Turning to Star Wars for comedy value is nothing new – in the past few years, three Family Guy parodies and three Robot Chicken specials have mined the saga for laughs. But LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace breaks some new ground for Star Wars entertainment: not only is it funny and full of jokes, it also tells a new adventure that builds on both the classic and prequel trilogies. It breaks from the style of the LEGO Star Wars video games by having the characters talk rather than just use gestures and non-word vocalizations, but it would be slow to tell a story if all the dialogue had to be pantomimed. The Padawan Menace in two words, stolen from one of the younglings: Totally Awesome!
The Story: Wrapping up an interstellar field trip, Yoda drops off five padawan younglings at the Senate Building into the care of tour guides C-3PO and R2-D2. While Yoda goes off in search of a threat to the Republic, an orphan, Ian, slips into the group to hide and Threepio accidentally turns a dull senate session into a no-holds-barred bumper car ride. As the droids lead the younglings to safety, Yoda and Cody get into a fight with Asajj Ventress, who has stolen the Republic’s secret battle plans. While Asajj is caught, a battle droid escapes into space with the plans, and Yoda and Cody give chase, only to discover that Ian has stowed away with them. Piloting the Jedi Temple School Bus shuttle as a Separatist fleet attacks Coruscant, Threepio ends up jumping to Tatooine, where they crash land.
Unable to rebuild the crashed shuttle after Jawas salvage it, Threepio guides his charges to Mos Eisley, where he and Artoo hatch a plan to sneak into the Cantina in order to find a ride back to Coruscant. After being discovered as a droid in the bar, the protocol droid accidentally gives insult to Jabba the Hutt, who captures the droids and the younglings.
Meanwhile, after crash landing on Hoth, Yoda and the snarky orphan bicker but set out after the missing plans. Reclaiming the plans when the droid pops out of a tauntaun they plan to crawl inside for warmth, the pair fight off several destroyer droids and return to their wreck, which Yoda rebuilds with the Force into a working spaceship. In orbit, Yoda acknowledges Ian’s skills, and the pair learn that the younglings have been captured.
Jabba forces the two droids to fight each other with clubs but the caged younglings get Threepio to knock over Jabba’s awning. As a rancor gets loose, the younglings escape, Threepio gets armed and Yoda and Ian’s timely arrival with the ship allow them all to reach safety, albeit a bit crammed. Back at the Jedi Temple, Ian and the younglings are awarded medals in a grand ceremony and the scamp reveals that his name tag is wrong – it’s Han… Han Solo. Threepio is glad that he’ll never have to see that kid again.
What I liked about The Padawan Menace: Obviously, you can’t really get a sense of how great this show was based on a plot summary – it’s all the silly jokes and gags that make this LEGO Star Wars show a winner. Using the LEGO style of humor, writer Michael Price (The Simpsons) assembled a fun and hilarious story, relying on twisting Star Wars on its head, and mostly avoiding outside cultural references. Threepio does throw in a Scarface line when he emerges with two LEGO blasters after toppling Jabba’s canopy. Having Anthony Daniels play the golden protocol droid and Tom Kane resume his The Clone Wars roles of Yoda (and the opening narrator) brings the right characterization to these key roles. Having a young Han as a smart-mouthed kid to wear down Yoda’s patience made for some comic gold, and in the end Han saves the day because he can pilot the ship since Yoda is too short to reach the pedals. You could tell that Tom Kane was having fun as Yoda delivers such lines as “See you I could, if sitting on me, you were not…” or even calling our favorite golden protocol droid “Threepio-Cee.”
The Padawan Menace continues a streak of silliness, with Darth Vader popping in to steal a few scenes, with an exasperated George Lucas stopping the action to get the unwanted character off the set “Someone get Darth a donut!” While my wife cracked up most at Ackbar’s cameo at the end: “It’s a wrap!” and the LEGO version of Yarael Poof, I found some of the other gags most hilarious: Han tossing a mouse droid at a Senate guard, who then reacts by shrieking and climbing on the table, and Threepio commenting “I think we should exchange insurance information” after colliding the Jedi Temple School Bus shuttle into the bridge of the Separatist flagship, manned by a very angry Savage Opress. In a nod to his own frustration as a dad assembling his children’s LEGO sets, Price threw in a reference to Threepio not understanding a LEGO instruction booklet when Artoo suggests reassembling the crashed shuttle. Another good LEGO-based gag is when Threepio reaches for the mug in the cantina, and the frustrated bartender just pulls off Threepio’s hand, attaches it to the mug’s handle, and then re-attaches it to Threepio’s wrist. If only there was a joke about losing a small piece to a vacuum cleaner… The younglings get their moments of fun, such as when Threepio tells them to entertain themselves after young Bobby loses his camera to the more-hungry-than-photogenic dewback outside the cantina, they all take out their lightsabers and start dueling.
Other good jokes included some of the little sight gags like the Darth Mall in Mos Eisley (everything is half off!) and Mace outside the Jedi Temple, with his Windu Washing platform. And some of the channel changing bits such as “Keeping up with the Calrissians” and Bib Fortuna being judged for his singing, American Idol-style, as Han and Yoda are fighting for the remote while Yoda calls the Jedi Temple. Jar Jar gets an obligatory zap in the show, during the senate chaos, and Threepio comments: “Poor Jar Jar…. Oh well” and continues on his way. A better joke in the Senate is when Palpatine arrives, but with his hood up, and Bail Organa points out that it’s a Sith Lord and the chamber hushes in fear… until Palpatine puts down his hood, revealing his hair, and the senators exhale in relief… and Palpatine then puts the hood back up, to more gasps, and down, to more relief.
What I didn’t like about The Padawan Menace: Nothing. One thing that did seem odd was that Commander Cody abruptly just disappears after being part of the banter between Yoda and Han (often siding with Han), as an AT-AT leg boots the clone commander into the great icy yonder with Cody shouting, “I can see my house from here!” I suppose the story needed Cody to disappear so that Han could show his skills in rebuilding a destroyer droid on the fly into a galloping mount (complete with Han waving his Lego hair like a cowboy hat) and then also pilot himself and Yoda to save the younglings. But Cody never came back without any later mention. For a person who gets sometimes nitpicky about canon issues, it was a joy to watch this show and not have to worry about “Does this make sense in the larger scheme of things?” (Although Yoda employs a great method to resurrect disassembled characters – just use the Force to rebuild them on the fly, and they are back in action!)
Overall, this first LEGO Star Wars TV special left me lots to feel good about. There are even some good Star Wars film nods, such as the battle scene over Coruscant mimicking the TIE squadrons flying past the camera in Return of the Jedi, and a novel use for some A New Hope footage – Artoo replays a clip of entering the cantina in ANH to remind Threepio that there’s a droid detector. Just don’t worry about which way the timeline goes, folks! Growing up with the Droids cartoon, I was excited to see Threepio and Artoo in another series of misadventures – Threepio unwittingly causing one accident after another, and yet they come out on top, with the bad guys foiled. Playing Yoda and a young Han Solo off each other was also quite clever. If you like the LEGO Star Wars style of humor (or are a silly person in general), you’ll find The Padawan Menace a good time… and if you don’t like LEGO Star Wars, you probably aren’t reading this anyway.
I’m keeping The Padawan Menace on my DVR for anytime I need a good laugh or smile, and I may even buy the DVD or Blu-ray when it comes out in September, which is more than I can say about any of the Star Wars parodies from Family Guy.
It’s a Wrap!