11 February 2024

LEGO® Icons build review: 10327 Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter

Posted by Zachary Hill

The definition of Frank Herbert's Dune series may be found in its myriad of sophisticated analogue technology. Of all this tech, ornithopters are arguably the most iconic. Their dragonfly-like movements provide relatively safe passage over the treacherous sands of the desert planet Arrakis and are a key pillar of the House Atreides "desert power."


Their rhythmic undulations are no longer a thing of science fiction with the release of LEGO® Icons 10327 Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter. While the hefty set doesn't fly, it doesn't let down fans who have long yearned to see 'thopter wings move in complex reality. With an overview of the sand-skipping ornithopter's parts and minifigures completed, New Elementary swoops in again for a look at this fascinating set's build and functions.

Products in this article were gifted by The LEGO Group; the author's opinions are their own.
This article contains affiliate links to LEGO.com; we may get a small commission if you purchase.

10327 Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter
US$164.99/ £149.99/ 164.99€/ AU$249.99
1369 parts
Released 1 February 2024

“Once, men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them,” the Reverend Mother said. 

“‘Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man’s mind,’” Paul quoted.

The extensive Dune universe is dictated by religious tradition. Set roughly 25,000 years ahead of our own universe, humankind weathered ill effects brought on by those who leveraged advanced artificial intelligence. In response, computers became piously outlawed to ensure no human would never again be suffocated by AI. As a result, spacefaring and planetside equipment rely on advanced analogue electrical, mechanical, and human systems — the latter amplified by the psychoactive spice melange.

Piloting an ornithopter with no digital assistance takes great skill. It also requires sophisticated engineering, much of which designer Mike Psiaki translated successfully into LEGO form. From the rigid structure enabling such a large model to be swooshed to the intricate wing and landing gear systems, 10327 Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter is a treat to engineering and Dune fans alike.

A LEGO Technic set on the inside

The most credible engineering elements in the LEGO family are undoubtedly Technic pieces. This set's functions and strength simply wouldn't be possible without Technic pieces, as evidenced by the ornithopter's inventory. Nearly six hundred of the set's 1369 pieces are purely Technic bits, leaving most of the regular LEGO System pieces to clad the exterior.


The tail section is built first and meant to be a secure handle. It wastes no time in putting Technic bricks to use. Here the first hint of the wing flapping function is seen with the upper Technic brick topped with gear racks for grippable texture.

Here we can find the only pieces I've had come loose during play with the completed set: the upper 2 x 3 Dark Bluish Gray plate behind the flapping lever, and the lengthy 2 x 16 Dark Bluish Gray plate on the bottom. The small upper plate restricts the flapping lever's rearward movement, which causes a lot of repetitive pressure, eventually freeing the plate. The large bottom plate is sometimes pried partially off by a tailpiece, added later. I tend to rest my palm on that section, cantilevering the whole set's weight against it. Given the forces that both are subjected to, neither is a complaint — in fact, I'd say it's a testament to the ornithopter's overall sturdiness.

We'll cover mechanical functions soon, but a thorough look at this bird's Technic airframe is warranted first.


Moving forward through the fuselage, a skeleton of pinned pieces holds the massive wings' underpinnings together. Above, the forwardmost section of grey bricks is ready to receive the far half of the cockpit via two yellow 1 x 1 Technic bricks.


Each side of the cockpit is canted to make the bottom slightly narrower than the top. The instructions point out the near-bare cockpit floor is meant to make the seats plate (added later) easier to remove.


Other clever techniques bolster the bird's body, such as wrapping the segment between the forward and aft wings in right-angle 5 x 5 Technic bricks (28973) or separating the upper and lower wings with a liftarm, secured with nearly-invisible orange bar towballs (22484) and half-pins.

Steadfast feet

While the wing functions of 10327 Dune Ornithopter might get the most attention, the landing gear is equally impressive. Port-and-starboard 1 x 1 round four-fin rocket bases (4588) behind and below the wings are used as knobs to control the rear ramp and all four landing legs with one 180° twist. Below, the system is in action with two wings removed for better visibility.


When extended, the landing gear makes a solid platform for the ornithopter to rest on. The gear has a detent meaning it can't be closed accidentally once it has been fully extended, and the same goes for its neatly tucked-away position. This set is no lightweight, so the effective load-bearing system is both crucial and perfectly executed.


The secret of the back legs (removed above) is that they don't actually carry much, if any weight. That duty instead falls to the cargo ramp, which leads to no interior space due to the functions within. The ramp also passes the motive force forward to the front legs through a series of Technic linkages.


The front legs, connected via the Light Bluish Gray pins shown in the cutaway and under the forward wings, swing both forward and outward. This distributes the remaining minority of the ornithopter's weight. Black clips and handles add mechanical decoration to the front feet, but they also pivot with the feet, especially as they settle onto uneven surfaces.

Folding wings for storage... or daring dives

When Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV revoked House Atreides' fiefdom over the planet Caladan (yeah, the glossaries in the books help when reading Dune) the clan traveled one standard month across the galaxy to arrive on Arrakis. This journey to the planet also called Dune was conducted in a Spacer Guild Heighliner, an immense ship capable of carrying fleets of armaments within. Even in such a massive starship, excess dimensions cost their passengers credits, and the walled settlements of Arrakis have limited room for equipment.

