With the first episode of LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles debuting later this month, I was able to chat with the show’s writer, Michael Price, about the upcoming episode ‘The Phantom Clone’ and see what sorts of fun adventures await us and Master Yoda. In addition to writing the previous two standalone LEGO Star Wars specials, Michael Price has been a long time writer and executive producer on The Simpsons, having won several Emmys for his work on the show.
‘The Phantom Clone’ is the first of three specials that comprise The Yoda Chronicles, and will premiere on Cartoon Network on May 29th at 8 PM (ET/PT). Price takes us behind the scenes of the show in this exclusive interview:
Jawajames: With The Yoda Chronicles, we are returning to the prequel era, with the focus on Yoda and some padawans and a new character. Tell us more about the cast of characters in ‘The Phantom Clone’.
Michael Price: Well, it’s called The Yoda Chronicles, so, of course, Yoda is our star. Though he begins the series in “teacher” mode, he quickly gets called into action and jumps in as a full-blown Jedi warrior — leading missions, getting in awesome light saber duels, directing land battles from the open door of a Republic Gunship… which is really kind of a dangerous and foolhardy thing to do! Of course, Threepio and Artoo are major characters, along with our new bunch of Padawans, who are a little bit older and more mature than the kiddies we had in The Padawan Menace.
The rest of the cast is kind of a Prequel Movies All-Star Team: Obi-Wan, Anakin, Mace Windu, Darth Sidious/Chancellor Palpatine, Count Dooku, General Grievous… Nute Gunray, Poggle The Lesser, all the biggies. And, as we’ve done in our previous LEGO Star Wars specials, we toss in Classic Era folk and locales along the way too. And we’ve also got a cameo or two from characters made famous in The Clone Wars. It’s a big cast.
James: What about this new clone character, Jek 14, introduced in the announcement on StarWars.com? Anything you want to say about him?
Michael: Well, I can’t reveal too much about him right now, except to say that he’s a Clone – created like the other Jango Fett clones by Lama Su on Kamino – but he’s been infused with the Force Powers of a Jedi Knight or Sith Lord. And he plays a key role in the main overarching story arc of the series – a plot by Darth Sidious (along with his minions Count Dooku and General Grievous) to create an ultimate weapon that could turn the tide of the Clone Wars for the bad guys.
James: The previous LEGO Star Wars specials have been standalone programs while ‘The Phantom Clone’ is just the first story of The Yoda Chronicles. How is it writing a longer storyline for Yoda and the rest of these characters? Do you now have to pay attention to your own continuity?
Michael: The previous two specials being standalones meant that they could exist on their own and inhabit their little skewed world for those 22 minutes – and that’s especially true of The Empire Strikes Out. When I was asked to do that one, I wasn’t sure if they’d ever do another one after it, or, if they did, they’d want me to do more, so I saw that show as possibly my last blast and tried to just make that show as crazy and comic as possible and toss in as many jokes as I could. It’s more like a Marx Brothers movie in a way. The story was fun and it moved along to an exciting conclusion, but the story, per se, wasn’t as important to me as the comedy and the fun of seeing Luke in costume as Vader, Vader being hung upside down from the Jawas’ sandcrawler and Darth Maul building a crazy LEGO Death Star.
Our brief with The Yoda Chronicles was to create three specials that both told a continuing story and could possibly be enjoyed individually on their own. So, naturally, the storytelling takes a larger role. We decided to place more of an emphasis on story, character and action/adventure, while still keeping them funny and with the same lovingly satiric tone of the earlier shows. There’s lots of humor and plenty of the “inside” Star Wars jokes that I love, but I think you’ll see there’s also a fun and compelling story we’re telling.
As far as “continuity” is concerned, we definitely stay consistent with the larger Star Wars storyline (these shows take place roughly two-thirds of the way between Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith) and who our characters are in that timeline. For instance, the Anakin we see here has already established himself as a great warrior, but is still brash and impulsive, and he chafes at being told what to do by Yoda and Obi-Wan. These specials are their own stories and not in any way a “sequel” to The Padawan Menace, but there is one brief shout-out to the earlier show that I hope fans will enjoy.
James: Since more of the focus is on the storytelling, how do you balance what makes works in a Star Wars story with adding that satiric tone?
Michael: I think we’ve found a great balance this time out – with fun and exciting Star Wars-y action sequences, space battles, light saber duels peppered with jokes, sign gags, throwaways and sustained runs that keep things light and funny. The satirical bits taking on Star Wars fan topics are still there, they’re just a little more integrated into the story and less “outside looking in.” We don’t break the fourth wall and we don’t hit the satiric stuff super hard (like, say, the “Han shot first” bit in The Empire Strikes Out), but it’s still there. One of the first things you’ll see is a sign joke playing off the “made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs” stuff. Some of the satire comes out of the characters, too.
We have a lot of fun with the fact that Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin and every other great Jedi have absolutely no clue that their good friend Chancellor Palpatine is secretly the evilest guy in the Galaxy. Conversely, we have time to explore what Palpatine’s life must be like – having to constantly put on a “good guy” act when all he wants to do is be super evil. As the shows go on, the strain of his double-life wears on him, so by the third episode he’s ready to explode.
