An Animated Galaxy Far, Far Away
Noell Wolfgram Evans
time ago in a galaxy far, far away
words crawled across the silver screen in 1977, no one had any
idea the power and excitement that they held as they opened up
one hundred and twenty one minutes that would change entertainment
forever. From its release, Star Wars has been one of cinema's
most influential films (it was recently ranked as number fifteen
on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movies).
Its affect on the way that stories were told, in what appears
on screen and the technical achievement of putting it there was
just the start of the films' influence and popularity. Its reach
went further though, affecting the fundamental way films were
conceived, perceived and marketed. From toys to music to clothes
to cereal, Star Wars was (and remains) everywhere. Even
animation found it's self a part of the phenomenon.
When you talk
about Star Wars and animation, the discussion can take
You can explore the incredible digital effects that helped to
create the world of Star Wars and it's sequels and prequels
You can explore the world of Star Wars in the 2D realm.
The knowledgeable fan is aware that for a period of time in
the mid-Eighties, Star Wars moved from the silver to
the TV screen where the adventures that occurred in that galaxy
'far, far away' continued in animated form.
Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, had always been a fan
of animation. The first film he ever created, 'Look at Life',
was a short animation that won numerous festival awards. He eventually
turned his eye toward live action but his interest in animation
never diminished. As he started the story and physical construction
of Star Wars, he considered presenting it in animation
(other contenders were doing the film with puppets and presenting
the story with an all Japanese cast). He of course took the live
action road and would continue to follow this path for the next
two films in the series. In 1983, following the release of Return
of the Jedi, Star Wars was as popular as ever and everyone
wanted to be a part of it. One of these groups was the television
company ABC who presented an interest to Lucas in continuing the
Star Wars saga on their television station.
that he had more of the Star Wars story to tell and knew
it could best be told as a feature film. He also knew it would
be some time before he would take the adventure up again. With
ABC he saw the potential to continue interest and excitement in
the series while new films were in the creation stage. It was
proposed to ABC then that Star Wars be turned into a cartoon,
albeit with some caveats. First, the animators could not use any
of the major characters from the series (Luke, Han, Darth Vader
etc.). This was because Lucas had a series of sequels planned
and didn't want anything to interrupt what they might contain
for each character. The second was that any characters who would
be used should not change the films' plotlines.
was decided to use the most recognizable characters possible without
breaking these cardinal rules. And so R2D2 and C3PO were cast
in a series to be titled 'Star Wars: Droids' (Also known as 'Droids'
and later as 'Droids: The Adventures of R2D2 and C3PO').
The deal with
ABC, though, was for two shows. In an effort to capitalize on
the success of the latest Star Wars installment: Return
of the Jedi, the Ewoks were elevated from supporting roles
to leads in their own series entitled Star Wars: Ewoks
(this was also known as 'Ewoks'). The Ewoks had already appeared
in two post Return of the Jedi made-for-TV movies, the
popularity of which made placing them in a Saturday series an
all-the-more viable idea.
for the two shows in place, production began at Nelvana Studios.
Nelvana was a smaller studio who won the production of these shows
thanks to their prior work with Lucasfilm. Based in Canada, Nelvana
has been responsible for a number of animated shows including
'Intergalactic Thanksgiving' and 'The Cryptkeeper'. While Nelvana
handled the actual production of the two series, they worked very
closely with George Lucas and Lucasfilm, his production company.
Lucas himself supervised the story construction for both series,
creating the plots from a conceptual point as well as supervising
the direction that they took. One of the men that he worked closely
with was Paul Dini who was a writer for Ewoks. Dini would
go on to further sharpen his skills by working on Filmation's
Flash Gordon series before taking on Batman in the acclaimed 1990's
worked with the stories, Lucasfilm was there at every other step.
As these were entertainment vehicles that carried the name of
Star Wars, there was a certain amount of pressure to get
things as exact as possible. To begin with, the series needed
to contain a distinct quality and to ensure this each was given
a $300,000 per episode budget. This is a substantial sum for any
time and at this time, it left each series in a tie as 'The most
expensive animated television show to ever be produced'. Everyone
involved knew that they couldn't just throw money at the concept
to make it work, they had to use that money wisely. The producers
hired Ben Burtt, an Academy Award winning soundman who, most importantly
here, designed the original sounds of the Star Wars series.
