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Near the end of my preview of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, I started laughing hard enough that I had to pause and make sure my Discord microphone was muted so that the company rep wouldn't hear me and think I'd lost my mind. I was playing through Episode IV: A New Hope, and Obi-Wan's snooping around the Death Star was almost spoiled by the untimely, boisterous arrival of C-3PO and R2-D2. The nearby Stormtroopers wandered off after briefly investigating, one commenting that maybe the noise had been "another drill." After Obi-Wan ensured the coast was clear, he turned to address his droid companions, revealing that C-3PO had found and activated an electric drill.

It's such a silly, low-hanging fruit of a pun. And yet it took all I could muster to stifle my laughter long enough to mute myself. I still don't know exactly why that particular joke is the one that got my traditionally stoic gamer face to break, though I'd wager it was the slow pan to C-3PO--as a droid, his head is always frozen in the same appearance, which in the context of this particular scene was used to great effect to emulate the look of a shocked deadpan expression. Regardless, the scene was all I needed to see to know that The Skywalker Saga may turn out to be pretty good.

I've been playing Lego Star Wars since the first in the series, which my sister and I got as a gift alongside our first console, a Nintendo GameCube. As my mom and dad didn't know much about video games, they didn't know that the GameCube needed a memory card to retain game data, and so my sister and I spent the rest of the week off of school playing Lego Star Wars and having to start over with zero progress every time we turned the console off. And yet I loved it, enjoying how well the game reinterpreted my favorite movies (put your pitchforks away--I was 12 and you're allowed to love the prequel Star Wars trilogy when you're only 12 years old) to be humorously goofy.

Goofy storytelling has been the biggest strength of the Lego Star Wars series (as it is for many of the Lego games), and the best entries are the ones that manage to retell the stories of their source material in a way that feels like the source has always been a comedy. That's not too difficult with Star Wars--it's an absurd science fantasy franchise that requires only the gentlest of pushes to transform into something ridiculous. If my preview is any indication, the team behind The Skywalker Saga understands that, with the core story beats all seemingly remaining intact. The changes that it does make are like the aforementioned drill pun, noticeable but still small. I think this is ultimately going to be an excellent way to enjoy Star Wars, regardless of whether you're a longtime fan or a new face in the galaxy far, far away.

The Skywalker Saga is not a collection of Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, and Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens--this entirely new entry in developer TT Games' series features brand-new and original levels, cutscenes, voice acting, hub areas, and gameplay mechanics. Each of the nine episodes can be played in any order, and the storylines of each episode have been tweaked to incorporate details from beyond the nine mainline movies. For instance, the opening of A New Hope has been adjusted so that the episode begins with the final moments of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

That means there are plenty of Easter eggs and references for longtime Star Wars and Lego Star Wars fans to point out, but each storyline is seemingly kept pretty tight and only covers the main plotlines for each episode. This is still a game aimed at kids, so you don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of the past 45 years of Star Wars to understand what's going on.

TT Games has taken steps to evolve the gameplay of the Lego Star Wars games in this latest entry as well. A new over-the-shoulder perspective and cover system aligns The Skywalker Saga to be a bit more like your traditional third-person shooter. A combo and block system also allows you to pull off a variety of moves in melee and lightsaber combat.

These new mechanics don't change the Lego Star Wars formula as much as they've been advertised to. You can still very easily take out whole legions of enemies by fighting out in the open, given that everyone you fight aims like a Stormtrooper, negating the need for cover. And spamming random combos is still an incredibly effective strategy when you have a lightsaber in your hand--enemies can block you but I didn't go up against anyone in the preview that encouraged me to be strategic in how I fought.

So as cool as it can be to occasionally engage in these systems, they feel superfluous. They aren't detracting from the overall experience of what it's like to play a Lego Star Wars game, but they aren't actually adding anything either and so I felt little desire to engage in them. And that left me wondering why they were even there in the first place.

In most games, I'd assume that systems like this foreshadow a gradual increase in difficulty, with later levels presenting tougher foes that encourage you to be more strategic in how you fight--but again, The Skywalker Saga isn't a linear game. The preview did not detail whether the difficulty of episodes would increase as you completed each one, or if the game would include multiple difficulty settings to allow players to crank up the challenge and better engage in the new combat systems. If either of those are the case, my qualms with the seemingly unneeded adjustments to combat might end up being unwarranted.

If anything, The Skywalker Saga seems to most excel in its puzzles. All characters are divided into one of nine classes--Jedi, Hero, Scavenger, Scoundrel, Bounty Hunter, Villain, Dark Side, Astromech Droid, and Protocol Droid--and each possesses unique movement mechanics and abilities that allow them to navigate around different types of obstacles and interact with the environment in various ways. A Jedi can use Jedi Mind Trick to control the actions and thoughts of other characters, for example, while a Villain has the special clearance to access specific computers and can use grenades to blow up seemingly indestructible Lego bricks.

The Skywalker Saga's best puzzles task you with figuring out how to mix and match these abilities. For instance, as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Jedi class), you can use Jedi Mind Trick to take control of a Stormtrooper (Villain class), and then maneuver them over to a computer to access it and open a gate that's halting your progress.

Beyond the more rudimentary puzzles, each of The Skywalker Saga's 45 levels also has three challenges, which encourage you to replay levels and discover clever ways of circumnavigating problems. In the first level of A New Hope, for example, you are presented with some Lego bricks that allow you to build a way to break into the room you need to get into (which is filled with Stormtroopers) or douse the flames leading into an adjacent hallway. You can't do both--you have to pick. Doing the latter leads to a terminal that can be hacked into, which opens an airlock and jettisons the room of Stormtroopers out into space, allowing you to forgo a direct confrontation.

Not all of these challenges are so clear-cut, either-or situations, though. Later in A New Hope, when Han, Luke, and Chewie are sneaking into the detainment level of the Death Star to save Leia, I found a way to dim the lights and then use Han's special ability as a Scoundrel to deduce how to drop the short-circuited overhead lights on the guards. Doing so allowed me to, essentially, stealth my way through the encounter without anyone the wiser--not actually how that scene in A New Hope plays out, but it felt pretty cool to pull off nonetheless. And I still ended up needing to jump into the trash compactor to escape, so overall events still played out as they should.

The game doesn't highlight the locations of these challenges, motivating you to pay attention to how your Lego surroundings have been built and how to utilize the unique skill sets of your party to best pull it apart or build around it. The solutions aren't obvious and are enjoyable to think over, making them rewarding to solve.

Overall, I finished my preview of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga a bit perplexed over the changes it makes to the Lego Star Wars games' combat, but pleased to see that the series' innate silliness and goofy nature is intact. And I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the puzzles, especially the episode-specific challenges that are built around characters' unique class skills. I'm looking forward to playing the full game, which launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC on April 5.