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May 20, 2021

Starcrash (1979) Movie Review

I mean, I knew there were a lot of Star Wars rip off films. Can’t really blame them. Gotta get those dolla dolla bills, y’all. But when they come out with a completely jumbled train wreck, you have to wonder who was smoking what when the project was greenlit. (Green lit? Green lighted? Greenlighted? WHO THE FUCK APPROVED THIS BULLSHIT?)

SPOILERS AHOY – because I just cannot give a summary of this film. You need to know the details before you go in on your own.

The 1979 sci-fantasy disaster known as Starcrash, tell us the story of an outlaw smuggler, Han So…I mean, Stella Star and her alien companion, Chew…uh, Akton. After witnessing Stella’s piloting prowess and the navigating wunderkind partner, Akton, Princess L…shit, I mean the Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer – yeah, that’s right) recruits them for a top-secret mission. The evil Darth…gods dammit. The evil Count Zarth Arn has created a new weapon that could destroy the universe. The last Imperial mission failed to find it, or the planet it’s hidden on (that’s no moon…). So Stella and Akton must find both, destroy the weapon, and rescue the Emperor’s only son.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Where the hell is Cap’n Mal and his merry band of smugglers?

Aside from the main Imperial ship, two shuttles escaped before it crashed somewhere unknown. Stella, Akton, and their new partners, ELLE and Chief Thor (both working for The Emp), begin to scour the galaxy for the remains of any Imperial ships. But only Stella and ELLE actually do any of the leg work.

The first pod they find yields nothing, except the opportunity to be captured by the Amazon warrior women (who weren’t really all that Amazonian, but okay). Their queen has a beef with The Emp, I think, and wants to kill Stella and ELLE. Guilt by association, I suppose. She fails and it’s over, and Stella and ELLE go back to their ship to keep looking for Imperial wreckage.

Wait, WHY THE HELL WERE THEY EVEN IN THIS? The Amazons served absolutely no purpose. Oh, wait. It was just to show off the stop animation effects of the Queen’s Goliath guardian – a giant silver, sword-wielding monstrosity with bewbs. Got it.

Moving on.

The next search brings them to the icy planet of Hoth…I mean, just some random inhospitable really, really cold planet. While Stella and ELLE find only corpses, we find out Thor is a traitor and he tries to kill Akton, and strand Stella and ELLE on the planet where everything freezes instantly the moment the sun goes down. Fortunately for our heroes, Akton can see the future so he already knew Thor was a dick. He thwarts his plan, saves his friends on the surface, and they’re off again!

They find the crash site of the 2nd Imperial escape pod. After a bunch of cavemen parkour their way on the scene, capturing Stella and plan to…I don’t know, honestly. Luckily, we don’t have to find out because a golden masked stranger saves her! It’s Simon, the sole survivor of the pod crash and attack on the Imperial ship (I bet you can’t guess who this guy also is….it’s cool, take a minute to think about it).

They also discover that Count Zarth Arn has hidden his weapon on this very planet! How fortuitous for them. We’re so lucky, too, that Akton can explain what every piece of machinery is/does as they walk through the facility.

Before they can destroy it, the Count shows up and tell us all his evil plan – to trap the Emperor into coming to get his only son, Simon (SURPRISE), and when he does, the Count will blow everything up, leaving the galaxy open for the taking. Here, enjoy some more stop motion animation as my robot guards make sure you stay put while I leave to go kill people. Though Akton tries to kill the robots, his arm gets slashed at the last minute and he must now accept his fate, which is to die (from a flesh wound?) and fade away.


Spy vs. Spy, SciFi Division

Now, the Emperor doesn’t get to be the boss if he’s an idiot, right? He wouldn’t show up without a plan. Nerds. He’s going to stop the flow of time so they can escape – but they only get three minutes. So let’s keep speechifying for a bit before we all skedaddle. The only thing left to do is catch up to Zarth Arn’s ship (which looks like a giant clawed fist, I shit you not) and destroy it before he can employ the weapon.

But we’re not powerful enough. How can we ever achieve our goal? Stop whining, Simon. By piloting a floating city at him, you silly goose. It’s called Starcrash (roll credits), a 4th dimensional attack. If they can reenter space at just the right moment, the impact of surprise will be so overwhelming that the Count can’t hold out.

