Last year Lego celebrated its 20th anniversary of their partnership with Star Wars. In that 20 years, an abundance of Lego Star Wars content has been created for fans to share their
enthusiasm for this beloved collaboration. A major portion of Lego Star Wars content is rooted in the world of animation. I had the distinct pleasure of discussing these projects with Mike Price. Over the years he had been tasked with writing and producing a number of the Lego Star Wars animated projects.
From a young age, Price dreamt of working in the entertainment industry. A love of film and television captivated him; Price read and studied anything he could get his hands on about the industry. His passion and hard work allowed him to forge a successful career as a writer and producer. Mike Price has made many strides in the industry, but some highlights to take note of are his well-deserved Emmy Awards from the hit television show, The Simpsons, and his current role as the showrunner and co-creator of the animated Netflix series, F is For Family.
FT – What was your first Star Wars experience?
MP – I’m going to date myself, I was in high school when the original movie came out, it was the summer of 77. I was in a play, we did musicals during the summer, and all other kids in the play started talking about Star Wars. I had not heard of it. Back in the day there wasn’t much publicity, but they were going crazy about it, some had even seen it a couple of times. This was literally the week after it came out and they were already doing fake lightsaber fights with broomsticks. It sounded like it was for me, so I went with my friend to a local theater in New Jersey. There was a huge line to get in, and by the time we got in, the movie had started. We missed the whole crawl and the first thing I remember seeing was the attack on Princess Leia’s blockade runner. We walked into mayhem, and wondered what is this about? Then suddenly Darth Vader showed up and we eventually figured it out. We totally loved it, from the first moment.
FT – Has Star Wars influenced your writing?
MP – I always grew up wanting to do something with entertainment and with writing. I don’t know if it specifically influenced how I write. I was always obsessed as a kid with everything to do with movies, television, and reading books about the process. I think during that time period of the late 70’s, all these amazing filmmakers were emerging like Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese and it made me more excited about storytelling and filmmaking. I just wanted to find a way to be a part of it.
FT – Did you ever think you’d be a part of Star Wars, did it ever cross your mind?
MP – It was never a thought that crossed my mind. I mean I loved it, I went to see all the movies and for the prequels I was there every opening day. I didn’t get into the extended universe. It sort of came about by lucky happenstance.
FT – What was the process like to work with Lucasfilm the first time?
MP – It started around ten years ago, Robot Chicken was making a huge splash, and had done a lot of their own Star Wars bits. I got a call from my agent wondering if I was interested in meeting with the people behind Robot Chicken who are Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. They were putting together a writing staff for a show that would be called Star Wars: Detours. It’s a show that has never been released but a lot of it has been finished. I had never met them before, but they knew my work from The Simpsons, and were looking for funny people to work on this show. I had a meeting with them, but it was going to be too much of a time commitment. They were going to gather their writing staff and take them away on a two week retreat up to Skywalker Ranch to work personally with George Lucas, to plot out and write the series. I was thrilled by the opportunity of course, but I was working full time on The Simpsons, and it wasn’t going to work out. I said thank you and my agent said it couldn’t work out this time.
About a year after that, the Lego Star Wars team started to think about expanding what they already had, which were the games and silent animated shorts. They talked about trying to do a special, and remembered me, so I got a call from my agent asking if I’d want to do something with Lego Star Wars. I didn’t really know much about it at the time, but said sure! I was told to come up with an idea, they didn’t give much of a parameter, just that it would be aimed at kids and be a half hour special set somewhere in the Star Wars universe. I wrote a treatment. It was the basic idea of a group of kids on a field trip to the Galactic Senate. I sent it in, and they selected it, and it turned out to be The Padawan Menace. They flew me up to Lucasfilm Headquarters and I met with Howard Roffman who was the President of Licensing for Lucasfilm, and Vice President of Licensing, Derek Stothard. We had a great meeting, they essentially told me to have fun with it.
FT – The first time you worked on Lego Star Wars, was it daunting to think you’d be working on this property?
