LEGO Star Wars – Rey’s Speeder and General Grievous Playtest plus Giveaway

With less than a month to go until the release of The Force Awakens, Star Wars continues to dominate our leisure time. As well as enjoying watching Episodes IV – VI in anticipation, checking out trailers, speculating what may happen in the new movie (my daughter already predicts that Kylo Ren will get both hands chopped off), we’re also working our way trough the six season Clone Wars animated series. So it was great to receive two terrific LEGO sets that encompassed these strands of the saga.

Rey’s Speeder

Appearing early on in the very first trailer for The Force Awakens, this was one of the first new vehicles to be revealed.

Rey's Speeder, Star Wars, The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley

Its blocky, lo-fi, junkyard style design quickly became a fan favourite.

This LEGO version is a lovely little set to construct.

LEGO Star Wars 75099 Rey's Speeder

This was one of my favourite looking ones from The Force Awakens line (admittedly, the iconic , far larger, and more expensive Millennium Falcon just edged it). The suggested age is 7-12, but my 3-year-old daughter put it together with minimal supervision.

Rey is clearly a central character to the new saga, so it is great to have a minifigure of her. My daughter loves the fact that she is another female Star Wars character to play with.

Rey LEGO minifig

The minifigure has the usual two faces, though the expressions are a fairly subtle ‘wry smile’ and ‘displeased frown’. The freckles are a nice detail, that reflects some of the close up pics we have seen of Rey so far. She also has a mask with goggles, as seen in one of the more recent trailers.

Rey wearing mask and goggles, Star Wars, The Force Awakens

The set also comes with a second mini figure, the hooded and mysteriously named Unkar’s Thug.

How much the speeder features remains to be seen, but it already feels like one of the more iconic new vehicles of the new saga and is a great addition to our LEGO Star Wars collection, that that my daughter frequently plays with already.

General Grievous

We are also currently watching the Star Wars cartoon The Clone Wars, which is set between Episodes II and III of the prequel trilogy. Whatever your opinion of that set of movies, their existence is entirely justified by the fact it led to this show being made. We are only on season 4 of 6. It is full of thrilling space fantasy action adventure, with (IMHO) much more rounded characterisations of the main characters, than the movies the show is sandwiched between.

General Grievous originally appeared in Revenge of the Sith (2005), and it was pretty widely accepted that for such a cool looking character, he was a bit wasted.

General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith, lightsabers

However, he is a major recurring character in The Clone Wars, and here he finally gets his due (though he’s still a bit of a tool).

This set is part of the recently released six buildable LEGO Star Wars figures. We have previously reviewed the Darth Vader figure, which was a fine set – but even then I could tell that this General Grievous figure was the one that suited this format best.

General Grievous vs Darth Vader

The skeletal construction pieces suit Grievous’ robotic structure perfectly. The sculpt on his head is great. This is basically an awesome General Grievous figure that you put together yourself!

Unlike Rey’s Speeder, this set (recommended age 9-14) was totally out of my 3-year-old daughter’s ability to put together – but not mine 😉 I had a great time putting it together – albeit with expert supervision from my daughter. She loves playing with it though, and one of the first things she wanted to do was stage a fight between Grievous and Darth Vader.

Who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and General Grievous?

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If you have a young Star Wars fan in your life, then two things they probably should be are a) Fans of The Clone Wars cartoon, and b) Excited about The Force Awakens. Given that, either of these sets would perfect gifts for them.

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  • Rey’s Speeder has a RRP of ÂŁ19.99, and is available here
  • General Grevious has a RRP of ÂŁ29.99, and is available here

Or if you fancy your chances, how about entering our General Grievous giveaway?

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LEGO Star Wars 75112: General Grievous
**This giveaway is for UK residents only**

 

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these LEGO sets free of charge.

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These sets are based on the Star Wars prequels, cartoons, and the forthcoming sequel. Do you or your little ones have a Star Wars preference – originals, prequels, cartoons, or new series?

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“Where Are You Really From?” – Race Isn’t Just a Black and White Issue

It started as we entered the country, while my passport was being checked.

