I'm sick of politics and I'm sure no one wants to hear more about the job that is consuming my life, so here's a change of pace. My previous disclaimers about being tired are still in effect.
"I've always been interested in animation. And, again, it's a chance to experiment with ideas and new people and Star Wars characters. The Star Wars world is much easier to deal with in animation. You can be much more flexible in development of ideas. I've put off doing it for years because I didn't have the time." - George Lucas
The Faithful Wookiee (1978)
One of the most unbelievable ironies of all time is that the mind-bendingly bad Star Wars Holiday Special introduced audiences to one of their most beloved characters of all time. In this segment, which comes right on the heels of a music video by Jefferson Starship, the Imperial officer searching Chewbacca's house for hidden Rebels orders his wife Mala to keep his son Lumpy [sic] occupied while they search his room, so in a bit of a Twilight Zone moment she puts on a cartoon that happens to be about his dad and other "real" people. In this cartoon, Han and Luke fall into danger and none other than the one and only Boba Fett, with more dialogue in ten minutes than in all of his movie appearances combined, shows up to help Chewie and the droids save them. Since George Lucas never released the Holiday Special on any home video format, there was no Holiday Special Special Edition and his voice was never dubbed over by Temuera Morrison's inferior delivery.
I'm not being sarcastic when I say that this cartoon, though nothing phenomenal, is pretty decent considering the context and not at all painful to watch. Even if it were, its introduction of Boba Fett would still provide a beautiful lesson on how sometimes great things have to be born from terrible ones. I also find the unnecessary formality and wordiness of the line "Princess, we're in mortal danger from our own forces!" more amusing than I should.
Lucasfilm was so impressed with Nelvana's work on "The Faithful Wookiee" that they were recruited again for two full cartoon series. George Lucas still didn't know what he was going to do with the prequels, so he gave them characters to work with that he didn't think would interfere much with that era; hence one of the series follows the misadventures of everyone's favorite droids fifteen years before "A New Hope". From the very first moment of the theme song by Stewart Copeland of The Police, you realize that these cartoons lack the timelessness of the movies and are instead forever and irrevocably trapped in the eighties. Stuff like the rest of the musical score, R2-D2 breakdancing, and another droid (in what is consistently referred to as a "harem" despite only one of the droids being a "girl" and their actual purpose being as "food" for a giant robot to recharge - never mind, forget I said anything) listening to a cassette player all serve to remind you of that. But that doesn't make them any less enjoyable in my book.
Like in "The Faithful Wookiee", some big liberties are taken with the animation of the droids. Threepio can blink and is consistently faster and more flexible than he ever was in the movies. R2-D2 may as well be made of Jell-O, sometimes moves his swivel dome head thing almost off his body (like during the aforementioned breakdancing), and sports an absurd range of gadgets including but not limited to confetti, an air mattress, red gloop, and a squirting flower (the latter being rendered even more ridiculous when the big bad droid that he squirts with it produces a larger flower and squirts him back with enough water to knock him over). Because of regulations at the time, they weren't allowed to show blasters that looked like guns, so the bad guys chase them with an array of weapons that look like magnets, police radars, joy buzzers, and royal scepters. And they usually have execrable aims that stormtroopers would laugh at. A few elements, like the Boonta Race and the four-armed chef and the wheel bike, were drawn on for inspiration in the prequels.
In essence it's just for fun and very difficult to take seriously, but it was actually canon until Disney took over. Even when "Revenge of the Sith" came out and showed Artoo and Threepio given to the same masters on the same ship they started with in the next movie, someone came up with an official story explaining how they got separated and found their way back and thus were able to have a bunch of different adventures with different masters in between. Wow. The series was canceled after only one season and has never been released on home video in its entirety, though some of the episodes have been edited together into movies with different soundtracks. The cartoons in their original form are all available on YouTube and elsewhere. I don't know how and I don't care. Most awkward inappropriate moment: Threepio telling an amorous giant elephant-type creature that has him in its embrace, "It would never work out between us." Does that go over the kids' heads? What do they think it has in mind, dinner and a movie?
Not to be confused with the mediocre live-action Ewoks movies. Same animation company, even more ridiculous but no less enjoyable. It's really more fantasy than sci-fi, taking much of its inspiration from Earth mythology and "The Lord of the Rings". It turns out the Ewoks have magic up the wazoo and share their forest moon with an absurd number of other sentient species that each seem to have just one tribe. Many of them pop up in one episode and are never seen again, but some are recurring, especially the grouchy and unsanitary Duloks who make it their mission in life to harass and torment the Ewoks. It just seems like the Battle of Endor should have been joined by a lot more parties and Master Logray should have been able to magic the Death Star right out of orbit. Oh well.
