Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Star Wars Droids (1985) (TV show Review)

         Kicking off Star Wars month we’ll be looking at the very first animated Star Wars TV series titled “Star Wars Droids” which debuted in 1985 alongside another show titled “Star Wars Ewoks”, but I’ll talk about that one latter. This is one of the more underrated and less-known entries in the star wars cannon, it first aired on ABC as part of the “Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour”. I remember being really excited as a kid to see a Star Wars cartoon show because that’s how it always was for me, if anything involved Star Wars I was hipped. I can’t make a compelling argument that “Star Wars Droids” is a great show, or anything super special, but for any hard core Star Wars fan, it’s worth a look. I do remember watching this show every now and then, and liking it okay, but let’s see how much of it really holds up.

    The show fallows the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2 as they get themselves into one crazy space adventure after another. C-3PO and R2-D2 were already some of my favorite Star Wars characters, and I’m pleased to say that they were just as great in this show as they were in the movies. Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO in the movies continued to supply the voice for C-3PO throughout the shows run. He has such a perfect voice for the character, and his friendship with R2-D2 is still a real joy that held this show together. There banter is still funny, and their bonding moments are relatively touching. Even when an episode is bad, these two characters still made it worthwhile. The opening theme song of the series was called “Trouble Again” and it perfectly sums up what C-3PO and R2-D2 go through in every episode. The song itself is one of those tunes you either love for nostalgic reasons, or you hate for its silly, kid friendly melody, personally, I’m somewhere in the middle.     

     Unfortunately, none of the other classic Star Wars characters are featured, which is kind of annoying. Some characters like Jabba the Hutt and The Emperor are mentioned in passing but are never featured. The Jedi aren’t even acknowledged, however there is an episode when a character uses a light saber as a cutting tool. The only other note worthy Star Wars character to make an appearance in the show is the famous masked bounty hunter Boba Fett, which is a nice treat. Despite being featured in the show’s opening credit sequence, he’s only featured in one episode titled “A Race to the Finish”, in which he’s hired to sabotage a group of racers. This obviously isn’t one of his best appearances in the Star Wars universe, but it’s still cool to see him. He’s voiced by Don Francks, who previously supplied Boba Fetts voice during “The Star Wars Holiday Special”, and he would also do voice work for other main characters in the series. 

     The show only ran for one season, and had a total of 13 episodes, so it didn’t get the chance to leave much of an impact. Now the time setting is apparently between “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars 4: A New Hope”, because the Empire are still featured as villains, and the Rebels are underfoot. While the Empire isn’t the primary antagonist of the series, they are still enemies that our hero’s occasionally have to deal with. Episodes featuring Storm troopers, Ti-Fighters, and star destroyers definitely made it feel a little more like classic Star Wars, which the show needed a lot more of. There isn’t a whole lot of continuity either, the most striking thing to note is that C-3PO was created from someone else, other then Anakin Skywalker, which doesn’t really match with “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace”. So it’s probably best to view this series as its own self contained story with no real barring on the films. However, it is worth noting that the prequel trilogy made several small references to this series, even the show’s creator Ben Burtt had a small cameo in “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace”.     

    Over the course of the series, the droids team up with three different sets of masters. At the beginning of each cycle, the droids usually run into their new masters in an accidental way, and at the end of each cycle, they usually are forced to leave their masters for one reason or another. The first cycle involves a group of young racers, and their struggles with the criminal Fromm gang. This was without a doubt the weakest story arch of the series, the episodes were boring, the characters were forgettable, the villains were annoying, and the running story just wasn’t that engaging. I will say that the final episode of this story arch was actually quite good, and features the most touching departure that the droids ever had from any of their masters.


