“The Skywalker Incursion” is one of those episodes of The Big Bang Theory where, even though very little happens in terms of plot, and there’s certainly not a connecting theme, the interaction between the characters more than makes up for such failings. After all, when there’s nothing hefty or meaningful to dig into (and a visit to Skywalker Ranch, as well as the selling of Doctor Who memorabilia, hardly count as meaningful), it’s the actors, and their chemistry, who are responsible for putting together an otherwise interesting episode.

Advertisement

“The Skywalker Incursion” largely works as a low-stakes comedy episode because it uses two of the most reliable narrative tropes in sitcom history: the bet between friends and the road trip. Such storylines promote conflict and comedy by forcing the characters to engage with one another on a level that’s outside of their normal day-to-day lives. Storylines involving betting allow relationships to be tested and often reveal previously hidden character traits in the name of a good laugh–Bernadette being manipulative wasn’t exactly a surprise though. Similarly, road trip stories force characters to be confined to a single space for an extended period of time, which can force intimacy or, more often than not in a sitcom, lead to hatred.

It’s to the credit of the show, and this episode, then that both storylines, while certainly filled with conflict, never veer into the realm of the mean-spirited, or even anything too over-the-top. The potential for a mean-spirited train wreck is certainly there, especially when Sheldon and Leonard are forced to be in a car with one another, but for the most part, “The Skywalker Incursion” presents a kind of joyful conflict, one where nothing is too consequential, but also never trivial.

Usually the only time Leonard is in a car with Sheldon is when he’s driving him to work, but in this episode they have an occasion for a road trip as they’re presenting a lecture on their paper at Berkeley. Once Sheldon makes sure his PRK is sufficiently stocked up with his own toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the two are off. When they realize that they’ll be early to the hotel, and that Sheldon doesn’t want to raise the suspicions of the “hotel detective,” the two decide to stop in at Skywalker Ranch in the hopes of meeting George Lucas.

Advertisement

What follows is a storyline that’s surprisingly low-key for The Big Bang Theory, as more often than not, when the show engages with pop culture too heavily (especially Star Wars), the result is something contrived. In “The Skywalker Incursion” though, the focus is never really on Star Wars and what it means to Leonard and Sheldon, and there’s not really an easy punchline that one could point to as evidence of the show’s occasional hostility towards “nerds” (I use the quotes here for good reason, to suggest the ludicrousness of such a term). Instead, the storyline plays out like a toned-down buddy comedy, one where Sheldon and Leonard do their best to foil security and make it through the front gates, all while being too polite and scared to really force their way in. The confines of the car allow Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons to play off one another, and their banter here is some of the show’s more inspired, funny dialogue this season. What really makes the storyline shine though is the fact that the two roommates ultimately get along. Sure, Sheldon gets tasered by some guards and the two never make their lecture, but that’s fine because they fulfilled the goal of every road trip: to make a memory that can’t be replicated.

The other storyline is equally low-stakes, and better off for it. There’s still the show’s glaring issue of making Bernadette horribly stubborn and manipulative for no good reason, but considering that this is a storyline where she attempts to sell Howard’s life-size TARDIS, things could have been much worse. So, instead of fighting about whether or not the TARDIS will stay in the house­­–the one that used to belong to Howard’s mother–they make a bet out of it, setting up an old ping pong table and stating that whoever wins gets to decide what to do with the memorabilia.

Just like the episode’s other storyline, this one finds a nice balance between amping up known character traits and remaining true to the characters. Bernadette is manipulative, Raj is whiny, Howard is entitled, and Penny couldn’t care less, but those traits are never overly exaggerated or forced. The result is a not-so-friendly ping pong game that never veers into that mean-spirited territory I mentioned above. The storyline progresses organically, escalating just enough without settling into a chaotic routine of stale punchlines. First, Bernadette and Howard choose their champions, just like on Game Of Thrones, as Penny says. Bernadette chooses Penny, and Howard, who fears he can’t compete with her upper body muscles, chooses Raj. The two battle it out before Bernadette convinces Raj to throw the game, telling him that the TARDIS would look pretty good in his apartment if Howard lost it. That forces Howard to put Amy in as his champion, who has a killer serve but not much else, having only played against herself during her friend-less childhood.

Advertisement

Eventually, Bernadette persuades her to throw the match too, letting her know that a TARDIS as an entrance to her bedroom might finally get Sheldon in there. Of course it doesn’t, but that’s not the point. The storyline builds on character traits that we understand, presenting twists in the narrative that are in line with everything that we know about these people. We know that Amy is easily influenced (and horny). We know that Raj is a complete pushover. So by the time we reach the inevitable conclusion, with the TARDIS firmly in Amy’s apartment, it doesn’t feel like a stretch, or like something that was just thrown together. That type of narrative consistency, which extends to the other storyline where we continue to see Sheldon and Leonard’s paper and work partnership evolve, is wonderful to see on this show.

Stray observations:

  • The ping pong game allowed for some solid physical comedy. Amy flailing around is exactly what I want out of this show.
  • I’m calling for a spin-off where Sheldon plays a hotel detective. Get it done, Lorre.
  • Sheldon keeps a mirror on a stick in is PRK so that he can make sure the guy in the stall next to him isn’t a weirdo.
  • Great beat by Jim Parsons when he excuses himself from the conversation with that crazy Star Wars fan, making it seem like he’s creeped out by him, but he’s really just excited about the sculpture gallery.

Advertisement