One of Lego Star Wars II's charms is that I can now swap the characters' heads, hats, arms and bodies. The original Star Wars toys never had this ability. Their hard plastic surfaces were delicately painted, and they swung their arms and legs haltingly on fragile joints. They worked better as talismans of the movies -- objects that could conjure up a galaxy far, far away. The Legonic destructibility of the characters in the videogame makes the relentless cycle of death and rebirth into a sort of toy-box resurrection. Characters don't die. They fall apart. Then they're rebuilt.
On a TV screen, Legos are just pictures. Fortunately, videogames are all about giving me control of the TV's pictures. Every level of the game -- and they are numerous -- puts me in charge of a Star Wars-themed Lego character or a vehicle. But then I find myself monotonously steering them around, firing blaster blasts at enemies. There is no building or taking apart. The game is simply a mild action videogame, a cross between Asteroids and Super Mario 64.
Lego Star Wars II does a decent job of recreating some of the scenes from the original films, then interrupting them with simplistic action sequences. During the battle on Hoth, where I gloriously wrapped a cable around the legs of an AT-AT walker and knocked it to the ground, I was then required to grab a bomb, haul it across the battlefield and drop it on the walker. Nothing was ever that complicated in the movies or in the toy box. It feels like any old videogame.
THE GOOD: The look is Lego. The story is Star Wars. These two forces are joined together by an incredibly simple style of game -- the flat shooter -- that has been time-tested since the days of the arcade. The two-player system, in which the second player can join the game and leave whenever they want without interrupting the flow of the mission, is a boon for parents and children or friends who are young enough to play with Legos together, yet old enough to want to destroy what they build.
THE BAD: While the Lego switch-'n'-swap method of character building has its appeal, collecting all of the different characters and then using them is actually a necessary part of Lego Star Wars II. The problem is, it's not much fun: I waste a lot of time on puzzles I'm not ready to solve. By the time I have the right character, I'm already bored with the level.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Lego Star Wars II is a virtual Lego play set that connects three wildly entertaining films with one mildly entertaining videogame.