Even to hardcore Star Wars fans, George Lucas can come across as a pretty serious guy. It might seem like the man who invented Darth Vader and Jar Jar Binks can't take a joke, but as the creators of Robot Chicken will tell you, that's not the case.
Here's how Seth Green and Matt Senreich got George Lucas to laugh at himself and even record a few lines for Robot Chicken's Star Wars parody.
Last year, Inverse published a definitive oral history of Adult Swim's stop-motion animated sketch comedy show, and on the occasion of The Empire Strike's Back's 40th anniversary, we're dusting off a few memorable quotes to explain how one of the best Star Wars parodies of all time came to be.
Initially, Star Wars was off-limits for the team at Robot Chicken out of fear that Lucasfilm would sue anyone who infringed on its copyright. But for a group of nerds writing pop culture jokes, it was impossible to resist forever. One of the first ideas that made it onto the show is an iconic sketch where Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Seth McFarlane) gets a call from Darth Vader shortly after the events of A New Hope.
"We liked juxtaposing a businessman doing very mundane office duties with something as fantastic as the Emperor," Robot Chicken co-creator Seth Green told Inverse. "We love Star Wars, and it’s obviously ripe for parody."
Nobody could have predicted what would happen next. Not only did George Lucas see the sketch, he loved it.
"George had seen the sketch," Green said. "He’d showed it at a board meeting as an example of the type of thing he liked because it wasn’t cannibalizing the sincere value of the brand. Instead, it was expanding on their sense of humor and helping an audience find a different access point."
Lucas had one of his employees invite Seth and Senreich to visit the famous Skywalker Ranch, but that first phone call didn't go exactly as planned.
"A couple days after it aired, I got a call on my phone and it said Lucasfilm on the Caller ID. I looked at Seth and he was like, 'Oh my God.' So I pick up the phone and say, 'Hi, you’ve reached Matthew Senreich and Seth Green’s office. How can I help you?' pretending to be an assistant. After some confusion, she was like, 'I love the sketch that you guys did.'”
During their visit to Skywalker Ranch, Green and Senreich didn't actually meet Lucas, but they spoke to a few other Lucasfilm executives, and when the time was right, they pitched their big idea.
They invited us to come up to Lucasfilm and take a tour of all of their facilities and meet with some of their top executives and discuss if there was an opportunity for us to produce something with them.
Again, here's Senreich:
"We had lunch with the marketing and publicity departments. Then I said, 'Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a whole episode just based on Star Wars?' I still remember Seth stepping on my foot when I did it, but I knew that was the one shot I was going to get.”
Despite all odds, Lucasfilm went for it, signing off on an entire Robot Chicken episode of Star Wars sketches, including one sketch where Lucas plays himself at a Star Wars convention and spends most of the scene running from nerdy fans.
"We got him to do his actual voice," Green said. "Again, it seems entirely improbable, but that’s the great thing about George Lucas. In addition to being a brilliant innovator and a technological pioneer, he has an incredible sense of humor and an honest awareness of how people perceive him. He was willing to play around with that impression so he couldn’t be easily defined."
One more time, here's Senreich:
"I remember George coming in to record and he took the script and he threw it up in the air and was like, 'I’m just going to be the actor.' Then Seth, who had met him before, was like, 'Okay, I’m just going to be the director and tell you to do it one time, exactly how it’s on the page.'”
That eventually led to two more episodes, plus others focused on The Walking Dead and DC Comics. But it all started with Seth Green, Matt Senreich, and George Lucas cracking jokes in a voice recording booth.
Welcome to Star Wars Week! To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of Revenge of the Sith (May 19) and the 40-year anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back (May 21), we're talking about our favorite sci-fi franchise for nine days straight.