This theme was also notable for its introduction of a wide range of specialized parts such as ship bow, stern and mid-section hull pieces, masts, functioning cannons and several different animals to include monkeys, parrots and sharks. The theme also introduced a special character, the Pirate Captain Red Beard, who had a unique peg-leg, Hook Hand and eyepatch.LEGO also published a 36-page comic called "The Golden Medallion", in which Captain Red Beard and his Bosun Willy do piraty things like plundering enemy ships and chasing a buried treasure. In Germany, this comic was adapted to an audio play, for which 5 sequels were made.
Like all LEGO themes, Pirates evolved over time with the introduction of newer sets. In 1992, the 18th century French-modeled Imperial Soldiers were replaced with the 18th century British-themed Imperial Guards. (no, not those imperial guards). At the same time, nearly all the pirate sets were replaced as well. This year saw the introduction of the Skull's Eye Schooner (#6286), the largest Pirates ship until 2010, as well as the popular Imperial Flagship (#6271) sets. The Imperial Flagship name was given to a new and much larger Creator Expert set (#10210) introduced in 2010. It is the largest single Pirates ship sold by LEGO, and was also the largest classic Pirates inspired set for 10 years until the Ideas set Pirates of Barracuda Bay (#21322) came out.
The theme was expanded in 1994 to include the Islanders, based loosely on pre-colonized native tribes, but not specific. Led by King Kahuka, the Islanders inhabited a number of hazardous but treasure-laden islands and atolls. Sets included interesting bits such as canoes and catamarans, fancy head-dress pieces and crocodiles.
In 1996, the theme was refreshed again and the Imperial Guards were replaced with a 16th century Spanish-themed "Imperial Armada". Many fans argue that this change marked the decline of the Pirates theme overall, as the sets began to lose quality. They focused more on gimmicky features such as collapsible masts and less on actual substance and creativity for the player.
After 12 years with only sporadic releases, 2009 saw a return to the Pirates theme in full, with new sets that took inspiration from the older line and featured its two main factions, but with set design akin to other action-adventure themes of the time such as Atlantis and Power Miners.
In 2011, the Pirates theme was discontinued, and though they had a theme based on Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it shared no relation to the Pirates theme. The main Pirates theme had a brief return in 2015 with only 5 traditional sets that were essentially new versions of the 2009 line, and was discontinued shortly after.
In 2020, the LEGO Ideas set Pirates of Barracuda Bay (#21322) was revealed and released. Despite not officially being a Pirates set, it was designed as a continuation of the original '89 Pirates line, featuring an island base made out of the wreckage of the Black Seas Barracuda and aged versions of most of its crew. Notably, builders are able to take apart the base and rebuild the ship, so the set also functions as a remake of the original Black Seas Barracuda, with newer parts and building techniques but keeping the original shape and colour scheme.
Among fans, the Pirates theme is one of the most fondly remembered and popular for collectors and Adult Fans of LEGO. The Pirates theme has even spawned large scale table-top style games played on living room floors, including one by none other than Steve Jackson, who is an avid and vocal fan of the LEGO Pirates theme. His game rules and instructions can be found here.
As for the sets themselves, a complete guide can be found here.
Some notable LEGO Pirates LEGO ship sets:
- #6285 / #10040 Black Seas Barracuda (1989-1992 / 2002-2004) (One of the most remembered Pirates sets by fans)
- #6286 Skull's Eye Schooner (1993-1995) (the largest Pirates ship set until 2010, see below)
- #6271 Imperial Flagship (1992-1995)
- #6268 Renegade Runner (1993-1995)
- #10210 Imperial Flagship (2010) (the largest Pirates ship set)
Tropes seen in this LEGO theme:
- Accordion to Most Sailors: Accordions are used in a variety of LEGO video games to represent the Pirates theme. Typically, in these crossover games, the accordion is notably only heard in pirate-themed locations and levels, and absent from the rest of the soundtrack.
- LEGO Chess: Captain Redbeard's leitmotif, as heard in the story mode cutscenes and Pirate-themed chess board music, features an accordion melody.
- LEGO Legacy: Heroes Unboxed: The Pirate-themed Palmtree Panic music tracks "SAND 01" and "SAND 02" feature an accordion.
- LEGO Racers: Captain Redbeard's intro theme has an accordion melody, while the Port Town level Imperial Grand Prix music features an accordion in the harmony.
- LEGO Soccer Mania: The "tied" and "losing" variations of the Pirates music prominently feature accordion melodies, while it's relegated to a more harmonic role in the "winning" variation.
- LEGO Universe: The Pirate Camp music, as well as its sped-up Cannon Cove Shooting Gallery remix, features an accordion playing part of the melody of a traditional Irish jig.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: At least a third of the sets had alliterative names, e. g. "Renegade's Raft", "Pirate's Plunder", "Raft Raiders", "Smuggler's Shanty", "Bounty Boat", "Lagoon Lock-up", "Broadside's Brig", "Cannon Cove", "Rocky Reef" and, best of all, "Pirate's Perillous Pitfall".
