How a Note From George Lucas Saved a ‘Star Wars’ Parody

Many Star Wars fans have mixed feelings on George Lucas. He undoubtedly played an integral role in the creation of the first three Star Wars films — the most universally beloved films of the series. On the same token, some fans dislike the prequels and feel the entire franchise includes problematic content.

In spite of the controversy surrounding Lucas, he has occasionally stuck up for derivative art inspired by Star Wars. One example is Mad magazine’s parody of The Empire Strikes Back. The creators of the parody might have been in legal trouble if not for Lucas.

George Lucas | Jim Wilson/New York Times Co./Getty Images

George Lucas and a classic humor magazine

Mad was a huge force in American comedy for a long time. In its pages, people satirized pop culture, politics, relationships, and numerous other topics. The magazine was particularly famous for its movie parodies, which satirized the plots of films in a visual style similar to comic books, with word bubbles, panels, etc.

The relationship between Lucas and Mad began before the advent of the Star Wars franchise. Before the release of the original Star Wars film, Lucas was most known for his coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti. The poster for the film was drawn by Mort Drucker, and artist who created many caricatures for Mad.

American Graffiti poster | Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

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The Empire Strikes Back was a huge deal when it was released in 1980. A magazine like Mad, which derived much of its humor from spoofing Hollywood, almost had to parody it — and they did. The cover of Mad’s Empire parody featured Yoda with the face of Mad’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman.

George Lucas and his lawyers react to a ‘Star Wars’ parody

Lucas liked the parody. According to the book Mad About Star Wars, he sent Mad a note praising their work. Newsweek reports the note praised some of the artists behind the parody. “Special Oscars should be awarded to [Mort] Drucker and [Dick[ DeBartolo, the George Bernard Shaw and Leonardo da Vinci of comic satire. Their sequel to my sequel was sheer galactic madness.” In addition, Cinema Blend reports Lucas offered to buy the original artwork used in the parody.

George Lucas | David Livingston/Getty Images for AFI

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Lucasfilm’s lawyers, however, were not impressed. They felt Mad was using Star Wars characters to sell magazines. They sent the magazine a cease and desist letter asking them to stop using Star Wars characters. In addition, they said Mad should have over all of the profits of their Empire issue.

Why was Mad getting different responses from Lucas and Lucasfilm’s lawyers? At the time, Lucas had very little to do with Lucasfilm’s lawyers. Lucas had no clue the lawyers sent Mad a cease and desist letter just as the lawyers were unaware of Lucas’ note. Ultimately, Mad’s publisher, Bill Gaines, sent the lawyers a copy of Lucas’ note and the two parties never came into conflict again. Thanks to Lucas, the world got many more Mad spoofs set in a galaxy far, far, away.

Also see: ‘Star Wars’: How Albert Einstein Inspired Yoda