Opinion by Joseph Nichols, Staff Writer
A quick scan of the LEGO website or some perusing of the LEGO aisle at your local Target will likely result in the same recycled format: licensed themes or expensive architecture and botanical sets aimed at adults. For a company that prides itself on imagination and creativity, there is a frightening lack of original themes, a staple of the LEGO brand just a decade ago.
Themes such as Power Miners, Aqua Raiders and Space Police were fascinating to me when they were released in the late-2000s. These original themes included a fresh set of characters and a mission for our new heroes: discovering Atlantis, stopping intergalactic crime or even stopping Dracula from shrouding the entire world in darkness.
LEGO provided the backstory and characters, leaving you to do the rest. Television shorts, books and hidden lore all accompanied these themes. Many sets were even interconnected with crossover characters such as Brains, a scientist recruited to explore the last frontiers of the world, who appeared in Power Miners and Atlantis.
It’s not unreasonable to state that everyone is sick of the multiverse movie format that has been Clockwork Orange’d into our minds, but hear me out when I say LEGO was absolutely cooking some major plotlines in 2009. Hypaxus-8, the alien king from Alien Conquest, can be seen gifting other-worldly artifacts as a hidden Easter egg to leaders in the Atlantis and Pharaoh’s Quest series.
LEGO rewarded those with curiosity by including these tidbits in the back of directions, box art and other materials. An alien helping build the pyramids and granting Atlanteans futuristic technology? Come on, that’s so cool!
Other LEGO original themes, such as Mars Mission, Vikings and Dino, saw comfortable success during the early to mid-2000s, but they typically only lasted two waves in favor of the next theme. While it is regrettable that many of these sets did not last for more than a year or two, LEGO does deserve some props for putting significant effort into creating an original and intriguing theme each and every time.
However, in 2023, that is no longer the case. Shelves in the LEGO store are packed with sets from blockbuster franchises, namely Star Wars, Marvel and Jurassic World. While LEGO started producing their first licensed themes in 1999 with Star Wars, original themes always were prevalent to complement these sets.
I like Star Wars as much as the next guy. I can tolerate Jurassic World. Yet, has anyone seen a good Marvel movie since Endgame? These blockbuster franchises have been recycling the same plotlines and storyboard for the past couple of years, and unfortunately, it has trickled down to LEGO, with the company producing subpar licensed sets for a quick buck.
LEGO’s sole original theme this year is called DreamZzz. The name alone is everything you need to know: it’s lazy, unoriginal and substantially lackluster. One could call it a certifiable dumpster fire. Although a show accompanies the sets — which is a move in a positive direction — the theme overall is just bland and half-baked.
While the architecture and plants series are an enjoyable experience to build and display for older fans of LEGO, the majority of them are upwards of $100 — or even just on the wrong side of $50. The beauty of the mid-2000s themes is that there was a reasonable price scale with sets ranging from a few dollars to just cracking $100. If you did not want to buy the set with the final boss, no worries! A couple of the cheaper sets would have given you more than enough to fully experience the theme. With the architecture theme being little more than an increasingly expensive paperweight, buying LEGO sets nowadays is oftentimes not worth the hefty price tag.
The LEGO themes that were released in the early to mid 2000s were the embodiment of the company vision. Sets during this time period were unique and fun, with the themes and their accompanying lore being truly remarkable. This is what LEGO was and should strive to be.
For a company that has dominated the toy market for decades, there is honestly a sense of melancholy that the company has chosen to place profit alone over quality themes. It’s not terribly difficult to complain about “the man” and corporate greed. These themes frankly made my childhood and I will forever value them. Building sets and making up a world with my older brothers are memories I will always look back on with a smile.
Perhaps the LEGO company really did lose sight of itself and its mission that spans back to 1932, or maybe the childlike wonder and rose-tinted glasses of adolescence have finally been lifted. Here’s to the bittersweet beauty of the past and the unknown of the future.