Eye For Film >> Movies >> Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II (2008) Film Review
Boys with toys.
As a standard description of male geeks, this perfectly describes Seth Green and Matt Senreich, who obsessively collect the action figures and tchotchkes of popular culture – but it also summarises the production method behind their TV series Robot Chicken, in which toys are animated in surreal juxtapositions and improbable face-offs to create a special brand of sketch-based postmodern comedy.
George Lucas' Star Wars franchise, with its expansive galaxy of characters and its canny saturation of merchandising, is the holy grail for any boy with toys – and so it was that a Star Wars-based sketch (entitled The Emperor's Phone Call) from the second series of Robot Chicken was quick to become a favourite among the show's fans. It also attracted the approving attention of Lucas himself, and with God now on their side, the Robot Chicken team produced a special show wholly dedicated to Star Wars toys and lore.
Robot Chicken Star Wars (2007) was the boys at their very best: a barrage of cultural satire, nerdy in-jokes and broad humour, all fired at warp-speed, and far more focused than much of Robot Chicken's other work thanks to the order imposed by Emperor Lucas' vast but self-contained universe.
Any devotee of Star Wars will appreciate the inevitability of sequels. Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II is no doubt only the first of several to come – but is it as great as The Empire Strikes Back, or as disappointing as The Phantom Menace? In truth, it falls somewhere in between these qualitative extremes. Amateurishness has always been a key feature of Robot Chicken, but nonetheless their stop-motion model work goes from strength to strength, as Lucas' familiar characters, sets and scenarios are recreated in stunning miniature detail.
The sketches themselves, however, are more hit-or-miss. Often there is a concept that positively zings, but then has little follow-through. Once you get the joke that the 'Mouse Droid' is so-called because a uniformed mouse is driving it, or that soulless sales divisions can produce hybrid merchandising monstrosities like 'My Little Tauntaun', or that the dinner to which Darth Vader 'invited' Solo and Leia on Cloud City must have been, y'know, really awkward, these sketches are left to limp along in search of a punchline that never comes.
Much better is the incongruity of stormtrooper Gary having to celebrate 'take your daughter to work day' during a number of violent set-pieces from A New Hope, the absurdity of Vader's spherical torture droid having its own Quincy-style TV medical drama, or the sheer fanboy wish-fulfilment of seeing those irritatingly cute Ewoks being killed en masse, whether by falling debris from the destroyed Death Star, or by a resurrected Boba Fett with two (!) light sabres and a semi-naked Leia on his arm. Indeed, every toy collector's favourite Boba Fett - the masked mercenary who had a memorable appearance in the first Robot Chicken Star Wars as a preening, narcissistic jerk - returns for several sketches, his lines once again hilariously voiced (and largely improvised) by Breckin Meyer. Meanwhile, Fett's rival bounty hunters, glimpsed for mere seconds in The Empire Strikes Back but proving bestsellers as Hasbro action figures, are elevated to major characters (with the reptilian Bosske reimagined as a suave James Bond type) in an episodic series of sketches that lends the show an organising structure of sorts.
Many of the gags pick at inconsistencies or imaginatively plug plot-holes in the Star Wars universe. A blue-glowing Obi Wan and Yoda perform a Broadway musical number to explain, in relativistic terms, the many lies that they have told to Luke ("technically it's true – from a certain point of view"). We learn how the skeleton of a Krayt dragon came to be in the middle of the Tatooine desert. A clone trooper wonders aloud how someone "800 years old and supersmart" like Yoda cannot master the conventional syntax of English. This last-mentioned sketch is unusual in that the prequel trilogy only occasionally gets a look-in here, no doubt reflecting that the boys behind this show's toys are really grown men looking back to the joys of their own youth, so long ago and so far, far away.
They must have creamed their jeans when the real Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams gamely agreed to reprise (vocally at least) the parts of Leia and Lando that they had immortalised in the original trilogy. No doubt many viewers will feel the same way – but some might prefer the laughs to come as thick as the nostalgia.Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2009