Thursday, February 18, 2010

Culture Shock 02.18.10: Admiral Ackbar knows a trap when he sees it

As the saying goes, "There are no small parts, only small actors."

Yet I suspect Tim Rose never thought his "small part" more than 25 years ago would amount to much in 2010.

Back in 1983, Rose portrayed Admiral Ackbar, the squid-headed commander of the Rebel Alliance fleet in "Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi."

As a character, Ackbar doesn't have a lot going for him. To be honest, he is a lousy battlefield commander, so it falls to Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to hold the fleet together until it can finally launch its assault on the Death Star.

Ackbar does, however, have a keen grasp of the obvious. When the rebels arrive to find the Imperial fleet waiting in ambush and the Death Star's defense shield still up, Ackbar shouts, "It's a trap!"

And as strange as it may seem, that simple, three-word exclamation still echoes through American pop culture 27 years later.

Don't believe me? Search YouTube for "Ackbar" and you'll find more than 1,000 videos, most of them playing off that now-immortal phrase. The admiral may not know how his ships can repel firepower of the Death Star's magnitude, but he definitely knows a trap when he sees one.

My favorite of the videos I've seen is one titled "It's a Trap Volume 1," in which Ackbar repeatedly warns other movie characters — like Indiana Jones and Austin Powers — about various traps. But none of them listen.

Seriously, folks, if Admiral Ackbar tells you it's a trap, you better believe it's a trap.

Besides being a popular subject for amateur videos on YouTube, Ackbar has shown up in a Jerry Springer parody on and, more than once, on Adult Swim's animated series "Robot Chicken."

But that's not surprising. The guys who produce "Robot Chicken" probably still have all of their original "Star Wars" action figures — some still in mint condition.

Then, last week, Ackbar made his most high-profile appearance yet.

After President Barack Obama invited Republican leaders to participate in a health-care summit, some Republicans and radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh branded the summit "a trap." So, when Jon Stewart played clips on "The Daily Show" of Limbaugh and company saying "It's a trap," guess who showed up at the end with his own "It's a trap."

Yes, it was Admiral Ackbar, breaking into the mainstream. Like Boba Fett before him, he has achieved a level of notoriety that defies all logic.

Actually, Ackbar's popularity may be easier to understand than Boba Fett's. All Boba Fett ever did was say five lines in "The Empire Strikes" back and get eaten alive by the Sarlacc in "Return of the Jedi."

But what about the actor who helped make all of this possible?

Apart from playing Ackbar, Rose is probably best known — to the extent he is known — for helping bring to life the title character of the 1986 George Lucas flop "Howard the Duck."

And the most interesting thing about that is Rose was just one of eight actors billed in the role. (Similarly, I'm just one of 8,000 writers to make that "billed" joke.)

He wasn't even the one who provided Howard's voice. According to the Internet Movie Database, that was a fellow by the name of Chip Zien, who went on to guest appearances in prime-time shows like "CSI" and "Ugly Betty."

But if there is any consolation, there aren't 1,000 "Chip Zien" videos on YouTube.

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