The Curious Case of Star Wars: Detours, Lucasfilm's Answer to The Day the Clown Cried
I just re-experienced the joy, the magic and yes, the laughter of Jar Jar Binks’ infamy-making turn in The Phantom Menace in addition to the Star Wars Holiday Special to prepare for the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast Star Wars Holiday Special Holiday Special and boy is my funny bone tired! After having my funny bone tickled relentlessly for something like four plus interminable hours of attempted comedy from Jar Jar, Chewbacca’s family and special guests Harvey Korman, Be a Arthur and Jefferson Starship and I’m all laughed out for the year.
I kid! I’m joking, obviously, because nobody in their right mind could possibly laugh at the notorious late-1970s Life Day special and widely, more or less universally hated funny talking racist frog man from outer space, not even in an ironic fashion.
If the vitriol and contempt directed towards Jar Jar Binks and Star Wars Holiday Special are any indication, comedy and Star Wars are simply a bad fit, though it would be more charitable and accurate to say that comedy needs to be integrated into the Star Wars universe in careful and cautious ways.
I suspect that’s part of the reason Disney shocked moviegoers by firing the fabulously successful meta comedy filmmaking team of Lord-Miller deep into the filming of Solo. It’s one thing to inject a little spontaneous comic energy into a big science fiction spectacle. It’s another to make a flat-out comedy using the same risky tools that paid such huge dividends in projects like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. Solo ended up bombing anyway, so in this instance at least, going the safe, conventional and boring route failed.
The toxic response to Jar Jar Binks and the Holiday Special, and the seriousness with which some fans treat the franchise also help explain the curious case of Star Wars: Detours.
The CGI animated comedy from the Robot Chicken people promised to provide an irreverent, satirical spin on Star Wars mythology. It would be the first official Star Wars property to parody the world George Lucas created rather than play the franchise’s lore straight.
This kind of project was not unprecedented. Robot Chicken enjoyed some very successful, George Lucas-approved Star Wars specials, as did Family Guy. Besides, when the project was announced in 2012, nothing much was happening with the franchise.
The last prequel had been released seven years earlier and the announcement of a new trilogy was still a ways away. George Lucas could not envisioned that the future of Star Wars would be absolutely massive in no small part because he’d be cut out of the creative process completely.
The thing that’s striking about Star Wars: Detours is that it doesn’t represent a pilot that has gone unseen, or a pilot and a few completed episodes that might not ever see the light of day. No, as I write this, no less than 39 episodes of Star Wars: Detours have been completed and, according to co-creator Seth Green, scripts for fifty nine more episodes exist. That means that there are over one hundred scripts for an official Star Wars project that will probably never be seen by the public.
When Disney bought Lucasfilms they decided that they did not want to introduce these characters to new audiences as broad comic characters in a snarky parody to the point that they are apparently willing to let an enormous amount of time and energy and work and money go to waste. I understand that impulse, particularly in a world with Jar Jar and the Holiday Special serving as eternal black marks against the franchise, but I’m understandably curious about the episodes that have gone unwatched by the public in the seven years since their completion.
I imagine that Disney would not shutter Star Wars: Detours if the show was a masterpiece, or even even particularly good. I worry they’re not even bad in a particularly interesting way. Is the Star Wars world stronger without them? I honestly don’t know, but given the increasingly conservative, tradition-bound nature of the brain trust that controls Star Wars it doesn’t look like we’ll have an opportunity to find out.
On a similar note, would Star Wars be considered a stronger, less embarrassing franchise if the Star Wars Holiday Special didn’t exist and Jar Jar Binks was cut from the script for The Phantom Menace long before filming began? Of course. But without Jar Jar and the Holiday Special the Star Wars universe would be much less interesting, less messy, less human, less poignant and alive.
I love these glitches in the matrix, these strikingly wrong directions for a beloved pop culture staple. There’s something epic and historic about the surreal wrong-headedness of Jar Jar and the Holiday Special that lifts them high above ordinary failures into a nightmare realm all their own.
So the problem with Star Wars: Detours, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t necessarily that Detours isn’t good enough to satisfy fans but rather that it’s not spectacularly bad enough for rubberneckers like me, who like Star Wars just fine and all but gravitate naturally to its weirdest, clumsiest and most embarrassing elements.
Join a nice community, vote in polls, join a nice community and get exclusive access to two big articles a month over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace