Playing with Star Wars Lego bricks made them famous. Then a mysterious crime drove them apart.
On October 4, 2018, a young Frenchman named Louis came home from work to find the window in his front door smashed. A practical-minded 20-year-old with short dark hair, he figured it was just another petty crime in the rural outskirts of Paris, where he lived with his parents. But when he saw the familiar gleam of a tiny red plastic brick on the driveway, his stomach plunged. It was his Lego.
In brickspeak, Louis is an Adult Fan of Lego — known as AFOLs, for short — and among the most ardent. His grandmother gave him his first set, the Lego Clone Scout Walker, for his sixth birthday, igniting a singular passion that hasn't let up since. Under his handle Republicattak (the missing "c" a childhood misspelling that gnaws at him), he shares his custom Star Wars-themed builds on his YouTube channel. Unlike many aspiring influencers, he keeps his identity private, other than his first name, to avoid embarrassment at work. "Otherwise, it'll be very awkward," he tells me over Zoom in his thick French accent. "Because in my videos, I'm very much like, basically, a grown man playing with toys."
On that October day, his toys were everywhere. Colorful parts littered the walkway outside his house — a green baseplate here, a yellow sloped brick there. As Louis slowly followed the trail, he recognized chunks of his most beloved builds: a broken cockpit from his UCS X-Wing, the black treads ripped from his Clone Turbo Tank, a limbless Stormtrooper Minifigure staring helplessly from inside its helmet. "It was like a horror movie," he recalls, "but for Lego."
Though his parents were away, Louis feared the intruder might still be inside as he pushed open the broken front door. Nervously, he followed the trail of Lego to his bedroom. Since that first gift from his grandma, he'd painstakingly acquired, cataloged, and dusted ("just the dust," he tells me, is "terrible, painful work") more than 300 sets worth more than $20,000.
Now, his collection appeared to have been blasted by a Death Star Superlaser. Whole models had vanished, mint-condition boxes were ransacked, and scattered across the floor were the remnants of his most valuable builds.
His cash and laptops were untouched, but the Millennium Falcon his parents had given him was gone; so was the original Clone Scout Walker from his grandma. Most painful of all, the intruders had destroyed the massive, original Lego opus he'd been building over nights and long weekends for 10 months, a 35,000-piece installation he called "Imperial Gate."
"I really feel like the whole part of my stomach is missing," Louis recalls. "It is just so much that I'm just collapsing on the ground. I will just crush my head against the floor. Then I will just stand up and crush my head against the walls and just screaming. I will just run outside screaming. I will maybe scream for at least 10, 20 minutes."
That afternoon, he taped what he said was his final YouTube message. "I don't know what I'm going to do," he said into his cellphone camera, blinking back tears. "It really was my passion. That's the end of this channel."
Louis grew up in the Golden Age of Lego. The company, headquartered in the tiny Danish town of Billund, recently opened a Googleplex-like campus for its 2,000 employees. When I visited last year, the company had hoisted a King Kong-size, primary-colored Lego Minifigure at the entrance. In the lobby, a full-scale Lego Bugatti flashed its headlights. Fifteen million tourists a year flood the flagship Legoland theme park down the street, and a mile-long Lego factory runs around the clock, 361 days a year, churning out nearly 5 billion pieces a month. There are now more Minifigs in the world — 8.3 billion — than human beings.
The boom has also given rise to a multimillion-dollar secondary market for the most sought-after builds. Researchers at the Higher School of Economics in Russia found that from 1987 to 2015 Lego investments returned about 10% annually — better than stocks, bonds, gold, and collectible items like wine and stamps. A Space Command Center Lego set that sold for $25 in 1979 is worth over $10,000 today. "Investors in Lego generate high returns from reselling unpackaged sets, particularly rare ones, which were produced in limited editions or a long time ago," said Victoria Dobrynskaya, one of the study's authors.
But the big money in little bricks comes with a downside: crime. In 2012, the police arrested a 47-year-old Silicon Valley executive for tricking stores into giving him a discount on Lego sets and then reselling them on eBay. In 2015, a 46-year-old Florida man and his mother were convicted of stealing an estimated $2 million worth of Lego from Toys R Us stores from Maine to California. In 2020, thieves blasted through the warehouse wall of Fairy Bricks, a charity in England that donates Lego sets to sick kids at hospitals around the world, and absconded with $800,000 worth of bricks. That same year, police arrested three Polish suspects accused of robbing Lego toy stores across France as part of an international crime ring. Counterfeiting is even more lucrative: In Shanghai, the police recently broke up a crime syndicate accused of making and selling nearly $50 million in bogus Lego.
