Ten Particular Points about Star Wars Parodiesby Todd King, contributing writer
With its continuous popularity, Star Wars influenced many works of art. Right away, many sci-fi films tried to capture its success only to be left in its wake. Even toy companies were affected by the immense profits of Kenner, which revolutionized the action-figure industry. Star Wars simply made for a big target and it wasn't long before some media took to parodying the movies. Often, the parodies were of a flattering nature to the original content, while some others tried to take the wind out of its sails.
While there have been full-on parodies, influences of Star Wars can still be seen in movies and media today. There's no easy way to cover them all since we're talking over 40 years of content, but let's talk about a few of them for fun, anyway. Here are 10 particular points about some Star Wars parodies and influences.
10. Sesame Street – Cookie Monster's Self-Control (parody)
Cookie Monster is Flan Solo. What more needs to be said? There's also Luke Piewalker, Princess Parfaita complete with dessert-laden hairdo, and of course, Chewie the Cookie. Our beloved Monster can't contain himself and tries to (gasp!) eat his sidekick! So they seek help from wise characters like… well, the name puns are cute and I won't spoil anymore.
Sesame Street: Star S'Mores (Star Wars Parody). Sesame Street YouTube Channel.
It's some of the small details that make this video neat, like hand whisks used as moisture vaporators on Tatooine. I'm not sure but it's entirely possible that Frank Oz, who performed Yoda, performs Grover here as Yoda—and if true, the galaxy turned inside itself.
9. The Hobbit (inspiration)
When you talk about the myths, legends, and folklore from which Star Wars draws inspiration, there have been other texts even before the film that put those archetypes into actions. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, is every bit the hero's journey as A New Hope. There is one part, however, that I feel parallels Luke's actions in a profound way: When Smaug the dragon is attacking Laketown, we see just what a terrible force he is by burning it to cinders with just his breath. The townsfolk try in vain to take him down with arrows but his scales are indestructable. Smaug is a symbol of great calamity, as evil is left unchecked. There's still hope in the form of Bard the Bowman, a brave resident of Laketown who learns of the dragon's one small weakness: a missing scale on its torso. With his special black arrow handed down to him from his father, Bard's aim is true; he kills the dragon and saves his people.
The Death Star in A New Hope is very much like Smaug: a terrible weapon of power that can destroy a planet with just its laser beam. The rebels try in vain to take it down with their X-Wings but it's seemingly indestructable. There's still hope in the form of Luke Skywalker, a brave pilot who knows (as well as his fellow fighters) the battle station's one small weakness: a small exhaust port in its trench. With his special powers handed down to him from his father, Luke's aim is true; he destroys the station and saves the galaxy.
8. Robot Chicken (parody)
Going through all of the parodies of Star Wars produced by the stop-motion comedy show, Robot Chicken, would take several articles. Needless to say, there's a gold mine of spoofs that are hilarious and sometimes, in the spirit of the show, ribald and naughty. Some of their sketches aren't appropriate for children, but I find many of the Star Wars bits not-too risqué. For example, the clip above alters the scene of Darth Vader and Lando working out their arrangement on Cloud City, which gets more ridiculous "all the time!"
This Deal's Getting Worse All The Time | Robot Chicken. Adult Swim.
Most clips are easy to find on YouTube, and I recommend any of them starring the Emperor, who, in this version, has much less power than his onscreen counterpart. Just screen them first before sharing.
7. Family Guy, "Blue Harvest" (parody)
Similar to Robot Chicken's parody episodes, and near the same time of its broadcast, the animated sitcom Family Guy produced three episodes devoted to parodying Star Wars, beginning with "Blue Harvest," a spoof of A New Hope. The title is a reference to the shooting title for Return of the Jedi, which Lucasfilm used to maintain secrecy and to prevent price gouging at shooting locations. Seth Green, a producer on Robot Chicken and who directed its Star Wars episodes, is also the voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy (the show references this point, too).
There are many funny moments, including one of my favorites where Peter finds an old couch in the trash compactor and in spite of their dangerous escape, takes it for himself. The real comedy of the moment is the time spent between Peter and Chris (Han and Luke) arguing about how to get it through the trash compactor's door in a true-to-life hassle we've all had when moving furniture.
6. The Transformers: The Movie, 1986 (inspiration)
As Yoda might say, "Surprised?" This is not a parody, but there are many elements of The Transformers: The Movie inspired by Star Wars. For one thing, the movie's single female character is said to be inspired by Princess Leia in her design, not only in the supposed "hairstyle," but the Autobot hero Arcee was also a fierce hero who mixed it up in battles with the best of them.
If you ever watch this animated cult classic from 1986 you'll notice more than a few similarities to A New Hope. The main villain is a planet that destroys other planets—Unicron is like the Death Star. The mentor sacrifices himself to save others—Optimus Prime dies turning the tide of the battle. The youthful protagonist is handed down wisdom and power from his mentor—Hot Rod gets the Matrix of Leadership from Optimus Prime and destroys Unicron. Keen ears will also notice many Ben Burtt sound effects throughout the film (and the TV series). If you do watch this, spot the lightsabers, too.
