LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best LEGO game to date. Aside from using the best Star Wars film (yes, I went there) as its source material, it’s managed to breath new life into the LEGO game formula. The combination of action, adventure, LEGO-based puzzles, and oodles of collectibles is a robust setup, and one that I still enjoy, but after some 25 games in just over 10 years, it was admittedly starting to wear thin.

It would seem that TT Games have heard the criticisms, because LEGO: The Force Awakens is welcome a revitalization of the franchise. It’s got everything you’d expect from a LEGO game, and much of what’s on offer will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a LEGO game before, but there are also so many new ideas at play that it feels like a leap forward. As a big a leap as LEGO Dimensions even, and this game doesn’t even have the toys-to-life hook to draw on.

One of the most noteworthy additions is the Blaster Battles system. During Blaster Battles, the game essentially turns into a third-person cover shooter, like Uncharted or Gears of War, complete with regenerating health. Duck behind cover, pop out to take a few shots at some unlucky stormtroopers, drop back into cover while your health restores, and so on. You can roll between cover if you want to, though this is rarely necessary, and certain encounters will task you with puzzles, like shooting specific targets or using the relative safety of cover to build a nice big LEGO turret.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In some ways, it’s an odd choice—third-person shooters as a whole have become incredibly tired in recent years, and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t really do anything to change it up—but it’s implemented expertly and shines as a result. The Blaster Battle sections are relatively few, so there isn’t much chance to grow weary of them, but they’re a welcome change of pace when they do appear. They also add a cinematic element that the moment-to-moment gameplay of LEGO games tends to miss. The closer view puts you in the thick of the action, making even a standard blaster exchange exciting to witness, and that’s to say nothing of jumping on a turret to shoot down TIE fighters.

Dogfights are another big introduction. Sure, earlier LEGO games have had flight sections, but they’ve always felt out of place, like the standard LEGO mechanics are being forced to do something they’re not made for. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, conversely, has its own flight combat systems in place that make the dogfight sections some of the best moments that this game has to offer. If Blaster Battles are a LEGO take on Uncharted, dogfights are now a LEGO take on Star Fox, and that’s a great thing.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Some sections, like the Millennium Falcon’s escape from Jakku, take a rail shooter approach as you fly through a relatively confined space shooting foes ahead of you and dodging obstacles. Others, like the Resistance’s fight with the First Order over Takodana, let you fly freely in a big arena as you fight enemy ships and complete specific objectives. And yes, you can do a barrel roll.

Finally, Multi-builds switch up the standard LEGO building mechanic by giving you two or three different building options with a pile of bricks. Sometimes, only one of these options will be the right one to progress, while the others lead to optional collectibles; other times, they’ll be different means’ to the same end. The best multi-builds, though, are the ones that have to be built, broken down, and rebuilt differently in order to solve a puzzle.

This game is an adaptation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (just in case the title didn’t give that way), but it’s as much a companion to the film as it is a retelling. The main missions more or less follow the same path as the cinematic equivalent, albeit with certain sections embellished a bit for the sake of gameplay—for example, upon landing on Starkiller Base, you have to trek and puzzle-solve your way across the snow, instead of just walking up to the First Order’s house.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Of much more interest, arguably, are bonus missions that give you insight into the goings on during or around The Force Awakens that aren’t a part of the film itself. One such mission has Poe Dameron rescuing Admiral Ackbar from a First Order star destroyer; another follows Han Solo’s efforts to catch the rathtars that would later wreak havoc aboard the freighter Eravana.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that this is a LEGO game, which means LEGO games’ patented sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve laughed this much at a game since Tales from the Borderlands—actual laughing out loud, to the point of having to regularly put the controller down or pause the game while I composed myself.

True to LEGO fashion, the humour ranges from downright silly—Luke Skywalker “disguising” himself with Groucho Marx glasses—to the sorts of referential in-jokes that are there just for Star Wars fans, like one Stormtrooper congratulating another on his very impressive score of 3/20 at the shooting range. It even manages to brilliantly pick apart the source material from time to time. Remember that iconic moment in the film where Rey and Kylo Ren fight to pick up the dropped lightsaber with their Force powers? Says Ren in the LEGO version of that scene: “I could just walk over and pick it up… but that wouldn’t look as cool.”

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The icing on the cake is that TT Games managed to secure the stars of the film to do the voices for LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, giving it an air of authenticity and making the jokes that much funnier. “I’ll say this for hunting rathtars, though – you really learn which members of your crew are good at their jobs. Kind of a shame it turned out to be almost none of them.” is a funny enough line as it is, but coming from Harrison Ford in perfect character as Han Solo just takes it to the next level.

There’s been a lot made of diversity and representation in The Force Awakens. At the very least, the film’s leads being a woman and a man of colour has been a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s so dominated by white men, and its effects have been seen in the plentiful stories of children—of all genders—arguing over who gets to be Rey. There have been articles looking at the movie through the lens of Black empowerment, and looking at Kylo Ren as a critique of white male entitlement.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By virtue of retelling the film, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens encapsulates all of this, but it does something else that’s just as important: it brings that same degree of representation and diversity to all levels. In movies, you almost never see a stormtrooper’s face, but the LEGO framework means stormtroopers in the game are regularly losing their helmets—sure enough, there are as many people of colour as there are white folk. Among idle chatter and barks from stormtroopers, there are as many female voices as male ones.

This game offers more insight into the workings of Tuanal, the village on Jakku that serves as the setting for The Force Awakens’ opening; as it turns out, the village’s unnamed chief woman. The Resistance has people of all sorts—different races, ethnicities, genders—throughout its ranks, though is true of the film as well, and was the case for the Rebel Alliance as well.

Letting women and people of colour see themselves reflected in heroes like Rey, Finn, and Poe is vital, but the kind of low-key representation that’s in abundance in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just as important. It’s about diverse representation across board, instead of just defaulting to white men for every character that isn’t specifically written to not be a white man.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best LEGO game to date. It’s managed to bring a freshness to LEGO gameplay while still retaining the core of what makes these games so great. It’s adapted the film to a LEGO format wonderfully, while expanding on it and making it a fantastic companion to The Force Awakens rather than just a straight adaptation. It’s doubled down on the diverse representation that was such an important aspect of the movie. Perhaps most important, it’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish. What more could you want from a LEGO game?

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is developed by TT Fusion and published by WB Games. It’s available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, and iOS.

A PlayStation 4 press copy was supplied by WB Games for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.