Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Is a Comprehensive Love Letter to Star Wars

Games Reviews Star Wars
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Is a Comprehensive Love Letter to Star Wars

Lego Star Wars, like most other licensed Lego games, have always been heartfelt love letters to their source material, rich with goofy charm, collectibles, and Easter eggs. They’re rarely much else, though. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga breaks the mold to deliver welcome upgrades to gameplay that’s barely changed since 2005 while also flirting with the least interesting sides of contemporary AAA game design.

Between George Lucas’ twilight years directing the Star Wars prequels and the disappointing end to Disney’s trilogy, the beloved franchise’s main films have been lightning rods for controversy since 1999. Social media has only inflamed the situation; perhaps the most consistently frustrating conversation in pop culture the last few years has been about Star Wars, with a fan reception to the most recent films that has made even thinking about this galaxy far, far away the most exhausting thing you could possibly do.

If they wanted to, Traveler’s Tales easily could’ve leaned into this underlying cynicism that permeates a lot of fan-led discussion around the franchise online and still made a hilarious, fun game. Instead, they take joy in recreating some of Star Wars’ most memorable moments with comedic aplomb, even if they’re not the most enjoyable cinematic experiences.

Jokes made at the expense of some of the saga’s most grating moments don’t feel like they’re laughing at the films, but rather laughing with the fans. Outside of a Tusken Raider camp, for example, a protocol droid (think C-3PO) remarks how not just the men live there, but the women and the children, too, in reference to Anakin’s infamous line from Attack of the Clones after wiping out an entire settlement that kidnapped his mother.

Naturally, of all the movies, Attack of the Clones and the other two prequels are joked about the most in the game. As the first Lego Star Wars game to exist in a post-r/PrequelMemes era, that’s only natural, but rest assured, every trilogy gets its fair share of laughs. A cutscene might reference the infamous ‘Ben Swolo’ meme as Kylo Ren flexes so hard that his “I love Darth Vader” t-shirt rips right off, where others might constantly poke fun at and inflate Luke’s obsession with different colors of milk.

Of course, most of these bits would still work in the series’ classic mumble-led cutscenes, but for the last few years, a majority of Lego games have featured voiced cutscenes. For people who grew up playing older Lego games, this might come as a shock, especially if they’re just jumping in for the first time since Lego Star Wars III: The Complete Saga. For those quick to turn on the game’s ‘mumble mode,’ I recommend that you don’t.

Starting my journey across The Skywalker Saga, I felt nostalgically compelled to make that same mistake, but the game makes a case for its default, fully-voiced mode almost immediately. Cutscenes still retread the same scenes most players have seen at least once or twice, many with the same main beats and memorable lines, but they manage to deviate from the path—or at least riff on it—frequently. Sometimes it’s to make sure that there are always two playable characters in any level so that every level supports co-op, but it’s usually to flex the writers’ well-trained comedic timing and writing. Even when the game sticks to a movie scene’s dialogue verbatim, you’re sure to spot something happening in the background.
The only knock against the cutscenes is that they feel made to accommodate both the voiced and mumbled versions of each narrative beat. Line deliveries and beats that would otherwise capture a greater sense of emotion—be it amusement or something else—are truncated by this accommodation.

Rushed pacing aside, these cinematics are defined by loving and detailed casting, directing and acting choices throughout that make playing the game with full voice acting all the more worthwhile. Fans of Clone Wars are sure to pick out Dee Bradley Baker and Matt Lanter’s definitive takes on the Clone Troopers and Anakin, Shelby Young mirrors Carrie Fisher’s accent change in A New Hope, and Helen Sadler’s Rey is nearly indistinguishable from Daisy Ridley’s.

Attention to detail feels endemic to this iteration of Lego Star Wars. Just about everything that can be made from Lego bricks is made from Lego bricks. There are entire levels where, aside from a few particle effects or a skybox, players will only see virtual plastic. The digital recreation of each and every building block is so consistent that some screenshots could easily look like slightly doctored pictures of real Lego creations. Even in its numerous cutscenes, you can see seams on characters’ heads or a Lego logo hidden on the inside of a minifigure’s arm.

While each of the game’s 45 levels all nail this sense of detail, the hub areas that bookend them tend to feel like the worst parts of an open-world game. In the past, players would select individual levels from a central hub, usually the Mos Eisley Cantina. In The Skywalker Saga, however, nearly every planet that you’ll visit throughout your journey has at least one wide open area. Ultimately, this lack of a centralized hub really hurts its structure and flow, especially for completionists.

In previous games, the cantina was populated with the series’ memorable cast of characters as you unlocked them. It made the famed hive of scum and villainy feel like a toy chest, with characters who wouldn’t otherwise show up in the same room walking next to each other. Instead, generic, seemingly randomly-generated characters selected from a few different archetypes wander the streets of Coruscant or Naboo. None of the characters look or feel bad, but for a game where Palpatine uses a fishing rod to pull a charred Anakin out of lava, it seems tonally wrong to pursue Grand Theft Auto-style cityscapes.

This extends to the level designs for the hub areas, too. Collectibles that can be used to unlock new characters, upgrade various abilities or enable cheats populate the open areas. Instead of adding interesting landmarks or environmental cues, every single collectible is marked on the map. A lot of the puzzles gating some of the collectibles hold water, so this isn’t a total misstep, but it deflates a sense of discovery that could really help make these larger environments sing. It’s not a one-to-one similarity, but players familiar with Ubisoft or Sony’s takes on the open world will recognize the sense of overwhelmingness that can turn a world into a checklist.

Frustratingly, there’s no option to select or track a specific collectible for the game to guide you or mark a location to go to in these areas. I found myself constantly pulling up a map whenever I wanted to find something. Fortunately, this doesn’t translate to the main story objective—The Skywalker Saga understands that it’s easy to get lost or sidetracked, especially in its hub areas, and accommodates with environmental cues and UI elements to help guide the player to their next objective.

