Interview with Hans Burkhard Schlömer, designer of 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City

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Brickset readers often express an interest in the design process behind LEGO products so we contacted Hans Burkhard Schlömer, the creator of 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City and 75192 Millennium Falcon, to discuss this first entry in the new Master Builder Series!

Brickset: Cloud City has only appeared in two previous LEGO sets. Why do you think such an iconic location has been overlooked in the past?

Hans: I think 'overlooked' may be the wrong term; location-based sets are simply rare treats. Consider how few sets there are depicting other famous locations. Models of vehicles are very popular with children so location-based sets often draw the short straw when competing for limited product slots. We are seeing more of them* recently though, which I really like!

* Hans also designed 75203 Hoth Medical Chamber which we reviewed last month.

Many fans have been hoping for a large model of Cloud City. Was the LEGO Star Wars design team aware of this and to what extent are the interests of LEGO Star Wars fans, both young and old, taken into account when deciding which sets to produce?

Of course, we always want to give our fans what they desire. We are aware which items are frequently being requested and Cloud City was definitely among them. However, it is a matter of finding the right moment for many of the more far-out choices, while others might absolutely never happen. The Droid Control Ship from Episode I, for example, has never been made as a LEGO set, even though it is the opening location for the entire Prequel Trilogy!

In the case of Cloud City we heard the call and I hope the result will satisfy many adult fans as well as children.

How long has 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City been in development?

I spent almost a year designing this set, with the smaller 75182 Republic Fighter Tank squeezed somewhere in the middle. There was a long experimentation phase at the beginning of the design process, where I tried out different things.

What challenges did you encounter when designing 75222 Betrayal at Cloud City?

Developing the function for the carbon-freezing chamber was challenging. As usual, our colleagues from the LEGO Technic team were most helpful. They suggested the liftarm-based function which I then doubled up and linked to get two separate platforms.

Many of the most famous moments from the entire Star Wars saga take place on Cloud City. Did you feel a particular sense of responsibility when designing a set which includes so many beloved scenes?

To me, the responsibility is the same no matter how big or small a set is or what scene it reflects. I wanted to do the whole Cloud City setting justice, not only focus on big key moments like the Luke/Vader duel. This means getting all these memorable locations right, in our typical efficient LEGO design style: squeezing in as many details as possible, but without wasting a single brick that would be better used somewhere else!

Why is the set named 'Betrayal at Cloud City' rather than simply 'Cloud City'?

Product designers do not usually get to create the names for our sets but in this case I felt that a longer title would be more appropriate for a play set, hinting at Lando’s double-crossing of Han, then Vader. As a classical soundtrack buff myself, I took one of the track titles from The Empire Strikes Back’s score and replaced 'Bespin' with Cloud City, just in case not everybody remembers what Bespin is. Hence the set is named Betrayal at Cloud City!

What influence did 10123 Cloud City have upon this set?

You could consider 10123 a predecessor to 75222, although it has been a long time since the original set came out in 2003 so I don’t see a direct lineage here - other than both being platform-based play sets. Back in the day I wondered what the big landing platform in 10123 was for but now I understand that the huge landing pad was added to allow room for a Millennium Falcon model that was on store shelves at the same time. Today I added my own Slave I, with a suitable landing platform, just to be on the safe side!

The set also appears to take some inspiration from 75159 Death Star. Why do you think this kind of layout is so successful?

There are many practical reasons why LEGO play sets look the way they do. They are big playgrounds for minifigures. Play sets need to be as open as possible to allow easy access to all the rooms and features when kids play with them. We wanted 75159 and Betrayal at Cloud City to share a design language, but without looking too similar. I hope 75222 also succeeds in conveying the shape and sheer size of the whole Cloud City, which is one reason why I went for a huge footprint with a single platform.

Did you consider including an outer shell to cover the interior?

This was part of our experimentation and evaluation phase. Having an outer shell would have resulted in a much higher piece count and a considerably smaller model, with far less space to work with inside. Naturally, we want to create the best play experience for children.

For stability reasons, covering panels also require proper support, in case you pressed down on the surface. Those covers would then need to be removed again before any play can take place, which is impractical. Furthermore, the exterior of Cloud City really is just flat grey without the spectacular lighting of a Bespin sunset so the model would have looked like a landed UFO. A small one, at that. I think the solution we have come up with is the most satisfactory for both kids and adult fans.

Did your experience designing 75060 Slave I assist you in constructing a smaller version of Boba Fett’s famous vehicle?

The midi-scale Slave I began as a side project for fun and I practically built it from memory. Only later, when adding it to the Bespin set, did I consult reference pictures of the studio model to make sure my memory did not play tricks on me!