MP – At first it was, because I’m entering this world, wondering what I am going to do. Then I go back to Howard Roffman, putting me completely at ease. That lunch where he said to, ‘Have fun with it, don’t pull your punches too much, pitch what you want.’
FT – After your first project with Lego Star Wars did you expect to do more in that universe?
MP – When the first one came out, they were very happy with it, then I heard from my contact at Lego, the late Kathleen Fleming, who was a wonderful woman. She said they really liked it and we think we might want to do another one and asked if I was interested. And of course I said yes, please. I just jumped at it. I did another standalone special called, The Empire Strikes Out and with that one I felt like it might be my last chance to do something for Star Wars. I went all out and hog wild, throwing every joke I could think of at it and went full on funny. It’s crazy.
That was the first time where I offered my services as a producer, where on The Padawan Menace they ran with what I wrote, then showed me a cut. I offered a couple suggestions like a line change here or there. But since The Empire Strikes Out I said let me be involved in it all along the way. At my day job on The Simpsons, we write the script, we start the animation process, and in several places along the way we’re able to watch the shows and make changes throughout. Let me try to do that with Lego Star Wars. They let me do that, so I was able to give animation notes, and rewrite throughout the process. I was very happy with The Empire Strikes Out.
FT – I noticed while watching your work, it plays well for not only for kids but adults as well. Especially with moments like Jar-Jar being blow away.
MP – Absolutely! It was in the back of mind while writing all these Lego Star Wars shows that I was often writing for myself, addressing some of the funny things I feel about Star Wars. I was not a huge fan of the prequels, I know there are lot of people who are younger that grew up during that time that really love them. I mean everyone has their Star Wars, which is great. So I was able to make some jokes at the expense of some of the things in them, including Jar-Jar. I always pictured a mom or dad, watching these with their kid, and the mom and dad know the movies really well. So the humor is aimed at someone who knows the movies, but a lot of the humor is also just aimed at kids who are maybe experiencing Star Wars for the first time. When I was a kid the animation I loved was classic Warner Brothers Looney Tunes. As a little kid I thought they were hilariously funny, but the more and more you watch them, you learn they were aimed sophisticatedly at the parents. That spirit stays with me when I work on my stuff.
FT – Did you ever get to personally work with George Lucas?
MP – I did eventually get to meet him and briefly spend some time with him. When it came time to make another season of Star Wars: Detours, they came back to me one more time and asked if I’d be interested now. By this time I had worked on the Lego shows, and I said if there’s an opportunity for me to go to the Skywalker Ranch and spend time with George Lucas, I’ve got to make it happen somehow. But at The Simpsons it’s a little bit complicated, we work all year round, there’s no kind of hiatus, where most TV shows have a 4-5 month hiatus where everyone is off. I just used my vacation time and luckily my wife agreed. I joined the team to write some episodes of the third season, we got to live in the House at Skywalker Ranch. The one thing I was cheated, just the way it was, everyone on the first two seasons of Detours spent two weeks in a conference room with George Lucas pitching stories to him and getting his feedback. We got to do it for one day. He came to our story pitch out day, he was very funny, and very nice as he listened to our pitches. He liked what I pitched, and we all took pictures with him and then he left. As far as I know he could’ve been going down to Disney to sell Lucasfilm because I remember it was April of 2012 and they made the announcement shortly after.
FT – In regards to the Disney takeover of Lucasfilm, did you feel a shift as you worked on The Yoda Chronicles?
MP – Not really, the first two specials, The Padawan Menace and The Empire Strikes Out, and The Yoda Chronicles were created for and aired on Cartoon Network. By the time we got around to doing The New Yoda Chronicles that was right after Disney took over. There was only one extra step, I got to work with some of the people from the Lucasfilm Story Group, specifically Carrie Beck and Leland Chee. It wasn’t much of a difference at all, they were very patient and fun. One thing I know, they were getting ready to ramp up The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and we may have pitched a story that takes place a little before A New Hope and they were like don’t do that. They were also ready to create Rebels, they didn’t tell us, but they said just stay away from this time period. That’s why The New Yoda Chronicles hops around in time, part of it is set in the prequel era after Order 66, and the rest takes place in the immediate aftermath of A New Hope.
