The Star Wars films are without doubt one of the biggest success stories in cinematic history. However, the fact that they have inspired numerous animated adventures and cartoon series is frequently forgotten and overlooked. To date there have been five different official series, a cinema film and a holiday special as well as a plethora of spoofs. In fact, animation has been expanding the background of that galaxy far, far away since that time long, long ago known as 1978.
Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
The Star Wars Holiday Special was a two-hour long variety show made by CBS for their Thanksgiving broadcast, which had little involvement from George Lucas. In this, different acts are introduced by the main cast of Star Wars, who are in costume and in character. The framing 'plot' of the holiday special has that Han Solo is taking Chewbacca to his home world1 in order to celebrate Life Day, the Wookie equivalent of Thanksgiving, with his father Attichitcuk, wife Malla and son Lumpy. The Empire, though, are searching for evidence that the Wookies are aiding the Rebel Alliance and have blockaded the planet, preventing the Millennium Falcon's return. They also raid Chewbacca's home.
During the show the characters pass the time by watching various variety clips on different devices, while the audience watches them watch what they're watching. The highlight, though, is a ten-minute animated segment officially titled The Faithful Wookie. In this Han and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon find a mystical talisman but crash-land on a planet whose surface is presumably pink treacle. Princess Leia sends Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 to investigate. Their Y-Wing crashes too, and it is then attacked and eaten by a gigantic monster. Fortunately they are rescued by Boba Fett, who likes to call everyone 'Friend', but secretly he is working for Darth Vader. This is Boba Fett's very first appearance, two years before The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and he is voiced by Don Francks. The original Star Wars cast, including Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels, voice their characters.
Canada's Nelvana Studios was commissioned to animate this after George Lucas had been impressed with their short film A Cosmic Christmas (1977). The animation is effective and captures most characters' likenesses, with the exception of Han Solo; there is no escaping the fact that he looks rather bizarre. Still, this led to them a few years later making two Star Wars spin-off series, Droids and Ewoks.
The Star Wars Holiday Special remains unreleased, with George Lucas strongly regretting allowing CBS to make it. However the animated sequence is available as an Easter Egg on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray boxset.
It's just this brain, designed by man
It's got me in trouble again, in trouble again
- Opening song lyrics
Droids is also known as Star Wars: Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO or as Star Wars Animated Adventures: Droids. It is an animated series concentrating on what Luke's droids C-3PO and R2-D2 endured before they appeared in the first Star Wars film (Star Wars - A New Hope).
13×25-minute episodes were made in 1985, as well as a double-length special broadcast in June 1986. This, entitled 'The Great Heep' had been intended to be a Christmas special for 1985, but was not ready in time. It has also been shown in two parts to make 15×25-minute episodes. The droids pass from master to master, trying to avoid the Empire, Bounty Hunters and the universe's scum and villains.
Like the Holiday Special's animation this was made by Canadian animation studio Nelvana Studios. Their design for C-3PO and R2-D2 had been tweaked since the studio made the animation segment for the Star Wars Holiday Special. Anthony Daniels, who had played C-3PO, returned to voice the character as well as others in the series, acting as an unofficial consultant over what he felt was in character for C-3PO to say.
As the series was broadcast on ABC, a channel that wished it to be safe viewing for even their youngest possible viewers, the directors and writers were constrained with the sort of stories they wished to tell, which may have had limited its appeal to older viewers. Both this series and Ewoks were made to a very high quality, reportedly costing up to $600,000 per episode to make. It was the high production cost that led to its cancellation after only 13 episodes. Only eight of these have been released on DVD to date; two groups of four episodes have been edited together to make two feature-length adventures. The opening song, 'In Trouble Again', was written by Stewart Copeland of The Police.
Also in 1985 a second Star Wars animated series, called Star Wars: Ewoks and also known as Star Wars Animated Adventures: Ewoks, was commissioned2. This was set on the forest moon of Endor and set before the events of Return of the Jedi. George Lucas was keen to stress to the animators that Endor should resemble Muir Woods National Monument, the location where Return of the Jedi's scenes set on Endor had been filmed. He also stated that the main characters from Star Wars would not appear and instead it should concentrate on the Ewoks themselves, as well as their rivals the Duloks and the evil witch Tulgah. The main characters were Wicket, Princess Kneesaa, Teebo and Latara, young adventurous Ewoks, and their families.
