LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson & Samuel Scott (1st May 2013).
The Film

When I was a kid, I had a total and near-irrational love for the first three films in the “Star Wars” (1977-2005) saga. A love that had persisted—perhaps too strongly, until relatively recently—through most of the countless changes George Lucas has made to the film with each subsequent CG-laden revision of the so-called “Original Trilogy”. Despite those changes, I still generally like “A New Hope”, even if I no longer really respect it as the darning work of groundbreaking 70's cinema it once was. And “The Empire Strikes Back”—which has had the least amount of revisions—remains essentially the perfect sequel, and a near-perfect film. (It should be noted: those same changes have taken my initial toleration of “Return of the Jedi” and turned it into something resembling full-blown hate, especially with the recent “NOOOOO!” controversy). The prequels can (and always will) be defined by one word: disappointment. Mine was a dumbfounding disappointment, which began with an extremely rare, and hope-filled, school trip to the movie theater when I was 10 to see “The Phantom Menace” (1999). And it was a disappointment that festered inside me for half a decade, and finally ending with a half-hearted shoulder shrug and a harrumph five years later when I walked out of a spontaneous matinee showing of “Revenge of the Sith” (2005). That’s right, the kid who loved “Star Wars” was so disenchanted with the films by the time of the last prequel that I only saw “Sith” several months after the film’s theatrical on whim when I was bored. Not because I wanted to, but because I figured, “eh, might as well.”

But at one time, I loved “Star Wars”. As a kid I—quite literally—wore out my Widescreen VHS tapes (My copy of “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) stuttered and stalled, and then automatically rewound itself sometime around the Falcon’s arrival at the Cloud City on Bespin). Oh, yes, my eyes lit up with wonder when I finally got a chance to see the Special Editions on the big screen. A bright eyed, uncynical seven year old me really didn’t care that the effects were changed, or that the color timing was wrong, or whatever else may bug me these days. My eyes lit up with wonder at the big screen. Lit, as in past tense. The fire long extinguished by disappointment, hindsight and, as I grew into my teens and twenties, an increasingly jaded old-aged-ness casting darkness over a lot of things I once loved. Ruined by the three plotless, soul-less, uninspired prequels that followed in the wake of the Special Editions.

That love of “Star Wars”, where did it go? It was zapped away by all the blatant commercialization surrounding, or poor filmmaking present in, the prequels, or some awful combination of the two. When we started getting Jar Jar tongue lollipops, and bad acting from good actors against weightless, sterile green-screened environments… that’s when the magic sort of starting feeling less magical. A lot less magical.

Maybe it was my growing up—and the loss of a youthful ignorance—that actually allowed me to see things with a true critical eye that finally did it. But, no, I’m almost certain that isn’t true, because you know what, even a 10 year old me new that “The Phantom Menace” wasn’t magic. I knew then, as clearly as a do now that it was an unfortunate, misguided and desperate attempt to recreate the success of the first “Star Wars”. The originals had a magic, which naturally radiated from the CRT tubes of my TV screen, because the passion Lucas (and all those other people who helped him behind the scenes) was so palpable at the time of production, it was actually somehow ingrained in the very spirit and core of that first film, right onto the celluloid in the cameras, and transferred onto the tapes that played back on the VCR. The digitized prequels lacked that, analog, magic.

I wouldn’t say I hate “Star Wars” these days, because that’s just not true. But I don’t really like it. Not like I used to. I’m just the guy who probably loved it too much, and that love simply manifests as the ultimate hate now. Some people say that those who love to complain or talk about why they hate “Star Wars” are the one’s who—at least used to—love it dearly. That’s, basically, me. I don’t care, go ahead and call me a fanboy. I’m the perfect example of the—admittedly, annoying—nerd that wants the unaltered original trilogy and could do without seeing “Attack of the Clones” (2002) ever again.