- Age Lift: In the UK, the scruffy mustached adult pirate in 6235 is named Bo'sun Will. Starting with The Golden Medallion, all later depictions of Bo'sun Will would make him no older than a teenager, without a single facial hair.
- Anachronism Stew: The Imperial Armada-themed sets are inspired by Spanish ships of the 16th and 17th centuries, just barely overlapping with The Golden Age of Piracy. However, the 6280 Armada Flagship set depicts the ship with a wooden steering wheel, something that wouldn't appear on sailing ships until the early 18th century.
- Awesome McCoolname: Pretty much all the ship sets, with names like "Black Seas Barracuda", "Red Beard Runner", "Cross Bone Clipper" and "Skull's Eye Schooner".
- Captain Colorbeard:
- Captain Redbeard is a pirate captain with a red beard.
- Captain Brickbeard might not have a literal brick for a beard, but he fits the naming scheme.
- Chased by Angry Natives: But they were only angry when the pirates tried to double-cross them or otherwise threaten them. One promotional comic had two pirates arguing about their shares from a buried treasure to the point that they didn't notice they got surrounded by the natives, who then mocked their greediness.
- Continuity Snarl: USA Shop@Home catalogs, Disney Adventures comics, and LEGO Racers refer to Admiral Woodhouse as Governor Broadside, establishing that he is the same character from the original 1989 Imperial Soldiers faction. The problem arises when UK catalogs and German audio dramas make it explicitly clear that Broadside and Woodhouse are separate characters, and Woodhouse is even a rival of Broadside.
- Deserted Island: Pretty much any island set that didn't include inhabited buildings or hideouts.
- Dressed to Plunder: The presence of the pirate Stock Costume Traits should surprise no one.
- The Drunken Sailor: First Mate Rummy lives up to his name. When he opens a treasure chest, he's disappointed if it's not rum. When asked if the crew needs twenty barrels of rum and two barrels of water, he insists that one barrel of water is enough.
- Dub Name Change:
- Many of the LEGO Pirates sets had different names in America and Europe. For example, Captain Redbeard's first ship was named the Black Seas Barracuda in America and the Dark Shark in Europe.
- The main pirate captain was named Captain Redbeard in America and Captain Roger in Europe. However, some sources indicate both names are canon: the English version of The Golden Medallion (which otherwise uses the name "Captain Red Beard") refers to him as "Captain Roger" in the penultimate panel, and LEGO Legacy: Heroes Unboxed outright confirms that Roger is Redbeard's given name.
- The chief of the Islanders was named King Kahuka in America and King Quextil in Europe.
- In the American magazine LEGO Mania, a contest was held (but the winner was never announced) to decide the name of the Admiral, with the choices being Cannonball Cordoba and Don Diego de LEGO. In the European magazine Bricks 'n' Pieces, no such contest was held because the Admiral in question was named Sergeant Speedy.
- Early Installment Character Design Difference: Bo'sun Will's first appearance in set 6235 (as confirmed by its UK name) shows him as a scruffy adult wearing a blue-striped shirt, while all later appearances would consistent depict him as a clean-shaven boy wearing a red-striped shirt.
- Enemy Mine: Subverted in The Golden Medallion. Captain Red Beard and Captain Foul consider teaming up against their common enemy Governor Broadside, but start bickering over how they'll split the treasure and end up not working together at all.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most characters from the 2009 and 2015 reboots were never given official names and are simply addressed by title, such as "Lady Pirate", "Admiral's Daughter", "Old Pirate", "Pirate Gunner", "Governor's Daughter", etc.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In The Golden Medallion, Popsy the parrot starts throwing a fit. Captain Red Beard explains that Popsy always does that just before a volcano eruption. Cue Mass "Oh, Crap!" from pirates and imperials alike when they realize what this means.
- Eyepatch of Power: A common feature on many minifigs.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: Averted big time, as with all the other historical LEGO themes. Granted, it's a toyline based on the golden age of piracy, so this is to be expected. The minifigs wield muskets, blunderbusses and trusty flintlock pistols.
- Gilligan Cut: In The Golden Medallion, Bo'sun Will offers to get the titular medallion from the monkey Spinoza, who has climbed up one of the ship's masts. Captain Red Beard orders him to stay up there until he succeeds. Cut to eight hours later: night has fallen, and Will is still up in the rigging trying to lure Spinoza down with a banana.
- Hero Antagonist: The Imperials are often seen as the heroes by default, but they're frequently depicted as antagonists while the story roots for the Villain Protagonist pirates, such as in The Golden Medallion.
- Hook Hand: A very common feature, especially among the captains.
- Improbable Weapon User: The boxart of the set "Buried Treasure" featured a monkey wielding a cutlass.
- Island Base: Many of the sets, both small and large and both for pirates and colonial soldiers.
