On December 19th, Robot Chicken will premiere their third Star Wars special on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. This particular special is a little different than other Robot Chicken specials. For one, it’s an hour long, which is unusual for Robot Chicken. For two, there’s a thin narrative line that plays through the special and unifies the episode more than Robot Chicken is used to.
We got to talk about Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III and other things with show creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich and so I hope you enjoy the interview:
Big Shiny Robot!: As far as Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, what made you guys want to do another one? And this one is an hour long and it tells a continuous story…?
Matthew Senreich: It sort of tells a continuous story. At the same time it involves characters throughout the Star Wars lore. We focus on four main characters: The Emperor, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and the Stormtrooper.
Seth Green: But the why is really simple. When we were presented with the opportunity to do a first Star Wars special, we didn’t realize it could be anything more than a collection of sketches. When we made the second one, we experimented with telling something a little more long form and going back to a consistent theme throughout sketches in the episode. We focused on the Bounty Hunters and how each one of them got that job, what traps they set for Han Solo, what their reaction was when they found out someone else caught him… That was our first foray in telling our story through sketch format and Matt had always had this idea about telling The Emperor’s story. Telling the story of the story of the Star Wars chronicles, all six stories, start-to-finish, through these characters.
MS: Even though you still have that throughline, you’ll still cut back and forth with regular channel flip format.
SG: Yeah, that’s the format of Robot Chicken. Being able to jump around in the canon.
BSR!: How did you guys come to your interpretation of your greasy, hilarious Papa Palpatine?
SG: You think he’s greasy?
BSR!: A little bit. You know?
SG: We really think of him as a really beleaguered CEO. You think about the people that are the head of major organizations, especially huge corporate conglomerates like the Empire and you would just imagine the types of responsibilities and day to day issues they’d have to deal with. So even though Ted Turner runs this massive company, you don’t know what his behind the scenes dealings are like. And we thought that was a really interesting view. That started with the phone call in collaborative sketch written during our second season and that sort of defined him. We just expanded him from there.
BSR!: So, kind of like, Hitler dealing sewage issues in Vichy…
SG: He would have had to. When you’re dealing with building an army as massive as the Nazi Party, there’s all kinds of things you have to deal with. Who’s making all the uniforms? What’s the fee the tailor is being paid for all the consistent insignia branding? Making sure all the boots are strapped exactly the same? The details that no one thinks about. And all that stuff has to come across his desk at some point.
BSR!: Will the bounty hunters be back?
MS: We don’t do so much with them this time. We do a little with Boba Fett, there’s one party scene…
SG: …But that’s not, really… Listen: We told the Bounty Hunter’s story we thought we told really well. We had other scenes for this special but we had to cut them for time. And it became very lean. We cut about half the content we had to make our 44 minutes.
MS: Boba Fett is one of the four main characters, and maybe some of the other Bounty Hunter’s will pop up…
SG: You’ve got to think of this special more like Crash than Star Wars. Where you’re telling all these simultaneous stories around the same incident. Where you can see their different perspectives on it…?
BSR!: Okay. I can get behind that. Star Wars meets Crash?
BSR!: That’s going to be the one line everyone picks up from this interview: Star Wars meets Crash.
SG: Luckily Crash did very well. So it’s a good touch stone.
BSR!: We hung out quite a bit at a party at Star Wars Celebration V, Matt, and you told me that one of your favorite things was just to challenge and argue with George Lucas.
MS: <laughs> I find it very entertaining. The best line George has ever said to me, very simply, was that it all comes from his head first. You know? I can’t tell him what Star Wars is in a sense, because ultimately he made it up. I can’t argue with that. It’s a smart comment to make.
SG: No matter how we’ve interpreted it, or how logically we give our arguments based on all the fact, at the end of the day he can say, “Nah. That’s not true.” What he says is law. It’s pretty awesome.
BSR!: Does that get frustrating at all?
SG: Not really. I don’t want anybody how to tell me to do my stuff.
MS: The fun side from us is that we can say, “This is what’s funny.”
SG: Which is a completely different conversation. When we’re talking with George about what works creatively, the logic of the Star Wars universe is almost unnecessary. It all comes down to what’s going to be funny. But when we’re talking about midichlorians or the Trade Federation, we don’t have any new information for him.