Like Droids, the 22-minute 13-episode series was broadcast on ABC and subject to the same child-friendly constraints. As with Droids the series was made to a very high quality, costing up to $600,000 per episode to make, which made both series among the most expensive animations on television at the time. Unlike Droids it was recommissioned for a second series as it was felt that it could be made cheaper; most episodes were set in the same forest and tree backgrounds could be re-used. It is easier to animate animals than people and it was also felt that the Ewoks had greater appeal to younger viewers than Droids.
The second series was re-named The All-New Ewoks and consisted of 22 episodes. Different voice actors were used, the number of characters was reduced and their apparel was made more colourful to make it easier to tell the characters apart. The format was also experimented with so that some episodes consisted of two 11-minute adventures rather than one taking the whole episode. Ratings for the second series were considered disappointing and so it was not renewed.
Sadly the series has not been fully released; only eight episodes were released on a DVD in 2005 in two feature-length compilations.
Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003–05)
Following Droids and Ewoks, Star Wars fans had to wait almost two decades before the next animated adaptation. This finally came in the form of a hand-drawn series entitled Star Wars: Clone Wars3. This series was set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and featured characters from the prequel series fighting in the Clone Wars.
The series was made by Cartoon Network Studios and produced by Genndy Tartakovsky who had previously worked on such animated series as Samurai Jack (2001-04), and utilised a similar style for Clone Wars. The series was also inspired by Nelvana Studio's style and one of the planets in the series, Nelvaan, was named after Nelvana. The series was also viewable on StarWars.com.
25 episodes were made in three series. The first two series both consisted of ten 3-minute episodes while the final series consisted of five 12-minute episodes. These were released to DVD in two volumes; series one and two were released together and edited to create a 67-minute compilation entitled Volume One, while Volume Two consisted of the third series' episodes edited together to form a 60-minute compilation. These two compilations won both the 2004 and 2005 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (one hour or more).
LucasArts Star Wars video game actors provided the voices with the sole exception of Anthony Daniels, who reprised his role as C-3PO. The series created the character Asajj Ventress who would appear in later series. It also first introduced General Grievous before his appearance in Revenge of the Sith - although with a very different voice - as the actor providing the voice in the latter film had not yet been chosen. An explanation as to why Grievous' voice changes is shown at the end of Volume Two; Grievous' chest is injured by the Jedi which causes his voice change as well as his cough. The series ends with Palpatine being kidnapped, which is how Revenge of the Sith begins.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-14)
Following the success of Clone Wars, Cartoon Network were keen to broadcast more. Instead of making more Clone Wars, Lucasfilm decided instead to make a similar computer animated series that was set at the same time - between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith - featuring many of the same characters. This series was called The Clone Wars.
In 2005 George Lucas announced he planned to make a CGI Clone Wars series, with Dave Filoni as the supervising director, with animators in California and Singapore working together to create the series by 2007. Although work on creating the show was well under way, as television computer animation was a largely unknown quantity, Fox Broadcasting were completely disinterested and Cartoon Network too were unsure. One of the causes for the hesitancy was because George Lucas wanted to introduce a young, central female character - Ahsoka - that would be Anakin's Padawan4. Studio executives felt that having a young female character would put the potential male audience off watching. The way George Lucas persuaded them to invest in the show was with a film.
The Film: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
The Clone Wars series was launched with a cinematically-released film entitled simply Star Wars: The Clone Wars5. When George Lucas saw some early footage of the first four episodes being made for the television series, he was so impressed that he decided to release these episodes edited together as an animated feature-length film instead. Many of the actors from the films returned to play their characters, including Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Samuel L Jackson as Mace Windu and Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. This was the first Star Wars film released in cinemas where the music was not composed by John Williams, although a version of his famous theme arranged by Kevin Kiner was used. A novelisation was also published.
As soon as the prospect of being involved in a Star Wars film was raised, Cartoon Network chose to invest in the series. As the film was made in association with Cartoon Network, it was also the first Star Wars film not to feature the 20th Century Fox fanfare, released instead by Cartoon Network's parent studio Warner Brothers.
Due to the decision to change four television episodes into a feature-length film being made quite late, there was comparatively little time for marketing or the publicity generated by promotional offers. The film received mixed reviews but was the 8th most successful animated film of the year6.
The Television Series
George Lucas announced in 2007 that he hoped to make a five-year computer-animated series that would last 100 episodes. In fact, 121×22-minute episodes were made in six series. Following the publicity generated by the film, The Clone Wars premiere was seen by 3.99 million viewers, which was Cartoon Network's highest ever audience, and it retained a high viewing figure throughout its run.
The series consisted of a mix of stand-alone episodes and linked multipart story arcs. They were deliberately intended to be out of chronological order7. Some of the linked story arcs have been released as feature-length compilations.
