Matthew Senreich called me Monday morning to talk about “Robot Chicken Star Wars III,” which airs this Sunday on Cartoon Network. The third Star Wars special covers the entire six films, pretty much in chronological order, though it’s still a series of stop motion sketches. It opens with Emperor Palpatine reflecting back on his life to the tune of “Teenage Wasteland.”
Spoiler alert: Matt and I talked about specific sketches in the show, in case you’re really worried about giving away the punch line. It’s more fun this way though. The producer of “Robot Chicken” commented on the latest batch of Star Wars jokes and gave us a little preview of the show’s fifth season.
Screen Junkies: Were any of these bits holdovers from previous “Star Wars” specials or are they all new pitches?
Matthew Senreich: I’m trying to think if there were any holdovers. No, I think they were all new pitches. There’s one gag that has made it into the final, it’s just a moment we ended up putting into this special where it’s the Emperor falling down the chasm and passes by someone drinking a drink, then looks at the drink and throws it over his shoulder. That’s probably the only gag that one of our writers was trying to get in from the first special and then got rejected, was pitched for the second special, almost made it in and got cut. It actually shows up in this one just because it fit into the overall story. For the most part it’s all new stuff.
SJ: Of course there was a whole generation that grew up on Star Wars. Now is there a generation that grew up on Star Wars references?
MS: You know, Seth [Green] was actually saying that recently. He met someone who’s first introduction to Star Wars was through “Robot Chicken Star Wars.” As he says, that’s wholly irresponsible. It’s just preposterous to us that people would show this version over the original movies just because those movies are just classic. I remember seeing the original Star Wars when I was four years old and it had a massive effect on me.
SJ: But we live in a world where everything references Star Wars.
MS: That’s true, but do people realize when things are being referenced? I’m hoping that the generations growing up today are still putting in the DVDs for their kids so they watch these Star Wars movies first before they start watching all the movies that reference them later on.
SJ: Even if it’s the special editions?
MS: Honestly, it’s any of the above. The one thing I’m coming to realize as I have nieces and nephews and cousins is that they like the prequels more than they like the originals which I find very interesting because it’ faster paced and it’s more colorful. It’s just a different generation and thought process. For me, I’m not that way and I will fight like hell with my five-year-old nephew saying how the original Star Wars is one of the greatest movies of all time, and he’s explaining to me how The Phantom Menace is infinitely better. Then adding to that, there’s a whole generation growing up on “Clone Wars.” Even my nephew doesn’t really watch “The Clone Wars” because the parents feel like it’s a little too dark but he has all the toys and can tell me the stories of the characters just from the toy boxes.
SJ: Was it hard to get “Teenage Wasteland?”
MS: That was essential to making this third special. We cut a trailer, this must have been three years ago, with that song in it. Chris McKay who directed the special and I wanted to put together a trailer to pitch Lucasfilm on a longer format special. He put that music into it. As soon as I heard I was like, “All right, this is essential to this story.” It was not an easy process in anyway.
SJ: Does Lucas provide the blue text font for the credits?
MS: I don’t think so. I think we have that here.
SJ: What is the font?
MS: That I don’t know. I have to ask my editing team. I’m sorry about that. I wonder if we can Google it. That’s a good question. Even still, I’ll have to ask my editing team that. They put all that together.
[There are conflicting font reports online too.]
SJ: Is High School Musical’s Zac Efron the best voice for Anakin?
MS: I can’t lie. He’s one of those people who is way more talented than someone ever needs to be. He came in and did some stuff for us in our last season and just was unbelievable. We knew if we were going to bring him back, he needed to do something even better. Yeah, his Anakin is spectacular.
SJ: Do you feel you came up with a better explanation for Darth Vader’s suit than Episode III actually did?
MS: Well, we just want to know what all those buttons do. I also like the fact of yeah, why did he request that or why did the emperor put him in that? Did he not want to paint him?
SJ: Is Vader’s disco dance better than screaming “Noooo!”
MS: Uh, disco makes everything better?
SJ: Were you wanting to include the Lego Star Wars franchise with your little Lego bit?
MS: We’ve been looking for a way to play with the Legos for a long time now. The best thing about it is just Billy Dee Williams just makes everything better, so putting the two together was just spectacular. Those games are so much fun to play. Those sets are great to sit around my house and my office so it was just to try to find something fun to do with them.
