STAR WARS films have gained a reputation for replacing directors; that includes the musical (director) chairs on the set of SOLO. Ron Howard might not seem like an ideal choice for the job, but he has a unique qualification that is often overlooked: his own STAR WARS style adventure from 1980.
After a six seasons of the live-action HAPPY DAYS show, Richie Cunningham became a cartoon for an ABC Saturday morning series called FONZ & THE HAPPY DAYS GANG. The animated adventures followed the Fonz, Ritchie, Ralph Malph, Fonz’s dog and a space chick named “Cupcake.” Cupcake’s flying saucer was also a time-machine (as theorized in the film REPO MAN, that UFOs are also time-machines.) And that sets-up the central premise: Fonz and his friends are unstuck in time, trying to get back to 1957 Milwaukie.
And that brings us to the STAR WARS episode.
The spaceship jumps ahead to the year 2057. (Despite the fact that the STAR WARS films are very specific about taking place A LONG TIME AGO.) The episode aired on November 18, 1980, nearly five months after THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK opened. Ritchie and his friends meet an intergalactic warlord who is hellbent on destroying the Earth and making out with the Fonz. The episode shows Ritchie Cunningham (voiced by Ron Howard) outwitting evil robot guards, stealing a spaceship, and going on a wild chase through the stars. It’s a decent training ground before directing SOLO. (The episode is a fascinating piece of Lucas-sploitation, in that it’s ripping off AMERICAN GRAFFITI and STAR WARS all at once.)
A few years after the cartoon, Ron Howard and George Lucas would team-up to make WILLOW, and it’s fun to imagine Ron Howard casually mentioning the episode to George over lunch. “The villain was like a female Darth Vader. And she’s defeated by a kiss from the Fonz.”
Watch a 4-minute cutdown of the episode “MAY THE FARCE BE WITH YOU” here: