Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Star Wars: Droids --
"Trouble Again" on Saturday Mornings

Nowadays Star Wars is such an omnipresent pop culture Force (yeah, yeah...), that it can power on as a marketing and merchandising juggernaut without missing a step even seven years after the last feature film, with the excellent animated Clone Wars TV series plugging right along. It's easy to forget though just how slim the pickings were in George Lucas' magic kingdom in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi's 1985 release. Back then, with the trilogy concluded and no further movies in the offing anytime soon, it fell to other venues to keep the brand alive. And what better vehicle for that than animation?

(In kind of a random convergence of disparate talents, that theme song, "Trouble Again," is written and performed by Stewart Copeland of the Police.)

Debuting in fall of 1985 on ABC, Star Wars: Droids (full title: Star Wars: Droids - The Adventures of R2D2 and C-3PO) launched alongside another animated spin-off, Ewoks (which we'll talk about next week). Produced by Canada-based studio Nelvana, they marked the first continuing attempt to sustain the Star Wars universe on the small screen (before them there was, of course, the one-off Star Wars Holiday Special, a legendary misfire as notable for the first appearance of fan favorite character Boba Fett as it is for pairing Art Carney and Bea Arthur with Han Solo and Chewbacca).

Set before the events of the original 1977 film, Droids told several continuing stories divided into serialized arcs -- something fairly rare for Saturday kidvid at the time. The general thrust of the series tracked the titular toasters as they made their way through the galaxy in search of a master, all the while evading various "Imperial entanglements." Situating this firmly in the Star Wars universe were references to and appearances by characters including Jabba the Hutt, bounty hunter IG-88 and, in one episode, the aforementioned Boba Fett himself.

Actor Anthony Daniels, the voice of C-3PO in every incarnation of Star Wars, was also present here to lend his tones to the golden robot, and if you ever listened to Threepio's constant bitching in the various films and thought to yourself, "Man, I wish I could hear this on a more consistent basis!" then your spaceship had come in. Given that, and given how the Droids on their own weren't exactly compelling lead characters, much of the drama came from the characters whose escapades they got caught up with, leading to quality varying wildly from arc to arc.

Presumably all interest in Star Wars didn't suddenly disappear after Jedi's release, and there's enough in the 'toon that keeps that thread alive that you'd think kids would have glommed on. But, for whatever reason, Droids only lasted one thirteen episode season, ending in Spring of 1986 (though reruns aired in Canada through at least '87). The first time I remember hearing about the show (and its sibling, Eworks) was via one of those kids mags that were around at the time like Bananas or Dynamite. I was excited to check it out, and though I did catch an ep or two, it was already cancelled by the time we made our yearly trek to America that summer.

In the years since, Droids (which is acknowledged as part of Star Wars "canon," for those of you who care about that stuff) has been generally unavailable. While, there have been various edited compilations of the show repurposed for VHS and DVD, there's been complete release in its entirety as aired (including that Stewart Copeland tune). One assumes that will happen at some point, but in the meantime (for as long as it lasts), you can check out the entire series online via YouTube. The first ep is below. For what it's worth, I've been going through it with my kids, and they've been having a great time. Me, not so much.

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