Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more than it seems.
Yes, it’s another lighthearted, block-shuffling and meticulously family-angled installment in studio Traveller’s Tales’ indefatigable Lego adventure series. But it’s also a canonical expansion of the revamped Star Wars-verse, clearly positioned to entice battalions of Star Wars devotees. Build and bash your way through piles of studded orthogonal legos, and you’ll also fill in major story gaps left by the film–stories buttressed by new dialogue by the film actors.
TIME spoke to lead writer Graham Goring about the game, which arrives simultaneously for PC, consoles and handhelds on June 28. He talked about Han and Chewie’s Rathtar-hunting expedition, Poe Dameron’s attempts to rescue Admiral Ackbar from the First Order and the events that lead up to C-3PO’s stylin’ red arm. And then he gave us exclusive details about the Ottegan Assault mission, which reveals how Lor San Tekka (the enigmatic character played by Max von Sydow as the film opens) got his mitts on the map to Luke Skywalker’s location.
Though be warned: We’re going to spoil a bunch of film stuff!
“We knew we didn’t want the whole thing to be the film, because it might be stretching it a bit thin over 15, 16 levels or whatever,” says Goring, referring to the way the past Lego Star Wars games covered entire trilogies and the full Clone Wars TV series. “We always knew we wanted to explore some other story stuff and luckily there are these questions you have when you see the movie that people would like answered. In four of those new adventure levels [of six total], we’re the first one to tell those stories, including the Ottegan assault.”
“So how that happened is, Lucasfilm came to us and said, ‘These are bits of background information you could expand upon and turn into levels.’ They had a very good idea of what people would want to know, like C-3PO’s red arm, or what was Lor San Tekka doing before the start of the film. He appears briefly in it, but you know, other stuff like what happened to the rest of Han’s crew when they hunted the Rathtars.”
“The new Star Wars film is actually surprisingly funny in terms of dialogue, it’s really witty,” says Goring when I ask how they deal with the film’s grim bits. “But you’re right, there are some really dark bits in it. And it’s really our cutscene team who’ve been finding a way to make death palatable for 10 years. Take the scene with Han’s death. They found a way to juxtapose it with these stormtroopers in the background who are watching really keenly and hanging on the edge of it. Effectively they’re a proxy for the audience, and they’re reacting in an over the top way to it. By not being graphic with the actual last moments of Han, and adding that to it, it enables us to tell the story, to honor taking him out of the narrative, but doing it in a way that doesn’t scar children. We’re obviously very mindful of the fact that it’s families and kids who are playing these games.”
“We unlock one of these levels every couple of levels in the game,” says Goring when I ask if the new stuff’s sectioned off. “So for instance, the Rathtar adventure will unlock after you’ve met them in the game, because it obviously doesn’t make sense before then. You’ll approach a particular character in the hub, in that case Han Solo, you’ll hand over some gold bricks, which you unlock by playing the game, and then you can play that level. And we call attention to the adventures, so like the very first time you go out and explore the Resistance base, C-3PO waves you over and says “Oh, general, I’d love to visit that thing where we rescued General Ackbar” [a reference to the “Poe to the Rescue” mission]. And it’s a reminder to come back and play through that level.”
“I know sometimes we get this criticism that we do the same game every time. I don’t particularly buy that,” says Goring. “I think we’re always trying new things in terms of how you interact with Legos. But I think Lego Star Wars really afforded us the opportunity to take big steps forward. Like the flight combat levels in The Force Awakens are so far in advance of what we’ve done before, they’re an absolute blast. I’ve been having great fun replaying those. Whereas before, it’s always been simple, almost Defender-esque gameplay.”
“The other thing is the new blaster battles, which are pure Star Wars. We’ve managed to really put you inside those blaster battles by bringing the camera down low and having it so you’re ducking out of cover and taking pot shots. They’re great fun, and they really vary the pace. Another thing we did is this thing called multi-builds. When kids play with Lego, you build the sets on the box, then you take them apart and build something else, then something else. We’ve done that in the game as well. So you have a pile of bricks and you can build multiple things with it. That’s really nice from a puzzle perspective, because it means it’s not just smash everything up, build everything and move on. Sometimes there’s a little bit of thought there. You’ve got to figure out which order you need to build something in. Because you’ll build one item and smash it up, then build another item, and that’ll enable you to get a bit further. And you might then want to build that first item again.”
“So if you’re someone who’s feels they’ve got a little bit of Lego fatigue, come back in, because I think this game has got loads new to show you. It’s our best game yet, and it’s Star Wars as well, an absolutely loving celebration of Star Wars.”
“The fun thing about the Ottegan level, and actually Trouble Over Taul [the events that lead up to C-3PO’s red arm], is that you’re playing as the bad guys,” says Goring. “Whereas in every other level, you’re obviously playing as the good guys, although in one of them you play as some freebooters who are possibly in a moral gray area. But you’re playing as Kylo Ren and as Captain Phasma in Ottegan Assault. And it starts with an action-packed flying sequence, and then there’s a puzzle section and combat on the ground afterwards.”
“In terms of the Ottegan story, what’s happening in that level is you’re trying to find Lor San Tekka. You’ve had a report that he’s there and you’re going there, but when you get there, you find out at the end that he’s already left. The reason you’re going to the Ottegan planet is because they’re the ones who gave him this map, this map that shows up right at the start of the movie. All of these new adventures feed into the start of the movie. They kind of show where each character was just before the start.”
“Rather than there being one button for combat that you mash, you now have a ranged button and a melee button, which actually changes up the pace of combat quite a bit,” says Goring. “Another thing is that we have a combo meter. So as you defeat enemies you get a multiplier, which increases the amount of studs you get. But also when you top up this gauge, you can use an area of effect attack and take out lots of enemies at once. Or you can just spend a single unit of this gauge and do a finishing move on an enemy.”
“So there might be a really tough enemy, but as long as you’ve knocked out a couple of other ones first, you can just walk up to him and do a finishing move to take him out instantly. It adds a little bit of strategy to the combat, which is really nice, because I think sometimes it’s been just mash-mash-mash. Whereas now there’s a little bit of thought in it. Or take the blaster battles. You might see a little engineer run on, and they’ll have a little wrench icon over them, and you’ll know they’re probably going to build a blaster turret, or some extra cover for the enemy, so you’ll want to take them out first. So we’ve done quite a bit to make the combat more engaging and thoughtful.”
Or at least that’s how the developers pronounce it. Ottegan sounds like AH-teh-gehn, not ah-TEEG-in.
“I don’t know, that would be awesome, flying around the galaxy,” says Goring when I ask if Lego Star Wars could ever go full-on Lego City Undercover. “I mean eventually it may well happen, and that would be amazing. It would be so cool to just have a galaxy, I agree, with that Lego sense of humor and Star Wars content. It’s a heady combination. I would definitely be here to work on that.”