“You are from India.” (I couldn’t tell if it was a question or statement)

No, England. (I have a British passport)

“No, you are Indian!”

No, I’m English.

“No. Indian! (No, I’m English). Pakistan? (No, I’m English). Afghanistan? (No, I’m English).”

“Your father, where he from?”

The Caribbean, I replied.

“Caribbean…?”

The Moroccan border guard seemed a mixture of satisfied I didn’t say England, and confused because he wasn’t expecting that answer.

This scenario reoccurred many times while we holidayed in Marrakech. Men – possibly trying to be polite and start a conversation – begin by asking me where I came from, I say England, and a familiar response eventually  comes forth (whether worded this way or not): “But where are you really from?”

Brief background. I’m English (don’t even question it) to immigrant parents. They’re from the caribbean – Trinidad & Tobago. So were my grandparents. My great-grandparents were immigrants –  indentured labourers from either India or Ceylon (it was Ceylon back then) in the 19th century, around about the time slavery was abolished. In fact that’s why the caribbean colonies needed their indentured labour. Someone had to grow all that sugarcane for the Brits now they didn’t have slaves to do it for them.

Anyway, the short version is that I look ‘Indian’ (the subcontinent), and that is backed up by DNA, as all the way down the line you can trace my ancestors back to there. So calling me Indian is ok right? No.

I’ve never been to India. My parents have never been to India. My grandparents never went to India. My great -grandparents may not have even come from India.

So on a basic level, saying (telling me) I am Indian is incorrect, as my family haven’t set foot there in at least four generations.

My connection to India is probably about as strong as anyone in the UK who enjoys eating curry, cuisine which is pretty much a British national dish anyway. I do have a greater sense of connection to Trinidad (check out my Macaroni Pie recipe – I even got it published in The Guardian), but that is still my family background. I am English, proudly so, and don’t ever try and tell me I am not.

My sense of English identity has been forged in part through the furnace of racism. Like any brown kid growing up in seventies/eighties Britain, racism – whether on the playground or the adult world – was something we had to deal with. My parents didn’t give me much direction on how to deal with this, and what I do remember were contradictory responses at different times.

So early on, I decided that I was English. I’m a stubborn fellow, so I have never let anyone tell me differently. This frustrates a lot of people who are probably just making conversation, hence the phrase “But where are you really from?” trying to direct the conversation to hearing tales of ‘exotic’ Indian ancestors.

In the past, I’ve asked white people about why they might ask me this. Many have had a similar response – they feel their background is so boring that they find mine & other brown people’s much more interesting in comparison. They say it with almost a sense of jealousy. Their intention isn’t to define me as different, or even as not being English. But that is what they are doing by not accepting my simple response to a question of where I am from as ‘England’.

My daughter will be the next generation to experience whatever version of identity politics that occurs in her lifetime. She is mixed race, and ethnically a very binary mix of ‘Indian’ (see previously) and white European.

But that is such a small part of her story. I have already detailed my side of the DNA family tree. On her mother’s side while ‘White European’ is the catchall term, my wife is a New Zealander of British and Irish descent. We joke that our daughter – with ancestry from India, Caribbean, New Zealand, and the UK – is a distillation of the former British Empire.

For my statement that I am English, I have always had one fact to latch onto to back that up: I was born in England. While my daughter is being brought up in England, she was not born here – she was born in New Zealand of dual nationality. In the UK she will always be classed a foreign born citizen – a demographic the likes of the Daily Mail often likes to trot out to illustrate how out of control immigration is (this is a demographic that also includes the likes of children of armed forces personnel born abroad – hence the high number of German born Brits in the UK).

While my daughter will probably never be assumed to be ‘Indian’ as she is very light skinned, she does look ‘mixed race’. It’s a popular look these days. There are many stars who (at first glance  at least) appear to be of indeterminate ethnicity, such as Vin Deisel, Rashida Jones, Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Jessica Alba. But however my daughter ends up identifying herself – if indeed as anything – will her choice be questioned like my own has?

In the UK at least, I’m not sure it will. The society I live in now is very different from the one I grew up in. Seventies Britain still hadn’t grasped the concept of second generation immigrants. While it’s a term I dislike, because it still classes me as an immigrant, at least it acknowledges that children born of immigrants are culturally different from their parents.

