Review: Re-Watching ‘Star Wars: Droids’ 36 Years Later
The 1985 Droids animated series is back on screens everywhere, with a glorious remaster that gives fans their best look ever at an integral piece of Star Wars history. Fans unfamiliar with the short-lived and nearly forgotten series may wonder why they should bother. They should. They really, really should.
It was 1985 and the Star Wars phenomenon seemed over. The toys weren’t selling. Two animated series designed to keep the fire alive – Ewoks and Droids – flared out and would quickly be lumped in with the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special as things best forgotten. But Lucasfilm has brought them all back – mostly – and it’s a good thing they did.
Droids occupies a strange but critical position in the development of what would become the Expanded Universe. Focusing on C-3PO and R2-D2, the series follows the droids from adventure to adventure and new master to master in the nebulous time prior to A New Hope. Many Star Wars tropes are present, and so are some surprising hints at the future.
Having not seen Droids in over 30 years, it was hard to know what to expect. The only place to find the series was in bootlegs and on YouTube, all with substandard quality. The series has been completely remastered, presenting a clean, gorgeous look at animation that remarkably holds up given the limitations of the show’s budget.
Most of the series is clearly sourced from the original negatives, while others – particularly in later episodes – appear to be scanned. This could be a result of the original material no longer being available. Overall, the image and sound of the series are very good. Most of the sound effects are pulls from the original trilogy.
Anthony Daniels supplies the voice of C-3PO, beginning his singular journey as the golden droid through every single appearance of the character in live-action and animation going back to 1977. The character of Jord Dusat, ostensibly the hero of the first arc of the series, is voiced by Andrew Sabiston in what could be described as his best Mark Hamill impression.
Jord also has a lightsaber, just because. It’s just laying around, and if you can forgive the very obvious need of the series to put the character in the traditional hero mold of Luke Skywalker for the sake of selling toys, it’s not so bad. The series does show some strain in places from having to be commercial; all of the vehicles in the opening credits were 1985 Kenner offerings.
The incidental music of the series isn’t that great. It’s mostly synthesizers and mostly on repeat throughout the entire episode – and run – making it somewhat annoying. It’s a far cry from the original and gorgeous music of Kevin Kiner, which accompanies The Bad Batch (and previously Clone Wars).
The narrative of the show is simple, with the episodes playing out in a predictable fashion for a Saturday morning cartoon from the era. “The White Witch” kicks off the series, with the droids abandoned by their previous master and then falling into the hands of Jord Dusat and Thall Joben. These two young men are dying to get their speeder into the Boonta Race, which is the first of many references that will have significant relevance to later Star Wars media.
Another major one in this first episode is the character of Kea Moll, at least in appearance. She has an uncanny resemblance to Rey from the sequel trilogy in both her initial appearance and how she’s introduced. Another curious sequel trilogy wrinkle is the character of Kybo Ren, a pirate from the second arc of the series.
The speeder race and the conflict with the Fromm Gang, led by the very 80s brat Tig Fromm, take up the first couple of episodes. From there, the droids go on a series of seemingly random adventures. They cross paths with the Max Rebo Band, as well as Boba Fett. This version of Boba takes a lot of visual clues from the Holiday Special.
Boba Fett appears in “A Race To The Finish,” the fourth episode of the series. Given all the attention Boba is getting in live-action these days, fans may be curious about this episode. Boba’s intervention in the Boonta Race ultimately leads the droids from Thall and Jord, and into their next major adventure. This is probably the best episode of the series.
These adventures broaden out a galaxy far, far away in a major fashion, with space pirates, criminal gangs, and Imperials that all would become major components of later Star Wars. Though all of them are in the embryonic form here, the attempt to approach Star Wars outside of the main narrative of the Skywalkers gets its first real test.
Not every episode of the series might be essential, but being so short, they’re all worth a binge. If the 80s animation doesn’t compel people to watch, then there are other reasons to watch. More Easter eggs abound in the show. There is a chef in a very 50s diner with four arms who seems to prefigure Dexter Jettser in Attack Of The Clones.
Another Attack Of The Clones connection is the world of Bogden. The planet appears in the episode “The Revenge of Kybo Ben” and then gets name-checked in the movie by Jango Fett who says he was “recruited by a man called Tyranus on one of the moons of Bogden.”
Though the series was canceled after only one season, there was an hour-long movie that aired in 1986 called “The Great Heep” which represented the then unaired portion of the series. This movie is also available on Disney Plus, labeled as ‘Season Two.’
Droids definitely gets better as it goes on, and one wonders how it would have evolved had it not been canceled in 1985. For fans of all ages, it’s definitely worth a watch on Disney Plus. Younger fans might appreciate the random adventures of the droids and older ones will likely enjoy the connections of the series to the movies and series that have followed.
Darby Harn is a contributor for Screenrant, CBR.com, Star Wars News Net, and Movie News Net. He is the author of the sci-fi superhero novel EVER THE HERO. His short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Shimmer, and other venues.