Every now and then, LEGO puts out a set that redefines what it means to the medium. Such sets often blur the line between toy and art, causing you to perceive LEGO bricks in a whole new light.
“Wow, I can’t believe I built that out of LEGO” is often the first words out of your mouth at the conclusion of the build, and you feel as if you’ve just leveled up and have experienced a new frontier of this little hobby that you call LEGO.
The LEGO Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V set gave me this exact rush. I’ve always been a huge fan of the LEGO Ideas theme as its consistently produced some particularly inspiring models and sets – the Saturn V, however represents the very best that this theme has to offer.
As you can infer, we’re on to something really special here. Let’s take a more comprehensive look at the LEGO NASA Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket.
Update: For those wondering about the availability of the Saturn V set, the LEGO Ideas Team have confirmed that LEGO are currently working hard to produce more sets. This is a good sign and hopefully this means that the Saturn V won’t be out of stock for much longer.
Name: NASA Apollo Saturn V
Set Number: 21309
Price: AU$169.99 | US$119.99 | £109.99 (Buy from LEGO.com [AUS] [USA] [UK])
Exclusive to: N/A
Theme: LEGO Ideas
Release Date: 1 June 2017
The LEGO Ideas Saturn V set is a celebration of the achievements of space, LEGO design and the true potential of the LEGO Ideas platform.
The Saturn V rocket is the 17th LEGO Ideas set to be released, and is based off the successful project submitted by Felix Stiessen (saabfan) and Valérie Roche (whatsuptoday). The project was conceptualised to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 which landed the first two humans on the moon – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in what can be considered one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
It’s no surprise that the LEGO Saturn V set has been such a hit with both LEGO fans and space/NASA enthusiasts, judging by its amazing sales performance and the fact that it’s currently sold out on the LEGO.com store. Don’t worry if you haven’t got one as there will be more made and LEGO will continue supporting this set well through next year.
The packaging of the Saturn V is a bit of a hit and miss. Unlike previous Ideas sets, the Saturn V has a generic LEGO box design, instead of the LEGO Architecture-esque boxes which flip open.
That’s probably due to the high piece count of the set, which necessitated the use of a regular LEGO box but it is one of the most attractively designed boxes ever and is still fairly collectable. The Saturn V rocket model proudly sits against an illustrated space background, with the moon prominently featured.
On the back, there are some gorgeous diagrams of the rocket split into different stages which also plots out the journey through the stratosphere until eventually landing on the Moon’s surface.
The instruction manual on the other hand, is easily one of the best that LEGO have ever designed. The cover itself is gorgeous, with a blueprint schematic design and yellowing paper to give it a bit of an aged look.
Like all good premium LEGO instruction manuals, the Saturn V’s booklet really sets the tone for the entire build by generating a sense of excitement and anticipation to get you itching to click the plastic bricks together.
For a set that celebrates the achievements of mankind and space exploration, the manual contains a wealth of information on the Apollo 11 mission and Saturn V rocket.
The educational aspect of the booklet is fantastic. There’s plenty of detailed descriptions of the Apollo program, paired with plenty of great historical photographs of NASA working on the rocket and lunar module.
This is something I really appreciate about this LEGO set – not only is it an excellent model, but its potential to be a useful educational tool on NASA, the Apollo mission and hopefully inspire future generations to pursue STEM-related fields, or even contribute to getting humanity further than it has ever gone before.
The instruction manual strikes the right balance with technical details while being accessible at the same time and should be a massive hit with space and science buffs.
There are also sections devoted to the original project designers as well as the LEGO designers who had the task of adapting the LEGO Ideas project submission into a structurally firm model that would be sold on the shelves.
The photos of the LEGO Designers who worked on this set, Thomas Merriam, Michael Psiaki and Austin William Carlson in period-appropriate outfits taken with that old-timey photography style is also pretty neat. I love it whenever we get an insight into how LEGO designers work, as well as snapshots like this where we see them act a little goofy.
Here are more diagrams of the Saturn V rocket in its various stages. The designer who worked on the manual deserves some sort of award. It’s easily my favourite LEGO manual ever, along with the massive booklet from the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
On to the build itself, which was such an exhilarating experience. As a LEGO veteran, I find most builds relatively easy. I do enjoy encountering ingenious building techniques every now and then, but building for me is mostly therapeutic, and something I do to relax and unwind after work.
As you can see, the interiors of the Saturn V comprise of multi-colour LEGO elements which make it easy for builds to differentiate all the parts. You build upwards, horizontally and in all different directions, using all sorts of clever tricks to achieve the core foundation of the rocket, which allows the exterior plating to be snapped on easily.
It’s repetitive in parts, especially when you’re snapping the outer plates together. There are also several sections that are precariously fiddly, and are borderline frustrating at times, all of which require razor sharp precision and patience as you try to avoid knocking elements out of the way.
