Donny & Marie as Luke & Leia in a ‘Star Wars’ Spoof Is the ’70s Nostalgia You’re Looking For
The 1970s certainly were a long time ago. And they may as well have been in a galaxy far, far away, when we now look back at some of the pop culture of that time — both in its weirdness, and especially in its un-ironic fun and innocence.
When you see or hear some of the songs, shows, movies and fads of the era, you can’t help but get a smile on your face, both for how silly and completely of-another-time they can be, but also in a wistful sort of way, like the feeling you can get from watching an old home movie or video.
A great example of this is the Sept. 23, 1977, Season 3 premiere episode of Donny & Marie, the beloved variety show hosted by the titular Osmond siblings that aired on ABC from 1976-79.
That episode concluded with a roughly 13-minute tribute to/spoof of Star Wars, George Lucas‘ blockbuster which by that time had been in theaters 18 weeks following its May 25 premiere, still reigned No. 1 at the box office and was obviously a major pop-culture influence.
Star Wars mania not only enveloped movie theaters and television, but also records and radios, with Meco‘s disco melding of John Williams’ main Star Wars theme with the Cantina Band cue hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart just about a week after this episode of Donny & Marie aired.
Donny & Marie seems to have had one of the earliest noteworthy spoofs of Star Wars on television, coming out almost exactly four months after the film’s premiere. As you might expect, Saturday Night Live did one, but it was a little over a year later, when Carrie Fisher guest-hosted in November 1978 (around the time of her appearance in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, but we’ll address that another time). And, of course, Bill Murray‘s lounge singer character, Nick Winters, performed his hilarious rendition of the Star Wars theme on SNL in 1978.
But the Donny & Marie spoof came before that, and it seems to have been sanctioned by Lucas, or 20th Century Fox, or both, since the sketch uses pieces of Williams’ score, and also features the actual R2-D2, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca.
There are also plenty of dancers dressed up in official stormtrooper gear, cutting moves a lot better than they fire laser blasters as they sing a terrible song to the melody of the Temptations‘ “Get Ready,” along with some other, more feminine-looking troopers who may have been played by Donny & Marie‘s Ice Angels.
Darth Vader shows up, and it appears that whoever is playing him is wearing the actual costume, though he is not voiced by James Earl Jones here. Providing Vader’s voice is the wonderfully named actor Thurl Ravenscroft — whom old-school kids will also remember hearing as the longtime voice of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes‘ Tony the Tiger (from 1953-2005) and Toys “R” Us‘ Geoffrey the Giraffe in the late ’70s/early ’80s.
Of course, the Osmond siblings step into the outfits of the famous Star Wars brother and sister, with Donny playing Luke Skywalker, and Marie looking really cute as Leia, complete with her hair done up in those famous side-buns, or whatever those things were.
That episode’s guest stars also take part, notably Kris Kristofferson as a bearded, shades-wearing Han Solo, and Redd Foxx as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-type figure called “Obi-Ben Okefenokee” (from the planet “Sanford“) who pops up in a mystical way every so often to crack a few jokes (Foxx keeps it clean, of course; this is the Osmonds, after all). Interestingly, Foxx would also be referenced in Family Guy‘s spoof of Star Wars about 30 years later.
There are other musical numbers, too, besides the “Get Ready” one, with the skit somehow managing to incorporate such disparate tunes as “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and the Air Force’s “Wild Blue Yonder” song.
Now, given this was made in the late ’70s, and was done by the Osmonds on top of that, there is a fair amount of cringe and cheesiness looking back at this nearly 50 years later, in a time when variety shows like this have long vanished from the television landscape, and when Disney, which now owns Lucasfilm, would be a lot more discerning about where their Star Wars copyrights and trademarks turn up.
In his 2019 memoir I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, Daniels says that while he remembers his experience on the show fondly, he also recalls most of the lines he was given to read being so dreadful that he decided to cut them from the script, and I’m honestly not surprised to hear that.
At the same time, that cringe and cheesiness is part of the appeal of this sketch, and not only in an ironic way (although that is certainly part of its appeal, too). It’s a reminder of a time before much of pop culture became so “irony-poisoned.”
All of the participants in the Donny & Marie Star Wars sketch seem to have been into it (which is more than can be said for Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Fisher in the following year’s Star Wars Holiday Special), and it doesn’t appear that they were faking their enthusiasm (I mean, can you find any people more wholesome than Donny and Marie Osmond?).
And in an age where cynicism and irony tends to rule, it is refreshing to see this sort of earnestness on occasion.