DECEMBER 11, 2021


  have long championed the notion that Battle Beyond the Stars, B-movie mogul Roger Corman’s 1980 space opera on a shoestring, has been long overdue for a pop cultural rediscovery. It hasn’t happened yet. Strange considering that space opera these days is limited to the offerings of a galaxy far, far away and the final frontier. Thanks to streaming, we’re inundated with both Star Trek and Star Wars despite some hit or miss results. You would think that Corman’s humble space epic that got its plot points from Akira Kurosawa would spark some sort of curiosity. You mean to tell me it’s possible to keep a space western yarn limited to one movie? One clever movie? Not to say that Battle Beyond the Stars doesn’t boast any pop cultural bonus points. It was the film that got director James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic) his start by cutting his teeth as the film’s art director. Acclaimed screenwriter John Sayles wrote the film’s clever and exciting script. Producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) also got her career in film going as an assistant to Roger Corman and Oscar-winning composer James Horner showed the world what he was made of. His score for the film was so out of this world that Corman’s studio used the damn thing in a couple of other unrelated movies.

I told you Corman was cheap.

Another person who is with me about Battle Beyond the Stars getting a rediscovery is the film’s editor Allan Holzman. It was he who actually spliced the film together and kept a journal of his struggles in editing an ambitious science fiction tale that he believed in. “I believed in the film,” stated the Holzman when I spoke with him over the phone. “John Sayles just wrote the most perfect and exciting script. And it was funny and enjoyable. As the editor, I really fought for this movie. There were a lot of people trying to turn it into this serious action film and I knew that would’ve been a mistake.”


The journal entries that Holzman kept during the film’s production tell a manic tale of all that a film editor has to do to get a movie to come together in spite of hurried deadlines, tight budgets and various departments going at each other’s throats. For decades these entries remained hidden but now they see the light of day with the publication of Holzman’s book Celluloid Wars – The Making of Battle Beyond the Stars (Pulp 2.0 Press). Released over a month ago, the book tells Holzman’s manic tale of getting a film like Battle Beyond the Stars into ship-shape and is filled with behind the scenes photos, shots from the film and a colorful layout and scheme that recalls the days of such classic science fiction film magazines as Starlog and Cinefantastique – two exemplary publications of the time that reported on the world of science fiction filmmaking that had its heart stolen by Star Wars. 

Times were different when the famously thrifty Corman and his studio New World Productions dropped their most expensive picture to date (and since) onto a movie-going public that was in the midst of the Star Wars-craze. There was none of that pissy nerd rage. Outer space was big business in the late seventies thanks to the release of George Lucas’ modestly budgeted opus. When this unreal tale of a farm boy from a desert planet going off to fight an evil Galactic Empire and save a princess with funny hair entered the zeitgeist, Hollywood did what it does best. It cashed in. Cravings for Star Wars were pacified by the release of shows like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In the 25th Century that found temporary homes on network television and the U.S.S. Enterprise came out of drydock at decade's end when Paramount Pictures remembered they had a similarly titled franchise of their own.  Even James Bond went into space on a space shuttle in 1979’s Moonraker.

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.

I saw the film for the first time when it aired on television as NBC’s Sunday Night Movie. I was crazy about anything set in outer space, but I was also crazy about The A-Team and any space adventure that had Hannibal (George Peppard) playing a cowboy leading a battle against a legion of space zombies, you better believe I was in. It aired in January of 1983, five months before the release of Return of the Jedi and the two-part television mini-series V. It was the tail end of Star Wars fever, but my eight-year-old self didn’t know that. My eight-year-old self didn’t want to accept it.

Holzman’s book, Celluloid Wars, comes forty-one years after the screen release of Battle Beyond the Stars. I asked him if he felt he had a classic science fiction film on his hands all those years ago in a tiny editing studio.

I’m not sure that I was thinking that forty years ago. I just wanted it to be a movie. I wanted it to be a good movie. I was a thirty-three-year-old film editor at that time, I was a stutterer and I usually got the movies to cut that no one else wanted . What I would wind up having to do so often, before Battle, was to find ways to turn shit into mediocrity (laughs). But there is an art to it. About twenty years ago I was asked to be a guest lecturer at NYU. I was invited to a Master’s screenwriting class, where I read passages from Celluloid Wars, which was then called From My POV, Editing The Invisible Art. When I got to the chapter on Turning Shit Into Mediocrity, the response was huge, The professor, who was very spritely and wise, stood up and grabbed my arm. She declared, ‘That needs to be the title of your book!