Before Louis' bricks were stolen, he had devoted every birthday and Christmas wish list, every euro he earned tending his parents' garden, to their accumulation. When his grandmother complained about the pieces littering his bedroom, he told her she couldn't blame him — she was the one who had introduced him to the hobby. At school, his obsession became a liability. "It became more difficult," he says. "I was looked at as the guy who does Lego still." But when he won a contest in art class for building an elaborate bridge out of bricks, "that was enough to shut everybody's mouth about Lego being a childish thing."
Louis launched his YouTube channel in 2011, taking his handle from his favorite Star Wars set, the Republic Attack Gunship. Lego YouTubers span the globe, from earnest amateurs with a few followers to professional influencers with paid sponsorships and worldwide fans. Those who are into Lego Star Wars are among the most popular. Louis made his name by creating his own scenes from the Star Wars universe. These MOCs, short for "My Own Creations," are considered high art among the Lego diehards.
Louis' MOCs were pointillistic and inventive, faithful to the original story of Star Wars but still imaginative and new: a violent ambush on the lush planet Felucia, a staunch Republic patrol on the icy station of Hoth. "Many people love to take a scene from a movie and rebuild it into Lego, but I find this is very boring, honestly," he tells me. "I love to build something with just one first idea in mind. And then as I build, more and more and more ideas come — 'Hey, why not do something with snow? OK, let's see what sort of pieces I have.' Creativity comes with constraints. I'm putting myself in constraints and forcing myself to do something."
After school and on weekends, Louis would spend long hours constructing and filming his builds for his YouTube channel. His videos were labors of love: a Star Wars-style "Republicattak Productions" logo; long, loving pans over his clone bases accompanied by a piano rendition of "Rondo Alla Turca." Though mocked at school, Louis found a legion of like-minded Lego fans online. He traveled to conventions and Lego-building tournaments.
It was at an informal contest where Louis met Victor, a fellow Lego Star Wars fanatic. They were both 10, and they became best friends, visiting each other to build together in person. Soon they ranked among the most popular Lego Star Wars YouTubers in France, known for the size and scope of their MOCs. "We were the only two who made huge creations," Victor tells me. (Like Louis, he is known in the AFOL community by only his first name and his YouTube handle.)
An aspiring filmmaker, Victor impressed Louis with his cinematic flair. His MOCs captured moments of action and even gore — a sprawl of security clones firing into an onslaught of coming bounty hunters, a massacre of decapitated clones with red brick blood. When he began selling his own artisan Minifigs online — sleek "luxury clone customs," as Victor bills them — Louis was among his first customers, eager to support his friend.
In 2018, Louis began building his greatest MOC yet: the Imperial Gate. He imagined a gray mountain chain, towering like the nearby Pyrenees, cut in half by the Imperial Engineering Corps to build a road. There would be a power plant, a dam, and, most dramatically, a giant, four-legged, mechanical All Terrain Armored Transport, or AT-AT walker, stomping through the range. "I know that this may be inappropriate," he says, "but for me, it was really like my baby."
But as Louis' fame in the AFOL community grew, his friendship with Victor began to fray. By his own acknowledgment, Louis had grown cocky as his YouTube follower count topped Victor's. "When you're on YouTube and you get to climb," he says, "simply, you just have a big head." Then Victor won some notable Lego contests, and his own YouTube channel surged past Louis'. "I quickly went over him in terms of followers," Victor tells me. "I don't want to sound cocky, but the French are not the best builders, so I had no real competition. Even Republicattak, he is not considered a very good builder, even though he has a big collection."
They were also growing apart in the way childhood friends often do. They had known each other since the sixth grade, a couple of nerdy kids obsessed with X-wing fighters and colored bricks. Now they were growing up and following divergent paths. Living in Paris, Victor became the cool city kid: growing his hair long, adding chill hip-hop tracks to his videos, pursuing his dream to be a director and an actor. Louis remained at home with his parents in the country, quiet and reclusive as he tinkered with his builds.
The next time Victor came over to Louis' place proved to be the last. It was the summer of 2018. Louis had already spent the better part of the year constructing his Imperial Gate. Victor poked around Louis' stacks of unboxed Lego sets and found one he suggested they crack open and build together: the Battle of Scarif. Based on the Star Wars movie "Rogue One," the 2017 set was inspired by one of the canon's most dramatic Rebel missions: to steal the secret Death Star plans from a fortified beach bunker on the planet Scarif. With 419 pieces and four Minifigs, it wasn't a very big or complex set. But Louis was meticulous about his Lego room, and he didn't have the space, or the desire, to build it yet.
