There is a dorky reference in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that even director Rian Johnson admits that you may have to be of a certain age to get – thanks to a narrow window where you might have been watching premium cable in the very early ‘80s when this bizarre little short film would air in-between feature-length films. But, yes, Johnson confirms, we’ve come full circle, there is a Hardware Wars reference in The Last Jedi.
Literally the first question I asked Johnson in an interview on Friday was, “That had to be a Hardware Wars reference in The Last Jedi, right?” Johnson let out a bellowing laugh and said, “I’m so happy you saw that.” After explaining that I haven’t found too many people yet who have gotten the reference, Johnson said, “I know. Patton Oswalt, after he saw it, he DMed me just, ‘Hardware Wars!’ I was like, ‘Yes!’ It’s people of a certain age who will get that, I think.”
Released in 1978, filmmaker Ernie Fosselius released a crude-but-endearing 13-minute short film that recreated the original Star Wars, only with appliances. Characters Fluke Starbucker (with his flashlight lightsaber) and Augie “Ben” Doggie meet an ace pilot named Ham Salad who flies them all around in a giant iron that battles flying toasters. You know, it might just be easier if you watch it yourself, which you can do right here:
And, as Johnson said, kids “of a certain age” who were dying to rewatch Star Wars over and over before it was ever released on VHS, well, Hardware Wars was as close as it was going to come for the time being.
And then, 39 years later, comes Rian Johnson’s entry into the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi, where Ham Salad is now canon – sort of.
[Minor spoilers ahead.] About three-fourths of the way into The Last Jedi, the music swells and what looks like a giant starship shaped like an iron is landing on a First Order landing platform. The camera zooms out and the sight gag is that it’s just an actual iron, trying to get some wrinkles out of a uniform in a room where Finn and Rose steal uniforms as they infiltrate a Star Destroyer. But for people who know Hardware Wars, there’s was no doubt what a flying iron was in reference to…
“That gives you a sense of how free of a hand I had in it,” says Johnson when asked how in the world he got a Hardware Wars reference, of all things, into an actual Star Wars movie.
Johnson continues, “I just came up with that gag during the script writing phase, actually. Because I was thinking we had to sell the transition to a ship, then I knew we had to transition to some kind of place where they had to find uniforms. So it was kind of, well, let’s shake it up a little bit.”
But there were no flying toasters. Johnson laughs, “Well, you have to have some restraint.” Then thinking about the possibility of a movie that just devolves into a Hardware Wars reunion, he adds, “I’m sure that would go over great on Reddit. I should find the original actors.”
As for the score, Johnson tells a pretty delightful story about John Williams’ brief flirtation writing music for a Hardware Wars joke. Johnson explains, “John Williams, by the way, had a blast. He wrote the big, ‘Dun dun dun DUUUN,’ as the ship came down. He was like, ‘I’m really going for it with this.’”
While The Last Jedi chases box office records this weekend, that small band of heroes who made Hardware Wars back in 1978 has to be grinning just a little more than normal this weekend – because Ham Salad and his flying iron have finally made it into a real Star Wars movie.
“I’ve got to rewatch it now. I haven’t seen it forever and I still remember it so well,” says Johnson about Hardware Wars, before realizing just how long we’ve been discussing Hardware Wars up to that point in the interview, seeming both delighted and surprised … “We’ve now spent eight minutes on Hardware Wars, by the way.”
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