How ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Inspired a Scene in ‘E.T.’
In 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the undisputed box office champ of the year, eventually unseating Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it held until the release of Jurassic Park 11 years later. While "Weird Al" Yankovic was nowhere near a household name when Steven Spielberg's classic first phoned home, the accordion-playing parodist was indirectly responsible for a small joke in the film.
Spielberg famously shot much of the film in rough chronological order to elicit a greater emotional reaction from his young actors. Tight security on set meant no one got a look at the title character until absolutely necessary — even E.T.'s co-stars.
"I remember the first time I saw E.T. was when I see him in the movie," Robert MacNaughton, who played older brother Michael, said in 2002. "I kept pumping Henry [Thomas, who played Elliott] for information, because he'd already had these scenes with him."
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While Thomas didn't spill any secrets, he did suggest a moment that appears in the film: When Elliott swears Michael to secrecy, claiming "absolute power," Michael mockingly agrees in a voice similar to Yoda, the Jedi master from The Empire Strikes Back. The moment was inspired by one of Yankovic's songs.
"We used to listen to Dr. Demento," MacNaughton told Yahoo! in 2017, "and at that time 'Weird Al' Yankovic had a song called 'Yoda' that was like the Kinks' song 'Lola.' And so I used to play that for Henry and I used to do a Yoda impression, just between us. But then when we were doing the movie he said, '"You have absolute power" sounds like something Yoda would say.'" Inspired, Spielberg kept it in the final cut.
Casual Weird Al fans might puzzle over how a song that wasn't released until 1985's Dare to Be Stupid was familiar to listeners of Demento's program. Yankovic had been sending the comedy DJ his own homemade tapes since he was a teen and credited the good doctor's encouragement to take music seriously. When E.T. was in production, Yankovic had already released two singles: "My Bologna," a take on the Knack's "My Sharona," and "Another One Rides the Bus," a Queen parody that was recorded live on a 1980 episode of Demento's show. But he'd still submit tapes — like an early version of "Yoda" — for listener approval.
LIsten to 'Weird Al' Yankovic's Early 'Yoda' Demo
And approve they did: The early version of "Yoda" hardly left Demento's listener-requested Top 10 in 1981, including both local and national broadcasts in late October 1981, when the kids' first encounter with E.T. was filmed. (Spielberg showed up on set for Halloween dressed as an old woman.) Once Yankovic secured Ray Davies' permission, he re-recorded "Yoda" for Dare to Be Stupid, but the fan-favorite original would be released on Dr. Demento-branded collections as well as Yankovic's career-spanning Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of "Weird Al" Yankovic.