Inside of The Grab Bag, you never know what you might get. This time when I opened it up there, staring back at me, was the vastness of space. It was kind of like looking at movie house marquee in the waning years of the seventies. After Star Wars defied all logic to become an immense blockbuster, a slew of imitators arrived in its wake. Luigi Cozzi made Starcrash. Disney spit outThe Black Hole. Bond broke out of the atmosphere in Moonraker. Buck Rogers and BattlestarGlactica made a splash on TV. And even Star Trek managed a comeback on the heels of Lucas’ opus. So do you think for one moment that a man like Roger Corman was going to let a bandwagon like this pass him by? No way! Instead, he sunk the most money he had ever spent on one flick into his space epic and delivered to the public….
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, and Sybil Danning. Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami.
When the peaceful planet of Akir is threatened by intergalactic overlord Sador (Saxon), they dispatch young Shad (Thomas) in their only spacecraft to find and bring back mercenaries to defend the planet. His travels take him to a space station where he enlists at brilliant scientist’s daughter Nanelia, and then he travels deeper into space where he meets the western obsessed space trucker Cowboy (Peppard) and enlists his aid. On her way to Akir, a ship of creatures captures Nanelia, but she gains their trust when she reveals that she is joining the flight against Sador.
Shad travels on enlisting the help of a multi-faceted creature named Nestor, and then he travels to a deserted planet that was once infamous for its mercenaries. There he meets the last remaining ne’er-do-well, a wanted man named Gelt (Vaughn), who agrees to aid the planet for a meal and a place to hide. Lastly, on his way back home, a woman in a tiny but extremely fast ship follows Shad. She announces herself as Saint-Exmin of the Valkeree (Danning), and even after Shad rebuffs her request to help, she follows him to Akir to join in the battle. Together the people of Akir and the mercenaries mount a defense, but Sador holds a super weapon that could destroy the whole planet. They have but once chance to defeat the overlord and save Akir from certain destruction.
The Bugg Picture
You may be thinking you’ve heard this story before, and boy, have you. Battle Beyond the Stars not only seeks to ride the coattails of Star Wars, it also intends to do it while aping the plot of The Seven Samurai (or the original Kurosawa imitator The Magnificent Seven as well as the planet being named Akir after Akira Kurosawa). The basics are all here, and Robert Vaughn seems to be reprising his role from Magnificent Seven even down to the point to where some of his dialog is a carbon copy of the earlier film. That being said BBtS is a film which I enjoyed now, and I could only wish I had seen it back in the eighties when I would have surely ate this up with a spoon.
While the plot itself could not be more derivative,BBtS actually shines because of a plethora of good performances. Richard Thomas, better know as TV’s John Boy on the Waltons, puts in a fine performance as Shad. His character arc is the main focus of the film, and Thomas manages impress while also having that farm boy sensibility that made Mark Hammil’s Luke Skywalker so easy to like. Cult icon Sybil Danning’s rare non-horror role is also a great success. She played the Valkeree way over the top, but this is a film which allows for such performances. Plus, she wears a series of revealing outfits which certainly look right out of a sci-fi fan boys dream. I also want to throw in a special mention for Earl Boen as The Nestor. As soon as I heard his voice, I was sure I knew him from somewhere. While Boen has been a dependable character actor for many years, I realized after looking up his IMDB page that he was the narrator for the World of Warcraft games, and yes, I was once one of those people who spent all their waking hours in WoW, but now I have reformed and spend all my time watching movies. Oh, and what am I thinking! I almost forgot to mention John Saxon! Yeah, I just waxed poetic about The Saxon yesterday so I wont go there again, but suffice it to say John is as excellent as always.
Yet the two real high caliber turns come from the two actors who drove the budget of the film up so high (I assume, as it could not have been the effects, but more on that later.) A pre A-TeamGeorge Peppard makes the most of his role of Cowboy, certainly a joke on the films connection to westerns, and manages to infuse what could be a one-note role with a sensitivity and humor. Cowboy has a great many one-liners, but what I will remember him most for his belt. I mean who would not want a belt that dispenses Scotch, soda, and ice. Next, I have to take a moment for Robert Vaughn. As I said earlier, his turn as Gelt virtually mirrors his role as Lee in The Magnificent Seven. That being said the surprising part is that Vaughn didn’t just show up to collect a paycheck; he actually bothered to act. Gelt is a pivotal character in the film and he both evokes menace and pathos.
When you look at a sci fi flick like BBtS, you have to take a look at what the special effects. While the costuming left a lot to be desired, and I do mean a lot, the actual ships flying in space look at least as good as StarWars (and I do mean real Star Wars and not the Lucas redo). The main ship Shad navigates is quite special as well. I’ve seen all kind of ship designs in movies before, but I have never seen a ship with a giant rack before. I mean this was the Dolly Parton of spaceships. The other designs are quite good, and I enjoyed that each character had a very distinctive ship so in the battle scenes you always knew who you were looking at.
In the end Battle Beyond the Stars is just the type of ’80’s cheese that hit’s the spot for anyone who grew up in the Star Wars era. It had everything that I like in a movie like this, a familiar but interesting story, a few good effects, and acting well above the material. This is a pretty hard flick to get your hands on, but if you can get your hands on it, then definitely pick this one up.