A Night at the Space Opera

My thoughts turned to the Star Wars saga the other day. I reflected on how Lucas was heavily influenced by samurai movies and old 1930’s serials. Then it hit me: the race sequence in The Phantom Menace was a re-doing of the Little Rascals episode in which Our Gang runs a soapbox derby. Think about it: it all makes sense, doesn’t it? So what else influenced Mr. Lucas’ script?

Well, I did some research and found that in the late 1940s, Chico Marx had some gambling debts to pay off. He convinced his brothers to come out of movie retirement and make two movies with him, A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy. This is all common knowledge. What is less well known is that Chico also proposed a science fiction movie to his brothers, which they turned down. The script for that project, however, survived. I found it after an internet search and was astounded to see the similarities between it and Star Wars. Is it possible that Lucas had access to this script when he set out to make his sci-fi epic?

The similarities are compelling. Imagine Groucho as Obi-Wan, Chico as C-3P0, Harpo as R2-D2, and some pie-eyed newcomer as Luke Skywalker. That would have been the core of actors in the film titled, appropriately enough for the Marx Brothers, A Night at the Space Opera. Reading over the script, it’s clear that the writer had a Marx vehicle in mind, with other actors filling roles in a catch-as-catch-can way. It’s quite possible Lucille Ball could have had the Princess Leia-equivalent part, given her comic turn in Room Service.

In the script, Groucho’s character is named Sir Jupitron, a former knight. Chico is Ricko the Robot – and would have appeared in a getup like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Harpo, also in a robot role, got to be Rusty the Robot. Had Zeppo been in the act, he would surely have been cast as the young hero Mike Mercury, but that role would have gone on to some new kid with a pretty face. Here’s a sample of the script:

SOLDIER: Say, buddy! Where you goin’ with those robots?

SIR JUPITRON: We were going nowhere fast, but it looks like you’ll slow us down.

SOLDIER: Do you own these things?

MIKE MERCURY: Yes, I do. They’ve been in the family for years.

SIR JUPITRON: Still good as new, as you can see. You wanna buy ’em?

RICKO THE ROBOT: Hey, why you try to a-sell a-me? Don’t you think I can-a do my own-a sales-a pitch?

RUSTY THE ROBOT: Honk.

SIR JUPITRON: It would take quite a wind-up to get a pitch that could sell the likes of you two.

RICKO THE ROBOT: At-sa what gets us goin’! A good wind-up every morning! That-a-way, we no run down.

SIR JUPITRON: You’re not run down? Say, that is an amazing pitch. The truth in advertising boys would have a field day with it.

RICKO THE ROBOT: Sure! You always wanna throw th’ pitch onna big-a field!

SIR JUPITRON: Well, I’m glad we got that all settled. You’re all free to go.

(The robots and Mike attempt to leave.)

SOLDIER: Just a minute, there! I’m not done with you yet!

SIR JUPITRON: Oh. You’re still here. Where were we… Ah, yes, we were going nowhere fast. I see you’re already there.

SOLDIER: We’re lookin’ for a couple of robots that look just like the ones you got there. (points to “Wanted” posters of Ricko and Rusty)

RICKO THE ROBOT: Say… (points at Rusty’s poster) that’s-a not me. (points at his own poster) And-a that’s-a not him. We ain’t the robots you’re lookin’ for.

SIR JUPITRON: He’s got a point there. They don’t look a thing like each other, so they can’t be somebody else. Well, I guess that settles it, we won’t keep you any longer. (makes ready to leave)

SOLDIER: Hold on, buddy. If these ain’t the robots I’m lookin’ for, how come this guy looks like that mug (points to Rusty and Rusty’s poster) and that guy looks like that mug? (points to Ricko and Ricko’s poster)

SIR JUPITRON: Well, it’s clearly a case of mistaken identity. Speaking personally, these two mistakes aren’t anyone I’d like to identify with.

RICKO THE ROBOT: Those mugs up there are a buncha like-a-looks.

RUSTY THE ROBOT: Honk (produces a wooden rectangle)

RICKO THE ROBOT: I agree. It’s a frame-up.

(Rusty produces a stool)

SIR JUPITRON: What’s that for?

RICKO THE ROBOT: When the crows come home to roost, we’ll use that to catch-a the stool pigeon.

SIR JUPITRON: (to Soldier) There you have it. They’ve been framed up, and I’ve been set up. And frankly, that was one of the worst punch lines ever. It didn’t deliver.

RICKO THE ROBOT: Well, don’t blame the joke. You didn’t-a pay the delivery charge.

SIR JUPITRON: (to Soldier) You know anything about a delivery charge?

SOLDIER: Uh, no…

SIR JUPITRON: So there’s no charge?

SOLDIER: I guess not.

SIR JUPITRON: Well, happy day! There’s no charge! Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…

SOLDIER: Just a minute! Are you guys up to anything funny here?

SIR JUPITRON: Not with these jokes, we’re not. We’re as corny as Kansas in summer.

SOLDIER: I still say these robots are the ones we’re lookin’ for.

SIR JUPITRON: (pause, warms up the fast talk) Well. You’re looking for a look-a-like that looks like these two lookers here, but it looks like they only look like the look-a-likes that you’re looking for and from the looks of things, the likelihood of the look-a-likes turning up looks less likely now that their likenesses are everywhere for one and all to look at, like it or not. I don’t like it, but look at it this way: look-a-likes don’t like looking like like-a-looks and… and…

(Soldier becomes impatient)

(Beautiful woman walks by, entering from the left and exiting to the right)

SIR JUPITRON: Wow! Whatta looker!

(Soldier is distracted, while he’s distracted, Rusty and Ricko draw mustaches on their wanted posters)

SIR JUPITRON: So you can clearly see, these aren’t the robots you’re looking for.

SOLDIER: (confused, trying to make sense of what’s going on) Wait, I… I guess they’re not the robots I’m looking for.

SIR JUPITRON: We can go about our business, now.

SOLDIER: (still confused) Yeah, you guys can scram outta here.

SIR JUPITRON: Move along, boys.

(All exit to the right, except Rusty the Robot, who runs off right)

(Offscreen, we hear a woman scream)

RUSTY THE ROBOT: (offscreen) Honk! Honk!

RICKO THE ROBOT: (offscreen) Hey! Rusty! Knock it off!

(Rusty runs up to Soldier)

RUSTY THE ROBOT: Honk

SOLDIER: Hey! (makes ready to apprehend Rusty)

(Rusty the Robot grabs a bucket and dumps it on the Soldier’s head, then runs off to the right)

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