With the release of this book, Holzman has unleashed a treasure trove of copious journal entries that highlight all that goes into seamlessly editing footage that keeps coming at you and in some cases doesn't come in at all. These entries detail the battle readiness that comes with the territory of being a film editor. I asked Holzman how he felt about the release of this slice of life from the past:

“I love it. I’m so grateful to have someone like Bill Cunningham of Pulp 2.0 Press in my corner. This was a book I had tried to get published for years and tried to interest various publishers in publishing it. I’ve been a professor at USC for twelve years and tried getting some pointers on getting it published but I was told that it wouldn’t work as university publication because it wasn’t a how-to book. So, I kind of went down the rabbit hole with this book until Pulp 2.0 Press decided that they wanted to do something with it. As far as how I feel about the finished work, there are a lot of great feelings that have come along with its publication, but is there any joy if people don’t buy it? We (me and Pulp 2.0) are doing everything we can to get this book in front of as many eyes as possible and really appreciate those who have purchased the book and enjoyed it, like yourself.”

And what of the reactions to the release of this unexpected

“I’m very surprised by the reactions so far. People really think the book is wonderful and that it’s refreshing to see what an editor of a film actually does. There truly is an art to being an editor for a low budget film when you’ve got time and budgetary concerns. But it’s a whole other thing to have a low budget film that was as ambitious as Battle Beyond the Stars. The film was fun and hysterical but that’s what happens when you work with Roger Corman and the talent that he’s able to bring together. We had James Cameron working as one of the art director and John Sayles who wrote this amazing script. Only a Roger Corman production could bring people like this together to make a film that was basically going to have to compete with Star Wars. There was this whole Star Wars explosion that was going on and Roger knew that he needed a science fiction action film of his own.”

In the book Holzman details the process of editing the film and butting heads with certain film departments and nervousness over the creation of special effects shots that weren’t being created fast enough. It’s one thing to have over a hundred million dollars to spend these days and a couple of expansive state-of-the art sound studios on a big-name studio lot to work with. However, in 1980, Holzman and the film crew only had two-million dollars to work with and the film was shot in what appeared to outsiders as the Hammond Lumber Yard in Venice, California. The signage for the facility was never changed. Corman feared that if people knew it was a film studio that it would get robbed. It was there that this unqualified science fiction classic came together, although not without a great deal of tension and stress. Holzman did everything he could to keep his job under such tense conditions. “That was the reason why I kept these journals,” says Holzman. “I had to plan and figure out how this whole thing was going to come together. The workdays were pretty wild. For a time, it seemed like nothing was going to work. I remember one time seeing Roger looking all defeated and I went up to him. He didn’t know what to do. I told him that this thing could turn around if he just left me in charge of editing the film. From that moment on, I was the sole editor of the film.”

Celluloid Wars goes on to detail how this little movie that could was able to get off the ground and how everyone came to together to come up with alien sets made of McDonald’s styrofoam containers and milk crates and creating a serviceable starfield and creating lasers and explosions for the battle scenes – two of them. Yes, Shad and his mercenaries gave the Malmori forces one hell of a fight. The book also sheds light on Roger Corman’s process for looking at footage and deciding what stays and what goes. “[Roger] would screen the film four times and he would take notes in this yellow note pad,” says Holzman. “In taking notes, he would always miss what was on the screen. That was why he had to screen it four times. That was how he would be sure that he got everything and when he was all done screening, he’d hand you the notes and tell you to make these changes.”

Battle Beyond the Stars is remembered most for being a Roger Corman production, however its director often gets overlooked. Jimmy T. Murakami was an animator before finding himself in the director’s chair of this most ambitious B-movie. In addition to journal entries, there are interviews conducted by Holzman with the film’s model makers Robert and Dennis Skotak as well as the film’s costume designer Durinda Wood.  Being a fan of the film, I was never before aware of who handled the costumes, so Holzman’s interview with Durinda Wood was the biggest surprise in the book. As the theme of the book and this article go, Wood found herself having to do more with less. “I had lost track of Durinda. It was through my friend David Irving who is the dean at NYU [Tisch School of the Arts] that I got back in touch with her. It was great speaking with her and getting her story for the book. She came from the Los Angeles Theater Company (LATC) and she applied for the job. She had never worked on a film before. Roger asked her to come with some designs and the next day she came back with designs for every character.”