- Market-Based Title: Many of the ships had alternate names in the US and UK (e.g. 6268 Renegade Runner was also known as "Sea Vulture").
- Noble Savage: The islanders weren't perfect by any means, but were portrayed as a peaceful people who only wanted to be kept alone and remain neutral in the ongoing pirates vs. soldiers conflict.
- Ocean Punk: The setting was a mix between Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon! and more Polynesian-flavoured environments (in the case of the natives).
- Pirates: Well, of course. But there are also various factions of colonial soldiers and even natives.
- Pirate Booty: Many sets, especially the smaller ones, come with treasure chests full of gold coins for the pirates to plunder.
- Pirate Girl: A lot of the bigger ships would feature a lone female pirate as part of the crew. Specific female pirates include Anne, Lady Pirate, Princess Argentina, and Robin Loot.
- Pirate Parrot: Lots of these in many of the sets. Minifigs representing wild untamed parrots were just as common.
- Posthumous Character: John and Brian Blackheart buried their treasure fifty years before the events of The Golden Medallion, and they're presumed to be long dead (John disappeared in the jungle and Brian was condemned in Europe) by the time of the comic's events.
- Punny Name: The set "Skeleton Crew" includes a buried treasure site "guarded" by the skeleton of a long-dead Spanish conquistador.
- The Remake:
- Captain Redbeard received a modernized minifigure in the 2015 reboot, with greater print detail and a redesigned face. Another modernized Redbeard minifigure was released in 2020 with 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay, this time depicted at an older age with his red beard starting to turn gray.
- According to the website URLs, the 2015 reboot's Pirate Gunner was intended to be a remake of First Mate Rummy. While never explicitly referred to by name, the Pirate Boy is also a dead ringer for Bo'sun Will, and the Pirate Princess (named Argentina in LEGO Legacy: Heroes Unboxed) bears a striking resemblance to the Pirate Girl from 6250 Cross Bone Clipper.
- The alternate configuration of 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay is a full remake of the original Black Seas Barracuda.
- Remember the New Guy?: Robin Loot is said to be the former gunner of the Cross Bone Clipper, but the original set did not feature any minifigure resembling her. Either that, or she's a Composite Character of the two Cross Bone Clipper pirates under Redbeard's command: a Pirate Girl (who otherwise doesn't resemble Robin) and a male pirate (whose outfit resembles Robin's).
- Robinsonade: A surprising number of (mostly smaller) sets involves pirates being shipwrecked on a deserted island or marooned at sea.
- Seadog Peg Leg: The line has Captain Redbeard, whose right leg is designed to look like a wooden stump.
- Sequel Hook: Subverted at the end of The Golden Medallion. After their adventure on Shipwreck Island, an old man offers to sell Bo'sun Will a map to the treasure of Captain Snarl-face, setting up an And the Adventure Continues ending. Will, having just declared that he's "had enough of rum and treasure for now", just pushes the old man into the sea and informs Red Beard that he was "selling junk".
- Spell My Name with an "S": The pirate captain's name is sometimes spelled as Redbeard and other times as Red Beard.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
- When the Imperial Soldiers were replaced with the Imperial Guard, Admiral Woodhouse and the unnamed Imperial Guard lieutenant were just palette swaps of Governor Broadside and Lieutenant De Martinet. The similarities are so great that Shop@Home catalogs, Disney Adventures comics, and LEGO Racers even consider Broadside and Woodhouse to be the same exact character, referring to the latter by the former's name.
- Captain Ironhook, who appears in various early-nineties sets and the Islanders subtheme instead of Captain Redbeard, is literally just Redbeard with a different shirt.
- Captain Brickbeard from the 2009 reboot has a more distinct look (especially compared to Ironhook), but he borrows so many elements of Captain Redbeard's design (the outfit, the eyepatch, the red beard, the hook hand, and the peg leg) that he might as well have been Redbeard in all but name.
- Theme Naming: A ridiculous amount of sets had geographic names based on various sailing and piratey lingo and equipment.
- Toyless Toyline Character: The Golden Medallion introduces characters like Bessie, Jimbo, Captain Foul, Culverin, John and Brian Blackheart, Aunt Prudence, and Camilla, who are not based on any physical minifigures from the original 1989 toyline.note
- Villain Protagonist: It's a theme featuring pirates front-and-center, so the storyline occasionally roots for them as the protagonists, with the Imperial factions frequently serving as Hero Antagonists.
- Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon!: The setting was mostly styled after the stereotypical version of the 17th and 18th century Caribbean. It did show some historical accuracy though, by having the pirate-opposing navies and armies belonging to various European colonial powers (namely France, Spain and Britain). This trope got subverted with the addition of the native sets, since they were a mix of Carib tribal culture and a more Polynesian-flavoured one.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: As to be expected, this toyline is set in the The Golden Age of Piracy and is full of tropes from the era.
- Would Hurt a Child: Governor Broadside has no qualms about hanging Bo'sun Will, who appears to be no older than a teenager.