While I don’t feel defining myself as English would be questioned in mainstream British society anymore, I continue to experience this in countries ranging from Turkey and Morocco, to New Zealand and America.

The US is a source of a great new example of the issues around the children of Asian immigrants, with the new Netflix series Master of None.

Created by & starring Aziz Ansari (Parks & Recreation), it cleverly and very funnily maps out many of the issues I have described here. Aziz is an American born comedian, whose parents emigrated to the US from India in the late seventies.

While the series tackles many topics, race and identity is one of them. Aziz (and his onscreen alter ego Dev) is an American, but others – including casting directors – still see him as an Indian first and only. For instance he derides the fact he only sees people who look like him cast as cab drivers, shop owners, and computer scientists!

America is a good decade or two behind the UK in mainstream acceptance that they have citizens of Indian descent who, despite the way they look and the funny names, are not Indian but are as American (or British) as a white person. Sometimes more so – such as my wife and I.

I haven’t really spoken to my nearly 4-year-old daughter about race that much yet. She has previously stated that she is ‘white like mummy. I responded with “No. you’re light like mummy, but brown like daddy”, which she accepts. While we live in a largely white English market town, there have been an influx of people who have moved here from London, and the racial mix is increasingly diverse. As well as white children, my daughter also has close friends who are of Chinese and Zulu descent.

I will bide my time and see what issues – if any –  she has with racial identity, and empower her to discover and feel confident in who she is – whoever that may be.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.
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Our Week as Working Parents

I’m a stay-at-home dad, but I also freelance from time-to-time. I am pursuing social media & writing work, as that offers family friendly flexibility, but when I am offered work in my old TV stomping grounds, I tend to accept – especially in the run up to Christmas.

I was recently offered a longer stint than normal, and that included a full working week. We had never gone a whole week as working parents before.

Please forgive the indulgence of this post. I know this is the norm for many families, but it took a bit of adjustment and juggling to make it work for us.

Before we got started, there was some prep to be done.

Stage 1 – Childcare
Our daughter attends pre-school at nursery 2 ‘school days’ a week, so ideally we want to place her there, but they are getting increasingly popular. It turns out we can place her there for all but one day. I then contact a childminder who we used a few times in the past, and she is fine to look after her that day. Phew.

Stage 2 – Scheduling who does pick up & drop off

Ideally, I would do drop off in morning (8am), and my wife would do evening pick up (by 6pm). However, she has an even on one night, and is away on a business trip for another, so I need to do those days.

Anyway, we figure out our schedule, and away we go.

Day 1 – Dealing with a sick kid

Disaster! It’s Monday morning, and the kid is poorly. She’s been up half the night with a bad cough and cold.

We agree the kid is too poorly for nursery. My wife had arranged to work from home anyway, so she volunteers to keep her home with her while I head off to work. We still have to pay the sixty quid for daycare of course.

I am able to leave the house exactly when I need to, public transport all fine, and I arrive at 9:30 on the dot as planned.

I try and leave early to give my wife a bit of childcare-free time. Out the door an hour early at 5 is better than nothing, so will be home an hour earlier than planned.

Nah. On each leg of my 3-stage (plus walking) commute, there are delays and cancellations.  My 1hr 40 journey home takes an hour longer.

I get in to find daughter still up which is lovely, but because she passed out for a nap earlier she isn’t sleepy now, nor for the next hour – which is full of frustration as we try and settle her to sleep, eat dinner, and unwind – but we end up winding up each other more.

Finally down, my wife and I eat lukewarm pasta, drink cheap wine, and watch The Antiques Roadshow – the easiest show to agree on.

Day 2 – The morning childcare and commute run

The kid is well enough for childcare, and I need to do the drop off as my wife has a fixed appointment. Today os childminder day, who offers more flexibility so we can do a 7:30 start. We need to leave the house at 7:10 to arrive for 7:30 drop-off, then I can make 7:59 train to get me to work in good time.

