StarWars.com looks back at some of the most popular Star Wars tribute tunes -- and checks in with one of the form's greats.
The influence of the Star Wars universe covers our cultural landscape like sand on Tatooine. And nowhere can you hear it more melodically than with Star Wars-inspired novelty tunes. While creating the ultimate playlist, we found the Force proved remarkably strong with the following five.
5. "Star Warz" by Dickie Goodman
Long before sampling became a buzz word, Goodman worked audio patchwork magic by popularizing the break-in record. These parodies featured Goodman doing faux interviews with characters and figures from popular culture. For the answers, Goodman would use snippets from the hit singles of the day. After skewering Batman, President Nixon, Jaws, King Kong, and a laundry list of others, Goodman released a pair of Star Wars parodies, one in 1977 and another in 1980. "Star Warz" and "Star Warts" have some similarities, but the former rises to the top. During "Star Warz," when Goodman asks C-3PO how he wound up on Tatooine, the droid replies with a line from Jimmy Buffett’s "Margaritaville" (“I blew out my flip-flop”). Goodman also borrows blips from tunes by Peter Frampton, The Emotions, and James Taylor. In 1983, Goodman revisited Star Wars territory with "Return of the Jedi Returns."
4. "Star Wars Cantina" by Mark Jonathan Davis
Beginning in 2000, Davis, an ace voice actor and musician, began snagging notoriety with his alter-ego, Richard Cheese. As Cheese, Davis puts a Sinatra-style twist on rock and rap songs. A pair of Cheese cuts -- traditional readings of Cole Porter classics -- can be heard in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yet in the early 1990s, Davis produced several parody songs under his own name, including "The Star Wars Cantina." This satire of Barry Manilow’s 1978 disco anthem "Copacabana" finds Davis doing a spot-on Manilow impression, crooning about the “music and blasters and old Jedi masters” found in that wretched hive of scum and villainy.
3. "The Saga Begins" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
To coincide with the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the king of pop parody gave Don McClean’s "American Pie" a Star Wars overhaul. "Weird Al" deftly pulls off the challenging task of replacing McClean’s long-winded lyrics with the film’s entire plot. Who else could stuff three acts into 5 minutes and 29 seconds? Yankovic weaves lines like “My, my, this here Anakin guy. Maybe Vader someday later. Now he’s just a small fry.” Another of the countless reasons why "Weird Al" easily holds the title of Jedi Master of Mockery.
2. "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" by Meco
Domenico “Meco” Monardo honed his production chops in the early ’70s by co-producing a string of disco hits. But his career soon soared out of this world after binge watching Star Wars throughout its opening weekend. That’s when Monardo envisioned whipping up a disco-fied medley of the “Main Title” and “Cantina Band” tracks from the John Williams score. Lacing it with spacey sound effects and a hustle-inducing beat, Monardo soon had a hit on his hands. In October of 1977, the song held the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. Most impressive. Meco went on to sprinkle disco dust on several other movie themes, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, and The Empire Strikes Back. In 1980, Meco produced Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album featuring the vocal stylings of Anthony Daniels and a young Jon Bon Jovi.
1. "Yoda" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" takes the classic Kinks’ anthem and delivers it from the perspective of Luke getting schooled by the pointy-eared master in The Empire Strikes Back. Originally penned in 1980, a demo version featuring only Yankovic singing and playing the accordion made radio airwaves on the syndicated The Dr. Demento Show. Due to rights issues, the song didn’t receive an official release until five years later when it landed on "Weird Al"’s Dare to Be Stupid album. Today Yankovic closes his live shows with the endearing fan favorite and sandwiches an ever-evolving and ever-impressive a cappella chant in the middle.
No musician waves the Star Wars flag quite like "Weird Al" Yankovic. Not only does he have a pair of Star Wars parodies in his rib-poking repertoire, they never fail to occupy sizable real estate during his live performances.
When "Weird Al" rolls into town, it’s standard operating procedure for him to enlist the aid of members of the 501st Legion. Those die-hard Imperial costumers share the stage with him during the Star Wars segment. And "Weird Al" stays on target by saving it all for the big finale.
Expect more galactic adoration as "Weird Al" and his veteran bandmates hit the road this summer for another leg of his Mandatory World Tour. After visiting more than 100 cities in North America, Europe, and Australia in 2015, Al and company will hit an additional 79 North American burgs beginning June 3. That means it’s just about time for Al to pick up the Jedi suit from the cleaners.
Before taking off from his virtual spaceport, "Weird Al" recently took time to talk Star Wars, list his favorite flicks in order, and reveal what George Lucas really thinks of his tunes.