But, then again, mine is a familiar story, I think. And one I’m sure many boys—at least those who were in their adolescence in the late 70's or born sometime after—can relate to on some level. When I was a kid “Star Wars”—and “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Back to the Future” (1985), "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and “The Rocketeer” (1991), if I’m being completely open and honest about those fabled films of yore that I all wore out on VHS—was a pretty big part of my life. I feel a need to say all that, because, I want you to understand something: when I say “Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace” is good—damn good, very funny, and one of the best 22-minuites I’ve had in sometime—I mean it as someone who’s become so jaded and hate-filled in regards to most things “Star Wars”, that my words of praise do mean something. These aren’t the rambles of someone who’ll give a good grade to all things “Star Wars” related. Quite the opposite, in fact, and it really is a mini miracle that I’m giving “Padawan” a positive review.

Although officially non-canon, the story of this 22-minute adventure, originally produced for the Cartoon Network, where it aired last July, pulls from the six feature-length films and the series’ vast Expanded Universe. Yoda (Tom Kane) leads a group of younglings on a field trip to see the Galactic Senate in action. But, upon arriving, Yoda senses a disturbance in the Force and goes off to investigate, leaving the young Padawan’s in hands of everyone’s favorite bumbling protocol droid, C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), and his dutiful sidekick, R2-D2. Elsewhere, a young Han Solo (voiced by Katie Leigh) escapes from an orphanage and allies himself with the group, slipping in unnoticed as “Ian”, the new kid who’s good at fixing things that aren’t necessarily broken—yet. Meanwhile, Yoda finds the disturbance: it seems Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) plans to blow up the senate and escape with secret plans that could bring about the early rise of the Empire. (And, of course, Palpatine (R. Martin Klein) is really behind it all).

One of Ventress’ droids escapes but not before the kids—Solo excluded, who teams up with Yoda and Commander Cody (Ron Paulsen)—are flung into the fray and end up accidentally jumping into hyperspace and promptly crash-landing on Tatooine, spiraling the adventure into chaos and borderline clandestine corruptitude of Lucas’ name brand. Jabba the Hutt, random blathering senators (literally saying “blah blah blah blah” when they speak) of planets unnamed, and other iconic characters from the series all make appearances, including a few very awkward interludes with a confused Darth Vader (he shows up in three scenes, and is quickly ushered off screen by a Lego-man George Lucas each time). Nods to the original trilogy are everywhere, set to cues from John Williams’ actual scores. The style—CG-animated Lego’s—lends a unique charm to the film, and provides ample inspiration for further funnies, with plenty of jokes relying on the plastic building-blocks for a punch line.

Aside from a slow going start (really only about three minutes, but those three minutes matter much in a one-off, 22-minute made-for-TV special) “Padawan” is bloody brilliant. The jokes come fast and gags faster. Director David Scott’s superbly executed visual gags and Michael Prince’s sharp script both handily, and at times ruthlessly, jab the “Star Wars” formula. From perfectly palpable and completely charming jibs of familiarity having fun with Threepio an Artoo’s beautiful bromance, to surprisingly scathing but ultimately truthful commentary on the silliness and simultaneously boring seriousness of the prequel’s morose morality, drearily dull scenes of pontificating senators, and the utter lack of credible plot in the prequels, “Padawan” has it all. Add in the fact that the short is also a well-made action packed adventure, and you’re in for a rousing good time.

To a one-time fan, on the surface “Padawan Menace” seems like sometime to revile. A blatant cash grab to sell toys, which is one of the very reasons the prequels rub me the wrong way. But it’s not that at all. The film is wonderfully self-aware, sort of cloying but cynical and ultimately just really, really fun. “Padawan” makes more jokes about the franchise—and frequently quite aptly lampoons the films—with nearly as much giddy-geek-ferocity as Harry S. Plinkett. But it does so while giving loving homage to some of the more beloved aspects of the series. With more originality, heart and technical skill then the three prequels combined, “Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace”, unbelievably, made me feel good about “Star Wars” again. And captured some of the ambition and spirit that made the original trilogy so lovable in the first place.

Video

Fox provide Star Wars fans with this LEGO parody presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 using an AVC-MPEG 4 encode. As should be expected for a recent CGI feature, especially with both the Lego and Star Wars names attached, the picture quality is of a consistently high quality. Colours are vivid, landscapes look great and the different weathery conditions look the part. Although obviously made to look as though everything has been built with lego and the simplicity that comes with it, there is some good detail to be found, such as little dinks in C3P0 and shadow aspects in the hands and clothing of the characters.

