In the opening crawl of Family Guy’s third Star Wars spoof, Seth MacFarlane openly admits his fatigue in having to give us a Return of the Jedi parody. Even though there’s a lot of good stuff in “It’s a Trap!,” the writers aren’t entirely joking when they tell us to lower our expectations – it’s clear from the early scenes (Rush Limbaugh as the Rancor … eh) that this episode feels a bit more dutiful and less exuberant than “Blue Harvest” and “Something, Something, Something Dark Side.”
You could say that Lucas and co. of the original movies were experiencing the same kind of fatigue by the time Jedi rolled around. Most Star Wars fanatics, including myself, will say that the third installment is the weakest of the original trilogy – but it’s also the one I’ve seen the most times. It’s just so watchable. The Empire Strikes Back artfully got through most of the dark parts of the saga, so there was room in the conclusion to play around and take some curious missteps: There’s that weird Twi’lek burlesque show in Jabba’s lair that seems to go on forever (especially in the Special Edition); the uncomfortable issue of Luke and Leia’s familial relationship; the new Death Star with all the old design flaws; and, of course, the oft-maligned Ewoks, who look too much like my little cousin in a bear costume on Halloween to take seriously.
It seems like the camp factor would make Jedi especially ripe for parody, but the episode was a bit too filler-heavy to take advantage of all the opportunities. The self-referential banter about Family Guy’s two Seths (MacFarlane and Green) was cutesy and went on far too long (at least EW got a shout-out out of it!), and I would rather have gotten more of Jabba’s freaky entourage than the lengthy passing of knowing glances over the Sarlacc (Meg Griffin), although that sequence produced a great Caddyshack cutaway. Still, there were some hidden gems here. Family Guy’s Star Wars episodes work best when they point out the small but oddly memorable moments from the movies that any superfan will remember (the Lambda-Class Imperial Shuttle real does land like a dainty butterfly) and when they ask the burning questions (umm, what happened to Leia while she was chained to Jabba all that time?). I love that there’s always a Wilhelm scream. Also, there was some inspired casting that tapped all corners of the MacFarlane universe: Carter Pewterschmidt killed it as Emperor Palpatine, Klaus of American Dad was brilliant as internet sensation Admiral Ackbar, and Tim from The Cleveland Show was the obvious choice for Wicket the head Ewok. As usual, the location and spacecraft art is spot-on – somehow, the Star Wars galaxy is more believable in cartoon form than in the CGI of the prequel trilogy.
So the finale had its hit-or-miss moments but was generally pretty enjoyable, which is what I’d say about this entire season as a whole. It’s been popular to rag on Family Guy for a while now, but for every clunker this season – the blah “Foreign Affairs,” the execrable “German Guy” – there’s been inventive high concept (“The Big Bang Theory”) and funny-but-true commentary (“Brian Writes a Bestseller”).
Has Family Guy lost its edge, or will you keep watching? What did you think of the finale? And would you watch if Family Guy spoofed Phantom Menace (who would play Jar Jar)?