And then there were the actors that were just as crucial to keeping the film together. In terms of casting, Battle Beyond the Stars boasts a company of novices, committed pros, and legends. I asked Holzman what he thought were some of the film’s standout performers.  

“John Saxon kills it all the time. His performance really held the film together as Sador of the Malmori. If you gave an actor like Robert Vaughn (who played Gelt) an inch, he gave a mile. He was basically playing the same character that he played in The Magnificent Seven and still there was this mystique about him. I’ve got to say that those two were my favorite performances in the movie.”

I had favorite performances of my own. The idea of John Boy from The Waltons being the hero (Shad) in a science fiction epic akin to Star Wars gets a laugh these days and growing up in the age of Star Wars being king in the late-seventies and early-eighties, I thought he was no Mark Hamill, but now I see Richard Thomas’ performance as Shad through different eyes in the post-Anakin Skywalker world. Without a doubt, he’s more Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation seven years before the fact.  Holzman is more succinct in his summation: “He’s the perfect virgin!”

George Peppard was the reason I became invested in the film in the first place. His character Cowboy leads a ground assault against the Malmori forces, a sequence that upstages the battle taking place in space. Holzman laughed.

“That was hysterical. It is one of the best performances in the film. In that scene in the trenches, he just walked through it, and it was amazing when he and the people of Akira were up against that sonic weapon. The character was him. He was the happy drunk cowboy with a utility belt that poured scotch and soda. Also, the scene where they were all around the campfire before the battle begins and he’s roasting a hot dog and playing the harmonica was great!”

And then there is the moxie and magnificent presence of Sybil Danning in the role of St. Exmin of the Valkyrie. You couldn’t ask for better marketing for a film such as this. Remembering what I said about less is more in regarding to costume designer Durinda Wood’s work on the film, Danning’s wardrobe sums up the Roger Corman ethos in the most tantalizing way. “Of all the costumes that Dorinda designed for the film, we stayed true to except for the costumes for St. Exmin. Those took a little longer to come together.”

And if anyone thinks my thoughts on Sybil Danning’s performance as St. Exmin are skin deep, keep in mind it her character who destroys the bad guy’s primary weapon, the stellar converter, and commits harakiri when her ship becomes powerless and is cornered by Malmori fighters. She even takes a few of those bastards with her.

Given the juggling that Holzman had to do to get the film cut just right, I was curious to know what it was like to see the film in all its glory with spaceships flying by and laser blasts and the explosions and a rousing score by James Horner to punctuate every movement.

“It felt like I could achieve what I wanted to achieve. It just felt good to see a production from the beginning all the way to the end. And hear James Horner’s score through the speakers was just amazing. This was like the third movie he had ever scored, and he and I sat down with a cut of the film, and he wanted to match every musical movement with each frame. It was rewarding to see the picture and hear the beautiful score. In editing the film, I tried to give every scene an emotional weight to it. I think it worked out well.”

After the release of Battle Beyond the Stars, Holzman continued as a film editor for New World Pictures on the films Forbidden World (1982) and Mutant (1984) before shifting gears to directing. His list of feature films includes Out of Control (1985), Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985) and Programmed to Kill (1987). Unbeknownst to me until a few weeks before speaking with Holzman was that he was the director of the Showtime original film Intimate Stranger (1991) starring the coolest woman on the face of the Earth, Deborah Harry of Blondie. It was a tale of woman who is a rock singer by night and a phone sex operator afterhours who gets entangled in a murder mystery and has a sick twist out to get her.  To this day, Intimate Stranger remains Showtime’s highest rated movie. Holzman would go on to receive the Governor’s Emmy for editing the six-hour miniseries, The Native Americans and would win two more Emmys for directing and editing for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Holocaust. His life as a stuttering film editor has been documented in his documentary film C-C-Cut.

With the film Battle Beyond the Stars, Corman and crew accomplished something special. They proved that Star Wars wasn’t the only space opera in town with big juicy heart. Holzman documents that entire production from beginning to end with the same humor and heart one can find in the delightful space adventure. My last question for Holzman was about what he would like a reader to come away with after reading the book.

“People should read this book. From my point of view, it really shows that there is an art to B-movie editing. You’ve got a lot of stuff coming at you and as the editor you have to go for the perfect cuts and the perfect shots. There is lots of creativity involved. Film is a wonderful art form. It’s an emotional art form It’s a living art and because of that, editing a film is a big responsibility. That is what I’d like for a people to come away with after reading it.” Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.

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