Louis says that Victor didn't take it well, and that after much "whining" he stormed off. Victor plays down the moment, saying their lives simply went "adrift." The two friends no longer fit with that satisfying click that comes from snapping together two Lego bricks. After the Battle of Scarif, it would be months before they spoke with each other again.
From the outside, every subculture seems strange and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. AFOLs exist in an obsessive ecosystem of websites, TikToks, Instagrams, conventions, trading sites, black markets, newsletters, and competitions devoted to the cult of the brick. The most hardcore make a pilgrimmage to Billund, where the Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen cobbled together the first bricks 90 years ago. For many, building with Lego is an almost spiritual experience. "It's about having a mindset of always using the endless opportunities," says Esben Christensen, a 76-year-old who plays in the Lego marching band with his son. "It's about looking at what can I get out of these bricks."
Santiago Carluccio, a 32-year-old AFOL from Buenos Aires, Argentina, spent two years studying Danish and bought a one-way ticket to Billund with the hope of scoring a design job at the company. In the meantime, he's cooking poached salmon and sautéed pumpkin at the Mini Chef café, where robots serve meals in giant plastic bricks. "Lego is a part of how I'm built," he tells me.
Lego is well aware of the value of its adult fans; the company estimates that 20% of its sales are grown-ups buying sets for themselves. At its headquarters in the center of town, it maintains a Masterpiece Gallery of AFOL MOCs. A 50-foot Tree of Creativity, made of over 6 million pieces, soars up from the lobby. There are intricate Lego flowers, elaborate Lego Rube Goldberg machines, a broom-size pop-art Lego toothbrush achingly detailed down to the bristles. "One of our philosophies is to showcase the endless possibilities of the brick," Stuart Harris, the gallery's master builder, tells me as we gaze up at a 10-foot-tall orange-and-red Tyrannosaurus rex. He hands me a bag of six red bricks, noting that they can be snapped into 915 million combinations. "You might have something in your mind as to what you want to create," he says. "But then it's engineering: How am I going to do that? What kind of bricks and techniques am I going to use? It's the challenge that's fun and inspiring."
When Louis' fellow AFOLs saw his tearful farewell video, they were outraged on his behalf. The clip traveled rapidly through the community of adult fans, racking up more than 22 million views and prompting a shout-out from the YouTube influencer PewDiePie. "This absolutely breaks my fucking heart," one viewer posted. "All these years of hardwork RUINED." Another replied: "Whoever did this was a HORRIBLE person. They didn't just steal his Lego, but basically his whole life."
As the outrage grew, Ryan McCullough, an AFOL in Florida, launched a GoFundMe campaign to help replace Louis' stolen sets. "His room was ransacked and almost all of his Lego was stolen," McCullough posted. "It would be incredible to help him rebuild his collection." McCullough hoped to raise $1,000. Within 24 hours, supporters had donated $18,350 — enough to replace the entire collection. "It's just an indescribable feeling," Louis recalls. He even received a package from Lego headquarters. Inside was a brand-new set tied to the final "Star Wars" movie that was signed by the designers — along with the film's director, J.J. Abrams.
But even with the money to replace his collection, there was no buying back what his stolen sets had meant to him. "Those are priceless memories," Louis says. He couldn't bring himself to pick up a brick anymore: "It's hard to build something after what happened." He tried counseling, to no avail.
Even more distressing, the case was still unsolved. After searching Louis' home, the police found no evidence tracing the break-in to any person. Though it must have taken a truck to haul away all of Louis' Lego, no neighbor reported seeing anything suspicious. The police bristled over Louis' video, telling him he'd done the case a disservice by giving the thief a reason to unload the stolen goods, making an arrest even more difficult. They urged him to remain quiet while they tried to find the crook. (The police didn't respond to requests for comment from Insider.)
But as months passed with no progress on the case, Louis began trying to solve the crime himself. Late at night he would chat on Discord with 13 of his AFOL friends from around the world: gamers, students, chess players, professionals. Acting as Lego detectives, they crafted a list of suspects and pored over it for motivations and clues. Maybe it had been an avid collector who prized Louis' Clone Scout Walker so much he was willing to break in to get it? Or perhaps a member of the Polish Lego gang suspected of robbing French toy stores was now targeting Lego influencers? They scoured websites in the lucrative Lego secondary market — Brick Link, Brick Economy, Brick Picker — searching for serial numbers that matched the stolen sets and checked garage sales around Paris. "It's very exhausting," Louis says, "because you have thousands and thousands and thousands of sellers."