BSR!: Some of the jokes… Particularly Doctor Ball M.D. he had probably one of the best lines ever, and I loved that moment in Revenge of the Sith, I was so invested that I didn’t care if she died of a broken heart even though it’s a little sappy…
SG: Nobody did. But when it’s over, you’re like, “Wait a second…”
BSR!: When you do stuff like that, do you ever worry George is going to watch it and say, “Maybe these guys are making fun of me. I don’t know if I want to do this.” Do you ever get that worry about what he’ll think?
SG: There’s always that, “Oh my gosh, is he going to take this too seriously?” But he never does. That’s just not who he is. For how seriously he takes all this and for how much of his life is dedicated to it, it is just entertainment. I think he enjoys people getting really emotionally bent out of shape when something is inconsistent and he just laughs. He’s like, “Guys, guys, sci-fi. Relax.”
BSR!: You guys have been able to go back and work with a lot of talent from the classic trilogy. I mean, you’ve got Billy Dee Williams on here… What’s it like working with a guy like that?
SG: Billy Dee is so hard to explain because he’s been a super star for so long and he still has that presence. Everything you know about him walks in the room with him and he’s aware of that. But he’s kind and talented and super-duper funny and at ease with himself. We love working with him, he gives us so much we didn’t expect…
MS: Yeah, his adlibs are some of the best stuff we get.
BSR!: I met him one time and the only thing I had a chance to say to him was, “You’d have made a great Two-Face.”
SG: Awww… Yeah. He should have done that! That was really heartbreaking. When he was Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s movie, we thought for sure we were gonna get a Billy Dee Two-Face…
BSR!: And he laughs and flashes his grin and says, “Yeah. I would have.”
SG: I would have loved to see that. It’s amazing though. It’s amazing working with all the people who got to make Star Wars. It really is. It’s so fun and it enhances the authenticity of the insane experience we’re in the middle of.
BSR!: You guys work with Star Wars on a daily basis. What’s that moment where you have had where you’re like, “Man… I’m working with Lando or Luke or…”
SG: I’ll tell you and this won’t give anything away. But it’s on the new show where we’re doing creative stuff within the Star Wars Universe. Anytime we name something. Anytime we build something. And then it goes through the series of trademarks and copyright process to clear it and make sure it’s a name or idea we can use. And then you sort of recognize ideas that you’re participating in developing are becoming part of permanent Star Wars canon. That was the moment for me when my head popped.
MS: I still have trouble grasping it. For me, that point where we realized was when someone gave us an Admiral Ackbar cereal box as a promo item.
SG: The UK did a box set and they had a full size box of Admiral Ackbar cereal.
MS: I had that feeling that I couldn’t believe that this was part of Star Wars lore in some capacity.
SG: Because Admiral Ackbar was always such a funny and iconic character but people seem to have taken to our comedic interpretation of him. When we see 501st guys dressed up as Gary the Stormtrooper or Private Perkins… I’ve had a lot of parents tell me they’ve introduced their kids to Star Wars through Robot Chicken and then I say, A) That’s irresponsible, because…how old is your kid because it’s probably not good for them? And B) That’s awesome. Please, please, please, tell your kids about us.
BSR!: And you guys are doing the new Star Wars show… And the age range for who it’s for is still completely fuzzy.
SG: Maybe for everyone else, but when you see it it’s so clear. It’s for everybody.
BSR!: But at the end of the day, it’s Star Wars and there’s going to be toys made and I’m sure there are characters original to you guys and you’ll be able to go to Toys’R'Us and pick up a Star Wars toy–
SG: –That’s what I want. That is a big deal. And here’s a comparative analysis from a personal experience. I had an action figure made of myself for Austin Powers and another one for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And the moment I got to hold the action figure of myself was kind of an insane culmination of childhood fantasies come true. The difference between holding an action figure of myself and holding a Star Wars action figure that we helped create is inexpressable. It’s so much bigger and so much more intense and so much more like a cyclical culmination of my love of toys for my entire life. First Star Wars figure I held was when I was four years old, and it set me on a path of loving toys and Star Wars for the rest of my life. It’s been heavily influential in everything that I’ve done. So the notion of us going into a store and picking up a Star Wars action figure that we were involved in creating I don’t even know how to calculate that until it happens.
BSR!: I’m not going to ask for any specifics about the new show because I see how well that worked last time. But you guys did say that it would follow the model of The Clone Wars where you guys will have a season in the can before you start looking for a distributor…
SG: That’s just the way George likes to work, he finances all of his productions, he likes to make his projects exactly like he intends them without external influence from a studio that’s paying for it or a distributor that’s going to put promotion behind it. The best way to guarantee his own artistic integrity is to finance it himself. How many we’ll make before we solicit to a distributor? That’s just not up to us.
