*/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras C+
written by Alec Sulkin
directed by Dominic Polcino
by Ian Pugh Born the year after Return of the Jedi came out, I was left in limbo as far as the behemoth of popular culture that is Star Wars was concerned: too young to have seen the films when they exploded into the public consciousness, I was also a little too old to experience a religious awakening with their "Special Edition" revivals in the late-Nineties. I bore witness to a hundred "I am your father" jokes before any formal viewing of The Empire Strikes Back, and so, like other movie references I was not yet intellectually mature enough to piece together on my own (Rosebud is a sled, the Planet of the Apes is really Earth), I was more apt to laugh because the television kept telling me to laugh. It's a poisonous mentality, this vicarious sense of entertainment, and its infiltration of my generation is manifested in our exaltation of "Family Guy". Though the show brilliantly attacked social mores and narrative conventions, we were more impressed by its far-reaching knowledge of pop culture--mostly the kind of stuff we had only seen on Nick at Nite and the Internet--than by any of the subversive material therein. Ergo, once the fanbase had successfully rescued the series from premature cancellation, Seth MacFarlane and his crew became lazy, too often resorting to facile name-dropping.
As the show's sixth-season premiere, "Blue Harvest" is undoubtedly a modern-day "Family Guy" episode, chock full of jokes that are either self-contained history lessons explained to the point of redundancy ("Thanks for the sex, early-nineties printer") or media artifacts, recreated verbatim and orchestrated as distracting non sequiturs (like an uninterrupted chunk of the opening sequence from Tom Baker-era "Doctor Who"). But first and foremost, Star Wars is the entry point for "Blue Harvest" (Jedi's own fake production title)--a forty-five-minute retelling of the original film starring Chris (voiced by Seth Green) as Luke, Peter (Seth MacFarlane) as Han Solo, Lois (Alex Borstein) as Leia, Stewie (MacFarlane) as Darth Vader, and so on and so forth. And in trying to please not only the thoughtless point-and-laugh sensibilities of its core audience but also the excessively analytical sensibilities of Star Wars geeks, "Blue Harvest" only ends up exposing the essential ugliness of both. "A long time ago, but somehow in the future"--so begins a string of dry asides that mock every improbable occurrence in the film. It's a brand of humour that, alas, escapes me completely.
There's something incredibly hostile (and, I shouldn't have to mention, easy) about cracking jokes related to the Death Star's vulnerability, why the Empire doesn't shoot down the droids' escape pod, and other bits of illogic that nonetheless contribute alchemically to the property's appeal and legend. MacFarlane and his crew apparently count themselves as fans of the franchise, and you can say that you love Star Wars enough that you're comfortable in poking fun at its flaws, but that's just it: they're not flaws. Might as well write a thesis about why Indiana Jones couldn't have clung onto a U-boat for so long, or hold a debate on why Darkman's artificial skin lasts exactly ninety-nine minutes in the light. I'm not saying you have to be reverent, but making snark as a self-professed fan is a disingenuous, asshole-ish thing to do. "Blue Harvest" may serve as another reminder of how level-one recognition-humour has overtaken "Family Guy", yet it also exemplifies how suffocating "fandom" has sucked all the fun out of Star Wars with its refusal to leave anything to the imagination.* It's difficult not to think of that "Robot Chicken" sketch wherein a subtitled epilogue suggested that, in spite of (or perhaps because of) wars waged between obsessed nerds, "George Lucas is still rich."
