Disney XD (2014), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (September 15th, 2015), 1 DVD, 92 minutes plus supplements, 1.78:1 Ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated TV Y7, Retail: $19.99
Welcome to the Lego Star Wars universe, where Darth Vader isn’t very good at his job, Luke Skywalker is kinda an overly gullible wimp, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost acts like a laid-back stoner, and Jar Jar Binks has kids. So, in other words, it’s not that far off from the actual Star Wars universe (well, apart from the whole Jar Jar having kids thing).
The Sweatbox Review:
There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? It’s the anticipation of the upcoming Star Wars movie. It’s a little hard to believe that The Force Awakens is less than three months away from us now, and over the next few weeks, we are no doubt going to get an absolute onslaught of all things related to what just might be the most beloved film franchise of all time. Merchandise is flying off of store shelves, a new trailer is supposedly coming to us sooner rather than later, and box office predictions are already getting blown way out of proportion (are there even enough theater seats available in the United States to support a $300 million opening weekend?). As fans breathlessly await what’s to come (for a film that has been kept almost completely top secret by everyone involved), Disney has come up with a number of ways for fans to whet their appetites while they wait, including the release of the first season of the excellent Star Wars Rebels on Blu-ray and, more recently, the TV miniseries Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles on DVD.
When the first Lego Star Wars adventure, The Padawan Menace, came to Blu-ray in 2011, I remember seeing it on the store shelf and not giving it much notice. Apart from a cute-enough sounding plot involving Yoda meeting a young Han Solo, what would it have to offer for me? I could understand the appeal for children, naturally, but the cynic in me blindly wrote it off as a half-hour long toy commercial, and I didn’t bother to watch it until I caught it on Cartoon Network more than a year later. How wrong I was! It turned out that The Padawan Menace was actually hilarious for kids and adults. And the sequel that followed, The Empire Strikes Out, was just as funny. Both brought to mind the terrific Robot Chicken Star Wars specials, serving as a both a parody of all six Star Wars movies as well as a love letter to them.
In fact, Robot Chicken seems to be what all of the Lego Star Wars “episodes” are borrowing from most heavily in terms of tone. Rather than follow the plots of the films in a linear manner as Family Guy did a few years ago, both Lego and Robot Chicken cut a bit more loose, almost creating their own universe within the very universe that they are spoofing. And as with Robot Chicken, the Lego versions of the characters take on their own distinctive personalities. Lego Obi-Wan Kenobi is spaced out all the time. Lego Yoda isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. Lego Darth Vader just can’t seem to catch a break and has to deal with everyday problems like his mechanical suit malfunctioning on him. And Lego Luke Skywalker is naive to a fault.
What’s perhaps even more notable, though, is how many in-jokes the writers are able to slip in. The more you’ve seen Star Wars, the more you’ll appreciate the humor here. And it all comes rapid fire, with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sight gags (make sure you read every billboard in the background) and various references to Star Wars fan culture. And while there is a plot of sorts that connects the four chapters on this disc together–something about Luke and Darth both being after the Jedi Temple’s memory banks–, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, if there’s anything confusing about this release, it’s that Yoda himself is barely involved in the narrative despite taking top billing in the title, with him and Obi-Wan’s ghost serving as a framing device more than anything. But I suppose it makes sense that those involved in marketing would want to highlight the inclusion of one of the franchise’s most popular characters.
Yoda does get a bit active during the first special, Escape From The Jedi Temple. The prologue for this one takes place just after the events of A New Hope, with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost going to Dagobah to give Yoda the bad news that he has died. This leads to the two friends reminiscing about a time just after the Empire was formed, when Yoda recruited the remaining Jedi to sneak into the Jedi Temple to steal the “Holocrons” before the Emperor was able to get his hands on them. Meanwhile, Bail Organa’s wiping of C-3P0’s memory doesn’t go quite as planned, with the protocol droid now believing he’s a super soldier. Highlights in this one include Palpatine jamming to “his new theme song” (which is John Williams’ Imperial March score), jokes about how some of the background Jedi in the prequels just really weren’t that memorable, Luke freaking out when Obi-Wan haunts him for the first time, and Jar Jar Binks being reunited with his bested buddy Darth Vader.