The nature of the build is also one that is quite punishing for lazy and careless builders (that’s me!) who don’t pay a lot of attention to instructions. Minor mistakes can be quite hard to rectify and I had to learn the hard way when I got the alignment of some sections of the build wrong. That’ll teach me not to Netflix and LEGO at the same time.
That said, throughout the entire build, which took me a good 5 hours (I also build at a gloriously glacial pace) I never once hated any of it. Its intricate design was a blast to experience from start to finish and it was unlike anything I’ve ever built before in my life – in the best of ways.
The build experience also helped me develop so much respect for the designers – not a single part felt out of place and the multi-coloured interiors does a fantastic job illustrating how everything fits together to achieve a specific focus.
Here’s the finished model and boy is it a stunner. As you’re assembling the Saturn V, the sheer size of the rocket begins to dawn upon you, but even then, it doesn’t fully prepare you for how long the completed model is. The Saturn V measures 100cm from end to end, which doesn’t seem like a lot when you read it, but this is hands down one of the tallest LEGO sets that I’ve ever owned.
Given its unusually large proportions, it couldn’t fit into my usual photography setup, so I decided to take most of the rocket outdoors which I really hope you’ll enjoy!
The LEGO Saturn V rocket is easily one of the most impressive LEGO models I’ve ever built. It’s a remarkably accurate take on the actual Saturn V and boasts some really fine details throughout its body.
It was also surprisingly sturdy and well-built. The rocket feels solid for the most part and the use of wedges and curved slopes for the hull gives it a very smooth texture. Designing curved shapes is a perennial challenge when it comes to LEGO, but the Saturn pulls it off particularly well.
That said, it’s not completely perfect, there are some fiddly bits such as the white tail fins at the base of the rocket which kept falling out every time I tried moving the rocket about. If you have sharp eyes, you can see that I accidentally made a mistake with the placement of the fins when taking the photos. Woops!
One of the stunning design triumphs of the Saturn V is its almost perfectly formed curve, which is punctuated by very aesthetically pleasing details that give the model a very realistic look thanks to the light greebling and textures achieved by grills and cylinders.
The LEGO Saturn V’s most impressive and endearing features is its ability to separate into the different stages. Let’s take a closer look at the Saturn V’s different stages.
Here are the Saturn V’s 5 engines which are cone-shaped and employ the use of dark grey barrels which simply look fantastic. Inside each engine are transparent orange dishes which give off a nice glowing effect that’s very attractive to the eye.
Peering in between the engines, there are plenty of neat little mechanical details and you can spy nifty elements such as megaphones and those angled droid-arm-looking pieces which gives it a very sophisticated appearance.
The black stripes are deftly executed, and I really love the printed curved slopes with USA printed on them.
Speaking of printed tiles, elements, it’s absolutely incredible that there isn’t a singe sticker in this set. Every single element with details is printed which is a dream come true for stickerphobic AFOLs.
It’s a stroke of brilliance and also a strong indicator of LEGO knowing their target audience, who are mostly Adult LEGO fans who are much more likely to turn up their noses to stickers. This set is also a hallmark example that LEGO can go all out with printed elements instead of stickers.
To me, this set negates any excuse that LEGO uses in the future to justify stickers in a premier/targeted-at-adults set. Many fans will simply point towards the Saturn V and say “you could do it in this case, why not in any future releases?” – which is a really valid point to raise.
Here’s the second stage of the Saturn V which has the same diameter as the first stage. It has more printed parts on it as well, including some nice tiles with United States printed on them.
The most attractive part of the second stage is the base, which has 5 mini engines/thrusters at the base which are made out of pearl silver elements.
The third stage is next, and its at this point that the rocket begins to narrow. The third stage is powered by a lone pearl grey engine. The hull has some extra bits of texture, such as the use of grey “gold bars” and ridges in between the curved slopes.
Sitting above the third stage is a conical compartment which houses the lunar module inside! The cone splits into two and can be easily removed to show off the lunar module comfortably perched inside.
Lastly, this is the tip of the rocket which contains the service module (grey bit), command module Columbia (white cone bit) and the launch escape system (thin white spear) at the top.
It’s the least interesting bit of the rocket as it’s also the smallest, but I do like the small details such as the use of grey flowers across the service module and the clever use of white taps that interlock against each other make for a great visual effect.
Here are all the different stages laid out together. Honestly, it’s not the most attractive way of displaying the Saturn V but this view does give you a better idea of how the different stages are sized relative to each other.
One of the things I really liked about the Saturn V and is testament to the amazing design is just how easy the rocket comes apart. You can easily remove each stage, which is connected to one another by clips.
