Say what you will about the quality of recent seasons of Family Guy (it does go up and down like a yoyo), the Star Wars specials are an ingenious production. Blue Harvest was a fascinating experiment, and attempt to mount a comic retelling of the classic sci-fi mythos in an animated hour-long cartoon. It was a work of genius which worked far better than one might have expected, given the excesses of the show (some where present in the mini-movie, but they were all certainly toned down). So, when a sequel was announced (albeit two years later), anticipation was high. I am pleased to announce that Something Something Something Darkside is just as good as its predecessor.
It’s a fascinating storytelling concept. Use a show that never really has control over its own narrative (seriously, attempt to write a one-sentence summary of the events of a recent episode) to tell a pared-down and yet funny reimagining of one of the iconic myths of our times. Because that’s really what the original Star Wars is – the cinematic equivalent of an old fairytale or myth.
That that aspect alone worked amazed me. Not only do the hour-long episodes successfully encapsulate the storylines of their respective films, but they have plenty of room left over for humour. And, I must concede, that’s another aspect of the production that I love. The specials mostly eschew the show’s scatterbrain sense of humour to offer affectionate parodies of their subject matter and give amusing takes. You’re as likely to find a joke about leaving a mike on on a Star Destroyer Bridge (or what the Rebels actually did to earn the Empire’s disdain) as you are to see a joke about Stewie’s not-so-latent homosexuality. There are – as with last time – tonnes of nods to Family Guy’s own internal mythos, but here they don’t quite overpower the story in the same way that, say, pedophile Herbert as Obi-Wan Kenobi dominated Blue Harvest. There are more than a few jokes aimed at long-time fans, but these mesh well with more general humour (like the Empire’s recruitment video or the frequent joking references to Alderaan).
The pop culture references actually fit well with the story – be it an appearance from Elroy Jetson or Han dissing Leia in the style of The Real World. To be fair there are a decent amount of misses (a Juicy Fruit reference which goes on way too long), but the simple fact there are so many hits (Stewie playing mailbox baseball with Leonrad Nimoy’s mailbox to demonstrate how bad ass he is or even just singing the Wonder Woman theme tune after deflecting Han’s shots) and the episode’s audacity allows you to forgive such excesses, as does the fact there’s obviously a lot of love going on here.
And that really helps. Because the show tends to be more than a little mean to its targets sometimes, so I think that fifty minutes of watching the writing staff chipping away at a piece of movie-making history might just have been too much. Even as they rip the hell out of the movie – mocking Leia’s consistantly terrible military strategising or pointing out the rather creepy indications that Lando ends the movie in Han’s clothes – you get the sense that there is a lot of love here. They are laughing along because they’ve seen it so many times and they care about it enough to love it despite these logical holes.
Part of me is a little uneasy that there were enough named African American characters to cast Lando as anyone other than Mort. Since Cleveland is R2-D2, there really aren’t too many options, but it just seems at odds with a showing that is more than comfortable to have characters make racist jokes. I’m not insinuating anything, I just think it’s fascinating to observe of itself.
I’m really anticipating the conclusion to the trilogy – it’ll be interesting to be able to rewatch what amounts to the entire trilogy in less than the runtime of one of the films – but also because it seems like the end of some vast experiment. This is the sort of stuff that high-concept is made of.
This and dead baby jokes.
We’ve got reviews of the complete Star Wars Family Guy specials, if you want to check them out: