I am pleased to report that Lego Star Wars hasn’t gotten old. The god-king of IP collaborations is back, and it’s just as funny as it was in 2005. 17 years and countless, potentially jading life events and responsibilities later, but here I am laughing like an idiot at a bunch of stormtroopers in their underpants. They’re having a hot tub break in the middle of the Rebel starship invasion that kicks off the events of The Skywalker Saga.
“This is not the pod you’re looking for,” they drone, before I thrust R2D2’s electric appendage at them (steady on!), and they briefly transform into skeletons. Studs pour from the walls, and I’m awarded a Kyber Brick for achieving what LSW veterans would call ‘True Jedi’ status, except this time around, there are three stages of the meter, and I’m only at the first.
In Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, everything you know and love about the series has been meaningfully expanded. As R2 and C-3PO land on the surface of Tattooine, I’m introduced to the brand new skill tree, which lets me trade those Kyber Bricks I mentioned (of which there appear to be 1,166) for abilities and upgrades. The menu is mind-boggling to look at, and the skill I’m offered is just a core upgrade. There appear to be entire trees for all manner of specialised characters, like Bounty Hunters or Jedi.
Sea changes have occurred elsewhere, especially in the gameplay department. Blaster-carrying minifigs engage in cover shooting a la Gears of War, and the one-button melee attack – with its satisfying heft and clobber – has been replaced with a character action combo system. You can cut through walls and bounce between objects with the lightsaber and use the force to lift and chuck assets like you’re playing God of War. Jedi Mind Trick’s also have open-world applications, with multiple ways to unravel the brain matter of NPCs.
You can even pick up and wear costumes made up of the Lego parts that plop off of enemies when you kill them, and within story missions, there are alternate routes and optional build projects you can choose to make each playthrough feel dynamic.
As you might expect, there are a few teething issues with all the big changes. Transitions from cutscene to gameplay aren’t all that smooth, and sometimes the game will move so fast and have so much going on that you can miss the option to build traps, read minds or solve puzzles in the most interesting way.
Entire planets are there for you to explore in The Skywalker Saga, with story missions mixed in between, so you’ll constantly be tempted into side activities as you push through the narrative. As a completionist, I found it exciting and overwhelming, but I was only given an hour with the game, so it’s hard to say how it will shake out in the full release.
My main concern about this is that it feels like a Lego Star Wars game that has been made for the now-adults who played Lego Star Wars as kids. It feels like the inevitable realization of how I perceived the games as a child, rose-tinted glasses and all, with its remarkable scope and complex systems.
Suddenly, without any need for exaggeration or imagination in my head, I can be the Jedi master of my dreams in the ultimate Lego Star Wars playpen. But when I follow this thread it’s hard not to consider the kids who grew up with the sequels instead of the prequels. Is this complexity too much for them? The drop-in drop-out, one-button simplicity of the original games made them easy to pick up and crack on with in a really unique way.
Will the extra legwork and progression systems bearing down on them here put them off? Or if I put my cynical hat on, maybe it will draw them in? The games industry is a completely different landscape now, so maybe it’s just an adaptation and I’m naive, but I don’t want the wonder of Lego Star Wars to fail to transfer because of tried-and-tested open-world design rules made by adults for adults.
In Free Play mode it looks like you can be anyone, anywhere, and do pretty much anything, regardless of the chosen episode or planet. In gigantic open-world games of late, keeping a lid on your possibilities has been an important line to thread. Games like Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring seem to have mastered it by opting for a hands-off approach, where the focus is on enriching parts of the world rather than ticking boxes or covering the map in symbols. From what I’ve seen of The Skywalker Saga, it feels like TT Games can do this too, while still having minikits to pick up and challenges to complete. The studio’s meticulous dedication to Easter eggs and in-jokes was deeply felt in all of the secret and not-so-secret corners of Tattoine, and I’m hopeful this passion will extend to the rest of the Star Wars universe they’ve created.
One of the coolest ways TT has pushed away from the checkbox death march of open-world games is in the game’s character unlocking systems. I found a means by which I could buy rumours of a character’s location for studs, which put a small optional puzzle between my ability to buy my way to more endorphins. This is a smart approach, and a way to hark back to the old, now-impossible days of secret character hearsay.
In the cutscenes and set pieces, the addition of original voice-acting has elevated the storytelling and comedy potential. At first, I was apprehensive given the meme-creating brilliance of the mumbled dialogue seen in past games, but after switching to Mumble Mode during my preview, I realised how necessary the voice-acting has become. Even as a novelty, it just feels annoying now that the production value has skyrocketed.
There are so many good gags that would be lost without it, but that’s not to say the non-verbal jokes have disappeared – they’re back and better than ever. My only question is how the ridiculous nature of Lego Star Wars will handle the tone of The Last Jedi, a movie that has plenty of comedy potential, but also made me bawl like a baby with its moving ruminations on the institution of Star Wars. Mind you, even hearing motifs from Han & Leia’s theme in the open-world of The Skywalker Saga was enough to get me misty-eyed, but that’s just credit to TT for the amount of love it’s injected into the game’s audio and visuals.
Playing through the opening of A New Hope was a stunning experience, and the texture of the Lego materials is what really stood out. You can see the fabric on Darth Vader’s cape, and the sand flecking up on R2’s plastic legs as they wander through the dunes. Even with my reservations, I honestly can’t wait to dig into it wholesale on the big screen in 4K. The Skywalker Saga feels like it was made for returning players, but as long as it doesn’t push away the newbies with its remarkable complexity, TT will have delivered the ultimate Lego Star Wars game when it launches early next month.