What better way to commemorate Star Wars' 30th anniversary than with double-length episode of Family Guy in Blue Harvest (which every Star Wars geek will recognise as the code name for Return of the Jedi). In this spoof episode, all the characters from the series are recast as the Star Wars galaxy of characters. Feel the farce with Han Solo (Peter) dumpster diving for furniture; Darth Vader (Stewie) filling his nappy with his usually colourful references; Luke (Chris) battling against "Thai" fighters; R2-D2 (Cleveland) having a few Operating System compatibility issues and C-3PO (Quagmire) flirting with a 1980s dot-matrix printer and worrying about being boarded from the rear. However, poor old Meg is reduced to a blink and you'll miss her cameo as the creature that haunts the garbage compactor.
Filled with outrageous gags, spaced out droids and more intergalactic satire than you can shake a fully erect lightsaber at, this is an epic spoof with its tongue placed firmly in cheek. Faithful to the "first" Star Wars film A New Hope, the episode is full of your typical Family Guy references and equally bizarre (and some say surreal - but this is usually what makes the show) digressions. Even Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase get in on the act as the vacationing Griswolds whilst there's even pimped up TIE fighters and hilarious references to some of the plot holes. Still, as long as your sides are splitting, and they're not upsetting George Lucas, then it all works.
Given that this is animation there's not going to be any problems with uppity actors wanting more light or side on views nor should there be any issues with print problems. But what makes this episode stand out so much is the wonderful quality of the animation. Not only does it look so much like the original film - including leaving me with a few puzzled expressions on my face as I pondered whether a cunning bit of Rotoscoping had been employed - as the results are nothing short of amazing. Still, the crew did admit to using a fair amount of CGI effects - in nearly every scene too - to help out with some of the trickier animation.
Given that it is an animation series there's plenty of colours on show. The colours are amazingly rich and vibrant without a hint of colour bleeding or over saturation. You can certainly tell that plenty of money has been thrown at this series and the stunning images produced by this DVD really do mark it out as top notch - even more so when you consider that it has its origins on our humble television set. Finally, some forward thinking by a company that realises that digital television and DVDs are a future way to making additional revenue.
Unusually for Family Guy or, to be honest, most other television series on DVD, the audio is provided via a fairly decent sounding 448 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As you'd expect, the dialogue is locked firmly in the centre channel whilst there's some good use of the surround and other channels with both the musical score and discrete effects. This becomes evident when the now rather famous John Williams (and then Danny Elfman!) score bursts into life and whenever there's a TIE fighter or Millennium Falcon overhead. It's all very atmospheric and definitely worth your while giving this disc a spin with your surround system in full flow.
Once you get past the standard anti-piracy spiel you go straight into the static, but scored, menu system which is made up of a frame from the show. The sub-menus are also static and scored. Since the episode is rather short (albeit much longer than your standard Family Guy episode) the disc is bolstered with a good range of extras, including a gushing interview with George Lucas plus a bonus episode of Family Guy - although if you're already an owner of the series DVDs then you'll soon discover that you've already got it. Bonus points are also awarded to Twentieth Century Fox for providing subtitles across all of the extras - include the audio commentary track.
Episode wise, there's only the one episode but there's two viewing options on offer. You can either play the episode with a six minute Introduction to Family Guy or dive straight in and watch the introduction at a later date via the Features menu. The main extra on the disc has to be the Audio Commentary with a large number of production crew. Seth Macfarlane is the only member of the cast to make the recording studio (although, since it's his series, I'm not really that surprised). He's joined with plenty of "back room" boys (and girl) in the form of recording engineer Patrick Clark, editor Mike Elias, director Dominic Polcino, assistant director Joseph Lee, producer Kara Vallow, executive producer David Goodman plus script writers Alec Sulkin and Danny Smith. Given the amount of commentators, I just hope that the recording booth was big enough for the lot of them!
As with most of the Family Guy commentaries, there's plenty of banter but plenty of information too. Although it's yet to be broadcast in the UK, or available on DVD as part of the series releases, the commentators also point out where cuts were made in the original broadcasts. I can only guess they were cut for timing (or unsuitable for television) as they were no more offensive than some of the other gags in the show! The crew also mention their trip to see George Lucas and his reaction to the episode. There's also some interesting quips about how Lucas reacted to a number of their jokes and use of characters too.