Overwhelming, occasionally oversized maps aside, this is still the same Lego Star Wars. Bashing items to collect different studs never gets old thanks to the game’s incredible sound design. At this point, nearly two decades after the first Lego Star Wars, TT Games knows how to build a level that perfectly blends exploration, puzzle-solving and combat. Unfortunately, another attempt at modernizing the game’s structure (and no doubt an effort to cleverly hide load times on less powerful platforms) hinders the fun. You’ll be subjected to minutes-long sections of unskippable dialogue, where two characters will walk through an area while talking. During these, you can’t sprint or move quickly when you’re near the character that’s talking. Sometimes, straying off the path can even halt the sequence altogether, meaning that if you get ahead of the NPC, you’ll have to backtrack to them and continue the crawling sequences.

Normally, these don’t last too long, but there are a few instances that felt interminable. Were these moments included in cutscenes that capitalized on Lego Star Wars’ sense of humor or charm, this wouldn’t be an issue. Instead, these chunks of dialogue are often ripped verbatim from the films with the game’s destructible set dressing as the only opportunity to interact with the level. It doesn’t help that most of these scenes focus on exposition, which feels completely unnecessary in a Lego game.

Don’t let these structural changes make you think The Skywalker Saga’s a step in the wrong direction, though. Its most impactful change is a definitive improvement. In the past, characters had one attack button, one special button and a special ability. TT’s given that combat—specifically melee-based combat—a shot in the arm. Though enemies are just as easy to slice through, being able to execute Devil May Cry-style combos instead of just mindlessly tapping out the same X, X, X combo is a big improvement. You’re encouraged to rack up combos, too—you’ll get some studs for every few hits, with the reward increasing with the combo length.

Even shooting feels decent. It won’t rival your garden variety tactical FPS or battle royale, but it’s more involved and intrinsically more rewarding to execute than it was in the past. Additions to how you can damage enemies hammers these improvements home. A well-placed shot can knock the helmet off of a Storm Trooper, exposing their head to deal extra damage. A shot to the foot can knock them clean on their bucket-headed face in case you want to buy some time to close the distance for a chance to do your best brick-kicking impression of Bayonetta. Even the enemies’ animations do a good job of making your shots feel weighty. Instead of emotionlessly falling into the three or four pieces it takes to build them, like would happen in the past, enemies recoil and respond to each hit—blaster, lightsaber, fist, or otherwise. The combat’s only real sticking point is the game’s various bosses. While some dabble with unique mechanics or other complex sequences that make up entire levels, many just feel like extended versions of fighting a normal enemy with a larger health bar that occasionally require you to mash a button or do a quick-time event.

Even space combat has been completely overhauled. Instead of the old top-down sections of gameplay reminiscent of a vastly simplified, arcade-style shoot-em-up, piloting a ship in The Skywalker Saga feels remarkably similar to piloting a ship in the most recent Star Wars Battlefront II. Some sections take an on-rails approach, where you’ll be tasked with destroying a specific number of turrets during the Death Star trench run. Others will plop you in a wider area and task you with taking down an Imperial Cruiser or Trade Federation command ship. Dogfighting and space combat are easily Skywalker Saga’s best (and biggest) surprise. Every hub area in the game has a section of space for you to fly around in and engage in mini dogfights. While these aren’t as challenging or mechanically involved as the piloting missions you’ll find in the core story, it’s still endlessly fun to maneuver through a field of asteroids to the ripping sound of the Millennium Falcon’s engine while picking off First Order TIE Fighters and Vulture Droids.

Lego Star Wars’ biggest barrier to success wasn’t modernizing the gameplay or structure. It was recontextualizing a batch of movies that managed to miraculously create a united front against Disney’s take on the galaxy far, far away. As someone who loved The Last Jedi and really didn’t care for The Rise of Skywalker, I was (very derisively) keen on seeing Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga rib on all the disappointing and confusing creative choices made in episode IX. Instead, it was a fair love letter. Kylo Ren’s wardrobe malfunctions and Poe cracking wise got as many laughs as an Ewok with a glider made out of leaves flying to the Resistance’s aid on Exegol.

Just like with the first few Lego Star Wars games, anyone being introduced to Lucas’ universe for the first time through Travelers Tales lens are in for a treat (and probably a newfound obsession). There’s no doubt in my mind that although this game might blind some to the qualitative and critical missteps the movies make, it serves as one of the few broadly approachable and accessible entries in the pantheon of Star Wars.

The Skywalker Saga takes pride in being a celebration of Star Wars, warts and all. TT’s take on Star Wars understands that everyone has their grievances with the property, whether it’s because of a thoroughly disappointing origin story for Darth Vader, the way the sequel trilogy sidelined Finn or just being so generally put off by the culture around the franchise that you don’t even want to engage with it in the first place.

Good toys are, at their core, fun to play with, and Legos aren’t just good; they’re incredible toys. Every Lego Star Wars game nails this sense of play and fun as it plays with what it means to be Star Wars, turning fascistic wizards, soldiers, politicians, killer robots, and pirates into charming toys. Skywalker Saga is no different, and its unabashed enjoyment of Star Wars is infectious. Even as an un-lapsed fan, I felt my admiration and passion for this rich world surge the same way visiting Galaxy’s Edge or a good episode of Clone Wars would. A simple beat-’em-up with a few puzzles and John Williams’ masterful music doing a lot of the heavy lifting would be fine. Instead, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga doesn’t just go above and beyond to remind you why you should love Star Wars, but is a testament to how much the people who made it love Star Wars.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X version. It’s also available on the Switch, PlayStation 5, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.

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