To effectively cope with logistical constraints, ornithopters' wings fold flat against their bodies. The exact method isn't described in the novels, and the 2021 Dune film shows a complicated folding movement as Duke Leto takes his 'thopter into a dive for cinematic flair. The film-based LEGO ornithopter has an elegant solution all the same.


With a simple 180° flip of the red-marked control at the top-center, all eight wings move in unison. The wide arc cast by the wings make for an impressive show, and another detent — this time with a spring — securely keeps the wings forward or folded. When it comes to visual impact, this function takes the cake.


Were you expecting System power? No, of course not. This desert power derives from Technic power once again. The middle segment of the ornithopter has two layers, and the upper is home to the wing-folding function. Eight towballs later connect to 6L Technic balljoint links (32005) to pass the extending power out to the wings. The same link is used to connect the upper and lower wings to flap in unison.

Below this, the lower layer is dedicated to the flapping wing motion.

Flappy ornithopter

Ornitho- is a prefix meaning "birdlike" and -pter is a suffix meaning "with wings." Though far from the first to use the word "ornithopter," Frank Herbert described his universe's preferred air transport as something blending an insect and a bird, with the flapping wings a clear link. 2021 Dune director Denis Villeneuve went all-in on the dragonfly interpretation, granting us this fanciful movement to be realized in LEGO form.


Such an orchestrated movement is elegant in its simplicity of activation. A thumb press to the long button at the start of the ornithopter's tail rocks Technic pieces in a see-saw motion, with each end of the rocker pushing four wings at once. The actuation is dependent on gravity pulling the massive wings back into place, so if you're attempting steep climbs or pitched rolls, expect the wings to move less than they do at a straight-and-level attitude.


In our parts review, I mentioned the new wing elements have varying curvatures, and many readers have reported the same. Whether this is a shortcoming in production or shipment, its apparent severity decreases when the wings are in motion. Sitting still and extended, I still notice the variance in wing droop.


With the wings removed and top cut away, we see LEGO System and Technic System pieces working in harmony, as they should. Arches and pinhole plates throughout this centre cavity make way for axles and liftarms while transitioning strongly into the LEGO System exterior.

One baffling design choice is the Light Bluish Gray 3L perpendicular double-pinhole Technic connectors (42003) used as the outwardmost non-rotating pieces of the wing assemblies. Going into those are newly-recoloured Black 3L perpendicular 2-pin connectors (2393), presumably darkened to fit Dune's grim aesthetic. Black 42003 connectors exist — it's the most common colour for that part — so why weren't they used here?


The LEGO Group often chooses contrasting colours for parts to ensure the correct ones are used, but in an 18+ set, builder attention to detail is expected and extra notes can be included in the instructions to prevent mistakes. If light gray 42003s are acceptable here, why recolour the 2393s at all? I can only assume future sets use 2393 connectors in Black, but it still leaves the Light Bluish Gray choice for 42003 connectors unanswered.

Solid construction, solid functions

Some odd decisions aside, I have a contender for my personal set of the year for 2024 — and it's only February. Dune nerds like me have a lot to be excited about, and the unique functions might even attract folks outside the fandom.


That doesn't mean the set is without shortcomings, though. Admittedly not many people fit in an ornithoper, but the set is limited to carrying just two of the eight included minifigures without modification. Even then, you'll struggle to fit Lady Jessica inside and seating Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is out of the question.


Limited legroom, some miniscule odd colour choices, minor wing warpage, and very few loose pieces are the harshest criticism I can muster. Dark Bluish Gray and Black parts are commonplace, so few builders may find value in this set as a parts pack. On the flip side, the functions of 10327 Dune Ornithopter perform near-flawlessly, the structure is incredibly resilient, and the extensive cast of minifigures will leave few Dune fans wanting.

If nothing else, the cold insectoid nature of ornithopters have been perfectly captured. If you're planning on adding 10327 Dune Atreides Royal Ornithopter to your fleet, please consider using New Elementary's affiliate links.

READ MORE: LEGO® Friends review: 42621 Heartlake City Hospital

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3 comments:

  1. As someone who despises Lego's handshake with the IP devils, I have to say that this review has given me a level of hope for innovation and a willful parting of my hard-earned money. Excellent review of an excellent model. And praise be to Shai-Hulud that this isn't another X-wing.

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  2. I like it! Visible Technics engineering appeals to me, I am an ancient SF nerd and first read Dune over 50 years ago. I used my model as inspiration for inventing a lighting loom from Light My Bricks components, based on a helicopter and flickering instruments and jets, with all the headlights, red cabin lights and some blue (inspired by the special indicator lights that King Charles was obliged to fly with as a princely trainee). The only problem is a little weakness from cables beneath some of the plates.

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  3. Hi, I wonder what's the best way to manipulate the curvature of the wings so that both sides will naturally bend downwards. Any good suggestion?

    ReplyDelete