The LEGO Dune Ornithopter: A South African perspective

As Dune: Part Two finally arrives in theatres this week we got our hands on quite a unique piece of memorabilia in the form of an official LEGO set based on the Ornithopter seen in Part One. LEGO South Africa was kind enough to send over a review unit not just to judge it as a standalone LEGO set, but also in the broader scope of the country.

By this we mean that, if you want a Dune Ornithopter in South Africa, this is likely your only choice. If you want merch based on these new Dune movies your options in this country are very limited. From researching we’ve only seen some figures on Takealot and board games from gaming stores.

This situation reminds us of the LEGO Optimus Prime set because, for a long time, if you wanted an Optimus Prime toy in South Africa this LEGO version was the only one available in most toy stores. While this is a situation caused by Hasbro’s terrible distribution, it doesn’t change the fact that LEGO is your only way to go for an Ornithopter right now, barring private imports or grey market imports which some speciality stores offer.

And it’s with that in mind we can discuss the price and value offering of this model. 10327: Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter has 1 369 pieces and has an RRP of R3 099 in South Africa. That’s a high price in a vacuum but even in the world of LEGO it can be seen as pricey, but let’s dive into those numbers more.

The set comes with a huge cast of minifigures and includes just about all the important members of the first movie. In the box you’ll find Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck, Paul Atreides, Baron Harkonnen, Leto Atreides, Lady Jessica, Chani and Liet Kynes. You can see them in that order in our little lineup picture below.

In that picture you will also see that Baron Harkonnen is, uh, flying. Yes, to simulate the suspensors that the Baron uses to carry his huge mass LEGO has created a comically high stand in transparent plastic to give the illusion of flight, and hides that stand with an equally comical robe.

In our lineup you can also see some other features such as an extra head piece for Lady Jessica to simulate her head covering, alternate faces, weapons and even another cloth / cape piece for Liet Kynes.

Now if you consider that LEGO prices individual minifigures in South Africa at R69 a pop, you can make an argument that the figures here account for about R552.

Even if you deduce that some may say that the price per part ratio for the set is off, but we don’t entirely believe that. As we’ll discuss in the building process and the final model, this set uses eight large and new pieces for the “wings” of the Ornithopter. These, combined with some other large and speciality pieces, make the pure argument or price per part a bit muddied, but that has been a problem with LEGO discussion for the longest time.

What we can say is that the finished model is huge. With those wings stretched out – and yes they can retract, more on that later – the Ornithopter is 79 centimetres wide, 23 centimetres tall and 57 centimetres long. It makes for a very impressive display piece that may not even fit on most shelves or even desks with the wings out.

It is with all of this in mind that the R3 099 price makes a bit more sense but let’s crack the box open and actually build thing, and we’ll circle back around to this topic at the end.

The Ornithopter comes in the black packaging that LEGO has been using for its “adults welcome” range of sets. For those unfamiliar these sets are mostly all given an age rating of 18 plus but this doesn’t really relate to the complexity of the build, as LEGO age ratings usually do, more so that the set is focused on an adult audience. That being said the Ornithopter build, as we’ll get into, is very complex so we’d at least suggest only teenagers or kids with a lot of building experience give this one a try, if we’re not entirely sticking to the adults-only branding here.

Opening that black box and we’re treated to the usual array of plastic, numbered bags housing the pieces. But on top of this we’re also greeted with some nice surprises in the form of extra packaging for delicate parts.

The eight wing blade elements get their own unmarked white box, the cloth cape pieces for the Baron and Liet Kynes are packaged in seperate envelope and, maybe most importantly, the two large windscreen pieces are in their own bag.

For those a bit unfamiliar with LEGO’s packaging, these large transparent pieces are mostly left mixed in with the rest of the LEGO. This results in lots of scratches and even large gouges. These windscreen pieces are slightly softer than opaque pieces and any blemishes are very apparent due to the fact that they’re see-through. Because of this the fans have long asked LEGO to separate out these pieces but the company only does so on special occasions, and this is one of them.

We’re glad to report that both of these windscreens, which form the front cockpit and have dominance over the front of the model, arrived relatively damage-free. We can compare this to exact same pieces from the Galaxy Explorer that were not packaged separately and came from the factory so damaged that they barely looked like new pieces.