Before we leave the house, the kid insists we read a book that features her Star Wars fave Ahsoka (a book she couldn’t find the night before and was a source of some upset). Normally I’m less compliant in these circumstances, but not wanting to get her day off to a tearful start (we haven’t used this childminder for over 9 months) I agree. We leave the house late at 7:25.

So, I rush with her to the house (opposite direction from train station of course) only to exacerbate her cough and understandably upset her. We slow down and am resigned to missing train.

The knock on effect, with subsequent delays is that I am in the office 2 1/2 hrs after leaving the house. My boss (who I’ve worked for a lot in the past) a) isn’t there, and b) isn’t that bothered as long as the work gets done.

My wife is doing pick up, and I stay in office 6pm+, just to get on top of things.

But tonight, the journey home works out fine – door to door in 1hr 50, including a supermarket dinner flyby.

My daughter should be asleep by now, but yet again isn’t. We suspect that she had sugary stuff at the tail end of her time with the childminder.  She doesn’t settle down to sleep until 8:30 – an hour later than normal. It was nice to see her, and after cuddles from me her wind down is mostly her alone in her room, chatting to herself so not too much disruption. My wife and I dine on supermarket pizza, cheap wine, and only manage to watch the 30 min Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver in Sky+ before sleep beckons.

Day 3 – While the wife’s away…

This one is going to be tricky. I need to do nursery drop off and pick up. I also have a shoot for a client I am overseeing, so I need to be in by 9:30 for 10am start. I book the kid in for early start (which costs extra of course) – only I get it wrong and my wife can do drop off. Luckily this early drop off suits her and I can leave even earlier too, important as a) aforementioned shoot, and b) I have to leave office 2 1/2 hrs early to ensure I make the pick up from nursery in time (you can book for later, but they charge per extra 15mins).

An insanely busy day, I leave 10mins later than planned, so I miss my bus which has potential knock on effect. But in the end I get to nursery for 5:30.

My wife is away overnight for a business trip, so it’s just me & the munchkin. We have early bath, then watch a Batgirl cartoon while she eats a dinner of ham and raw carrot (her choice). She would’ve had an early dinner at nursery.

Stories, milk, and cuddles before bedtime. At 7:30 I’m downstairs a eating a Heston Lasagne for 1 (over priced, over caloried, over flavoured), enjoying more cheap red wine, and Netflix (Orphan Black). In bed by 10. Or 11. The kid woke once in the night, crying for mummy (awww) but a quick cuddle and she was back to sleep.

Day 4 – Working late

Another busy day ahead, but start time is more fluid. I do 8am drop off (as wife is away), and everything goes fine from drop off to transport and I get to work at a reasonable 9:45.

I have to leave office early for an event I am working on in central London, and will be there late so won’t see my daughter until Friday morning.

Turns out I’m working VERY late, and don’t get home until after 4am.

Day 5 – Flexible working

Getting home the same time that I usually get up (I’m a 4:30-5am riser) understandably disturbs my routine a bit.

Full disclosure: I have epilepsy, and the main trigger is sleep deprivation – so working until early hours like this is not taken lightly, and my wife and I know what I need to prevent a seizure, which is basically to get uninterrupted sleep.

The spare bed has been set up in the front room, and with earplugs in and sleeping pills at the ready should I wake up early, I get enough sleep to feel confident I won’t have a seizure.

My wife and kid are long gone out the door when I get up past 9. I told my boss the night (morning) before that working form home would be the best option today. Not only would I be in late (because of working late) I would have to leave early as my wife has an event on so I need to do nursery pick up. My boss is fine with this, and I manage everything I need to oversee workwise from home (with others in the office helping out). I wilt badly as the afternoon progresses.

When I pick up my daughter from nursery, she is in tears – which is very unlike her as she loves nursery. It seems the week of childcare and disrupted routines has finally taken it’s toll on her, and she is emotionally and physically exhausted.

It’s kind of how we all feel.

Working Parent vs At Home Parent

While it was a big adjustment for us, it was exactly that – an adjustment, not something that we couldn’t adapt to.

For peace of mind when this happens again, I probably think we should have someone in place who can do the nursery pick up at short notice should public transport let us down. There have been many times when my wife has been delayed because of this, and if we were both in the same boat then we need someone local to do pick up.

