The introduction to 'Star Wars: Droids.'

Retrospective

37 years ago, this forgotten TV show changed Star Wars forever

This 1985 Star Wars series is weirder, better, and more influential than you realize.

Lucasfilm

“Steppin’ softly in a danger zone!” Although that phrase might not immediately make you think of Star Wars, these are the first words sung in the song “In Trouble Again,” the opening theme to this 1985 Lucasfilm cartoon. If you’re unfamiliar with the rest of the series, a quick dip into the show will make any Star Wars fan realize one thing: Everything about the prequels and the sequels started right here.

37 years later, you tragically can’t find Stewart Copeland’s “In Trouble Again,” on Spotify, iTunes, or any of his albums. The drummer and founder of the band The Police wrote the opening song for Droids just a year after his bandmate Sting appeared in the David Lynch version of Dune. Thankfully, it’s still on YouTube.

In 1985, it had been two years since Return of the Jedi hit theaters — arguably the moment when Star Wars started to lose some of its staying power as a dominant cultural sci-fi force. By the end of the ‘80s, both Lucasfilm animated series Droids and Ewoks were largely forgotten. But of the two, Droids is far more interesting, and not just because it’s the only Star Wars show ever to have a pseudo-yacht rock ‘80s song as its opening theme.

Initially taking place roughly 15 years before Star Wars: A New Hope, the story arcs of Droids focus on C-3PO and R2-D2 in various misadventures involving a variety of different “masters.” This makes Droids, structurally, a little like A Series of Unfortunate Events insofar as R2-D2 and C-3PO need humans to watch over them, but, for a variety of reasons, they keep getting new guardians every three episodes or so.

R2-D2 went through a very similar predicament in Attack of the Clones.Lucasfilm

These stories aren’t particularly captivating, but the seeds of future Star Wars were planted here. Not only is Droids positioned as a “prequel” to the rest of Star Wars, but it’s also the first major Star Wars prequel to just casually demand the audience understand why C-3PO and R2-D2 don’t know Luke or Leia yet.

The non-droid heroes include:

  • Jovial speeder mechanics (with mohawks) Jord Dusat and Thall Jobe
  • Proto-Rebellion freedom fighter Kea Moll
  • An alien prince named Mon Julpa
  • Freighter pilot Jessica Meade
  • A merchant named Mungo

Essentially, the allies of the droids are a more diverse group of people than anyone they team up with in the classic films.

Mungo with the droids.Lucasfilm

To be clear, Droids hasn’t been considered canon for a very long time, but its pre-A New Hope timeline does scan as basically being the same galaxy as what we see in Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Having three-episode arcs in a pre-A New Hope timeline is also oddly similar to Andor, as is the crescent planet in the first shot of the title sequence.

There are also several huge concepts that later reappeared in actual Star Wars films, starting with the fact in the first several episodes, Jord and Thall really want to compete in the “Boonta Race,” which visually, takes place in an auditorium nearly identical to the Boonta Race for producers in The Phantom Menace. In the episode “The Great Heep,” R2-D2 and C-3PO end up on a weird assembly line of doom which is very similar to the same predicament they faced in Attack of the Clones. (And if you thought R2-D2’s flying rocket booster was wild in Clones, check out his mini-lightsaber cutting tole in Droids.)

Boba Fett also makes a memorable appearance in the episode “A Race to the Finish.” In this episode, Fett was voiced by Don Francks, which is why Fett sounds the same here as he does in the Star Wars Holiday Special cartoon “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee.”

Boba Fett in 'Star Wars: Droids.'Lucasfilm

There are a few YouTube fan videos that meticulously point out where Droids influenced the prequels, the sequels, as well as the contemporary animated shows, from both versions of Clone Wars to The Bad Batch. And as several fans have pointed out, the introduction of Kea in the first episode, “The White Witch,” is very similar visually to the introduction of Rey in The Force Awakens.

Finally, way back on October 26, 1985, Droids gave us the episode titled “The Revenge of Kybo Ren.” That’s not a typo! Although Kybo Ren has almost nothing in common with Adam Driver’s character from the sequels, he is a villain and he is obsessed with getting the droids — just like Kylo Ren was obsessed with getting BB-8 in The Force Awakens.

Today, animated Star Wars shows like The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch, and the excellent new anthology series, Tales of the Jedi, all very clearly contribute to the canon and larger story of Star Wars. But back in 1985, Droids was a strange curiosity. Because George Lucas didn’t want the storylines to accidentally impact anything in the future, these exploits of C-3PO and R2-D2 were intentionally insulated from the rest of the larger story.

And yet, visually, and spiritually, Droids ended up predicting the future of Star Wars anyway. In A New Hope, Leia hid a crucial message in R2-D2. In 1985, Lucasfilm stuffed the future plan for Star Wars into the droids again, they just didn’t know it at the time.

Star Wars: Droids is streaming on Disney+.