The only real downsides I found whilst watching was the strange phenomenon of a film grain look which varies wildly at times - strange considering this is CGI - and some minor aliasing, most notably on the curves of arms and clothing. These issues are rather minor, and the majority of people wouldn't notice them, making this almost top grade material for blu-ray that is just lacking that little bit of finesse and polish of CGI movies from the likes of Pixar or DreamWorks.

Audio

There are three audio options available here:
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Well. Call me surprised. Whilst I was expecting a professional job, the fact this is a one-off short originally made for Cartoon Network did make me believe it was going to be distinctly average. I couldn't have been more wrong, because the DTS-HD Master Audio is almost reference quality here. Directionality and immersion is top notch, the sounds of ships flying past and the hilarity of exploding lego people/surroundings all sound exceptional with perfect volume levels. The LFE is used just right, with no overuse or underuse and the original John Williams score is of crystal clarity, as is the dialogue. Brilliant.

Extras

Tension is building across the galaxy. Anakin Skywalker and R2-D2 have infiltrated a Separatist Base. With a very important secret stored inside the droid, they barely escape, but they are perused, and Artoo is lost somewhere in deep space. Undaunted, the Separatist leaders swear to recover the secret. Back on Courasant, Obi-Wan orders Anakin and Ahsoka to find R2-D2 and his very important content. Chancellor Palpatine sends an elite squad of troopers to do the same. And so begins the quest for R2-D2!” Yep, basically that sets the scene perfectly for the first of the bonus shorts included on the Blu-ray, titled “The Quest For R2-D2” (1080p, 5 minutes 46 seconds). Although the animation isn’t nearly as polished as “Padawan Menace”, the writing of Peder Pedersen’s 2009 short film is just as sharp. Quite a feat considering dialogue is almost completely absent from the piece, letting the story unfold through some great wordless comedy. Hoping between Tatooine and Hoth, the action pits Commander Cody against an sea of ice skating battle droids and a lumbering AT-AT, has Artoo pawned off by a group of gypsy Jawas and includes a cameo from Lego Indiana Jones and even has a reference to Lucas’ directorial debut, “THX 1138” (1971).

The second short film is even better. Titled “Bombad Bounty” (1080p, 5 minutes 15 seconds), this film is for all the Jar Jar haters out there—so, basically, everyone except Lucas—and has some amazing fun at the idiotic character’s expense. Jar Jar, a janitor in the days of the Empire, wrongs Darth Vader and has a price put on his head. Boba Fett sets out to capture and kill Jar Jar. Also, Han shoots Greedo—not “first” as is so often misidentified, just shoots dead like he originally did—in this one! (Also, be sure and listen for a reggae version of the Imperial March on the Gungan janitor’s Walkman).

Next, are two traditionally stop-motion-animated short films using actual Lego’s, called “Star Wars in 2 minutes”, both of which feature the voice of a young boy hastily—and frequently quite humorously—narrating the events of the films. His succinct summaries are often quite apt, my favorite being his description of the Ewoks, which he calls “man-eating teddy bears” with obvious disdain in his voice.

“Star Wars in 2 Minutes, Part I” (1080p, 2 minutes 15 seconds) short film is a summation of the Original Trilogy and all the salient points from those three classics boiled down to startling simplicity (Vader’s reveal to Luke in “Empire” is now simply, “‘sup son”).

“Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the desert. But we don’t care about him.” (Oh how wonderful the blunt honesty of innocent youth is.) So begins “Star Wars in 2 Minutes, Part II” (1080p, 2 minutes 24 seconds), the second stop-motion short film, which appropriately sums up the prequels in a similar simple fashion. Also, the butchering of the pronunciation of Midochlorians is just awesome—so amazingly to the point (the narrator apologizes for his error with a mere “whatever”, the words “who gives a crap about that ridiculousness anyway” hanging silently between a brief pause and his next breath).

“Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars Animated Comic” clip (2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen 480p, 12 minutes 41 seconds) is, well, exactly what it sounds like—the story of The Clone Wars, told with Lego characters. Animated in low-res CG, this looks worse than the bonus CG shorts, and leagues worse than the main film.

Overall

Feature and extras reviewed by Ethan Stevenson. A/V reviewed by Samuel Scott.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B+

 


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