- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Block-building gamers return to a galaxy far, far away in the third-person adventure Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Warner Bros. Interactive and TT Games, Rated E 10+, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $59.99).

Director J.J. Abrams’ cinematic continuation of the famed franchise offers perfect fodder for the witty, digital craftsmen at TT Games to immerse up to a pair of players, co-operatively into a virtual Lego universe.

Developed especially for the “Star Wars” fanatic in the family, this wonderful adaptation of the film and extension of the Skywalker saga features 18 chapters of action (each with a classic explanatory scroll) and access to over 200 characters and more than 80 space and ground vehicles from the seven movies.

Characters include legends such as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Maul and Leia Organa (five versions, no less); emerging legends such as the droid BB-8, Captain Phasma and Kylo Ren; and the obscure beings ranging from Jakku resident Taryish Juhden, the pirate Sidon (Crimson Corsair) Ithano and a musician from Max Kanata’s castle Sudswater Dillifay Glon.

Vehicle choices used in space battles and land explorations include Poe Dameron’s orange-and-black X-Wing, Luke’s Landspeeder, Luggabeasts (seen in Jakku) and a First Order T.I.E. Fighter.

For those unaware of the Lego video game’s 15-year, licensed property history, the premise, in all of the titles, requires a player control block characters to interact with nearly every piece of locations, destroying and rebuilding objects to collect studs (the game’s currency), solving puzzles, battling enemies until they explode into pieces and basically exploring and re-exploring every inch of areas for secrets and surprises.

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In this case a player visits many places in the “Force Awakens” galaxy including D’Qar, Jakku and Takodana as well as roaming around the Millennium Falcon and Starkiller Base.

Missions (all replayable with any unlocked characters, by the way) can take a player back to the Battle of Endor and the final confrontation between the Emperor and Luke Skywalker, piloting an X-Wing to shoot down smuggler ships or engaging in a Dejarik Holochess match aboard Han Solo’s coveted craft.

As always, TT Games injects humor to the canon at many a turn. Take the pivotal moment in the prelude chapter where Luke pulls off Vader’s helmet. We see a winking uncharred Anakin (based on Hayden Christensen’s Lego likeness) who then quickly swaps his head to the more scarred version of actor Sebastian Shaw.

Or, a quick visit to Kylo Ren’s bedroom finds it a shrine to Lord of the Sith memorabilia with even Darth Vader sheets.

New enhancements to the action include taking cover during firefights within specific parts of a level (impressively cinematic but not always very functional) and using the same pile of bricks to build multiple gadgets and contraptions to thwart enemies or continue the narrative.

More important to the game is that it actually extends the franchise canon by revealing some never-before-explored plot lines unlocked by collecting gold bricks.

For example, Poe Dameron, BB-8 and C-3PO must secretly board a starship and save Adm. (“It’s a Trap!”) Ackbar from the First Order. They will need to extricate themselves from a trash compactor and fly through an asteroid field during the rescue, avoid a Wampa monster and plenty of Mynock and T.I.E. Fighters.

Or, less exciting, Church of the Force member Lor San Tekka (holding a piece of the map to Luke Skywalker’s location) works with Dybrinthe bounty hunter Athgar Heece gets to get to the Jakku village where he will pass his coveted item to Poe Dameron.

Collecting more gold bricks allows gamers to go on other adventures never explored in the movie, such as hunting for those dangerous, tentacled Rathars with Han Solo and Chewbacca or finding out how C-3PO got stuck with a red arm.

What’s equally amazing to me is many of the actors offer new dialogue for the game, including Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo).

That’s right, Mr. Ford recorded more for a Lego video game. Considering he finally got the outcome he wanted for the beloved Han Solo, I bet he was more than willing to offer his services to nearly every “Star Wars” product tie-in available.

Clearly, developers TT Games have gone above and beyond to satisfy fans of this pop-culture tour de Force.

Overall, “Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of the best family-friendly games of the year and easily offers a dozen or more hours of action for Jedi- or Sith-loving tweens and parents to appreciate its rich universe.

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