In the next episode, Race For The Holocrons, things shift to present day, with Obi-Wan’s ghost informing Luke that he must find the Jedi’s memory banks if he is to bring balance to the Force. Unfortunately, the Emperor has sent Darth Vader to find them so he can find out which planets are sympathetic to the rebellion and attack them accordingly. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Han Solo and Yoda are thrilled to see each other again after he and Chewbacca crash land on Dagobah. While all of this is happening, droids are finally allowed inside the Mos Eisley Cantina, Luke and Leia manage to trick Watto into thinking they’ve placed him under a Jedi mind trick, and we at long last learn what Jawas look like without their hoods on.
Moving on, we have Raid On Coruscant, with Darth Vader now in possession of the Holocrons and the Emperor overjoyed with his newfound power over his enemies. This leads to Luke and the others heading to the Empire’s headquarters for a surprise attack, but things don’t go as expected. This is an episode where all of the best bits involve Yoda and Obi-Wan, with things getting awkward for them very quickly when Qui-Gon Jinn’s ghost shows up for a visit. Other great gags have the characters finding out the hard way that AT-ATs are actually very impractical and hard to drive, Qui-Gon Jinn quoting Taken, and Darth Vader correcting Palpatine when he refers to Chewbacca’s home planet as “Wookiee World.”
Finally, there’s Clash Of The Skywalkers. This one’s not quite as strong as the others, as it feels like a plot that was originally intended to play out over three episodes might’ve been dragged out into four. Still, there’s fun to be had here, including Admiral Ackbar trying to stop the rebel pilots from jinxing themselves with optimism (“I don’t know about you, but I feel like I could take down the entire Empire with one hand!”), Han and C-3P0 getting captured by a wampa, and Luke and Vader having a climatic lightsaber duel in a certain asteroid field.
I should perhaps quickly note here that The New Yoda Chronicles is technically a sequel to another series of specials (simply titled The Yoda Chronicles) that aired in 2013, and that the inclusion of a cyborg clone (who acts like every 80’s action hero ever rolled into one character) from those episodes might leave some newcomers scratching their heads. But I doubt that will be a real issue for anyone. If you’re a Star Wars fan, chances are you’re going to enjoy this, and while this batch of adventures may not be up there with The Padawan Menace or The Empire Strikes Out in terms of comedy (or being repeat-viewing friendly), a good time should still be had by all. At the risk of sounding predictable, the Force is strong with…well, you know.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles comes with one special feature, an Alternate Ending to Clash of the Skywalkers. In this ending, Darth Vader wins (relax, it’s not nearly as game-changing as it sounds). I found it to be slightly funnier than what they went with. Also included are Blu-ray trailers for Tomorrowland, Aladdin and Inside Out that can be accessed from the main menu.
Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles comes in a black plastic case. Inside inserts for Disney Movie Rewards and an ad for the Disney Movie Club can be found. Curiously, the cover art gives no indication that The New Yoda Chronicles is a comedy, with Yoda and Luke both having strangely dead serious facial expressions. No slipcover is included.
Ink And Paint:
Given how surprisingly fantastic The Padawan Menace looked on Blu-ray, it’s a little disappointing that Disney has opted to only give this title a DVD release. Everything still looks fine, although there is a notable and occasionally frustrating lack of visual texture, but that may be in part due to animation budget requirements as this is four episodes as opposed to Padawan’s one. Nevertheless, colors are bright and clear, and since this is a brand new release, there is naturally no dirt to be found anywhere.
Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronciles is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and gets the job done nicely. Nowhere are any notable faults in audio evident, and while it’s not quite spectacular, it’s about as good as one can expect for a title that is aimed at children who don’t care about such things. At one point, I thought that the musical score might be at risk of overpowering the dialogue (to the point where I almost wrote it down in my notes), but it turned out that this was being done intentionally to set up a joke. French and Spanish language tracks are also included.
As a longtime lover of both Star Wars and meta-humor, I continue to find these Lego Star Wars specials to be highly entertaining. While I can’t say that these episodes necessarily work better with an extended “plot” (again, the standalone adventures The Padawan Menace and The Empire Strikes Out remain the high points for this series), there are still plenty of laughs to be had from start to finish here, to the point where adults might find themselves enjoying it more than kids. The video and audio are both pleasing on this DVD, and the alternate ending provides at least some form of an extra on a disc that honestly wasn’t demanding any special features. With a new trilogy of films ahead of us, there will probably be Lego specials that eventually spoof those as well. It’s yet another reason that there’s probably never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?