Interview: Michael Price on The Yoda Chronicles: Menace of the Sith

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With the second episode of LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles coming up on Cartoon Network on Wednesday, I had a chance to chat with Michael Price, the writer of the fun LEGO Star Wars specials, and see what’s in store for the audience this time. Mike’s a great guy, always willing to talk Star Wars and comedy, and this time, we’ve got some secrets for latest installment of LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles: “Menace of the Sith”. As announced in August, the new episode premieres on Cartoon Network on Wednesday, September 4 at 8 PM (ET/PT).

yoda-chronicles-menace-of-the-sithJawajames: The first episode of LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles: “The Phantom Clone” introduced us to the Sith clone, JEK-14. What’s he up to in “Menace of the Sith”?

Michael Price: He’s searching for his identity. This episode picks up fairly soon after the ending of “The Phantom Clone”. If you recall, Sidious and Dooku’s plan was to create a huge army of Sith Clones, but, thanks to Yoda, Mace and the Padawans, JEK-14 was the sole surviving member of that “army.” As we begin “Menace Of The Sith”, Dooku and Sidious are trying to move ahead with their plot to create hundreds of powerful Sith Clones like JEK, but since their Clone Factory on Kamino has been destroyed they’re kind of improvising on the go. They’ve come up with a “Plan B”, of which JEK-14 is the centerpiece, but JEK isn’t so sure he wants to go along with it. At the start of the show, JEK is very much the unthinking tool of Dooku and Sidious we saw in “The Phantom Clone” — ready to do whatever his Masters tell him. But soon he starts to question his purpose in life and whether or not he wants to do the bidding of these two embodiments of evil. After all, he’s also part Jedi, having been created with the use of the Kaiburr Crystal. So he’s torn about just what to do… and that plays out in the episode.

James: Yoda is presumably back on the search for this Force-powered supersoldier – what is it like to bring Yoda back into action?

Michael: So much fun! I know some fans didn’t approve of the kick-ass Yoda George Lucas gave us in Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith, but I loved it. I let out a big whoop in the movie theater when Yoda pulled out his light saber and started in on Dooku with the awesome flip-moves. So it’s been fun to really put Yoda to work in these shows as the great Jedi warrior he once was, and this episode really gives him a lot to do. Yoda begins the episode on a secret mission alongside Obi-Wan to find this mysterious Sith Clone. They’re both deep “under cover” behind enemy lines, so you’ll be seeing Yoda in a way he’s never been portrayed before.

James: Undercover Yoda sounds very intriguing! I’m looking forward to seeing that! With using Yoda, part of the comedy is based on using his speech patterns – is it a challenge to write dialogue for him to balance out the comedy with his role in advancing the storyline?

Michael: Well, Yoda is a dream character for a comedy writer because his syntax is just so special and unique that it’s naturally funny (to me at least) to give him the kinds of lines and speeches that he would never say in the movies and see how they come out in Yoda-talk. I still don’t think we’ve topped his exasperated outburst in “The Padawan Menace” to Ian and Clone Commander Cody: “Matters not first said who it!” And, of course, it can’t all be Yoda-talk jokes – first of all, sometimes he has a lot of important information to get out and we can’t make those lines unintelligible. Secondly, if we just relied on Yoda-talk humor it’d get old fast, so we found some other places to have fun with him, notably his odd decision to never wear shoes and the trouble that could cause him on slippery Clone Factory landing pads. In this show, we have more fun with Yoda, specifically as he kind of speaks a “first draft” of what will become (in The Empire Strikes Back) one of his most iconic lines ever.

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James: A lot of the comedy from “The Phantom Clone” came from having 3PO-C, er.. C-3PO on his own adventure with some padawans – will Goldenrod and the padawans be back to help Yoda out? Also, will Yoda finally learn to avoid wet floors?

Michael: First of all, yes – Yoda has learned to avoid wet floors, so there’s definitely that. Secondly, yes and yes – Threepio and the Padawans are back, but they’re not together in this episode. Part of the fun and challenge of having Anthony Daniels provide his amazing voice for our little shows is to find ways to keep Threepio fresh and doing different things than he’s done before. So in “Menace Of The Sith” we made a conscious choice to break Threepio away from the “babysitter” or “substitute teacher” role he played in “The Padawan Menace” and “The Phantom Clone”. I can’t reveal exactly what he does, but he makes a request of the Jedi Council to take on a less stressful assignment. Meanwhile, the Padawans are continuing their path to maturity, and since Yoda is off on his secret mission, they’ve been assigned a new substitute teacher, who I won’t reveal – just say he’s a major Star Wars character we’ve yet to LEGO-ize.

