Open Fire!

Greetings fellow LEGO nerds, My name is Keith Goldman  I’ve been building models and expressing my jackassy opinions online for over a decade now and I hope to bring some old school perspective to this new blog.  The KeithLUG Manifesto is your window into the LEGO fan hobby with an emphasis on compelling models, criticism, history, humor and personal interest stories about the people who build.

With that in mind, for my introductory post I thought I’d set the time machine to 2003, when LUGNET was the community hub and I attended my very first LEGO nerd convention, Bricks West 2003 at LEGOland California.  Dan Jassim was already a titan of the “Space” genre when I hit the scene and meeting him in person along with his magnificent Dragonstar was an important early experience for me.  Not only was the model an eye-opener in terms of technique and design, I couldn’t have picked a better builder to have my first interaction with. Dan was (and is) incredibly generous and didn’t blink when somebody he’d never met before asked him to pick up his model.  Instead he just handed all four feet of it over with a grin and some basic instructions about how best to hold the pleasingly robust construct.  Dan shared both his construction techniques and his Star Blazers inspiration with anyone who wanted to chat and handled even the most irritating, boilerplate questions with good humor.  Whether it was a fellow builder or the unwashed masses of public-day attendees, Dan was a great example of how to share the hobby with interest and humor.  The same could not be said of all the AFOL’s at Bricks West 03′, many of whom unwittingly introduced me to the affliction of Asperger Syndrome.


Although the Dragonstar is 13 years old, it can still hang with most of the entries we see each SHIPtember on Flickr, the annual building challenge to create a 100+ stud long starship.  Good form never goes out of style and what the Dragonstar may lack in modern parts and techniques it more than makes up for with sheer good looks.  The color blocking and details are on point and the texture is so remarkable that it transforms a pretty basic hull design into something special.  This groundbreaking model also boasted a full interior and Dan wasn’t too sloppy with his presentation either.  In an era when more often than not a  wrinkled sheet passed as a viable background for many model, Dan was one of the few builders adding backgrounds and effects to his crisp photos.


I was so inspired that upon returning from the convention I created my own ship, the GHOUL, which enjoyed a good deal of success in 2004 and  in turn inspired several builders to make their mark as well.  The Dragonstar was the first link in a long chain of large-scale space ships and Dan’s attitude towards his peers was just as important to forging the chain as his skill with the brick.


Nostalgia can be a tricky business, it’s all too easy to slip on the rose-colored glasses and bask in the reflected glow of yesteryear.  On the other hand, it’s important to know just a little of your AFOL history and the work of builders who preceded you.  While the state of the art has no doubt improved since the Dragonstar’s debut in 2003, the venerable starship still kicks a great deal of ass.  It’s good to know that Dan is still swinging over a decade later, producing clean, thought-provoking models. If you’re new to the scene I can’t recommend Dan’s work enough, he is truly one of the O.G’s of the hobby and a great example of how to present both yourself and your model at a LEGO convention.  Dan also offered one extra value worth more than his weight in gold: he made all of us look less dorky by association alone.


Did I mention he’s also a rock star?  So thanks for joining me here at the KeithLUG Manifesto, I hope you find it to be time well wasted.


3 thoughts on “Open Fire!

  1. Thank you, Keith! I’m honored, humbled and always happy to be of inspiration to my fellow LEGO builders–who also inspire me! 🙂

    Interestingly, there were actually two versions of Dragonstar. The very first was the one you saw at Brickswest in February 2003 when we met. That was my first time building a SHIP to display at a LEGO convention. So I rushed certain things and cut corners, including using baseplates on top and below. Baseplates on previous SHIPs like my A-Wing Carrier and Gibraltar space carrier were a way to stretch my part collection and it was passable because it suited those intentionally boxy carrier designs. But on a slim space battleship like Dragonstar the boxy shape and absence of underside and interior details did not fly with venerable fellow builders like Jon Palmer and Mark Sandlin when I first presented my build on LUGNET. I was challenged to do better by my peers and it was clear that lack of parts was no excuse if I truly wanted to present something as a “masterpiece” at the time.

    After Brickswest I set out to rebuild Dragonstar with sleeker rounded hull and a fully detailed underside. This meant buying hundreds of 45 and 33 degree light gray slopes for the top and matching inverted slopes for the underside. Only the conning tower and side strips (about 8 bricks tall) were salvaged from the original build. I literally built from the floor up with the underside taking on more functional design features, including a dispenser rack for space mines and bays for mini drone fighters. I also scrapped the original clunky main guns and went for recreating modern naval-type cannons with a tilt action for the gun barrels inspired by Kyle Keppler. Along the way as I designed the interior I also had to reconfigure the exterior details to stay consistent and functional with the interior–such as the airlock entry. And I’m not sure but Dragonstar may have also been the first spaceship with interior floors built with bricks on their side and grated plates to expose subfloor details, which I expanded later in Explorer.

    By April 2003 I was able to present version two of Dragonstar in its finished and final form, which is the model still seen today on Brickshelf and MOCpages, and also more recently added to my Flickr photo stream. At the time, Dragonstar became sort of a benchmark I guess because of its scale and also the level of detail. Soon after, more SHIPs would come along from various builders incorporating new ideas and techniques and new benchmarks would be set. In fact your GHOUL spaceship with its polygonal studs-out hull design was one of those game changers.

    As you aptly pointed out, the part selection today versus 2003 has certainly grown and building techniques have evolved along the way. But I think the cool thing about models like Dragonstar or GHOUL is how they provide fundamental LEGO engineering groundwork for big ship building. I’m always happy meeting new people online and hearing about how a certain LEGO creation led them to contact me. My building pace has definitely slowed over the years and it is hard to crank out the SHIPs. But I still love studying other builder’s styles and techniques and their incorporation of new parts, which is often a spring board for me to try out a new build.

    Thank you again for the post and hopefully we’ll catch up at Bricks LA.



  2. Dan,
    I think I have mentioned it before, but the Dragonstar will always mark the beginning of serious Lego SPACE for me. The first time I saw it, I realized that my own building was still absurdly conservative and that literally ANYTHING should be possible. Your model sent many of us an unambiguous transmission: UP YOUR GAME… OR PERISH. It was and remains truly inspirational to me. Plus, I love Starblazers!

    Prepare to fire the WAVE MOTION GUN!


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