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Series


The Robot Chicken people are back on the stale subject we nerds like to call ‘that thing we used to like, but now claim to hate, even though we still incessantly talk about it’. You know, that horrible thing that raped all our precious little childhoods with fond memories – Star Wars. I’d like to pretend I agree with the public face of the geek community on the subject of Star Wars, but I’m still a fan, enough of a fan to sit through the monotonous Family Guy spoofs (did they forget to write jokes?), and to buy all the Clone Wars episodes on Blu-ray despite not having any money. I admit to being one of those easy targets Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich take aim at with their hit and miss sketch series.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III
Episode III is a bit of a step down from Episode II, which itself was a step up from Episode I. This slight decrease is quality doesn’t seem to be the result of the writers taking away the wrong lessons from their previous success, rather they appear to be suffering a more common problem, they’re running out of ideas. The first special was a mash-up of standalone sketches (as per the show’s normal setup), featured practically zero through-line plot, and almost all the characters were entirely based on the properties they were spoofing. The better second episode included a handful of running storylines, most of them built around the bounty hunters, and crafted some new characters from the existing material. These included Gary the Stormtrooper, an Imperial henchman with a family, who treated the job of storm trooper as just that – a job (voiced by Donald Faison), and a Robot Chicken specific version of Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Seth McFarlane). This Palpatine was originally created for a single sketch for the regular series, and was such a hit with the people at Lucasfilm that the first Robot Chicken Star Wars was spawned. These longer narratives and deeper character traits continue into the new episode, and are increased in total frequency. Palpatine’s life story starts the ball rolling via an American Beauty inspired flashback structure, and he narrates several of the more successful sections. Then Gary’s daily grind is sewn into several of the series’ more famous moments. These stories even intertwine at some points, which is the logical step in the series’ narrative momentum. On the other end of the spectrum, Breckin Meyer’s comically abrasive Boba Fett is threatening to wear out his welcome, and his narrative continuation may run into the realms of over-exposure.

The writers do succeed in developing some of the background elements, and showing popular moments from unpopular character’s points of view. How does Darth Vader use the bathroom? Hint: It’s really difficult. Who is that long necked, floaty-headed dude on the Jedi Council that never talks? He’s Yarael Poof, and he’s a passive aggressive New York Jew who says at one point (‘They didn’t have Mon Calimari pizza, because Mon Calimari are people, and I did not know that’). Does C3P0 speak Spanish? Sort of, he took a class (this leads to a groaner ‘Si 3P0’ vs. ‘C3P0’ joke). Were there other Imperial prisoners trapped in prison cells when the crew rescued Leia? There was at least one. And now he is dead. Quite a bit of time is wasted on dancing and musical sequences that aren’t very funny, and but even these are incredibly well animated (especially the Prune Face gag, which isn’t really funny at all). In prepping the show for HD Robot Chicken’s production budget has obviously increased, but so has the skill set of the model makers and animators. Even when the writing is at its lowest, the art of the animation shines. The cast is pretty bang-up too, even working hard enough to make some of the less funny dialogue amusing. Billy Dee Williams, Seth Green and Breckin Meyer consistently impress, as per the usual, but McFarlane and Faison make incredible use of their more rounded characters, and in the end come out shining the brightest.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III

Video


Last time Adult Swim put out a Robot Chicken Star Wars on home video it was in the form of a disappointingly non-anamorphic 1.78:1 DVD. If memory serves a few of the gags were not in widescreen, but there was otherwise no good reason for the lack of anamorphic enhancement (especially since the 1.33:1 sketches could’ve just had black bars on the sides). With a simple anamorphic enhancement the comparison between transfers would’ve come up in favour of this one, so the whole 1080p Blu-ray thing is just a bit of sugar on top of a ‘better than last time’ cake. This collection is entirely 1.78:1 framed (not the 2.40:1 it lists on the box art), and presented in 1080i HD video (not the 1080p it lists on the box art). The interlaced vs. progressive thing is a bit of an issue (since stop motion animation is inherently jittery already, and since I didn’t notice any interlacing effects, I’m generally only disappointed in the cost cutting measure), of course, but overall I’m relatively impressed with this colourful and sharp transfer. The tiny sets and puppets often show their seams and shortcomings in HD, but that’s a lot of the charm of this series. Some of the busier backgrounds show signs of low-level noise and blocking, and there are minor compression artefacts throughout the episode, usually attached to busy shots swimming in warm colours. For the most part the hues are quite vibrant, and despite the occasional awkward blending, these are relatively pure as well.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III

