History books, works of fiction and other sources define the period between 1650s and the 1730s as the Golden Age of Piracy, the period when maritime piracy in the histories of the Caribbean, North America, West Africa, and the Indian Ocean was at its highest. But what if the historians and everyone else are only half/right, or better half/wrong about that matter?
At the recent Bricks Cascade 2022 Eurobricks member PxChris challenged and shocked the academia when he made a strong case which argued for the existence of the second completely separate Golden Age of Piracy. And the best part is there’s a high probability that you, O! Reader, have been an active part of it! We are, of course, referring to the period between the 1989 and the 1997, the Golden Age of LEGO Classic Pirates.
Here is the Classic Pirates display that I made for Bricks Cascade 2022. With this display I wanted to celebrate the wonderful history of the Pirates theme and how many cool innovations it brought to the LEGO System.
It features the entirety of the Bluecoat Era (1989-1991) of Pirates, as well as the entirety of the Islanders sub-theme (1994) as well as a selection of other sets from the remainder of the Classic Pirates years (1989-1997), most notably all of the Pirate ships released.
This has been a passion project of mine for the last couple of years and it was so wonderful to see it finally come together. The entirety of the display is of my own collection. As a kid I could never afford most of the larger sets, so this is me living out my childhood dreams.
Let’s assume for a second that we are not die-hard fans of LEGO Pirates (shame on us), so what are those cool innovations which were introduced to the LEGO System via Pirates theme? And what’s so special about the history of this theme that puts her at odds with other fantastic LEGO themes? Those are all good questions, and the best way to answer them is to enjoy a short sail through the…
HISTORY of the LEGO PIRATES
Whoever spent any time playing classic adventure games back in the nineties, like the Monkey Island series, knows from firsthand experience that a good story and
bad, nay, terrible graphic will always beat everything visually outstanding but emotionally unmoving of today. People (young and old) starve for a good story in any form or media and will pay good money to be hijacked at least temporarily inside the Hero’s special world where they can figuratively kick some ass and save the day.
This is no big news from the point of the today’s well developed entertainment industry, but back in the sixties and seventies with rapid expansion of television and other technologies it was the rediscovery of wheel, the storytelling wheel that is. Stories sell!
Building on the decade long success of the City, Space and Castle theme, the always innovating LEGO group led by visionary designer Niels Milan Pedersen caught on to this idea and decided to do something daring for the theme that changed all.
The stage is Caribbean in the 18th century, and at the centre of the stage are Pirates who are searching for a buried treasure, Spanish gold coins known as the doubloons, which belonged to their ancestors. However, a colony of settlers discovered the treasure first and claimed it. When the Pirates got the wind of this, it naturally led to a violent conflict. To secure and defend the treasure from Pirates’ attacks, the Governor of the colony fortified the settlements and hid the treasure in his main fortress.
To establish a narrative and encourage role-play, LEGO had background stories printed on boxes, particularly on the larger sets which had a flap that opened up to display the content. Every set had a different story depending on the type and location of the set. Furthermore, a comic book entitled “The Golden Medallion” was also released, as well as the Ladybird Book series. The mission was simple: the Pirates theme must revolve around the story.
Since the MOCs have bricks and plates, the stories have characters. This led to the introduction of minifigures with names and personal traits for the first time in LEGO history. Wits and skills of two opposing forces were pitted against one another in the traditional game of good vs. evil, that is Pirates vs. Bluecoats.
Pirates were led by their fearless leader Captain Redbeard, also known as Captain Roger, distinguished by his black bicorn hat, a left eye patch, a peg leg and a hook. His crew among others included First Mate Rummy, the young Bo’Sun Will, Flashfork a ship’s cook, and Popsy, the Captain’s faithful and very talkative parrot. To learn more about Captain Redbeard, take a look at The Un-Arr-thorized Biography and learn a thing or two.
Pirates’ main antagonists were Imperial Soldiers, also known as Bluecoats who were based on French navy and marines of the colonial era. They were led by Governor Broadside and his second-in-command Lieutenant de Martinet.
One of the problems with the introduction of characters and their corresponding minifigures was that up to that point (1988) all the LEGO minifigures had the same traditional head with a simple face expression. Arguably the most iconic minifigure to this day is Captain Redbeard who single-handedly (no pun intended) broke out of the traditional mold and brought several cool innovations to the LEGO System. His head featured an eye-patch and actually red facial hair, a hook instead of a hand and a wooden peg leg.
The creator of the LEGO Minifigure, the designer Jens Nygaard Knudsen explains: “It was necessary to alter the minifigure’s expression in order to develop credible pirates, and a real pirate captain must have a patch on his eye, a peg leg and a hook!”
This opened a way for multiple other facial expressions in the theme, most noticeable among them the feminine makeup.
The Pirates theme was the first to feature firearms such as flintlock pistols, muskets and working cannons for an open sea battle. The theme also introduced a shark and the monkey figure with LEGO minifigure hands for clasping. The crocodile was designed early on for Pirates, but didn’t make it to market until after some of the elements were re-used in Castle dragons. The introduction of the skeleton in 1995 was a long process, as the LEGO Group had its reservations about launching a ‘dead’ minifigure.
The designer Niels Milan Pedersen explains: “Originally the skeleton was designed a decade before it appeared in a set – but we were told off at the time for creating a dead minifigure!”
Classic Pirates Timeline
The initial run of Pirate theme ran for 9 consecutive years from 1989 to 1997. This golden age of the Classic Pirates can be divided into four waves based on the type of foes pitted against the Pirates:
- Imperial Soldiers (Bluecoats) 1989 – 1991
- Imperial Guards (Redcoats) 1992 – 1995
- Islanders 1994 – 1995
- Imperial Armada 1996 – 1997
After the initial run the Pirates theme has been rebooted twice so far, in 2009 and 2015. In 2011 Disney Pirates of Caribbean theme was successfully launched. In 2020 first pirate themed set was released from LEGO Ideas.
The Light Show
The lighting really added so much life to the display. I’m glad that I decided to do it. It was a very last-minute addition to the layout (I decided only about a month and a half before the convention to add lighting, and I’ve never done any lighting before, so it was quite a learning curve).
Indeed, it must have been nerve-racking ordeal, something in common to all of the high-risk high-reward undertakings… but seeing the results recorded during the dim light time at the convention, oh my, it only goes and proves the old axiom that He Who Dares Wins. Remember that O! Reader.
As for the future, PxChris informs us that he first plans to complete the collection of the entire Classic Pirates theme (1989-1997) for an even bigger and better display in probably 2024, after which he will tour the world educating people about the history of the Pirates theme.
The thing about tour is made up, but who knows…
About the Builder…
A punk rocker at the heart and Bluecoat arrr, Pirate to the bone, PxChris is one of those rare builders and LEGO fans who simply radiate with unlimited passion and enthusiasm about everything pirate themed. You simply can’t be near them for too long without being overwhelmed with desire that makes you wanna go and build something Imperial, or read something Pirate.
Before we part our ways and return to the cruel reality of life, be sure to visit the LEGO Pirates forum and join in new discussion ‘Will LEGO purchase the licence for Monkey Island sub-pirate theme’, or simply give us your
comment praise about the Classic Pirates display by clicking the big red shiny button below.
If you are pumped up about the upcoming release of the Return to Monkey Island (the sixth overall instalment) and don’t know what to play in the meantime, then take a glance at BoBS (not
BOOBS), the most spectacular Pirate game ever made outside LucasArts.