Monthly Archives: May 2009

Canadian In Vader



I’ve never heard the band Japandroids, and, to be real frank with you, I don’t plan to hear them, unless I happen to walk by their set at the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival. But that indie music review site’s own write-up of the act clued me in to a fact I haven’t really stopped coming back to for a few weeks:


Now, for me and about 75 billion other movie nerds, the name David Prowse doesn’t exactly put us in mind of some Canadian garage rock duo who haven’t released an album yet. We’re reminded instead of things like blowing up the planet Alderaan, choking people from across the room without touching them, and saying things like “YOU ARE PART OF THE REBEL ALLIANCE AND A TRAITOR. TAKE HER AWAY!”

Because to us, David Prowse has always been the 6 foot, 7 inch bodybuilding British actor who was inside the Darth Vader costume for the first three Star Wars movies!

Normally, that alone would be enough to make mention on this blog, but…well….The story just doesn’t end there, despite the fact that Prowse of Japandroids isn’t related to Prowse of Star Wars and, in interviews, he has sighed and said that “Every time I go into a video store I get that.”

But think about the name “Japandroids.” It’s an example of what’s called “portmanteau,” wherein two distinct words are mushed together to make a new one. The two words here are pretty easy to parse:


Yeah, it’d be great if Darth Vader was himself an android, but he’s not. He’s a human being who’s been augmented with mechanical/robotic parts, perhaps more machine than man, but expressly not an android….Those are all robot.

But in a sense, Vader is Japanese. Everybody in Star Wars is sort of Japanese, in fact. Because it’s been really well documented that George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, has admitted to borrowing heavily for his “space opera” from The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa, perhaps Japan’s single greatest moviemaker. Here’s Lucas himself:

Hidden Fortress was an influence on Star Wars right from the beginning….I was searching around for a story. I had some scenes—the cantina scene and the space battle scene—but I couldn’t think of a basic plot….And then I thought of Hidden Fortress….

It’s not even an “Oh, OK, I can sort of see that…” kind of linkage between the films, either. It’s pretty obvious. Darth Vader is Lucas’s extrapolation of the villainous warrior General Hyo Tadokoro. The Hidden Fortress, from plot to characters, is like watching an early version of Star Wars unfold in Kurosawa’s deft hands, in Japanese, and a long time ago, in a feudal land far, far away.

Even better, though: the two characters from The Hidden Fortress you can most easily see echoed in Star Wars are a pair of bickering peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, from whose perspective the story is told. They wander around, get split up, get tossed into a slave camp by the enemy, are miraculously reunited, and finally hitch up with a princess and a sword-fighting samurai. Starting to sound real familiar? It should. George Lucas turned Tahei and Matashichi into C-3PO and R2-D2. The Droids!


Early in Lucas’s development of Star Wars, he didn’t even turn them into robots. They were just human, “space opera” versions of Kurosawa’s original bickering Japanese peasants. Only later, in the process of outlining, scriptwriting, and mythologizing, did they become droids…or, as we may now forever think of them, “Japandroids.”

Oh, by the way, I lied. During the writing of this post, I stumbled across some Japandroids music, probably on that myspace page of theirs. Eh…not so great. What I heard sounded like Braid recorded onto cassette tape in a closet half-full of aluminum. Trust me, readers: “THESE AREN’T THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.”
obi wan

Alien McSplorers

Here’s an odd one. Watch this British TV spot for McDonalds real quick:

A few things:

A. I barely get the joke about “Four of your funky neons…” and then “Let’s try some of that liquid stuff in them…” Maybe there’s some alien backstory I missed. Do these aliens eat plastic cups? Is that what I’m supposed to assume?

B. What does the British voice-over say at the end? “Not of”? “Not Earth?” UK readers, help me out.

And C. Why do those aliens look so damn familiar?

Actually, I think I’ve got the answer to C locked down. I’m pretty sure McDonalds stole them from Joe Dante.

Remember Explorers (Joe Dante, 1985)? explorers1985dvd

It’s the one where Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, and that other kid put a junked Tilt-O-Whirl car inside this computer-generated force field thing dreamed by Hawke and put together by Wolfgang the scientist (Phoenix).


YouTube the whole thing if you feel like it. The computer-controlled force field allows the kids to navigate around town for a while before zooming off into space and being swallowed by a huge spaceship. Inside the spaceship, they meet this nutty alien named Wak:


Now take another look at that commercial if you need to. I really think the McDonalds commercial aliens are just dudes inside slightly remodeled, re-purposed Wak costumes from Explorers. Can’t really prove it, of course, but the evidence is striking. Same green skin. Same long, bony, suction-cup fingers. Same up-curved, creepy, insectoid tail:


The oddest thing about it is that the McDonalds TV commercial borrowed from a movie that’s so critical of TV. Wak and his sibling alien Neek turn out to have gotten really warped ideas about humanity from watching tons of TV via signals broadcast into space. They think we all just talk like talk show hosts and want to kill aliens. The McDonalds aliens, on the other hand, use their 30 seconds to try and convince us that we really need to go out, buy huge sodas, and collect all the neon plastic cups we possibly can. Pretty warped notion there, too.

It all sort of makes me wish McDonalds had ripped off a different character from Explorers: Heinlein, the mouse that Wolfgang has trained to touch sensor pads which allow him to speak.


I suppose the most McDonalds-appropriate thing Heinlein says is his meekly delivered “I WOULD LIKE…CHEESE.” But by far the best thing he says—and what we and Joe Dante should’ve probably said to McDonalds a long time ago—is “GO TO HELL.”

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