The Muppets take Tatooine

My daughter hasn’t been watching much TV — at seven months she doesn’t have the attention span for it, and would rather spend her time crawling around chasing dogs, chewing on blocks or hunting for power cords.

She does like the “Baby Genius” videos though, which feature puppets engaged in a bunch of different short films (and I do mean short — we’re talking films custom-made for baby attention spans, with each scene lasting somewhere around 30 seconds).

Given how much she liked the Genius puppets, we thought she might get a kick out of the Muppets, and decided to rent an episode of The Muppet Show from Netflix. They’ve got a bunch of the old shows on DVD, and when I saw they had one with Mark Hamill on it, I knew exactly which one I was renting first.

The episode in question’s from 1978, apparently not long after the release of Star Wars. Hamill plays himself as well as his “cousin” Luke Skywalker. As the show starts, Luke, C3PO and R2-D2 crash into the Muppet studio looking for Chewbacca. They quickly displace the show’s featured guest (a Scotsman gurgling Gershwin) and find themselves the center of several skits. These culminate with a “Pigs in Space” episode involving Miss Piggy as Princess Leia, Gonzo as a Darth Vader knockoff and ummm, a dancing Wookiee.

It’s all pretty damn funny, even twenty-odd years later. Some of the skits are uninspired, seeming like little more than Sesame Street rejects, but others — especially the Muppet News shows, the off-stage moments with Kermit, and (of course) Pigs in Space are downright hilarious. Interestingly, in this appearance, Luke’s wearing a uniform similar to what he’ll wear in The Empire Strikes Back. Was this episode an inadvertent sneak peak? Perhaps.

That said, watching this episode I can understand why the Star Wars Holiday Special was such an unmitigated disaster (I’ve never seen the whole thing, but I’ve seen enough to know how bad it is, and read plenty of reviews .

Star Wars was never meant to be a small-screen phenomenon, especially with the dismal quality of 1970s broadcast television. Combined with Mark Hamill’s juvenile acting skills, bad 70s hair, and goofy grins (though I doubt anyone could work with Muppets and not have one of those grins), it’s just something that should never be contemplated. That said, on The Muppet Show, where everything’s tongue in cheek anyway, it all works and actually serves to enhance the show’s reputation as a third-rate (sorry Kermit … second-rate) variety show. But to play it straight … and to expect the actors to take it seriously … it makes for a disaster of epic proportions.

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