[4 August 2009]
An ambulance-chasing lawyer who specializes in Jedi-caused injuries. The Mos Eisley Cantina band trying to sell their only song as a jingle, and failing. Boba Fett acting like he got stuck down the Sarlacc on purpose. No one commenting on Lando Calrissian wearing Han’s clothes at the end of Empire Strikes Back. Emperor Palpatine getting advice from his hairdresser to hire bounty hunters to find the Millenium Falcon.
No, I’m not reading fan fiction ideas from my seventh-grade journal. The far-fetched scenarios above are all sketches in Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, a half-hour segment just released on DVD from the Adult Swim favorite that lampoons the Star Wars universe. While a typical Robot Chicken episode can jump from segments related to Mario Kart and Fast and the Furious to segments about Masters of the Universe villains, Star Wars Episode II allows creators Matthew Senreich and Seth Green and their gang of excellent writers to narrow their focus on the most minuscule characters and events of one of the most oft-parodied pop culture franchises.
Until now, Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode I was the series’ best episode. Episode II throws the first version down a shaft in the Death Star and takes the throne.
The action figure animated Robot Chicken is the most-watched show on Adult Swim, despite its bona fide geek cred, which suggests either that geeks watch a lot of late night TV (which is probably true), or people who don’t know their Dengars from their IG-88s are willing to watch a show with jokes that are probably out of context for them (which is also maybe true).
But Star Wars Episode II ups the ante even more in the geek department. It’s hard to imagine a non-Star Wars freak catching that Lando Calrissian might question Boba Fett’s choice of ship name (Slave One), or that Bossk is the only bounty hunter aboard the Star Destroyer Executor that has his shoes off, and then admonishing the others for not doing the same (“manners are their own reward, gentleman”).
One’s willingness to accept that no character is too obscure or no contrivance too minute lends Star Wars Episode II an air of freshness even though it’s just the latest in a (very) long line of shows to set their comedic sights on sending up Star Wars.
Where other shows (like Family Guy’s Blue Harvest episode) go for broad strokes riffing on Leia’s hair, Luke’s wimpiness, or Darth Vader’s voice, Robot Chicken goes the absurdist route with classic sketches imagining a Stormtrooper bringing his daughter to work for Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, Luke fantasizing what having a father would be like (fishing trips on Dagobah, father-son dance contests against Boba and Jango Fett), a sitcom starring Dr. Ball, the round doctor droid that tortures Leia in A New Hope, and Admiral Ackbar being unable to guess the word “trap” during a game of $10,000 Pyramid.
And because Robot Chicken’s format is often one-punch line segments that last less than 10 seconds, things never get stale. Even when jokes don’t land as well as they should (like when Darth Vader keeps changing the details of he and Lando Calrissian’s deal, including riding a unicycle), there’s an unforgettable segment about Luke’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen coming fast. Nearly everything here is some of the best work Green and Senreich have done.
Similar to all Robot Chicken DVD releases, Star Wars Episode II is loaded with extras, including a funny segment that pokes fun at writers talking about segments that they were working on pre-shooting, and then teasing them later when they didn’t get selected or were available on DVD only. There are also the requisite commentaries from Green and company, a making-of documentary, and footage from the special’s premiere at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch (Lucas himself has blessed the Robot Chicken parodies).
But unfortunately, this time out there are no deleted scenes, which were often some of the best stuff on past Robot Chicken releases, because Cartoon Network paid for everything the group wanted to film for the special. And given the embarrassment of riches here, that’s highly understandable.