Flexible working. This is a catch all term, that includes options for mobile/home working, flexible hours, and understanding bosses. Without these, this week would’ve been impossible. And flexible working works both ways, so can be advantageous to employers too.

I also have a greater appreciation for my wife’s perspective. She sometimes reflects that feels she is missing out  on aspects of our daughter’s development. Knowing what happens during the week and weekends, I know this isn’t the case at all – but having spent a week hardly seeing my daughter during the day, I know how she feels.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review: Thrilling end to an intelligent action adventure saga  

The Hunger Games movie saga, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as revolutionary poster girl Katniss Everdeen, reaches its conclusion with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. I saw it last week, and the review embargo has just been lifted.

The series – based on Suzanne Collin’s popular book trilogy – took me by surprise. I was lukewarm about the initial instalment, both before and after seeing it. In hindsight, this is probably not because of the quality of the film itself (directed by Gary Ross), but rather my own prejudice.

The Hunger Games: A Running Man and Battle Royale rip off?

As a teen I had seen Arnie in The Running Man (1987) – based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace. Later, I had marvelled at the magnificent Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000) – also based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace.

Sound familiar?

So with what seemed to be the same set up – teenage ‘tributes’ battling to the death for the masses on mass media – it was through this lens that I watched The Hunger Games (2012). As far as I was concerned it was as expected – largely derivative of Battle Royale and The Running Man (the latter of which isn’t even particularly good) with added YA (young adult fiction) dust.

But looking back, the beginnings were there for what has become an intelligent an engaging saga. With Francis Lawrence installed as the new director for the rest of the series, the first sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) added layers of political and media commentary & satire, while remaining true to being a YA action adventure. The first part of the follow up story The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) took us into the territory of the war film, which is where this concluding chapter remains.

Jennifer Lawrence embodies the how good a female action hero can be

Central to the success of this saga remains the confident and engaging performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who as Katniss Everdeen has come to embody how powerful a well realised female action hero can be.

The film picks up immediately after the events of Part 1 – Katniss is suffering both mentally and physically from the effects of being almost strangled to death by her former District 12 fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has been brainwashed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into believing that Katniss is evil.

The new Katniss/Peeta dynamic is central to their relationship in this film. Katniss spends much of the story afraid of him, and lamenting that the Peeta she knew is gone. He in turn is full of hate for Katniss, and simply wants to kill her. Despite their mutual distrust/loathing, they are thrown together for the sake of the continuing media battle of Penem, and the pair’s importance as propaganda puppets.

Katniss Everdeen – not just a symbol of revolution

Katniss is beginning to tire of being used as a political tool, this time by President Coin (Julianne Moore). In this film, Katniss finally decides it’s time to write her own story. Like Peeta’s hate for Katniss, she has a singular vengeful purpose now – to kill President Snow. As far as she’s concerned he is solely responsible for the misery of the world about her. She wants to see him dead, and preferably by her hand.

Also remaining in the mix is Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As well as his ongoing role in the love triangle with Katniss and Peeta, he continues his transformation into a callous revolutionary fighter – displaying a crueller streak than before. He is another character hardened by the ongoing war.

Of the other key players, President Snow continues his unsettling relationship with Katniss, and Sutherland is as sinister as ever. In not dissimilar fashion, Julianne Moore’s President Coin is on the surface a heroic leader, but what lies beneath is also troubling. Her determination to control Katniss plays out in the wider context of the war and its aftermath.

The Hunger Games reimagined

There are no ‘Hunger Games’ per se in this movie. Instead, Snow deploys the gamemakers to devise ever more imaginative (and TV friendly) ways to defend the city from the invading rebel army. This leads to some visually stunning scenes, but the stand-out sequence is a subterranean set-piece that is as tense and exciting as anything you are likely to see this year. Jennifer Lawrence displays Katniss’s archery skills to full effect, in a thrilling ensemble action scene.

The previous film suffered from an obvious fault – it was only part of the story, where not very much happened, and there was very little payoff. The whole thing felt like a preamble towards the next instalment.

