This feature originally ran in December 2015. It’s blasting off again in anticipation of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
A long time ago, we were just stargazing kids, worshipping our letterbox collection of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. Years later, the Force is strong with us once again as we do the Imperial March towards Ron Howard’s Solo. To celebrate, we’re spending the week talking about Nothing But Star Wars! with a rogue squadron of features, essays, and stories. Today, Dan Caffrey scours the pop-culture universe for the very best Star Wars parodies.
It’s easy to make a Star Wars reference. The franchise is so engrained in our pop-culture hive mind — probably more so than any other film series; maybe anything, period — that even a non-fan is extremely familiar with certain images, quotes, and story points. Hell, name any sitcom, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that hasn’t at least mentioned something in George Lucas’ universe. Friends did it. Boy Meets World did it. The Simpsons did it (then again, The Simpsons has done everything).
A long-form parody, though? That’s another story altogether. Let me clarify what I mean by that: every entry on this list uses its entire bulk to spoof at least one film (sometimes more) in the main Star Wars series. No, a single sketch or television episode (as many of these are) doesn’t fit the technical definition of long-form storytelling, but each example here significantly relies on Lucas’ story to tell its own story. This isn’t just a customer in Clerks talking about Death Star construction workers in passing or Rachel Green wearing a Princess Leia bikini — these are fully formed narrative riffs. Read up on them before Solo: A Star Wars Story comes out this week and gets its own parody — as all Star Wars films eventually do.
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10. THUMB WARS: THE PHANTOM CUTICLE
By now, Steve Oedekerk’s “Thumbnation” series is old hat (or old thimble), but when Thumb Wars premiered on UPN back in May of 1999 — a day before The Phantom Menace came out, no less — the concept was just weird and innovative enough to be amusing. In case you can’t tell from the description, the film follows the basic plot of A New Hope, only with thumbs dressed up as the characters. Oedekerk gets a surprising amount of comedic mileage out of finger-based parody (who even knew there was such a thing?), throwing in nice touches like the Chewbacca counterpart having a claw on his head instead of a regular thumbnail.
09. HARDWARE WARS
Simply put, this list wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Hardware Wars. Released a little over a year after 1977’s A New Hope, the fake movie trailer has the distinction of being the very first Star Wars parody, an art form that has since become a cottage industry in itself. It’s not the most focused thing in the world — even the central idea of space battles being fought with household appliances never goes all the way — but it does have a certain infectious glee to it, especially in the way Luke Skywalker stand-in Fluke Starbucker “gee-willickers” his way through 13 minutes of unrestrained silliness. Creator Ernie Fosselius also recast Chewbacca as a Cookie Monster knockoff named Chewchilla the Wookie Monster, making you wonder if he’s indirectly responsible for Frank Oz’s involvement in the trilogy.
08. MUPPET BABIES – “GONZO’S VIDEO SHOW”
The Jim Henson Company has a long, complex history with George Lucas’ most famous franchise, so much that you could make a separate list made up entirely of Muppets Star Wars parodies. But until last year (more on that in a bit), the only one that satirized one of the films in its entirety came not from C-3PO and R2-D2’s cameo on Sesame Street or the cast’s appearance on The Muppet Show. No, the most comprehensive Muppets Star Wars spoof actually occurred in the first season of Muppet Babies, when Gonzo shoots his own version of the film. Given the series’ penchant for mixing animation with live-action clips, it’s one of the few parodies to use actual footage from the movie and gets the casting just about perfect: Kermit as Luke Skywalker (make that “Skyhopper”), Piggy as Princess Leia, Skeeter and Scooter as the droids, Rowlf as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Fozzie as Chewbacca, and Animal as Darth Vader. The only major characters missing are Grand Moff Tarkin and Han Solo, the latter of which would be portrayed by Gonzo himself in a later episode. Still, that never felt quite right. He’s more of a Vader, if anything.
07. THAT ’70s SHOW – “A NEW HOPE”
Where every other entry on this list stays relegated to space, the 20th episode of That ’70s Show moves the Star Wars action to Milwaukee for a distinctly suburban take on George Lucas’ opus. Writers Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia manage to squeeze a little metafiction in there, too, as the half hour starts with Eric Foreman and his friends on their way to see — and soon become obsessed with — A New Hope. Following the film, Eric discovers that the Dark Side lurks in Kenosha as well, mainly in the form of a golden-haired snob named David Milbank who’s going after Donna. After a dream sequence where the cast inhabits various roles from the movie (Kelso wants Han Solo but gets Chewbacca), the Vader connection becomes even more literal when, after discovering David’s dad is going to put Red out of a job, Eric socks him in the nose. David’s hand goes to his face, his breathing becomes labored, and he’s suddenly a Midwestern version of the Sith Lord. Thus, That ’70s Show becomes the rare Star Wars parody that manages to comment on seeing the film while also poking fun of the film itself.