SJ: Why is Mace Windu eating ice cream?
MS: Actually, you know what’s funny about you asking that? That’s actually not in the final version. We ended up cutting it because a lot of people asked that question. It’s just showing the fact that here’s what happened to Boba Fett and what his life was like. Then it was cutting to Mace Windu just being like this is how awesome his life is. This is the guy who killed this guy’s dad and this is how wonderful it is. He’s just worrying about ice cream, and that just did not play at all so we cut the Mace Windu beat.
SJ: Did you all have a fantasy that Boba Fett wins?
MS: I think Breckin Meyer still has the fantasy that Boba Fett wins. I think it’s one of those things where for us Boba Fett is just awesome but undeniably he kind of doesn’t do anything in the movies. He just looks cool. He gets killed pretty quickly and easily so we just want him to be as cool as that suit is.
SJ: Was Lucas okay with having the emperor refer to himself as Darth Syphilis?
MS: Yeah, everything in there has been fatherly approved. It’s flattering that he seems to enjoy what we do. That’s what happened to him. He got burned.
SJ: Do you have a real beef with the Calamari guys?
MS: It’s only the Emperor kind of commenting, making very observational humor. He’s really pointing out the fact that they would smell like a fillet of fish. Who knows if they just got out of the water?
SJ: Is this really the first time you did a skit on Darth Vader spinning around at the end of A New Hope?
MS: Yeah, this is the very first time. Sort of. I guess it’s the other side of the Emperor phone call if you think about it. He probably called the Emperor from that spinning ship.
SJ: It seems like a lot of people have issue with Yoda’s cave in Empire Strikes Back. “Family Guy” even said it slows the movie down and confuses us. What were your beefs with the training where Luke fights the fake Vader?
MS: I’ve never seen The Force work like that in any of the other episodes but Geoff Johns actually came up with that idea for us and pitched it. I think the room just ran with it. Yeah, was that just a dude? Can The Force conjure up some magical fantasy like that? Was he sleeping? This is our take on it, how Yoda kind of screwed it up.
SJ: Do you have real sympathy for the Wompa from Hoth?
MS: That is my favorite sketch in the entire special, hands down.
SJ: It’s kind of emotional the longer you linger on him just trying to get around with one arm.
MS: It’s one of those things where when we did the animatic, we scored it to the music from the movie Heat. It was so powerful and then we had to come up with something that was going to match that. Our composer, Shawn Patterson, did an amazing job doing that. That just gets all that emotion across and when that operatic theme comes in at the end, you’re heartbroken.
SJ: Is there an actual rivalry between you and the “Family Guy” Star Wars spoofs and the Seth Green connection?
MS: It’s funny, a lot of people ask us that. There’s no rivalry. It’s kind of like friendly jest if you will. Mike Henry did voices, MacFarlane does voices for us, Seth does voices for them. It’s a lot of back and forth. Throughout the whole process, we’re talking to each other, making sure we’re not cannibalizing each other’s jokes. I wouldn’t call it a rivalry or a hatred or anything.
SJ: At some point do you have to stop thinking about Star Wars?
MS: Why would I have to stop thinking about Star Wars? That sounds mean.
SJ: Could there be a “Robot Chicken Star Wars: Episode IV?”
MS: Who’s to say that we haven’t done episodes IV, V and VI and we’re talking about if we have to do I, II and III?
SJ: Should the Emperor have used his power for good all along?
MS: Who’s to say he didn’t really? He might just be misunderstood. He’s running a giant corporation and he’s trying to make it happy for everybody out there. We don’t know he’s doing it.
SJ: Are the Avatar and Twilight spoofs still coming up?
MS: We have, it’s going to be in [season] five that we have both of those.
SJ: What’s your take on Avatar?
MS: Let’s just say we’re doing a music video.
SJ: Is it unfortunate that because of the time it takes to do stop motion, now there’s been a whole year of Avatar spoofs?
MS: We’ve seen a lot of them and we got a little nervous on one that we’ve seen but it was nothing like ours. We definitely have a take.
SJ: Can you say whose made you nervous?
MS: I’d rather not. There’s a lot of good stuff out there but ours, Patrick Stump sings it for us and it’s spectacular.
SJ: Is nailing Twilight perfect for “Robot Chicken?”
MS: Yeah, we actually had two sketches for Twilight and I think only one of them we’re actually doing. I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s actually shooting right now on stages.