ver since DISNEY aquisitioned the STAR WARS franchise, any discussion having to do with a certain galaxy far, far away has become a contentious one. On one side you've got folks thinking that STAR WARS has faltered under the Mouse and feel that the franchise's latest offerings merely push some sort of SJW agenda ordered by KATHLEEN KENNEDY with the new film's female leads and then you've got guys like me who think you can never have too much of this operatic space yarn as long you don't bring up midichlorians or JAR JAR BINKS. Not even the presence of BABY YODA has managed to neutralize the minefield littered with a bunch fat, bearded bros and shrill trixies with YOUTUBE channels lamenting the death of STAR WARS and their helicoptered childhoods. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER has been out for a couple days and its box office looks reasonable from here, but I can already see it causing friction on one's FACEBOOK timeline or the dinner table this Christmas. You're going to see more combativeness over STAR WARS than you will the impeachment of DONALD TRUMP.
When I was a boy during the original late-seventies zeitgeist, before the films became mere episodes, I remembered STAR WARS bringing people together. Maybe that was because we only had one STAR WARS movie every three years. People wanted more of GEORGE LUCAS' rip roaring milieu and no one was saying "just let the thing die!" To prove this, Hollywood got on the space western bandwagon and came up with a novel idea - the STAR WARS ripoff. The most memorable and enduring of these ripoffs was the 1978 TV series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA which lasted an entire season before succumbing to its own tremendous budget. When PARAMOUNT STUDIOS remembered they had their own similarly titled science fiction franchise STAR TREK, they resurrected the ENTERPRISE and her crew for the big screen in 1979. Even JAMES BOND hopped aboard a space shuttle in MOONRAKER that same year. All of these ventures made their money back and kept the public's appetite for another STAR WARS film in 1980 strong. However, there was one STAR WARS inspired yarn that deserves special recognition, especially now in a time when DISNEY's space faring asset is the only space western in the game.
CHECK OUT THE TRAILER FOR THE 1980 FILM
BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS!!!
BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was released in 1980 just a few months after the release of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by NEW WORLD PICTURES and was a moderate success at the box office. But when you consider that the film's budget was around $2 million, an $11 million return is nothing to sneer at. Such thriftiness came naturally to the film's producer, B-movie trailblazer ROGER CORMAN (PIRAHNA, ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, DEATH RACE 2000, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP). In fact, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was CORMAN's most expensive film to date and is famous for launching the careers of some pretty heavy hitters in Hollywood such as JAMES CAMERON, who served as the art director of the film and producer GALE ANNE HURD who was an assistant to CORMAN. Of course CORMAN was famous for such tutelage throughout his career as the "POPE OF POP CINEMA" having mentored such legendary directors as MARTIN SCORCESE, FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA and JOHN SAYLES who happened to pen the KUROSAWA-inspired script for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS along with ANNE DYER.
On a superficial level, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was CORMAN's stab at a space opera. Where STAR WARS has taken inspiration from AKIRA KUROSAWA's 1958 film THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, the core of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is rooted in KUROSAWA's 1954 film THE SEVEN SAMURAI which ended up influencing the 1960 JOHN STURGES western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. The premise was simple. A peace loving society on the distant planet of AKIR are invaded by space-faring zombie marauders known as the MALMORI and it's up to a young boy to search the galaxy for mercenaries to create an army against a seemingly insurmountable foe. The story may have been by-the-numbers but the script by JOHN SAYLES gave the proceedings some heart and levity. At times the tongue was firmly implanted in cheek and earnest performances were turned in by the film's stars RICHARD THOMAS, GEORGE PEPPARD and SYBIL DANNING. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was a space opera on a shoestring that boasted the kind of gorilla film making we don't see too much in the age of DISNEY acquiring everything and the dog-eat-dog world of streaming platforms such as NETFLIX and HULU. With STAR WARS not vacating the pop cultural firmament any time soon, one wonders if there is any room for another space opera with heart that isn't STAR TREK.
With this cult classic film turning forty in the coming year, ROCKWIRED has come up with a list of fifteen things that make BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS the righteous science fiction classic that it is.
