Dan Bracaglia

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This morning, Lego opened up a gigantic box in Times Square. Inside: a full-scale replica of an X-wing fighter made entirely of Lego bricks. It’s the single-largest Lego sculpture in history, claiming more than 5.3 million bricks and weighing nearly 46,000 pounds. Last week, far away from the mayhem of midtown Manhattan, we had the chance to preview the sculpture, learn about the engineering that goes into a project of its scale, and (most importantly) sit in the cockpit and high-five Lego Luke Skywalker.

We met with Erik Varszegi, a Lego Master Builder based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Connecticut, in a hanger at Ronkonkoma airport on Long Island. Varszegi is one of 32 builders who spent a combined 17,336 hours constructing the model (that’s about four months, if you do the math). Here’s how they do it:

Every Lego model starts as a computer model. Designers use a proprietary software called Lego Brick Builder. The software first draws a grid over any 3-D object (a tank, a plane, the Death Star), and then it reinterprets that grid as Lego bricks. Corners are corners, while contours and curves become slowly sloping staircases of bricks.

The X-wing fighter, which stands 11 feet tall with a wingspan of 43 feet, is a precise 42-times scale model of the same kit you can buy at Toys ‘R’ Us. That means for every one-by-one Lego peg on the kit, there’s a 42-by-42 square on the sculpture. (And yes, there is a raised “LEGO” logo on each of those gigantic pegs.)

Branding at its finest

This model has an added complication: after its time in NYC, the X-wing will travel cross-country to Legoland in California, a state with a set of stringent seismic standards. The computer models help designers plan an intricate steel infrastructure that will ensure the X-wing won’t shatter in a quake. It’s also strong enough for you to sit in the cockpit or perch atop one of the engines.

The steel infrastructure

After the steel substructure is complete, builders go about constructing the model one layer at a time. A temp-to-perm solvent binds the bricks together—after they’ve been clicked together. Builders put a dollop of glue inside each of the holes on the underside of a brick; the glue cures overnight, reacting with the plastic to fuse the two together permanently. Mistakes do happen, Varszegi admits, so if they catch a mistake the next morning, they can pry apart bricks with a little elbow grease and perhaps a flathead screwdriver.

The team also added some (literal) bells and whistles to the final sculpture. The engines have lights and speakers, and so they light up and cycle through a pre-programmed series of launch and battle sounds. Not to be outdone, R2D2 also chimes in.

For projects of this scale, Lego maintains a facility in Kladno, Czech Republic. Once it’s completed, the fighter breaks down into 14 separate pieces that are packed in custom shipping containers and delivered by boat. For the move to Times Square, it was separated into four segments and was loaded onto trucks.

The X-wing unseats the Herobot 9000 robot at the Mall of America as the largest Lego sculpture in the world. Though ‘bot stands about 34 feet tall, it has slightly less than 3 million bricks and is grossly outweighed by the X-wing’s tonnage. “It’s almost too big,” said Varszegi “from far enough away, you can’t really tell it’s Lego.” Sorry Erik, to us that’s the best part.

Lego X-Wing, 1

Lego X-Wing, 2

Lego X-Wing, 3

Lego X-Wing, 4

Lego X-Wing, 5

Lego X-Wing, 6

Lego X-Wing, 7

Lego X-Wing, 8

Lego X-Wing, 9

Lego X-Wing, 10

Lego X-Wing, 11

Lego X-Wing, 12