Friday, October 28, 2011

LEGO Star Wars – The Padawan Menace Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
A routine Jedi Academy field trip is turned into a rip-roaring comic adventure in LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace. Tour guide Master Yoda leads a group of rambunctious Jedi younglings through Senate chambers when he senses a disturbance in the Force. Summoned to help save the Republic, he discovers that one of the Younglings secretly boarded his ship…and has a taste for adventure! Meanwhile, C-3PO and R2-D2 are put in charge of the boisterous group and find themselves in over their heads. As the evil Sith prepare to wreak havoc, it’s up to Yoda and the Droids to ensure that their young charges aren’t torn to bricks!  The 22-minute original standalone special will feature the charm, action and irreverent humor that have become the signature style of LEGO Star Wars animation collaborations and will include five LEGO Star Wars shorts, as well as an exclusive, collectible mini-figure.  Featuring situations, characters and locations from throughout the entire Star Wars Saga, the original adventure is written by Emmy Award winner Michael Price (The Simpsons) and produced by Oscar-winning Animal Logic, the production company behind Happy Feet.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

Star Wars and LEGOS go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  The Star Wars franchise was the first and most successful LEGO licensed product collection in the company’s history, generating more than 200 LEGO models and approximately 275 LEGO mini-figures inspired by the Saga, which has also spawned a hit collection of video-games set in both the classic and prequels eras, selling 25 million units to date worldwide.  After the blockbuster success of both the toy-lines and the video-games, Lucasfilm and LEGO have joined forces again to make some family friendly short films that have all been collected on this Blu-ray.  Following the humorous tone set by the video-games, these short animated films are fun for the whole family and they encompass the entire Star Wars saga.  The added help from Lucasfilm is evident from the spectacular special effect shots of planets, space, and more from the movies. They’ve also generously turned over the sound effect library so between the visuals and the audio, these feels like Star Wars which adds quite a bit to the short films.

The Padawan Menace opens with a shot of a yellow school bus ship making it’s way to Coruscant for a field trip. Yoda, along with C-3PO (actually portrayed by Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 is chaperoning the children until they land and he senses a disturbance in the Force.  Leaving C-3PO in charge of the younglings, Yoda leaves to try to discover the hidden danger.  While C-3PO may be programmed to be fluent in over six million languages, he isn’t programmed to supervise children and the younglings soon go on a rampage.  Surreptitiously joining them is a young Han Solo who joins the group in an attempt to evade the local security officers looking for him.  Even at this young age, Han Solo is a scoundrel with a heart of gold and we see his skills as a smooth talker were present even then.  Meanwhile, Count Dooku’s apprentice Asajj Ventriss has stolen secret battle plans and planted a bomb in the Senate chamber.  Although Yoda was able to take care of the bomb, the secret plans are stolen and he is forced to pursue them with Han Solo in tow.
The youngling however accidentally end up in space and their ship goes into hyperspace and they crash on Tatooine. While C-3PO and Artoo argue about what to do, their crashed ship is quickly salvaged by some Jawas leaving them without a ship to return in.  They make their way to the newly opened Mos Eisley cantina where we see some familiar faces from Star Wars, as C-3PO goes in disguised as a human after Artoo shows the clip from Star Wars where Luke is told droids aren’t allowed.  It’s obvious that the saga’s time-line isn’t sacred as we see from the clip and a scene where we see an older Han blast Greedo in the cantina.  When the younglings are mistaken for the house band (Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes weren’t around I guess) and they have fun until they accidentally destroy a wall to reveal a very angry Jabba the Hutt who has them captured.  Meanwhile, having tracked the stolen secret plans to Hoth, Yoda and Han encounter Wampas, AT-ATs, Rebel soldiers, and more as they attempt to retrieve the plans from the battle droid that escaped.  Both groups will have to work together to be successful against the forces of evil and some knowledge of brick building can’t hurt either.
My son and I watched this together and we both liked it although I suspect that he enjoyed it more than me.  All of these shorts are done very well and are very cute, but the Star Wars geek in me kept getting hun up on the time-line inconsistencies.  How two Han Solos could be in the same place or why Artoo has footage from an event that won’t occur for another twenty some years is beyond me.  I know it’s nitpicking and the LEGO movies are meant to be light-hearted and fun so I can let it go but it still bothers me a little.  All of these short films are a lot fun to watch though and they have a lot of funny moments like the idea that there’s a show called “Keeping up with the Calrissians.”  There’s also a good running gag where Darth Vader keeps trying to participate in what’s going on only to be chastised by George Lucas.  The special effects  and animation are top notch and they looked great on Blu-ray and John Williams’ legendary music from the saga is also used well.  This is fun that the whole family will enjoy and it’s even more enjoyable if they happen to be Star Wars fans too.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer look fantastic which isn’t too surprising considering the property.  The LEGO bricks that make up the figures look real enought to touch even though this isn’t even in 3D.  They have a texture and detail that is very impressive to see and I hope that at some point they re-release this in 3D since it would be perfect for it. Colors are bright and varied and true to their movie counterparts.  Black levels are excellent and the contrast is perfect.  The highest compliment I could say is that this looks like a Star Wars movie.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Padawan Menace is no slouch in the audio department either as its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix sounds great although it can’t match the superb 6.1 mixes that were done for the actual Star Wars Saga that was recently released on Blu-ray.  This release may not reach that lofty pinnacle, but that’s not to say that this mix is bad as it’s actually very good.  From the fanfare and music from John Williams, to the sound of a LEGO Jar Jar Binks getting blasted into a hundered bricks, this is a very satisfying mix.  The dialogue is clear and clean and well balanced with the awesome sound effects and music.  I probably would have given it a five rating if I hadn’t just watched and heard the saga it is based on which blew me away.  Nevertheless, I think fans will be very happy with this very impressive track.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While I liked all of these extras, I wish there had been more considering that they are charging full price for the Blu-ray even though the main feature is a twenty-two minute short film.  On the plus side, you do get a free toy, and several fun extra short films that are all in high definition.
  • Exclusive LEGO Minifigure: A nice bonus is an actual LEGO Young Han Solo who is packaged along with the case.  My son was very happy to get a new toy to play with.
  • The Quest for R2-D2 – When Artoo goes missing along with top secret information, Jedi and Sith are on the hunt for him.  Pay attention for the cameo of Indiana Jones searching a junk pile during the Jawa Garage Sale scene.
  • Bombad Bounty – This short film starts in Star Wars with Vader boarding Princess Leia’s ship and slipping on the water on the floor left by Jar Jar Binks after he mopped it and didn’t put up warning sign in time.  Vader is so enraged that he hires Boba Fett to take Binks out and we see him try to eliminate Jar Jar through all of the classic era movies.  Every time he is thwarted in his mission by something including at one point the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I really liked this short film as it was a lot of fun.
  • Star Wars in 2 Minutes – Parts 1 and 2 – The entire saga (broken  into two parts by era) is covered in two minutes by stop motion real LEGO bricks.  Not only is the stop motion animation very cool, but this is a lot of fun with some excellent production values.  It’s impressive.  Most impressive.

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

All of these short films are a lot of fun to watch and there’s a lot of playful humor that the whole family can enjoy whether or not they are Star Wars fans (although they would like it more if they were).  This Blu-ray looks and sounds great and the extras including the toy figure of Han Solo add a lot to the release.  Now if they would just release an Indiana Jones LEGO movie I would be set!   This is highly recommended!
Order your copy today!

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