FT – Did you get to work with Anthony Daniels?
MP – Yes! In my first meeting with Howard Roffman before The Padawan Menace, we were talking about what this first project would be. There was some wondering on the Lego side
about whether or not we could have dialogue in these shows. Because until then all the cutscenes had little noises. I was hoping I could give these characters things to say. But Howard was like, ‘I think it’ll work, we’ll do it.’ We mentioned that C-3PO had a huge role in the story, and he said, ‘We’ll probably get Anthony to do it.’ I was like really? He said, ‘Oh yeah, he’ll do it.’ He’s really great, but I think he’s really protective of the character and doesn’t want anyone else to play him. All the other parts like Luke, Han and Vader can be voiced by really talented actors that sound like them. For the most part Anthony would appear through a patch via satellite audio, but one time he happened to be in Los Angeles and I got to work with him personally in a recording studio. He was fantastic, he knew the character very well and would say, ‘I think Threepio would do it like this,’ and he would always come up with funnier lines than we could ever do.
FT – I appreciate that he’s so protective of Threepio and always willing to portray him in another project.
MP – You can find someone that somewhat sounds like him but there’s only one him, only one C-3PO. But on The Empire Strikes Out the animation producer was a fellow Star Wars nut, we all were, he was like let’s just ask these actors to reprise their roles. We asked Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, they said no but some others said yes. In that one we have original actors Andy Secombe as Watto, Brian Blessed as Boss Nass, and going back, Kenneth Colley as Admiral Piett and Julian Glover as General Veers. That was a real treat to work with them.
FT – Correct me if I’m wrong, but did Anthony Daniels give you a gift?
MP – No, we all got something together. He, I, and a wonderful man, Michael Donovan, our casting director for all these shows, went to Star Wars Celebration in 2015 and had a Lego Star Wars Panel. As part of it, John McCormack from Lego surprised us all with little Lego versions of ourselves. I have a little Lego me at my house, it was a huge honor because as I learned later, if you put in 15-20 years at Lego you receive a full sized Lego figure of yourself. For me it was an honor, it’s on my bookcase with all my awards, there’s three Emmy’s then a Lego me. It’s right up there with the Emmys.
FT – Are all those Emmys from your work on The Simpsons, and have you written any of the Star Wars related gags on The Simpsons?
MP – Yes, they are, and a few. The first Star Wars related thing we did when I was here, I’ve been on the show for almost 19 years now, was somewhere on season 13, or 14. As part of the episode, Marge and Homer went wine tasting while Bart and Lisa got stuck on a version of Skywalker Ranch with George Lucas. I love Star Wars so much, usually if there’s anything Star Wars related from the last 18 years I may have pitched it or certainly helped out with it in some way.
FT – Were you working on the The Simpsons while working on Lego Star Wars or did you have to take breaks in between?
MP – The same time, if I had to go to a meeting at Lucasfilm, I’d just take a day off. But for the most part I’d write the shows in my spare time. I never really took time away from The Simpsons, I found time in my odd hours to work on it.
FT – Was it hard to transition from working on The Simpsons to Lego Star Wars, as one is more rooted in adult humor and the other is targeted towards kids?
MP – Not really, I think I brought a lot of Simpsons sensibility to these shows like the style of ironic joke making, and also sign gags. I went out of my way and pushed for the signs. The Lego shows were made to be aired all over the world. They didn’t know if everyone would be be able to understand them. I said that they were fun for people to see, and they kept them.
One of my favorite jokes is in Droid Tales. There’s a thing where my version of The Phantom Menace has little Anakin in that starfighter and he goes to the droid control ship, then you see Nute Gunray and he says, ‘Oh no, a little kid,’ and that’s a Simpsons styled joke because there’s no way he’d be afraid of him. It felt pretty natural for me to use the Simpsons’ sensibility of humor, but of course I had to be careful to not be too adult.
