Family Guy is a rip-off of The Simpsons. Down deep, even they know it. Or, maybe they just have flat admitted it on the show, because no one cares anymore.
Most of the time, I would argue that Family Guy never reached the level of wit and originality that came from The Simpsons seasons 2-9, partially because they had the benefit of watching those episodes, which raises the bar a bit. But, this episode, despite literally being a re-make and parody of Star Wars: A New Hope, manages to be extremely clever and original.
The show re-casts the movie with the Griffin family: Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Stewie, and Brian (Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Mila “I never return Joker’s letters” Kunis, Seth Green, MacFarlane, and MacFarlane again). The episode starts with them watching TV when a blackout hits. In order to entertain his family, Peter decides to tell the story of the Star Wars, beginning with Part IV.
Alright, so, I’m not going to allege that a parody of Star Wars is wholly original. This was 2007. Spaceballs had been out for 20 years. The Muppet Show had an episode with Mark Hamill. The finale of the Animaniacs/Tiny Toons animated universe was a parody called “Star Warners.” Even Muppet Babies had done one.
But, unlike all of those, this one is just Star Wars. Spaceballs, while a parody of Star Wars, and an amazing movie, just takes elements of the Trilogy and uses them to tell its own story. But this is not really an episode of the show inspired by Star Wars, this is just the movie A New Hope with the main characters of Family Guy playing the roles, and some jokes worked organically into the narrative. If you watch this episode, you get the gist of the movie, because it’s all of the key scenes, just played a little off-kilter.
For example, it starts with the opening crawl, which, while it does technically summarize the gist of Star Wars, also contains a hilarious tangent that ends up being a stream-of-consciousness commentary about Angelina Jolie and catching the lesbian scene from Gia on HBO. That really sets the tone for this, where the scene that they’re parodying will quickly be conveyed in order to buy more time for them to lampoon it quickly.
It’s this loving dedication to the movie itself that really makes it worthwhile, because this is a balance of showing the love for something and also recognizing that it is still flawed. Pointing out the almost total lack of female characters aside from Leia, pointing out that it’s kind of ridiculous that, in a super advanced society, R2-D2 needs to carry a message manually instead of just transmitting it, pointing out that the most notable casualty on the Death Star run is a guy named Porkins who is also really fat, pointing out that the Empire decides not to blow up an escape pod just because “there aren’t any life forms aboard,” etc. These are all things that come from acknowledging that Star Wars isn’t without its weak points.
Conversely, they still manage to work in some jokes that rely on the Family Guy continuity, such as having Herbert the Pervert play Obi-Wan Kenobi, which results in a humorous twist on the generic mentor/mentee relationship between him and Luke Skywalker. Having Brian play Chewbacca removes Chewie’s usual ambiguous growling and his movie relationship with Han Solo and instead replaces it with Brian and Peter’s brand of idiot/pretentious pseudo-intellectual friendship, but that really only serves to highlight how we never know exactly what relationship Han and Chewie have, in terms of balance of power. The same is true by giving R2-D2 and C-3PO Quagmire and Cleveland’s personalities, it both shakes up their relationship, but also reminds us that, since we never know exactly what R2 says, we don’t know exactly what is going on between them.
And then there are the random gags that serve to replace or speed up some of the slower parts of the movie. These are some of the weaker parts of the episode at times, but, at the same time, they manage to at least provide a break for fans of the movie to feel a bit of a tone shift so that it doesn’t JUST feel like watching Star Wars. Despite that, the episode has only a single Family Guy cutaway gag, all the other ones are actually worked into the scene. Plus, they had the discipline to not include Carrie Fisher, despite the fact that she was a recurring character in Family Guy (though, they broke down at Return of the Jedi, but, then, so did Seth McFarlane’s desire to continue). (update: Rest in Peace, you wonderful genius).
This episode manages to create a very unique experience. While the episode itself ends with the characters pointing out that other shows have done Star Wars episode, this one manages to stand out, and that’s impressive on its own. Add in the fact that they got Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo to reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold from the Vacation movies, and you’ve got an hour of comedy gold.
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