The first series concentrated on the war and its effect on various planets, the second included its impact on bounty hunters as well as the rise of terrorist organisation Death Watch on Mandalore. The third series focused more on the Clone Troopers, while Asajj Ventress learns about her origins as one of the Nightsisters, a coven of Sith witches, in a story arc written by George Lucas' adopted daughter Katie Lucas. The fourth series curiously contains the resurrection of Darth Maul. The fifth series includes the training of Jedi Padawan younglings as well as an arc in which Ahsoka is framed for crimes she did not commit.
Unlike the film, the television series was not voiced by as many of the original actors but by voice artists instead. Jar Jar Binks was still performed by Ahmed Best as well as Anthony Daniels returning as C-3PO, Matthew Wood voiced General Grievous and Battle Droids and Liam Neeson voiced Qui-Gon Jinn in one episode. Simon Pegg, best known for Spaced but also the new Scotty in Star Trek, briefly voiced Dengar the Bounty Hunter and Star Trek's Sulu, George Takei, also provided a voice for one episode. He had previously voiced Sulu for Star Trek - The Animated Series. Other celebrities to provide voices include Tenth Doctor David Tennant, Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff, actor/director Jon Favreau and Ron Perlman.
Filming was underway on the sixth series, with story plans outlined for a projected seventh and eighth series, when Lucasfilm was bought by the Walt Disney Company. Disney immediately cancelled The Clone Wars partway through series six, planning on replacing it with a series of their own creation. 13 of the planned 20 episodes had either been filmed or were in the process of being filmed. Although these were finished, work on the remaining seven episodes was abandoned. Despite this, some of the plotlines developed have been adapted for use in comic books and novels, etc. Disney have also declared that the events shown in The Clone Wars should be considered canon8.
Star Wars Rebels (2014+)
Set five years before Star Wars, this series tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance was started. Created as Disney's replacement for Cartoon Network's The Clone Wars, it featured many of the voice artists, staff and characters from the earlier show. Unlike The Clone Wars which featured a wide range of different characters, Rebels concentrates on the crew of the Ghost: Captain Hera Syndulla, her droid 'Chopper', Kanan Jurrus as a former Jedi who survived the Clone Wars, his young Padawan Ezra Bridger, Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian with a talent for art and explosives, and Garazeb 'Zeb' Orrelios, the last of his race after the Empire destroyed his homeworld. The look of the show was based on Ralph McQuarrie's original concept art for Star Wars, with the character of Zeb inspired by his early designs for Chewbacca.
Three series and 59×22-minute episodes have been made to date, with the first episode a double-length special entitled Sparks of Rebellion. The ship Ghost and droid C1-10P 'Chopper' both briefly appear in the film Rogue One (2016). Original cast voices return with Darth Vader voiced by James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels is C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams is Lando, Frank Oz is Yoda and Ashley Eckstein returns from The Clone Wars as Ahsoka. Forest Whitaker also voices Saw Gerrera, appearing as the character in Rogue One. Other characters include Sarah Michelle Gellar9 voicing the Seventh Sister, Brent Spiner10 as a senator and Tom Baker11 appearing as the Bendu.
Lego Star Wars (2005+)
Since 2005 a series of Lego Star Wars films have been made under licence from Lucasfilm. These highly humorous episodes were initially made to promote the range of Star Wars Lego but have developed into an immensely enjoyable series, introducing their own characters and back stories. They also feature the original actors including Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams.
Lego Star Wars episodes are still in production at time of writing.
The first official Lego Star Wars film was Revenge of the Brick (2005), a five-minute short set during the Clone Wars on and above the planet Kashyyyk. Made to tie-in with Revenge of the Sith, it was later released on the Clone Wars – Volume II DVD. This was followed by two more similar five-minute shorts, The Quest for R2-D2 (2009) and Bombad Bounty (2010). The former, set during the Clone Wars, has R2-D2 lost in space while carrying a secret message. In the latter, set around the time of the original trilogy, Jar Jar Binks is pursued across the galaxy by Boba Fett after he accidentally injures Darth Vader and destroys the Death Star. All three of these utilise the Star Wars soundtracks effectively but have minimal dialogue. The character CGI is also less sophisticated than it would later become.
Two Star Wars in 2 Minutes short films were also made and released in 2010, the first summarising all three films in the original trilogy and the second all three prequels. These involved a narration while scenes from the films were recreated using LEGOmation.
