Because Star Wars is such a cultural juggernaut, it’s been parodied numerous times. Often, Star Wars is the subject of throwaway gags in movies (e.g. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Toy Story 2). Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs is certainly the most famous movie that’s a Star Wars parody from start to finish.
Some artists like to see their work get parodied. Meanwhile, others take offense. This raises an interesting question: How did George Lucas react to Spaceballs?
The deal Mel Brooks made to create his ‘Star Wars’ parody
Many of Brooks’ most famous films are parodies of certain directors or genres. For example, High Anxiety is a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock movies and Young Frankenstein is a spoof of the Universal Frankenstein movies. In the same vein, Spaceballs is primarily a spoof of the original Star Wars trilogy, though it includes references to other science fiction films like Planet of the Apes and Alien. Brooks was worried Lucas might sue him over the movie even though parody is protected by copyright law.
He told Entertainment Weekly “I was afraid to get sued by Lucas. I sent him the script and he said, ‘It’s fine.’” Brooks informed The A.V. Club there was a caveat. “I wasn’t allowed to do any merchandising… I wasn’t allowed to do that. My deal with Star Wars was no action figures.’” This is ironic, as Brooks’ character in the film, Yogurt, is obsessed with merchandising.
What George Lucas thought of ‘Spaceballs’
Although he prevented Brooks from merchandising the film, Lucas embraced Spaceballs fully. “His company ILM did all the space effects and postproduction for us. And he was so complimentary about the picture. He said, ‘Take out the comedy and it really works as an adventure.’” The fact that Spaceballs has a strong story helps it to connect with audiences in a way other comedies don’t.
In addition, Brooks got a kind note from Lucas. Brooks said Lucas “wrote me a lovely note [telling] me how much he loved the picture. He said it’s dangerous comedy. He said, ‘I was afraid I would bust something from laughing.’ Which is a lovely note.”
How ‘Spaceballs’ continued to impact Mel Brooks’ life
Brooks has made some very successful films. However, he revealed they’ve all been overshadowed by Spaceballs commercially. “When I think about getting a bottle of wine in a restaurant, I say, ‘My God, they want $90 for this wine!’ Then something in me says, ‘The hell with it — Spaceballs will cover it.’”
In contrast, Brooks acknowledged Spaceballs isn’t one of his big critical hits. To this day, it’s never received as much acclaim as The Producers or Young Frankenstein. However, he said the film connected with people. He receives more fan mail from Spaceballs fans than from fans of all his other movies. In conclusion, Spaceballs fans can thank Lucas for helping the film get made.