Today's Throwback Thursday article has been kindly provided by Duq:
While patiently waiting for Santa to treat me to the new 75144 UCS Snowspeeder I spotted set 4500 on Catawiki. This Snowspeeder from 2004 was a missing link in my slowly growing Snowspeeder collection so I had a go and managed to put in the winning bid. Building this set reminded me of just how much has changed in 13 years.
Even before opening the box two things caught my attention. The design of Star Wars box art changes every year so that was no surprise. It was much more subtle than that. The soldier on the front of the box has a yellow head. For a long time now we are used to seeing minifigs in licensed sets with 'flesh' coloured heads but Star Wars sets began with yellow heads.
Minifigs had always had yellow heads. You could argue that the baby in set 215 Red Indians was the first minifig with a head in a different colour but the change really started with the NBA characters in 2003. That year also saw the first Star Wars minifigs with 'skin tone' heads; Bib Fortuna (4475) has a tan head and Lando Calrissian (10123) a brown head. 2004 was the transition year. Dagobah Luke (4502) has a yellow head like the minifigs in this set, but Han and Leia (4504) have 'light flesh' heads. By 2005 the yellow heads were gone from Star Wars. The second thing to catch my eye is on the back of the box: the photo on the right shows an alternative model for which there are no instructions. A long time ago that was normal. Every LEGO set showed other things you could make with the pieces in the box, but no instructions were given for those models. In the early 2000's that tradition disappeared. I have been told by people in Billund that the reason behind this change was too many complaints from parents that little Johnny couldn't figure out how to build the alternative model.
Time to open the box and start with bag 1. No, wait, there are no numbered bags in this set. They weren't nearly as common in those days. Even set 7262 TIE Fighter & Y-Wing did not have numbered bags to separate the two models. I opened all four bags and among the parts I noticed two that illustrated how production has been changed to be more efficient. First I noticed a 2x2 turntable that was already assembled. Nowadays you have to put the dish in the plate yourself but I remember that back then you expected parts like that to come assembled. What I didn't remember was that in those days torsos already had a head attached. Taking the put-the-head-on-the-torso machine out of the production process obviously saved a good bit of money and putting the head on the torso yourself doesn't really impact the building experience, does it?
If you know your LEGO history you've been expecting a paragraph about The Big Colour Change. Indeed 2004 was in the middle of the biggest upset in AFOL history, the change from old grey to bluish grey. LEGO was in trouble in the early 2000's and one of the cost-saving measures was reducing the colour palette that had been growing out of control. They used the opportunity to 'redefine' some colours at the same time to create a consistent and future-proof palette. The new colours were tested on focus-groups and received overwhelming positive feedback. Crucially though AFOLs were not represented in those focus groups. LEGO was only just beginning to realise the importance of the AFOL market; the Community Development Team had not yet been formed. The company later admitted to having underestimated the impact of the colour change on AFOLs.
My copy of set 4500 contains only new grey but the colours in the instruction booklet are clearly based on old grey. Those instructions otherwise look a lot like the ones you find in sets today except... there's no list of parts for every step. I don't remember my childhood sets having those parts lists. I think they started with Technic sets, then large sets like Model Team and over time smaller sets were given the same treatment. Today everything bigger than a polybag has instructions that show the required parts for each step. The booklet also doesn't have the full set inventory at the back that is common today.
I haven't really talked about the set itself. LEGO have released 7 minifig-sized Snowspeeders since 1999 and over years the design has not changed much. There are a few important changes from the first Snowspeeder set though. This was the first one with white as the main colour. In the movies the Snowspeeders are light grey but apparently designers felt that LEGO light grey is too dark. It was also the first model to have the tow cable and I like the white colour that's been a feature ever since.
I might look at Snowspeeder sets in more detail at a later date. For now I hope you've enjoyed this little history lesson.