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Chicken Wars, Take 3

21 Jul, 2011 By: John Latchem

There’s no denying the guys at “Robot Chicken” love “Star Wars.”

“Robot Chicken” co-creators Matthew Senreich and Seth Green grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, as did many of their collaborators, making “Star Wars” a natural fit for the show, which uses stop-motion animation of dolls and action figures to lampoon popular culture.

A top-rated show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, “Robot Chicken” previously focused on “Star Wars” for special episodes in 2007 and 2008 and returned to that galaxy far, far away in December 2010 with Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, which Warner Home Video released on DVD ($14.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($19.89) July 12.

For the third special, the writers decided to focus on some of the memorable characterizations that emerged in their previous “Star Wars” spoofs. Episode III examines the “Star Wars” saga through the eyes of the “Robot Chicken” versions of Emperor Palpatine, voiced by Seth MacFarlane; Darth Vader, voiced by Abraham Benrubi; Boba Fett, voiced by Breckin Meyer; and Gary, the Stormtrooper who previously had to deal with the complications of “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”

The 45-minute special is the longest episode produced by the “Robot Chicken” team, but Senreich said in many ways it was easier to write than the previous two “Star Wars” parodies.

“For the first one, we just threw everything at the wall about what we wanted to do with ‘Star Wars,’” Senreich said. “And the second was more about the bounty hunters, who we found interesting. But through the other specials we developed these characters with unique personalities. So we came up with a framework to tell a ‘Star Wars’ story from their perspective and in a lot of ways it was a lot easier to come up with the jokes because of that.”

However, Senreich says his favorite sketch doesn’t involve any of the main characters — it’s the one in which the wampa ice creature leaves Hoth, after Luke slices his arm off, and tries to adjust to life with only one arm but finds himself challenged by an uncooperative gas pump as he refuels his spaceship.

“It sets a different tone and makes an impact,” Senreich said. “People ask me what it’s from, but it’s a completely original sketch. We just wanted to see what this guy’s life would be like with one arm.”

Some viewers may have noticed that a gag involving the Emperor’s body landing on the Millennium Falcon after Darth Vader tosses him down the Death Star shaft was also used in the “Family Guy” Return of the Jedi spoof, It’s a Trap. Senreich says that while the similarity was coincidental, it fits in with the collaborative spirit shared by the creative teams of the two shows — “Family Guy” creator MacFarlane does voices for “Robot Chicken,” and Green does voices on “Family Guy.”

“Seth Green was doing the readthrough for the ‘Family Guy’ voice recording, and he got to that part in the script,” Senreich said. “And he told Seth MacFarlane that we were doing nearly the exact same scene. So they thought about it for a minute, and they looked at each other and just said, ‘F*** it!’”

Senreich notes the context of the gag was different in each episode — that it was more of a throwaway gag on “Family Guy” but served a story point in “Robot Chicken.”

“They’re retelling the movies with their characters,” Senreich said. “We’re taking ‘Star Wars’ and showing the scenes that happen just off camera.”

Episode III also represents the first Blu-ray release for “Robot Chicken,” which meant extra care had to be taken during the production to account for the HD cameras.

“It looks a lot cleaner,” Senreich said. “We had to be very conscious with the toys, to see if they were breaking or if you could see the wires. It made us push that much harder to make it better. But ‘Robot Chicken’ is supposed to look down and dirty, and I think we preserved that feel.”

Senreich said episodes of the regular series are also being shot in HD starting with season five. (The fifth season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Oct. 25 with nine never-before-seen episodes.)

“We just ask them how much time we get on the Blu-ray for extras,” Senreich said. “We’re DVD geeks too, and we love extras. So we whore ourselves out to get as much as we can on those discs.”

Extras on the DVD and Blu-ray include commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes videos, a voice-recording featurette, a writer’s room featurette, the “Robot Chicken” panel at Star Wars Celebration V, video of the Skywalker Ranch premiere trip and “Sunday in the Boardroom With George,” in which the “Robot Chicken” writers discuss ideas with “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

The Blu-ray includes exclusive animation time lapses and a Seth Green Animation reference.

Senreich said he enjoyed the Lucas meeting the most.

“It’s just our writers asking George geeky questions about ‘Star Wars’ and him being silly and mocking us back,” Senreich said.

“What people don’t realize is he has a fun sense of humor, especially about ‘Star Wars.’ You don’t expect that from him since he always seems very serious when he gives interviews.”

Senreich said he plans to keep making “Robot Chicken” as long as Adult Swim lets him, and he’d even be open to another “Star Wars” special. However, he and Green are now working with Lucasfilm on an animated series that takes a lighter look at the “Star Wars” universe.

“We have a good relationship with Lucasfilm, and it’s a lot of fun to work with them,” Senreich said. “We’re just having fun playing ‘Star Wars.’”

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