Here we are again. We have reached that glorious time of year where we all come together to celebrate one of the most influential franchises in pop culture, and to desperately wish that lightsabers were a real thing.
That’s right – it’s May 4th, 2017, and it is Star Wars Day.
But this year’s iteration of the grand tradition comes with an added significance. Later this month, on May 25th, we will be celebrating 40 YEARS since the cinematic release of the original Star Wars movie.
That’s right. 40 years since we first met Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, R2-D2 and so many other characters that have come to be household names, and are still remembered fondly nearly half a century later.
Who would have thought?
With our favourite sci-fi franchise celebrating its ruby anniversary, it seems right to look back at the influence it has had on popular culture and to celebrate both the franchise itself and some of the best pop culture parodies and tributes we have seen (for we have seen many).
So what are we waiting for?
It should come as news to precisely no-one that Star Wars is one of the most revered properties in modern entertainment. Since the original film’s release, the eight feature films (not including The Clone Wars, but definitely including Rogue One because no matter what anyone says it clearly was part of the main canon) have made almost US$7 billion. A pretty healthy profit for George Lucas, I’d say.
Star Wars as a franchise has also been credited with inspiring a number of other well-known films as a result of its depiction of what George Lucas called a “used future”. This is the idea that Star Wars depicted the future as gritty, dirty and much more in keeping with the realities of the world than the very clean, sleek and futuristic conceptions seen in other sci-fi films. Films taking this “used future” concept on board include the Mad Max trilogy, cult classic Blade Runner and the Alien franchise.
Star Wars has managed to accrue possibly the largest and most dedicated fanbase in the world. Through the success of the films and the mountain of associated marketing and merchandising, the franchise has managed to hold fans of three generations enthralled, so that the same people who fell in love with the story in 1977 are still keen for more in 2017.
You only need to look at the fact that high-profile public figures and institutions are just as keen to celebrate Star Wars Day as us, with even the Senate joining in on the fun this year.
(There was even a whole argument between the Australian Senate and House of Representatives about this today – check it out!)
— Australian Senate (@AuSenate) May 3, 2017
— Ambulance Victoria (@AmbulanceVic) May 3, 2017
— Northern Beaches (@beachescouncil) May 4, 2017
Marathons of the first two trilogies have also become a staple for diehard fans of the series, and it is certainly no mean feat, with the first six films totalling exactly 800 minutes, or 13 hours 20 minutes. This year, TBS in America is laying down an implicit challenge to fans by showing all six back to back today, and I am sure there will be more than a few people indulging, despite Obi-Wan’s best advice.
But possibly the biggest demonstrator of Star Wars‘ impact on popular culture is the number of homages and parodies of the films that are littered throughout films and TV produced since 1977. Let’s take a look at a few of the best ones, because there have been some truly superb ones.
Possibly the most overt parody of Star Wars comes in the form of Mel Brooks’ 1987 cult classic Spaceballs. The setting in a developed far-future space system, as well as the clear adaptation of the major character models from the original trilogy make the allegory fairly blatant, but that doesn’t stop it being a really good parody. It’s probably fair to say that Spaceballs is to Star Wars what Austin Powers was to James Bond (although that’s a lofty comparison to make considering how great Austin Powers was).
Highlights are definitely Rick Moranis as Lord Dark Helmet and his constant bumbling through evildoing, and John Candy as the misanthropic Chewbacca substitute, Barf (characterised as a mog, a cross between and a man and a dog).
Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: The Family Guy Trilogy
Family Guy is a TV series built on ripping into established social norms and generally poking (mostly) harmless fun at anyone it can get away with, and in its middle seasons had three sporadic extended episodes telling the stories of the original Star Wars trilogy.
There wasn’t much of a setup to disguise the intention to poke fun at Star Wars, but there were still some imaginative reinventions of Star Wars setpieces in the Family Guy tradition of poking gaping holes in film logic.
This one isn’t well known, since it was a low-key release in the late 1970s, not long after the original film.
It’s filmed as a 13-minute parody of a Star Wars teaser trailer, and is best summed up by its most famous quote: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss three bucks goodbye!”
George Lucas has said publicly that he was a fan of Hardware Wars when it was released, and stated that it is his favourite attempt at a Star Wars parody. It was officially honoured by Lucasfilm in 2003, and when released won numerous short-film awards at international film festivals. It is considered to be the most profitable short film of all time, having made over US$1million from a US$8000 budget. Not bad.
Plus: Chewchilla, the Wookie Monster. That is all.
Want to check it out? Well here it is!
‘Leia Lemon’ on 30 Rock
Tina Fey, creator of long-running hit comedy 30 Rock, has stated before that she’s a massive Star Wars fan, and she’s used it in a number of her creations before now.
But probably her best one was in the episode ‘The Funcooker’, when Fey’s character Liz Lemon dresses up as Princess Leia and takes on her personality to get out jury duty service. If you’ve never seen it, it’s pretty great.
Kylo Ren in Undercover Boss
If anyone has never seen it, Undercover Boss is a show where big bosses at various companies go undercover into their workplaces to find out what their employees really think about them.
Saturday Night Live took this in a new direction after Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out, by putting main villain Kylo Ren into that scenario and watching him talk to employees at Starkiller Base as they all fairly swiftly work out that he’s their boss.
Well, that will about do it for the reminiscing about Star Wars for now. I am sure there will be many more tributes to the franchise as we build towards the official 40th anniversary on May 25th, but until then…
…May the Fourth be with you.