Why is the Cloud Car red, rather than orange?

The original colour used for painting the studio model of the Cloud Car used in The Empire Strikes Back is indeed called 'box car orange' and the closest LEGO colour would be '38 Dark Orange'. Unfortunately, very few LEGO pieces are available in this colour and there are limits to how many elements we can manufacture in a new colour.

Even so, I am happy with the final model and not just out of nostalgia, despite 7119 Twin-Pod Cloud Car also being red. Our normal red is actually an adequate choice as it is very bright and much closer to dark orange than '106 Orange' which would have been too bright.

Is there anything that you wished to include but were unable to do so?

No, there was nothing left on my to do-list, except perhaps a midi-scale Millennium Falcon, obviously! That would require space for at least two or three minifigures while still fitting on the Cloud City landing platform. Maybe this could be a building challenge for the fan community?

How does the LEGO Star Wars design team decide which minifigures should appear in larger play sets like this one?

Usually the graphic designers sit down with Jens Kronvold Frederiksen, who leads the Star Wars design team, discussing which figures could go into a new set. He always keeps the whole Star Wars product portfolio in mind so this is not an easy task, although Cloud City was not very difficult. In fact, I made my own character line-up while my graphic designer Maddy made another and when compared they were almost identical.

However, even with a set as large as 75222, there is no room to include very obscure characters. You never know though; keep your eyes open!

Many thanks for taking the time to talk to us!


You can view a BrickList containing all of Hans' models here.

 

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37 comments on this article

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By in United States,

Nice interview. Gives a good idea about the many different challenges faced by a Lego designer, and confirms a lot of assumptions people made about this set when it was first revealed.

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By in United Kingdom,

I feel like IG-88 counts as a pretty obscure inclusion :p But I guess droids are cheaper to make... possibly because there's no in-factory assembly required?

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By in United States,

Awesome interview. I always look forward to what the designers have to say about their own creations and what challenges exist in designing something that's going to be sold all over the world. Despite what the overall fan community's reaction to Betrayal at Cloud City, or other sets like UCS Assault on Hoth and even the Winter Village Toy Shop, I'm still amazed that the designers are willing to be open about their experience and their design choices. It's not easy being a product designer.

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By in Germany,

Very interesting interview, thank you for this. I'm still hesitant about getting this, as it's not such a simple and nice display piece, like the UCS Slave I or Snowspeeder. Still, it's an interesting set and I'd love to own a Lego Cloud City.

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks for the interview. It’s interesting that the design team specifically didn’t want to make it just about key moments (eg Luke vs Vader), though I feel they went way too far in the other direction.

There are at least 2 or 3 locations during that fight that are among the most iconic of all Star Wars locations. To have them crammed into a small area, while there remains significant amounts of space and pieces for the Cloud Car and docking area (which are arguably more peripheral), is a true wasted opportunity, and significantly harms the appeal of the set.

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By in United States,

@JonMarten: That, and IG-88 only really needs one decoration, whereas most minifigures are expected to have two decorated elements minimum (head and torso), and often a lot more depending on how specific/detail an outfit they wear.

Some neat insights in this interview!

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By in United States,

TL/DR:

Naturally, we want to create the best play experience for children.

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By in United States,

So, adding several hundred pieces to cover the outer walls would've somehow cost us even more and would've created a smaller model?! I think 500-700 more pieces, and not increasing the cost, would have made this set a better value, and would have thus driven up sales/profit. And in what galaxy far, far away is any red somehow more accurate than any orange? I watched the Star Wars design team interview w/Beyond the Brick and feel like these guys are somewhat losing touch w/the Star Wars community and what we want. I for one would have been perfectly happy w/a flying saucer looking (you know, like how Cloud City actually looks) display piece that opened to reveal a detailed interior. I think that's what many of us were expecting. Oh well, one less expensive set to save up for, which makes room for another expensive set on the Want List.

Edit: I don't want to come off sounding like I don't appreciate the set designer's work, he did do an excellent job an executing the parameters of what he was probably told to accomplish. And yes I realize this is a playset, although very expensive one, geared towards children. It's just not my cup of tea, or what I consider "good value."

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By in United States,

Compared to the older 10123, the new one is a masterpiece! It may not be as beautiful as some had in mind, given the beautiful sunset vistas in ESB, but this is another example of how far the set techniques, and set expectations, have come in the last two decades. This is a great improvement!

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By in United States,

Thabks for this.