The Padawan Menace (2011) and The Empire Strikes Out (2012)
The Padawan Menace changed Lego Star Wars from being little more than adverts for the toy range to a comic look at the Star Wars saga. Set during the Clone Wars, a class of Jedi Padawans, including an imposter named Ian, are given C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) as a substitute teacher, with hilarious results. This 22-minute film was not only broadcast on Cartoon Network but was also an attraction at theme park Legoland Windsor's 4D cinema, where it was shown in 3D, accompanied by flame, water and bubble effects. It has also been released on DVD, where it sold well.
Following its success a sequel, The Empire Strikes Out, was quickly commissioned. Set on Naboo shortly after the Death Star's destruction, Luke Skywalker has to deal with becoming a sex symbol to numerous screaming girls while Darth Maul and Darth Vader compete for Emperor Palpatine's affection. Original cast actors include Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Brian Blessed reprises his role as Boss Nass, Julian Glover as General Veers, Kenneth Colley as Admiral Piett, and Andrew Secombe plays Watto. This was first broadcast in November 2012, a month before Disney bought Lucasfilm.
Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles & The New Yoda Chronicles (2013–14)
The Yoda Chronicles are seven 20-minute episodes made in two batches. The first series, called Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles, were made in conjunction with Cartoon Network. This consisted of three episodes set during the time of the Clone Wars and featured the creation of a Sith Clone called Jek-14. Only the first two episodes have been released to DVD to date.
Following December 2012 when Lucasfilm were purchased by Disney, production of the series briefly halted. When it resumed the episodes were made in conjunction with Disney and renamed The New Yoda Chronicles. The last four episodes were set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and feature a plot in which Luke and Darth Vader race to find missing Jedi holocrons. These are information storage devices that store holographic images and contain Jedi secrets that can either be used to train Luke or enable the Empire to crush the Rebel Alliance. Both series feature characters introduced in The Padawan Menace.
Droid Tales (2015)
After rediscovering his memory chip of events that took place during the Clone Wars, C-3PO recounts the story of Anakin Skywalker, the rise of Empire and the rebellion. However, as he does so he doesn't notice that a mysterious figure has kidnapped R2-D2. This was a five-part series with the trusty Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C-3PO and Billy Dee Williams appearing as Lando Calrissian.
The Freemaker Adventures (2016)
The Freemaker family are three scavenger siblings who roam the galaxy looking for salvage they can sell. The youngest brother feels the call of the legendary Kyber Sabre, the very first, and by far the most powerful, lightsabre. This was broken and its components scattered centuries ago to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, yet Darth Vader and the Emperor are now hunting for it. Can the Freemakers find it before the Empire, and who can they trust?
This was a series of 13×20-minute episodes.
The Lego Movie (2014)
Although Star Wars is not a major element of The Lego Movie, the film briefly features the Millennium Falcon as well as characters Han, Chewbacca, Lando and C-3PO, the latter two were voiced by the original actors Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels.
Star Wars has, since 1977, inspired countless spoofs and sketches, including some animation. Although it is impossible to list them all, it is worth taking a brief look at some of the most noteworthy. Although Star Wars had certainly influenced earlier episodes and animated films, The Simpsons was the first to have a large impact. In 1999 a compilation video entitled Bart Wars: The Simpsons Strike Back included four episodes which contained Star Wars references. There were also numerous Star Wars jokes in Matt Groening's other television series Futurama.
After seeing a Star Wars spoof sketch, George Lucas allowed the Robot Chicken team of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich with Seth MacFarlane to make a 30-minute Star Wars parody episode. Made using stop-motion in 2007, Ahmed Best returns as Jar Jar Binks and George Lucas plays himself, while Mark Hamill briefly appears as Luke in some, but not all, sketches featuring the character. Following its success two more 30-minute episodes were commissioned, although both were released in extended 45-minute editions on DVD. Episode II came in 2009 and featured Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Billy Dee Williams as Lando. Episode III was released in 2010 and Billy Dee Williams and Ahmed Best returned, joined by Anthony Daniels.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm they allowed their animated series Phineas and Ferb to make Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars (2014), an hour-long special. None of the original Star Wars actors reprised their roles.
Family Guy, though, has taken the idea of spoofing Star Wars to a whole new level. Their special titled Blue Harvest12 (2007) was made to tie in with Star Wars' 30th anniversary. This featured Family Guy characters humorously re-enacting the plot of Star Wars13. This was so successful that a sequel in which the characters re-enact The Empire Strikes Back was made, entitled Something, Something, Something, Dark Side (2009). The trilogy concluded in It's a Trap! (2010), based on Return of the Jedi.