Just as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, every Hollywood blockbuster has a cheap and forgettable mockbuster. The Exorcist spawned House Of Exorcism and Jaws begat Tentacles, but it was Star Wars' massive success that led to a flash flood of knock-offs. In amongst all the cheap Italian imports and modestly made domestic programmers were some big budget offerings from the major studios, who were beginning to see the benefits of throwing large budgets at B-grade material.
A decade earlier, 20th Century Fox had been on the verge of bankruptcy, having lost millions on such 'prestigious' flops as Cleopatra (1963) and Dr Dolittle (1967), but now they stood to make, once the sequels and spin-offs were totalled, over a billion dollars. Particularly anxious to climb aboard the bandwagon was Universal, at one point the mightiest studio in town, which was no doubt regretting turning George Lucas down. They didn't learn from the experience, though, and later turned him down again when he offered them Raiders Of The Lost Ark!
Even a modestly budgeted sci-fi picture needs stars and good make-up to succeed, and by the early 80s, the cost of movies had begun to skyrocket, making the genre a riskier proposition. After the release of Return Of The Jedi, copyists began looking for cheaper ventures and seized instead on Rambo and George Romero's zombie films.
The craze was great while it lasted, and actually produced some fun films...
9. Battle Beyond The Stars
Released shortly after The Empire Strikes Back, Battle Beyond The Stars is another Roger Corman knock-off, but this one takes inspiration from Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai as well as its Americanized remake, The Magnificent Seven. Once again, a poor farmer assembles a group of mercenaries to defend his people (known as the Akira, obviously) from aggressors, this time a tyrant named Sador (John Saxon).
The cast is interesting: Robert Vaughn reprises his lost-his-nerve gunslinger from TM7, George Peppard (who was in Damnation Alley, 20th Century Fox's other sci-fi film from 1977) plays a character named Cowboy and Earl Boen (Dr Silverman in The Terminator) is one of the aliens. Among the crew are James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd and James Horner, who later worked on Aliens.
8. The Man Who Saved The World
Of all the knock-offs that greeted Star Wars' huge success, none are as jaw-on-the-floor strange as The Man Who Saved The World (aka Turkish Star Wars), which rips off footage from George Lucas' film, steals the John Williams theme from Raiders Of The Lost Ark and throws in ninja battles for good measure. There's no use attempting to summarize the plot (particularly as some prints aren't subtitled), but suffice it to say, if you've ever wondered what the Turkish equivalent of Ed Wood might assemble if given free rein to cobble together his own space opera, this is that movie.
In amongst all the stock footage are zombies, wizards and skeletons on horseback, though special mention must be made of the film's villain, who wears shoulder pads and spiked headgear. Unlike Darth Vader, though, he's defeated way too easily.... all the hero has to do is karate chop him in half.
7. Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared-Syn
From a cyborg named Baal (whose mechanical arm sprays a poison that traps people inside a giant crystal) to Kelly Preston (aka Mrs John Travolta) as a ranger seeking vengeance against a warlord named Jared-Syn, this Charles Band production has everything. It's a synthesis of Star Wars (cue lots of Death Star trench-like shootouts) and Mad Max 2, and even finds room to rip off the speeder bike chases from Return Of The Jedi. There are no cute Ewoks and the special effects are not particularly special.
Originally released in 3D, and bearing a resemblance to the same year's Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone, Metalstorm is shoddily made, but it has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Mike Preston, who played the leader of the besieged community in Mad Max 2. He plays Jared-Syn here, but he's neither destroyed nor does he unleash a metalstorm.
6. Message From Space
Sonny Chiba in the Japanese version of Star Wars, you say? Sounds like a cult classic in the making.
When the peace-loving people of Jillucia are attacked by the villainous Gavanous Empire, their leader sends out the 8 liabe seeds (which look like glowing walnuts) that will recruit the 8 warriors who can liberate their planet. This leads to one of the film's strangest moments: upon finding a glowing walnut in his drink, General Garuda (Vic Morrow) looks at his glass and announces, I've been selected by the gods!
Disregarding logic, science and good special effects in exactly the same way that director Kinji Fukasaku's earlier The Green Slime did, Message From Space is too stodgy to be in the first rank of Star Wars knock-offs, but if you're in the mood for a scrappy sci-fi movie where some of the villains look like kabuki dancers, you could do worse.
