How George Lucas And Don McLean Really Reacted To Weird Al's Famous Star Wars Parody

The musical parody genre is probably one of the more niche industry categories out there (apart from, say, obscure examples like polyphonic atonal jazz). Since the genre's peak in the 1960s, there has been one parody artist who found major success in the mainstream: Weird Al Yankovic.

As he notes on his website, Yankovic isn't legally required to get permission from the artists he parodies. Even so, he does it anyway, in order to maintain good relationships with his industry colleagues. This has worked out fine for most of his career, albeit with one exception. The rapper Coolio was, for a while anyway, quite salty about Weird Al turning his 1996 gritty dirge about crime and poverty, "Gangsta's Paradise," into a comedy bit about farming, which Yankovic spun into the single "Amish Paradise" later the same year.

In 1999, when Yankovic parodied Don McLean's 1971 ode "American Pie" and replaced it with lyrics about a then-upcoming project in the "Star Wars" universe, he found he needed permission to do so from not one but two people. One was McLean, and the other was "Star Wars" director George Lucas, the man who, at the time, held all of the rights to the franchise. And while both men eventually gave permission to Yankovic, they came away from the final product with different attitudes.

Making Weird Al Yankovic's Star Wars parody came with problems

Back in the late 1990s, the "Star Wars" franchise underwent a revival of sorts with the upcoming "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." At the time, Weird Al Yankovic was keen to write a spoof song that would reference the long-awaited blockbuster movie. The structural basis for the parody would be Don McLean's classic hit "American Pie," and Yankovic would need the permission of both McLean and George Lucas to proceed, which he got, as The Chicago Tribune reported in 1999.

However, Lucas refused to share any of the details of the upcoming project — let alone with Yankovic — as his studio was desperately trying to keep things under wraps before the film's debut. Instead, Yankovic turned to the internet. Back in those days, what was known as the World Wide Web was crude and limited, especially compared to what it is now. Nevertheless, Yankovic was able to put together a general outline of the film's plot– mostly thanks to online rumors and spoilers – cobble together a song well before the film's release, albeit with a couple of minor mistakes. In the end, it proved to be an example of what today we would call "synergy," considering both Yankovic's song and Lucas' movie were huge commercial hits.

Did George Lucas and Don McLean love the spoof?

Years before the "The Phantom Menace" or "The Saga Begins," George Lucas had previously worked with Weird Al Yankovic — at least, in a way. In 1985, Yankovic received permission from Lucas to spoof The Kinks' 1971 hit "Lola" and rework it into the parody "Yoda," as The Wrap wrote in 2018. According to an interview Yankovic gave to the "Star Wars" fansite in the late 1990s, by his account Lucas was presumably happy with "Yoda," which later helped aid in Yankovic getting his permission for "The Saga Begins." 

After the song dropped, Lucas' people called Yankovic directly to tell him the director himself was quite happy with the spoof. "The official word from Lucasfilm was 'You should have seen the smile on George's face,'" Yankovic recalled. "I love those guys."

Don McLean's take wasn't quite as glowing. Make no mistake: The troubadour was generally pleased with what Yankovic had done to his classic. The problem was that Yankovic might have done too good of a job. Specifically, per The Chicago Tribune, McLean said that his children played Yankovic's "Running with Scissors" album — which included "The Saga Begins" as a track — around the house. This led to other problems, like when McLean tried to perform the actual "American Pie," and found the lyrics to "The Saga Begins" kept creeping into his head.