It’s good to know that George Lucas has a sense of humor…and no, we don’t mean the inclusion of flamboyantly gay Hutt Zero in the recent Clone Wars animated series. Where once it was verboten to take the piss out of the Dark Lord’s Skywalker saga, shows like Robot Chicken and Family Guy have actually had licensed cooperation to do so. While the former has done consistently clever things with its more vignette and sketch comedy approach to satire, Seth MacFarlane’s first attempted Star Wars spoof - the two part “Blue Harvest” episode - was borderline awful. So reverent it forgot to be funny, you could sense a show uncertain about how far to push the Luke and Leia laughs.
Now comes the necessary sequel - Something, Something, Something, Dark Side - and it’s safe to say it’s a solid improvement over the erratic Episode IV flub. New to DVD and Blu-ray, it’s a recognizable return to form. Again, the Family Guy brain trust decides to more or less regurgitate the plot of Empire Strikes Back beat for beat. We get the ice planet Hoth, the Tauntaun as sleeping bag, the Imperial Walkers battle, the trip to the Dagoba system, Yoda fu, and the Cloud City confrontation between Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, bounty hunter Boba Fett and interstellar cowboy Han Solo. Even though it clocks in at less than a hour, Guy manages to get almost all of it in. And thanks to a clever use of cast members as sci-ficons, the lampoon is mostly spot-on…mostly.
Like before, oldest son Chris Griffin is Luke, while youngest child Stewie is a pitch perfect Darth Vader (reminiscent of Rick Moranis’ turn in Spaceballs with a hefty dose of the clipped Christopher Lee from the nauseating Wars prequels). Peter is Han, dog Brian is Chewbacca, while wife Lois is Leia. Sex fiend Quagmire is a rather subdued C-3PO while black neighbor Cleveland is R2D2. Sadly, daughter Meg is relegated to little more than a cameo, her only Wars-oriented line actually commenting on said fact.
In between we get bits from favorite characters like wheelchair bound cop Joe, Herbert the Pervert, fey Bruce, and the incredibly Jewish Mort Goldman. Toss in a bunch of mindless asides, black-outs, one-off in-jokes, and antiquated homages and you’ve got the makings for a decent deconstruction. However, one can’t help feeling that this should be funnier - sharper, fresher, more outrageous and in-your-face. It’s Family Guy, after all.
Indeed, the biggest problem that Something, Something, Something, Dark Side suffers from is this desire to retell the Star Wars saga. Instead of using the material as a jumping off point - which is what Robot Chicken does - MacFarlane et. al. are like geekiest geeks in all of geekdom. Sure, they turn everyone’s favorite gun for hire into the famed Giant Chicken, but then they make the formidable fowl do little except repeat the infamous Fett’s lines nearly word-for-word. Instead of exploring the possibilities of convenience store manager Carl as Yoda, we get a couple of pop culture riffs (Van Wilder and Teen Wolf) followed by more of Lucas’ own borrowed mythology. As with Blue Harvest, the Guy gang just can’t break away and make the material their own. Instead, they simply substitute their “cast” for the classic names we all know and hope that will be enough.
Sometimes, it is. Stewie is terrific as Vader, the most fully realized ridiculing in all the Stars’ send-up. From his expert line readings to oddball tangents, one hopes the show gets around to doing Episodes I through III, if only to see the wicked little rugrat take the horrid Hayden Christensen down a few delicious notches. Equally entertaining are several of the minor performers, pieces of a comic puzzle that don’t always come together, put definitely capable of bringing a smile as they try. While Chris is acceptable as Luke, Peter is far too passive as Han to make a decent mockery. It would be nice to see more of original star Harrison Ford’s hambone bravado. Heck, we don’t even see a lot of Papa Griffin’s patented scatology.
The reason for all this safeguarding seems to come from the bonus features. MacFarlane and company are present for a jovial commentary track which illustrates some of the source material hurdles they had to over come, as well as insufferable studio mandates that had to be dealt with. In addition, the Blu-ray has a trivia track which highlights some of the same “back to the drawing board” decisions. In essence, because they were working with the blessing of Lucas (within limits) and the bottom line wary gaze of Fox, there wasn’t a great deal of farce freedom. One good thing - the home theater version keeps the foul mouthed swears intact. If you ever wanted to hear Han Solo tell Princess Leia to “F” herself, this is the title for you.
With a look at the next Wars workout (a take on Return of the Jedi) and a decent collection of behind the scenes elements (including an animatic with director discussion), Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is a first rate digital package. Where it falls down a little is on the non-theatrical tech specs. Sure, Family Guy is a TV series, and as such, stuck in a 1.33:1 full screen presentation (for now), but did this Blu-ray version have to stay within such strictures. The image is amazing, the 1080p image delivering lots of detail. So why not go the extra mile and “open up” the digital package to a more cinematic 16x9 experience. The 5.1 Master Audio option tries to. Some of the gorgeous CG animation just begs for a widescreen viewing.
For many, such format flaws won’t matter. Something, Something, Something Dark Side will remind them of why they fell in love with Family Guy in the first place, while giving them split sides over their favorite heroes and villain space opera. They will giggle at the extended Darth fart joke and love every “F” and “S” bomb dropped. Yet it’s ironic that Seth Green, creator and oddball wizard behind Robot Chicken is also a member of the Guy cast. When he takes on the most hailed and harangued movie saga of all time, he’s not afraid to take risks, push buttons, and slaughter a few sacred cows along the way. It’s a lesson MacFarlane and his faithful could learn from. While better than Blue Harvest, Something, Something etc. needed to be edgier. Instead, it’s a genial, if genuine, romp.