Spoofing 'Star Wars': Inside Story of the 'Supernerd' Behind 'Lego Droid Tales'

·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
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Scene from ‘Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales’ “Gambit on Geonosis” that would make Michael Bay proud (Lego/Disney)

The decade between Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith and the can’t-get-here-fast-enough The Force Awakens has been anything but a wasteland for fans wanting to see more adventures featuring their favorite characters. The popular CGI series The Clone Wars and Rebels have expanded the universe. And Lego Star Wars has taken it to bonkers extremes.

Beginning with The Padawan Menace in 2011 and followed by The Empire Strikes Out (2012), and two seasons of The Yoda Chronicles (2013-14), the series of animated TV specials, webisodes, and DVD releases has reimagined that galaxy far, far away in toy-brick form, providing ample slapstick for the kids and plenty of in-jokes, callbacks and Easter eggs to keep parents smiling.

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Ewoks have stormtroopers on the run in “Gambit on Geonosis” (Lego/Disney)

And the twisted mastermind behind all those shows is Michael Price, an Emmy-winning Simpsons writer, who also co-wrote the never-aired Star Wars: Detours animated series.

The latest installment is Droid Tales, which retells the six live-action movies from the skewed perspective of C-3PO and R2-D2, all within a framing story of Artoo being abducted by a mysterious figure. With the series finale, “Gambit on Geonsis,” a reconception of Return of the Jedi, airing Monday on Disney XD, we grilled Price about making Star Wars funny, whether he managed to finagle any Lego sets out of his gig, and how to deal with humorless die-hard prequel fans (yes, they apparently exist!).

You obviously are a Star Wars nerd considering your fluency with the characters and stories. How would you gauge your level of fandom?

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977, when I was in high school. I saw Star Wars four times on it’s first release, waited two hours to see Empire Strikes Back on opening night in 1980, and could not wait for Return of the Jedi. In the intervening years between the original trilogy and the prequels, my fandom died down a bit. I didn’t read the expanded universe books and so on. But I always considered myself a fan. I dutifully went to the special editions re-releases in 1997 and all of the prequels. So I guess you’d call me a mid-level Star Wars fan for most of my life. But when I began working on the Lego Star Wars specials in the summer of 2010, I instantly propelled myself into Supernerd category. I re-immersed myself into the Star Wars universe to a degree I never would have anticipated, so now I know almost every inch of the world of the movies and a fair amount of Clone Wars and Rebels. My Star Wars knowledge now approaches the granular level, and I think my life is all the richer for it.

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C-3PO and R2-D2 share a moment on Endor in “Gambit on Genosis” (Lego/Disney)

How much research did you need to do before tackling Droid Tales? Does that involve mostly rewatching the movies? Reading Star Wars books? Playing with Lego sets?

Well, from the moment I was first hired to write The Padawan Menace in the summer of 2010, I dove back into the original six movies and never really left. Between Padawan Menace, The Empire Strikes Out, and our two Yoda Chronicles series, I must have watched and re-watched each of the six films at least a dozen times. And when Droid Tales got the greenlight I plunged right back in again. As I wrote the individual episodes based on specific movies in the canon, I would watch those movies another four or five times each to get ideas and understand the story. Because we had a segment based on Star Wars Rebels, I also watched several of the early episodes of that great series to immerse myself in those characters.

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Luke prepares to save the day in “Gambit on Geonosis” (Lego/Disney)

I’d also use some spare time to build a Lego Star Wars ship or two. First, it’s very relaxing. Secondly, it helped me come up with some of our Lego-based jokes (specifically about stepping on Lego bricks in bare feet!) and thirdly, I ended up with a cool T-16 skyhopper!

Is there any special approach to turning Star Wars stories into Lego Star Wars stories? Are you given a story framework and told to have at it?

Well, Droid Tales is a totally different animal than our previous shows in which our stories took place on the periphery of the canon movies. The Padawan Menace and Yoda Chronicles took place between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, while The Empire Strikes Out and The New Yoda Chronicles took place in the immediate aftermath of A New Hope. So we were free to cook up our own stories involving the classic Star Wars characters and have fun mixing and matching people and worlds in fun and fanciful ways. But with Droid Tales, we were now working within the canon.

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Jabba and Salacious B. Crumb enjoy a skiff ride (Lego/Disney)

Our brief was to recap the stories of the original six movies for a young audience, while at the same time maintain the level of playfulness and humor that we brought to our previous non-canon shows. It was a tough nut to crack, since we had to boil a two-hour-plus movie into a 22-minute show. In the case of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, we had to squeeze both of those movies into one episode and introduce our framing story. So it became a game of finding the most expeditious way to relay the most important plot points, while at the same time finding room for our little jokes and satiric points about the films. Somehow, we got it done.