Burtt was hired to create the sound of both series' and was actually
given the license to bring many of the effects from the movies
over to these two shows. (As a side note, Burtt also contributed
several scripts to 'Droids'.) Another key hire was Anthony Daniels.
Daniels originated the part of C3PO in Star Wars and having
him play the part in 'Droids' lent the series an immense amount
of credibility and continuity.
'Droids' follows the adventures of a pre-Star Wars R2D2
and C3PO. The plots of the episodes were, for the most part, rather
formulaic in that the droids would be attached to a new set of
owners who were being menaced by an imposing force. Everyone would
have to overcome adversity, band together and ensure that good
won. Each half hour story was complete within its self but each
story also built on the previous ones. This 'serialistic' format
is unique in animation and something that shows the definite hand
of George Lucas. The animation was bright and clean; many of the
episodes were directed by animation journeymen Clive Smith and
popularly in the fall of 1985 on Saturday mornings. In 1986, it
was given a prime-time special, 'The Great Heep', a rather well
done story that benefited from an attention to detail. Interest
in the adventure of these two mechanical friends soon fell off
though. So much so that the series was combined with the Ewoks
for the formation of 'The Ewoks/Droids Adventure Hour'. 'Droids'
lasted a few more episodes in this format and then headed off
'Ewoks' followed the exploits of Wicket, the tiny but mighty Ewok
hero of Return of the Jedi, and his friends as they faced
life and adventure on their planet of Endor. The Ewoks were not
particularly an action/adventure band of creatures though and
so more often than not, the series became rooted in daily situations
and family dynamics. (Granted, it's not as if C3PO and R2D2 are
the first names in action, but at least their characters lent
themselves to action situations more readily). Raymond Jafelice,
Dale Schott and again Ken Stephenson were all responsible for
directing the stories onto the air. Some of these stories would
be written be Joe Johnston, an ILM effects artist and future feature
In 1986, 'Ewoks'
proved to be a stronger and more popular program than 'Droids'
and the following year they returned, alone, in 'The All New Ewoks'.
The show was new in the fact that the character list was pared
down and the stories were tightened up. Instead of one long twenty-minute
show, such as what could be seen in the first season, each episode
now contained two eleven-minute adventures. The shorter time led
the show to tighter pacing and more concise stories but by this
time the audience was lost. In May of 1987 the Ewoks, and Star
Wars, disappeared from weekly television.
nor 'Ewoks' was an extremely captivating Saturday morning show.
While the production values may have been top-notch, the stories
and the characters weren't strong enough to build, or warrant,
long-time viewership. In the case of both shows it could be seen
why the main characters were supplemental characters in the films.
These series actually marked the second foray that Star Wars
made into animation. 1978 was a year after the initial release
of Star Wars and the saga was still everywhere you looked.
The public couldn't get their fill of the space adventure. At
the same time they began clamoring for more. It was a call George
Lucas was happy to hear as he was already in the planning stages
for the next installment of the film. The next film would take
time to create and release though, so in the effort to satisfy
his urges and the public's desire, Lucas turned to television.
1978 Holiday Special is, by all accounts, not the high water mark
for Star Wars. The two hour special features a Wookie family
speaking only 'Wookiese', Jefferson Starship, a singing Bea Arthur,
Art Carney and the entire original film cast. It is a mish-mash
to say the least. Sandwiched into the middle of the story was
a twelve minute cartoon. This animation, produced like the later
series' by Nelvana, was a highly detailed, partially stylized
story within the special. It featured all of the key cast members
from Star Wars and all of the actors were there to voice
their roles. The action took place after Star Wars and
partially within the confines of the special. Besides being the
first appearance of Star Wars in animated form, the short
holds an important place because it marks the first appearance
of Boba Fett. This fan-favorite bounty hunter would go on to make
his mark in The Empire Strikes Back as a stoic and sturdy
presence. In this animated short, Fett has an expanded part which
includes a serious amount of dialogue. His appearance helps set
the stage for his intense hunt of Han Solo in the later theatrical
Star Wars saga moves into animated form again remains to
be seen. If and when it does, one can only assume that it will
be with the same care and attention as what was given to these
previous endeavors. We can also be excited as who knows what old
friends we'll follow and what new friends we'll meet.
Evans is a freelance writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. He has
written for the Internet, print and had several plays produced.
He enjoys the study of animation and laughs over cartoons with
his wife, daughter, and newborn son.
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