06. “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC – “THE SAGA BEGINS”
A long time ago, in a galaxy where Wikipedia plot summaries didn’t yet exist, the best way to learn what happened in Episode I without actually having to watch Episode I was to listen to “The Saga Begins”. Set to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s epic parody hits all the major story points of the film and then some, as seen from Obi-Wan’s point of view. Needless to say, it’s a superior product to its source material. Jar Jar Binks suddenly becomes a lot more tolerable when he’s only mentioned in one lyric, and the death of Qui-Gon Jinn hits hard when described over the same chords that soundtrack The Day the Music Died.
05. SESAME STREET – “STAR S’MORES”
Unlike the historically essential yet flawed Hardware Wars, “Star S’Mores” goes bonkers with its running joke of a universe centered entirely around desserts. The confection-themed bits fly at you faster than lasers from a speeder bike, whether it’s a visual gag like Princess Leia’s buns being Oreos or the endless stream of punny names: Luke Piewalker, Flan Solo, Chewie the Cookie instead of Chewie the Wookie, I could go on and on. Sweet stuff aside, the segment also deepens Frank Oz’s connection to the series. Although the legendary puppeteer had long since departed Sesame Street when this sketch aired in 2014, Grover — a character he originated — still steps into the tattered robe of Yoda — another character he originated. Couple that with a Cookie Monster lookalike used as Chewbacca in Hardware Wars (Cook plays the Han role here) and the mind boggles.
04. LEGO STAR WARS
Most Star Wars parodies lampoon a single entry in the series or, if they’re particularly ambitious, one set of the trilogies. So Lego Star Wars earns the completist gold star for covering all six of the main films (plus Clone Wars!) over a mere two years. The video games adhere strictly to the plot, drawing their humor not by departing from the narrative, but by giving it laughably low stakes since every last character is a toy. Even when Luke gets his hand severed by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, it pops off with the same ease of a Lego because … well, it is a Lego.
Mel Brooks plays loose with Lucas’ original story in Spaceballs, mainly so he can spoof not just Star Wars, but other sci-fi franchises such as Alien and Planet of the Apes, and even non-space stories like It Happened One Night. But as much as we love the sight of a xenomorph can-canning to “Hello! Ma Baby”, it’s the New Hope parodying that remains most memorable. Everything’s opposite in Spaceballs: C-3PO is Joan Rivers in both voice and (almost) appearance, and Darth Vader becomes a poster child for the Napoleon complex in Rick Moranis’ impotent portrayal of Dark Helmet.
02.ROBOT CHICKEN STAR WARS: EPISODES I–III
A parody doesn’t have to be linear to hit every beat of its source material, as proven by Robot Chicken’s version of Star Wars. Although the show stays true to the quick, sound byte-style comedy it’s known for, it touches on even the most minor of characters, all while formatted in a mixmaster order that’s a far cry from the films. Where else are you going to see Lobot showing off his disco moves in the halls of Cloud City or two exogorths (space slugs for you Star Wars laymen) discussing the merits of Chinese food? The three episodes may not have much in way of narrative, but it more than makes up for it with its lip service to fans.
01. LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL! THE FAMILY GUY TRILOGY
So many people (myself included) groan at Family Guy’s emphasis on one-liners and flashbacks over character development and story. And yet, it’s that exact thing — that wham-pow sort of humor — that’s allowed Seth MacFarlane and co. to create the best Star Wars parody of all time. With the story template already in place, the show is free to make a joke out of every last moment in the original trilogy across three extra-long episodes. Even better, many of the best gags rely on the Family Guy mythos while still satisfying hardcore Star Wars fans—the image of an AT-AT Walker hurting its knee is funny enough on its own, but becomes even funnier if you’ve seen Peter go through the exact same thing. Likewise, anyone familiar with Meg Griffin receiving most of the show’s abuse will get a kick out of her getting the most thankless, one-note monster role in each film: dianoga, exogorth, and sarlacc pit.