[12 October 2006]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
This is the Lego Star Wars game that you have been looking for.
Having reviewed Lego Star Wars: The Video Game last year, I find myself sorely tempted to simply cut and paste that review and send it off to my editor as my review of this new game. I feel such temptation not merely because this game is so similar in play and appearance to its predecessor but because I feel that my observations about that game and its relationship not so much to the Star Wars mythology but the desire to collect are maintained in this new iteration. Indeed, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, is, as I said concerning its prequel, a game not so much about the story of Star Wars but the story of the Star Wars collector.
Collection and unlockable versions of favorite characters and vehicles remain the heart of the game, past the unique blending of a toy brand with the narrative of a film. Game play itself also remains similar, barring a few new bells and whistles like allowing for the changing of charcters on the fly within the free play versions of the various chapters of the Star Wars saga and the addition of more robust levels in which you fly famous Star Wars vehicles like Luke’s X-Wing or the Millenium Falcon.
However, what struck me most about the sequel was how much more fun I was having playing out scenarios based on the original Star Wars trilogy rather than the three more recent prequels that the first game focused on.
Like many Gen Xers, I had looked forward to the announcement that George Lucas would film and release the three prequels to—what was for many in my generation—the mythology that dominated our childhood. Also like many fans, I was disappointed in the results that followed. I realize that most fans and worshippers of the Star Wars saga place a great deal of the blame for the weaknesses of the prequels on Jar Jar and the couple of actors given the role of Anakin Skywalker. However, my own chief critique of the newer films has been and continues to be the weakness of the characterization in these films, and especially the lack of the amazing chemistry of the original cast.
As I understand it, when Lucas cast the original film, he auditioned most of his final picks for the lead roles in groups. Assuming this understanding is true, it was the chemistry of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford that may have driven Lucas’ final decision on who would star in the film, not the individual talents of these actors. Lord knows that as individuals none of these actors were exactly at the top of their game throughout the original trilogy. Still, that essential chemistry and the camaraderie of the cast really bled out on the screen. The rapport between the actors suggested what at least came across as real friendship and concern for one another. I believe that this care and concern was reflected by audiences who likewise came to love Luke, Leia, and Han nearly as much as these characters seemed to feel for one another. The rabidity of fans of the series and the bond that children of the ‘80s feel because of the sense of a shared mythology that the decade created among us is also reflected within the Star Wars fan base, which seems to share a mutual care and concern for the original characters and each other as a result of this fond admiration of the characters’ own fondness for each other.
The reason that I bring up these observations about my own responses as a child to the original trilogy is that curiously I found this game - much more so than the first - evoking some similar responses. In part it seems that this is due to the co-op mode available in both games. Having grown up prior to the internet boom when multiplayer gaming was a much more physical and immediate affair, my original experience of co-op play consisted of my brother and I hunkered down in front of a television and a Nintendo, guiding Mario and Luigi as they cleaned out the turtle infested pipes of the original Mario Bros. (yeah, I mean the Mario Bros. game sans the Super). While I can appreciate the convenience of virtual gaming and virtual friends to team up with, I still miss sitting next to my brother both cheering and berating him as we worked together to rack up points. Lego Star Wars, of course, allows for such an experience. Indeed, playing solo makes the game more difficult and reduces its fun factor. It heavily encourages finding a buddy to traverse the narrative terrain of the three films.
Of course, my brother and I are now separated by both about 900 miles as well as the personal responsibilities of our own families and kids, so co-op games like Lego Star Wars are really out of the question for recreating those childhood scenarios for us. However, given the nature of the game with its lower level of difficulty, simplicity of gameplay, and inability to die, it has become one way to connect not with my own youth but with my children.
Rarely do I have any desire to play any game that would interest or challenge my 11, 7, or 4-year-old daughters, but the weird hybrid amalgamation of a toy collecting game and the whispers of the mythology that fascinated me as a child has created a playground that a 30-something Dad like me and my daughters are both interested in playing in.
I have observed in the last few years how toy companies have been spending a good deal of time pandering to parents by reintroducing the toys that were the “classics” of the ‘80s. Both the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake have made appearances in my own daughters’ toy chest as a result of this smart marketing that preys on childhood nostalgia amongst parents like my wife and I who are eager to share the toys we loved with our own kids. I suppose this game carries a similar marketing angle. However, it provides a “toy” that an adult doesn’t simply look on with fondness, but is sophisticated enough to also hold the attention of said adult.
Thus, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy succeeds in generating the same camaraderie of the original trilogy on a multiplicity of levels, with characters identifiable and likeable co-operating together on screen, and two generations—one driven by nostalgia and the other by childhood wonder—playing together in the same room. If you love Star Wars, you should probably own this game. If you have kids, you should probably own this game. If you love Star Wars and you have kids, this is definitely the Star Wars game that you have been looking for.