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Lego Space is probably the most popular of all the Lego themes. The set designs are imaginative, covering a huge variety of different vehicles, minifigs and bases over the years. It is worth noting that Star Wars Lego, while falling quite neatly into the category of 'Space', is actually a separate theme altogether.
 |         |         |         |         |         |
 1975      1980      1985      1990      1995      2000
       <------------------------> Classic Space (1978 - 1990)
                         <------> Blacktron (1987 - 1990)
                         <------------> Futuron (1987 - 1993)
                             <-------> Space Police (1989 - 1991)
                               <----> M: Tron (1990 - 1992)
                                 <--------> Blacktron II (1991 - 1995)

                                   <------> Space Police II (1992 - 1995)
                                     <----> Ice Planet 2002 (1993 - 1995)

                                       <--> Unitron (1994 - 1995)
                                       <----> Spyrius (1994 - 1996)
                                           <> Exploriens (1996 - 1996)
                                             <> RoboForce (1997 - 1997)
                                             <> UFO (1997 - 1997)
                                               <--> Insectoids (1998 - 1999)
                                                     <-- Life on Mars (2001 - )

Here are all the Space sub-themes ever released. I present them below in chronological order with a brief description of each for comparison.

Classic Space (1978 - 1990)

Ah, the Good Old Days. The Classic Space series is fondly remembered for some excellent spacecraft designs and uncomplicated ground and hovering vehicles. The vehicles and bases were not any consistent colour, and the sets were often simple enough to give the impression that you could have designed the same thing yourself.

Blacktron (1987 - 1990)

The original, and very sleek looking, black-coloured Blacktron series consists of only 6 sets including the spectacular the Message Intercept Base (6987).

In 1991 the Blacktrons would be reborn as the Blacktron II series.

Futuron (1987 - 1993)

The same year as the evil (black) Blacktron series was released, the (predominantly white) Futuron sets became the natural opposing force to the Blacktrons. Futurons also become allies, and eventual successors, to the Classic Space astronauts, Now that a common enemy is introduced, Intergalactic wars of good vs. evil can now be played out.

Futuron astronauts, unlike their Classic Space brothers, are equipped with visors. Their vests are more snazzy, too. The Classic Space logo (and arrow-around-a-circle) is reused in the Futuron series, though it is smaller and offset to one corner. A zipper runs diagonally across the vest.

Space Police (1989 - 1991)

The Space Police are, as the name implies, the law enforcement agency of the Lego Space theme. The colour scheme is centered around the transparent red screens used in on the vehicles and craft. Many of these sets - including the Space Lock-Up Isolation Base (6955), which is essentially a prison - come complete with an old-skool Blacktron minifig (i.e. the 1987 - 1900 variety). If you have the complete Space Police series (6 sets) then it adds 5 Blacktron minifigs to your collection. Weirdly, the series gets out of synch; the last Space Police set was released in 1991, the same year that the new style Blacktrons (Blacktron II) came out. Bad planning one supposes. This is actually a good thing for the Space Police collector, because Blacktron I minifigs are far cooler than Blacktron II, as we shall see later.

M: Tron (1990 - 1992)

The M: Tron minifigs wear red vests with black arms bearing a red-on-black 'M' M: Tron logo. Green visors on black helmets are the order of the day. The vehicles and ships are mainly red, and the M: Tron logo features heavily on many of them.

M: Tron craft introduced magnets to the Space theme. Arms with magnetic tips are used to pick up cargo pods / tools boxes. This neat invention is actually really good fun to play with.

There is no base set in the M: Tron series. They do, however, have some large wheeled vehicles as well as big cruisers. This is suggestive (to me at least) of a peripatetic or nomadic people. Possibly a mining race without a fixed home.

Blacktron II (1991 - 1995)

The Blacktron II minifigs are, for some reason, predominantly white. They have white legs below a white vest (with black arms again) and a green-on-black 'B' logo. The helmets are black with luminous green visors.

Minifigs aside, the sets are OK. There are 13 sets consisting of one base, 6 flying craft, 1 walking vehicle, 4 wheeled vehicles and some baseplates. I am not a big fan of this series. While the green/white/black Blacktrons are cool enough I yearn for the slick black original Blacktron guys.

Space Police II (1992 - 1995)

I am ambivalent about this set. That is not the same as apathetic of course. Quite the opposite in fact; I have strong feelings in two directions. On one hand, I hate the colour scheme used in the Space Police II series. On the other hand, some of the ships (most notably the Galactic Mediator (6984)) are really good. On one hand, the lack of a big prison type base is disappointing - on the other, the SPII minifig faces are new and sexy - with hair and microphones making a welcome appearance. A neat symmetry between Space Police and Blacktrons is maintained. Space Police II 'bad guys' are Blacktron II minifigs. In the SPII series though you only get 3 Blacktron II minifigs, compared to 5 Blacktrons in the original SPI series.

