Not by George

Robot Chicken: Star Wars
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 11, 2008

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HIGH-QUALITY CINEMA Great stop-motion animation is better than bad CGI.

A long time ago, on a bricks-and-mortar soundstage far, far away, the last great Star Wars movie was made. The sad truth is that, since that day in 1982, many of the parodies, mockumentaries, riffs, mash-ups, and fanboy homages out there in interstellar cyberspace have been far better than any actual Star Wars film.

Hardware Wars, Spaceballs, Chad Vader, The Family Guy’s “Blue Harvest” episode, Eddie Izzard’s “Death Star Cantina” bit (the stand-up version, or the Lego re-enactment) — each is more entertaining than, say, that awful Attack of the Clones scene where Anakin and Padmé go ga-ga, gamboling with the tick-cows in a digitally rendered Naboo field. Or, I suspect, the forthcoming computer-animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in which George Lucas finally surrenders to his CGI fetish and gets rid of live human beings entirely.

One of the best parodies around is Seth Green & Matthew Senreich’s stop-motion Robot Chicken: Star Wars (Warner), which aired on Adult Swim last summer and has just been released on DVD. One almost wonders whether it’s as good as it is because of or in spite of Lucas’s blessing and participation.

First, fair warning: the main feature here is over quickly. It’s just 22 rapid-fire minutes. But the extras, which include deleted scenes and short making-of documentaries about production design, puppet fabrication, and stop motion, are just as entertaining.

For a show as gleefully crude as this one, it’s remarkable how much work and craftsmanship go into each lightning-fast set piece. But it’s also worth remembering that the clunky, labor-intensive look of stop-motion animation is really cool — especially to older Star Wars geeks who were weaned simultaneously on Ray Harryhausen fantasy fare, like 1981’s Clash of the Titans. And certainly in comparison to the stylized, facile-looking 1’s and 0’s that Lucas now adores. His added CGI scenes tainted the late-’90s re-releases of the original trilogy; computer effects were relied on far, far too heavily in the prequel trilogy; and the digital animation in The Clone Wars — at least in the clips I’ve seen — seems blocky and cheap. But that’s just one fan’s opinion.

A fan who’s also of the opinion that these quick-cut shorts, some only a few seconds long, are funnier than an open-mic night at the Mos Eisley: a Saturday-morning commercial for Admiral Ackbar cereal (with imitation crabmeat!); a late-nite ad for Max Rebo’s Greatest Hits (with obligatory Joey Fatone duet); Boba Fett, helmet off, coming on to a carbonite-frozen Han Solo; a Bespin weather forecast (“Cloud City will be cloudy this evening, followed by clouds”); Emperor Palpatine ordering take-out while ripping Darth Vader a new asshole for getting the Death Star blown up (“That thing wasn’t even paid off yet! Do you have any idea what that’s gonna do to my credit?”).

Listen closely to certain sketches and you’ll hear the voices of Malcolm McDowell, Conan O’Brien, Hulk Hogan, The Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane, and, of course, Mark Hamill. (Did you know he’s become a prolific voice actor over the past two decades? Me neither.) And, oh yeah: George Lucas is here too, escaping from an advancing army of sci-fi-convention geeks on the back of a nerd dressed like a tauntaun. Credit where it’s due: Lucas has been a good sport about his fans’, uh, fanaticism. Lucasfilm sponsors the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards, showing an enlightened attitude toward copyright and trademark that many other superbillionaire superproducers would do well to emulate.

I just wish he were making better movies. Maybe someday. Until then, I’ll have to satisfy myself with high-quality cinema like an Imperial stormtrooper sitting on the john and ogling a crinkled copy of Naboobies.

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