The Incredible Story of How Star Wars Saved LEGO

Star Wars saved LEGO

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LEGO is the world’s top-selling company today, which probably comes as no surprise to those who grew up enamored with the colorful world of these imagination-inspiring building blocks. But what may come as a surprise is the fact that in the early 2000s the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Even more surprising than that? Star Wars saved LEGO.

The LEGO Bankruptcy That Almost Was

LEGO Campus
LEGO Campus. Image: LEGO

LEGO has a rich history spanning many decades, but by the turn of the millennium it was looking as if the company wasn’t long for this world. Those in charge at the time apparently had no idea about the various costs behind their sets and the profits (or lack thereof) that they garnered. The cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-cash method is never an effective business model no matter how beloved your products may be.

LEGO factory
LEGO factory. Image: LEGO

On top of this, the LEGO company removed many of their veteran designers and replaced them with inexperienced recent graduates who were not prepared to take on such a uniquely difficult job. What followed was series of missteps and a quickly capsizing company.

LEGO Star Wars helmets for Boba Fett and Stormtrooper
Image: LEGO

Fortunately for the generations of LEGO maniacs, the LEGO bankruptcy was not to be. They would ultimately find a new hope via a mysterious hero from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

LEGO Strikes Back

Kid playing with LEGO
Image: LEGO

Before 1999, the closest a LEGO maniac could get to a Star Wars set was crafting their own out of their bin of spare bricks. There’s no doubt that many did just that, but even the best homemade creations would likely pale in comparison to the glory of the first licensed official sets that were released beginning in early 1999.

1999 LEGO Star Wars set
Image: LEGO

Although the Star Wars/LEGO power couple came to be thanks to the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace, the first few sets were based on the original trilogy: a landspeeder, an X-wing, a snowspeeder, and a TIE Fighter & Y-Wing set.

1999 LEGO Star Wars set
Naboo Fighter set. Image: LEGO

Suddenly, LEGO fans all over were filling their collections with a galaxy of their favorite Star Wars creations, and soon after they would be introduced to a whole new world of jedis, droids, starfighters, and sith lords from the prequel trilogy: April 1 marked the release of a whole slew of new Phantom Menace sets, including a Naboo fighter and Anakin’s podracer. 

Star Wars LEGO sets were an absolute hit (how could they not be?) and sales began to trend upward. Along with the success of the new (and super cool) Bionicle line, this marked the beginning of the turn away from LEGO bankruptcy.

Star Wars saved LEGO with its newly licensed sets
Image: LEGO

The following year saw the release of another 15 amazing Star Wars sets, including Slave I, a beautifully detailed Ultimate Collector Series X-wing, and the exalted Millennium Falcon herself, which no doubt left the Toys R Us shelves in under 12 parsecs after they were stocked. 

LEGO Disney sets
LEGO licensed sets includes brands like Disney, Nintendo, and Harry Potter.

This pairing of two of the most imaginative, beloved, generation-spanning pop culture figures of all time was the holiest of matrimonies to many, and that includes the LEGO company; the roaring success of their Star Wars sets would spawn countless other licensed sets, many of which have furthered the company’s success, but none that have been able to match what Star Wars brought them. 

The Toa Mata; Lewa, Onua, Tahu, Kopaka, Gali, and Pohatu
LEGO Bionicle. Image: LEGO

To say Star Wars saved LEGO alone isn’t telling the entire story. There were other important factors, most notably Bionicle and the innovation and modern business savvy that CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp brought to the company when he took the reins in 2004. But there may very well have not even been any reins to take by that time if Star Wars hadn’t stepped in and started turning the tides.

LEGO Star Wars Today

LEGO Star Wars 75386
Image: LEGO

Today, there are over 400 LEGO Star Wars sets, more than six times the number of licensed sets than the next in line, and LEGO Star Wars 2024 looks to be as fruitful a year as any. Add to that the unusually incredible success of the video-game-of-a-toy-of-a-movie LEGO Star Wars series, and there’s no doubt that saying Star Wars saved LEGO is no exaggeration.

Adult building LEGO Star Wars set
Image: LEGO

The success of the LEGO/Star Wars marriage should be no surprise, either. Unlike so many other toy brands and media franchises, both appeal to people of all ages and have fans spanning generations. There are grandparents today who shared a love for both LEGO and Star Wars with their children, who went on to do the very same with their children. Those who loved them when they were little can love them just the same as adults. Don’t ever listen to anyone who tells you otherwise—it’s a trap. 

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