Despite the ease of each stage separating for one another, all the different sections are securely fastened to each other and you never once feel like there are wobbly sections or that it’s going to come apart (save for the small white fins at the base of the first stage).
One of the most charming parts of the Saturn V set is the mini diorama that you’re able to build around the Lunar Module Eagle. You get a small slice of the moon’s surface via a grey octagon-shaped plate and three (and one spare!) microfigure Astronauts, representing Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Michael of course stayed behind in the command module which was flying around the moon. To ensure that this photo remained inclusive, I opted to include every single Astronaut, even the spare.
The Lunar Module, like the Saturn V Rocket is beautifully detailed for such a small build. The mix of pearl and metallic gold elements for its feet are very true to the real module and look fantastic.
The hatch is printed which is another really nice touch and there plenty of cool little details which give the model plenty of much-needed texture.
Here’s a closer look at the Astronaut microfigures.
The Astronaut microfigures are very well designed, with tiny details of the spacesuit being captured as well as the gold visor being prominently featured on their heads. The scale works well in this case and makes for a fun little Moon scene that was the true objective of the Apollo 11 mission.
In addition to the Astronauts, we also get an American flag, which uses the base of a transparent 1 x 2 tile to create the illusion that it’s upright and “flying in the wind” which goes onto the Moon surface wedged between two studs.
Last but not least, we get a small scene where the command module splashed down into the ocean. The module is encircled by an orange floatation ring as well as yellow balloons.
It’s yet another great reference to many of the most defining moments captured on TV and in photographs of the Apollo 11’s successful journey back to Earth.
Here’s a look at all the “other models that isn’t the Saturn V rocket” all together. We also get 3 blue stands that allow you to support the rocket if you’d prefer to display it horizontally.
Here’s how the rocket looks like suspended by the stands. The stands, while simple get the job done brilliantly and have no problems carrying the hefty weight of the finished model.
The LEGO Saturn V is primarily a display model, and in my honest opinion is best displayed upright. This allows you to truly appreciate just how tall of a model it is!
In the photo above (which gives you a peek at my humble display shelf at home), you can see that the Saturn V has taken up residence next to my favourite LEGO set of all time – the Tower of Orthanc. It’s so much taller than Orthanc, which till now has been the tallest LEGO set in my collection.
It’s such a formidable display piece and instantly qualifies as a model that will be on permanent display and never be dismantled.
What I liked:
- All those printed elements!
- Amazing price point for what you get
- Incredible engineering and design makes for a sturdy model
- Makes for an exceptional display piece
- Tons of educational value
What I didn’t like:
- Some bits are a bit fiddly, but that’s a really minor complaint
Final thoughts: It’s not hyperbole to call this one of the best LEGO sets of 2017, if not ever. The LEGO Ideas Saturn V was notorious for generating astronomical levels of hype within the LEGO community when it was first approved, then unveiled and it’s safe to say that the retail has managed to meet those expectations and I daresay, surpass some of them.
The Saturn V model is beautiful and incredibly well constructed. The build process was an experience in itself, and is one of the most exciting and exhilarating builds that I’ve ever had the pleasure completing. It truly represents the best of LEGO Ideas – that something as uniquely designed like this can actually see the light of day.
It makes for a sensational display piece, mostly due to its sheer size and scale. It only hits you just how large the model is when you’ve finished building it and are able to fully marvel at the rocket’s height.
One of the most underrated features of this set is its educational value. It’s a great learning tool for younger kids to learn more about the Apollo 11 mission and how space rockets work! The instruction booklet is packed with a wealth of knowledge and information on the mission and NASA’s efforts in putting man on the moon.
The Ideas Saturn V is an exceptional LEGO set that deserves a home in every LEGO fan’s collection. It’s quite literally a flawless set, delivering an outstanding experience from the moment you pop open the flaps on the box, down to the final moment where you display it.
The Saturn V’s current status of being sold out is perhaps the best indicator of how well received this set has been, not just by fans but those who aren’t your typical LEGO fans who have been attracted by the NASA license, and the historical significance of the Saturn V and Apollo 11 mission.
I’ve never enjoyed a set this much and I imagine that you will too. I highly recommend the Saturn V and this set easily gets my third perfect rating for 2017.
This is one of those outstanding LEGO sets that absolutely delivers from every aspect – price, build experience, design, interactivity and just how damn good it looks on display.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but you need to buy this set. If you missed out, I’m pretty confident that LEGO is doing everything in their power to ramp up production to meet the demand for this set.
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P.S.: Sorry for the hiatus and being quiet on the review front! I’ve had the craziest few weeks at work which left little to no time for much LEGO-related activities as I was prioritising time with family. I was also sick for a bit which didn’t help. Rest assured, things have started to go back to normal and I’m getting back to the swing of things!