Just after Star Wars¸ there was this cynical attitude going around that anyone could have made the movie. Starcrash was one such attempt, and they succeeded! You know, minus the epic themes, lovable characters, coherent plot and Harrison Ford. They did, however, have David Hasselhoff.
Tagline: The ultimate inter-galactic adventure
More Accurate Tagline: A long time ago in a galaxy free of litigation…
Guilty Party: Starcrash feels like a cheap Italian knock-off, despite the fact that it’s actually a cheap French knock-off. Co-writer and director Luigi Cozzi provides the right combination of chintziness and the blissful ignorance of the same that gives the movie its overall feel of stonefaced camp. This film was made just after Star Wars when a great many people didn’t understand what made Star Wars such a good movie. They thought that it was weird aliens and spaceships and incomprehensible powers, when the truth was that Star Wars worked, if anything, despite all that. So that’s what we got, with Cozzi making this, perhaps the closest adaptation of Star Wars possible while still failing to actually capture any of the magic.
Synopsis: We open on a spaceship flying through what sounds like a windstorm in space. There’s some badly dubbed dialogue about how they’re hunting for a phantom planet in the Haunted Stars, which is the home of the evil Count Zarth Arn. It starts feeling a bit like a science fiction episode of Scooby-Doo. The stars aren’t actually haunted! Count Zarth Arn was just wearing the Ghost Diving Bell Diver Costume to frighten people away! Or something. Anyway, the ship gets ambushed by the inside of a lava lamp, and explodes, but not before three escape pods (called, bafflingly enough, launches) get away.
Because this is a Star Wars rip off, we get a crawl. Problem is, it’s in French and there’s no subtitles on my DVD. Okay, so that’s a problem in the same the way that not being able to drink a whole gallon of bleach is a problem.
Anyway, we cut to a high-speed space pursuit, through, of course, another windstorm. The people being chased happen to be hot chick Stella Star (Caroline Monro) and smug asshole Akton (Marjoe Gortner), a pair of smugglers. The cops pursuing them consist of bald muscle-man Thor and hillbilly robot Elle. Stella and Akton momentarily shake their pursuers with a trip through hyperspace, happening upon a chunk of the starship from the beginning. They find a single survivor, who Akton diagnoses as suffering exhaustion and dehydration, which was Lindsay Lohan’s excuse for Georgia Rule. The survivor is from the Imperial Navy, but before the heroes can decide what to do with him, the cops show up and arrest them.
A weird head-tentacle thing sentences Akton and Stella to hard labor on different planets. For some reason, Stella is now wearing fetish gear. Actually, fuck it. Who cares why she’s wearing it? Because, man. She is WEARING it.
Stella whines that she’s already been incarcerated for twelve hours and she’s done. So she engineers an escape, getting a couple folks killed. Stella runs, but then miraculously a ship lands in front of her, apparently ready to pick her up. It would seem like a plot hole if not for the bondage costume. I feel like I’m over selling it, but I’d totally land in front of her too. Was that inappropriate?
Turns out it’s the cops, who were on the way to let her out. She got those people killed for nothing, but that’s never mentioned and no one seems too broken up about it. Maybe they were child molesters or something. After picking up Akton, they all go meet the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) who has a mission for them. Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) is building a super-weapon on some planet in the haunted stars. The Emperor sends Akton, Stella and the cops to find the weapon as well as the commander of the lava lamped ship, the Emperor’s son.
At this point, the movie decides that it’s not quite insane enough, so Akton suddenly develops energy manipulation powers that he uses to put together a powerpoint demonstration. The three escape pods, or launches as the film insists on calling them, are on three different worlds, so the heroes go to each in turn.
The first is populated entirely by Amazons, which basically means European models in fetish gear. Yes. This is as awesome as it sounds. No weapon, no crown prince.
The second is an ice world. While Stella and Elle wander around through an icy wasteland, Thor betrays Akton and is killed because Akton suddenly remembers he has superpowers, including the ability to see the future. Still no weapon or prince.