Next up is the twelve minute A Conversion with George Lucas featurette. Along with a host of wide eyed Family Guy staff, Seth MacFarlane headed over to ILM to interview the great and mighty George. Whilst Seth appears to be in awe of being in George's presence, George has seen it all before and, if anything, looks a little unimpressed by it all. Still, once Seth manages to put his enthusiasm aside, Seth turns into a good interviewer with an interesting range of questions - asking George the usual things about the Star Wars films, his own favourite films and what's next for the Star Wars franchise. Even though George didn't look too impressed at the start of the interview, he soon warms and opens up as he starts to find the conversation interesting.
Following on is the nineteen minute Once in a Lifetime - the Making of Blue Harvest featurette. In it, the majority of the production crew are on hard to enthusiastically talk about their experiences with the project. Scattered with plenty of clips, storyboards and the many Star Wars references throughout the Family Guy universe, it's an extremely interesting featurette with plenty of information on how the episode was created - including plenty of information to keep the "geeks" happy too. If you've seen the episode then you may then be interested in the watching the full length Animatic Version too. Whilst it's something that die hard fans may only find interesting, it's certainly worthwhile a look to see just how the storyboards progressed into the final product.
I never really appreciated just how much of an influence Star Wars had on Family Guy. And thanks to the ten minute Star Wars Clip Show all those references are revealed - with clips from the show across the entire Family Guy seasons. If you skipped the introduction, or you simply want to watch the completely bonkers family montage again, the six minute Introduction to Family featurette allows you to do so. If you already own the Family Guy season DVDs then the bonus North by North Quahog episode from season four is not going to be of much interest. Still, new viewers to the series will get a good taster of the madness when Peter and Lois decide to perk up their marriage by going on a second honeymoon. But when Peter crashes the car, he decides to pose as Mel Gibson to stay in his fancy hotel suite, where they find a copy of a "The Passion of the Christ" sequel and plan to destroy it - much to the annoyance of Mel Gibson.
Things are rounded off with the rather pointless teaser trailer Something, Something Darkside. Whilst it doesn't even attempt to offer anything about the sequel to Blue Harvest, it does at least let the fans know that something is in the pipeline - and you can be sure it will be following the plot of The Empire Strikes Back too. Finally, there's an Easter Egg, featuring a static camera in a script reading, to be found on the Features menu. Happy hunting for that one.
Whilst this has to be one of the funniest episodes of Family Guy to date, there's no doubting that it is a shameless cash in on the large and loyal fan base - even if it is essentially a double episode. British fans have already been cheated when Twentieth Century Fox saw it fit to release season four as a half a season then release the final half as season five. This now leaves the UK completely out of sync with the other Family Guy seasons - plus the packaging is no longer consistent with differing number of discs and packaging. I'm just thankful that Fox's other animated classic The Simpsons haven't gone down the same route too.
However, the Blue Harvest episode presented on this disc is not an exclusive - it's the first episode of season six proper. This alone will leave many people scratching their heads, after all, with our totally bizarre numbering the first episode on the current season six DVD in the UK is Stewie Loves Lois which in reality is episode one of season five. Confused? I know I certainly am - and I'm ever so annoyed that the loyal fans who saved the series from the scrap heap can be treated in such a manner.
Whilst it may well be a quite difficult in justifying buying this disc - after all, along with the extras, it's bound to appear on a Family Guy release at some point in the not too far distant future, the Special Edition version is a far more tempting purchase. Unfortunately, that limited edition version isn't reviewed here, but it's essentially the same DVD but with a T-Shirt, Trading Cards and some Collectable Packaging. Whilst the RRP for this version is a little extortionate, shopping on-line will find you a copy that is far more reasonable - and extremely tempting.
Whilst the general man (or woman) in the street may want to bypass this release - even true Star Wars fans may be a little reluctant too - fans of the series will surely want to get their paws on this release. With a good collection of extras and the collectability of the Special Edition, Twentieth Century Fox have made it very difficult not to cross over to the dark side and purchase a shameless cash in - and there's even more episodes to come! Finally, after viewing the episode, I wonder how many people dashed out and rented Gia?
- Audio Commentary by Seth Macfarlane, Patrick Clark, Mike Elias, David Goodman, Joseph Lee, Dominic Polcino, David Goodman, Alec Sulkin and Danny Smith
- A Conversation with George Lucas
- Once in a Lifetime: The Making of Blue Harvest
- Animatic Version
- Family Guy Star Wars Clip Show
- Teaser of next Star Wars spoof, Something, Something, Something Dark Side
- Introduction to Family Guy
- Bonus Family Guy Episode : North by North Quahog