But this film is given the chance to explore themes and characters fully. It brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, in a way that is surprising, dramatic, and powerful. Friendships are shattered, and loved ones are lost. For everyone left standing at the end, the world will never be the same.

All is not perfect with this concluding chapter. The story has a clear conclusion, and what follows is a lengthy epilogue that is crying out for a pair of scissors to wrap up the story with the brevity it deserves. It’s not quite Return of the King level, but disappointing all the same. Also, while I’m not familiar with the books, a few of the characters seem to get short shrift in the movie, despite the 2hr+ running time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie

Someone who certainly doesn’t feel absent – but with less do do than previously – is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died during filming and before his scenes had been completed. I think I spotted a couple of occasions where he may have been digitally inserted into scenes, and there appears to have been one obviously important passage that was rewritten for another actor. But I was on the lookout for these instances and I don’t feel they will distract from the story.

Overall, this is an engaging conclusion to a saga that began with what seemed to be less ambitious aims. The series has cleverly dealt with themes of political manipulation, propaganda, and the damaging effects of war on society. These are all messages that are of great relevance today, and will continue to be so.

The fact that these ideas are dealt with so thoughtfully within an exciting action adventure, that appeals especially to teens, is a great credit to all involved with this – from author Suzanne Collins to the actors and filmmakers. Teens obviously have a natural defiance against authority and the status quo. These stories highlight the positives of that attitude, and how we would all do well to remember that feeling as we move beyond those years.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen has inspired a generation of girls

The character of Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence’s terrific performance, will continue to be a benchmark for female led action adventures. She has inspired a generation of girls to aspire to become confident and proud women, and hopefully educated their male peers to accept this as a reality.

The Hunger Games series has demonstrated once and for all that the time of the female led action adventure is now. That they can be engaging across a series of movies and be hugely popular with audiences, especially if created with integrity, respect, and intelligence like this series.

Fa`mily Fever

Immerse Yourself in Star Wars With This Stormtrooper Homeware Set

Being a fan of something – and showing that fandom – has many outlets these days. As well as toys, there are clothes, accessories, and homewares.

My daughter is easily identifiable as a Star Wars fan, and was lucky enough to be sent this great Stormtrooper set from Character World.

The classic stormtrooper look has always been a favourite of mine, and now it’s one of my daughter’s too. Their distinctive black & white design lends itself well to reproduction, as these items show.

The classic Stormtrooper rug (ok, among other items) has added an eye catching Star Wars look to my daughter’s room.

Vader top, Star Wars skirt, and a lot of Stormtrooper stuff. #starwars #DarthVader #stormtrooper #mysewingcircus

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The trooper cushion has become more of a toy to cuddle, though other times she likes to pretend it’s a mask!

The force is strong in my family….

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The trooper look has been updated for the forthcoming The Force Awakens.

STAR508 AWAKEN SINGLE 91 ROTARY2It is this design that features on the single pillow and duvet set. These new troopers also look pretty good when reproduced, although I think the duvet isn’t as visually striking as the classic trooper items. It is also reversible with a fabric design that matches the pillow on the reverse.

As with many of these things, the stated target market is young boys, but don’t let that make you think for a second that these are not for girls too.

My daughter loves this set, and her favourite is definitely the cushion. As she currently favours the classic Stormtrooper look (that may change once she has a chance to check out the new movie) this was always going to be a hit, plus it’s a good size for her to play with.

She also calls it Stormy (who is a ‘she’ in case you were wondering – take that Captain Phasma).

The use of the stormtrooper design on all these items is nicely realised (although as mentioned I favour old trooper over new). All items are made of artificial materials if that’s something you look out for.

If you like the look of these and you’re feeling lucky, why not enter our giveaway?

Character World Star Wars Stormtrooper Bedding Giveaway
This giveaway closes at midnight on November 15 2015. Open to UK entrants only.

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Bedding: RRP ÂŁ15.99

Cushion: RRP ÂŁ14.99

Mat: RRP £19.99 

We received all these items free of charge from Character World for the purposes of this review.

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What Stormtrooper / Star Wars homeware items would you like to have in your home? Please comment below.