Reviews

The Well of 'Star Wars' Spoofs Hasn't Run Dry: 'Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III'

Robot Chicken's third Star Wars special uses the loose framing device of Emperor Palpatine's life to take us through a series of hilarious stop-motion sketches sending up all six movies.


Star Wars Episode III

Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Seth Green, Candace Bailey
Distributor: Cartoon Network
TV DVD: Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III
Release date: 2011-07-12

"Did I ruin your childhood, too?" George Lucas asks one of the Robot Chicken guys during one of the many bonus features on this disc. You have to give the Flanneled One credit: At least he has a sense of humor. Of course, he has to after the skewering Robot Chicken gives the Star Wars movies during this third collection of parodies.

The 44-minute main feature opens with Emperor Palpatine getting thrown down the reactor shaft in "Return of the Jedi". We catch up with him mid-fall and the action freezes. "Whoa, whoa," Palpatine says. "You ever have one of those moments where you think, 'How did I get here?'" It's a classic movie trope, and in this case The Who's classic song "Baba O'Riley" introduces us to the Emperor's early days on Naboo and the ill-fated decisions that gave him more and more power.

The show does a nice job of segueing from one sketch to the next, with moments from all six movies covered. If you remember the "What about the contractors on the Death Star?" conversation in Clerks, you'll recognize the questions that fueled the creation of many of these bits: "How does Darth Vader go to the bathroom in that suit?" "What was Boba Fett doing on Jabba's sail barge before he made his appearance?" "What was the deal with that Prune Face action figure?"

Much of the material is truly laugh-out-loud funny, especially the misadventures of Gary the Stormtrooper and Boba Fett's drunken bad ass routine. Even something as simple as Palpatine riding an endless Death Star escalator -- and having to salute an endless procession of stormtroopers -- is funny. The dedication to the little details in the sets and characters is impressive. Most impressive.

If you're curious how Seth Green and company made the show, though, you'll be disappointed, because they took a page out of King Kong creator Willis O'Brien's playbook and didn't document the process. No, I'm kidding. They documented the hell out of the making of this show, from the writing process to the voice-over sessions to the stop-motion work. Then they documented their visit to Skywalker Ranch to meet with Lucas, the show's premiere there, and the Robot Chicken panel at Star Wars Celebration V. I've heard that holo-DVD will let us view data streams from filmmakers' brains, so we can learn what they were eating the day they came up with a really cool idea.

Other bonus features include deleted scenes, which are sparse, as well as animatics for the many cut sketches, complete with introductions from the creative team explaining why they didn't make the grade. Six featurettes cover not only the making of the show but also how the Robot Chicken crew members first became aware of Star Wars and why they love it today. There's also a gag reel, trailers, and a 20-minute piece about the Robot Chicken Skate Party, which kicked off at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con and worked its way across the country, complete with partygoers skating in Star Wars costumes and performances by various bands. That last one drags on a bit; it probably could have been much shorter.

Finally, we have copious commentaries. There are four separate commentary tracks: two from two different groups of actors, one by the writers, and one with crew members. Then there is the Chicken Nuggets option, which causes the image of a chicken to pop up occasionally during the show; click it and you'll get a brief video commentary about that sketch. By the time you're done, you'll likely know the Robot Chicken guys better than you know your own family.

While I usually enjoy commentary tracks, all of this felt like a bit much for a 44-minute sketch show. However, the great thing about DVD is that you can pack a lot on a disc, so hardcore Robot Chicken fans will probably love all of this material. Personally, I enjoyed the featurettes more, especially the meeting with George Lucas, who seems resigned to the fact that many of his older fans weren't thrilled by the prequels. I am among them, although I don't subscribe to the "George Lucas ruined my childhood" silliness floating around the Internet. My memories of the original films are still safe and sound, thank you very much, and Robot Chicken: Star Wars III only serves to make me appreciate them more.

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