Family Guy Blue Harvest DVD review

When the lawyers got worried about all the Star Wars jokes in Family Guy, they tempted its creators to do a complete show, with George Lucas' blessing. Here it is...

Family Guy: Blue Harvest

I’m a massive Family Guy fan, and the creators of Family Guy are massive Star Wars fans. They’ve shown it in many references in many episodes (slightly tediously catalogued in the extras on this DVD). So I sat down ready to thoroughly enjoy their pastiche of it, flimsily explained into an episode of Family Guy by Peter Griffin telling the Star Wars story during a power cut. In it characters are transposed as Peter Griffin becomes Hans Solo, Chris Griffin becomes Luke Skywalker, and baby Stewie becomes Darth Vader.

I do not consider myself a massive Star Wars fan, regarding it at the superficial fantasy end of the sci-fi genre. I’m afraid that for me it’s not a patch on the much more thought-provoking Lucas film THX 1138. That said, I’m obviously more of a fan than I thought I was, as I felt I recognised every iconic shot as it was lovingly recreated in the Family Guy mould for this show. Attention to detail was particularly lavish in the visuals where computer generated graphics and detailed shadowsfilled in what would usually be more impressionistic animation visuals.

I didn’t see the originally broadcast ‘half hour’ (with adverts) version of this episode, and I suspect it was slightly frustrating to watch, as in this ‘one hour’ (actually 45 minute) version you do get a decent sense of the original film. It probably came across less well in the shortened form. For example, apparently the battle between the Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighters wasn’t in the short version. The original of this scene seemed to be shown every Saturday morning on ITVin the late seventies, and indeed seemed to be the only clip that was regularly available.

The comedy was a mix of making Family Guy-style jokes in a Star Wars context, but also lampooning the film itself, such as the sequence on the teensy but vital vulnerability of the Death Star. There is also the odd reference to other sci-fi including appearances by Doctor Who and a Futurama character. The American views on Doctor Who are quite bizarrely expressed on the commentary, where they seem to regard it as esoteric and incomprehensible rather than mainstream as it was in my youth.

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The episode also features trademark film references and cameo performances, Helen Reddy and Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) being two of the stranger ones. Also typical are some very American references where the humour will be slightly lost to us Brits, although I expect we will all get the less subtle references, such as zapping a race said to have WMD.

There are occasionally references to clunky computer technology past and present, from dot-matrix printers and early arcade games, to trying to save a video recorded on a PC.

On the commentary they talked about a preview screening to 3000 Star Wars fans at a convention in May 2007. It was a big thrill for the production crew to have a live audience laughing at every joke and wallowing in absolutely every detail of the show. In my own small way I can empathise: I know for me it was the biggest thrill to play music from The Prisoner and other ITC shows in the actual hall of the Village (Portmeirion) to 150 die-hard fans lapping it up.

The music in this featured Star Wars‘ original score, as well as Family Guy‘s score played in a Star Wars style, and Star Wars‘ score being played in different ways. Being a music fan I was interested in the use of the original Star Wars score by John Williams. That score, recorded at Abbey Road, inspired several children to become musicians. Some of them even ended up playing in subsequent Star Wars‘ scores for the prequel episodes.

In the extras George Lucas talks about Spielberg recommending John Williams to him after he asked for a ‘traditional’ score. I won’t argue about the seminal nature of the soundtrack album that resulted, but I confess in my own estimation it comes a poor second to Williams’ outstanding and original compositions for Irwin Allen shows like Lost In Space, The Time Tunnel and Land Of The Giants. Steve Brown (Harry Hill’s musical director) performed a comedy skit where he drew out the repetition in Williams’ film scores for Star Wars, ET and others. I am sad that his earlier work isn’t better remembered.

Family Guy staff all talk in flattering terms about George Lucas. He himself states that he doesn’t mind the parody because he doesn’t regard himself as ‘competitive’ in a traditional sense. I was a bit confused when I reflected on legal action that I understood to have been taken against the original Battlestar Galactica when packaged at movie length, because apparently it infringed the Star Wars franchise. Maybe Lucas has mellowed, or maybe that action was out of his control in the 15 years he said he took off to focus on his proudest achievement – raising his three children.

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The episode title Blue Harvest comes from the working title given at the time to Return Of The Jedi to disguise it during production. There is talk on the DVD about Family Guy following through this episode with pastiche versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. I noticed there was no talk about episodes 1, 2 or 3…

There seems to be a whole world of ‘art imitating art’ or rather one set of creators showing their respect for another. I’ve already reviewed Blake’s Junction 7 and I was also put in mind of Thunderbirds FAB, the mime project inspired by Thunderbirds and leading to Wayne Forester, one of its proponents, becoming the body guide and voice for the new Captain Scarlet.

In summary, this totally does what it sets out to do i.e. make Star Wars into a highly entertaining Family Guy episode. However, it’s not the funniest episode (actually double episode) of the show I’ve ever seen, and that’s probably because the super-human efforts to ratchet up the whole quality of the production seem to have moved the show on to slightly more self-conscious ground. That said, it has impressive attention to visual, musical and comedic detail.

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4 out of 5