Friday, 10 June 2011

164: N is for Nelvana

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

In 1978, when the Star Wars Holiday Special aired, there was a 10 minute animated segment featuring the main SW characters, and introducing Boba Fett. As I may have mentioned before, it was the best part of the whole thing.

This short cartoon was produced by a Canadian company named Nelvana, who were subsequentally commissioned to produce animation for the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series in 1985. Best of all, Anthony Daniels returned to voice C-3PO, as only he can.

I remember where I was when I first saw Droids: In the living room. This isn't particularly outstanding in itself as it was being broadcast on television. But I remember the house we were living in at the time. The curtains were drawn, and I was anticipating the return of Star Wars (we didn't have a video back then, and the only exposure I got to actual SW was when it was shown on TV). I knew it was an animated series and I knew that C-3PO and R2-D2 were in it, and that was all (look, we didn't have the internet in 1985. You had to rely on listings in the Radio Times and innacurate word-of-mouth). By 1985, Return of the Jedi was only two years out of the gate, but I'd drifted away from SW a little. Not so much 'no new content', as 'no prospect of new content'. As of RotJ, the saga was over. The bad guys were dead, and the good guys' work was done. What more was there to tell? Although I'd read some of the Marvel comics, I didn't find them nearly as inspiring as the movies.

So, Schofield/Parkin/Crane (delete as applicable) did his thing and Droids began. I didn't really get it.

• Artoo and Threepio. Check.
• Desert planet. Check.
• Distinguishable bad-guy. Check.
• ...light slapstick? Check.
• ...some dude using a lightsaber who isn't a Jedi, let alone Luke? Check.
• Where are the other characters I know? Pass.
• Why isn't this as cool as Ulysses 31? Pass.
• Come to think of it, why isn't this as cool as Star Wars? Pass.

I watched the rest of the series as it aired, but my heart wasn't really in it. There was something too lighthearted about it for it so be Star Wars.

So how come a discerning kid who wasn't that interested, became an even more discerning adult (I use that term loosely), who's borderline-obsessed with it?

my Droids VHS collection. Top row: UK releases, then US ones. Bottom row: Australian, Italian and German.

Well, I think the important thing to remember is; Droids isn't a Star Wars cartoon. It's a cartoon set in the Star Wars universe. That may sound like semantics, but I assure you, it's a massive difference.

I'm now at the age where I love old-school cartoons (Transformers, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Ulysses 31, Space Sentinels), but mainly out of a sense of nostalgia. When you watch them as an adult, they're pretty much rubbish, yet cool at the same time. Once you get over the awkward-bar, they're great fun. The same applies to Droids. Once you accept it for what it is, it's not only on-par with other animations of the time, it's also got the background of Star Wars to give it a little more body.

Now generally speaking, Droids doesn't get a great deal of credit these days, due to the 'childish' nature of the show. It's set "15 years prior to A New Hope", which is the time when R2-D2 and C-3PO were ostensibly in the care of Captain Antilles on the Tantive IV. Since the Prequel Trilogy's completion, we know this is still possible, but it means that the droids were lost to him at one point, only to find their way back (this is the GFFA, bigger coincidences have happened). Even so, a lot of SW fans don't place the Droids adventures as canon, as the exaggerated events in the cartoon often couldn't have happened in 'real space', and for many people there's just not the SW-connection (as on the checklist above).

But not only did Droids feature a sizeable number of cameo appearances by Original Trilogy characters, it also paved the way for references we'd see in the Prequel Trilogy (largely thanks to sound-guru Ben Burtt having written some of the episodes, and the same man's influence on the PT).

OT referencs in Droids

Droids contains direct references to Boba Fett, IG-88, the Max Rebo Band and Stormtroopers. While Vader isn't named, the Empire and the Emperor are.

What's more notable is the number of ideas that occurred in Droids that would be used later in the Prequel Trilogy, and the Expanded Universe.

Remote Probe droids, similar to the ones in TPM.

• In A Race To The Finish, our heroes take part in The Boonta Race, which was later morphed into The Boonta Eve Podrace for TPM.

Bi-lingual alien sports commentators, similar to the podrace in TPM.

• In The Roon Games, the droids take part in an Olympic-type sporting event, commentated upon by a pair of aliens who bear a striking similarity to the twin commentators of TPM's podrace.

It's just easier to run a diner when you've got four arms...

• In The Lost Prince, we see a burly four-armed diner owner, a forerunner of Dexter Jettster from AotC.

There was also a whole slew of merchandising for Droids at the time. Whereas many cartoons were created purely as a vehicle for selling toys (*ahem*, Transformers), it's fair to say that the figures, books, videos etc of Droids existed because of the marketing legacy of Star Wars. It's still a fairly cynical ploy, of course, but less than most.

The Droids series continued in comic-book form via Dark Horse, and a DVD was released in 2004 featuring two of the four story 'cycles'. 14 episodes were made, but only 13 have ever seen the home video market.

For those who accuse Lucasfilm of being cash-hungry marketers; can you tell me where my deluxe Droids box set is, please? Featuring the original SWHS cartoon, retrospective featurettes on the making-of, Steve Sansweet on merchandising, and commentaries from Ben Burtt and Anthony Daniels on the episodes? can't? Oh, maybe that's because there hasn't been one yet.

Hmmmf. I should be working for Lucasfilm, me.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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