There are 7 sets in this series, which is one more than in the SPI series. 3 of the 7 are wheeled, the other 4 are flying craft.

Ice Planet 2002 (1993 - 1995)

The Ice Planet 2002 series introduced some new features to the Space theme. Short and long skis and chainsaws are three important new pieces which are now used across different themes, including Star Wars.

The sets in the Ice Planet 2002 series are coloured mainly blue and white with bright transparent orange windows and visors. The visors are a little different to any other visors in the Lego space theme and include a weird jutting-out visor detail. The series consists of 8 sets. One base (the Ice Station Odyssey (6983) which is quite neat), 3 wheeled vehicles and 4 flying (or hovering) craft.

Unitron (1994 - 1996)

In researching this writeup I was a little surprised to find that I had never heard of the Unitron series. Shocking! The Unitron series contains some nifty minifigs and some acceptable vehicles and craft, along with not one but two bases (one of which (the Monorail Transport Base - 6991) owes more than a little to the almost perfect Monorail Transport System (6990)).

Spyrius (1994 - 1996)

Spyrius are the bad guys to Unitron. It's like Blacktron / Futuron all over again. There are some black-faced Spyrius droids packaged with the Unitron sets. Once you're aware of the Spyrius sub-theme then the recurring good vs evil relationships regularly seen in the Lego Space theme become obvious.

Exploriens (1996 - 1996)

The Exploriens look a bit like modern day Futurons. They and their craft are predominantly white with some pleasing grey and blue splashes. The Exploriens unfortunately use a crappy gimmick. Magnetic tiles which are picked up with metal detecting/magnetic tile lifting magnets (a bit like M: Tron but less substantial). These tiles also have s00P3r S3kRet images on them which can be viewed through red or blue transparent dishes. This idea of retrieval and decoding never really appealed to me. The vehicles are pretty good though and the minifigs especially look really neat.

From 1996 (some would say 1994) the Space theme became significantly less interesting to a great many people. The Lego Group stopped sticking to the simple concepts that Lego Space fans knew and loved. We started to see short-lived, weird looking sub-themes with weird designs.

RoboForce (1997 - 1997)

The sets in the Roboforce series do not always look like Lego sets at all. They do, however, follow a theme of mech - style large minifig-operated robots. If you're an optimistic person looking for a highlight to the series, the Robo Master (2154) is a particularly pleasing one.

UFO (1997 - 1997)

The UFO series is, let's face it, not great. The minifigs are at best 'original' or 'unique'. The vehicles and craft share a garish thrown-together quality which is particularly galling to all but the most progressive Lego fan.

Insectoids (1998 - 1999)

A very nasty series indeed. Weird colours. Horrible insect-themed parts and sets. Ugly blue minifigs. Yuck. The Insectoids series includes one base (Arachnoid Star Base - (6977)) that resembled a large arachnid which used magnets. This base might almost count as one saving grace in a hugely disappointing series.

Life on Mars (2001 - )

Some might view the most recent series in the Space theme, Life on Mars, as another pitiful space sub-theme with even more freaky parts than usual. Other would perhaps counter that it is perhaps the most groundbreaking thing Lego have done for a while. It is all a matter of taste. Personally, I think the Life on Mars series is better then some from the late 1990s (Insectoids, for example) but still does not get close to the original fun of the Futuron, Blacktron, Space Police and Classic Space sets.

As of 2001 the series is not yet complete, but so far a Mech theme has been strongly followed with some good results. These mechs are more pleasing than ones in the RoboForce series from 1996 - 97. The worst thing about the Life on Mars series is probably the Martian minifigs. They look like chubby Episode 1 Battle Droids (using some of the same components) and look thoroughly depressed. Criticism of the brand new colours (a grey-pink-mauve and a light-grey-blue) was always inevitable.

Perhaps in the future we'll see a re-emergence of highly playable good vs evil characters. If I had my way there would be magnets and trains involved somewhere. I'm not holding my breath though. For one thing, any obvious move to recreate the glory days of Lego Space might well be met with cynicism. I was beginning to think that the Lego Group would never again be able to, or even want to, recapture the brilliance of the early sub-themes. Fortunately, Star Wars Lego - a theme which depicts spaceships and characters with which many people are very familiar - made everything well.

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