Robot Chicken: Star Wars

Looking back on the release of Mel Brooks’s wheezy, labored feature spoof Spaceballs from 1987, one could argue its launch was both too late and too early, coming 10 years after Star Wars first hit theaters and a dozen years before George Lucas trotted out the first of the series’ last three first installments (or whatever that damn chronology was). But Seth Green and Matthew Senreich somehow avoid the issue of parody timeliness with Robot Chicken: Star Wars, their fleet, funny and clever riff on Lucas’ iconic universe, airing Sunday at 10 p.m. in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Taking the same channel-surfing sketch format that has made the stop-motion animated series a dizzily enjoyable pop culture shooting gallery — and featuring the voices of not only Lucas himself but Mark Hamill, Conan O’Brien, Malcolm McDowell, Robert Smigel, Joey Fatone and others — this mostly spot-on Robot Chicken episode seems geared to please encyclopedic nerd and sci-fi cynic alike, assuming you have a familiarity with the franchise’s signature characters, situations and cinematic touches.

Among the highlights: Emperor Palpatine in a Bob Newhart–like one-sided telephone bit, wherein he gets word from a distraught Darth Vader about the destruction of the Death Star; Boba Fett in an unveiled moment alone with a frozen Han Solo; and a priceless what-if scenario that constructs the hilarious real story behind the “wanted men” who bully Luke in the cantina. What makes this special work so well is that unlike the recent run of parody flicks that think name-dropping cultural touchstones is enough, Green, Senreich and their creative team do a vigorous rummaging of our collective nostalgia for the purpose of re-imagining hallowed moments — fusing clichés and worshipping inconsistencies. They’re fans and they’re critics, as good-natured as Jedi and as devilishly wicked as a Sith Lord.

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