Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III Review
“Hippies suck ass in every galaxy!”
So true, my Master.
Whilst Emperor Palpatine examines just where it all went wrong during his climactic free-fall down the endless shaft of the new improved Death Star, Boba Fett dreams of sexy mass destruction and personal vengeance in the icky belly of the Sarlacc, Stormtrooper Gary has a few problems with the locals during his first speeder-bike ride on Endor, C-3PO wishes he'd been able to add Spanish to the other six million forms of communication he is fluent in, Anakin gets teased by a sluttish Senator Padme and Darth Vader has some serious issues with those buttons on his chest-plate. Yes, this can all mean only one thing – Seth Green and Matthew Senreich and their legion of quixotic animators and writers over at Robot Chicken have unleashed another slapstick side-swipe at their most cherished target for figure-ativelampooning, that mighty icon birthed by George Lucas long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars Robot Chicken III comes to UK DVD and US Blu-ray in an extended version of the show that was broadcast back in late 2010. Loaded with a similar glut of extra features that adorned the previous two outings (which I have also reviewed), this is a typically appealing package that no fan of the Force's fallibilities can really do without. As I've said many times before, the test of strength for anything as imperious and as downright huge as Star Wars is how well it can take being sent-up and ridiculed. And the magic of what Robot Chicken does with such culture-creating material is borne out of nothing less than sheer adulation. To rip the proverbial out of something with such skill and accuracy and incalculable savvy you simply have to have more than just a casual affinity with it. Whilst Airplane nailed the disaster movie and Hot Shots Part Deux taunted the muscles off the heroic action genre, both did so in classically broad terms. Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, on the other hand, went far deeper in its spoofing of the old Universal creature-features and revealed both intelligence and a clearly unapolgetic love of its subject. It didn't harm the thing it was aping, which makes it all the more effective and endearing.
And so it is with Robot Chicken.
These guys adore the Lucas universe and the whole fanboy obsession that goes along with it. They are all geeks and utterly proud of it. They aren't schoolboy bullies picking on something that they think is stupid, or just don't understand … they are the schoolboys who were being bullied all growed-up and getting the last laugh.
“Oh my God, I look like I have a scrotum for a face! Ah, what am I supposed to call myself ... Darth Syphilis?”
This third take is slightly different from the first two instalments in that Green and Co. have chosen to use the Emperor as their crucial main character and to tell their meandering sketch-composed alternate story of how the Empire came undone at the hands of a bunch of space hippies through his experiences and recollections. Hurled by a suddenly family-minded Vader to his doom down the air-shaft, Papa Palpatine looks back upon his life to the tune of The Who's Teenage Wasteland, bookending fifty-four minutes of vivid mickey-taking from a franchise that is, quite frankly, the easiest prey of all to pick apart. The writing is typically anarchic, streetwise and hip, but so utterly laced with the appropriate vernacular of the films and so cleverly slanted that you can easily believe that this is, indeed, how things could have turned out. Again, all six parts of the saga come under attack, with a multitude of incidental and overlooked bit-parters getting stuck into the action. The blink-and-you'll-miss-him Prune-face makes a terrific impact with the episode's most memorable tagline when he tries to impress Mon Mothma during the big rebel-rousing battle speech from Return with tales of his bogus exploits. “When the face is a prune … then action goes boom!” he declares after a giddy montage of Bondian derring-do. It is a clear rival to Episode II's “You've just been Bossk'ed!!!” Weewquay, the Skiff-Guard puts the moves on the Sarlacc-incarcerated Boba, the two enjoying a romantic meal of digested Sandperson. “You feel like Tusken tonight?” Stormtrooper Gary, the Basil Fawlty of the Imperial army, takes the helm of the new Death Star and almost allows it crash into a defenceless planet in a sequence that is actually tremendously exciting as well as irresistibly daft. Meanwhile poor orphaned Boba tries to play catch with his dad's bounty hunter helmet, and old Ben Kenobi uses the Force to convince himself that he is still attractive to women.
“Er, Mister Feet? Mister Bob A. Feet?”
Although I have to say that I enjoyed Episode II far more than this one – Boba Fett really comes into his own in it, and we've got the awesome Cloud City betrayal segments such as the banquet with Vader and the deal with Lando that keeps “getting worse all the time” which positively damage me every time I see them - this is still better than the more hit-and-miss first outing. There may be less genuinely inspired, laugh-out-loud moments, but the character-based wit is still in huge supply. Here, we can learn the truth of what really happened to Uncle Lars and Aunt Beru, and the importance of getting fire insurance out on a moisture farm. Ewok-abuse is taken to extremes by Stormtrooper Gary, whose attempts to put a badly injured furry guy out of his misery are so unwittingly savage that they wouldn't be out of place in Family Guy. Watch as Anakin squirms and yearns as Padme puts on a “Senatorial” pole-dance-cum-strip-show for him. Bizarrely enough, the plastic figure of her looks far sexier than Natalie Portman ever did! And how about that “jazz stereotype” blue elephant climbing out of the wreckage of the downed Sail-Barge and traversing the deserts of Tatooine to get to his gig in Mos Eisely on time … only to discover that, in his absence, the cantina has gone and booked the bug-headed Figrin Dan and the Modal Nodes!
