Happy Rancor explores hidden gems in and around the orbit of Star Wars — from old video games to comics to underrated novels — that have maybe been forgotten, but deserve a little more consideration. In this installment, we take a look at the intangible element of comedy in the saga.
While I usually highlight a specific release in (the long-dormant, now reactivated!) Happy Rancor, I wanted to use this installment to talk about something I feel is essential to Star Wars, but often overlooked: the laughs and the lightness.
This is, of course, not to say that Star Wars isn’t a high-stakes, serious drama. There is darkness. There is heartbreak. There is death. Darth Vader does not crack jokes while pursuing the Millennium Falcon. But that seriousness is part of a balance of tone that makes the galaxy far, far away what it is. The other side of that tone is a fun energy, part of which is comedy. It plays a huge role in how we think and feel about Star Wars, even if we’re not always aware of it.
Looking back to the beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope, I’d argue that it’s a testament to George Lucas’ uncanny ability to take disparate elements, throw them in a blender, and create something new that allows for comedy to even exist in the series. In C-3PO and R2-D2 — right from the start of the film, really — we have a robotic Tahei and Matashichi (from The Hidden Fortress), or a Laurel and Hardy, even. Bickering best friends who fall from one catastrophe into another. Not only is their dialogue funny (“Don’t you call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease.”), but the whole concept and idea of them is, too. Robots, who are visual opposites, that argue and storm off? That kick and insult each other? That’s just funny in and of itself. From a filmmaking and storytelling perspective, it’s risky and it’s genius — you’re letting the audience know that they’re in for something a little off-kilter and fun.
Han’s pig-headed bravado brings a huge comedic element to the saga as well. It informs both his character arc and provides for some of the series’ funniest moments, particularly with a certain Rebel princess. In A New Hope, their “I love you/I can’t stand you” chemistry comes from classic ’40s Hollywood fare, but is presented through a space opera filter. Again, it’s clever just in concept form, but on-screen and in-story it adds a layer to the adventure unfolding and the characters themselves. “Maybe you’d like it back in your cell, your highness?” “Somebody has to save our skins.” “You came here in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.” Great banter that never falls on the side of mean.
A New Hope laid the groundwork, but I actually think The Empire Strikes Back, while the darkest of the Star Wars films, is also the funniest. Han and Leia’s continued barb slinging is better than ever, but the strange pairing of Han and C-3PO is brilliant. Han just has no patience for this droid and his by-the-books, eager-to-please nature, and it’s a great dynamic. Threepio’s over-enthusiastic interruption of Han and Leia’s kiss — “Sir! Sir, I’ve isolated the reverse power flux coupling!” — stands out to me as a highpoint. It’s the perfect culmination of the smuggler and droid’s REALLY odd couple pairing, and the technical jargon that C-3PO spews is the verbal equivalent of throwing ice water on Han and Leia. Han was always the audience surrogate — the guy who had to be convinced to believe in the Force, in the Rebellion, in everything the movies present, really. This moment reminds us of that, because it’s a gold droid interrupting a very real moment which he’s too clueless to understand.
There are many other examples present in all forms of the series: an Ewok stealing a speeder bike, Jar Jar folding like a chair during The Phantom Menace‘s Battle of Naboo, Stephen Stanton’s masterfully big take on the tiny Colonel Gascon in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Chopper’s I-don’t-want-to-do-anything-meets-I’m-under-appreciated bleeps and bloops in Star Wars Rebels. All of these instances add weight to Star Wars when it does get serious, because then, the laughs fade away. It’s this balance of sensibilities that makes the stories even more powerful, and the comedic element is a key component.
After all — if you can’t call a Wookiee a fuzzball (or a walking carpet), it’s just not Star Wars anymore, is it?
What do you think about the role of comedy in Star Wars? Do you have any favorite moments or scenes? Let’s hear ’em in the comments below.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.