Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD today, and brings with it the recycled New Hope plot that moviegoers, showing up as they did in record numbers, found satisfactory enough back in December. But a long time ago (just under three years) in a galaxy far, far away (Pawnee, Indiana, as rendered in Los Angeles), there was another idea for how Episode VII’s story could go, one outlined by Patton Oswalt during a now-legendary showcase of endurance improvisation on Parks and Rec. On the occasion of the home-video release of the movie that inspired that titanic riff, we asked Parks and Rec creator Mike Schur to tell us how it all unfolded.
A conservative agenda precipitated the filibuster.
“In that episode, Patton played a sort of traditionalist. In the town’s charter, there was a line that related to the Boston Tea Party; basically, it said that if a citizen disagreed with a certain policy they could throw tea into the water. But there was a typo, and it said ‘ted’ instead of ‘tea,’ so it had become a tradition to find someone named Ted and throw him into the lake. The episode began with this happening to a guy, Ted, who then pointed out to everyone, ‘This is ridiculous; I don’t like being thrown into a lake. Just because somebody wrote this 200 years ago and there was a typo doesn’t mean we have to do it.’ Leslie Knope, Amy [Poehler]’s character, saw the logic in that and was gonna get rid of the law. Then Patton, who was kind of a Civil War reenactment type of guy, launched a citizen’s filibuster to stop them from overturning that law.”
Patton just did what was asked of him.
“What the script called for him to do was to just start talking about whatever. The line in the episode as it aired was one that we had written for him; he just started talking about something banal, and the joke was that we were gonna go to commercial, and when we came back he was gonna still be talking. We did that a bunch of times, and it was perfectly funny because everything Patton does is funny. I wasn’t on the set at this moment, but Dan Goor, who I later created Brooklyn Nine-Nine with, was down there, and he said to Patton, ‘Hey, for this last take, actually filibuster. Talk for as long as you possibly can about any subject that interests you.’ “
This was a thing we did fairly frequently on the show. We called it a ‘fun run,’ where the last take of a scene, we’d say to the actors, ‘Go nuts.’ We figured that we have these world-class improvisers, like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott and Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza, and more than a few times over the years we dug something out of whatever they did and actually used it in the show. So Dan Goor asked Patton to filibuster, and told the other actors, ‘Just let him go, and be engaged.’ “
The story Patton unspooled was ludicrous, and all too plausible.
“Patton, as he is wont to do, picked as his subject the fact that J.J. Abrams had just been announced as the director of the new Star Wars movie. And because he is Patton, and his depth of knowledge of that universe knows no bounds, it ended up being that nine-minute extemporaneous description of every detail of the movie, from the opening crawl down to the merging of the Disney-owned Marvel and Star Wars universes. He even got the X-Men in there. There’s no editing. He really talked for that long. What was great is that you can hear Amy and Jon Glaser off camera chiming in, as great improvisers do. Amy has a couple hilarious lines. At one point, she points out that the female part seems a little underwritten. (Laughs) That’s a truly great joke in the midst of that craziness.
And not to get too theoretical about it, but part of what was so great is that he was tapping into this real trend in movies. Everyone is in everyone else’s movie. It’s Batman v Superman but also maybe Spider-Man is in it somehow? And in the Avengers universe, obviously, everybody shows up. The success of those movies will undoubtedly lead someone to say, “Hey, what if Han Solo meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy?” Right? There’s almost no kind of crossover or universe-merging that seems impossible now.
So, I don’t know if it was conscious or unconscious — it probably wasn’t intentional — but Patton was tapping into a real thing that’s going on in blockbuster movies. It accidentally ended up being relevant and timely and satirical in a wonderful way. That’s what I love about it.”
Since none of it was scripted, there was no plan for how to wrap it up.
“Amy, who has been one of the very greatest improvisational comedians in the world for a very long time now, figured a way to get out of it. She had kept trying to cut him off, or whatever, and eventually she just signaled to the other councilman, ‘We’re just leaving; let’s get out of here.’ So they started to leave, and then the assembled crew of day players and background players who were in the audience kind of followed suit, and Amy just kind of motioned to them, ‘Come on. We’re getting out of here.’ It provided this wonderful, natural ending, where eventually every single person in the room has left except for Patton, and then he just sort of runs out of steam and falls apart. The cue was Amy Poehler’s kind of incredibly astute understanding of the rhythm of comedy. She was the one who kind of rounded up everybody and marched ‘em out.”
It was clear something special had just happened.
“Remember when Beyoncé’s album just came out of nowhere, and then everyone you knew was texting and writing? That’s what it was like on our set. I ran into Chris Pratt outside, and he goes, ‘Did you hear what Patton just did?’ And then another person out of nowhere was like, ‘You gotta see what Patton just did!’ It spread like wildfire.
But the tape was still in the camera, and with the way things worked I didn’t get to see it until the next day. I eventually went to see Amy; she explained to me what had happened, but because she is not as much of an enthusiast of that universe, she could only sort of approximate it. So then I found Jon Glaser. He played Councilman Jeremy Jamm, who was in the scene, and Glaser is also an insane sci-fi enthusiast. He just enjoyed it to the nth degree — at some point, I think when Patton drags the X-Men into it, you hear Glaser: ‘Oh, come on!’ Like that’s a bridge too far for him. But he ran through the entire thing, and I could imagine how glorious it was going to be. After I saw it the next day, I immediately contacted Patton and said, ‘That was amazing. Can we release that?’ I just felt like America needed to see it. That’s honestly how I felt. He was like, ‘Sure, yeah, go right ahead.’ “
There were errors. Forgivable errors.
“If you know what to listen for and are familiar with the worlds, Patton actually makes a couple mistakes, which I’m sure have been eating at him. At one point he describes a vehicle and calls it the Quinjet, and it’s not actually the Quinjet. And he mispronounces Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk. He says ‘Kassheeek’ or something, because there’s three Ys in it. I remember when I finally watched the scene I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I simultaneously was like, ‘Oops, he mispronounced Kashyyyk.’ Nonetheless, it’s one of the most impressive improvisational things I’ve seen in my life. It really is extraordinary.”