Do you remember this cartoon opening sequence?
Take a note of the theme song: it’s sung by Stewart Copeland from The Police. This intro is from a short-lived series called Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3P0, an animated television show whose 13 episodes (one fewer than in Firefly’s sole season) aired in the fall of 1985. Animated by the Canadian studio Nelvana and featuring a visual style that was both influenced by Jean “Moebuis” Giraud and yet faithful to the look and feel of Star Wars up to that point, it featured better stories, animation and music than most cartoons of that era.
(If you ever watched the absolutely terrible Star Wars Holiday Special, you might remember the animated segment in which the character of Boba Fett was introduced. It was the only good part of the show, and it was made by Nelvana. It seems to have served as the template for Droids.)
Paul Dini, an associate producer and story editor for Droids, who’d go on to work on the ground-breaking Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, explained the show this way in 1988, over a decade before Phantom Menace and during a time when we thought there’d never be another Star Wars film:
“[George Lucas] thought that the best characters to use would be the ones who weren’t so heavily tied into the movies’ plots, such as R2-D2 and C-3PO. They’re the running characters in the Star Wars universe. The droids would be a natural for animation because they could go all over the universe and get involved with all sorts of creatures and worlds that didn’t necessarily have Luke Skywalker, the Empire or any of those elements. The only constants would be Artoo and Threepio.”
Droids was set in a time before Episode IV (a.k.a. A New Hope or “The First Movie”). Hardcore Star Wars fans — the sort who like it when even the non-movie stories get tied into the Star Wars continuity — know that the series takes place in the year 15 BBY (“BBY” being short for “Before the Battle of Yavin“, which is the one in which Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star). Despite taking place before the adventures of Luke, Leia and Han, a couple of characters from the original trilogy make an appearance: the assassin droid IG-88 and Boba Fett, long before we knew he was a clone or that his dad was killed by Jedi.
You may notice that some bits of the Droids series managed to find their way into Episodes I, II and III, including speeder racing (on a racing track named “Boonta”), R2-D2′s occasional use of hidden manipulator arms and performing repairs on the exterior of a ship in space, space gangsters, the debate over whether droids or people make better footsoldiers and even a four-armed greasy spoon cook in a dirty T-shirt, well before Dexter Jettster was even a poorly-conceived throwaway character from George Lucas’ stunted imagination.
In honour of the announcement that J.J. Abrams is to be the director of the upcoming Disney Star Wars films, I thought I’d show you the first four episodes of Droids, which made up the first — and in my opinion, the best — of the story arcs in this all-too-short series. Enjoy!