How a 1980 episode of “The Muppet Show” nearly spoiled “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”

That was close…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a bunch of Muppets showed up on television screens across America and enchanted an entire generation of kids (and adults, and kids who are now adults). Then, the original 1978 show all but disappeared from public view.

But as of Feb. 19, “The Muppet Show” is back on screens across the country — as long as you’ve got a Disney+ subscription.

In its heyday, “The Muppet Show” was broadcast in more than 100 countries, according to the Television Academy Foundation. It’s hard to imagine another platform so powerful that it could convince a 67-year-old Gene Kelly to recreate his iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” dance, let alone with puppets.

But there’s one episode that stands out, not just because it combined two of the most popular cultural phenomena into one super phenomenon, but because it managed to unknowingly showcase spoilers for one of the biggest film releases of the century.

I am, of course, talking about the “Star Wars” episode.

In season four of “The Muppet Show,” there’s a February 1980 episode that opens on a puppet named Angus McGonagle, the Scottish “argyle gargoyle,” who is hosting the show. Out of nowhere, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 burst through the wall. “They’d make much better hosts than McGonagle!” Scooter says, pushing McGonagle out the dressing room door.

“It seems we’ve landed on some sort of comedy variety show planet,” says Skywalker, on a quest to rescue a kidnapped Chewbacca. “Help,” the SOS telegram from the Wookiee reads. “I am being held prisoner by a bunch of weird turkeys”.

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“It does rather sound like your show,” C-3PO says.

“Yeah, it does,” Kermit responds.

Luke’s busy searching for Chewie, so he can’t host the episode, but offers up his “cousin” Mark Hamill to handle the hosting duties. What follows is what official Disney fan club D23 calls “comedic chaos,” boasting “some of the only new Star Wars material created between the first movie in 1977 and the release of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ on May 21, 1980”.

“The Empire Strikes Back,” of course, features the first appearance of Yoda, who is himself a Henson Company puppet. Jim Henson and George Lucas were friends — Lucas actually offered the role of Yoda to Henson, who was too busy working on “The Great Muppet Caper,” and passed the offer along to Frank Oz, who voiced many of the original Muppets like Miss Piggy. But beyond that, timing and circumstance made the crossover possible.

Read more: sfgate

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