As they arrive on the third planet, they get jumped by the inside of the lava lamp. Jackpot! The planet is lousy with cavemen, and after Stella is inevitably captured, she gets rescued by Simon (David Hasselhoff), the Emperor’s son. Of course, both Simon and Stella then need to be rescued, so Akton comes in with a laser sword, kills a bunch of cavemen and sodomizes my childhood.
Akton effortlessly leads them into the heart of Count Zarth Arn’s domain. Presumably Akton could have done this at any time, but he didn’t. Dick.
Akton’s unrepentant dickery continues when Count Zarth Arn captures the heroes and has Akton killed by some slow-moving special effects. Akton decides not to resist. Anyway, the Emperor shows up, there’s a giant space battle (that involves none of the heroes we supposedly care about) before Stella Star decides to have mercy and end the film, defeating the bad guys with a risky kamikaze movie helpfully called the Starcrash.
Life-Changing Subtext: There’s an old saying: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This movie is more about power turning someone into an insufferable dick.
Defining Quote: Emperor of the Galaxy: “Imperial battleship, halt the flow of time!” Okay, so he can stop time for three minutes. You know, once time stops, three minutes ceases to have any meaning. Of course, watching this movie stops time for about an hour and a half, so what do I know?
Standout Performance: Marjoe Gortner plays Akton, the dickish jedi stand-in. For those who don’t know, Gortner was an evangelist preacher by age 4, conning poor people out of hard earned cash. Somehow, this smug performance is worse.
What’s Wrong: By the length of my synopsis, it’s pretty obvious that a whole lot happens in the movie. Yet the great magic trick of Starcrash is that nothing seems to happen. It’s a slow, plodding mess that never gets any kind of momentum, despite having set pieces that involve half-naked women, a giant stop motion robot and a huge space battle against a giant hand. None of this carries any tension, partly because the film mistakes casual fearlessness for a sense of adventure. At no point do the characters experience any worry about what they’re doing, so we as an audience never do either. It might help if there was a single believable performance in the bunch too.
Secondly, Akton is everything bad about science fiction. With unearned magic powers and explosive hubris, Akton is the kind of character that makes you want to punch him, the author and Glenn Beck. Just because I always want to punch Glenn Beck.
Flash of Competence: Stella Star, despite having an extremely redundant name, is the one bright spot. Not because her character isn’t sexist and useless, but because she prances around in next to nothing and looks good doing it.
Best Scenes: On the ice world, while waiting on the ship Akton goofs off with his energy powers. Where did he get them? Who knows? Anyway, Thor clubs Akton over the head, mostly because he’s tired of Akton’s bullshit, but also because Thor really wants to be made Count Zarth Arn’s Prince of Darkness. No, I’m not making that up, and yes, it plays as just that gay. Akton pulls a babyface pro-wrestling recovery and fights Thor. In this fight, we learn that Akton is suddenly immune to rayguns. Yeah. After Akton rescues Stella and Elle, he reveals that he knew about Thor the whole time because Akton can see into the future. Apparently, he always could. He just didn’t tell anyone because he’s a colossal dick.
When the heroes find the superweapon, Akton explains that it works in a completely retarded way. See, the villains have it turn on a timer, set for a time that would drive any normal person crazy. Since Akton and Stella are not normal, it didn’t do much more than give them a headache. Why wouldn’t Arn just leave the damn thing on?
In the climactic space battle, Count Zarth Arn informs everyone that he will be triumphant by sunset. There’s no indication that anyone realizes that this is a meaningless statement in space.
Transcendent Moment: Count Zarth Arn captures the heroes and leaves them on the planet to be blown up. After Arn leaves, Akton decides to get off his ass and fight the evil robots. He wins, of course, but is mortally wounded in the process. As Akton sits there, Stella tells him that he could heal himself at any time. He agrees, but refuses, citing “destiny.” Dick.
The prequels sometimes make us forget just how good the Holy Trilogy is. Watching a movie like Starcrash is a good way to get the love back. Just don’t do it more than once. You might not survive the experience.