FT – On your show, F is For Family, you have the talents of Laura Dern and Bill Burr who have also worked on Star Wars. Have you all discussed your Star Wars experiences with one another?
MP – Bill is funny, he’ll admit he was never a Star Wars fan. When he filmed his episode of The Mandalorian it was back in April, in the middle of production for F is For Family. He said, ‘yeah I’m going to do this Star Wars TV show.’ I said that it was great. He goes, ‘Yeah they asked me to do it, but I don’t really like that stuff, but, whatever.’ He told me how amazing it was, the way they did the physical production. Laura had nothing but good things to say, we didn’t talk about it too much, but she had a really great time working on it.
FT – Would live action Star Wars be something you’d be interested in?
MP – Oh sure, I would. I mean I originally came from a theatrical background. I was trained to be an actor and director for stage. When I first started writing in the business, I worked on some live action shows, one was a sketch show that was a low budget alternative to Saturday Night Live and some sitcoms. It was almost 20 years ago. I miss working with a live person, as much fun as it is to work with these amazing casts for all these shows, there’s something about being there, watching a live person perform that is great. I would love to try and do that again.
FT – Was there a particular goal in mind when working on these Lego Star Wars projects?
MP – Fun, just to have fun and tell a good story. The only one that kind of had a mission statement was Droid Tales. It was really interesting, because all the other ones were more or less original stories set in and around the Star Wars universe. We had our own silly offshoots, and weird extra stories. But with Droid Tales our mission statement was to encapsulate and introduce what Star Wars is leading up to The Force Awakens for younger kids who had possibly never seen the Star Wars movies before. Plus we grafted an original story to it, in trying to find C-3PO as he follows R2 around the galaxy. Ultimately it was a framing device, and we had to find a way to cram all of this story into 20 minute shows.
FT – Where do you draw inspiration from when writing in the world of Star Wars? Is it rewatching the films or listening to John Williams’ scores?
MP – It is a mixture of both. When I first started working on one of these, I’d block out a batch of time and put the movies on and let them play. I’d have a notepad and write down little ideas that I think are funny. I remember with the first, I made a note about Palpatine when his hood is on and when his hood is off, no one can tell who he is, it’s a little bit like Superman and Clark Kent. In the process of actually sitting down at my computer and writing, I’ll play the scores as a background soundtrack for my writing.
FT – Would you return back to Lego Star Wars given the chance?
MP – Absolutely, I would do it anytime. They just need to give me a call. In fact, they usually call me in to do consulting or to punch up a joke. The last thing I did was The Fastest and the Lastest of the Jedi Story Ever Told which recapped The Last Jedi. They wanted it to be out around the time the movie came out. So they brought me into a closed off room at Lucasfilm Headquarters in Burbank and I read the script for The Last Jedi six months before the film came out. They were like here you go, read it. I read it on a super locked iPad. That was a huge treat of course. I couldn’t tell anybody what I had done, but it was fun. If there was another chance to write another special, I would absolutely do it.
FT – Given the opportunity to do Lego Star Wars again which era would you like to incorporate?
MP – It would be fun to do something with the newer films. I think there’s a lot of fun stuff in the new movies right for Legoizing, That’s what I like about the new movies. I like the humor in them, very self-deprecating humor. If there was a chance to do anything in the modern era, it would be fun to do a story with Poe, Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. Kylo is great! They treat him with a lot of humor, like his relationship with General Hux, it’s very similar to the way I would write Palpatine and Grievous. They’re a bit like Chalmers and Skinner on The Simpsons. I’m also crazy about The Mandalorian, loving that show. I hope Lego gets to do something with that, a little Lego baby Yoda would be quite something to see.
FT – Baby Yoda Chronicles?
MP – Baby Yoda Chronicles… I like it!
I would like to thank Mike Price for his time, and also thank him for his contributions to the Star Wars franchise. Many of these Lego Star Wars projects are streaming on Disney Plus.
Interview conducted by Fantha Tracks guest contributor Joey Clark.