Let the Wookie win. Star Wars Droids Cartoon:
The Adventures of R2 & 3P0!

Matt - 5.26.02 /// Previous ArticleX-ENext Article

With Attack of the Clones' ticket sales not really impressing anyone to a huge degree as of yet, we're reminded of a time when Star Wars was so hot, they could pretty much throw the logo on anything and make millions. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, they had some huge, huge advantages for their merchandising opportunities: firstly, the previous film had been a four-star affair, loved by all. Secondly, people were so into Star Wars that nobody would realize ROTJ was so far lower on the quality barometer, instead opting to buy lots and lots of Ewok-themed party napkins.

Saturday morning animated programming wasn't unaffected either - in 1985, two new cartoons were forged for release: one based on the Ewoks, with the clever & subversive title of Ewoks, and the one we'll be taking a look at today: Droids. The adventures of C-3P0 and R2-D2 continued with a thirteen-episode cartoon series that pits them in the care of friendly space racers with new dangers and villains to worry about. While neither show was successful, Ewoks kept getting retooled, lasting three seasons, but Droids only stayed around for one. There was a longer television special that set up the show previously, but it doesn't really match with the series' continuity, so we'll skip ahead to one that does.

Droids was certainly no worse than most children's programming at the time, but it lacked anything truly special to hold kid's attention. There was nothing particularly 'Star Wars' about it really, and really, by the time 1985 rolled around, kids were into other things. Add in the immense costs of the show - an intense cell frame rate not to mention the voice talents of Anthony Daniels - and you've got a show that really didn't stand a chance: it just came a little too late.

Even Star Wars fanatics seem to forget the show ever existed. Granted, getting caught watching C-3P0 do slapstick humor in animated form would give credence to anyone who claims us SW fans are total losers, but it still had a charm about it that makes it worth, at least in my eyes, telling you about. Of course, if you're not into Star Wars in any way, shape, or form, you'll think it's a terrible cartoon and a blemish on the bright spot of the universe that is your television set. I couldn't really argue with you on that point since the show is pretty stupid, but hey, it's late and I'd rather review this than Deuce Bigelow.

If I'm not mistaken, the episode we're about to take a look at is indeed the first one in the series, so let's unmask the origins of 3P0 and R2 after they're rendered in brighter, friendlier colors.

The Droids are lost on some remote planet, jettisoned from their previous, evil master's space shuttle during a little law trouble with spice smuggling. Surviving the wreckage, 3P0 starts complaining immediately about how they don't have a master anymore. Hey stupid robot, that's not something to be upset about. You'll never have to make coffee or fetch the Daily Dagobah again. The idea here is that Droids need a master for upkeep and guidance - without them, the robots really don't have much else to do but fine tune their Abbott & Costello dynamic. And that's not gonna draw any viewers in for thirteen episodes.

The rules of engagement are established pretty quickly - the Droids have become comedians, and 3P0 does all the talking. R2 just beeps, using stock sounds from the films. (actually, the sounds of ships flying and lazers being shot are also taken from the film) Since they got Anthony Daniels voicing 3P0, (he played him in the films) there's a touch of Star Wars realism that the show direly needed. Of course, swapping in the shiny droids for these flatter, cartoony versions probably negates half the appeal of them in kids eyes, (MOM THAT ROBOT IS SHINY!) but whaddyagonna do. Oh yeah: now that C-3P0 can blink his eyes, he makes up for lost time by doing it constantly.

Lost and hopeless, the pair comes across Thall Jobin and Jord Dusat - your hero characters. Local mechanic wizards who dream of competing in speeder race tournaments. The boys accept a master position over the Droids as if they're doing them a favor by bossing them around, and the robots seem downright appreciative about it. Servitude is their drug.

Get used to these guys, because they're the heart of the entire series. I think they set themselves up for failure right there - the show could've done a little better with some human character from the films included. I'm not saying they need to render Luke or Han as a happy cartoon guy, but they could've at least given us an animated version of Chewy or Wedge. Gypping kids with these two nobodies wasn't going to extend the show's shelf life any.

The group takes off for home, and trouble doesn't take long to find them. I dunno exactly what happens here - a bunch of floating orb bombs start chasing them, while 3P0 falls off the ship and battles a huge android by hurling pebbles at it, an action sequence so confusing that the only impression it leaves is one of total atrophy.

By the way, if you've read a few Episode II reviews, you've probably noticed a large number of complaints towards C-3P0's newfound wit in the film. I guess Star Wars fans can't accept a Droid who's funny unless they see a technician fitting him with the Funny Disk. But if you thought that was bad, you've gotta see 3P0 here. He's being hunted down by this huge unnamed machine and he's doing a standup routine the entire time.

I think I was only six when the show came out, an age where the laws of time didn't really apply to me, so I never was sure when the show was on. If I saw it, it was purely by chance. Though I can vividly recall them putting both this and the Ewoks show on late in the Saturday morning cavalry, which was the network's way of saying: 'Well, these shows suck. Put them on after all the kids go outside to play freeze-tag.'

3P0 is saved from certain doom by Kea Moll, the female character extraordinare. She unmasks herself as if we're supposed to be surprised she's a girl, but I mean, she obviously had tits so I don't know where the shock factor really comes into play. Maybe they figured kids were too young to understand what breasts actually denoted. Not me. I had a Princess Leia figure. Those things had some rack.

