For most Star Wars fanatics, September 7, 1985, is not a day well-remembered. It’s not May 25, 1977; it’s not even May 19, 1999. However, the date does have some significance to that galaxy far, far, away: It’s the date Star Wars Droids: The Adventures Of R2-D2 And C-3P0 premiered on ABC. IGN—as well as Retro Blasting—celebrated the 30th anniversary of Droids by shedding some light on this oft-overlooked piece of Star Wars history.
Airing during a golden age of marketing toys to children via Saturday morning cartoons, the animation style of Droids recalls a PG-rated Heavy Metal. The influence of the 1981 Canadian-produced film should come as no surprise as the animation studio Nelvana—who also introduced Boba Fett during The Star Wars Holiday Special—was headquartered in Toronto. Even the tame violence of Star Wars needed to be toned down for a Saturday morning cartoon. Blasters were not allowed and according to writer Paul Dini, the network “just wanted safe children’s programming. Every time we wanted to stretch it a little bit, [ABC] would kick up a fuss over it.” George Lucas wanted Droids to be light years ahead of other cartoons in terms of animation and voice acting, which is what got Anthony Daniels back in the saddle as Tatooine’s favorite protocol droid. “I didn’t want to do it. I had to be convinced that it was going to be better. I’m no mug—I wouldn’t support something just because Lucasfilm was doing it.”
Lucas told Starlog in 1985: “I’ve always been interested in animation. And again, it’s a chance to experiment with ideas and new people and Star Wars characters. The Star Wars world is much easier to deal with in animation.” Little did readers know at the time that those words would foretell the coldness of prequel trilogy, which would basically consist of actors standing in front of animated back drops playing with tennis balls. While “The Bearded One” acted simply as executive producer for the show, it is uncertain whether the makers of Droids were working from Lucas’ notes and previous Star Wars drafts, or perhaps Lucas was cribbed from Droids for Episodes I-III. As the Retro Blasting video points out, the series featured a 1950s diner run by a four-armed alien, a vehicle that is essentially a giant wheel, and even showcased a speeder race on the desert planet by the name of Boonta. Thankfully, the race on Droids isn’t nearly as long—and is twice as exciting—as the Boonta Eve pod race in The Phantom Menace. And perhaps J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have not only been looking to Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork for inspiration, but Droids as well. The 1985 series featured a space pirate named Kybo Ren, and it would appear from the adventures of C-3PO and R2 on Droids that every other planet in the Star Wars galaxy is a barren desert, just like Jakku.
As this is Star Wars, the IGN article touches on the marketing aspect of the Droids cartoon series. Stewart Copeland of The Police was brought in by Lucas to come up with some music for Droids (as well as Ewoks, which premiered on the same day). “The meeting, however, was not to discuss characters or review scenes of film,” Copeland told On Tour Monthly. “On his desk he had rows of toys and that was what the music was for. This is the product, here are the toys. There were two television series. There was Ewoks and there was Droids. Lucas had these two different sets of toys and it was basically, ‘Let’s see what you can come up with.’ So I did a bunch of songs—very obscure.” Copeland’s “Trouble Again” became the opening music for Droids; bluesman Taj Mahal ended up recording the theme song to Ewoks.
With Star Wars fever waning, Kenner had attempted to revive the toy line earlier in the year with some new characters and vehicles (including a tandem, black X-Wing) that that never made it past the concept stage. The Droids line featured new characters from the show as well as repackaged figures and vehicles such as Boba Fett, the A-Wing fighter, and the Tatooine Skiff. While the Droids line signaled the end of the line for Kenner (and pretty much for Star Wars toys until 1995) in a final bit of irony, the Vlix action figure is one of the rarest Star Wars collectibles and can fetch thousands of dollars from collectors.
Droids only ended up running for 13 episodes and a movie. Its counterpart Ewoks ran for two seasons because everybody loves the Ewoks, right?