Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is more than just a remaster of TT Games’ previous Lego Star Wars efforts.
TT Games is a prolific studio. From DC to Marvel, Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones to Jurassic World, there’s barely a franchise out there that hasn’t been given the Lego treatment. Even The Lego Movie got a Lego video game.
The studio particularly excels in turning big, multi-feature movie franchises into cohesive single video games. It’s not easy to turn the three movies of the Lord of the Rings or the 7 years of Harry Potter into single games, but TT Games did it, and they did it well.
And then there’s Lego Star Wars. TT Games released a PS2-era trilogy of the movie prequels back in 2005, followed by a “sequel” – the original trilogy – a year later. This was then combined together into a collection of all six movies, known as Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. The bundle also gave the games a fidelity bump as they moved to the PS3 and Xbox 360. The Complete Saga was followed by a retelling of The Clone Wars movie and animated series, released in 2011.
Then in 2016 came Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This was the first time a standalone, single-episode game had been released to tie in with one of the movies.
Things went quiet. No tie-in with The Last Jedi came. After the relative failure of Solo: A Star Wars story, Disney scaled back its ambition for Star Wars movies to release on a similar schedule to Marvel. We feared the Lego Star Wars video games might suffer the same fate.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, to learn that one of those secretive E3 appointments – where we have to take the PR person’s word for it that it’s a worthwhile blind date of an appointment – turned out to be Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
“Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is an all-new game built on new tech, completely from scratch,” says Danny Roberts, lead designer at TT Games on the Lego video games. “This is not a remake or remaster of any of the existing games.”
It’s something of a relief, to be honest. That’s not to say that TT Games couldn’t still make great games on their old tech, and they absolutely did, but when a company has invested time and money, it’s difficult to know when to cut that old tech loose. Just look at the problems other EA studios have suffered from with the DICE engine. Or how creaky Telltale’s adventure games became before the studio closed. Square Enix made the decision to cut and run on the Luminous Engine to allow it to hire experienced staff more easily. (Lord knows how much longer Final Fantasy VII would be taking if they were persisting with it.)
The difference is immediate in Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Vistas stretch further, terrains are more impressive, and even the Lego models – which could stick out like sore plastic thumbs on beautifully-sculpted 3D terrain – are allowed little areas of dirt, dust, and debris where the two materials meet. It’s amazing the difference a little bit of subtle substance blending makes.
But the improvements are more than just cosmetic.
“The game is semi-open world, and also, open galaxy,” Roberts tells us, as we select an episode from nine adorable little Lego dioramas. (Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will launch sometime in 2020, presumably after the ninth movie, to avoid spoilers.)
“You can fly through the galaxy and unlock more of the galactic map as you play through the campaign,” he continues, “and you also run into random encounters.”
As if on cue – and entirely by accident, we’re sure – a giant Super Star Destroyer drops out of hyperspace and looms into view.
“All of the Lego objects in-game are ‘built’ from Lego bricks by a specialist modelling team,” Roberts says. Rather than being a single game object that is destroyed and replaced with some approximate number of Lego component parts on destruction, they are built by hand, with each component piece individually modelled.
“The Super Star Destroyer,” he tells us, “is built from over 18 million bricks, and if someone built the model in real life, it would be over 100 metres long.”
“You wouldn’t fit one of those in your living room,” Roberts quips.
Later, while we’re approaching Jabba the Hutt’s barge, Roberts tells us that it took “months to build, but” – and he really relishes this bit – “you blow it up in about two minutes in the game.”
Ultimately, some of the biggest differences are in the way the game plays.
There are over 200 playable characters to unlock from all nine episodes, and you can swap between them at will. Chewie might be better for a gunfight, for instance, while Luke or Rey have Force powers. These have also been overhauled for The Skywalker Saga. Now you can Force Push anything (not just specific characters and props to progress missions). You can also use the infamous Jedi Mind Trick on any NPC in the game (take that, Watch Dogs Legion!) with some fun consequences.
Unusually, given that he can be a mite annoying in the movies, our favourite bit of the demo was actually Threepio.
“Because he has a habit of falling apart in the films, you can do that on purpose,” Roberts says, before the footage demonstrates some classic headless horseman physical comedy, “or by accident here, which might help you with certain puzzles.”
But it’s the practical application of character-swapping problem solving that impresses the most, when Luke runs into a droid NPC in the desert on Tatooine. The droid has a quest for us, but he’s only communicating in bleeps and bloops. Even the subtitles are undecipherable robotic gibberish. Neither Luke nor the audience can understand the instruction, but Roberts reminds us of C-3PO’s role in the movie: he’s a protocol droid, “fluent in over six million forms of communication.”
We switch to Threepio and, sure enough, we can understand the droid! It’s a glorious little touch, an interwoven mesh of the narrative and the mechanical that – most importantly – shows a deep love, respect, and understanding of the Star Wars franchise.
Excitement is building for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.