Since its start in 1999, the LEGO Star Wars line has been running strong, with a long history of sets behind it. In fact, there have been over 700 sets across the two decades, be it minifigures, polybags, playable system sets or massive display models.
They each stand out in their own right, but there have been numerous sets over the years that are particularly special. In honor of May the Fourth, let’s take a look at some of the greatest ones.
The first few years
LEGO Star Wars sets looked very different at the turn of the century than they do today. However, they set an important precedent for what the line has grown to become. And there is nowhere else to start than with than the 7140 X-Wing.
The signature Star Wars ship, it’s impressive that the set occupies so much space at just 266 pieces, with a much different building strategy than what we see from LEGO today. It was also a great value proportion at just $30 compared to what the recent versions of the ship have cost. Any LEGO Star Wars fan needs an X-Wing and this was the one that started it all.
2000 saw LEGO’s first crack at what has become a fan-favorite set, the 7144 Slave I. This one may not be a bit blocky because of the lack of rounded parts at the time, but it features the introduction of what I find to be one of LEGO’s best figures even today, Boba Fett. Looking at today’s model really gives an appreciation for just how far LEGO has come in the time since.
A significant pivot then came in 2001 when LEGO entered the adult market. The first two Ultimate Collector’s Series models came out of that philosophy: the Blockade Runner, better known as Tantive IV, and the Darth Maul bust.
The Blockade Runner is a stunning model, and despite the bulk, still the most impressive version of the model in my mind. And while Maul may look a bit terrifying, it laid the groundwork for a line LEGO is reigniting today with the helmet series and the recent busts of Yoda and The Child.
The arrival of Attack of the Clones
I am a prequel fan at heart, meaning that 2002’s release of Attack of the Clones made a prime year for LEGO Star Wars. A key set from the film was the Republic Gunship, which has become an even better model with each evolution amid a highly-anticipated UCS model on the way.
But perhaps most important in the year was Jango Fett’s Slave I, the one and only time that model has been released despite numerous remakes of Boba’s model in the time since.
And not to dwell too deeply in 2002, but the year also saw by far the largest LEGO set to date: the 3106 part Star Destroyer that still stands tall amid the recently released model despite having only half the pieces. Also important to note is the chrome-plated UCS Naboo Starfighter.
Despite the numerous re-releases of TIE Fighters that have occurred, in an absolute mystery, 2003 remains the lone time LEGO has released the TIE Bomber. It was also the year of Jabba’s Palace sets, which combine for one nice scene where they to be put together.
By far the most significant set of 2003 was Cloud City, however. In my mind, this set still tops the Master Builder Series one released just a few years ago. Indoor environments are hard to come by in LEGO Star Wars, with this abstract one along with the incredible roster of figures rendering it incomparable to most others.
In comes the Death Star
2005 is another one of my favorite years, sitting alongside the release of Revenge of the Sith. That wave brought some fun sets and gimmicks, such as the light-up lightsabers which did not last very long or the multi-pack of droids and Jedi Starfighters in the Ultimate Space Battle.
Easily the year’s best set, though, is the UCS Death Star II. Yet to be remodeled, it remains one of LEGO’s most stunning pieces. Coinciding with that is the Imperial Inspection shuttle set, which simply needs to be mentioned for including ten figures, a rarity in LEGO today for a set of this size.
Another example of that came in 2006’s Jabba’s Sail Barge. It included the sand skiff and Sarlacc that are incorporated separately nowadays, again emphasizing the value of original LEGO sets. Also in 2006 was Vader’s TIE Advanced and AT-ST, two signature models that LEGO is yet to retread at this scale.
LEGO heads in new directions
The 2007 Trade Federation MTT is the most impressive playset LEGO Star Wars has produced to date. I’m throwing a lot of superlatives out here, but the sheer playability and number of droids packed into the set make it an absolute kids’ dream. Then for those who want a set to move play from imagination to reality, there is the Motorized Walking AT-AT.
And lastly in the year was what remained the biggest set for over a decade, the UCS Millennium Falcon. The familiar pie-slice design of the Falcon took shape in 2004 but was brought to new heights with this model. Regardless of my personal opinion, the ambitiousness of the over 5,000 piece design cements a place in LEGO history on a very high pedestal, only surpassed by its remake a decade and a half later.
