It’s no secret that Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is a bit of a nerd. The entire series contains endless pop culture references, most to various elements of nerd culture, including Monty Python, Back To The Future, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones, as an extremely small list of the many, many examples. But the fandom most referenced in the animated series has to be Star Wars.
Family Guy began making references to the Star Wars films as early as Season 1, with characters being frozen in carbonite, escape pods and Jabba the Hut appearances. Finally, in the Season 6 premiere, Family Guy went all-in and did a full parody of Episode IV: A New Hope, titled Blue Harvest — a reference to the fake working title of the original film. This eventually led to all 3 original Star Wars episodes being parodied by Family Guy.
In Family Guy Season 11, Episode 5, “200 Episodes Later,” Seth MacFarlane discusses the parodies. “We had done a number of Star Wars gags on the show, and they were so frequent eventually Fox legal said to us, ‘If you’re going to keep doing these, we have to get clearance from Lucasfilm, because there’s just no way we’re not going to get sued,'” he stated. “And we said ‘Ah, well, God, that’s the end of it’, you know, ‘we’re not going to be able to do these anymore’. And LucasFilm surprised us by saying, ‘Yeah, no, we like this.'”
With the blessing from Lucasfilm, Family Guy created three hour-long specials: Season 6, Episode 1, “Blue Harvest” as a parody of Episode IV: A New Hope; Season 8, Episode 20, “Something Something Something Dark Side” as a parody of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; and Season 9, Episode 18, “It’s A Trap”, as a parody of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Each episode is a retelling of the popular film, using Family Guy characters in the Star Wars roles, and much to the delight of fans of the sci-fi films, the episodes actually do an excellent job of accurately relaying the story. In “200 Episodes Later”, writer and producer Alec Sulkin describes the experience as, “very fun for [him] to work on…it was fun to kind of go through it and make fun of it. You know, tell the jokes that you’d always think of saying.” As fans of the original films, Seth MacFarlane and his Family Guy crew were thrilled to take on the projects.
But Family Guy isn’t the only show to parody this famous franchise. In fact, they weren’t even the first. Seth Green, who voices Chris Griffin on Family Guy, is also the creator of the Adult Swim sketch comedy stop-motion show Robot Chicken. Green’s show aired a 22-minute one-off special called Robot Chicken: Star Wars, making references to all of the Star Wars films, including Episodes I-III, which were not featured on Family Guy.
The playful rivalry between Family Guy and Robot Chicken is referenced throughout Family Guy, but especially in “It’s A Trap.” In one of the final scenes of the episode, Emperor Palpatine (Carter) is trying to upset Luke (Chris) by badmouthing Seth Green, who as we know voices Chris’s character. The sequence is entertaining, with Palpatine trying to get a rise out of Luke by claiming Seth Green has never made any popular films, while also making specific reference to “that God-awful puppet show,” meaning Robot Chicken. At the end of the episode, the scene returns to the Griffin family in their living room, where Peter (voiced by MacFarlane) and Chris argue about which Seth is worse, with MacFarlane’s characters advocating for him, and the others advocating for Green.
The episodes were an instant hit, not only with fans of Family Guy and Star Wars but George Lucas himself enjoyed the parodies, according to Seth MacFarlane. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, MacFarlane discussed the icon’s admiration for his parody. “As a matter of fact, when the first “Blue Harvest” episode was about to air, we were invited up to his ranch and we sat down and watched it with him, he explained. “We were half-expecting him to say, “You know what? We can’t allow this to air.” But he brought his son, and they were both into it.”
But will they tackle any episodes beyond IV, V and VI? It’s not likely, according to Sulkin, who has said “[Disney] is a little more difficult to deal with.” In “It’s A Trap,” Peter remarks that The Cleveland Show might do Episodes I-III, an obvious jab at both the MacFarlane created show, and the Star Wars prequels. What is likely, however, is that Family Guy will continue to reference MacFarlane’s favorite films, television shows and moments in pop culture history. Many Family Guy viewers are part of the same fandoms the creator loves so much, and the series is never short of nerdy references, sci-fi or otherwise.
The story of how Family Guy's Star Wars parodies came to be is a fascinating one, to say the least.