BSR!: My question was do you think that process will start by the end of 2011?
MS: No idea.
SG: There’s no way to predict. It could be 2015, it could be tomorrow. We just don’t know.
MS: That’s all the business side that we don’t deal with at all.
BSR!: Getting back to Robot Chicken, what are you most excited to show people?
MS: There’s a few sketches that I think will pop. There’s an office sketch that will be the break out.
SG: I think so, too. We peel back the… let’s just leave it at that. There’s bound to be a moment where Luke Skywalker and the Wampa’s paths will cross again. And that’s a moment we wanted to detail.
BSR!: <laughs> Why is that inevitable?
SG: When you wrong somebody, even by accident, look at people who were held captive by someone, or hurt or beaten or abused by somebody, part of their eventual growth and acceptance of that situation is confronting their tormentor.
MS: And the other one is a Prune Face sketch.
SG: If you want an early tip, buy up the Prune Face action figures now before people realize how awesome that character is.
BSR!: I’ve got an original one.
MS: Keep it.
SG: We’re about to give you a blue-book boost.
BSR!: Which is awesome, but I’m one of those guys who opens all my toys, plays with them, and doesn’t care how much they’re worth.
SG: Me too.
BSR!: Obviously. You guys make Robot Chicken. You play with all of your toys.
MS: We smash them with hammers.
SG: But there’s going to be a point several years from now where you’ve got that Prune Face sitting on your shelf and some nerdy guy is going to be like, “Aw! You got Prune Face! Awesome!” And I never thought I’d hear those words ever.
BSR!: But I also never thought I’d hear them about Ponda Boba either.
MS: Those sketches are on par with the Ponda Boba sketch.
BSR!: It’s a very keenly written sketch. But really, who cares? What do you guys care if I liked it or not?
MS: No. I think that was the breakout of that special.
SG: I’m glad. I always like when people like our stuff, like our barometer is on point.
BSR!: You guys have your fingers on the pulse of Star Wars fandom…
SG: It’s because we’re the fans. We’re not trying to outsmart them. Or sell things to them. We’re just trying to make things that are good. And we find that most Star Wars fans share that sensibility.
MS: And the other thing about the humour is to not have the Star Wars characters be in the Star Wars universe. I think that’s key to what we do. It’s taking Star Wars characters and having them talk about whether or not they want to eat Cole Slaw.
SG: Let’s be clear about this. When George put Star Wars out, the reason it connected with people wasn’t because it was this fantastic sci-fi. It was a look as if this is the way it is, humans and aliens living together. And it wasn’t some wide-eyed, “Oh my gosh there’s an alien.” Yes there’s an alien. And he has a job. Quite frankly that guys not too nice to deal with because he lies in business or this or that. And so he took these very basic human characteristics and applied them to fantastic characters and situations and gave everybody a different way to look at sci-fi. And we’re just expanding on that in a comedic way. We’re taking these comedic characters who are unabashed in their way of doing things and putting mundane details over it so that they’re even more relatable.
BSR!: Would you guys say that applies to the new show, too?
MS: Uh… Maybe…
SG: Which new show? The Star Wars show? The comedy show?
BSR!: The one no one knows anything about.
Simultaneously: I don’t know.
SG: I wouldn’t know how to categorize it.
BSR!: You guys are way too good at that.
MS: Because we have sniper rifles at our heads.
SG: And here’s what we’ve found. Anything out there, no matter how deflective or ambiguous still gets quoted about this show. And what we’ve noticed even more and either misquote or misinterpret that. What was the best one that happened…? Matt said, “Making this show has been a surreal experience.” You know? Because we’re working with George and Star Wars. And when it came out, we got quoted as saying, “Watching this show will be a surreal experience for the audience.” Which isn’t what we said at all… So we’ve gotten very good at saying as little as possible.
BSR!: Well, I appreciate what little you’ve been able to say. Thanks for your time.
Talking to these guys is almost as fun as watching their show. Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III premieres on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on December 19. It airs at 11:30 pm everywhere, though I would advise that you check your local listings for times. I know that in the Mountain Standard Timezone at least, Adult Swim (and the rest of Cartoon Network’s programming) airs at least an hour later than the rest of the country.