I recently bought myself a 32-inch Polar Lights Enterprise — and she is glorious.
I have been collecting for a long time, and while there are items of memorabilia that I greatly covet — like screen-used props and any items directly related to Wah Chang or Matt Jefferies — there are not many TOS collectibles that I want and do not own. However, one gap in my collection has vexed me for many years: I did not have a large Enterprise model. I’ve wanted one since Master Replicas announced its supersized 1701 in 2004, but that big ship came with a big price tag — US$1,200 — and I didn’t have the money.
My other option — buying the original model kit from Polar Lights — was also a no go. That kit will produce a beautiful screen-accurate ship for those with a lot of time, experience, and modelling and painting equipment, but sadly I lack all of these. There are experts who build models on commission but, again, the prices are prohibitive. You’re looking at about US$1,000 to assemble and paint the model, plus another US$600 if you want lights added. And that’s on top of purchasing the kit and lights.
So I was thrilled when Polar Lights unveiled its “Prebuilt display model 1:350 scale.” It looked great in the promo photos and the US$450 list price was a bargain by comparison.
To light or not to light
The only thing that held me back was that this model is not lit, so I asked my friend Robert J. Sawyer for advice. Rob (who appears here and here on this site) is a gifted novelist and a TOS uber-fan. He owns the Master Replicas 32-inch Enterprise, which has lights and spinning Bussard collectors, but Rob pointed out that he rarely flips the switch on these as both the lights and rotation motors have a tendency to burn out, and they can’t be replaced. He also made the astute observation that the MR model was designed to look best when lit, while Polar Lights optimized its model for an unglowing state. He had already put in his order when we spoke.
Smart guy, Rob. I bought my ship and he was right. I do not miss the lights.
The assembly is a little scary
The model is 1:350 scale, which gives you a finished length of 32 inches or 81 cm, the same as the model kit or the MR version. (Why 32 inches? Hold on; we’ll get to that.) It’s billed as “prebuilt” but that is slightly misleading, as what you get is not a meter-long box but a smallish carton containing four sections plus the deflector dish. These are then snapped together by you.
And that process, let me tell you, is nerve-racking. The fit of those pieces is tight, by necessity, so assembly requires some amount of force. I was worried the whole time that I would break a connector or an entire segment. The instructions advise that a little work with a nail file might make the pieces slot together easier, and I did this and it did help.
The price of glory
The cost here is good by comparison but still not inconsequential. The best price for US buyers was US$450 directly from the manufacturer. I got mine for C$550 from Toronto model shop Wheels and Wings. Buy local when you can. I did not have to pay for shipping or worry about Customs duties at the border.
That was part one of the outlay. Part two was a new cabinet and a lamp, so she could be displayed properly. And I had to reconfigure a section of my autograph wall around the ship. So, I sank about a thousand bucks and many hours into this project, and I could not be happier about that.
Some Enterprise history
The Enterprise was first made manifest in a four-inch wood and cardboard prototype by Matt Jefferies. The final version was the 11-foot hero ship that currently resides at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. But between those two ships was an interim version, built by Richard C. Datin. When you watch The Cage, the ship on your screen is that smaller ship, and it is also seen in later episodes when stock footage was used. The length of that model inspired both Master Replicas and Polar Lights to make their ships 32 inches.
But here is some deep-cut Star Trek knowledge: both companies are a little off. Datin died in 2011 and in 2016 his son, N. Datin McDonald, self-published The Enterprise NCC 1701 and the Model Maker, an account of his father’s career. He prints many of his father’s notes, including this: “Taking a ruler, the overall length from the leading edge of the primary hull to the aft end of the nacelles is 33 3/4 inches.”
She looks great in my Star Trek room
I wrote early in the life of this blog that the Franklin Mint 25th anniversary Enterprise “may be my favourite” model. I am going to revise that post, as the Polar Lights ship is easily the most accurate and beautiful in my collection.
I bought a lamp just to shine on my new ship, as I said above, and I added one fun refinement that I recommend to all like-minded fans. I plugged the lamp into a smart plug and named it for the ship. So, when I walk into my Star Trek room, I tell my Google Mini “Turn on the Enterprise” — and the light hits her.
It makes me happy every morning.
Because the Enterprise is on my mind right now, I also wrote short articles on seeing the 11-foot model at the Smithsonian in the ’80s and on whether there should be lines on her primary hull. (Spoiler: not really, but kind of.)