Is Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga the trilogy-spanning reinvention fans have been waiting for?
A long time ago in a suburbia far, far away…. Star Wars toys and Lego were the staples of my childhood. The little plastic bricks provided the backdrop for my own Star Wars adventures, performed using a cast of 1980’s Kenner/Palitoy figures.
I distinctly recall making a chunky replica of Yoda’s home, a bright blue Sandcrawler, and a remarkably accurate Snowspeeder to replace the one broken by my annoying classmate Glen Murphy.
Forty years later, I’m playing with Star Wars and Lego again. This time around, the ships are built from digital bricks, and there’s a cast of characters at my disposal far beyond what I could imagine as a seven-year-old.
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga also sees developer TT Games return to the past. The new game revisits seven movies the studio has previously adapted, plus The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. These are not George Lucas-style special editions, rather whole new games pitched as a break with the traditional Lego Star Wars template.
The structural change has been referred to as open-world, but that’s misleading. Each film features a range of location-based hubs from which story missions and side quests are triggered. Once a story sequence is complete, these hubs become available in Free Roam mode. Return trips are essential if you want to find every collectable, access every side quest, and unlock every character and vehicle.
In terms of structure and progression, it’s reminiscent of Mass Effect Andromeda. And, like Bioware’s flawed RPG, there’s a bagginess to the experience and a continual feeling of something uncollected or a moment missed.
Another significant change is the move to an over the shoulder third-person viewpoint that makes the game feel like a kid-friendly Gears of War. That’s assuming you consider stop and pop headshots to be a kid-friendly pastime.
These structural and gameplay changes combine to make Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga feel more contemporary, but also more chaotic and action-oriented.
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is far more interested in being a Star Wars game than a Lego one. The environments are designed to look realistic – and are often impressive – but they offer little interactivity. The game fails to capture the sense of invention and experimentation that real-life Lego provides and is less reliant on puzzle-solving than its predecessors. In-game Lego builds are relatively infrequent and clearly signposted. Your trigger finger will be exercised far more than your brain cells.
Nonetheless, when music swells and a laser bolt fizzes past your plastic head, it’s hard to ignore those giddy feelings of nostalgia.
In its most engaging moments, the game is spectacular. The conclusion to The Empire Strikes Back, for example, is a thrilling sequence of shootouts that concludes with a viscerally directed encounter with Darth Vader. The game’s space combat sequences are also high points, taking cues from Star Fox 64 and Factor 5’s Rogue Squadron series.
Thankfully, the game’s reverence for its source material is undercut by a steady stream of gags. The writing is not as sharp as, for example, The Lego Batman Movie – and it often resorts to slapstick and pratfalls for giggles – but plenty of jokes hit their intended targets. The opening crawl loading screens, in particular, are a dry-humoured delight that poke fun at the franchise’s most notorious and absurd moments.
It’s also accessible. Aside from a few tricky boss encounters, this is not a hard game, and it’s even easier if you play in split-screen multiplayer. I might be middle-aged, but this is firmly a game for younglings.
However, when the fun of recreating iconic movie moments subsides, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga begins to feel oddly hollow and trapped between two stools. Wouldn’t it be better to have full-fledged AAA adaptations of the Star Wars movies? And wouldn’t it be better still to have a Lego game that tapped into the creativity of the real thing?
For all of its polish, fan service, and humour, there’s little of the carefree sense of abandon that earlier Lego Star Wars games delivered. Like my bright blue Sandcrawler, The Skywalker Saga is lovingly assembled and does the job, but it’s a stripped-down echo of the real thing.
Game: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: TT Games
Release Date: Out now