Saturday, May 31, 2014

May the 4th: Family Guy and Robot Chicken

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

I’m going to break tradition here and pre-empt the crawl to say that because these specials are in no way shape or form intended for younger audiences, talking about them in any meaningful way may contain subject matter not suited for all readers. As Jedi News is still a family site, I’m going to do my very best to keep things PG at worst, but I felt it was my duty to throw up this disclaimer on the off chance something slips by.

Anyway, without further ado…

A long time ago, but somehow in the future…


Episode IV

It is a time of civil war,
and renegade paragraphs
floating through space.

There's cool space battles,
and the bad guy is the
good guy's dad, but you
don't find that out 'til the
next episode.

And the hot chick is really
the sister of the good
guy, but they don't know it,
and they kiss. Which is
kind of messed up. I mean,
what if they had done it
instead of just kissed?

Angelina Jolie kissed her
brother. Yeah, she did. You
know it, I know it, and
her dad knows it. That's
why they hardly ever talk
anymore. You can run away
to Africa, but you can't run
away from the truth.

Oh, by the way, here's
a tip for you: when this
is over, go out and rent
the movie "Gia." She's way
naked in it, and makes out
with another chick and
everything. It's awesome.
I stumbled across it late at
night on HBO after I
had just got back from
hockey and I almost
fainted. But I digest...

Princess Leia was coming
back from buying space
groceries when this

The Star Wars Saga has been capturing imaginations for just shy of 40 years. More than enough time for those who had become enraptured as youngsters to become artists themselves and create references, homages, and even parodies of their beloved films.

Around 2007, two such artists tried their hand with parody/homages on their own shows: Seth McFarlane with Family Guy, and Seth Green with Robot Chicken.

I decided to throw these reviews together for a number of reasons. The first is because they have very similar styles of humor, and share some production staff. Most notably is that Green is the continuing voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy while McFarlane provides a number of voices for Robot Chicken, and they use this to playfully bash each other in their respective specials. However, the second reason is because, as similar as they are, there are very different approaches at work that I wanted to compare and contrast.

So while the first Robot Chicken special aired several months before the Family Guy one, it’s Family Guy that I want to talk about first.

"What an incredible smell you've discovered!"

Family Guy’s trio of hour-long specials: Blue Harvest (taken from Jedi’s production codename), Something Something Something Dark Side, and It’s A Trap were essentially whole plot references to New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi respectively. The framing device in each is that the Griffin’s power suddenly goes out, so patriarch Peter tells everyone the story of Star Wars while they wait in the dark, inserting themselves and those they know as the characters. The fact that this is told from Peter’s perspective, a known idiot and jerk, might be an in-universe was of explaining some of the more extreme opinions in the special (made evident by the opening crawl’s confusion of “Digress” and “Digest,” as well as the salacious nature of the digression itself).

For the most part, you can tell a lot of love went into these specials, down to the fact that many of the space battles look as if the Family Guy team simply painted over the actual scenes from the Star Wars films in order to get that authentic feel. However, I find myself having a hard time getting into them.

"We Brake for Nobody."

Mostly it’s the Family Guy aspects. I was a huge fan of the show when it first premiered in 1998 through its initial cancellation. However, once it was revived the first time it began to slowly go in a direction that I didn’t particularly care for and I lost interest. While I appreciate they work they do, I realize it’s not really for me anymore.

These specials contain both the very best and the very worst of Family Guy’s humor. When they go for the loving homages and obscure references, I’m right there with them and loving every second. But when they start pushing the envelope and going for a dark humor for no particular reason other than just to see what they can get away with, I get turned off real quick. The most egregious examples are, for me, the horrific mistreatment of Meg Griffin (here portraying the Dianoga, the Exogorth, and the Sarlaac), and the disturbing amount of sympathetic focus given to Herbert the old pedophile (here portraying OBI-WAN-CRUDDY-KENOBI).


As far as the Star Wars aspects go, those are also a half-and-half bag. When it’s equal-opportunity and/or done with respect, it’s funny and enjoyable. However, when it’s blatantly turning its nose up at what geekdom feels are Lucas’ less popular decisions (the Ewoks, the Special Editions, and I-III), it frankly feels like a kick in the pants.

I think there’s a big disconnect here as Seth McFarlane paints himself as very much an Original Release IV-VI kind of guy with these specials, and while I don’t want to make a broad generalization, almost all of the problems in fandom have been caused by people who identify as such and take it to an extreme.

"Haha, look!, The Giant Chicken is Boba Fett!"

Seth Green, on the other hand, is another story. While he clearly prefers IV-VI, he still has a respect for the Saga as a whole even when he may disagree with it, and this is apparent in the Robot Chicken Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III.

"It's alive!"

Robot Chicken, a stop-motion cartoon that uses action figures as its puppets and relies on more rapid-fire sketches than any kind of over-arching narrative, and has a lot of fun in the Star Wars universe. True, most of the bits involve IV-VI, but there’s plenty of I-III and Saga bits in there as well, and while some border on needlessly critical it’s no worse than what anything else gets in this show.

"What're they DOIN' up there?!"

The specials continue the rapid-fire randomness, with the exceptions of a few brick jokes (i.e. the janitor in the first special who has to clean up the remains of Darth Maul, Mace Windu, and Emperor Palpatine at various points), and the third special’s bookend narrative. Not every bit is a gem, and a few approach the kind of needlessly dark that turned me off from the Family Guy one, but they are much fewer and farther between here and punctuated by a lot of good material.

Many of the original actors reprise their roles at different points in the specials. Most notably is Ahmed Best reprising his role of Jar Jar Binks once per special. And it’s a testament to the writing team that, while horrible things tend to happen around and to him, Jar Jar always comes out on top in one way or another – even when the haterbase seemingly gets its wish, proving he’s more powerful than they can possibly imagine.

"Ani, look! Mesa all sparkly-glowy! Now wesa have all de time to spend together!"

The Robot Chicken Specials are ones I would heartily recommend to any and all adult Saga fans. The Family Guy Trilogy, while I’m sincerely glad I saw them the first time, I would probably never watch them again and would hesitate to recommend. It says a lot that while Family Guy was endorsed by 20th Century Fox (who also owns the show and the crawl for Trap jokingly accused of basically blackmailing them into finishing), Robot Chicken had the full support of George Lucas, who even voiced himself in one memorable sketch.

"And I thought they smelled bad on the out...side..."

There are exactly three jokes from the Family Guy specials that I love unconditionally:

1. Obi-Wan (Herbert) gives Luke (Chris) his father’s lightsaber, and mentions everybody in the neighborhood has one. Cut to a bearded Tatooine denizen using a lightsaber as a bug-zapper. Eventually, it attracts Watto, who hits his head on the saber and then berates the owner for putting up something “so tantalizing.”

"Why would you make it so tantalizing?"

2. Han (Peter) remarking how hyperspace always looks so weird. Cut to his view from the Falcon’s cockpit where we’ve somehow been transported to the Fourth Doctor’s opening sequence from Doctor Who.

"Would you like a Jelly Baby?"

3. Chewbacca (Brian) asking why Lando (Mort Goldman) is wearing Han’s clothes. He then addresses the audience to say no, really, in Empire Strikes Back, Lando is wearing Han’s clothes in this scene for some reason and it’s really weird.

"No, really? Why?"

With Robot Chicken, I adore most of the jokes, but in the interest of fairness I’ll pick three that stand out:

1. Anything with Jar Jar, but especially the “Gecko Insurance” sketch.

"I think I was explaining it better than he was..."

2. The skit that had previously appeared in Robot Chicken proper involving Palpatine getting a phone call in his office from Vader: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY BLEW UP THE DEATH STAR?! *bleep*…Who’s ‘THEY’?!...What the hell’s an ‘Aluminum Falcon’?!”


3. The first appearance of Breckin Meyer’s glorious characterization of Boba Fett, which paints him as all talk and little game, and perhaps a little too obsessed with capturing Han.

"You dirty little smuggler..."

As we’ve seen all month, Star Wars has been fodder for spin-offs and parodies since its inception. However, what we’ve also seen is that the absolute best seem to come with the full support of George Lucas, the maker himself. Which is why Disney has to be very careful going forward - a lot more careful then they have been if their first spin-off director is the kind who not only bashes George Lucas but little children as well.

It’s important now more than ever that Disney/Lucasfilm show that they respect the entire Saga going forward, not just the vocal minority. Otherwise, how can you hope to adequately add to it?

I’ll be taking next week off, after which this column will revert to bi-weekly with a Spin-Off of one of my older articles. Hope to see you then. And…

…the Force will be with you. Always.

"That was pretty Wizard, wasn't it son? I'M BRINGIN' IT BACK!"


  1. I dunno, nothing beats "George Lucas in Love" for me as far as Star Wars parodies go (though yeah it's technically a parody of another film, but hey, it works as both). Just ten minutes of greatness in that one, topped by one of the best endings ever.

    Man, I wanna rewatch that now.

    1. I was underwhelmed by that one, though I've never seen the Shakespeare one so I don't know if there's something I'm missing.

    2. P.S. thank you so much for giving me the first non-spam comment in weeks. The bots have been relentless lately and nobody else has had anything to say.

    3. I discovered it at a very young age so I'm very nostalgic for it, but I do find it a legitimately clever and well-filmed/acted/written piece.

      And the Shakespeare in Love stuff is pretty incidental- basically it's just that conceit of "artist finds the iconic moments in his work stemming from the moments in his everyday life". Like, it's stuff that's pretty easy to pick up on from the short itself.

  2. Making Obi-Wan a pedophile is just... unspeakable blasphemy to me. Obi-Wan being my favorite character and being such a central character to the morality that Star Wars conveys doesn't deserve to be parodied that way.

    Then again, I find Family Guy to be mostly offensive, so I guess the parody works best for those who like that kind of humor.

    1. I don't mind stuff going over the top when there's a message or if it really fits, but when it's just "let's see how much we can get away with," I have a problem.

    2. I just hate how much Fuzzy Door likes using Herbert in general. He was fine as a one-off joke, but his constant reappearances in sympathetic roles is just too much for me.

      Though I will admit to liking the bit where he sings "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors, but only because the sequence was shot-for-shot from the film.

  3. DAMN! I forgot about the Yareal Poof skits from RCSWIII! THOSE are some of my favorite, and how I will forever picture Master Poof.