There's this meme that's circulating that claims that themed LEGO sets -- Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. -- are killing imagination. The argument goes that unlike the generic sets of old (or even better, the big bin of blocks), these sets kill imagination. Advocates of the Good Old Days claim that act of building these sets locks children into that particular milieu. Worse yet, kids don't build anything original any more; instead they can only follow the corporate hive minds step by step instructions.
They're wrong. Or at least, they're wrong in my house. My kids, StarGirl (10) and NeutronLad (7) create huge, sprawling, genre-smashing worlds that look a lot more like The LEGO Movie than a painstaking recreation of LEGO The Hobbit.
My kids' LEGO creations regularly encompass our entire living room. We've had "Science Town" vying against "Fantasy Town" for essential brick resources. We've had plateau villages built atop milk creates, and tree houses springing up from the wood-paneled lake, err, living room floor. Elves, dwarves, superheroes, and regular LEGO folk live in harmony in their various settlements (it's the kids who fight, rather than the LEGOs, usually over some particular block needed for their latest creation).
This is not to say that my kids don't enjoy building their LEGO kits. We often see a big influx of LEGOs at Christmas, and the day after the holiday is typically spent building and watching Marvel movies. But here's the thing for all the folks without kids who wring their hands over the death of imagination ... no kit survives for longer than a month in my house. Usually far less.
It's the nature of such things really. We're talking about a toy built out of blocks, played with by children who -- even if super careful -- are prone to dropping, kicking, and/or inadvertently smashing things. More times than not though, they're disassembling the kits to build something they've designed themselves.
There are some kits that last longer than this, such as Bilbo's Hobbit hole and Tony Stark's Laboratory. These are usually set pieces that fit into whatever imaginary world they're playing at the time. There are also some sets they enjoy building over and over again, like Hogwart's Castle, but the reason they keep rebuilding it is because they tear it down to fuel their own creations.
Yes, my evidence is anecdotal. This is how my kids play with LEGOs. This is the way I see my friends' kids play with LEGOs. Frankly, the only people I've seen build LEGO sets and then not play with them are my friends and I. And yes, I will freely admit to not letting my kids play with my Slave I, B-Wing and Delorean, because damn it, they're my toys.
I'm sure there are kids out there who only build the kits and never smash them to bits to build their own creations, but I'm equally sure that was the case when I was a kid. Yes, there are more branded kits today then there were 20 years ago, but kids are kids: give them a toy and they will create their own stories.