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By in United States,

As for the orange vs. red debate... the response is very reasonable why red was taken. I am going to take a guess that Lego mass produces its pieces without any particular set in mind for the most part, so to have added on the production schedule a batch of exclusive orange pieces just for this set would have jumped up overall production time and cost. So substituting for red is not a bad thing in that regard... Still, I would love to see the proper orange in the future. Also I gotta love the reference to the old Floquil studio colors with the original "box car orange" getting a shout out!

All in all, I left this interview and the Behind the Brick interview the opposite as the above mentioned comment. It amazes me how much effort and work is put into designing these sets, and the amount of super fandom the designers have. To balance the demands of AFOL and kid purchasers to is also an awesome feat. While I think there are a lot of things that should be improved in Lego Star Wars (*ahem* pricing...) overall the team has done an amazing job for the last 20 years.

That droid control ship I hope is not some cruel tease... I would actually love to find out there is a playset for one of those in the future. Even a medium sized $50 set with the control bridge, conference room, a side Vulture Droid build, a few Nemodians and battle droids, and a door for Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to slice open could be a nice rendition of that location.

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By in United States,

Hans is probably my favorite Lego Star Wars designer. He always does such a fantastic job and loves Star Wars so much which is obviously crucial to the fans for sets like this being released. Personally, I think this set lacks nothing except a new hair piece for the Bespin Leia minifigure. I don’t understand the complaints about this set at all, there’s really nothing left out of this set from Cloud City.

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By in Netherlands,

Thanks for sharing this nice interview, it gives a good insight about designing such a great set.

Can't wait for my Cloud City to arrive in a few days!

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By in Canada,

@LegoSolo77 Yet you are ranting as if you are angry that they didn't make the set to "your" ideal specifications. You don't come across at all as someone who realizes that this is a playset geared towards children.

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By in United States,

Curious when the next UCS Star Destroyer is coming out.... And where are all the Black Card promos???

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By in United States,

I had a feeling that would be the case with the Cloud Car -- it sounds like he did his absolute best with the limitations obviously placed upon him.

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By in United States,

I can now understand the red cloud car. I'm curious though if it could be built in dark red. Personally, that seems like a closer match to dark orange than plain red does.

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By in Canada,

Definitely an interesting set. But where's Hans' excuse for the lack of Willrow Hood?

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By in United States,

Midi-scale Millennium Falcon fan building competition? The prize could be a copy of 75222! Someone make it happen!

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By in Czech Republic,

@ Balrogofmorgoth I think tha tLEGO could think of some new "business" aka added value - and to keep the set price at a reasonable level just to add XTRA instructions how to expand it.. enlarge it.. this could be of course paid for like "symbolic 5 USD" per plan or based on some monthly subscription to a dedicated portion of the website.. just a thought.. almost EVERY SINGLE AFOL has an access to required pcs and they would stop bithering why that.. and why that not..

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By in United States,

I appreciate interviews like this and I think I’ve come to appreciate the model much more (though I was never upset about it in the first place). I still won’t get it because it really is too large to display anywhere and it doesn’t look as interesting from afar as the Death Star and Ewok Villiage do. I’m hoping they eventually make a more robust and detailed scene of either the carbon freeze chamber or Vader/Luke duel sorta like they made a seperate Emperor’s throne room. I’d be much more interested in that anyways. Could care less about the conference room or the torture chamber areas.

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By in United States,

"However, even with a set as large as 75222, there is no room to include very obscure characters. You never know though; keep your eyes open!"

Hm...that's an interesting tease. Maybe there's a unique Cloud City minifigure in the works for May 4th this year??

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By in Czech Republic,

@ you just can be serious..

1) THIS YEAR?? like 2018 ? (Maybe there's a unique Cloud City minifigure in the works for May 4th this year??)

2) .. May 4th in the past yrs never got such a small item, it was always some larger set.. not to mention that the speculations regarding excl. minifig to be released in a half-year time seem .. just absurd.. if not made from platinum, rhodium or kryptonium...

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By in United States,

I always think it's very interesting to look at the set from a designer's perspective. It's very easy to get caught up in critic's opinions about something and furiously debate about it in the comments section. I understand why people don't like from a personal perspective, as to some it may looks ugly or the looks clash with their personal tastes. Personally, I think this looks fine because they tried their best and to me it came out pretty good. I can still understand why people are disappointed that this is not a display model, but we can't get everything we have ever wanted in life. Sorry if I seem like I'm mocking you critic's of this set, and I think some of you have some good ideas, but keep it easy in the comments section please. Anyways, I hope that this is a little motivational to all you people out there.