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James: With The Yoda Chronicles developed as a three-episode series, what was it like to work on a “middle episode” – with the menace already introduced, and the main resolution presumably saved for the third act? Or are these all separate stories more designed to stand alone?

Michael: These shows were designed in such a way that they could work as a three part tale but also stand alone if need be. So they do follow each other in terms of story but they weren’t written in the classic trilogy way — with the second one being the dark story that ends on a big cliffhanger. Each episode is self-contained in that it wraps up its particular tale but also naturally leads into the next one. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me even as I say this, but hopefully it will when all three episodes have been aired.

BillyDeeWilliams-MichaelPriceJames: The first episode had Billy Dee Williams provide a cameo voice for Lindo Calrissian, Lando’s father, and captain of the funkiest nightclub/starship in the galaxy. Any voice cameos to look forward to in “Menace”? Did you get a chance to work with the voice cast?

Michael: There aren’t any big voice cameos in “Menace”, though Lindo and Lando make a very brief appearance. The “cameos” as such are more in the character vein – with appearances from some beloved characters from the Star Wars and The Clone Wars universes that have yet to appear in our shows. One in particular I was very happy to include in our show is Cad Bane, who has a brief but funny scene with Threepio in the middle of the show. I’ve always really liked him and his design (he appeared on the billboard for Mos Eisley in “The Padawan Menace”), but here he gets to have some fun.

TheYodaChronicles-MenaceOfTheSith_Dooku-boomboxAnd yes, I did get to participate in the recordings with our super-talented voice cast but not directly in the room. Our records are run by our voice director Michael Donovan (who also does a fantastic job as Count Dooku) out of his studio in either Northern Los Angeles or Vancouver. So I get to listen in via telephone or Skype and maybe throw in a couple of notes here and there, but mostly I get to listen to these great actors do their stuff. These people are real pros and it’s a joy to hear them at work. Of course we’ve got Anthony Daniels back as I said before and Tom Kane just knocking it out of the park as Yoda… and he does another great voice towards the end of the show that I won’t tell you who it is – but he’s another iconic Star Wars character who finally gets a chance to be LEGO-ized for us and act totally out of character.

James: Some of the comedy that played up in “The Phantom Clone” was at the expense of General Grievous and his lack of understanding about sarcasm – will he finally get his chance to shine (or at least not rust)?

Michael: Good Ol’ Grievous has had a fresh coat of Rustoleum applied so he’s back in fighting shape, but he’s still Count Dooku’s hapless henchman stooge in our world, I’m afraid. By the way, Kirby Morrow who voices Grievous and does a great job with him also provides the voice of our mystery “substitute teacher” in this show and he does a great job with that character too.

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James: In our first interview for The Yoda Chronicles, we talked before about the team you had at WilFilm and Lucasfilm – how is the process for creating The Yoda Chronicles different for you than working on The Simpsons?

Michael: In many ways, these shows are written and produced the way we do The Simpsons: each script goes through several drafts, and the writing and re-writing continues as the shows go through the animation process, with some tweaks and fixes being made all the way up to the end. The major difference here is that on The Simpsons I’m part of a large staff of talented writers who collaborate in the writers room to write and rewrite all of our scripts. With Yoda Chronicles, as in the previous LEGO Star Wars shows, I’m more or less a one-man writing staff. Of course, I have invaluable contributions and guidance from our animation director Michael Hegner, the LEGO team and Lucasfilm in the person of the wonderfully supportive and insightful Howard Roffman, but when it comes down to executing the scripts and coming up with the jokes it’s mostly up to me. This is both very empowering and very daunting! But it’s fun to be my own “Head Writer.”

James: What are some of the more challenging parts of the re-write process? I can imagine constantly trying to balance out the story and the jokes as bits get changed to fit constraints, or is it more “I thought of something even better – let’s do this instead”?

