This time of year spurs all kinds of childhood memories – including, for some of us, recollections of the infamous 1978 "Star Wars" holiday special, filled with song and interdenominational (not to mention intergalactic) cheer.
If the memories are more fuzzy than warm it's because the campy show – which features Princess Leia singing a carol based on the "Star Wars" theme and Chewbacca settling down to a hairy holiday meal with his family – hasn't been seen in its entirety since the first airing. (Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, snippets can be found online).
Thoughts of the special-that-was came to mind with the double dose of good news for those of us who appreciate a little farce with our Force. "Robot Chicken" is set to air its third "Star Wars" parody on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Sunday. Meanwhile, the third "Family Guy" takeoff on the movie series – a spoof of "The Return of the Jedi” – is slated to be released Tuesday.
The parodies, like "Star Wars" itself, have proven durable because they're in strong creative hands. "Robot Chicken" creators Seth Green and Matthew Seinreich and "Family Guy" powerhouse Seth MacFarlane bring a mix of childlike reverence and teenager-like irreverence to the material.
The juxtapositions of George Lucas' world and ours are key to the comedy. In "Robot Chicken," we see Darth Vader at a ribbon cutting. The new "Family Guy" installment, called "It's a Trap!,” features a cameo by Osama bin Laden popping up in the sands of Tatooine.
The shows share a creative sensibility – Green is the voice of Chris on "Family Guy" and MacFarlane often lends his versatile pipes to "Robot Chicken" – but take different approaches. The "Robot Chicken" device of using action figures as stop-motion animation characters works great for the slapstick, skit-like bits. "Family Guy" employs its cast of characters – Peter as Han Solo, Stewie as Vader, etc – in a comic, but relatively linear spoof of the flicks, much like a Mad magazine parody.
Both programs owe a debt to the granddaddy of "Star Wars" lampoons, Mel Brooks' 1987 "Spaceballs," which has found new life as a cartoon series, speaking to the power of “Star Wars” as a pop cultural touchstone.
“It’s a Trap!” appears to be the final trip into "Star Wars" territory for "Family Guy." But Green and Seinreich are working with Lucas on an animated "Star Wars" comedy show.
"He wants to be silly with it too! He sees us having fun with it, he says, 'I want to have fun with it,'" Green recently told The Los Angeles Times.
Which leads us to wonder: if Lucas wants to have fun, then why doesn't he rerelease the 1978 TV holiday special? Meanwhile, we're looking forward to the latest “Star Wars” romps from "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy." Check out the trailer for "It's a Trap!" here and here for a preview of the latest from "Robot Chicken."
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.