Michael Chabon on Lego then and now:
By the late nineties, when we bought that first Indian set, abstraction was dead. A full-blown realism reigned supreme in the Legosphere. Legos were sold in kits that enabled one to put together, at fine scales, in detail made possible by a wild array of odd-shaped pieces, precise replicas of Ferrari Formula 1 racers, pirate galleons, jet airplanes. Lego provided not only the standard public-domain play environments supplied to children by toy designers of the past fifty to one hundred years�the Wild West, the middle ages, jungle and farm and city street--but also a line of licensed Star Wars kits, the first of many subsequent ventures into trademarked, conglomerate-owned, pre-imagined environments derived from movies and other media. Instead of the printed booklets I remembered, featuring suggestions for the kinds of things one might want to try to make from his or her box of squares and rectangles, the new kits came encumbered with fat, abstruse, wordless manuals laying out, panel after numbered panel and page after page, the steps that must be followed if one hoped--and after all, why else would you nudge your dad into buying it for you?--to arrive, in the end, at a landspeeder just like Luke Skywalker's (only smaller). Where Lego building had once been an open-ended, exploratory kind, it now had far more in common with puzzle-solving, a process of moving incrementally toward a ideal, pre-established solution.