If only I had held her like that time on Naboo.
Playing Lego Star Wars is like seeing a model of the Taj Mahal made out of popsicle sticks, or Notre Dame constructed from PlayDoh. The game deftly mocks our most Holy Cinematic Scripture, Star Wars, irreverently modifying it while heightening our awareness of its cultural power. It's frankly unbelievable that a licensed game is capable of such layering, or even allowed to exist. Someone at LucasCorp must've been looking the other way when this project got approved, but what luck: Lego Star Wars rises above spoofery to glorify Star Wars while humorously deconstructing it. While by most standards it is merely an above average game, it is nonetheless (and more importantly) an excellent aesthetic experience.
To summarize, Lego Star Wars is a collection of key moments from Episodes I through III, recreated mostly in Lego. The gameplay is action-oriented, divided by five or six levels per Episode. You can start with any Episode you want, or you can mix and match and play bits of each Episode as you go. Most of the levels have you playing as Jedi who not only swing lightsabers but use the Force, which can be used as a combat attack (awesome) or to rearrange Lego blocks into structures or items that will get you through the level. You also play as blaster characters (such as Queen Amidala), astromech and protocol droids, and lots of various aliens and military droids. The first time you play through a level is called "Story Mode," where you play mostly as Obi-Wan, Padme, or Anakin. Since you are limited to the story characters in this mode, you cannot solve some puzzles that require high-jumpers or specific droids. Once you've beaten a level, you unlock its characters, and can use any of the 50 or so available in "Free Play" mode, cycling among them with the L or R buttons. This second play-through is just as fun, and it's necessary to complete the puzzles and get Lego tokens (cash). There are only a handful of different character types, but the joy of seeing them rendered as Lego men is worth unlocking them all.
The gameplay is very simplistic, which will only affect certain types of gamers. Beating a level is usually pretty easy since they are linear and have no real objectives. As a Jedi character you swing your lightsaber nonstop and jump a lot, and there are a few very simple yet useful combo moves that dispense enemies more quickly. Along with the platform-action levels there are some on-rails flying missions that are just as simple, but offer some exciting variety and great graphics. If the gameplay sounds boring, that's because the real thrill of the game is just to see it. Playing with a friend is recommended because of how funny and absurd the whole concept is (more on co-op later). The strength of the game is its visuals, which are also simple and Lego-y, but recreate every Star Wars special effect. This seemingly awkward combination of the complex and the plain is really quite smooth. In fact, it is the high and low art dichotomy that is the source of Lego Star War's appeal. To see it once is to recognize how natural and great it is for a Lego Qui-Gon to fight a Lego Darth Maul, faithfully miming the film. The initial play-through is the most exciting because you know what must happen next, but you won't know how it will be conveyed through the Lego theme. As a result, the game is almost as much fun for onlookers as it is for players.
The game isn't without its faults. though. My main complaint is the co-operative mode: certainly it is a vital part of the game yet it works very poorly. Since the game uses only one camera for co-op, both players will often head for opposite ends of the screen, which gets them nowhere. The two players are forced to stay very close together, and with lightsabers flying, this can create a lot of accidental deaths. When playing the Pod Race level in co-op, each player gets his own Pod, and both must win the race. I would say it is nearly impossible to do, though attempting it is a good way to kill an hour. It feels like some of the levels were designed entirely with co-op in mind, while others are made tedious by it. On the plus side, the co-op mode is drop-in/drop-out, so one player can leave at any time and then re-join later. Despite all the flaws, co-op is the best way to play the game. Then there are some minor flaws: in keeping with the game's aesthetic unity, the camera is uncontrollable, presenting frequent problems when the level design fights the current angle. Also, the game is very easy and quickly beatable. Really, I wish each individual Episode was two or three levels longer, because it often feels like the game skips absolutely excellent scenes from the movies in favor of other ones. Finally, the soundtrack is merely recordings of Star Wars tunes plopped into the levels and edited to match the action. At times it sounds very shoddy, especially after Factor Five's excellent sound design for the Rogue Squadron games.
Overall, the faults of Lego Star Wars can be forgiven just to play as a Lego General Grievious swinging four lightsabers, or as Yoda bouncing around, or as Chewbacca. The game can be forgiven because it is willing to make fun of the plot and style of the new Star Wars trilogy, while accepting it as a part of the canon. It is an excellent example of why a reviewer cannot look at a game as a sum of its parts and round the scores off accordingly; the total event must be in view, and in this case it is one worth experiencing.