Audio


This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is, like the last release’s 5.1 Dolby Digital track, actually pretty impressive. It’s clear we’re dealing with a pretty modest television budget here, but the sound design crew gets quite a bit of use out of the multiple channel format. Usually the rear channels are minor ambient support, while the stereo channels feature more aggressive separation and movement, but there are some neat bits where a sound will travel throughout every channel, such as the bit where Padme does handsprings around the viewer, or the bit where Vader’s TIE fighter gets stuck in a spin cycle. There’s even a THX sound gag. Battle scenes featuring an excess of laser blasts also impress, just not quite as much as the real thing. The music is the most theatrical element, from John William’s original Star Wars compositions, to the copyright free approximations of pop and rock favourites. This isn’t the best mix you’ve ever heard, but it’s probably the best you’ve ever heard The Who’s ‘Teenage Wasteland’ sound. Big, warm, groovy and full of Keith Moon’s signature drum sound. For the record this is a censored track, with all the f-bombs bleeped.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III

Extras


The sizable collection of extras begins with a whopping four audio commentary tracks. The first features actors Abraham Benrubi, Ahmed Best, Keith Ferguson, Billy Dee Williams, along with producers Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. The second track feathers actors Bob Bergen, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, along with Green and Senreich again. The third features writers Matthew Beans, Mike Falsolo, Dan Milano, Tim Root, Hugh Sterbakov and Zeb Wells. The last track features crew members Cameron Baity, Christopher Covel, Trisha Gum, Alex Kamer, Cam Leeburg, Chris McKay, Jeanette Moffat and Rob Ronning. I’ll be honest: I had zero interest in sitting through all four tracks. I’ve got things to do. What I listened to was amusing enough, with the second track being the strongest thanks to Faison and Meyer. There’s also a ‘Chicken Nuggets’ option. A chicken image prompts the viewer to hit the enter button, which takes them to a brief discussion with crew members on a given scene. I don’t know why this wasn’t presented as a PiP option.

Next up are a series of six featuretts. ‘For the Love of Toys’ (4:00, HD) sees crew members talking about their affection for the Star Wars toys, ‘For the Love of Star Wars’ (3:10, HD) sees crew members talking about their experiences with the Star Wars movies, and ‘For the Love of Filmmaking’ (4:20, HD) sees the same crew members talking about their experiences making the special. These are followed by ‘Behind the Scenes: Writing’ (3:10, HD), ‘Behind the Scenes: Voice Acting’ (4:20, HD) and ‘Behind the Scenes: VFX’ (3:20, HD). ‘Robot Chicken Skate Tour ‘09’ (21:40, HD) follows some Comic Con announcement of a party/advertising tour the series took, including a whole lot of cosplayers and crew members, and the band Gym Class Heroes. Speaking of Con footage, there’s also footage from the ‘ Star Wars Celebration V Robot Chicken Panels’ (7:40, SD), which mostly tells us stuff we already knew from the extras on the first two collections, but the segment ends with teasers for the producers’ new top-secret Lucasfilm animated series. Perhaps the best extra is ‘Sunday in the Boardroom with George Lucas’ (8:20, HD), which is better than other similar extras on previous releases because Lucas and the producers/writers have worked together long enough to be comfortable around each other (‘There are times when I feel really bad about what I’ve done, and that (Boss Nass) was one of them’). And Jackson Publick shows up for like four seconds!

Robot Chicken Star Wars III
There are a total of 26 deleted scenes/animatics (25:10, HD), most with writer introductions. From the introductions I learned that Lucas doesn’t really like Mara Jade, and Ahmed Best has had to deal with bitchy fans before. Also included are some time lapse shots of the animation process (7:40, HD), footage from the premier at the Skywalker Ranch (4:00, HD), Seth Green’s animation reference footage (8:10, HD), a gag reel (3:10, HD), and trailers.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III

Overall


It’s not as good as Robot Chicken Star Wars II, but Robot Chicken Star Wars III is a pretty good time, and a very easy watch. It’s worth a viewing just for the bit where Gary the Stormtrooper accidentally hits an Ewok with his speeder bike and has to awkwardly put him out of his misery. The box art is inaccurate in that this is not a 2.40:1, 1080p HD transfer, rather a 1.78:1, 1080i HD transfer, but for the most part the image looks pretty good, slightly better than the HD television broadcast. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is pretty impressive, and the extras will provide fans with hours of additional entertainment value. In closing: the Family Guy equivalents to these specials are terrible.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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