In fact, you're probably better off seeking out the "Robot Chicken" Star Wars special that aired on Adult Swim several months before "Blue Harvest," as that show's creator Green points out himself in the Chris persona at the end of the episode. More than simply having beaten "Family Guy" to the punch, "Robot Chicken" exhibits a palpable love for and understanding of what it is parodying. It mines for comedy by exaggerating Star Wars' rulebook instead of admonishing it (Han cuts open a tauntaun, only to find that it's already occupied by a hobo). At the same time, it isn't afraid to protest moments where Lucas himself has failed to follow his own internal logic, usually in the questionable connective tissue that is the prequel trilogy (Jar Jar Binks annoys Darth Vader as a Force ghost; Luke demurs when his father tells him that he built C-3PO). It's enough to realize that "Blue Harvest" tosses its rocks at the wrong targets: Bring up the arcade game "Asteroids" and I'm more apt to visualize that boring space race with Jango Fett from Attack of the Clones; talk about stuff that doesn't make sense, and all I can think of is midichlorians and mock-Fifties diners. It seems that when "Robot Chicken" actively looks for a point, it locates one with relative ease--but "Family Guy" is so consumed with punchlines that it has a callous and frankly stupid disregard for anything resembling a set-up.
Despite the retail version's inclusion of a "digital copy" that's surely vulnerable to piracy, paranoid Fox has continued their practice of scapegoatism by sending us "Family Guy: Blue Harvest" as a DVD-R, stamped with their usual anti-piracy warning and labelled as the "widescreen edition" even though no such edition actually exists. (Indeed, MacFarlane states in the attendant commentary that he believes comedic television isn't suited for 16x9.) Long story short, I can't gauge the quality of the image, though the DD 5.1 audio is fairly impressive in the sense that the musical soundtrack more or less replicates Star Wars' own. The aforementioned commentary features MacFarlane, exec producer David Goodman, writers Alec Sulkin and Danny Smith, director Dominic Polcino, producer Kara Vallow, and recording engineer Patrick Clark, with assistant director Joseph Lee and editor Mike Elias later joining the conversation already in progress. For all the voices bouncing around, there's not a lot to take away beyond their camaraderie and a lot of nice words for Lucas and his legal team. MacFarlane, in particular, appears to be blinded by a sense of childhood idolatry and a desire to stay in Lucas's good graces for the sake of future spoofs.
Under "Features," find "A Conversation with George" (12 mins.), in which an uncharacteristically sycophantic MacFarlane interviews jolly Mr. Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. I was simultaneously shocked and not-shocked to watch Lucas stall before he would/could name the films that influenced him in his youth. "Once in a Lifetime: The Making of 'Blue Harvest'" (19 mins.) feels obligatory at best, a standard making-of that only expounds on the close study of the original film and the decisions about which Star Wars characters to replace with which "Family Guy" characters. An "Animatic Version" of the episode (41 mins.) is a series of animated storyboards, of course, although it also contains a few excised jokes about Scientology and the network ("Next on FOX: the show after 'House'; it's got some people") that at least suggest "Family Guy" still has scrapes with genuine subversion.
The "Family Guy Star Wars Clip Show" (10 mins.) surveys the Star Wars spoofs throughout the show's history, from minor dialogue references to full-blown cutaway gags. Most of them are miles funnier than anything in "Blue Harvest"--there's a flash of the old brilliance in a newer sketch depicting Darth Vader's life as a meter maid. A minute-long TV promo for "Family Guy" finishes off the menu. Select the tractor beam control tower on the "Options" menu (or press left while "Resume Episode" is highlighted) to bring up a table read for the inevitable parody of The Empire Strikes Back, which will apparently be titled "Something, Something, Something Dark Side" and from the looks of things takes the same misguided path as its predecessor. Note that "Blue Harvest" is also available in a two-disc "Special Edition" box set that includes a T-shirt, trading cards, and other useless crap--which is either a brilliant take-off or a crude imitation of Lucasfilm's marketing practices. Originally published: February 4, 2008.
*The Star Wars saga was more or less doomed when it was forced to adopt a rigid sense of continuity. Star Wars is a great film because it is a self-contained myth; The Empire Strikes Back is a great film because it is an incomplete myth. Despite decades of parody, the familial revelation at the end of Empire is a devastating blow because, while the picture carefully establishes the relationship between Luke and Vader as a yin-yang within The Force, it ends with the possibility that they are simply different epochs of the same inevitable lineage of darkness. Return of the Jedi was obliged to tie up the loose ends created by that sense of fear and betrayal, and with its lighter-hearted perspective doesn't bring things full circle so much as it just reverts everything back to square one. return