The movie industry has been ripping itself off since Cecil B. DeMille jacked D.W. Griffith for the close-up, but no film spawned a greater spasm of “Me toos!” than Star Wars. After George Lucas’ space opera bowed in 1977, every clown with access to model spaceships (or just flashlights and egg cartons) rushed to get in on the act.
Among the quickest to the screen was the Japanese epic, Message From Space (1978), in which trippy visuals compensate for utter incoherence. It’s the tale of a galactic princess who recruits a ragtag squad of space adventurers to rescue her planet from doom. But instead of ’droids with holograms, they send glowing walnuts: Find one and you have to go help save Jillucia.
Among the chosen: Sonny Chiba as a prince named “Hans” and Vic Morrow in Father Guido Sarducci drag (except when he dresses up as a pirate to fight a duel of honor with laser pistols), along with a pair of hotshot Partridge Family pilots, a spoiled rich girl and, of course, a robot. Decent effects and images like a galleon in full sail gliding through a field of stars or a cantina scene that’s a Barbarella-meets-Danger: Diabolik fever dream raise Message From Space above its ilk.
Starcrash (1979) has a Texan C-3P0 and Han Solo as a hot chick in a patent leather bikini. Saving the universe are former Bond girl Caroline Munro as pilot Stella Starr, with former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner as her well-permed sidekick. Then there’s Elle, the robot—a guy in a jumpsuit with a plastic helmet. Our heroes are recruited by holographic overlord Christopher Plummer (just here for the mortgage payment, thanks) to find his missing son, galactic prince David Hasselhoff, wearing enough eyeliner and mousse to join Depeche Mode.
Starcrash has plot holes you could drive a star destroyer through, along with a deluge of deus ex machina—“Hey, I didn’t know you could see the future/could control the weather/were immortal!” The space battles are between spray-painted plastic models in front of a Lite-Brite, while the climactic “light saber” duel betrays the movie’s cheapness, not only in the bad matting of the “light,” but also with its “I’m a’ hit you with a stick” fighting style.
The Man Who Saves the World (1982) makes Starcrash look like 2001. It’s known as the “Turkish Star Wars” because much of the opening sequence is appropriated from Star Wars. (Meaning: They literally lifted footage from Star Wars and edited it in alongside the cardboard robots, carpet-remnant monsters and “blood” obviously squirted out of a ketchup bottle.) Instead of “Use the Force,” the heroic directive here is “Pull your stomach in and your shoulders back.” And yes, there is a cantina scene, which features werewolf masks, devil masks and—no shit—a guy with a colander on his head. The Man Who Saves the World goes beyond schlock, past incompetence, straight into hilarity.
It doesn’t stop there. Exploitation auteur Roger Corman got into the act with Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), where the universe is saved by John-Boy Walton, Sybil Danning in a paper-mache bikini, George Peppard in full cowboy regalia and a spaceship with tits. Star Odyssey (1979) spent most of its tiny budget on hairspray and has an R2-D2 made out of a painted oil drum. Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985) is the animated version of an idealistic young man and his companions vs. evil asshole and his robot army with lots of lasers and spaceships.
See also: Jason of Star Command, Krull, The Last Starfighter, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Derivative crap, all of ’em … and every one of ’em better than The Phantom Menace.