Falling somewhere between Robot Chicken: Star Wars and the computer animated The Clone Wars, the Lego Star Wars TV specials have been delightfully irreverent mash-ups of Star Wars ideas that spotlight the silliness of George Lucas’ universe. The first special, The Padawan Menace, focused on the Jedi Temple Academy and its mischievous Padawans, a rambunctious group of young Jedi who are the Marx Brothers to C-3PO’s Margaret Dumont. Last year’s The Empire Strikes Out ramped up the quality by moving away from the prequels and bringing in the classic Star Wars cast, delivering 22 minutes of hilarious comedy geared to diehard fans. (My favorite gags were Chewbacca’s crossword puzzle of “grrr” and “arrgh” and Darth Vader screaming “I've got sand... up my NOOOOOSE!)
These specials are light, action-packed fare that are perfect for kids but filled with inside jokes for older viewers, and even though The Yoda Chronicles returns to the Jedi Temple Academy set-up, it’s still an entertaining foray into this cutesy Star Wars world. The special largely features characters and plots from the prequel films, but there’s a fantastic appearance from the Landos Calrissian and their pimped out Millennium Falcon, which was a funky nightclub back in the day. Embracing Lando Calrissian’s disco-inspired costume from Empire Strikes Back and expanding it to include a Studio 54 Millennium Falcon is the exact kind of goofiness that makes these specials a treat for Star Wars fans. When a franchise takes itself as seriously as Star Wars does, it’s good to get a few laughs in every once in a while.
It’s easy to see why Lego versions of established properties have become so popular. Lego characters are like the Danish brick version of chibi, turning everyone into blocky little guys that the viewer is also able to easily procure. That’s the other half of Lego media’s appeal. Whether it’s the Lego Batman videogames or Lego Star Wars TV specials, it all starts off as a toy that the target audience either owns or is going to want after watching. Kids love toys, and networks love toy advertising, and licensed Lego media is a way to give everyone what they want, especially when the results are as strong as these.
The Yoda Chronicles is set just before The Clone Wars, following Yoda and Mace Windu as they’re sent on a mission by Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious that is intended to keep them away from the Jedi Temple Academy. That gives General Grievous the opportunity to attack the academy and steal the Kaiburr crystals from within the Padawans’ lightsabers. These crystals are going to be used to give life to an army of Sith clones, so the Padawans head off to Tattooine to retrieve their weapons from Jabba the Hutt while their Jedi teachers try to figure out who is the traitor in the Galactic Senate. (R2-D2 tries to tell them that it’s Senator Palpatine, but no one pays any attention to him if C-3PO isn’t around to translate.)
One of the advantages of Lego character models is that they are easy to animate. They’re composed of simple geometric shapes with a limited range of motion, and the faces for non-alien characters are just dots and lines. The detailing on characters and vehicles only has to go as far as a Lego set would contain, which gives the animators the opportunity to focus on creating beautiful visuals for the surrounding environments. These TV specials do a great job of mimicking the direction of the film with lots of swipe transitions and sprawling establishing shots, but it gets really fun when the animators embrace the possibilities afforded by building a world of Legos. Buildings, vehicles, and droids can all be taken apart and put into new configurations by the Force, taking the versatility of toy Legos and using it to bring visual flair to the story.
The visuals are sharp, but the real reason to watch these shows is to see how the writer Michael Price pokes fun at Star Wars fixtures. Yoda’s inverted syntax is a major source of humor on this show, and the writers have a lot of fun giving him contemporary slang that becomes absurd when he delivers it incorrectly. Yoda also becomes the victim of some classic slapstick comedy when he repeatedly slips in the rain on Coruscant. At times, the special has an almost 30 Rock flavor, like the scene where Senator Palpatine has to switch between identities while having two separate phone conversations with General Grievous and Yoda. It’s silly and a whole lot of fun. As Star Wars prepares to make a comeback to the big screen, it’s nice to know that there are smaller side projects like Lego Star Wars that give us the opportunity to watch C-3PO smack talk members of Jabba the Hutt’s crew while Yoda breaks it down on the Millennium Falcon.
- There’s a new animated Star Wars series coming in fall of 2014 set in the era between Episodes 3 and 4. Star Wars Rebels will bring creators from The Clone Wars together with Greg Weisman of Gargoyles and Young Justice, which sounds like a winning combination for a new show. The producers are using Ralph McQuarrie’s original Star Wars concept art for designs and to set visual tone of the show, which has the potential to be a gorgeous successor to Clone Wars. Here’s a preview:
- There's a recurring motif in these specials of C-3PO trying to make sure that people remember he’s important. In The Yoda Chronicles, he constantly reminds people he was constructed by the great Anakin Skywalker.
- The last two Lego Star Wars specials have had great Jar Jar Binks moments where he’s either been ignored or obliterated, but there’s sadly no Jar Jar cameo in this The Yoda Chronicles.
- “How I roll, that is.”
- “Outie, we are!”
- Yoda: “Ah! It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbar: “Well, duh.”
- “Don’t poke my eyes! Those are my only original parts.”
- “Padawans, assemble!” Wrong franchise…
- “May the funk be with you.”
- “Purple lightsaber. Nice.”
- (Slo mo) “Blaster fire, eat.”