We cut to another part of the planet to meet the people responsible for these attacks: Tig Fromm & Vlix. Tig is the son of Sise Fromm, a major player in the planet's crime syndicates. We don't get to meet Sise in this episode, but he would appear on later shows. Instead, we get the villain's plot derivative from Tig - young, almost-naive, and pretty damn stupid, Tig is a new breed of criminal who relies more on technology than simple brute force. Vlix, who served with his father, is far from certain that the kid has any villainous talent whatsoever, and spends most of this episode looking grumpy and calling Tig names. Whatever, I just realized that, at the time this was on the air, Droids and Ewoks shared television time with both the Transformers, He-Man, AND G.I. Joe, a retro mecca so intense that, if shown today, the collective heads of fanboys everywhere would likely explode into happy silver stardust. These were good times.

Jord gets kidnapped by the bad guys, so Kea drops in on Thall to establish a friendship that would last for the entire series. Now the remaining good guys must rescue their friend from the evil clutches of Tig, who really isn't all that evil since all he actually does with Jord is sit with him at a desk acting pissy. It was hard to invest emotionally in a show where the villains stand positively no chance of winning, but rest assured that things pick up in the later episodes. They add a whole bunch of new characters both good and evil, and this first episode here really doesn't do the whole aura of Droids justice. Sorry I keep defending the show, it's a lot more interesting for me to do that than to sit here typing 'stupid' in bold print after every scene we look at.

The heroes hatch a plan to rescue Jord, but we're gonna skip ahead a bit because the way the plan unfolds is a little too esoteric, even for me. To be honest, I was preoccupied with a crossword puzzle while watching this and couldn't be bothered. But I don't think I'm skipping anything important. And let's face it, none of you are gonna go by the tape to call me on it, anyway. I could make up the entirely plot of the show and you'd have to take it at face value because, deep down, you just don't give a shit about it either way. It's an interesting power to hold, but one I promise to use wisely.

They retrieve Jord in an action sequence, but the only thing really worth noting is how Thall pulls out a lightsaber. Okay, forgive me if it's later explained that he just happened to find one on the floor somewhere, but adding a lightsaber to the mix was really a double-edged sword. Thankfully, most kids wouldn't have cared that it made no sense for Thall to have a Jedi weapon. Even the most casual of SW fans know that lightsabers are restricted for use only by the Jedi, and Christopher Lee when he's dressed like Zorro. On the flipside, the lightsaber is almost like a character itself in Star Wars lore, so attaching it to the hero character successfully pulls him from the unknown abyss to the level of a young Luke Skywalker. Now, knowing how holy the idea of a lightsaber was to me as a child, I can see the merits of including one. I just wish they'd given it to someone who doesn't shave half his head for no apparent reason. It just cheapens things God dammit.

Everybody races back to safety on the White Witch, the mega-speeder our heroes created. This little ship is one of the focal points of the entire series, even more so than lightsabers or robot comedy routines. It usually comes into play in every episode, whether it's for a race, an escape, what have you. Picture a cross between Luke's landspeeder and Luke's X-Wing, and you've got a pretty good idea of what it was. To give R2 something to do on the show besides beep incessantly, he fits into the back of the ship, serving as it's navigator and analyst. Christ, for a robot, this guy's got one Hell of a resume.

Back at home, 3P0 chastises R2 for racing around, pretending he's a speeder. He then goes on to illustrate true Droid grace, attempting to do some sort of interpretive dance, but falling flat on his gold-plated ass. That's the show in a nutshell - not much going on really, so the hope was that all the Star Wars references would pull it above the rest. Obviously, things didn't pan out that way.

As said earlier, Ewoks ended up sticking around for three whole seasons, while Droids died off after just one. Truthfully, for the market they were going after, a bunch of cute little bears was probably a lot more palatable. The sad thing is, we'll probably never have another animated Star Wars feature, or anything remotely close to it: what was once an impressive legend has now been reduced to a mark of stupidity for those who are really, really into the lore. Even if the new movies shatter all attendance records, the general public now only views Star Wars as special effects movie with terrible storylines and even worse acting.

Thing of it is, for every person who's complaining about those sort of things now, there's a little kid who's just starting to appreciate the films. I was thrilled to bring my nephew to the movie last week, and while some of the scenes scared the shit out of him, he left with an intense desire to buy a Jango Fett figure. The cycle continues. Sadly, even with all the proper retooling, I don't think the next Star Wars film will make up for all the critiques of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Obviously, it's impossible for them to match the original trilogy for a ton of reasons, but I'd be surprised if the next film even garners three-star reviews. Oh well. I guess it doesn't matter if everyone else thinks Star Wars sucks now, but it's upsetting because opinions like that halt the mass production of Sith-themed pillow cases, and I really want to sleep with Darth Sidious.

By the way, later in the series, famed bounty hunter Boba Fett would appear. Droids inspired their own line of toys with all new stupid cartoony figures, but they also repacked the old Fett figure and sold him off, too. Goes for hundreds of dollars nowadays, based solely on the fact that it comes with a different piece of cardboard than the other Boba figures. Okay, I admit it: us Star Wars fans are pretty ridiculous and lame. I think I'm gonna go fuck a girl and play football now. I need to start creating some sort of balance in my life.

- Matt
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