TL; DR(eview) - LEGO returns to its Star Wars roots with a much more enjoyable experience than was found in LEGO Marvel's Avengers, even if it does feel a bit underwhelming content-wise, only tackling Episode VII and some filler side stories.
More than a decade after LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game surprised players with a charming take on the Star Wars prequels, TT Games has returned to the series that started it all. Long gone are the days where pantomimed mini-figs retold the story of Star Wars with little more than grunts and PlayStation 2-era animations. Nowadays TT tends to focus on original stories (a la the LEGO Batman games) or they'll use the license to it's fullest and incorporate movie audio right into the game (a la LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Marvel's Avengers). LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a pretty decent hybrid of the two, utilizing the film audio for many of the cutscenes, while also bringing in some of the cast to record new audio for the filler content and side stories.
Much of the gameplay has become standard for the franchise. Levels are designed primarily around simple mechanics like puzzle-solving, platforming, combat, and pretty much smashing everything you can find of the LEGO studs currency used to unlock new characters and gameplay modifiers. A couple notable new mechanics in play are the multi-build puzzles, and the cover-based blaster battles.
The multi-build puzzles seem like a long-overdue evolution of the standard "built a thing out of LEGO to progress the story" element that has been with the game since the beginning. Now, you direct where you can turn the same series of bricks into alternative solutions to a puzzle, or in many cases, different steps of the same solution that need to be built, torn down, then rebuilt in the correct sequence to move forward. And the blaster battles feature your characters taking cover behind a barricade and having to fight your way through waves of enemies before moving on. Both elements do a good job breaking up the gameplay.
A third element that has been turned up a notch from previous LEGO games is the vehicle combat. In true Star Wars fashion, you'll fly through a variety of aerial combat missions, both free-roaming and on rails trench runs. I found myself enjoying some of these sequences even more on later run-throughs where I wasn't trying to get through with a ton of studs so much as I was just admiring all of the action going on onscreen in the fight, as well as the background action.
Unfortunately, all of these components exist in one of the series lighter installments content-wise. Whereas the first two games each tackled their respective trilogies, and most of the other franchise tie-ins have tackled three or more films, the decision to cash in on the popularity now rather than wait until all three movies in the new series were out can certainly be felt. As the one film is stretched out over roughly ten missions (there is also a Prologue that introduces all of the new mechanics against the end of Return of the Jedi and an Epilogue that takes rounds out the final moments of The Force Awakens). The game then includes six additional unlockable levels, each one telling a different side story in this new universe. A lot of these original stories fell flat for me, in part because they featured characters I didn't know or care about but also because they often were a little bit too influenced by the original trilogy and The Force Awakens already has enough of that to go around. Examples include a trash compactor scene and a scene very reminiscent to the opening sequence of A New Hope.
As always, there are collectibles galore to go back once you've finished the main campaign. In addition to replaying the levels in Free Play mode, there are some hub worlds on planets like Jakku and the Starkiller Base with plenty of extra little one-off missions to complete or puzzles to solve on the quest toward the 250 Gold Bricks and 100% completion. I'm about 6 Gold Bricks from the end (just going through and collecting all of the collectible Mini-kits in each level). One of the most notable aspects as I look through the games 220+ characters though is just how few of them I recognize. The game does a decent job including classic characters (which you actually have to unlock by finding collectible Carbonite blocks and then unfreeze them at the Resistance base) but so many characters you unlock and purchase are simply background characters from the film (or characters that didn't even make the cut). It would be as if every character in the background of the Mos Eisley Cantina was thrown into the game. This, again, ties back to the notion that if this game were built around the entirety of the new trilogy in a few years, they wouldn't have to include characters like "Constable Zuvio" or "Petty Officer Thanisson" to fill out the game's ranks.
Overall, the game is still filled with the LEGO brand of family-friendly humor, albeit in an overly stretched out campaign in order to provide a comparable experience with only one movie behind it. TT Games brings in enough new elements to breath a bit of new life into the series as well. And considering this is really the only direct movie tie-in game we're getting for Force Awakens (at least for the foreseeable future), it's a solid game to enjoy in the spirit of this newest saga.
A Final Note: I played through entirely in single-player on this one but I still tried to keep an eye out for any sequences where the game seemed to veer too heavily away from its co-op friendly design. This was a noticeable problem in Jurassic World and Marvel's Avengers, where too many sequences switched into a single-player segment, but everything seemed to be somewhat two-player friendly here.