5. (Inspiration) Toy Story
It's pretty easy to see how Star Wars inspired the story of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies. He protects the galaxy from the Evil Emperor Zurg, "sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance." Star Wars knows about an evil emperor who wants to destroy a galactic rebel alliance. Buzz has a "nava-computer" (on his arm) like the Millennium Falcon. He tells Woody that Zurg is building a secret weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet and that he alone has information about the weapon's only weakness. Sound familiar? In Toy Story 2 Buzz finally meets this arch-nemesis only to find out that Zurg didn't kill Buzz's father, he is Buzz's father. Nooo!
This whole backstory may sound like a parody of Star Wars but it is actually deeper than that. Buzz represents a toy and the likenesses to Star Wars is more a parody of lazy writing on the part of some toymakers in the 90s that couldn't come up with any original ideas themselves to launch a new line of action figures.
4. (Parody) "Weird Al" Yankovic
When it comes to musical parodies, the first that comes to mind is Weird Al. He's no stranger to nerdom with his Star Wars parodies, the most popular of which is "The Saga Begins" from 1999 which bascially tells the story of The Phantom Menace to the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie." To me, it sounds like a loving tribute to the film itself which nowadays feels in contrast to the many negative takes on the film since then.
"Weird Al" Yankovic – The Saga Begins (Official Video). Vevo.
Long before the prequels, Weird Al also made a parody of the Kinks' "Lola" with "Yoda," and told much of the Star Wars story from the Jedi master's point of view. My favorite line is: "I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed, but if you go and kill him you'll be unemployed." Kind of prophetic. (Note: "Yoda" is on his album, Dare to be Stupid, the title track of which was featured in Transformers: The Movie.) If you like Weird Al then you may also know the Star Wars reference in his video for "White and Nerdy." The subject of that is a discussion for another day.
"Weird Al" Yankovic - Yoda. Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment.
3. The Muppet Show: "The Stars of Star Wars," Season 4, February 29, 1980 (parody/inspiration)
I mentioned this episode of The Muppet Show last month in an article about The Empire Strikes Back but it's worth mentioning again as a great parody, and was certainly more than inspired by the characters of Star Wars. Even though it's obvious that Gonzo is Dearth Nadir (who?), the story plays on fan curiousity about Darth Vader's identity. There's a moment where Luke screams, "Remember Alderaan!" as a battle cry, which is a reference to that planet's destruction in A New Hope. Even though it's Luke in the Muppet studio, they break the fourth wall (several times) and Mark Hamill appears as Luke's "cousin," which not only plays on the idea of family in the saga, it also plays on the real-life issue of Mark Hamill only (or most-often) being known as Luke Skywalker.
C-3PO is played by Anthony Daniels who shows his devotion to the character and he joins Chewbacca (played by Peter Mayhew himself) in an adventure on the sci-fi sketch series, "Pigs in Space," which itself is a spoof of sci-fi tropes including elements of Star Trek. In short, this was the most mind-blowing television crossover I'd ever seen at the time (maybe still is).
2. Spaceballs (parody)
From 1987 came the Mel Brooks comedy parody of Star Wars, Spaceballs. It's very silly and good-natured fun, but also hilarious and quotable. For me, anything involving Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet (spoofing Darth Vader) is comedy gold. Perhaps you've seen it and can already remember several funny moments—but in case you haven't, here's a trailer:
Spaceballs Official Trailer #1 – Bill Pullman Movie (1987) HD. Brooksfilms/MGM, YouTube.
Oddly enough, I actually read the novelization of Spaceballs before seeing the movie. I got it from a school book fair. The movie was better.
This movie is a lighthearted romp through sci-fi clichés and Star Wars callbacks. There are so many gags that it's hard to keep up, like when they "jam" a radar with actual raspberry jam, or when Dark Helmet is playing with action figures of himself and other characters in the movie—and there's even a Wilhelm Scream (used in many Lucas movies) when Barf shoots a Spaceball trooper. And heck, Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm's special effects company, did the special effects for Spaceballs! And George Lucas said he liked it. It's just nice how it all fits in. There's even a Leia-hairdo gag, which all Star Wars parodies must have.
1. "Hardware Wars," 1977 (parody)
To see this first parody of Star Wars, you had to view it at only special screenings in select theaters or, as I did, on some TV special sometime on some channel which I can barely remember. Later when VCRs were popular, the film was traded and shared on VHS tapes and one day I landed a copy of it from a friend. As a kid I nearly choked myself laughing so hard! The cheap special effects are related to the title in that the ships are kitchen and household items and hardware. The main ship is an iron which was later re-spoofed (?) in The Last Jedi, which I mentionin an article from last October.
"Hardware Wars," directed by Ernie Fosselius, 1977.
George Lucas has said this is his favorite parody of Star Wars and it's hard to beat the original. I love the cookie monster-inspired look of Chuchilla the Wookie Monster (Chewbacca) who at one point takes a bite of the cinnamon bun-hair of Princess Anne-Droid (Leia) which is not too dissimilar to Cookie Monster's actions in #10 above (where the Princess gives her Oreo hair buns as a reward). There's too much to cover, just watch it. (Note: the narrator is Paul Frees, prolific voice actor and the "Ghost Host" of Disney's "Haunted Mansion" ride!)
I should mention that Mad Magazine was also a great source of Star Wars parodies. I covered that in a previous article that was a tribute to Mort Drucker.
Thank you for reading! What parodies do you know about that I didn't mention here?