Star Wars is a cultural touchstone which took the world by storm and kicked off a fanboy Armageddon the likes of which have not been matched, even said fanboys rivals… the Trekkie. Star Wars reached across the gulf of nerd and straight to find the heart of the culture of pop, for better or worse. No matter your age, whether you saw Star Wars back in 1977 or on TV in 1984 or on video in the 90’s, you saw it and gripped you. Sure, it’s not the most well written, acted or directed saga out there and the prequels were pretty much garbage straight through but the impact that Star Wars had is undeniable. The film changed the game in 1977 (a game already having been altered by Jaws 2 years prior). Cross-Marketing was never as important as it was now and just as Jaws had before it and Alien would after it… a wave of quick cash-ins flooded the market for years to come. Now, some use the term rip-off, but these are really more cash-ins for the most part. Riding a trend is easy, ripping off is something more. A few of the list below are pretty blatant in their note for note copying of the Star Wars formula but lets face it, Star Wars was not highly original to begin with so it’s a self perpetuating cycle. Of those that are not copies are those which are original pieces of work made in the style of Star Wars as a deliberate attempt to strike a similar cord with the massive audience of Star Wars fans. Here Anthony Carioscia and Josh Hadley bring you ten films that tried to be Star Wars.
Moonraker – (1979)
Anthony: This eleventh entry in the Bond franchise brought everyone’s favorite spy into space! When a space ship is mysteriously hi-jacked, Bond is sent to find out who is behind it. During this adventure he meets Holly Goodhead as well as his old enemy Jaws. The Roger Moore era of Bond was known for its cheesy installments and this one takes the cheesecake. While sandwiched between two better bonds (The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only), Moonraker is worth a look just to see Bond fighting with laser guns in space.
Star Odyssey – (1979)
Josh: Star Odyssey is an Italian entry into the post Star Wars boom and it might just be the most Italian thing ever. It’s like what Star Wars would be if you watched the movie in another language all the while thinking it was some kind of porno. You have mustaches on just about every male, skimpy clothing on most females, terrible editing, garbage can “droids” ,a pair of suicidal duck robots (I wish I were kidding), “androids” that are ostensibly fruity cannon fodder as well a villain straight out of an eight year old’s idea of what Darth Vader was all about.
Message from Space – (1978)
Anthony: In 1978 director Kinji Fukasaku and actor Sony Chiba brought us the critically acclaim history film Shogun’s Samurai. That same year the two made the Star Wars rip-off Message from Space. After the planet Jillucia is nearly wiped out by the forces of an Empress known as Mother, a man called King Kaiba sends eight holy seeds each to be gathered by a chosen one to help save the galaxy. This Japanese classic is notable for having a empress type character( played by a man in drag) before Empire Strikes Back introduced us to Emperor Palpatine. The film is a lot of fun to watch and recommended for those who love old school Japanese sci-fi.
Battlestar Galactica – (1978)
Josh: Movies were not the only medium which used Star Wars as an “influence”. In 1979 ABC Television made Battlestar Galactica as a 3 hour TV movie which led into the TV series. Battlestar was like H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come in that it was not taking elements from Lucas’ movie, but more so the style and tone… which was enough to make Fox and Lucas sue Universal (Battlestar’s production company). Fox and Lucas lost the case but won the battle as Galactica was not a ratings hit and was cancelled after one season. Using some of the FX crew from Star Wars gives Galactica a great look but the mundane stories and meandering production were definitely a problem.
H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come – (1979)
Josh: I am not even sure how to describe 1979’s H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come . It’s like a bad pre-Star Wars scifi hack job but with a post Star Wars sensibility. It’s hard to describe. There are cute droids, space battles, colorful costumes, bad acting… upon reflection though it’s closer to a Space 1999 rip off that was simply made at a time when everyone wanted “the next Star Wars“.
Starcrash – (1978)
Anthony: Out of all the Italian Star Wars knock offs, Starcrash is the most well known. Stella Star and her sidekick Akton manage to pick up a castaway when running from authorities. They are then recruited by the Emperor to help destroy a super weapon by Count Zarth Arn as well as save the prince ( played by David Hasselholf). With nice colors and special effects, Starcrash is a beautiful film. Not a dull moment goes by in this flick as it is very enjoyable and action packed. A good place to start for ones trying to get into Italian rip-off films.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan – (1982)
Anthony: In 1979 due to the success of Star Wars, an attempt at bringing Star Trek to the big screen was made. This film was called Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film’s end product was that of a flawed and boring film. In 1982 they tried again with The Wrath of Khan, this time making a space opera with space battles… you know, like Star Wars. This film is to Star Trek what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star War as it remains the most iconic installment in its franchise.
Starchaser : The Legend of Orin – (1985)
Josh: It took until 1985 for Starchaser: The Legend of Orin to come about… (I guess they were waiting for the entire Star Wars trilogy to finish up before they ripped it off). A farm boy who has a destiny to stop an armored warlord with a laser sword alongside a rouge smuggler, a lost princess and a few droids… while using a vaguely described “force” and a ghost mentor. Nope, this was not like Star Wars AT ALL. This 3D animated film is not really that bad, if you can forgive its obvious “influences”.
Flash Gordon – (1980)
Anthony: Though based on source material that influenced Star Wars, there is no denying this film was made to cash in on Star Wars. A football player is skyjacked aboard a doctor’s space ship along with a beautiful woman. They travel to planet Mongo to unite its forces to stop the planets’s dictator Ming the Merciless. With it’s Adam West Batman inspired campy tone, great sense of humor, over the top action and killer sound track by Queen, Flash Gordon is one of the best films of the 80’s. Any science fiction fan who hasn’t seen this film must! You won’t regret it.
Battle Beyond the Stars – (1980)
Josh: Battle Beyond The Stars is Roger Corman’s entry into the post Star Wars boom (post Empire really, it’s 1980 at this point). Corman had released Starcrash a few years prior and didn’t want to repeat himself so instead of a straight up Star Wars knock, Battle is really more Star Wars influenced when in reality this is a blatant sci-fi version of The Magnificent Seven (more so than The Seven Samurai). John Sayles witty script, James Cameron’s amazing art design and models and a cast of fantastic actors all make Battle Beyond The Stars a far better film than it should be.
There are many more films which were influenced by Star Wars back in 1977 and the film continues to spread it’s effect on the film industry today. The ten we showcased here are only a sample all of the amazingly interesting movies which came and went in the wake of that war in the stars unleashed that summer of 77.