The circular design of the window adds to this. Circles are very static shapes — the only direction of movement is toward the center. Luke is trapped and the original movie set really makes you feel it. It’s awesome.
StarWars.com: What's interesting to me about the Throne Room set is that it captures the essence of the sequence, rather than one particular moment. Was this part of the approach?
Jackson Hughes: Once we determined the scale of the model, we saw the opportunity for multiple scenes to be represented just by moving the minifigures. As stated before, the movie set has a terrific sense of direction, pulling you toward the Emperor. We wanted to accomplish the same effect with the LEGO set. The consoles and window frame the scene, and the stairs pull you in, just like the movie. To quote Vader from the prior movie, “There is no escape.”
StarWars.com: The minifigures in both sets look like new designs, with the Emperor looking especially evil. Can you talk about any changes you might've made in each character's appearance?
Madison Andrew O’Neil: For the Speeder Chase diorama, Luke and Leia have brand-new costumes, including full body decoration and also helmets. These camouflage uniforms are only worn by these characters on the forest moon of Endor. It has been some time since we’ve created an Endor version of Luke or Leia, so it was great to be able to include both of them in one set.
For the Emperor’s Throne Room diorama, we have created new versions of Luke Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine from the final scenes of Return of the Jedi. Both characters received new decorations on the torso and legs, and the Emperor has an updated face decoration, as well. One exciting addition is a brand-new wig element for Luke.
StarWars.com: These are two iconic sequences from Return of the Jedi, but very different: the speeder bike chase is all action, while the lightsaber duel is filled with emotion. How did that difference in tone impact the design of these dioramas?
Jme Wheeler: That’s an interesting question. It’s not only a difference in tone, from action to emotion, it’s also a difference in environment. They represent two extremes. We have the naturally beautiful organic world juxtaposed against the cold, gray, industrial environment of the throne room. For the Endor scene, it was important to try and make it as lush as possible. The availability of the new fern element helped immensely in making the scene feel not only more alive, but also as accurate as possible to the source material. I’m sure Jackson had his own approach to tackling the Throne Room!
Jackson Hughes: One of the most inspiring things about the throne room scene is Luke’s courage in the face of certain doom. Even when all hope is lost, he decides to be a Jedi, prompting his father to reconsider his own identity.
What makes this poignant is the hopelessness of the situation. The Emperor’s power and the terrifying environment of his throne room all help create that feeling, and capturing that was very important to the design of the LEGO diorama.
Fans attending Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 can see both sets at the LEGO Group booth.