Stella – use your awesome piloting skills; ELLE – you go with her. Me and Simon will wait here on the Imperial ship while you do all the work. Cool? Cool. So Stella points the floating city, loaded down with explosives, toward the Count’s ship. She and ELLE fly out the window at the last second and space swim back to the Imperial ship.

And this actually works. The evil Count has been defeated, and the galaxy saved.

Fuck right the fuck off, you pack of liars.

The blatant Star Wars rip off aside (sure, sure, it could all be a coincidence, as Cozzi insists Starcrash was written and designed BEFORE Star Wars premiered, sure, sure, and the laser sword Akton wields is absolutely not a light saber), this is a ridiculous movie. As a buddy of mine put it, “it’s an entertaining mess.” Yes, as bad as it is, it definitely has some entertainment value.

Let me break down the bad first, though. The acting, while you might expect better, is total shit. It could be because the overdubbing was so completely awful. I know this was filmed in Italy, directed by no other than Luigi Cozzi, so you know there were non-English speakers in here. But even the folks we know speak English (Caroline Munroe, Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinelli), it looks like they’re saying something completely alien as the words and the lip movements absolutely do not synch.

I’m not sure if it’s cheaper to redub in post instead of having top notch audio during the actual filming. You folks out there who are reading this and make movies/made movies, clue a girl in. Because I just don’t understand why this is so shitty.

Oooh! Who goosed me?

The special effects are…certainly special. And by that I mean they took the short bus to the studio. Granted, this was 1979 and sorely lacking the sophistication of today’s computer programs. I’m also going out on a limb to say the budget here was sub-basement level compared to George Lucas (a paltry $4 million compared to $11 million). But when you watch this AFTER Star Wars, you definitely feel let down by the effects. I mean, the laser guns actually make “pew pew” noises.

And that’s just the space scenes.

The stop motion technique, used for the Count’s metal guards and the Amazon Queen’s giant, was definitely not unique to this film (early, early development has been around since the 1800s). But the incorporation of the live actors, with some major discrepancies in colors and clarity between the two, proved a stumbling block to believability.

Pretty much this whole film looked like Star Wars and Clash of the Titans spent the weekend going speedballs together before giving birth to Starcrash.

The other drawback is the pacing. It drags a lot through the film because it’s overstuffed with too many fight scenes, getting captured, space ‘scenery’, meeting races/aliens that don’t serve the story, a lot of exposition dumps, and several characters that explain everything that’s going on. This could have been a 60-minute film instead of 90.

All of that makes this a terrible movie. HOWEVER, because there are some things that are just fun or funny, it makes the move watchable. Maybe not more than once, but you should be able to get through it for these few aspects: 

1.    Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer. He is the exception to every rule here. The man didn’t need this gig; the man was not desperate for funds or work. In an interview, he said he only took the job because he could travel to Italy for free, but that didn’t make his performance any less spectacular. He fills every role he takes on with grace, dignity, and commanding presence. Even the cheesy speech the Emperor gives at the very end, as he breaks the 4th wall a couple times, gave me goosebumps. His limited screen time is everything right and good with the world.

How YOU doin?

2.    Though all the overdubbing makes its difficult to get a good feel for each character, Joe Spinelli and Marjoe Gortner as the Evil Count and Akton, respectively, bring manic life to their parts. Its too bad the film was overdubbed because I would have loved to hear their natural voices shout out their lines.

3.    John Barry wrote, arranged, and conducted the original music used in the film. If someone with Barry’s talent doesn’t give this movie some street cred, I’m not sure what else would. Besides Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer. The crappy story and effects do not drag John down; he lifts the movie up to a level it doesn’t deserve. So if you enjoy original soundtrack music, you’ll dig this.

4.    There was one scene where I literally had to pause the film to make sure I didn’t miss anything while I laughed for a full minute. When the Imperial soldiers go to fight Count Zarth Arn’s army, they launch themselves across open space in gold torpedoes, which bust through the enemy ship’s windows and bounce across the floor, before popping open to deliver the Imperial troops (about 2 men per capsule). I’m not kidding. THAT was their delivery system. If you don't believe me, just watch the trailer below.

While these few things do make the experience of Starcrash somewhat enjoyable, and allows us to sit back in awe of the craptacular disaster as it unfolds, I can’t say you should run right out and find it. If you come across it, sure! Give it a watch. You’ll have some fun. Then you can tuck the experience away in your sock drawer and move on to bigger and better things.

2 hatchets (out of 5) – 1 full hatchet just for Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer alone.






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