    The second cycle was the best by far, and took up the majority of episodes in the series. This story arch revolved around an alien prince who needed to reclaim his thrown from an evil vizier. Later the droids help the prince defend his home, and rescue a princess from a team of space pirates. These episodes had all the good stuff, giant monsters, epic space battles, menacing villains, and it was an exciting adventure story that felt reminiscent of classic Middleville fables, the same way the original trilogy paid tribute to old adventures. More then anything, this story arch featured the best cast of supporting characters. C-3PO's new master named Jann Tosh was a good lead character, his girl friend Jessica had a lot of personality, the prince was noble, even the alien princess named Gerin was cool and proved once again that princess in the Star Wars universe are more then just damsel stereotypes. I also liked how the villains changed in this arch, beginning with an a greedy alien who owns a mining planet, then the evil vizier who looks like a mix between Jafar (Disney's "Aladdin") and Lo Pan ("Big Trouble in Little China"), and of course there's the pirates led by the sinister Kybo Ren. 

     All these episodes were edited together and released on video as “Star Wars Droids: The Pirates and the Prince”, which actually became the first Star Wars video I ever owned, even before the original trilogy, so I still have some nostalgia for this one. If you’re really curious to give this show a watch, I’d highly recommend watching these episodes first because this is the best of what the show has to offer. The animation in these episodes are especially good, the supporting characters hold their own, even the villains from this arch were kind of memorable in their own distinct way.

     The third and final cycle of the series featured the droids teaming up with a treasure hunter, who goes on a quest to find valuable stones that are buried on his home planet. Along the way they battle menacing aliens and the Empire led by a villain named General Koon. This cycle probably felt the closest to Star Wars, but it still wasn’t on par with the middle cycle. The supporting characters in this one were painfully boring stereotypes, and the voice acting was a little exaggerated. At least the running story of this cycle was slightly more exciting than first story arch involving the racers.

     While there weren’t any more episodes, “Star Wars Droids” did have one special hour long animated movie titled “Star Wars Droids: The Great Heap”, which aired the following year in 1986.

     You’d think this would be something really special, but it wasn’t any more than a standard episode of the series with a longer run time. This movie actually took place before the third cycle of the series and shows how our droids meet the treasure hunter Baobab. We also see how they become the enemies of General Koon and the Empire. The plot goes like this, Storm Troopers and Empyreal officers are making camp on a remote mining world, our droid hero’s find themselves joining a team that’s sent to investigate. While on the planet a feud begins between C-3PO and R2-D2, they start arguing and they even doubt their own friendship. Soon they discover that the planet is being ruled by a giant super robot called the great heap, which is made up of parts from other robots that were melted down. Now C-3PO and R2-D2 have fix their broken friendship in order to work together and defeat this new enemy, in other words, it’s as standard as episodes get. While the animation was slightly better and busier, the passing in this movie felt really slow, the jokes were awful, and some of the voice acting was really bland, with the small exception of Anthony Daniels, who’s just as charismatic as ever in the role of C-3PO. There really isn’t much else I can say about this one, it was on the same standard of the TV series, and didn’t have that much else to offer.

   If I was to rate this by the standards of a Star Wars special, I’d probably give “Star Wars Droids: The Great Heap” 2 stars out of five, which means it’s average.     

     Looking back at this show, I was pleasantly surprised that it still had some genuine high lights, but it also had a lot of low points too. The animation style is noting special by today’s standards, but it was actually quite impressive for the time, so I really can’t call it bad. I will say that the color scheme had its ups and downs, sometimes episodes would have pleasing colors that popped off the screen, while other times it would have these ugly, bland colors that weren’t as pleasing. I have the same problem with the comedy in this show, sometimes the hummer came from how charismatic the characters were, which was great, but most of the physical jokes were the equivalent of what you’d see in a “Scooby-Doo” cartoon. The episodes were also a mixed bag, sometimes you get something fun and exciting while other times you get something boring.

     One important thing to remember is that while Star Wars is very appealing to children, they also have just as much for adults, even new animated shows like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” have some really adult material. This show on the other hand is for kids, plain and simple, so you can only judge it on those terms. Well, I did grow up with this show, and I do still have a soft spot for it. At the same time, this also isn’t a show I’m overly nostalgic about either. As a whole, it really isn’t that special, but it certainly isn’t bad, it falls some ware in-between.   

                         I give the TV show “Star Wars Droids” 2 ½ stars, which means its okay.                          
             Stay Tuned, a posted review of the 80’s TV show “Star Wars Ewoks” is up next.                            

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