This series isn't as dated as "Droids" and lasted twice as long, but has suffered the same fate re: home video releases. In the second season it underwent some revamping with a different theme song, different voice actors, most episodes split into two stories, and a shifted focus to a core group of Wicket W. Warrick, Teebo, Princess Kneesa, and Latara. I found the latter's transformation particularly jarring. The writers decided to overhaul her personality; specifically, by giving her one. They made her greedy and narcissistic, which at times is endearing but at other times is a bit much. For example, when she hatches a plot to get rid of her old wooden flute in exchange for a new golden one, Teebo protests, "But Latara, we gave that to you!" and Wicket adds, "I carved most of it myself!" and she disdainfully responds, "I noticed." In the first season she had a crush on Teebo, but now that status quo is reversed and she consistently snubs him until she needs to exploit him for something. Despite the continuity problem this creates I believe it was a good move that lends some much-needed realism to the cartoons.
In one episode, the Snow King's evil wife freezes his heart so that he wants to make it winter forever, and his siblings who each rule over one of the seasons get together with the Ewoks to figure out how to stop him. One of them is the Sun King. His head is shaped like a sun and he wears a Hawaiian T-shirt and talks like a California surfer dude. There's also a direct Wizard of Oz parody as the Snow Queen's guards, who are shaped like hockey pucks, march outsider her fortress chanting "Snow-oh! Snow-ee-oh!" I mention this episode because it's probably the most absurd thing ever released through an official channel under the name "Star Wars". And remember, it was canon for nearly thirty years. But I love it anyway. My favorite line from another episode: "You shouldn't spy on anyone, Latara. Unless, of course, they're doing something very interesting." - Wicket W. Warrick
Clone Wars (2003-5)
This series of ten minute shorts aired on Cartoon Network and bridges the gap between "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith", with the final episode seguing into the opening space battle/rescue mission of the latter film with no more than a few seconds to spare. Asajj Ventress and General Grievous make their debut. The animation, the storylines, the dialogue, the music, all just really, really great. They elicit a lot of emotion in me and prove that my heart isn't completely dead after all. There's an air of mythology about this one, as if it's a story that's been retold and embellished over the years, as some of the Jedi antics are larger-than-life and hard to swallow even by their standards - most notably Mace Windu demolishing an entire droid army with his bare hands (and yeah, the Force, but still) - but if you can get over that and just enjoy it, it's really freaking awesome. I give it eleven out of ten stars.
The Clone Wars (2008-14)
This series rendered the previous one non-canon, though it fits snugly in between that one's two main arcs with just a few discrepancies. I didn't have high hopes for it because the CG movie that kicked it off was rather lame, but it turned out to be amazing - which is strange because the movie was cobbled together from what were supposed to be its first few episodes. And it's annoying and confusing that several of them were aired out of order for no good reason, but whatever. Everything I said about the previous series applies to this one as well. Though I'd hesitate to say this animation style is superior because that's apples to oranges, it is astounding how the characters strike a balance between phenomenally real facial expressions and being clearly stylized cartoons, seeming "real" without being really creepy like CG people usually are when they actually look real but, you know, not really. And the ship battles and droid battles and lightsaber duels - the lightsaber duels! - though also cartoony, seem to have as much effort put into them as their counterparts in the live action moves. General Grievous practically looks the same.
This series (and the previous one, though not to such an extent simply because it's much shorter) does something that the movies spectacularly fail at - it makes Anakin Skywalker likeable. It makes him a witty, charming, kind-hearted soul who struggles with some flaws and personal demons. None of this whining about Obi-Wan and sexually harassing Padme and slaughtering a bunch of innocent women and children nonsense. And Ahsoka Tano, who was annoying in the movie ("Artooie"? Seriously?) literally became my crush after just a few episodes. She's smart, funny, beautiful, and a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with in combat. The way she uses two lightsabers and holds them backwards was an inspired design choice. But she's no Mary Sue, as she shows weakness and vulnerability too. When she had infatuation and jealousy and heartache that were all beautifully communicated to the audience without words (are you taking notes, George?) I just wanted to give her a great big hug, and not with any ulterior motives, mind you, but just because I care about her and wanted to take the hurt away.
The series is far more realistic and serious than anything that came before, but still doesn't take itself too seriously, with plenty of humor and sometimes entire episodes devoted to comic relief as a break from the fighting and intrigue and stuff. It doesn't consider itself above eye-rolling jokes either, as when Ahsoka Tano says of the criminal who stole her lightsaber, "He was from an aquatic planet. You know, one of the water worlds." and Jedi Master Tera Sinube responds, quite pleased with himself, "So you're saying there was something... fishy about him." Ba-dum-tsh.
After Disney took over "The Clone Wars" and saw it through to the end, this was their first attempt at something all new, and while I don't fancy the smoother animation style quite as much and didn't find the writing quite as clever at first, it really drew me in and I enjoy it now as a worthy addition to the universe. I just don't understand why protagonist Ezra Bridger and his parents Ephraim and Miriam have names more suited to settling the Western United States than fighting a galactic empire. I'm sure there's a very deliberate reason for that which I could look up if I wanted to, but I don't want to risk any spoilers. Ahsoka Tano returns, of course, though not as one of the main characters, and she's older and wiser with longer head-tails but frankly I don't find her as attractive when she's more realistic and her head is no longer disproportionately large for her body. I suppose when this series is over, with the benefit of hindsight, I'll have more to say about it. But it's off for a great start.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.