“We're doomed ... doomed!”
Now here's a true test of your Star Wars devotion. Do you remember these cartoons from the mid-eighties and, if so, would you bother adding them to your collection now? For me, the droids in question - camp robot C-3P0 and gadget-laden Swiss army bucket R2 D2 - have always been the most annoying element of the Star Wars universe. Except for the Ewoks. No matter how much I adore the movies and the merchandise - oh God, the money I've spent over the years! - the two twittering tin-heads have never managed to worm their way into my affections. I mean, let's look at this logically. If you were a macho space hero like Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker would you really want a preening coward like Threepio around when you were wooing princesses or facing off against the Empire? No matter what species he may be, the male throughout the universe will always see his gadgets as an extension of his ... um, you get the picture. But, as a true Jedi-wannabe and devout Lucas acolyte, I have accepted the challenge to wade through these Lucasfilm-sanctioned spin-off cartoons and seek out the true worth of the droids' exploits far away from the characters we know and love.
Fox have released two complete adventures on this disc, each edited smoothly into a full length feature. First up is The Pirates and the Prince, written by Peter Sauder. With Anthony Daniels supplying the voice to his one claim to fame - isn't it funny just how much ownership he exerts over this character, even waggling his tonsils for the excellent Clone Wars animated series when no other cast member would - there is, at least a certain amount of authenticity lent to the proceedings. In fact, the sound design pitched in by the genius Star Wars stalwart Ben Burtt also adds immeasurably to the overall feeling that we are still connected, albeit tenuously, to the originals. We get authentic laser-blasts, spacecraft engines and, of course, R2's incessant beeping and chirping. Oh, and the odd glimpse of a Gamorrean Guard or the brief intrusion of a certain IG-88 helps, too. Here the droids meet up with new master Jann and space babe Jessica to return the pink-faced orang-utan Prince Julpa back to his planet and rout the evil Grand Vizier and his plans for that world's domination. Throughout the four episodes that comprise this story we will encounter the despicable pirate Kyboren and his fleet of TIE fighters and a rather odd-looking Imperial Star Destroyer, see a remodelled sail barge, suffer juvenile buffoonery aplenty and witness many moments of uninspired animation. Make no mistake, newcomers, this is not like Clone Wars - the intended audience is very definitely the under-eights. Nobody is ever hurt, let alone killed. The baddies and monsters are never very threatening despite all the kidnappings and fire fights that may take place. One particular beast's ferocity is diminished with R2's removal of its ticks in this be-good-to-one-another universe. Kyboren actually comes across as the show's regular villain; his plans always thwarted until his next heinous plot the following episode. He, along with all his other ne'er do-wells, gleefully exhibits that vintage baddie trait of the shoulder-shrugging cackle after every devious scheme is dreamt up, a la Dastardly and Muttley. Indeed, the pantomime atmosphere of comedy sidekicks, boo-hiss villains and rather naff, boringly noble heroes is captured effortlessly throughout, providing the show with the feel-good, upbeat flavour its Saturday morning TV slot demanded.
“Next time, R2, you get on top.”
The second story is actually the most entertaining, and this is almost certainly to do with the fact that the Empire actually features quite heavily in this one, with the brown-nosed (literally) Admiral Screed's determination to seek out some powerful Roon Stones - yep, that's how they spell it. One unfortunate drawback to this story is the He-Man style introduction of the main character, Mungo Baobab, where he details his on-going mission to establish trade-routes throughout the galaxy with the aid of his trusty droids R2 and C-3PO. Although, to be honest, the comparison ends right there because the animation, whilst just as colourful, lacks the atmosphere and creative shadow of the other show. Everything here is bright and immediate, stark and clear where a little bit of darkness, at least in the visuals, would have benefited the cartoon greatly. But, as I say, this story is by far the better of the two. And, you've got to keep reminding yourself that it's really just for the kids. Hell, R2 even break dances at one point! Despite another one of those odd Star Destroyers - they have a chunk missing from their wedge-shaped bow - this one sees us on a trip to the wonderfully named Cloak Of The Sith (sadly the implication of that name is never elaborated upon) where the corrupt Governor Koong and Admiral Screed do relentless battle with Mungo and another obviously ethnic female companion, with some very strange lips, called Auren. We get a wild arena race with Threepio riding by the seat of his rivets, probe-droids and a nasty robot called Bun-Dingo, a alien thug called Goff or Gorff with an Andy Serkis/Gollum-style voice, a wonderfully surreal image of a lighthouse floating in space and ... wait for it, stormtroopers! Well, almost. These guys, whilst retaining their awesome ineptitude with weapons - a spear/blaster combo here - have the worst helmets I've ever seen. Just check them out. Seriously, we all drew better stormtroopers when we were kids.
“We're fortunate his men are such poor marksmen.” And that, as we all know, folks, is what really saved the Rebellion.
This second story is actually by Ben Burtt and it is a pleasantly jovial and frenetic little adventure. And it is quite cool to see the heroes menaced by what can only be described as t**d-monsters. There's also considerably more references to the parent saga - mynocks, Jabba and a spooky little locale called the Bantha Graveyard - to help root the setting a little further.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
Fox's disc is identical to the R1 release and has each story split into four chapters obviously coinciding with the original episode lengths of around 22 to 24 mins. The editing into full features works extremely well and although I initially gaped in dismay at the animation style and soppy moralistic storytelling - the intervening years have not been kind - I found that, against the odds, I actually quite enjoyed the show. It's feather-light, cheesy and does nothing to enhance your knowledge of the Force - sorry, I mean Star Wars expanded universe - but if you kick back and relax, cast your mind back to how much you originally enjoyed them when they first came out in the post-Jedi wasteland, you'll find the experience a great nostalgia trip. Oh, and it does help immeasurably to watch them with a small child. My four-year old Luke (how appropriate is that, eh?) absolutely lapped them up and this was after watching Clone Wars practically round the clock for almost two weeks prior to this disc arriving. However, if you never saw them originally and only came to Star Wars with the advent of the prequels then you may find them a lacklustre affair, indeed.