Fast-forward to 2009 with the first attempt at the Death Star, a stark contrast to the display model of its successor. This one was a full play set, featuring a whopping 31 figures and no exterior whatsoever. The model looked nearly identical upon its re-release, showing just how effective it was upon its inception.
Also worth noting in the year is another personal favorite set, The Twilight. Despite its monochrome appearance, The Clone Wars‘ signature hero ship is incredibly hard to obtain today and holds a deep connection to the series’ opening episode and thus the show lore.
2009 saw another of what is undoubtedly LEGO’s most ambitious sets in the Republic Dropship with AT-OT. The combo set featured a fully functioning dropship feature that, while a bit clunky, is an incredible accomplishment, especially for the time. Also in the year is what I will call my most-wanted set, the Venator-Class Republic Attack Cruiser, in desperate need of a slimmed-down re-release.
LEGO enters a new decade
The 2010s saw LEGO sets really come into form, exemplified in what many consider one of the series’ best sets in the UCS Imperial Shuttle. The imposing model is only outdueled by 2011’s UCS Super Star Destroyer. As the name implies, LEGO took things up another notch with this one that is still yet to be beaten in terms of sheer length.
From then on, LEGO has done less innovation than refinement, evident in the UCS re-releases of key starfighters including the X-Wing, B-Wing, Y-Wing, Snowspeeder and then completing the fleet with the A-Wing. They also restored many other models in their backlog to modernity.
Perhaps the biggest example of an upgrade is 2014’s UCS Sandcrawler. It represents LEGO’s shift to densely packed sets with sound structural integrity and a balance of both play and display to strike the most consumers possible.
And if you weren’t convinced then, 2015’s UCS Slave I certainly did the job. The set is as close as LEGO has come to perfection, near-perfect in proportion and representing the full evolution from the Slave I from a decade ago.
The Sequel Trilogy’s arrival
Disney’s acquisition led to a shift in sets in 2015 with the release of The Force Awakens. These models did not break the mold of the past, but the First Order Transporter is a fairly unique set that feels so familiar yet equally exotic.
Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story entered the fold as well, with the latter giving us a bold new take on the Millennium Falcon. And in 2017, with two of the sequel trilogy’s only original designs, LEGO delivered the wildly impressive Resistance Bomber and a UCS version of BB-8. Speaking of originality, if one set were to be the crown jewel of Disney’s Star Wars, it has to be The Ghost from Rebels, another one that has remained out of reach for too many fans.
Some other significant sets have popped up in the time since, such as the improved UCS Star Destroyer, both in size and price, and new takes on the Tantive IV and Cloud City. Special props to Darth Vader’s Castle and the advent of the art line that has great potential for the future.
This list would of course not be complete without the premier LEGO set, the UCS Millennium Falcon. At 7,541 pieces, it is simply the biggest to date and, speaking objectively, likely the best. My words or even the box do not any justice to the glimpse I saw of it at the LEGO store.
Which set is the greatest?
I opted to take us down a long and winding path in LEGO history, with the Mos Eisley Cantina and Razor Crest bringing us fully up today. And there is really a lot in there, at too many sizes and scales to be diminished to one single best.
However, part of what makes LEGO special is its unique connection to each builder. 2006’s Jabba’s Sail Barge was a set that caught my eye as a child, but I have never been able to acquire it. It’s a strange pick, yes I know, but it feels like a direct bridge between LEGO’s past and the incredible future they are heading into today.
But if I am thinking objectively, the Slave I is my answer when it comes to the “greatest.” If a LEGO model can evoke just a little bit of the “real” thing, then it has done its job. More so than any other set, the Slave I has that effect every time I see it.
LEGO undoubtedly has many more stunning models on the way, as soon as this month. The Imperial Probe Droid and R2-D2 models are early examples, and I am eagerly awaiting the Gunship and whatever else LEGO has planned. I can only hope those models are deserving of a spot on a place like this and that we’ll have a new definition for “greatest” in the years to come.
Have a favorite set that missed the list? Let us know in the comments below!