If you've been hiding under a rock for the last decade or so, you might be surprised to find out that Lego, the company that makes those fun little bricks to teach instructions and basic building capabilities, has been releasing wave after wave of 'Star Wars' content, culminating in a series of very successful games which branched out to other iconic film franchises. The 80 year old toy company is showing no signs of dying anytime soon, especially with their renewed popularity and relevance, even in the era of console video games.
There have been a few Lego 'Star Wars' shorts over the years, some fan-made, some actually licensed and official, to further advertise the merchandise and its heavily adapted source material. In 2005, 'Revenge of the Brick,' a brief extra in the second volume of the Genndy Tartakovsky 'Clone Wars' animation, would set the tone for what we're seeing today with 'Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace,' with its family-friendly sight gags, film references and nods, and odd set of sensibilities that only further the bizarre hilarity. With the newest Lego feature having debuted in July of this year, just ahead of the Blu-ray release of the live action 'Star Wars films,' releasing this 22 minute feature as a product tie-in was a very wise marketing decision.
Yes, 22 minutes. 'Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace' is about the length of a half hour television show sans commercials, making its price point a tad exorbitant for what amounts to a single episode. That said, it may very well be worth the price, especially if strong sales show there is a market for more of these short films.
The story doesn't quite fit in the 'Star Wars' universe at any given point in time, as it alludes to numerous time periods in the saga, all apparently happening at once. The basis is clearly in the prequel trilogy, though, as a group of Padawan learners, the young children who will grow up to be Jedi, are on a field trip, with their final stop being a tour of the Galactic Senate. As C-3PO and R2-D2 guide the younglings, Yoda seeks out a plot afoot, as Sith witch Asajj Ventress has stolen some secret Republic battle plans and set a bomb in the senate. The babysitting job tasked to the two droids proves to be far too much for them, as the enthusiastic youngsters lead the tandem on an incredible adventure!
Look, I hate to spoil films, but the packaging for this release makes something very clear, and the ending of this cartoon spoiled before it's even watched. You may be wondering, "hey, who's that kid on the cover holding a blaster so prominently? Don't Padawans use lightsabers, just like their masters?" Well..."young Han Solo" is the highlight of this cartoon, as the runaway orphan finds himself at odds with Yoda and a Clone Commander chasing down a fleeing droid who absconded with the secret plans. So...after the prequel trilogy screwed up Chewbacca so thoroughly, as well as mess up the continuity of a pivotal line in 'Return of the Jedi' concerning Luke and Leia's mother, with all the damage done, the rogue anti-hero was one of the few to escape unscathed. Even Plinkett from Redlettermedia.com commented in his 'Revenge of the Sith' review how easily George Lucas could have had a young Han Solo in the prequel trilogy, how it was one of the few mistakes that weren't made. So...in that sense, this cartoon is disappointing.
However, not even the inclusion of a character best left untouched could hamper the fun to be had in 'The Padawan Menace.' Simply put, this cartoon is absolutely hilarious. It's loaded with nods to the series, with tons of in-jokes and references that will make longtime fans laugh out loud or applaud the creative ways these callbacks are shown. This cartoon takes us to a number of memorable settings from the saga, as well, with Tattooine and Hoth having their fair share of great jokes.
I died laughing when Chancellor Palpatine appears before the Galactic Senate, still wearing his black cloak shrouding his face, making all the representatives fear they're being invaded by the Sith Lord, before removing it and setting everyone at ease (and going back and forth for good measure!). The Lego instruction manuals are a nice sight gag, while Jabba the Hutt's floating subtitles are a very subversive little joke most will miss. Heck, even Darth Maul gets lampooned in a background joke that is beyond fitting and cold blooded!
The story alternates between the younglings with their droid guides and young Han Solo and Yoda, spending an equal amount of time making each subplot work effectively, and the time flies right on by, weaving hilarious joke after hilarious joke, without a single bomb or unfunny moment. This cartoon does ignore every sense of the word continuity, but by aiming wider, at the entire saga, there are many more effective moments, including a few non-'Star Wars' gags that work quite well. 'The Padawan Menace' is filled with familiar characters (some depicted in a funny manner, like the long necked Yarael Poof), memorable settings, and limitless replay value. From opening scroll to Admiral Ackbar ending, it's clear that all those involved in this little story have a fond place in their heart for 'Star Wars,' and it's a real treat to experience their silly little creation.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace' arrives day and date with 'Star Wars' on Blu-ray, exclusively sold at Wal-Mart (for $13.00) stores for an undisclosed time period. The disc is a BD25 with Region A marking, and a static menu. A bonus to help justify the price is a Lego action figure, young Han Solo, packaged snugly in the front of the fairly thick box set packaging (it's thicker than the nine disc box set!!!). Never worry, though, as the disc itself is still in a Blu-ray case.
Presented in 1080p, 'Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace' looks quite good, though not spectacular. I was blown away by the textures and fine detail on display, as the Lego bricks comprising characters and backgrounds weren't smooth in the least bit. C-3PO had plenty of finer scratches and little indents, while paint-like textures adorned each and every piece. Grain levels are untouched, though they can be a little strong in some sequences. Picture depth is superb, and detail, both up close and afar is worthy of high praise.
The problems on this release are a light shimmer and some aliasing, noticeable around some finer edges, or in the threads of Yoda's cape. A very minor band appears on a couple of occasions, while there are also a few random blips, reminiscent of older computer effects or three dimensional video games where a pixel becomes unresolved, leaving a random black dot that makes no sense. It's still a fine looking release, though. Not on par with the CG 'Clone Wars' series, but still pretty good.
"At least know how to talk normal, I do!"
'The Padawan Menace' is given a very strong lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (see 'Clone Wars,' how hard was that?!) that is all sorts of awesome. From solid volume spikes, great depth and range, perfectly clear dialogue and prioritization, to superb bass, this one almost has it all. The amount of LFE is pretty great for a film of this ilk, aimed at kids, with slow motion sequences especially getting a ton of roar and thud. Rears get a good amount of activity, some light localization and movement; it could have been much more, but really, for what this is, it's quite good. I don't have a single complaint about this track. It's not top tier, but it most certainly is an excellent sound mix.
A bonus DVD and Lego figure help bring the price down from exorbitant to fitting.
'Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace' could have been a disaster, but much like 'Revenge of the Brick,' it's an oddly hilarious lampooning of the entire saga. It pays great attention to detail, with even the throwaway Padawan characters from the films being depicted by their proper names (though "Little Twerp" is still called Liam...), and there are hidden gags all throughout the truncated runtime. This Wal-mart exclusive has good video, absolutely great audio, and a nice pile of short supplements, most in HD. For thirteen bucks, I'd say this one is highly recommended. The price per minute is high, but the replay value is infinite.