They found nothing. But they did reach one conclusion: This was not just a crime about money. The thieves left behind other valuables in Louis' house, and the destruction of his builds seemed too violent, too targeted. The smashed sets, the dismembered Minifigs: It felt more like a massacre than a burglary. This, Louis and his fellow sleuths decided, was a crime of passion. As Jehan Mesbah, one of Louis' friends, tells me, "This had to be about vengeance."
By May 2019, seven months after Louis' burglary, it seemed his crook would never be found. Despite months of looking for clues online, he and his friends had come up empty. But, in his own mind, Louis kept returning to a single person. Shortly after the break-in, the police had asked him for a list of everyone he'd ever met in the AFOL community. Those were the people who were most likely to have understood the value of his collection, and known he was an easy mark. Louis gave them an extensive list, including his old friend Victor.
When Louis had found his Lego room destroyed, Victor had immediately leapt to mind. They hadn't spoken since the fight. What's more, Victor was the only person in the AFOL community who knew where he lived. "Beyond my family," Louis says, "that was one of the three persons who knew. I know for sure that the two others don't have any interest in Lego."
And there was something else that raised questions about Victor. Among AFOL YouTubers, he practiced a very specific kind of performance art: He loved to post elaborate videos of himself destroying his Lego builds. In one video from 2016, two years before the attack on Louis' Imperial Gate, Victor posted a slow-motion video that showed him smashing one of his massive Lego constructions with a mallet, to the strains of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor. "1 year of building and 100,000 bricks are destroyed in less than 3 minutes," he boasted in the caption. Wry and raucous, he fashioned himself as the nihilistic Gallagher of the AFOL world, a devilish kid who loves to smash things.
So Victor appeared to have both a means and a motive. But when Louis raised Victor's name with his parents, they urged him to be rational. "You can't judge somebody like that," they told him. "You don't have any evidence. Maybe this person is fully innocent."
Louis agreed. A huge part of him hoped that anyone besides Victor was the Lego bandit. But then the police told him something that fueled his doubts. On his suggestion, they said, they had reached out to Victor in the early days of their investigation — but they still hadn't heard back from him. Neither had Louis, other than receiving what he calls "a cordial text" from Victor a few days after the burglary. If Victor was innocent, Louis wondered, then why wouldn't he immediately cooperate with the authorities?
Louis texted Victor and asked him to meet with the police. "OK," Victor replied. "If they want a meeting, if that can help, I'll give it to them. I'll accept the meeting."
Despite Louis' suspicions, it seemed as if Victor still wanted to be friends, as though nothing were amiss. After some back-and-forth, Victor invited him up to Paris for some Lego time. "You want to come up to my new apartment and do my first new MOC?" Victor texted.
Louis decided to use the invitation to take matters into his own hands. He wanted to see for himself what Victor might be hiding. He texted Victor that he'd be happy to come to Paris. But, he added, he wasn't up for building more Lego yet — he was still too traumatized by the burglary. He suggested they just get together and hang out. Concerned that Victor might film their meeting for YouTube, he also made a request: "no video."
"No video?" Victor replied. "Why are you so suspicious toward me?"
"I just don't want to make video of things," Louis texted back. "I just want to see you as a friend."
The moment he saw Victor at a Paris café, Louis felt a shot of nerves. He didn't know what to think, and he was afraid his doubts would be obvious. "It was really awkward," Louis recalls. "I knew I had to pretend. I had my suspicions, but at the same time, I was still balancing. I don't know if he did it or if I'm, like, behaving badly because he's innocent."
As they chatted, Victor marveled at how Louis' video about the burglary had gone viral. Even his hairdresser had seen it. "He was very enthusiastic about all the attention," Louis says. "He was very into the fame." Victor also regaled Louis with tales of the fame he was finding in his own life, directing fashion and music videos and acting in films.
After lunch, he showed Louis his new apartment. Louis looked for any of his bricks among Victor's many Lego sets but saw nothing. As much as he wanted to confront Victor, he refrained. This was his closest friend from childhood; confronting Victor risked severing that connection forever. "If I accuse somebody who was clean, it'll have been pretty bad for our friendship," Louis says. "So I didn't want to."
As the first anniversary of the burglary came and went, there was still no action on the case. In April 2020, Victor invited Louis to do a livestream with him on his YouTube channel. Louis agreed, thinking Victor might inadvertently give himself away. "I wanted to try to get closer to him," Louis says, "of hope that he might tell me something." Instead, they just talked about Lego like the old days. "We just ended up like chilling and building," he says, "like we do when we were younger."
