Star Wars is such a stalwart of the cultural lexicon that it readily lends itself to lampoon. Heck, as far back as Return of the Jedi, comics like Mel Brooks (Spaceballs) and celebrated shorts like Hardware Wars were putting Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewie through their cinematic spoof paces. Of course, when the ultimate Dark Lord, George Lucas, lost his sense of humor (right around the time Jar-Jar Binks was black-facing his way to infamy), making fun of the franchise was a no-no. In fact, recent efforts by the likes of Family Guy had to get the mighty Skywalker Sith's permission before making with the mockery. Naturally, such creative co-habitation results in some watered down wit, right? Not if you're Robot Chicken. The glorious stop-motion series masterminded by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich also received the blessing of the ultimate Jedi Master to make their merriment. Even in this, the second Wars workout for the Adult Swim show, our animated action figures go for the throat - and no beloved nerd territory is left untouched.
Without much of a plot to speak of, Robot Chicken's Star Wars Episode II offers dozens of delightful skits. Many focus on the lowly Ewoks and what appears to be a rather rampant hatred of the fussy little furballs. Other facets revolve around Emperor Palpatine and his desire to do away with Han Solo and the gang pronto. The hiring of a proper bounty hunter becomes a consistent gag, the evil leader always desperate to find the right paid assassin. Sadly, his available pool of killers ranges from an arrogant Boba Fett to a couple of first-timers trying to disguise their novice status. In between, we revisit the famed Cloud City of Bespin and its super cool administrator Lando Calrissian, watch as Death Star employees bicker about their conquest strategy, and the aftermath of a certain cloned warrior being swallowed by the Sarlacc.
For some odd reason, around about the same time actually, both Robot Chicken and Seth Green's other meal ticket, Family Guy, were getting into the Star Wars spoof biz. Master Moneyman MacFarlane's crew came up with Blue Harvest, the title cribbed from the secret shooting name given to the Return of the Jedi production. It took the first film in the initial trilogy, reconfigured the characters as members of the Griffin clan, and attempted to make audience laugh. It really didn't work. Robot Chicken's Star Wars, on the other hand, used a slapdash vignette oriented approach, more closely associated with lampoon icons Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker in films like Kentucky Fried Movie to manufacture its satire. And it succeeded, royally. Now we're blessed with Episode II of this blitzed out anarchy and it's just as funny and fulfilling as the first time around. As stated before, there is something about the combination of Robot Chicken's reverence and irreverence that blends beautifully. We can see how completely dorky this show is for the Star Wars saga, and how self-aware it is to tear down those parts that truly deserve it.
This is not The Simpsons backdoor satire (Randall Curtis???), or Guy's geek worship recreation. Instead, Chicken chokes the life out of obvious marketing moves like Jar Jar Binks and the Ewoks, reducing them to the running jokes they deserve to be. Similarly, Lucas' notoriously clunky dialogue gets a couple of digs, while the entire Anakin good/evil paradigm is freely picked apart. There is a brilliant moment when "Ani" must go to his "happy place" to complete the slaughter of the Jedi younglings. As he chops away at rows and rows of "sunflowers", we wait with relish for the punchline. When it comes, it's a basic "baby joke" delight. Similarly, a fey bounty hunter with an annoying personality keeps turning up, wondering why Boba Fett and the rest keep getting the jobs that he's clearly qualified for, while Palpatine ponders his next move. All throughout, memorable moments from the films are twisted, from Lando Calrissian's interstellar suaveness (actually voiced by big bad Billy Dee Williams himself) to the famous mouse droid, which is piloted by an actual mouse.
The best thing about Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II is the pacing. It doesn't worry about being true to the entire Lucas legacy, getting every plot point and narrative element right. Instead, it mutates the man's universe into whatever it wants - a musical number, a horror film, an exercise in irony - anything that they think will make the audience laugh. And this is funny, funny stuff. Just hearing Billy Dee riff on his old character is worth the price of admission alone, but we also get some classic Carrie Fisher, as well as the able voice work of comedians like Conan O'Brien, Andy Ritcher, and oddly enough, Mr. MacFarlane himself. In fact, Seth Sr. is great as Palpatine, providing the perfect combination of snooty aristocracy and pissed off bureaucrat. Indeed, the reason Robot Chicken's version of Star Wars succeeds, unlike other attempts at mocking the franchise, is the quality of the production merged with some great stop-motion animation. The work done by the artists here is amazing. It captures the visual elements of that certain galaxy far, far away expertly - as does the entire show itself.
Here's the downside to all this Robot Chicken goodness. Unlike other Adult Swim shows who have transferred over to a 16x9 production design, this Star Wars special is 1.33:1 full screen all the way, baby! That means that you don't quite get the full cinematic experience that the episode suggests, but the image is still excellent. The colors are bright, the animation captured in flawless detail. Even the occasional CG F/X look good. All lack of an anamorphic option aside, this DVD provides a near perfect picture.
Offered in either a pristine Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix or an equally good, if limited, 2.0 Stereo version, the aural aspects of this DVD are excellent. The faithfulness to the Star Wars sound design is evident, as is the use of many musical cues. Guess it pays to get George and the boys on board, huh?
Since the episode itself runs less than an hour, Adult Swim and Warner Brothers have fleshed out this DVD with dozens of exciting extras. There's a Making-Of, a series of edited "Chicken Nuggets", a look at the show's premiere at the Skywalker Ranch (with Lucas on hand to add a very funny private in-joke to the proceedings), more behind the scenes footage, some time lapse of a few of the sequences, and much, much more. We are also treated to accepted/rejected ideas, alternate audio tracks (other actors doing roles later recast), on-air bumps, trailers, video blogs, and deleted animatics. But the best added content here are the six, count 'em, SIX, audio commentaries. Of the numerous alternate narrative tracks, the most compelling include Billy Dee Williams (on the first "Actors" commentary), Rachel Leigh Cook (on the second "Actors" commentary) and Frank Oz, who had nothing to do with the special but still shows up to share his memories of working on Wars making Yoda into a grammatically challenged legend.
Nothing makes a dyed in the wool Wars-head happier than seeing fellow fanatics deflate the elephantine nerd-dom out of the seminal space operas. It's so annoying to hear the faithful foam at the mouth when someone dares dump all over Han, Leia, Luke, and the gang. It Star Wars is a sacred cow, its master already muffed its value per pound with those hideous prequels, and in the grand scheme of things, all six films will never be more than imaginative examples of classic mainstream entertainment. As a result, the ribbing Robot Chicken gives the dynasty deserves a Highly Recommended rating. It's fast and furious, hilarious without being hampered by story, sentiment, or a need to stand solidly behind George and the gang. It's often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case, then the send-up is the greatest indicator of social significance. You know you've made it when everyone wants to tease - and among the many mockeries, Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II is the best.