You come expecting the youthful exuberance of Finn, Rey and BB-8 and instead you’re treated to a thick shot of greatest hits nostalgia. The first 30 minutes of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a victory lap of every battlefront featured in Return Of The Jedi’s Battle Of Endor. It’s a fitting start. Eleven years ago it was in Star Wars’ universe that TT Games established a template for its multi-billion-dollar business: recreating megawatt movie franchises in digital LEGO. Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, The Lord Of The Rings, Jurassic Park — few big blockbusters have avoided the brick treatment. Understandable, then, that in returning to the galaxy where it all began, the studio should first pay tribute to the Empire that built an empire.
No cinematic blockbuster fits the LEGO template quite so snugly. LEGO’s elemental appeal, as any child can tell you, is the joy of building a house then knocking it down again in a shower of plastic bricks — something particularly suited to a Jedi’s unique abilities. With a humming swish they can wreak destruction with a lightsaber. Then, with a quiet wave of a hand, reassemble the wreckage. In this way LEGO Star Wars allows us to smash a tree into its plastic molecules, then rebuild it as a ladder, an anti-aircraft gun, or a switch for BB-8 to turn with his gyrating torso.
The game follows a now familiar rhythm. It breaks the film’s story into a series of chapters, providing a slapstick but faithful take on the original work. You control a vast and expanding cast of characters — everyone from the marquee stars to the bit-part characters that only the most studious Star-gazer will recognise. Each has an ability that must be used like a key to solve the lock of specific puzzles. Rey, for example, is a natural gymnast, able to fling her staff into cracks where it becomes an impromptu pole, which she can swing on to reach ledges. Chewbacca can lob grenades that explode otherwise impervious silver bricks. When it comes to faraway switches that can only be reached with a blaster bullet, Han Solo always shoots first.
You can switch between characters with ease, while each level strains at the seams with secrets that can only be accessed when you’ve unlocked the requisite personas and returned for a second play-through. For veterans, The Force Awakens introduces a clutch of new ideas to go along with its pristine new game engine, which renders the LEGO world with unrivalled weight and sheen. One example being the sections when you must hide behind cover in a shoot-out, the game switching to an over-the-shoulder camera view as you line up headshots as if playing Gears Of War.
Those piles of bricks can now be used to build more than one object at a time as well, breathing fresh air into the puzzle design. Not every level sparkles (one, in which you must tediously load the Millennium Falcon, sticks out), but the wit, ingenuity and fan-service ensure that, in the ever-expanding Star Wars galaxy, one of its brightest stars is now made of bricks.
The Force Awakens is a glorious return to form for the storied LEGO games, one that freshens the familiar yet no less joyous formula with a clutch of ingenious ideas.