StarWars.com: Although you make countless costume changes during your show, and you’ve been performing your Star Wars songs for years, do you still get a little thrill when you slip on the Jedi duds?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Always. It’s always a kick for me to do that and walk out onstage. I never know who’s going to be onstage from night to night, because we rely on local members of the 501st to contribute members to the show’s finale. Sometimes there will be 12 stormtroopers and sometimes various other characters from Star Wars. There might be a Chewbacca or an R2-D2. I literally don’t know until I walk out onstage who’s going to be there. So that’s always a thrill for me.
StarWars.com: How did your relationship with the 501st come about?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I don’t remember specifically how it started. I think somebody may have approached me in public and said, “Hey, I’m a member of the 501st. If you ever want us to be onstage with you, we’ll gladly do it.” I probably took their number and gave it to my manager. It wound up being a really wonderful relationship. I don’t know how long they’ve been part of our show, but for many years now the 501st has joined me onstage for the encores. They act like I’m doing them a big favor, but they’re doing me a huge favor, because it just adds so much to the show. It makes it so much bigger and more fun for everybody. I’m so incredibly grateful to the 501st. They’ve been so wonderful to me, and I truly appreciate all of their participation over the years.
StarWars.com: You’re obviously a Star Wars fan. Can you remember the first time you saw Star Wars and what kind of effect the film had on you?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I saw it during its initial run, and it was one of the first Hollywood blockbusters. I remember waiting in a really, really, really long line and seeing it. Like everybody else, I was just blown away. I hadn’t seen anything like it on a movie screen before. It’s one of the few movies I saw multiple times in the theater. And that was a very unusual thing for me. I rarely saw a movie more than once, but Star Wars was so packed with visual information that you felt like you had to watch it at least a few times to really get it all. It was one of those kind of things that was really a transformational part of my adolescence. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: When you wrote “Yoda” and you reached out to Ray Davies for permission, I understand he was a bit reluctant at first?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I don’t think it actually got to Ray Davies at first. I wrote the song in 1980, and I think we tried to get it on the first album. I forget exactly what was happening, but we weren’t getting approval. And I bumped into Ray Davies a few years after that. I think it was somewhere in New York at a radio station. I asked him about it, and it was news to him. He didn’t know I was trying to get permission from him. He basically said, “Yeah, it sounds good.” Once I had the direct contact, it was a lot easier to get all of the legalities worked out. And we got permission from Lucasfilm as well, which was necessary, of course. I find that happens a lot. When I get in contact directly with an artist, they usually get the joke and are cool with it. It’s the people who are the intermediaries who slow down the process or stand in the way.
StarWars.com: Speaking of your relationship with Lucasfilm, “The Saga Begins” was recorded a month before Episode I was released. You obviously had access to the storyline. Did you have to swear yourself to secrecy?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Even though Lucasfilm has always been very supportive and has always allowed me to do my parodies, I wasn’t given any special treatment in regards to inside information on Episode I. Basically everything I learned about the movie that I used to write that song was based on Internet rumors. I went to various Star Wars fan websites and got as much information as I could. Some of it was erroneous, but most of it was on the money. I’m not sure how they got all of the storyline information, but I kind of pieced it all together. Based on that, I wrote the song. Before we mastered the album, I knew I couldn’t release the song without seeing the movie. What if the Internet lied to me? [Laughs] So I paid whatever it was, $1,000, to go to a charity benefit screening. And thankfully the Internet was pretty accurate. I might’ve had to change a word or two, but it wasn’t very much. My song pretty much followed the actual plot of the movie.
StarWars.com: Have you ever gotten any feedback from George Lucas about your Star Wars songs?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I have. I met him a couple of times. I think the first time I met him in person was at an Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation benefit. He told me his kids were big fans of mine, which kind of blew my mind. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: So I understand you don’t have any plans to do a The Force Awakens parody. Any chance you might reconsider one day?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Anything’s possible. I just had to say that, because everyone was chomping at the bit for another Star Wars parody from me. I do kind of feel like my show has so much Star Wars in it already that I don’t want to tip the balance and make it all Star Wars, all the time. As much as it would be kind of fun to take another stab at it, I kind of feel like I may need to diversify a little more and focus on the non-Star Wars side of my career. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: What did you think of The Force Awakens?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I loved it. I thought it was great. It’s way up there in terms of my favorite Stars Wars movies. I think J.J. Abrams did a fantastic job, and it’s a real nice addition to the franchise.
StarWars.com: Could you give us a rundown of your favorite Star Wars films from top to bottom?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Yeah. I haven’t really figured out where the new one fits into it yet. Prior to The Force Awakens, it was Episode V, then IV, VI, III, II, and I. The new one is definitely in the top four.
Jon Waterhouse is an award-winning journalist, radio show host, and performer whose byline has appeared in a variety of print and online publications including Esquire, BlackBook, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on MTV.com. He helms the geek travel blog NerdsOnHoliday.com.