TAR WARS had a blonde blue eyed Nordic surfer dude as its hero. It was the kind of true blue hero that could've only emerged out of the late 1970's. In BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, the central character, like LUKE SKYWALKER, is also a farm boy but a little more doe-eyed. But what does one expect when you get JOHN BOY of THE WALTONS to play the hero in a science fiction epic. RICHARD THOMAS's SHAD is no LUKE SKYWALKER but he does pre-date STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION's WESLEY CRUSHER by seven years with a natural boyish charm that never relents. Maybe because he had played a farm boy for nine seasons on THE WALTONS, THOMAS' portrayal of SHAD is an earnest one and the audience is with him throughout the course of the movie from a young, eager flyboy who has never taken a life to a warrior who will stop at nothing to protect his planet, his people and the woman he loves.
n the age of STAR WARS, villainy was defined by the shape of one's helmet and how cool looking their mask was. A reliable character actor like JOHN SAXON needed neither of those things in portraying BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS' antagonist SADOR OF THE MALMORI. SAXON's familiar and menacing visage is transmitted via hologram to the people of AKIR in the first few minutes of the MALMORI's invasion and you can see that something bad is going to go down before one single laser blast is fired. It would've been all to easy to make these villains a masked, helmeted threat to our peace loving good guys a'la BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but with BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, we get a power mad space pirate who seeks to harvest laterally symmetrical oxygen burners to harvest for body parts to ensure his immortality. How terrifying is that?
he cornerstone of any space opera is a spaceship with a memorable design to it like STAR TREK's ENTERPRISE or the MILLENNIUM FALCON in STAR WARS. I hate to take anything away from these two formidable sci-fi franchises but NELL from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS cinches the prize for most memorable starship. You don't see ships like NELL coming off the assembly line of either STAR TREK or STAR WARS. Yes, NELL is a ship with breasts but there is so much more to this artificially intelligent spacecraft. Like her saucy personality. Voiced by LYNN CARLIN (the wife of the the film's co-producer ED CARLIN), NELL is the hooker with a heart of gold guiding SHAD through the galaxy, life and shooting down his first enemy spacecraft. Let's see the ENTERPRISE do that!
he orchestral score is where it's been at for science fiction yarns since the release of STAR WARS. Not only did BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS deliver a rousing score, it also got its legendary composer's career off the ground. If anything made this film feel as if it transcended its budget, it was composer JAMES HORNER who went on to score such films as 48 HOURS, a couple of STAR TREK films, ALIENS, FIELD OF DREAMS and most famously, TITANIC. The score for BATTLE... was so effective, the thrifty ROGER CORMAN would use it as the suite for another film (SPACE RAIDERS in 1983).
CHECK OUT THE MAIN THEME FOR
BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS!!!
he man responsible for bringing TERMINATOR to the big screen, turning ALIEN into a franchise and taking a story as tired as the sinking of the TITANIC and turning it into one of the top grossing films of all time got his start on BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS as the film's art director. JAMES CAMERON's artistic vision gave BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS a look and feel that set it apart from other space operas in the age of STAR WARS' original trilogy. Every spaceship has a distinctive look, every piece has a function and if you really pay attention you can see where some of the hardware influenced some of his future work.
ATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is going to go down in cinematic history as a ROGER CORMAN film. Hell, we even describe it as a ROGER CORMAN film in the opening graphic of this article but a film belongs to its director and JIMMY T. MURAKAMI was the man who captured everything on film. In a documentary titled SPACE OPERA IN A SHOESTRING which was a special feature included in the film's SHOUT FACTORY blu ray release, CORMAN ruled the set with an iron fist, had an eye on the books, breathed down MURAKAMI's neck and had final say over the the final cut of the film. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was the only live action film MURAKAMI ever directed. As a director he specialized in animation and went on to direct the SOFT LANDING segment of the 1981 film HEAVY METAL and the disturbing nuclear disaster film WHEN THE WIND BLOWS in 1986.
utside of PRINCESS LEIA's gold bikini in RETURN OF THE JEDI the galaxy far, far away didn't offer much in the way of eroticism. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS on the other hand had a more playful attitude when it came to sex. Hell, it's primary spaceship had boobs. It also boasted a feisty heroine in SAINT EXMIN of the VALKYRIE - a scantily clad and statuesque warrior eager to prove herself in battle and to honor the Valkyrie code of living fast, fighting well and having a beautiful ending. In the age of FARRAH FAWCETT, SYBIL DANNING went the extra mile in her portrayal of SAINT EXMIN and gave sci-fi cinema its first female gladiator. Upon the film's release it was DANNING who proved essential in the marketing of the film and even in such sexually restricted times as 2019, no one can doubt the wisdom of whoever made that decision. If they were honest.
AN SOLO was the template for the reluctant hero not wanting to get involved in fighting the Empire despite being good with a blaster and making the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Those credentials sound impressive but COWBOY from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS had a utility belt that could pour one mean scotch and soda. I first saw this film when I was eight years old when it was broadcast as NBC's Sunday Night Movie in 1982 and seeing HANNIBAL (GEORGE PEPPARD) from the A-TEAM in a space movie was all the reason I needed to stay up and watch this movie. As COWBOY, PEPPARD is a cocksure arms smuggler who won't let anything get in the way of a good time. Not even a battle with the MALMORI. Because his ship is a hauler and not a fighter he leads the young men of AKIR into a gunfight with the MALMORI's ground forces in true Western style and it is a moment more compelling than the space battle taking place above.
