Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens TT Games TT Fusion, Warner Bros. Interactive Disney

Star Wars month begins for Second Look, and we’re starting with an unusual choice. Now, I’m sure it comes as a shock, but I’ve been known to be critical of the new era of Star Wars. It’s definitely rubbed me the wrong way a few times. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad though. In fact, if anyone’s been capitalizing on the new era with gusto, it’s Lego and TT Games with Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Because somehow, a kids’ game actually has more character development and plot than the movie it’s based upon.

You think I’m joking, but some of this game is considered official, if loosely canonical, tie-in material. They even got the entire cast of the film to come back and record for this game; not even Battlefront got that star treatment. That’s the Star Wars world we’re living in — where it comes down to a kids game to properly tell a story.

Right. Sorry. Positive… Staying positive.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens essentially takes every plot hole and absent moment from the story and sees an opportunity to improve the narrative. You want to see Rey and BB-8 actually interact for more than a handful of scenes? They have to work together to get to Rey’s home. Hell, just about everyone gets more time together to talk and grow while solving problems like a team, expositing on the world and their motivations. In essence, everything The Rise of Skywalker couldn’t be bothered–

No! Bad Elijah! *smacks*

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens TT Games TT Fusion, Warner Bros. Interactive Disney

This even applies to less critical characters. Poe Dameron has a full story, including an explanation as to how the kriff he got off Jakku, and he has a few chances to display that his heroism extends beyond the ability to fly well. Phasma gets a full boss fight and serves as a genuine challenge for Finn to overcome rather than just a chrome armored, useless middle manager stormtrooper. Han boasts a ton more dialogue with the entire cast and is in general far more pleasantly portrayed. He’s less a crazy, grumpy old coot and more a begrudging former hero who knows what he’s doing. Even the late Carrie Fisher gets a starring level as she and the heroes get the Resistance ready for battle, clearly amused with every punchline she’s given.

It’s also satisfying seeing at least one piece of Star Wars media not treating Kylo Ren like he’s the ultimate villain of all time. Some of the best jokes are thanks to his struggles to emulate Vader, and it works so much better. In fact, every one of the new leads has to prove themselves. Rey’s journey is fleshed out over the course of discovering that Maz’s Castle is actually built on an ancient Jedi temple and having to practice her use of the Force for mind tricks to ensure her escape from Starkiller Base. Finn’s secret past as a stormtrooper gets alluded to several times, and his struggle between becoming “a big deal” or embracing cowardice is carried throughout all his dialogue.

That warrants noting — the additional conversations and voice acting are top-notch. Yes, you’ll have absurd moments, like Harrison Ford clearly gritting his teeth as he has to recite the phrase “Wookiee cookie” with a straight face, but a lot of it is earnest and sincere. They balance most of the jokes into slapstick and visual gags, while the storytelling takes center stage. Even Han’s fate isn’t sidestepped — something that can’t be said of the Disney Infinity play set based on The Force Awakens.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens TT Games TT Fusion, Warner Bros. Interactive Disney

It’s kind of surreal to say, but while it has a more upbeat tone, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes its storytelling far more seriously than the movie. Part of this is definitely the benefit of hindsight, patching up a fair number of narrative holes, but it also highlights how Star Wars often works better in media where it has time to breathe, games especially.

Understand, even the campier parts that lean into the Lego humor exist to hammer home the right sort of messages. Unlike in Star Wars Battlefront II, where the First Order honestly seems more competent and appealing than the Resistance (you know, the heroes of the story), Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens portrays the villains as villains. As in — people you shouldn’t emulate and that aren’t going to be made to seem cool just for merchandising purposes regardless of what that might say to kids.

In TT Games’ hands, the First Order is clearly crazed military junta out for revenge with absolutely no plan for what to do after they’ve won. They’ve no core principles other than hatred and zealous devotion, with an army made up almost entirely of people indoctrinated from childhood. As a result, a ton of them are incompetent yet dangerous. On the flip side, the Resistance is typically compassionate and brave, rather than sounding like fools screaming, “We shield the innocents with our lives!” like that’s a rallying cry. They have to pick and choose their battles, instead of constantly retreating like in other media that make it look as though that’s the only tactic they know. It paints the picture no one else seems to take the time to.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens TT Games TT Fusion, Warner Bros. Interactive Disney

That’s Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens in a nutshell — it values doing its job properly over getting things done quickly. It goes so far as to set the tutorial stage during the Battle of Endor so that any kids who don’t know the original trilogy can understand what the kriff anyone is referencing later. The world feels lived in and fleshed out, DLC expansions adding even more to the experience by highlighting several side characters in their own mini-adventures. It all plays brilliantly too, with some amazing new kid-friendly cover-based shooting (yes, really) and vehicle sections that expand some of the film’s set pieces! This game is a beauty to behold.

I never thought I’d say this, but Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the sort of Star Wars media the new era so sorely needs in greater supply. It has a stronger appreciation for the setting and its characters than the movie ever did. That’s on top of being an open-world puzzle-platformer-shooter-flight-brawler hybrid that ensures every mode of play is fun, in addition to being packed to the gills with so much content that it takes well over 40 hours to experience it all. This is why I’m so darn excited for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Forget watching The Rise of Skywalker or its novelization — I know the better version is being assembled as we speak.

P.S. These post-credits scenes are the best lampooning of the post-credits craze you’ll ever see:

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