5. Star Odyssey
The fact that Star Odyssey was director Alfonso Brecia's 4th sci-fi movie released in the wake of Star Wars tells you how adept the Italian filmmaker was at recycling ideas, so it's no surprise that the picture also reuses sets, costumes, cast members and effects shots from his previous productions. The plot, in there somewhere, concerns a waffle-faced villain who shows off his technological superiority by running black and white stock footage of bombed-out cities, which so freaks out the puny Earthlings that they send some badly dubbed scientists in silver jumpsuits to defeat him.
So far so bland, but what makes this a must see are Tilt and Tilly, two lovesick robots who look more like metal-skinned copies of Howard The Duck than C3PO. Depressed, suicidal and given to lecturing our heroes about how all they want is to die in peace, they make Marvin The Paranoid Android look like the life and soul of the party.
4. Battlestar Galactica
When first broadcast on ABC, Battlestar Galactica was described as "perhaps the most blatant rip-off ever to appear on the small screen" by Time Magazine's TV critic, but that didn't stop producer Glen A Larson from re-editing the series into 3 feature-length films: 1978's Battlestar Galactica, Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack (1979) and Conquest Of The Earth (1981).
Needless to say, this attracted a lawsuit from George Lucas and 20th Century Fox, who claimed the show plagiarized from Star Wars. Larson and Universal Studio's legal department immediately hit back, claiming Lucas had in fact based his signature film on Silent Running (1972), footage from which appears in Galactica.
After Universal counterclaimed that Lucas had also infringed on copyright held by the old Buck Rogers serials, the judge dismissed the lawsuit as being without merit in 1980, by which time the TV series had been cancelled.
3. The Black Hole
Who could have seen a time when Disney owned the rights to Star Wars? Not the makers of The Black Hole, the House of Mouse's 1979 attempt to jump on the sci-fi bandwagon. You can see why the movie never ignited the same passions as Star Wars. The characters are at best underdeveloped, the story is practically non-existent and the cute robots are comical without being amusing.
At the same time, though, you can see why it developed minor cult status. Alongside some Oscar-nominated special effects, you get Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine and Maximillian Schell in the same movie, and what kid could forget the sequence with the fireball?
If you're looking for an old movie to revisit before The Rise Of Skywalker opens, you could do worse.
2. Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone
Wolf (Peter Strauss), who in no way resembles Han Solo, is cruising through the galaxy when he learns of the reward offered for the safe return of three women who've crashed on Terra 11, a barren wasteland ruled by pasty-faced mutant Overdog (Michael Ironside). Because he has alimony payments, rent arrears and 165 parking tickets, Wolf accepts and immediately runs into Washington (Ernie Hudson), who in no way resembles Lando Calrissian, and Niki (Molly Ringwald), who might've been intended as a Princess Leia-type but comes across more like Chewbacca every time she opens her mouth, you want to cover your ears.
In plot terms, that's all she wrote. Until their climactic encounter with Overdog, our heroes fight off Terra 11's residents, including Amazon women, mutant children with Molotov cocktails, stunt performers in fat suits etc. Spacehunter may not have Star Wars' snap, but there's no cute droids, either.
Tell a Star Wars fanatic that this cheap Italian knock-off (distributed by Roger Corman) has more heart than the prequels and, once they've finished laughing, they'll bust your beak for you. Or they'll slap you with a comic book and run away. You know what nerds are like.
Luigi Cozzi's movie has everything that George Lucas's space opera had: a score by an Oscar-winning composer, larger-than-life characters, quotable dialogue, and a truly memorable villain. Here, the villain is cackling Joe Spinell, who wants to rule the universe with red monsters that appear to have escaped from a lava lamp. On the side of the angels are lightsabre-wielding David Hasselhoff, a police robot with an inexplicable Southern drawl and, most memorably, Caroline Munro, who spends half the film wearing a leather bikini, even when sentenced to hard labour in a mining colony.
There are, of course, bigger-budgeted (and therefore better) movies, but they don't have an ounce of Starcrash's dumb fun (no Amazons on horseback, either). Call it kitschy and juvenile, but it has a B-movie charm that's as entertaining as it is endearing.