Since Droid Tales, like the other Lego-based Star Wars shows, isn’t exactly canon, do you need to vet anything with Lucasfilm’s Story Group [the division in charge of canon and continuity across the Star Wars universe]? How much oversight do they have on your work?

From day one of The Padawan Menace, I’ve worked very closely with Lucasfilm’s VP of licensing, Howard Roffman, to make sure what we do works for our comedy-adventure purposes, but also stays true to the essence of Star Wars. He’s always been our champion within Lucasfilm and encouraged me to have fun with the material. It was he who came up with the great running gag of The Padawan Menace with Darth Vader wandering into the scene and being told it’s not his time yet. [Featuring the immortal line from an exasperated Lego George Lucas: “Someone get Darth a donut.”]

With Droid Tales, being that we were now working within the canon, the Story Group entered the conversation in the person of Carrie Beck. Carrie joined Howard in making sure we stayed true to the canon elements of the movies we were both recapping and lovingly spoofing, and she had very many helpful and brilliant suggestions for ways to condense the movies into Lego form.

Are there any specific scenes or characters you loved writing? Any you wanted to include but haven’t been able?

Well, of course, it’s a dream come true to finally be able to put my little comic stamp on some of the most iconic moments in film and have fun with these beloved characters. I’d have to say that Emperor Palpatine remains my absolute favorite character to write for — especially in his prequel role as a bad guy pretending to be a good guy.

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Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine get their Sith on in “Gambit on Geonosis” (Lego/Disney)

I really enjoyed portraying what I consider would have been a very stressful life of having to constantly hide from the world his true evil intentions. And being that he’s a Lego minifig with a swiveling face made him an even richer source of comedy for me. On top of that, Trevor DeVall does such an incredibly funny performance as Palpatine that it’s a real joy to write for the most evil being in the galaxy.

Even though you’re taking a humorous approach to these iconic characters and stories, was there ever a moment of “I better not screw this up?” How has the feedback from fans — I assume they are mostly positive but do you ever have to deal with any cranks?

That thought I better not screw this up goes through my mind at all times as I write anything! It’s part of the deal when you’re a writer — you always worry that your next script will stink. When I’m working with these classic and iconic characters and stories, that sense of responsibility is even more profound. But, as in every script I’ve written, I get to a point where the ideas start to flow and I find myself on a roll and I feel like I can do no wrong. Then, as I start the next script, the doubt comes charging back.

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Stormtroopers got a bad feeling about this (Lego/Disney)

The feedback from Star Wars fans has been for the most part very positive, especially from those who were familiar with our previous Lego Star Wars shows and understand the level of snarky humor we’ve employed in the past. I’ll admit I got some not so complimentary comments on Twitter from die-hard prequel fans who felt I piled on the prequels with some of the jokes in the first two episodes. I’d engage these folks and profess that I love all the movies, and am able to find stuff to poke gentle fun at in all of the films, but the prequels just have a lot of elements that made me scratch my head when I first saw them and I was able to channel my sense of confusion into humor. In the end, most of those folks maintained their opinion, but they appreciated me taking the time to explain myself and engage them in friendly conversation.

These are all filled with so many inside jokes and winks to the fans — do you have any favorite Easter eggs you’d like to call out?

Yes! We’ve salted these shows with little references to some of our previous Lego Star Wars shows that people who haven’t seen those shows might not notice. For instance, when Lando pilots the Millennium Falcon in our Return of the Jedi episode, he puts up a little photo of his younger self with his father, a reference to our Yoda Chronicles episode featuring Lando’s dad, Lindo, and the disco night club he ran on the Falcon.

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Cue the Meco ‘Star Wars’ extended mix, it’s dance time! (Lego/Disney)

My favorite is that in that same episode we have a brief cameo for Rusty – a Jedi knight who appeared in New Yoda Chronicles and became very frustrated when neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan remembered him, despite the fact that he was Obi-Wan’s roommate at the Jedi Academy. It made me smile to bring him. Beyond that, I’m a huge fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and there’s a shout-out to a classic scene from Monty Python And The Holy Grail also in that final episode.

I’m acutely aware of Lucasfilm’s omertà when it comes to Star Wars, but any clues as to what’s next with the Lego Star Wars universe?

I’m afraid my lips are sealed as far as the future is concerned. Mostly because I don’t really know anything!

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Our heroes prepare for the final Endor battle in “Gambit on Geonosis” (Lego/Disney)

How stoked are you for The Force Awakens? Are you already trying figure out ways to Lego-ize plot points? Anything you’re excited to learn more about?

I cannot wait to see The Force Awakens! I can’t believe that we’re getting a whole raft of new Star Wars movies in these coming years and I will absolutely be there as soon as it opens. I’m not thinking about it from a Lego perspective right now — just as a fan — but I’m loving the new characters and would be thrilled to play any part in bringing them to Lego life.

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