Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Forget opening weekend takings or overall box office and home market revenues – the true test of the degree to which a film, or film franchise, has insinuated itself into the public consciousness is to see how soon, and how often, it has been parodied. Back in the year 1977, when George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope was first released under the plain old title Star Wars, and there was not even a hint that it would become a multi-sequel 'saga', it had already spawned its own parody, Ernie Fosselius' Hardware Wars (1977), which cost a mere $8,000 to make, but grossed about $1,000,000, making it the most lucrative short film of all time, eclipsing the incredible profit ratio of Star Wars itself. By now Star Wars was so big that it was already able to influence all manner of objects in its orbit.

As the Star Wars sequels proliferated, so too did the spoofs, from Mel Brooks' feature-length Spaceballs (1987) to a host of smaller-scale fan films which, since 2002, have been recognised by Lucas himself at the annual Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Once, however, Lucas had completed his prequel trilogy with Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge Of The Sith (2005), two names would come to dominate the world of Star Wars parodies, in what might be termed the Revenge of the Seths.

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In 2007, Seth Green brought us Robot Chicken: Star Wars, an entire episode of his postmodern toy-based cartoon show devoted to lampooning the universe of Lucas – and in the same year, Seth MacFarlane retold A New Hope as Family Guy: Blue Harvest, casting the Griffins and other Quahog denizens as the blockbuster's characters.

These television specials proved so popular that they spawned their own parody sequels - Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II (2008), and now Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side (2009), with more Skywalker spoofery on the way from both shows. Indeed, at the end of Something, Something, Something Dark Side, Peter Griffin (voiced by MacFarlane) is heard declaring defiantly: "Well, let's see Robot Chicken top this one", to which his son Chris replies: "Actually, I think they did a pretty good job of that already… I'm not gonna let you get to me, Dad". Chris, needless to say, is voiced by Green himself, as the two Seths regularly appear in one another's shows. So if you are puzzled as to why Darth Vader/Stewie in Family Guy sounds so much like the Emperor Palpatine in Robot Chicken, it is only because both are voiced by MacFarlane, who in fact provides vocals for three major and 25 minor characters in Something, Something, Something Dark Side.

The problem is that Robot Chicken will most likely 'top this one'. While both shows' Star Wars special sequels are already beginning to show the inevitable effects of the law of diminishing returns, the anarchic, quick-fire, sketch-based format of Robot Chicken ensures that any weak gag is over fast, and quickly forgotten. Family Guy, on the other hand, is, for all its surreal flourishes, essentially based in a continuous narrative - and when, as in the scene-by-scene parodies of the Star Wars specials, the overarching narrative itself is borrowed directly from Lucas' films, the parody can start to feel as though it is being stretched very thin.

Between each joke in Something, Something, Something Dark Side, there are often lengthy 'establishing' sections designed apparently with the sole purpose of ensuring continuity for this close retelling of Star Wars: Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Given that most of the gags involve references to bodily functions or contemporary pop culture beyond the galaxy of Star Wars, the pacing might have been a lot sharper.

Sure, there is something inherently funny in the mismatch between the archetypal principals from Star Wars and the Family Guy regulars who impersonate them, with Obi-Wan Kenobi 'played' by the paedophile Herbert, or the ever-marginalised Meg Griffin appearing as a space worm – but amid all the send-ups of Eighties Juicy Fruit commercials, the incongruous cameos from Elroy Jetson or Cookie Monster or The Beatles, and the live-action incursions from Drago from Rocky IV (1985) or Tom Selleck, one begins to suspect that the writers are looking for any way they can to avoid engaging directly with the Star Wars films that are supposedly the central focus of their parody. Occasionally there are digs made at the inconsistencies, absurdities and plot-holes of The Empire Strikes Back itself, but not nearly enough of them to justify making Lucas' feature the backbone of the piece.

Part of the problem with Something, Something, Something Dark Side may well be that the first Star Wars sequel is just too good a film to lend itself to digression-free ridicule – in which case, perhaps there is still hope for Family Guy's forthcoming Episode VI: We Have A Bad Feeling About This, based as it is on the execrable Star Wars: Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi (1983).

Reviewed on: 27 Dec 2009
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Stephen Carty ****

Director: Dominic Polcino

Writer: Kirker Butler

Starring: Voices of Seth MacFarlane, Seth Green, Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Danny Smith

Year: 2009

Runtime: 52 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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