Small Screen Delights: LEGO Star Wars Short Films

Stop-motion LEGO films – otherwise known as brickfilms – have existed within the LEGO community since 1973, with Journey to the Moon being the first known example, but it wasn’t until the very end of the 1970s when the first Star Wars animated film using LEGO was made. There have been oodles of LEGO Star Wars shorts – both fan-made and official – since then.

It all began in 1978 when Brad Abrell (under the guise of NeeBrell productions) made what is considered one of the first-ever LEGO Star Wars movies, and even though an earlier Star Wars brick animated movie – made by German amateur filmmaker Stefanie Herzer in 1978 – is known no copies exist making Abrell’s the oldest surviving example.

His silent movie, which is only 18 seconds long, uses a combination of stills from A New Hope and a selection of LEGO bricks and minifigures to recreate C-3PO and R2-D2s escape from the Rebel Blockade Runner and arrival on the surface of Tatooine.

The art of brick motion remained a rudimentary one until the release of the LEGO Studios Steven Spielberg MovieMaker set at the start of the Millennium. The theme – which included a special LEGO webcam as well as software that allowed for stop-motion capture, timeline and sound editing – was a turning point in brickfilming history, inspiring fans worldwide and for stop-motion LEGO animation to become a widely practiced hobby.

The explosion in creativity stayed at the amateur level until the early 2000s when Terry Gilliam, who co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, happened upon a website with a series of photos that depicted a LEGO-ized retelling of his 1975 comedy. Recognizing an opportunity to add some original content to the movie’s upcoming DVD release, Python Pictures approached LEGO to help them create a video feature.

Carbonite Follies

LEGO awarded the commission to Spite Your Face Productions, a small animation company from Britain that was creating content for the DVDs that accompanied a number of MovieMaker sets, marking a turning point in brick motion. Their effort – Monty Python And The Holy Grail In LEGO – quickly became an Internet sensation, and in turn caught the eye of Lucasfilm.

The next milestone came in early 2002 when LEGO introduced Lucasfilm to the duo behind Spite Your Face Productions – Tim Drage and Tony Mines – who went on to write, storyboard, produce, animate, edit and direct The Han Solo Affair, the very first professionally made brickmotion feature to be created under the LEGO Star Wars license, and the second-ever official Star Wars special.

Its release on April 1st, 2002 came six weeks in advance of the theatrical release of Attack of the Clones and became an instant hit.

It wasn’t for another three years that the next evolution in LEGO animation took place in 2005, when New York-based Treehouse Animation released Revenge of the Brick, a computer-generated spoof that was loosely based on Revenge of the Sith.

The Bricked Up Sequel

Written by Daniel Lipkowitz (who went on to become the scriptwriter for a number of other LEGO Star Wars short films – including The Yoda Chronicles – and story developer at the LEGO Group), produced by Keith Malone (who was later involved with The Yoda Chronicles, The Freemaker Adventures, All-Stars, the Holiday Special TV movie and is now Head of Entertainment at LEGO) and was directed by Royce Graham, the crew also included Mark Hamill who had an honarary – and uncredited – role as the sequence supervisor (and went on to the narrate the making-of featurette).

Created in the same year that saw the release of the LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, the five minute and 15 second-long short also avoided the use of dialogue and was rendered in 3D computer-generated graphics. However, rather than adopting the classic LEGO minifigure for the character, Treehouse Animation – opted to use a more anthropomorphic style of personification.

Premiering on the Cartoon Network on May 8, 2005 and hosted on the day afterwards, it was also released with the Clone Wars Volume Two DVD as one of its special features when it was released at the end of 2005.

The plot of this non-canonical short centered around Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s attempt to prevent the Separtist invasion of the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk but was more an advert for the new Revenge of the Sith collection than a serious attempt at adding to the LEGO Star Wars galaxy. Suffice to say, it was not a hit.

For the next foray into animated short films, LEGO took a much bigger step by tying in a whole marketing campaign to underpin a storyarc that, while it slotted canonically into the Star Wars timeline, was wholy original.

A Droid’s Tale

Proving to be a huge success, The Clone Wars computer-animated TV series began to dominate the LEGO Star Wars line-up of sets and by 2009 nearly 75% of the System sets were sourced from the show.In a joint celebration of the success of The Clone Wars and the LEGO Star Wars theme’s tenth anniversary, LEGO planned a very special promotional offensive to encourage fans to buy their new construction toys.

Combining a well-planned and meticulously executed multi-media marketing campaign that included comic strips and a series of web-comics, a video game as well as building instructions for an exclusive set, LEGO brought in M2Films, a Danish animation house who had previously created LEGO Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Brick for LEGO the year before, to write, produce and direct the next short film installment.

Helmed by Peder Pedersen (probably the only director in history to neatly connect LEGO to Europop band Aqua)and produced by Ole Holm Christensen (who made a career of creating LEGO short films), The Quest For R2-D2 was written by LEGO Star Wars movie short alumni Daniel Lipkowitz.

With feedback from LEGO following the kickback Revenge of the Brick received, M2Films returned to the classic style of LEGO minifigure portrayal in this off-screen, spin-off story that told the tale of how R2-D2 became seperated from Anakin Skywalker during a daring combat mission.

Made in collaboration with Lucasfilm and Cartoon Network, the mini-movie was shown August 28, 2009 in two halves during the commercial breaks of a rerun of an episode of The Clone Wars. Both the first and second parts were made available in Flash format on the LEGO Star Wars website as well as the LEGO channel on Youtube the following week. The short film was also included as a bonus feature on LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace Blu Ray/DVD combo released in 2011.

The honor of producing the next LEGO Star Wars short film stayed in the hands of M2Films, and brought the same team of collaborators (Pedersen/ Christensen/ Lipkowitz) who created The Quest For R2-D2 together again.

Mesa Inna Movie!

Made as a sequel to The Quest For R2-D2, this follow-up came just over a year after the release of M2Film’s first LEGO Star Wars collaboration. It too used the same computer-generated LEGO worldscape and, unlike the previous LEGO Star Wars short film, only lightly featured new sets to the theme.

Keeping with the comical nature of these shorts, M2Films included a number of out-of-galaxy guest appearances, no doubt due to the work they did in 2008 on Raiders of the Lost Brick video, that included Indiana Jones, Satipo (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Mola Ram (from Temple of Doom).

Asked if he’d appear in the short film, the reply of “Yes, I would love to be in this movie” earned George Lucas a cameo appearance – and awarded him his third representation in LEGO form (with the bust being the first and the minifigure being second), and his first digital visualization ever.

Clocking in at a second over five minutes, the short film follows Jar-Jar Binks through a series of famous locations, unaware he is being tracked by Boba Fett, who has been hired by Darth Vader in order to seek revenge for an accident the clumsy Gungan caused. This unofficial story, which takes place during the entire timespan of the Original Trilogy, puts Binks at the Battle of Yavin, the Battle of Hoth and sees him knock Fett into the Great Pit of Carkoon (a fate he survives).

Getting a straight-to-Internet release on November 4, 2010, Bombad Bounty was made available in two parts via the Star Wars subsite (now defunct due to the deprecation of Flash in 2020). Like its older sibling, Bombad Bounty was also included as a bonus feature on LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace Blu Ray/DVD combo released in 2011.

After a successful run of four short films, LEGO shifted their focus and took their animated LEGO Star Wars format from the Internet to the airwaves in a series of TV specials that got bigger and better as time progressed – be sure to check back on the next installment of small screen delights.

Entertainment Earth

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.