Original air date: February 21, 1980
February 1980 must have been an amazing month for Muppet fans who loved science fiction and comic books. They brushed up their Shakespeare with Christopher Reeve and learned to fly (unsuccessfully) with Lynda Carter. Superman and Wonder Woman, in the same month! And in the United States, they were shown in consecutive weeks! How could they possibly top that? How about by closing out the “Comic-Con block” with one of the biggest film franchises of the era? Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to say one of the biggest franchises to this very day. Star Wars has managed to captivate the imagination of the world for over four decades, and while it may not make sense on paper, bringing some of the biggest characters in the franchise to The Muppet Show turned out to be a perfect combination.
The episode turns out to be a rousing success thanks to a key decision to separate the character of Luke Skywalker from the actor, Mark Hamill. According to Muppet Wiki, Hamill was concerned that people would only associate him with Skywalker and that he would be typecast for the rest of his career, and so the decision was made to treat the character and actor as separate entities. And I think that’s what makes everything work as well as it does. The Star Wars films generally take themselves seriously, while The Muppet Show… doesn’t.
By separating Hamill from his character, they don’t sacrifice the integrity of Luke Skywalker by making him do hokey jokes or a song-and-dance routine. Luke simply gets to be Luke. Aside from an overzealous outburst of “Remember Alderaan!” and “Down with the Empire!,” Luke doesn’t act any differently than he would in any Star Wars movie. Meanwhile, Hamill gets to have fun and do all that goofy stuff that The Muppet Show does. He does impressions, he does a brief vaudeville-style routine. And yes, he even gets to sing and dance in the big finale. The Star Wars elements feel like Star Wars, and the Muppet Show elements feel like The Muppet Show. Without that one decision, the whole thing would’ve been a mess, and nowhere near the classic episode it proves to be.
And by frog, the episode works beautifully. Having the characters react to the others’ respective behaviors makes for pure magic. Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 clearly are baffled by the show’s nature. Whoever heard of frogs, weirdos, monsters, and the like having their own variety show? This is nothing Obi-Wan Kenobi ever trained them for. And Kermit, though excited to have them as the reluctant guest stars, is just as confused by their behavior. They’re storming the set looking for the missing Chewbacca, and causing a real ruckus! How are they going to keep the show rolling with Luke waving his blaster around the place?
It all comes to a head when the Star Wars gang “borrows” the spaceship Swinetrek and hijacks the show’s Pigs in Space sketch to find Chewbacca. But by this point, the line between the properties has blurred, as we learn that the beloved Wookiee has been held prisoner by the evil Dearth Nadir (first seen in the Crystal Gayle episode). By having Gonzo play a parody of Darth Vader, rather than using the real character, there’s still silliness while still having an antagonist to play off of. And in true Muppet fashion, it all ends in a musical number where C-3PO gets to tap dance (and Chewie and R2 get their moment to show off their “dancing” skills, which look more like swaying), and Mark Hamill and the Muppets sing the final song, which eerily predicts the one juggernaut bigger than the Death Star that would bring Star Wars and the Muppets again under the same family, down to the castle and fireworks.
While I still love the Harry Belafonte episode, and I’ll always crack up when I see John Cleese in the Muppet theater, this has to be my all-time favorite episode of The Muppet Show, and it’s not just because A New Hope is still my favorite movie. I think it’s actually because Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are my favorite candy. Muppets and Star Wars are a winning combination akin to chocolate and peanut butter, and that’s why the episode works. These are two different flavors of franchise, one mostly serious and one very silly, that work together because they let each other be what they are in a harmonious balance, enhancing why we love them both. The Force will be with this episode, always.
Best Joke: It’s either Luke’s very out-of-character screaming as he charges upstairs to search for Chewbacca, or it’s this exchange:
LUKE: Listen, pal. We’re on a mission. There’s no way we’re gonna be involved in any third-rate variety show.
KERMIT: …second-rate variety show…
Either one manages to get me to burst out laughing, no matter how many times I watch this episode.
Worst Joke: Hamill’s Kermit impression. But to be fair, it’s still entertainingly bad. All in all, it’s still more fun than the Rich Little episode.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Angus McGonagle, the deposed guest star who’s bumped once the Star Wars crew crash lands at the theater, makes the most of his lone non-background appearance with the Muppets. Jerry Nelson’s Scottish accent and gorgeous Gershwin gargling makes for a great running gag throughout the episode. Maybe they should invite him back!
Most Classic Moment: Having the Star Wars gang, the Swinetrek crew and the rest of the Muppets take a sci-fi clash and turn it into a big musical number is just classic Muppets. Hamill gets to have fun, the Muppets get a big finale, it just works so well.
First Appearance Of…: As referenced earlier, Angus McGonagle makes his first appearance in this episode, and while he may have been relegated to the background afterward, his memorable performance has earned him a spot in the hearts of Muppet fans. For some reason.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: I love how we see full-bodied puppets during “Six-String Orchestra.” It’s just not something you see very often on the show, and it looks great, enhancing Scooter’s fantasies. It requires more work than usual for these characters, but it works so well here.
Missed Opportunity: Not so much an opportunity, but Chewbacca appears in this episode without his signature bandolier. He looks naked without it!
One More Thing: Throughout the episode, Luke Skywalker appears in his Bespin outfit from The Empire Strikes Back, which was filmed before this episode, though it wouldn’t be released until several months afterward. This was one of the first times fans saw the outfit on the character!
Okay, One More Thing: Speaking of this episode airing before The Empire Strikes Back premiered, if Miss Piggy wants to seduce Luke, maybe she should stay away from the Princess Leia outfit. Just trust me on this.
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by Matthew Soberman