Movies You May Have Missed: Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

If you ever felt like watching an animated film that blatantly shows off its inspirations, this is the one for you.

Now, a lot of people like to simply brush off this film as a blatant “Star Wars” rip-off. It’s not hard to see how they came to that.

TOTALLY not a lightsaber…

I mean, you have your poor boy who comes across a sword hilt presented to him by a ghostly, bearded apparition that when used produces a sort of energy-blade that makes a nice electro-whoosh sound. He meets up with a smarmy smuggler who has an anxiety-laden, yet pompous droid/ship. Their villain at first wears an ominous mask, but is soon shown to be more than that…. I get it. But you’ve got to believe me when I say, this movie is so much more than that.  

Before getting into what makes the movie so fun, there’s some history that deserves consideration. “Starchaser: The Legend of Orin” is a bit of a conundrum as some consider it to be the first full-length animated 3-D movie. However, there was an Australian film, “Abra Cadabra”, released 2 years earlier that was also 3-D.

Spaaaaceship in Threeee-Deeeeee!

The “problem” here is that if you watch any copy of “Starchaser”, you can tell by the linework in the animation where the cells were seperated for 3-D, telling you that the film was made to be a 3-D movie. It’s also under some consideration that with the technology at the time and given the quality of animation, frames per second and CGI used for certain parts of “Starchaser”, versus the very “plain” style of “Abra Cadabra”, that “Starchaser” went into production first, thus giving it the title of first 3-D movie, despite it’s release date.

Though not directly related, it’s worth noting that “Abra Cadabra” has never been released on home video. You can however find a very “messy” copy on youtube.

“Starchaser: The Legend of Orin” is an animated RPG. Granted, it can only be seen as such in retrospect as when the movie came out, the NES was just being released in the US, and all we had thus far was a game with a little square and an arrow fighting block-y dragons that looked like ducks.

“Listen Watersnake, sometimes your robot’s butt gets all gunked up and you have to….hmmm…maybe you’re too young for this…”

So, a better description of what I mean by this analogy? Just put your imagination in 8-bit mode and here we go:
You start out as a poor slave boy who’s grown up knowing nothing but the mines and a few simple rules, the most important of which is, “Never dig up. Up is Hell.” Your people all worship a devil-headed god who appears in flames and turns all the ore you’ve dug up into food, basically, you feed the god and he gives you life. All you have is a handful of friends & family and the rags you’re dressed in. While mining one day, you unearth a magical sword, your girlfriend’s grandfather recognizes it as something unbelievably important when one of the mine-masters comes around and kills him as he distracts them so you can hide it. Later, while mulling over what happened, the sword glows in your hands and then flies up! From the glowing sword appears an apparition in the form of an old man who informs you that being the bearer of the sword means you are destined to free your people and return to the world above. One of the other miners threatens to tell the mine-masters, a fight ensues and you’re forced to flee towards the destiny foretold by the sword or be killed.
As you and your girl attempt to stealthily escape the mine, but the devil-headed “Boss” character and his guards catch you. He takes off his devil-head mask revealing that he’s just a man, however, BUM BUM BUUUUUMMM!!!
He kills your girlfriend, you escape but swear vengeance and make your way up to the surface.

One of the “Mandroids” aka possibly among the most horrifying characters in animation.

Having never been on the surface, you’re niave and know not what to expect, you encounter fantastical creatures and cannibalistic, mutant humanoids who try to eat your flesh. Just before they’re about to get you, you’re saved by a smarmy smuggler who’s a cross between Han Solo, Humphry Bogart and Dean Martin. He becomes your new “Party Member” and you fly away to further adventures aboard his talking spaceship. *breathe*

That’s just the first 20 minutes or so of the movie.

The rest of the film unfolds in a pretty satisfactory manner. The animation is well-done, the characters (though in the post-PC world, perhaps considerably “wrong”), are fun. The space-ship designs are pretty neat and the action is doled out in kind. All in all, an enjoyable watch once you get over all the genre clichés and “Star Wars-y-ness” in the film.

Note: Although never released on home video, there IS a 3D version of the film floating around the web. The quality is sub-par at best and you’ll need to either dig out or make a pair of red/blue 3D glasses, but for the Starchaser fans out there, it’s definitely worth a peek.
Note-note: If you’re REALLY a fan, you can find a pretty cool papercraft model of the StarChaser spaceship, “Arthur” if you click here.

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