May all the gods that may or may not exist and the people who worship or denounce them bless Roger Corman.
Corman’s name may be as legendarily synonymous with b-movies as Stephen Spielberg is with blockbusters. He’s infamous for reusing footage from stock and earlier films. “Waste Not, Want Not” is his credo, lending great truth and understanding to his book title, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime”. You have to give him this if you give him nothing else, the man knows how to make entertaining movies, and those films have launched the careers of some of the biggest names in cinema history.
This particular entry, “Battle Beyond the Stars” is a wonderfully cheesy treat.
Released during 1980, in the height of the Star Wars space epic frenzy. Like Star Wars, BBtS is based on old Akira Kurosawa films, though not as loosely as Star Wars. BBtS is a direct tribute/remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 film, “Seven Samurai”. Coming out 20 years after the previous remake of ‘Samurai, John Sturges’ legendary western, “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), BBtS takes a healthy dose of that as well, going so far to cast veteran actor Robert Vaughn as essentially the same character he played in “Magnificent Seven” and even giving him some of the same lines almost verbatim. Corman also cast the great George Peppard (best known as the A-Team’s “Hannibal”) in the film. Interestingly enough, Peppard had been the first choice to play the character of “Vin” in Magnificent Seven, which instead went to Steve McQueen, however in this film, he finally gets to play the character in this movie as “Cowboy”.
Easily, however, the star of this movie is John-Boy himself (a “Waltons” reference, if you didn’t grow up in the 70’s-early 80’s this likely means naught), Richard Thomas,
more recently known for playing “Bill” in “Steven King’s IT”, as Shad, a precocious young farmer with a sense for adventure. Shad’s world is under threat of slavery or annihilation by the evil warlord, “Sador”. Sador is played by one of the biggest “Hey it’s that guy!” actors out there, John Saxon. Seriously, Saxon has been in damned near EVERYTHING. You see him, you know him.
Last but most certainly not least in this character laden film, is the one and only, Sybil Danning. Sybil was THE face of the 1980’s b-level science fiction & fantasy genre films.
She even had her own video series like those by her horror counterpart “Elvira”. If you’d walked into the “cheese” or “cult” section of any video store, you saw her face….and inevitably her boobs. Sybil was the T&A selling point of many a movie back then, but the greatest thing about her was that you can tell she didn’t mind, just so long as they made her a strong woman in the movie. Amazon, Warrior Princess, Barbarian Queen, Assassin, ect… and in this film, she doesn’t disappoint. She chews up the scenery with lines that felt like paraphrased throw aways from Conan-esque films, but then, that was almost all her characters. I had the opportunity to meet her a few years ago and told her that as a kid growing up in these “mom & pop” video stores chock full of b-films, I knew her name better than any A-lister’s of the time. She thanked me and told me that fact made her very proud of her work. That. Is. Awesome.
Worth note too, is the impressive soundtrack by James Horner, who would go on to score the likes of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, Aliens, and Titanic, to name a scant few, and the last of which would win him an Oscar! His score here would be reused time and again by Corman, of course.
ENOUGH!! Enough of the character study and gushing over legacies and legends! Besides, if I were to go through every character and crew member in this film, I’d have a book written before I got to the plot!
Shad’s planet Akir is a peaceful farming and mining colony. Their warrior days are long over. Out of nowhere the evil warlord Sador swoops in and threatens to enslave them “peacefully” or use his ultimate weapon, the “Stellar Converter” to turn their planet into a small sun. The leader of the peaceful Akira (tribute to Akira Kurosawa) is the last “Star Corsair” (warrior) of their people, but too old and feeble to get help.
Shad is young, but he’s flown their (relatively sentient AI and an incredibly femenine ship, seriously, it’s a spaceship designed to resemble HUGE boobs) ship “Nell” enough times that he can do it. It’s agreed upon and Shad takes off to find the help his people need to fight off Sador. First he goes to a nearby planet where an old scientist friend of the Corsairs might be able to offer some weapons or assistance. The old scientist is now a crazy cyborg who tries to get Shad to procreate with his daughter Nan, who knows no humans on her ship full of robots that she repairs. They run away together and her tech knowledge helps the team. Then he runs into the Space Cowboy who’d been running a shipment of guns to a nearby planet that was destroyed by Sador and now he doesn’t have the fuel to get home with them so he brings them to Akir to train the people how to fight. Then he meets a team of 5 hive-minded, psycho-kinetic, alien clones named Nestor who are bored and want to join in the adventure! Then he meets a bad-ass assassin named Gelt who has become so infamous and rich that he can’t go to any planet to spend his riches since he’s so well-known and everyone wants him dead. He only wants a real meal and a place to hide. Next up is Saint-Exmin, of the Valkyries, her ship is small and poorly armed, but faster than anything in the galaxy. Shad finds her annoying, and tells her to go away, but she tags along regardless because she needs to prove herself through battle. Lastly, we have Cayman, the reptilian alien who initially captures Nan and plans on selling her as either a slave, or as “protein”, whichever pays higher, but when Nan tells him, “You’re just as bad as Sador!”, he turns vicious and Nan tells him of her mission. Cayman’s home-world was destroyed by Sador, so he and his band of misfit mercs joins the group, their only requested payment being Sador’s head.
There our adventure begins. I’m not going to spin the whole yarn for you!
It’s the “Magnificent Seven” in space with creative aliens, ships and art design by a young James Cameron. It’s one of the most fun, cheesy space movies that you can watch alone, with your drinking buddies, or your children. You may have missed it, but you need to watch it!