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It’s a Trap! Family Guy and Robot Chicken take on Return of the Jedi!

January 12th, 2011
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It’s difficult to express just how much fun I’ve had watching the dueling Star Wars specials that both Family Guy and Robot Chicken have been releasing over the past few years!  I was blown away by both shows’ initial Star Wars episodes (Robot Chicken’s Star Wars Special and Family Guy‘s episode Blue Harvest, an hour-long parody of the original Star Wars), and I have been thrilled that the continuing installments have become something of an annual tradition.  The end of December saw both the broadcast of Robot Chicken’s Star Wars: Episode III as well as the release of the DVD/blu-ray of Family Guy’s Return of the Jedi episode, It’s a Trap!

Of the two, I prefer the Robot Chicken special, but it’s pretty close!  As usual, the Robot Chicken episode is a collection of skits — some just a few seconds long, others lasting several minutes — having fun with the whole breadth and scope of the Star Wars saga.  As with their Robot Chicken Star Wars: Episode II special (which focused on The Empire Strikes Backclick here for my review), Episode III focuses on one of the films — in this case, no surprise, Return of the Jedi — though as always there are still skits throughout the show referencing all five of the other films.

The episode begins at the end of Return of the Jedi, with Darth Vader having thrown the Emperor down the deep trench of the Death Star.  The video freeze-frames mid-fall, and we hear the Emperor — once again voiced with an extraordinary amount of sardonic bitterness by Family Guy‘s Seth McFarlane (just one of many crossovers of talent between the two shows) — asking, in voice-over, just how the heck he got into that position!  McFarlane’s hilarious depiction of the Emperor as a grouchy fellow constantly beset by life’s circumstances was one of the stand-out characters of the first Robot Chicken Star Wars special, and the shows creators have wisely chosen to again spotlight him here.  The other character who gets a spotlight — surprising to me, but pleasantly so! — is the unnamed Stormtrooper voiced by Scrubs’ Donald Faison.  He gets some choice moments in the show (we see his mishaps driving the Death Star and at Lars and Beru’s home), and Faison is an absolute riot.

Other great skits include a spot-on evisceration of the ridiculous Padme/Anakin scenes from Episode II (“This is my room for talking about non-sexual matters”); a musical version of Emperor Palpatine’s first 66 orders; a dark take on the cave scene from Empire (“Think you would cut his head off, I did not!!”); and great gags about stunned jawas, black stormtroopers watching a movie, and Chewie’s attire (or lack thereof).  While perhaps not the A+++ home run that the first two Robot Chicken Star Wars specials were, this third installment is still one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV all year long.

I was totally blown away by the first Family Guy Star Wars special, Blue Harvest. I loved seeing the film  retold using the familiar Family Guy characters, and I thought the episode was an incredibly funny, on-the-nose parody of the original Star Wars.  On top of that, the animation was absolutely astounding — the way they replicated shot after familiar shot from Star Wars was unbelievable.  But I was really disappointed by their follow-up, Something, Something, Something Dark Side, which took on The Empire Strikes Back.  I thought the episode was painfully unfunny, with the focus being far more on bizarre pop-culture digressions than on jokes that actually had anything to do with The Empire Strikes Back.

So I went in to It’s a Trap!, the new Family Guy retelling of Return of the Jedi, with significantly lowered expectations.  While it’s not at the level of brilliance that was Blue Harvest, I am pleased to report that the Family Guy creators are back in top form.  The jokes in It’s a Trap! come fast and furious, and the hit-to-miss ratio is pretty good.  There are some really clever moments, such as their version of the Endor speeder-bike chase, this time done on bicycles.  (It’s really quite extraordinary!)  I loved their depiction of Admiral Ackbar (cleverly using a character from another of McFarlane’s shows), I loved Stewie/Vader’s response to his defeat by Luke at the end (“Can we at least put together a press release that says I’m resigning of my own accord to pursue other evil projects?”), I loved blind Han shooting Lando at the Sarlacc pit, and so much more.  (My favorite gag in the special involves their hilariously painful extension of the already long moment when Luke steps out onto the plank above the Sarlacc.  So funny.)

There are certainly some jokes that misfire.  The opening crawl is stupid.  (Why do the creators take the attitude that they don’t care about these specials and are just churning them out, when that is clearly not the case?  They love Star Wars, and the people who bought these DVDs/blu-rays love Star Wars, so can we just jettison the stupid ironic “we don’t care” attitude?)  I also wish we could get one of these Family Guy Star Wars specials without any stupid fart jokes.  The fart gag when Han is unfrozen from Carbonite is juvenile and painful.  But, for the most part, I was very, very amused.  Other jokes that really land include glimpses of the Death Star construction workers, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Calrissians, The Lighter Side of the Force (a great MAD Magazine reference), the Special Edition sock monster, “our first catch of the day,” and a questioning of Luke’s right to give C-3PO and R2-D2 to Jabba the Hutt (“He just stole us from his dead uncle!”).

The animation is, once again, spectacular.  Watching Family Guy regularly I certainly wouldn’t consider the animation to be spectacular, but boy have they pulled out all the stops for these Star Wars specials.  This one even manages to surpass the first two.  The action with the floating sail barges on Tatooine at the beginning is really well executed, and the climactic battle at the second Death Star is really magnificent.  Even without any jokes, it’s thrilling to watch this sequence recreated so faithfully.  (And, of course, there are plenty of jokes.)  It’s truly gorgeous animation that is a pleasure to watch.

It’s great to see these shows devote so much time and energy to Star Wars.  Their parodies are blisteringly funny and also filled with a lot of love for George Lucas’ outer-space saga.  (And it helps that, somehow, both series have gotten Lucasfilm’s blessings for their efforts, so that they can incorporate familiar Star Wars music and sound-effects into the episodes.)  I hope that both series have plenty more Star Wars episodes left in their future!!  (I also really hope that we someday see Family Guy’s Star Trek II episode…)

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