By John Lester - images & text © 2005
Image: Saucer, shrinkwrapped for freshness
Image: Neck, pylons and nacelles
Image: Botanical garden windows, in clace
Image: Window inserts fit well
Image: It doesn't show in the picture, but the window insert numbers are stamped inside the hull
Image: Sharp detail on the docking ports
Image: Parts fit well, mostly on natural "panel" lines
Image: Some small gaps will need to be addressed
Image: Instructions are typical for Polar Lights
Image: 'Aztec' guide
You know all the rumours that have been floating around the 'net for months? The ones that say Polar Light's refit Enterprise/ Enterprise-A kit was cancelled due to lack of pre-sales, or killed when Racing Champions bought the company, or horribly inaccurate because they made it a snap-fit kit? Or any of the other hundreds of other discouraging things, breathlessly repeated in eMails and in discussion groups?
They're not true.
What IS true is that this kit has been eagerly awaited since news of the project was released almost two years ago. In fact, I can't think of another kit - airplane, tank, or car - that has generated such passionate interest during its gestation from press release to newly-arrived box on a shelf. I don't expect the buzz to die down now that the kit is finally released either.
Was the wait worthwhile? Can you throw out your carefully hoarded ERTL kits and all the aftermarket correction sets, decals and painting masks now? Read on.
What You Get
Inside the beefy box are somewhere around 200 parts (honestly, I lost count - there's a LOT of windows), all packed in separate plastic bags to minimize damage. The big parts are all packed together (ie, right pylon halves in one bag, left in another, each warp nacelle in it's own bag, saucer in another, etc). Instructions, paint guides and decals are sealed in another plastic bag. Like the NX-01 and C-57D before it, you have to be carefull taking everything out because there's so much crammed in the box you may not get it all back in!
Molding is quite crisp, with very little flash (and most of that on the window inserts) and only a few sink marks here and there. Detail is sharp throughout, with the recessed docking ports and the torpedo launchers looking especially nice. There are a number of optional parts, including different secondary hull bottoms, plus other assorted detail pieces, for either the Star Trek: TMP® refit version or the Enterprise-A from the later movies. You get a detailed shuttle bay that can be shown off if you use the open shuttle bay clamshell doors. Other detail parts include botanical gardens (with decals), conference room/VIP lounge (one piece, though there are small differences between the refit and Enterprise-A here), and three small craft (TMP-style shuttle, Star Trek V®-style shuttle, and a TMP-style work pod). All the windows and lights are represented by clear pieces. One nice touch is that the inside of all the hull pieces are stamped with the part number for the clear piece that goes in each opening.
Assembly instructions are typical for Polar Lights. You get one big fold-out page with exploded diagrams, with supporting text in English and French. On the back is a paint and decal guide for both versions of the ship. You'll need to refer to this often; there are a number of spots where the assembly diagram shows optional parts, but those parts are not labelled as to which version they belong to. Assembly steps are broken into 10 sub-sections, each dealing with a major subassembly. You can do most of them in any order - though it may be best to follow the order. If you fully assemble the the secondary hull before affixing the pylons, for instance, you will be in a bit of a pickle: those pylons are NOT going to fit. (this is because supporting structures have been built in to the design of the kit, and you need to assemble these in sequence to get the strongest result).
Decals are also typical Polar Lights, no surprise there. They are perfectly registered, opaque and moderately thick. I've never had a problem with the decals in other PL kits and don't expect any here. The markings themselves are quite thorough - I doubt there'll be much for the aftermarket to add, except different ship names and registries.
Assembly and Finish
The kit is well engineered, with supporting pieces built in to help strengthen it and ease assembly. The secondary hull pieces on my test kit actually snapped together, tight enough in most places that the model stayed together without tape or glue (try THAT with the old ERTL kit!). Most of the seams fall along natural "panel" lines, which helps immensely. I only noticed a few spots where filler will be necessary (around the base of the pylons on the secondary hull, for instance).
One thing I'm not sure about is the window inserts. I like that all the windows are "open", and no drilling is required like with the old ERTL kit. I think drilled out windows look better, even if you're not going to light the model - orders of magnitude better than decals, in my opinion. The pieces themselves certainly fit well enough, at least the ones I've tried. However, masking them all off prior to painting will be quite a chore. Would it be best to paint the pices before assembly? I'm not sure that's a great option, as plenty of touch ups will be needed later, so the amount of masking is only reduced a bit. Once solution may be to leave the bulk of the inserts off (all the small round ones, anyway), paint the whole model, then fill the window openings with Krystal Kleer (a very thick white glue) or 5 minute epoxy.
There's precious little in the way of corrections, either resin or decals for the aftermarket to add. One aftermarket purchase you may well want to make though is a set of AztekDummy's vinyl painting masks (available through a variety of resellers). This ship started Star Trek's penchant for intricate painting detail. You can certainly replicate this detail the old-fashioned way, with frisket, tape, and the guide PL provides with the kit. However, the vinyl masks are a major time-saver (something you appreciate with a toddler and a full-time job).
Another optional detail is 1/350 scale photoetched brass figures. With the botanical gardens and VIP lounge visible there's certainly room for these. Figures in this scale are available from a number of places that deal in naval models.
Is the model accurate? As far as I can tell, yes. A lot of effort has clearly been expended to cover the minor differences between the Enterprise refit and the Enterprise-A. Those with sharper eyes may find a few nits to pick, but I'm satisfied this is as close as a model (of a model!) can get. Ignore anyone who says there are things "subtly" wrong in shape, outline or dimensions --- "subtle" things are almost always a result of the margin of error inheirent in any measuring tool, or found in comparing to plans or drawings that are themselves in error.
I am not a fan of this ship (I guess I better get the flameproof underwear before I go any further!) - but I like this kit. Thoughtfully engineered, with good fit and few molding problems. Now that it's out, I'm sure we're all sorts of howls of outrage from folks who will find nits to pick - it's only natural, given the passion people have for the subject and how long we've been waiting for this kit (since 1979, for a lot of people!) - but the vast majority of model builders will be happy with it. If you've built a few kits before, you should have no trouble with this one - just take your time and plan ahead.
Many thanks to my wallet for providing the review sample. Manufacturers and retailers, interested in getting your wares reviewed and publicized on a site averaging 3500+ readers a day? Contact us!
This page copyright © 2005 Starship Modeler. First posted on 23 April 2005. Last update 2 November 2005