Later that month, Louis got some news from the police. Eighteen months after the break-in, they had finally spoken with Victor.
"I had to go to the police station and give my fingerprint," Victor tells me via Zoom from his apartment in Paris. With his wavy dark hair and his striped shirt unbuttoned to center chest, he looks a bit like Timothée Chalamet. He says he wasn't avoiding the police — it just took months of phone tag and missed calls to set up the interview.
Victor becomes animated describing what he considered the police's absurd line of questioning. "They were creating these far-fetched theories," he says. The police told him that some of the few Lego that weren't stolen from Louis were Minifigs that Victor had custom-designed for his friend.
"If they were not stolen, it's because they're from you!" the police insisted.
Victor says he tried to reason with them. "Guys, come on, be realistic," he pleaded.
In the end, no evidence was ever presented linking Victor to the crime. But with the pain of the theft still tormenting Louis, he couldn't stay silent any longer. That November, at the urging of his girlfriend, he finally confronted Victor. A real friend, Louis texted him, would have spoken to the police sooner, instead of letting it drag on for so long.
Victor lashed back. He couldn't believe Louis thought he could be the Lego bandit. "I was extremely upset that you suspected me," he wrote, "and that I had to pass a day at the police station. It was extremely humiliating."
The dynamic duo of French AFOLs was no more. There would be no more MOCs, no more miniature Rebel ships attacking miniature Imperial bases crawling with Minifig clones, no more YouTube livestreams. "The biggest victim of your robbery is me," Victor wrote, "because I lost my friendship with you."
Watching the videos of Victor destroying his own Lego builds, it's easy to imagine the violence that went into smashing Louis' beloved MOCs. As the mallet swings and the music crashes and the bricks fly, a lifetime of love and Lego shatters in moments. Whoever wrecked Louis' work and stole his sets didn't just make off with some valuable builds — they drove a seemingly irreparable wedge between him and Victor.
But could a Lego fan, even one who makes art of destruction, destroy another builder's dream? When I speak with Victor, he likens the fleetingness of his MOCs to the beauty of Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. "After two months, you get tired of seeing your creation every day. Because you see the flaws," he says. "So for me, the real pleasure is when I get to fucking destroy it."
No one has been charged with stealing Louis' collection, and Victor is adamant that he didn't do it. He found out about the burglary like anyone else, he says, when someone sent him Louis' "Bye" video. "I was like, 'What the fuck?'" he recalls. "'Does that even exist? People robbing Lego. Wow.'" He says he was even more surprised to discover that his friend suspected him of being the Lego bandit. "I thought that in this community, there was some sense of — how do you say it? — not loyalty, but brotherhood. And I was like: How could you accuse me?"
Victor knows that some in the AFOL community remain suspicious of him, but he seems bemused by the notoriety, laughing it off in a way that's both self-effacing and a bit mischievous. If anyone was capable of the crime, he tells me with a wry grin, perhaps it was the man himself: Louis, whom he suspects may have staged the break-in for internet fame. "At one point, it was my theory," Victor says. "Because it's true that apart from me, nobody knew about his address. He lives in the countryside. It's hidden. You can't find the house if you want to."
These days, Victor says, he's too busy working as a filmmaker to spend much time on his Lego. He's more hurt than angry at losing what he had with Louis. "I wish maybe things would've gone differently, and we would still be building together," he says. When I ask him what he and Louis had in common that created such a bond, he shrugs. "Only Lego," he says. "Nothing more."
Today, Louis is back to posting videos on his Republicattak YouTube channel. "It's just tremendous how many supportive messages that I did receive," he says. "Those were so heartwarming. Those were very sweet and full of compassion. When you read those, you can only come to one outcome, which is continuing." He's now rebuilding his magnum opus, the Imperial Gate, that was destroyed during the burglary. If the Lego bandit attacked him out of jealousy, the plan backfired. All the attention made Louis more famous than ever. With over a million subscribers, he's now the No. 1 Lego YouTuber in France.
Throughout our many interviews, Louis took pains to say he had neither proof nor desire to implicate Victor. He hasn't concluded that his old friend was, in fact, the perpetrator. But he still finds himself thinking back to something Victor now insists he said in jest. It was February 2019, a few months after the burglary. Victor was attending a Lego convention in Germany when he ran into one of Louis' friends who was trying to crack the case. The friend brandished his phone and began filming Victor.
"The question remains," he demanded, "did you steal Louis's stuff?"
Victor smiled cheekily, looked directly into the camera, and gave a one-word reply.
David Kushner is a long-time contributor to Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and other publications. His new book is "Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master: Pong, Atari, and the Dawn of the Video Game."
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