Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II (US - DVD)
Gabe was also disturbed that Lando was wearing Han's clothes, Chewbacca
Robot Chicken, a sketch show made up of particular pop-culture references, and enacted by stop motion animated action figures, is just as hit and miss as the bulk of Adult Swim’s late night line-up. When it does hit, which is probably 60-70% of the time, it hits hard enough to make the other 30-40% of mediocrity worth the sitting, especially when the sketches themselves are so short, sometimes encompassing a matter of seconds. The series’ first shot at a Star Wars specific twenty-two minute episode (most episodes run around eleven minutes) ran in-keeping with the series precedent, and disappointingly featured many skits that were already made available during the show’s regular series run. I’d argue it was overall more successful than the similarly themed Family Guy special, as the humour is generally more re-active, whereas the Family Guy writers chose a more inactive approach, which involved too many wasted minutes of replaying George Lucas’ original film in semi-crude animation.
This second helping of Robot Chicken: Star Wars is better than the first for two important reasons (both of which are mentioned by the staff in the extra features): the use of an arcing storyline woven through the exercise, and the fact that they got all the easy jokes out of the way the first time (well, between them and Family Guy, not to mention Futurama and every Kevin Smith movie all the easy jokes were used). The Robot Chicken version of Emperor Palpatine, who here is a surprisingly flippant, and wickedly sarcastic Lord of the Sith (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is becoming one of the most memorable characters on TV, thanks to the crew’s forced creativity, which forced the developed the character through a series of skits, rather than a one-off gag. As stated before, I’m not really a fan of sketch comedy, because characters are often lost in brevity. In turn these ‘story’ bits (anything involving the Emperor or Boba Fett) are the most memorable.
There are several other huge slam dunks this time around, bigger than anything in the original special (save maybe the original Palpatine skit). Greatest hits include: ‘Storm Trooper Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’ (‘What have you done with those plans? Gary here never gets to see his daughter because of people like you!’), ‘Dr. Ball, MD’ (‘she’s lost the will to live?! What is your medical degree in, poetry?!’), ‘Anakin’s Happy Place’ (‘Can my treat just be a hug?’), ‘I’ll have the calamari’ (‘Oh, guess I’ll have the insensitive bitch!’), and ‘Boba in the Sarlac’ (‘Fell in? Volunteered more like it!’). Some skits are more amusing in concept than execution, like the Cloud City dinner scene. It is very strange that Vader had dinner with Han, Leia and Chewy after it’s revealed that Lando has betrayed them, and it’s great of the Robot Chicken people to point it out. Other, lesser skits still work overall because of the efforts of the voice actors and animators, especially in the case of any skit utilizing Billy Dee Williams or Breckin Meyer.
The major reason to actually purchase this disc, rather than just waiting a few months for Adult Swim to air it again, are the fifteen-plus minutes of extended footage. The episode’s weakest moments are found in the skits that made the final cut, not the deleted footage, which is overall quite strong (especially Akbar on ‘Password’). Fans of the series and films should be very happy.
It is a bummer that the Adult Swim folks didn’t go for an anamorphic release, especially since large sections are framed in 1.78:1 or 1.85:1 widescreen (though Blu-ray would’ve been even better, of course). This non-anamorphic transfer is satisfactory all things considered, but mostly looks like a standard definition cable broadcast, so it’s definitely nothing to get excited about. The print is pretty clean, but features some hard to overlook edge enhancement, and some dancing compression noise. The overall details aren’t the best the format can produce. It’s all a bit soft, but the contrast is effective enough that nothing is missed. Colours are relatively bright, which avoids further muddying the already dim details. Had the production gone for widescreen with every sketch rather than varying them anamorphic enhancement may have been a possibility, and the overall transfer would’ve probably been more impressive, but I doubt the artists involved were thinking DVD release when planning this stuff.
Despite the show’s relative and purposeful crudeness, Robot Chicken Star Wars II features an impressive 5.1 mix. The sound is still stylistically crude (in a great way), including keyboard produced versions of John Williams’ original themes, and faithful recreations of Ben Burtt’s indelible sound effects. The channels are quite active, and directional effects are solidly represented. The dialogue is well centred and consistent in terms of volume levels, which itself is impressive considering the myriad of effects and dynamic ranges (Jar Jar Binks is very loud, and Boba Fett is very muffled). The LFE is most active during the mock-pop songs, but is relatively minimalist overall.
I love to listen to the Robot Chicken staff geek out about Star Wars and their work on the episode, but I’d prefer either a regular commentary track, or a picture in picture commentary. Hitting the enter button at the top of almost every skit is kind of annoying, and the addition of video doesn’t make anything more amusing or informative. Actually, these snippets (or ‘nuggets’ as they’re called) are sort of painfully short. It’s a nice attempt at something better, but I’d prefer a plane old commentary next time around.
The rest of the extras are similarly quick and fun, featuring fun staff pranks and such, but none are super illuminating. ‘The Making of RCSW II’ (06:00) starts things off, and sets the general tone, while still managing to be relatively informative. ‘Animation Meeting’ (06:30) is a pile of footage featuring Seth Green acting out pretty much the entire show, and every character for the animators to use as concept. It’s very silly, but it’s also pretty impressive how close Green’s actions match the final action. He could probably do this as a one man show. ‘The Skywalker Ranch Premiere’ (04:30) is your basic video log of the crew’s journey to watch the special with the Star Wars people, including George Lucas himself. ‘501st Visit’ (02:40) chronicles the cos-play troop’s visit to the studio, and the Robot Chicken producers’ induction into the pretend legion. ‘Accepted/Reject’ (03:50) visits some of the writers before the final script was accepted. Most of these mostly rejected options were rightfully not filmed (Jawa skinny dipping? Really?).
The rest of the extras include a ‘Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek’ (02:40), which is similar to the making-of, but was apparently released before the episode aired, time lapse photography of the animators doing their job (07:10), a look at the set and production design via narrated behind-the scenes footage (09:50), three video blogs (‘writing process’, ‘voice records’, ‘puppet making’, total 10:20), deleted animatics (psych!), alternate audio tracks (08:30), ‘bumps’ and trailers.
Robot Chicken fans should know what to expect, but Star Wars fans may be in for a pleasant surprise. This second Robot Chicken Star Wars special is better than the series’ first, and a lot more rewatchable than the similar Family Guy special. It’s still a little silly to spend full price money on an episode of the series that doesn’t even run a full hour, but there are some satisfying extras on the disc, and the fifteen minutes of new footage are definitely worth the watch.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 21st July 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 English
Extras: Extended Version, Chicken Nuggets, The Making of Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, Behind-the-Scenes: Sneak Peek, Skywalker Ranch Premiere, 501st Visit . Animation Meeting, Accepted/Rejected, Time Lapse, Production Design, Video Blogs, Deleted Animatics, Alternate Audio, On-Air Bumps & Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Abraham Benrubi, Carrie Fisher, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Seth MacFarlane, Billy Dee Williams
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 38 minutes
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