James: Is there anything in ‘The Phantom Clone’ that comes from one of your own personal experiences? Or any particular scenes with a sight gag that is really really obscure?
Michael: Well, long ago I spent some not so happy times as a Substitute Teacher in my old High School in New Jersey – Threepio finds himself in a similar situation in ‘The Phantom Clone’. Probably the most obscure thing in any of the shows is in Episode Two. It’s a callback to “Bibble Up Soda” – which I invented for a billboard for The Empire Strikes Out that was seen for about half a second. God help me, I just love Sio Bibble. Love the guy.
James: One of the cool aspects of the previous specials was bringing in characters from all over the saga, and getting the original Star Wars actors to return to voice them, as well as some of the fine voice talent from The Clone Wars – any voices in The Yoda Chronicles we might recognize?
Michael: Well, of course, we’ve still got the great Anthony Daniels as Threepio and Tom Kane as both Yoda and our “Clone Wars”-style Narrator. With one major exception, the rest of the characters are performed by an incredibly talented ensemble of voice actors who are new to Star Wars. That exception is Mr. Billy Dee Williams, who agreed to come have a little fun with us. I can’t quite tell you exactly who he plays, but I think it’ll be something people enjoy.
James: You also have had a very talented crew working with you on the series – anyone you’d like to highlight for their contributions?
Michael: Oh, absolutely. I’ve now had the pleasure of working with three different animation studios and directors on these projects, and they’ve all done a great job. The animation for The Yoda Chronicles is being done by an incredible group of artists at WilFilm Studios in Denmark. Our director is a truly wonderful guy named Michael Hegner who has the energy of five men and a gorgeous eye for animation and the iconography of Star Wars. Our voice director is the talented Michael Donovan, who also voices Count Dooku and one of my favorite minor Star Wars characters, Malakili. And overseeing it all are my friends at LEGO – led by John McCormack – and LucasFilm — where Howard Roffman and Derek Stothard have consistently championed these projects and encouraged us to have as much fun as possible with their beloved franchise.
I also have to single out our great friend Kathleen Fleming, who hired me back in 2010 to write The Padawan Menace and produced all of these specials and the upcoming LEGO movie. Sadly, she passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago. She was the prime mover and animating force behind this entire project and she’ll be deeply and sorely missed.
James: You’ve certainly brought up the LEGO Star Wars brand as its own set of stories, and now there’s forthcoming merchandise and materials focusing on The Yoda Chronicles – what do you think about The Yoda Chronicles having its own toys, books, and games?
Michael: I love it! The previous two shows kind of snuck up on everyone and I’m extremely pleased that LEGO decided to create a year-long campaign to support these specials… including a really exciting mystery event being held on May 23rd in New York City’s Times Square. There’s a bunch of info about that and a contest connected to it on LEGO.com.
James: Tell us more about LEGO’s campaign – what else have they been doing to support the show?
James: You were at the 30th anniversary screening of Return of the Jedi on May the 4th. What do you think is the appeal of Star Wars and how have you captured that in these LEGO Star Wars specials?
Michael: Every time I sit down to work on one of these shows I try to put myself back to when I first saw A New Hope back in 1977, and what a thrill ride that movie was – how new and fresh and funny and exciting it was. Now, of course, 36 years have gone by and we’ve had the other films and the EU books and the video games and the TV series and so much has been written and argued about Star Wars – its meaning, the “inside baseball” of how it got made and what George Lucas did or did not do to the films in subsequent versions, and now there’s so much about what the new films will be like and how much money they’ll make. But to me, it’s very easy to go back in time in my mind and remember the pure thrill of how much fun I had first experiencing this world.
And that’s exactly how I felt the other night at Return Of The Jedi – I felt like a kid again. And that’s the spirit I try to capture in LEGO Star Wars – that this is, above all, something to be enjoyed. It’s fun! We approach these shows like we’re a bunch of kids playing with our LEGO Star Wars toys on the living room floor and coming up with a scene where Jabba the Hutt meets Darth Vader or maybe Darth Sidious has to spend the day stuck with a bunch of cute Ewoks. That’s what keeps me going – that spirit of fun and play and the endless possibilities of this amazing world George Lucas created.
James: That spirit of fun and play and those endless possibilities fit well these stories that combine LEGO toys and Star Wars. I’m really looking forward to your latest outing in that galaxy far, far, away. We’ve got ‘The Phantom Clone’ coming up on May 29 – do you know yet when the second and third episodes of The Yoda Chronicles will be airing?
Michael: All I can tell you is that Episodes Two and Three will air between now and the end of the year. Hopefully, ‘The Phantom Clone’ will leave our fans eager to see what happens next.
Big thanks again to Michael Price for returning for another fun interview. You can follow him on twitter @mikepriceinla, where he’s been linking to hints about the Times Square event on May 23. LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles begins with ‘The Phantom Clone’ which will air May 29th on Cartoon Network at 8 PM ET/PT.