Is Lego's "Jabba's Palace" anti-Muslim? (Courtesy Lego)
In a story so bizarre that some were convinced it was a pre-April Fool’s Day Internet joke, a Turkish group in Austria is claiming victory in forcing Lego to withdraw a Star Wars toy over allegations the toy is anti-Muslim.
The Independent reported on Sunday that Lego was pulling its “Jabba’s Palace” playset “featuring a mosque-like building inhabited by an obese, hookah–smoking alien” following complaints by the Turkish Cultural Association that some figures in the toy set were “deceitful and criminal characters such as gun-runners, slave masters and terrorists.”
The Independent also said the Lego critics “claimed that the palace had an uncanny resemblance to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque.”
The story—and earlier reports on the controversy dating back to the start of this year—had been widely picked up by other U.K. media outlets and the Huffington Post.
The original stories prompted Tim Worstall, a business and technology blogger for Forbes.com to suggest back in January this was “entirely a spoof” since he could find “no English language evidence of this group before this Lego storm”—although he later conceded there was a German-language site for the Turkish organization.
So I did some digging and can confirm the story is true — at least, to some degree.
There is a Turkish Cultural Association based in Austria and you can read (in German) about their campaign against Lego here. My efforts to reach a real live spokesperson for the group were unsuccessful.
Lego posted a formal reply back in January on its website to the allegations that “Jabba’s Palace” “look[ed] similar to a mosque in Istanbul.”
“The LEGO Group regrets that the product has caused the members of the Turkish cultural community to interprete it wrongly,” the statement read, “but point out that the design of the product only refers to the fictional content of the Star Wars saga.”
But websites can be hacked right?
So I tracked down the Lego spokesperson whose named appeared at the bottom of that press release to see if all of this was legit—and to check on how Jabba was faring.
Roar Rude Trangbæk, Lego communications manager, confirmed to me in an email that the press release is real—as is the controversy.
He also confirmed that if you want to get your child the Jabba playset you better do it before the end of the year because it will be pulled out of production by “the end of 2013.”
However, he told me this is “not a result of the criticism raised by any group at all” but because of a “normal process” that allows a “life-cycle of one to three years” for most of Lego’s Star Wars products.
The Independent reported Lego’s decision followed a meeting between Lego and community leaders and quoted Birol Kilic, the president of the Turkish Cultural Association, as saying: “We are very grateful and congratulate Lego on the decision to take “Jabba’s Palace” out of production.”
Trangbæk confirmed Lego did meet with Turkish community group , but told me that Jabba's demise -- at least in Legoland -- was a long-planned business decision.
"We have not agreed to end production of the mentioned product from 2014 based on the dialogue with the Turkish community," he said. "We fully stand by the product."
He also promised "new exciting models from the Star Wars universe will follow."
No doubt Lego executives hope the force will be with them with their new models.