There are over 4,500 episodes of Sesame Street, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. We’re reviewing some of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our series Sesame Rewind!
Today is one of the holiest of nerd holidays. It’s May the Fourth… as in May the Fourth be With You, a celebration of all things Star Wars. So I thought it was the perfect day to dip back into our look at classic Sesame Street episodes by revisiting when two beloved droids landed on the sunniest street in the world in Episodes 1364 and 1396. (Now, if you prefer your intros to be a little more epic, I suggest you click here.)
Episode 1364 begins with another sunny day on Sesame Street, which Big Bird makes a note of to the viewer, before a strange object is seen in the sky before landing just beyond Hooper’s Store. Big Bird tries to tell David, Luis, and Maria about what he just saw, but they try to convince him that he was just imagining things. Of course, Big Bird is making no traction with the trio, until out steps two visitors from a galaxy far, far away: R5-D4 and the Gonk Droid!
I’m kidding, of course it’s C-3PO and R2-D2! The buildup here is wonderful, with Luis saying that nothing that strange has ever happened on Sesame Street, which we all know isn’t true. (Unless they’ve already gone into denial about the Wicked Witch of the West incident.) And C-3PO and R2-D2’s performances are great too. I love how they just nonchalantly walk right past the humans and the eight-foot tall bird, too focused on where they are and their mission to even notice the people who might be able to help them out.
In a way, it sets up the whole crux of both episodes: Earth people act like this, and droids from another galaxy caught in a rebellion against an oppressive regime run by a pair of Sith lords act like that. But since this is Sesame Street after all, there’s no apprehension or fear, but the Street residents treat the droids with more curiosity, with the droids happy to answer any questions they have (except when R2-D2 needs to keep the purpose of his visit confidential, or when he feels like being a bit of a jerk to C-3PO).
Speaking of their purpose, the droids have arrived on Sesame Street to deliver a message to someone who lives there. R2 can’t reveal who the recipient is (though I don’t blame him, since the last person he delivered a message to died), so David and the kids play a guessing game to figure it out who the recipient is, and wouldn’t you believe it, it’s none other than Oscar the Grouch! Who else would have connections beyond Earth but a grouch? The message comes from Lothar the Grouch from the seventh moon of the planet Zurkon, who tells his earthbound counterpart: “Get Lost!” For a grouch, that seems about right.
And that leads me to one of the big things to notice in both episodes: in the Street Story segments, aside from an edited-in Lothar, the only Muppets that appear are Big Bird and Oscar, aka only characters that Caroll Spinney performs. Naturally, that perplexed me. Were no other Muppet performers available? Thanks to Muppet Wiki, we know that the Star Wars segments for Sesame Street were filmed November 1st and 2nd, 1979. Cross-referencing that with production dates for The Muppet Show, which used many of Sesame’s core puppeteers, I found that there was a break in production between August 2nd, 1979 and January 8th, 1980.
Was having Anthony Daniels in his full costume a safety hazard for puppeteers using the same set? It’s doubtful, considering that he would share the set with multiple Muppet performers on The Muppet Show. Were the core performers just enjoying a rest before heading back to London to resume production? It’s interesting to think about.
After talking about emotions (the underlying curriculum of the episode) and playing a game of Blind Man’s Bluff where a blindfolded Big Bird mistakes the pole of the street sign for C-3PO and a mailbox for R2-D2 (and inadvertently predicts the future), they take their leave back to their own star system, leaving us with the mystery of why the droids have become intergalactic mail carriers, and whether these episodes take place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, or afterward.
But they’re not gone for long, as they returned months later in Episode 1396 to spend the day with Big Bird. And this time, they don’t arrive via spaceship. These outer-space superstars stay humble by taking a bus! (I guess the Millennium Falcon was unavailable. Or spaceships are just expensive to rent.) And then, they… hang around Sesame Street for an episode. There really isn’t any real plot to this episode, they just go around meeting different people and learning about the different things people do. They talk with Bob and some kids about the alphabet, and Linda and R2-D2 communicate via lip reading and R2’s vibrations. I’ll give the writers credit for finding a workaround for communication. It’s really sweet, and a reminder that as long as we make the effort, we can find a way to reach everyone.
R2 then falls in love with a fire hydrant, which is a cute bit, but by that point, the “droids to this, people do that” premise starts to wear. The closest thing we get to a story arc is over two segments, where R2 has Big Bird and C-3PO guess why they can’t go to the park (spoiler alert: it’s raining), and then the rain passes in the second segment. That’s it. Episode 1364 is the stronger of the two episodes by virtue of having a plot, but Episode 1396 has some charm to it.
Still, having characters from one of the most popular film franchises of its day (and let’s be honest, today too) was a big moment for Sesame Street, and it’s nice to see how they interact in a completely different environment from the Star Wars saga. It’s why the Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show works so well: by putting them in a different setting, it makes for a more interesting and fun product. They further the educational curriculum, but never to the point where it feels too obvious. I think that’s the reason it works so well. By learning and asking questions, we can understand our neighbors and bridge the divide between galaxies.
Click here to take the bus from Tatooine on the ToughPigs forum!
by Matthew Soberman