We removed one of the wing blade pieces from the box for this picture.

Okay on to building and the first thing you will notice is that the Ornithopter uses a large amount of Technic pieces. For those unfamiliar LEGO’s catalogue is mostly segmented into two tracks: System and Technic. System is likely what you think of when you think of LEGO: an array of bricks and plates which connect with studs. Technic, on the other hand, works with liftarms connected with pins and axles. Technic is unique because it is what LEGO uses to make mechanical and moving structures that include gears, pistons, motors, pneumatics and more.

It’s not uncommon for Technic elements to be put into System sets to increase their strength or add mechanisms, but the Ornithopter is essentiality a large Technic build that is wrapped in System pieces. This is because of the Ornithopter’s wide array of functionality that builders will discover as they go through the instruction book.

This is, honestly, the real magic of the set. You spend many pages of the instruction book making complex subassemblies and mechanisms and you may not be entirely sure how they all work until you’re right at the end of the build and you can see it in action.

We’re going to spoil it slightly with the short video below directly from LEGO. We couldn’t film our own Ornithopter because the final build was too big for our usual shooting space!

As you can see the Ornithopter features retractable landing gear activated by a nob on the side of the craft. The wings are even more impressive – using a control lever and pseudo button on the tail, the wings can be retracted for landing or extended for flight.

Once extended the lever can be pressed down repeatedly to “flap” the wings, giving the illusion of flight we saw in the movie.

These mechanisms are an absolute triumph of toy engineering. We’re simply floored by the work that went into this and the fact that, by the end, it all works reliably. The wing flapping is of particular note as the base structure you build barely moves at all. Hundreds of pieces and hours of work later, by the time the wing blades are attached, that time bit of movement propagates into a striking and noticeable movement.

Those wing blades are slightly flexible and you can see their tips move as the mechanism is used. Some of our blades arrived slightly bent but, thanks to that flexibility, they can be bent to be straight again. This will also help as the build sits on display and the pieces naturally flex downwards. But we don’t think this is a set that will stay on display for very long – it begs to be picked up and shown off to anyone who will see and we’re looking forward to getting a reaction from friends and family as we do.

Going back to the build and, continuing with impressing us, is the fact is everything around the core of Technic elements, there are so many subassemblies that are built in every direction and, just went you think one assembly couldn’t possibly connect to another, it does. The LEGO geometry that went into this is top notch and we can’t imagine the amount of iteration that needed to go into it.

The icing on the cake is that the entire build is incredibly strong. The tail especially, which is where you hold the build to access the mechanism activation areas, holds up the entire weight of the Ornithopter with zero fear of breakage. There are a few very minor decoration pieces which may get detached but these are the minority and can be avoided with some care.

Our one complaint with the build is the choice for bright red and yellow elements you can see in the images above, which are built into the wing roots in the body of the craft.

Now this isn’t a matter of colour availability as LEGO does currently make all those pieces in black or dark bluish grey. It’s more a matter of ease of assembly as LEGO uses bright colours to differentiate pieces to make the building experience easier. It’s less likely to mix up pieces or build incorrectly when the pieces are so distinct, overall.

This unfortunately makes for a lesser final product. Thankfully you can check out this blog post for a parts list of easy-to-swap pieces that can improve the look without requiring any major disassembly. If you’re really serious you can go further and swap even more parts before you start the build, replacing them as you go.

This is a minor annoyance and, as we’ve shown, an easy fix, so it’s difficult to detract too many marks from the Ornithopter.

With the building experience done and the set on display and shown off as often as possible, we can return to the prospect of price and its place in South Africa.

10327: Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter is available in the country right now from everywhere with a decent stock of toys, but read our LEGO South Africa buying guide for more on the best way to get it.

On top of being the only mass retail Ornithopter available right now, we do think that this set justifies its R3 099 price. As we covered in our reveal of this set, that price is even slightly less compared to the overseas RRP, after conversion.

Even if you’re not a Dune fan this set should still be experienced for its engineering and satisfaction of building and showing it off. When best-of-the-year lists pop up at the end of 2024 we know that this set will appear again and it will be talked about long after it is retired and not available on shelves. While it is available on shelves, and Dune is in the theatres again, give it serious consideration.


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