THE 1982 TV SPOT FOR BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS
HAD's first stop in seeking mercenaries to defend the planet AKIR is HEPHEASTUS STATION, the home of the mysterious DR. HEPHEASTUS - a half man/half robot who is unwilling to offer the AKIRA any assistance but is eager to have SHAD mate with his lovely daughter NANELIA. Populating the large, cavernous space station are androids for NANELIA to take apart and reassemble for whatever creepy reason. On a cinematic level, the sound effects win the day with this sequence and the movements of the actors playing the androids pre-date anything that had to do with breakdancing or doing "the robot." Sorry! I couldn't resist.
hen you are fighting for your very existence in a dangerous galaxy that is out to get you, finding love is the last thing on your mind, but in seeking mercenaries to defend AKIR, SHAD becomes smitten with tech girl NANELIA - the daughter of the creepy and non-commital cyborg DR. HEPHAESTUS. STAR WARS had the feisty and capable PRINCESS LEIA, but NANELIA is a space age love interest we haven't seen before - a woman who is good with computers, comes up with a strategy to knock out the MALMORI's prime weapon - THE STELLAR CONVERTER - and has a willingness to learn the ropes of procreation with SHAD. Her words, not ours. Actress DARLANNE FLUEGEL proved she had leading lady potential with this role and later she would bring that to full effect in the 1985 classic TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA. If she had emerged twenty years earlier, she could've easily been a HITCHCOCK BLONDE. Sadly, FLUEGEL passed away in 2017.
he greatest weapon in the lore of STAR WARS wasn't a blaster, a Death Stat or a lightsaber. It was the Force - a mystical energy field that surrounds all living things and binds the STAR WARS galaxy together. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS had no such mystical energy field but the people of the planet AKIR did have THE VARDA - a sacred code by which they lived and throughout the course of movie is quoted when almost any situation arises. It's a clever piece of world building that makes us believe this silly galaxy and JOHN SAYLES' ace script deserves all of the credit.
n his interstellar quest for mercenaries, SHAD is intercepted by a mysterious alien intelligence named NESTOR, a group of three-eyed (if we believe that drawn on eye on their foreheads) dazzling white beings who share identical consciousness. The "NESTOR" who does all of the talking is played by EARL BOEN, who later became famous for his role as criminal psychologist DR. SILBERMAN in the TERMINATOR films. The makeup looks simple but effective and the concept of NESTOR is a truly inspired one. They're good for a chuckle (when eating a hot dog that COWBOY gives them) and in eliciting sympathy when one of the NESTOR facets gets captured and is killed when his arm is amputated by SADOR.
t didn't take a whole of lot convincing to get this lizard man (a LAZULI) to go head to head with SADOR. After all, it was SADOR who destroyed his homeworld. CAYMAN OF THE LAMBDA ZONE, a hunter of space-faring beasts called ZYMES with a curious crew of twin creatures called KELVIN who communicate through heat and a huge bodybuilder, is a creature who is all about commerce and plans to sell NANELIA to the highest bidder, until she mentions the fight for a AKIR against the MALMORI. Played by veteran actor MORGAN EDWARDS, CAYMAN's gung ho spirit is contagious and despite heavy make up, EDWARDS steals every scene he is in right down to his final battle cry.
t's not worth repeating that BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is a space age homage to both THE SEVEN SAMURAI and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It is such a profound tribute that the film brings back the character LEE from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and gets actor ROBERT VAUGHAN to play him again. Actually his name is GELT here but he is just as haunted as LEE was in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. VAUGHAN's quiet, unnerving power is all consuming in ever scene that he is in. When he takes the lead in gunning down the MALMORI fighter that has captured SHAD's sister MOLL and kills everyone aboard, you know that this man is all about business. Even creepier is that we never see SHAD lamenting the death of his sister.
h the doomsday weapon! Where would any space western be without it. STAR WARS broke the mold with its Death Star and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS gives us something a little different for our zombie drone villains - a STELLAR CONVERTER. SADOR's flagship boasts a bad ass looking hammerhead design but when you couple with a weapon that can convert a living breathing planet into a scorching sun, you've got something really terrifying. We see the weapons handiwork when NELL intercepts a transmission from the planet UMATEEL as it is being incinerated by SADOR's prime weapon.
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