There are countless examples of times Family Guy ripped off movies, but some of the best episodes of Seth MacFarlane's long-running show are those that aim to pay subtle homage to - rather than lampoon - them. Family Guy parodies started in earnest with "Blue Harvest," the first of the extra-long Star Wars trilogy parodies, but there are even a couple that predate that (though they arguably were still honing their craft back then).
Still, it was with this first Star Wars spoof that MacFarlane and crew realized they had something great, so they continued the tradition, moving on to parody not just movies, but also literature and even plays. Like a monarch butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, some of the smartest Family Guy jokes have been reborn through this winning formula, which has grown into something of an art form in its own right.
Looking back on all of the show's parody episodes, it's easy to see why there are so many Family Guy fan theories online. After all, Peter and the gang are always up to something wacky.
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There's no longer a question of whether Han fired first - he definitely did. In large part, this section of "Blue Harvest" is pretty much a scene-by-scene homage to A New Hope (with a squirt of Family Guy humor injected into each scene), so not much changes from a storytelling standpoint. Peter plays Han Solo, Brian is Chewie, Lois is Leia, Chris is Luke, Cleveland is R2, Quagmire is C3P0, and Stewie is Vader.
The scene in which the crew escapes on the Falcon amid a barrage of blaster fire that never comes close to threatening them is brilliantly spoofed with the addition of Han and Chewie pilfering a couch, taking nearly a full minute to try and maneuver it onto the ship while hapless stormtroopers repeatedly miss their stationary targets.
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Agatha Christie's mystery story And Then There Were None is the basis for this parody, and it's a rather inspired one. A large cast of both Family Guy regulars and irregulars make up this one, which revolves around a dinner party inside a mansion that goes awry after a lifeless body is found. Whodunnit goofs ensue, like Peter's giant magnifying glass that makes his eye look huge as the dwindling cast of characters try to discover the identity of the perp while they're picked off one by one.
It turns out Tom Tucker's co-anchor Diane is responsible for the deeds, and she's about to take out Lois, who's uncovered the truth, only to be taken down by Stewie. Since the cast are all still Family Guy characters (as opposed to being Christie characters played by those of Family Guy), it's difficult to say what's borrowed and what's changed from the novel; essentially, the whole plot is different, but there are a few specific references to the original tale.
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Three Kings - The Shawshank Redemption
"Three Kings" is an episode split into three separate stories, each based on a famous Stephen King work. The all-time great film The Shawshank Redemption is actually based on a novella of King's called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Peter plays Andy Dufresne while Cleveland takes on the role of Red (in addition to the narration duties).
The plot is pretty loyal to the movie, at least in terms of the sequence of events, with one of the more memorable moments being Andy's trudge to freedom through the sewers - in this version Peter covers his tracks with a David Cassidy poster the Warden (played by Carter) pokes his finger through in a suspect manner.
"Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" is the second installment in the Star Wars parody trilogy, and like its predecessor, it follows the plot of The Empire Strikes Back faithfully, with the caveat that all the characters are Family Guy regulars. We get to see a few new Star Wars faces: Mort is Lando, the Giant Chicken is Boba Fett, and Yoda is essentially Carl the clerk.
Meg gets a bigger role (literally) as she plays the giant asteroid worm that Han, Leia, and Chewie land inside, a very similar role to the one she plays in the final installment. One of the more memorable moments is Han's response to Leia's "I love you" before he's frozen in carbonite; instead of his unforgettable "I know," he perhaps more straightforwardly responds, "F*ck off." To be fair, this response kind of matches the level of contempt Harrison Ford displays with his improvised line, it's just not as thinly veiled.
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"It's a Trap!" is the Return of the Jedi parody fans of both Star Wars and Family Guy were waiting for. MacFarlane reached even further into his cartoon universes to bring in a couple characters from both American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, as well. Like the previous two installments, this parody is a scene-by-scene rehash of the source material, with Meg now playing the Sarlacc that Boba Fett (AKA the Giant Chicken) gets knocked into after a classic Family Guy "too-long" joke, this time involving a series of head nods between good guy conspirators in preparation for the Jabba Party Barge takeover.
There are also cultural references made outside the Star Wars universe - even Captain Picard makes an appearance at one point. Oh, and Rush Limbaugh is the Rancor, whatever that's supposed to imply.
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Three Kings - Stand By Me
The Stand by Me segment of "Three Kings" might be the most surprising as it's the least King-y story one can think of, so much so that you may not even have known it was originally a Stephen King tale. Peter and his drinking buddies play the four boys of the story, though their names are amalgamations of their own and those of their kids. The plot unfolds just as it does in the movie, with Stewie playing the role of the junkyard owner, and Meg appearing as the body.
The showdown at the end puts Mayor West in the Kiefer Sutherland role, which is actually the most accurately casted part in his gang of baddies, filled out by Beast-Man, Mer-Man, and Norm from Cheers. The segment ends with a narration about what the boys went on to become as adults, mirroring the real lives of the actors whose characters they portrayed.