An advent calendar is a small piece of card stock or a box with twenty-four compartments punched into it. This allows the a kid (or a bored adult) to open a flap and reveal a surprise for each day leading up to Christmas. For the past few years Lego has been releasing several versions of these calendars, with each day yielding a mini figure, accessories, or a small vehicle. Last year Lego took its popular collaboration with Star Wars into the realm of advent calendars, with an exclusive Santa Claus Yoda being the ultimate reward.
That's where we come in. I bought this year's calendar for a rather steep fifty dollars, with the intent on reviewing it for my fledgling blog. Was it worth it? Well, the items are heavily weighted toward the prequels (with almost half of them being from The Phantom Menace). While this is comedy gold to a humor writer like me, many Star Wars fans would rather burn this thing in a fire and then roast chestnuts over the melted plastic remains of Jar Jar's cousin. So without further ado, here are the five best and the five worst toys I've found hidden behind cardboard flaps this December.
The Best Toys
5. Hoth Imperial Officer.
For some reason the Advent Calendar often likes to include "army builders," i.e. generic officers and soldiers who can be used to pad out a display or be extras in a battle. The calendar includes three army builders from the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but the best of them all is the Hoth Imperial Officer (or AT-AT commander). He's spot on and he also works as an AT-ST driver, so he can also be used in your Imperial Troops vs. Ewok battles as well. The coolest thing about this guy though, is that there is a face on each side of his little head. You can choose between him having his shades down (looking vaguely like the Terminator) or having them up (and looking vaguely like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises).
4. The Gungan Soldier.
Now I know what you're thinking, but bear with me. Besides being well detailed and recognizable, the fact that this is a Lego toy means you can regularly tear it in half or decapitate it. The Gungan soldier is tailor-made for using up all your lingering Jar Jar anger on! One of the other days provides the soldier a shield, spear and little energy ball catapult (which really works), so you can use him as an army builder as well.
3. AT-AT Walker.
Now this is how a model should be done. It's easily recognized and the head even moves! The minimalist approach these little calendar ship kits have doesn't work with a lot of the vehicle designs (see later in this list for proof), but the AT-AT is so iconic that it's very hard to mess up. Plus it's at the perfect size to be a pet to your other Lego mini figures, so Santa Maul can have his little AT-AT beside him as he surveys his legion of toy-making Jawas.
2. Santa Darth Maul.
Darth Maul is arguably the only cool thing about The Phantom Menace, so it's not a surprise he was chosen as the major marketing point of this year's calendar. It is a little off-putting to see him cast in the roll of Saint Nick, but I tend to think of him more like the evil Robot Santa from Futurama, who's more into punishing (in some cases with death) the naughty than giving to the nice. It is puzzling, though, that Santa Maul comes with a shovel (though an earlier day did include a double bladed light saber for him). Perhaps the shovel is to clean up after his AT-AT when he takes it for a walk?
1. Snowman R2-D2.
No beeping, trashcan-shaped object is more beloved than R2-D2. He's definitely one of the most influential and popular droids in the series. Without R2 and his holographic message, Luke would still be moisture farming and drinking blue milk. It's only natural that this little guy found his way into this year's advent calendar. Yes, dear R2 has been decked out in all white, with two carrots as decoration on his front. He's topped off with a magic top hat which we can only hope will make him break out in an beeping 8-bit rendition of "Frosty the Snowman."
The Worst Toys:
5. Gonk Droid.
You have to feel bad for Gonk Droids, you really do. They move incredibly slowly, and if they get knocked over, they can't get up. Instead they can only uselessly wiggle their legs about mournfully bellowing "gonk" over and over again. Unfortunately, the poor Gonk droid is not treated any better in the Advent Calendar. It's been turned into robot box with an eyepatch. If not for the legs it'd be almost totally unrecognizable as the little power droid.
4. Separatist Shuttle.
Another problem with the bare-bones designs of these calendar toys is that the ships they chose are too obscure or generic to make them look decent. A good example of this is the Separatist Shuttle (also called the Sheathipede Class Transport Shuttle). Don't remember that one? They're the beetle-like ships the Trade Federation uses to get around in the various prequels. By reducing the complex insectile design to a mere 14-piece set, the calendar creators have made it almost unrecognizable.
3. Tribubble Bongo (Gungan Sub).
The Bongo is that triangular sub that Obi Wan, Jar Jar, and Qui-Gon use to travel underwater in The Phantom Menace. It's the gift you get on the first day, and sets a rather unfortunate precedent for the days following. To be fair, it is a complex design, and rendering it into such a tiny amount of Legos is nigh impossible. Still, the finished product bears only the smallest passing resemblance to the original design. I was only able to figure out what it was by the color, but another reviewer wasn't so lucky.
2. Super Battle Droid.
The Super Battle Droid is super in name only. It feels brittle, and fragile. It's stiff and only has three points of articulation (the regular Battle Droid you get earlier in the month has four). Worst of all, the back is hollow and not molded. This is a common tactic cheap knockoff toys use to cut down on material costs. Since this is Lego though, they should be better quality than a cheap bootleg you buy at a dollar store! Also many of the figures up until now have included extra parts. For instance, the regular Battle Droid has two extra arms. The Super Battle Droid only comes with one set, meaning this is a big step down from the earlier droid.
1. Multi Troop Transport (MTT).
I've said before that the overly basic interpretations of the Star Wars designs often make the resulting kit look like crap. In this case, it literally looks like crap. What it's supposed to be is this, a Multi-Troop Transport from the prequels. It's been so dumbed down though that it could be mistaken as almost anything, from a Jawa sandcrawler (my guess), a video camera, to, well, Bantha crap. It also doesn't help that Lego printed the instructions to put it together on the calendar wrong either.
So that's the tour through the best toys from the advent calendar this year; unfortunately there were no Bea Arthur or Lumpy minifigs. We can only hope that next year brings them along with a four-armed Harvey Corman minikit. Until then, grab a drink with Chewbacca's family and hopefully Santa Maul won't chop off your hand for being naughty. Happy belated Life Day everyone!