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'Simpsons' showrunner Al Jean on trying to capture 'the whole history' of Star Wars in that surprise May the 4th Disney+ short
The "D" in Walt Disney Corporation now stands for "D'oh!" — and don't let anyone tell you different. In honor of May the 4th, the creative team behind The Simpsons produced a 3-minute short inspired by the iconic Star Wars universe, which turns 44 this year. As Hank Azaria's Comic Book Guy might say: "Best. Crossover. Ever."
Now streaming on Disney+, "The Force Awakens From Its Nap" follows Maggie (the pacifier-loving member of the titular family) enjoying a day at Jabba's Hut Jedi Preschool. There, we see beloved characters like Obi-Wan and General Grievous whipping up PB&J sandwiches or changing diapers. It's almost like an extended and Easter egg-filled version of the couch gags the series has become famous for over last 32 years.
Speaking with SYFY WIRE, Simpsons showrunner and executive producer Al Jean reveals the idea for the short came from Simpsons co-developer and longtime producer, James L. Brooks.
"Now that we’re on Disney+, [we should] try to do projects where we use other elements from Disney+," Jean says. "Disney+ was extremely supportive of this and when we got the go-ahead in January, we looked at the list of upcoming things and of course what caught our eye immediately was May the 4th. It was tight — I think the first draft [finished] January 28 and the animators and the director, David Silverman, worked so hard and we got it done about a week ago. I was really thrilled with the way it looked and the way it came out."
But the showrunner would be lying if he said he didn't feel the pressure of merging two of the most recognizable properties ever to grace pop culture-dom. "I had the feeling that we had the opportunity to piss off two of the most demanding fan bases in the world," he admits with a chuckle. "It was a little daunting because you’re really gonna get a lot of heat if people don’t like it. But no, it was more exciting because I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was 15 and saw the first film. It is one of the major influences on The Simpsons. To actually be able to use those characters and be in that universe was just really cool."
Ironically, he didn't have to worry about poking fun at the Mouse House — something The Simpsons was doing long before it was purchased by Disney in the company's 2018 acquisition of 20th Century Fox's entertainment properties. "It’s really funny because we took a lot of shots at Disney before we were bought," Jean says. "They’re all available on Disney+ and we’ve continued to [make fun of them] and they just said, ‘Be yourselves. We didn’t buy to change you. We bought The Simpsons because of what it is.’ And they’ve been really great to work for."
The only major piece of feedback from Lucasfilm was not to oversaturate the short with references to Grogu (the child formerly known as Baby Yoda). "I agree," Jean concedes. "It’s a terrific character and you wanna preserve that specialness as much as possible." In addition, Lucasfilm helped guide the crew's use of Aurebesh, a predominant alien alphabet seen throughout the Star Wars mythos. "We originally had a slightly different wording, so that was fantastic. I think we made it true to them as well as true to us."
Maggie's galactic adventure kicks into high gear when she crosses paths with BB-8 and finds herself squaring off with a pint-sized Sith Lord modeled after Episode I's Darth Maul. "I love all the ones that everybody loves and additionally, one I’ll speak up for, which is one that people don’t like as much, is The Phantom Menace," Jean continues. "I thought there was a lot of great stuff in it when I saw it, like 'Duel of the Fates' and Darth Maul."
Along with co-writers Michael Price and Joel H. Cohen (who came up with the title that pays homage to Episode VII), Jean hoped to capture "the whole history of the movies and the TV shows." One of the producer's favorite elements are the end credits, which pay tribute to The Mandalorian's now-famous slideshows of concept art that accompany the names of the production crew. "We pay a lot of tribute to The Mandalorian, which I think was just an incredible reimagining of the franchise and being able to see all these possibilities for what’s gonna happen in the future."
While on the topic of the future, we asked Jean which Star Wars actor he'd like to have as a guest on the mothership show next. Over the years, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Natalie Portman (Padme), and Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) have all graced the show with their A-list voices in some capacity. "I think Ewan McGregor’s great," the showrunner says of the Obi-Wan actor. "I would love to get him. We never had Harrison Ford on the show. He was one of the biggest stars we’ve never had. We will never have Carrie Fisher [who passed away in 2016], but the writers were really good friends with her. She is, of course, very missed."
So, what Disney-owned property will invade Springfield next? "I think we have our eyes on Marvel," Jean teases.
The Simpsons are...inevitable.
Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of May the 4th and the latest Star Wars news. The first 31 seasons of The Simpsons are available to stream on Disney+.