Grail Hunters: LEGOLAND California Han Solo On Tauntaun Exclusive

LEGOLAND California Han Solo on his Tauntaun

As remarkable as they are ubiquitous, the LEGO brick becomes something extra special when combined in certain ways, and the LEGOLAND California Han Solo on his Tauntaun (LLCA53) exclusive is a great example of how something so common can be turned into a rarity.

Originally designed by Stefan Bentivogli, the Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Germany who went on to become master of all Miniland models around the world, it was designed for inclusion in LEGOLAND California’s newly unveiled Star Wars Miniland.

Wanting to mark the inclusion of Star Wars Miniland to the LEGOLAND California park, it was decided that a limited edition one would be produced for a select group of LEGO fans.

Presented to holders of the $2500 per head Ambassador Lifetime Membership pass, the 336 piece Han Solo on Tauntaun was only available at a series of Master Model Builder Classes – with four held each weekend and led by one of the park’s Master Model Builders – which were only accessible to holders of this special pass*. Ryan puts the number of these Ambassador exclusives – “based on the number of active Ambassadors at that time” – at 400 sets.

The original Han Solo on his Tauntaun, which could be seen in the gates of Echo Base, was tweaked and adapted to be a buildable LEGO set by Gary McIntire, one of LEGOLAND California’s Master Model Builders, assisted by fellow Master Model Builder Ryan Ziegelbauer, with additional input provided by LEGO Billund along with Lucasfilm, who had final approval. The bricks were supplied by the LEGO factory in Kladno (Czech Republic) and shipped off to Billund where they were sorted for packaging, which took place (by hand) at LEGOLAND California.

It was Ryan who guided the 30 or so Ambassadors that attended each of the Han Solo on Tauntaun classes held over September and October. He shared with us that his students expressed that they “enjoyed building that model more than any other from the LEGOLAND Ambassador program” and the set was so popular that there were park guests who, upon seeing Ambassadors with the set, immediately signed up to the lifetime membership pass on the spot just so they could get the exclusive model.

Distributed in small gift bags, the contents included six separate instruction sheets that corresponded to the three numbered ziplocked bags containing the necessary elements to build the snowy base and clawed feet in the first bag, the body, legs, saddle, spindly arms and neck in bag number two, and the creature’s head and Han Solo himself in the third and final bag.

This brick-built version of a rugged-up Han – in black instead of the accurate brown – and his indigenous lizard mount employs a number of irregular building techniques that – at the time – weren’t used in retail sets. (Those interested in screen accuracy will be relieved to know all the parts required for Han Solo’s body are available in both blue and brown). As a result the finished model has a number of weak spots that require an out-of-the-way display location to prevent curious handlers from knocking appendages off.

Over time this exclusive has become very hard to find; with the number of people being able to afford a $2500 park pass, being free to attend one of the Master Model Builder classes that this was given out at, and having the foresight not to let it get broken up and distributed through the general population of their loose LEGO bricks being exceedingly low, very few of these turn up on the secondary market.

When they do, they commonly sell for multiples of hundreds, and with so few in circulation and coming up for sale so infrequently there’s very little numerical data to put a price on them. Historical records on Bricklink lists two sales at $400 and $500 in the last six months and eBay.com shows two sales at $400 and one at $900, while currently there are three listed for sale on Bricklink for $550, $1275, and $3500 and one on eBay at $700. With that kind of data, it’s impossible to come up with an accurate valuation.

How can you add the model to your collection without jeopardising your retirement fund?

Without any traditional LEGO packaging it is the gift bag, instructions, and three ziplocked bags that push this set up from ground-level to stratospheric prices, so if you are happy to exclude these from your collection then read on to find out how you can make big savings.

The easy part is the instructions, which have been made available on Flickr by a generous AFOL – alternatively, you can use the thumbnails below. Be aware that the printed colors can be a bit confusing so some of the steps (particularly the base) can be tricky to follow.

The necessary 103 elements aren’t overly difficult to source either. Through sites like Brickowl.com and Bricklink.com you can easily pick up a mixture of new and used bricks.

If you follow these inventories to the letter you’ll find yourself gasping at how expensive this set is, but using a little AFOL ingenuity you’ll soon find that there is a cheaper alternative to the rare and costly 2 x 2 turntable base plate, which has only ever been in 11 sets since 2004. In a weird turn of fate, three of them are Star Wars models: LLCA Han Solo on his Tauntaun, 7680 The Twilight and 30052 AAT. Since the build requires the top of the plate, in the same light grey it’s a more sensible and cheaper option to buy the combined 2 x 2 turntable base plate with top element, which has been in a total of 362 sets.

All told, with a bit of bargain hunting and lateral thinking, you can get an exact replica sans ziplock bags for around $100 to $120 (plus postage) which is considerably cheaper than a genuine baggied version, and the only difference will be the age of some of the bricks.

*It was not, as popular rumor states, given out as part of the grand opening of Star Wars Miniland or to representatives of local LEGO User Groups as a thank you gift for their support of the park’s Star Wars Days events. That said, it is understood that a few years later a small number of sets that weren’t given out during the Master Model Builder classes during 2011 were awarded to AFOLs who had volunteered their time and experience to the park over the years.

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