Epic kudos must go to the scene of a bounty hunter shindig in which IG88 brings along his cousin, THX1138, to the awesome sound of the THX logo reverberating about the joint and almost bringing the roof down, and turning the Jawa massacre into an episode of The Dukes Of Hazard! Then there's Palpatine being forced to take the endless Death Star escalator and having to acknowledge every damn stormtrooper that passes him until he loses it completely and turns on them in another classic sequence of inflammatory posh bad behaviour. There's a strangely poignant (but still crushingly funny) interlude at a hyperspace gas station when Luke is filling up his X-Wing before scooting off to Dagobah and that poor Wampa whose arm he cut off in that ice-cave on Hoth struggles to manipulate the pump and suffers all manner of handicapped frustrations in the process … whilst the guilty Jedi just hides away without, erm … lending a hand. Geddit? Lending a hand!
“Tastes like yo' mama's kisses!”
Breckin Meyer is, once again, outstanding as everyone's favourite intergalactic bounty hunter, Boba Fett. His surfer-dude spiel ladled on thick and sleazy, Meyer's Mandalorian is the epitome of arrogant, vainglorious uber-cool. Just listen to his drunk routine aboard Jabba's Sail-Barge, all brazen attitude infused with a drawled tying-up of the tongue, and his subsequent challenging and belittling of our heroes in the skirmish outside it. “You, sir, are an assh*le!” he tells that whining blonde kid, Luke Skywalker. Meyer owns the cult character much, much more so than Jeremy Bulloch, who was behind the mask in both Empire and Return, ever could. Taking the fanboy championing of such a woefully underused screen icon to ludicrous extremes is the show's shining glory. He sounds like Crush, the sea turtle, from Finding Nemo, but his show of brotherly love only stretches as far as himself. Seth MacFarlane reprises the Emperor with that awesome variation on Stewie Griffin's voice, and puts a really believable spin on the trials and tribulations of being an evil interstellar dictator. I'd love to know what George Lucas really thinks about all this. Elsewhere we can hear Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Zack Efron, Joey Fatone and Billy Dee Williams amongst the smorgasbord of infectiously improper vocal talent.
“Hey everybody, I'm Yoda! Hmmm, talk funny, I do.”
And how cool is it to have the stormtroopers actually given some character for a change? Okay, Lucas has made an attempt to individualise the Clones – which sounds like a contradiction in terms – with the likes of Commanders Cody, Rex, Gree and Bly, but the films have never given much proper personality to the white-suited space Nazis, unless you count that clumsy-trooper who whacks his head on the blast-door in A New Hope. But now we have super-klutz Gary, who certainly puts the humanity into being a minion for the Empire. Although obviously voiced by a black man, Gary is a hard put-on white family guy struggling to hold down his day job and meet his domestic commitments, and to hear his jive-talking anxieties going into overdrive just makes him all the funnier.
“I thought going door-to-door and looking for those droids was gonna suck … but if it gets me out of the heat and filled up with cookies and blue milk, I'm all for it. And speaking of blue milk, may I use your bathroom, Beru?”
Stormtrooper Gary on top of another crucial mission for the Empire.
A very pleasing avenue that the Green Team goes down is the one that makes Robot Chicken’s variation on the mythos a little more near the knuckle, a touch more risqué. This is the element that can throw a wobbler with some people, especially those whose Force-loving kids really want to see it, because of the cannily deliberate, yet-extremely-obvious, bleeping-out of swear-words and the distinct proliferation of sexual connotations, whether implied or overt. But this is precisely what the show needs to break it apart from the fanboy creations and the multitude of Star Wars riffs and rip-offs that are out there. Boba clearly loves the ladies. Not as much as himself, of course – but still quite a lot. And this is brilliantly and believably conveyed all the time. This is the superstar bounty hunter, we're talking about here - a jetpack-wearing jock of the space-ways, the masked paramour with the swanky helmet and the alluring purple, blue and green garb. We can’t see his face, but we know that the smouldering Sean Connery twinkle is laser-lighting his beady eyes. Whereas the other sideline characters are expanded from their original versions and the main heroes (Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia) tend to be downsized, Boba Fett is the one that truly revels in his misplaced glory. Hence, the infamous Slave-1 pilot can even caress his smuggling nemesis and reveal some hidden homosexual rivalry for the champion of the Kessel Run. Admittedly, Ep III downplays this angle after what we had seen him get up to in the earlier editions, but Fett is still the most outrageous reimagining that has taken place. Unless you count the nipple tweaking Admiral Ackbar in the shower and the wilfully liberated senator/handmaiden/queen Amidala, that is.
The writers look beyond the obvious flack that they can hurl at the films. I mean compare this to Family Guy’s remoulding of the same theme. As funny as it is, their take is merely replacing the main characters with their own, yet still adhering to the template of the films’ narrative, which, in my opinion, makes for a shockingly dull spoof that does neither franchise any particular good. Robot Chicken gets it right every time. It supports the underdog, backs the wider universe and fleshes out the mythology in a far better and more credible way than most of even the supposed “serious” writers have done. It truly gives character where there was none. Now that’s not bad for a show that uses Star Wars figures in a chaotic and random procession of stop-motion animated skits and sketches, is it?
I know it's been said before, but it still fits the bill …
May the Farce be with you.