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By in United Kingdom,

Hans is a really nice, conscientious guy, as well as a designer and I know for a fact he's studied production models and concepts to the nth degree/to death in his position as part of the Lego Star Wars design team because there's very little he doesn't know about Star Wars vehicles/locales! Really interesting to hear more about the challenges and limitations - they didn't necessarily surprise me, but hopefully the explanations might mean some sympathy from the critics now.

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By in United States,

@LegoSolo77: The idea of being able to add 500-700 pieces to this set without changing the cost seems kind of far-fetched to me. There's more to how much a set costs than the piece count. The size of those pieces alone is a big deal, and even without knowing the inventory it's obvious just from looking at it that loads of large plates are used to construct the floors and landing platform. The inventory also doesn't look like it's likely to be as repetitive (and thus, as cost-efficient) as a lot of similar-priced sets with higher piece counts like the Disney Castle, Avengers Helicarrier, or Ghostbusters Firehouse.

Bearing all that in mind, it's still got a lower price per piece than a lot of UCS Star Wars sets from past years like Ewok Village, Super Star Destroyer, Red Five X-Wing, B-Wing, TIE Interceptor, or Obi-Wan's Jedi Starfighter. So I don't think it's too hard to believe that LEGO priced it at least as fairly as whatever their usual profit margins for UCS Star Wars sets happen to be, and didn't just randomly decide to charge more than they needed for this set because they thought they could get away with it.

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By in United States,

What I was hoping for was an open dollhouse type set up.
Meaning, on one side, curved you'd have all the scene in a semi-circle, the center with the carbon freezing. All open scenes facing us with walls in between separating the rooms.
Then reverse side the enclosed looking Bespin city.
Centered beneath a sturdy CLEAR technique beam stand and attached below the stand, brick built clouds.

So you could display it from the enclosed side for afol's while the open side for play.
And make it easy to take off stand for kids to play and have fun.

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By in United States,

Interesting comment from Hans regarding the original Cloud City set's large, empty landing platform. I assumed that was for the then-upcoming Millennium Falcon set that was released in 2004 (Cloud City was a Fall 2003 release, alongside the X-Wing, which happens to have pictures of the new MF in the back of the instructions). In 2003, the only Slave I readily available was the Jango Fett version from the year before. The blocky mess from the year 2000 was long gone. And the next Boba Fett Slave I came out in 2006. Not owning the original Cloud City set, I can't verify this theory with my 2004 Millennium Falcon set, but I'm inclined to believe that and figure Hans maybe got the wrong information in this case.

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By in Netherlands,

This man must be a masochist, being willing to design for the most critical fan community on earth AFOL STARWARS fans.

That being set. He shoud've vetoed the mustachioued guard face. It is so wrong.

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By in United States,

I love Hans' building techniques and collaborative design choices across all his LEGO Star Wars sets. He's done ESB justice with sets I had missed out on growing up (Bespin, Echo Base, UCS Falcon). My Slave I is proudly displayed on my desk next to my art studio computer at home!

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By in United States,

The UCS Falcon guy designed this? What a step down. Shame.

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By in Canada,

@CM4Sci That is not saying much. Anything is a step down from the new UCS Millennium Falcon...

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By in Canada,

I'm glad they chose to make it an open play set with all the scenes and tons of fantastic minifigs. Enclosing it would have drove the price up way too much. His explanation makes perfect sense.

I do hope they make an orange cloud car in the future but right now I'm happy just to get a cloud car (and 2 sweet pilots).

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By in United Kingdom,

"we want to create the best play experience for children."

The set itself is 2812 pieces, a majority being tiny and will break off if playing occurs. Couple this with the recommended age rating of 14+ along with the older Star Wars films primarily appealing to the older fanbase - why would a set like this ever be targeted towards Children?

A lot of other remarks made by the designer are also perplexing, especially given they worked on the UCS Millennium Falcon such as "Those covers would then need to be removed again before any play can take place, which is impractical" or "the exterior of Cloud City really is just flat grey" despite working on a set where you had to remove covers for play and with primarily flat grey surfaces.

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By in United States,

I wish you had asked him questions regarding how $300+ sets are rarely bought for children and seem at odds with what the adults forking over such prices are looking to get. I'd like to know more about how pricing and piece count is determined and if that jockeys back and forth over the course of a year as the designer makes different attempts with varying degrees of success. Does he go back and ask for more pieces if things aren't working out?

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By in Austria,

Being not a fan of Star Wars, I do not get a difference between a cloud city vs a space station from a different theme (let's say). So in my opinion this set is targeted mainly to and for the fans. I see that it is nice whereby fans' request are taken into account here.

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By in United States,

Missed opportunity was making a net for C3PO for Chewy to carry him in, since that was apart of the escape scene.

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