Yoda-Chronicles-LogoMichael: It’s really a whole bunch of things, but mostly it has to do with the transition from page to screen. Often, jokes or scenes will read great but come out long or flat on the screen, or two jokes will suffice where we have four. The rewriting process is all geared toward making the show as funny and entertaining as possible to the viewer who doesn’t care that a particular joke really read well and it’s time to cut out the stuff that doesn’t work no matter how much I may have liked it when I was first writing. It’s all about results. It’s also about fitting these sprawling tales into our prescribed 22-minute running time. We had to cut out a couple of scenes in “The Phantom Clone” because we were running long – including a fun one with the Padawans and Watto — but in the end result they weren’t missed at all. In “Menace Of The Sith”, our climactic battle scene was a little flat and needed a big moment to help put it over the top. About three quarters of the way through the process we came up with a nice piece of business that brings the action to a head and also makes a fun reference to Luke’s famous trench run in “A New Hope.” That was a great day when we saw that piece of animation get put into the puzzle.

James: Being able to work with the same studio for multiple episodes gives you a chance to try to build on what was possible previously – was there a time that you thought to push the envelope on what the animation team could do to make the show even cooler?

Michael: We’re always trying to make these shows more spectacular and awesome within our limited budget and I think the guys at WilFilm have outdone themselves again with this one. With each of these shows we’re trying to expand our reach and explore new worlds, so in “The Phantom Clone” we got to go to Kamino. In this show we have some fun in the big Arena in Geonosis from Attack Of The Clones and we also have a very complicated space chase through an asteroid field and a big space battle over Coruscant. In our third episode we get to go to Mustafar. And Michael Hegner and his team are more than up to the challenge. In my opinion, these shows just get more accomplished and more visually stunning with each one. It’s been fun to work with Michael and his team on these shows because over the course of the three episodes we’ve developed a very close working relationship… only we’re about 7,000 miles apart! He’s in Copenhagen, the LEGO team is mostly in Connecticut, and I’m in LA, but we chat via Skype frequently and also use a great online viewing platform that allows us to shoot our comments and notes back and forth very quickly and efficiently to hone and shape the shows as they go through the animation process.

James: We know that Sio Bibble is one of your favorite characters – what makes him so cool? Is it the facial hair? Is it the name? Is it because he can rock the shirtless look better than Malakili?

Michael: To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t know Sio Bibble from Sy Snootles until I started working on these shows and that’s when I discovered the amazing research tool known as Wookieepedia. That’s when “that old dude with the pointy white beard who hangs out with Princess Amidala” became my beloved Sio Bibble. That name just tickled me for some reason, and when I was able to use it for our soda brand “Bibble Up” I loved it even more. BTW, Bibble Up makes a return appearance in “Menace Of The Sith”. It’s almost like our version of product placement!

James: I’m hoping to see some LEGO building sets with some of your product placement jokes and gags! Have you gotten a chance to check out the LEGO sets based on The Yoda Chronicles?

lego-SW-jek14starfighterMichael: Yes, I was so excited to see the set based around JEK and his awesome ship; that was a real thrill. The one thing from these shows I’d dearly love to see become a LEGO set would be the Padawan Bus, which first appeared in “The Padawan Menace” and has since made a comeback in The Yoda Chronicles (it’ll be in all three episodes). I was hired to write that first special back in 2010 based on my original story pitch of the kids on a camping trip from the “Jedi Temple School District”, and that bus – the idea of it gliding past the camera like the Star Destroyer in A New Hope – was the very first idea I had when I set about writing the pitch. That bus has always been so dear to me, so to one day see that as an actual LEGO set that I could build and put on my mantle next to my minifigs of “Ian/Han” and Darth Vader with his Employee Of The Month medal from “The Empire Strikes Out” would be a dream come true.

Thanks again to Michael Price for this interview. You can follow the Emmy-winning writer on twitter @mikepriceinla. LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles – Episode II: “Menace of the Sith” airs September 4th on Cartoon Network at 8 PM ET/PT. Also, if you missed it, the first episode, “The Phantom Clone,” is on just before it at 7:30 PM.

3 thoughts on “Interview: Michael Price on The Yoda Chronicles: Menace of the Sith

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