Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I try not to think too much about the two J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars movies—2015’s The Force Awakens and 2019’s The Rise Of Skywalker—on account of my doctor suggesting that the blood pressure spikes I get every time I whisper “They fly now?!” to myself in my darkest moments will one day cause my head to explode.
That being said: When my partner and I started playing through the recently released Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, we quickly agreed to skip Episodes I and IV in favor of starting with the Disney trilogy of movies that contains Abrams’ two prime contributions to the franchise. Partly that’s because they’re the only truly original material in the game—Force Awakens got its own Lego adaptation a few years back, but the other two movies are new to this odd little sub-series. Partly it’s because I genuinely like Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, and wanted to see what a Lego version of its deliberate deconstructions of Star Wars mythmaking would look like. Partly it’s because I’ve done enough digital Death Star trench runs to last a lifetime.
But mostly, I was curious to see whether Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games—which I’ve spent a lot of time with over the years—could smooth out the more annoying bits of Abrams’ films, which I find to be slavish in their desire to repeat the beats of the original trilogy, and incoherent in their ability to tell a meaningful story set in one of the most beloved science-fiction universes of all time.
The answer is: A little? Certainly I had more fun playing through Awakens and Skywalker than I did while watching them—although even when abstracted out into Lego form, they still felt bloated and weirdly MacGuffin-obsessed. (I’d actually managed to forget how much of Rise is focused on finding the ship to find the knife to find the hacker to find the magical Sith-finding triangle thingy.) The Disney movies’ weird obsession with desert planets (Jakku and Crait and Pasaana) took a little bit of joy out of the exploration that’s such a big part of this franchise’s appeal. But I’d be lying if putting together a little puppet show for the kids at the Festival Of The Ancestors in order to claim a magic brick didn’t make me smile, or that shooting down TIE fighters with my partner didn’t capture some of that old Star Wars joy.
Mechanically, Skywalker Saga doesn’t play all that differently from the first Lego Star Wars game from way back in 2005: You run around, blast stuff, break stuff, build stuff, and do a slightly goofy version of the plot of the films. (Combat has been made slightly more complicated, in that you now have two attack buttons, instead of a single “smash everything” key.) Weirdly fittingly, the only part of the trilogy that offers anything really interesting in terms of level design is Last Jedi, which offers up some neat puzzles to make a game out of protagonist Rey’s trip into Luke Skywalker’s Special Sith Cave. And it all looks very glossy and pretty—although those nice looks certainly can’t justify the reports of awful crunch that have come out surrounding the games’ development.
On a less important note: The decision (dating back to 2012) to switch the Lego games over to voice acting, instead of the silly pantomimes of earlier games, remains kind of a bummer, although you do get to make a sub-game out of figuring out who’s doing the best impression of these films’ very famous stars. (Fake Harrison Ford is not at the top of the list, while Actual Billy Dee Williams and Actual Anthony Daniels definitely are.) And the ability to run all over a place like Maz Kanata’s castle from Awakens is genuinely cool. It’s just a shame that you’re trapped in, well, the plot of the Disney Star Wars movies. (Hey, kids! Who wants to watch your Lego friend Chewbacca die for an hour, before miraculously coming back to life?)
All that being said: I’m comfortable calling these the best versions available of the Abrams Star Wars movies. Sure, it’s no less silly seeing “The dead speak!” in the opening crawl of Lego: The Rise Of Skywalker than it was in a theater back in 2019. But at least “They fly now?!” sounds more natural coming out of the mouths of actual cartoons.