Today’s feature is one of the most infamous among the multitude of Star Wars knockoffs: 1978’s Starcrash.
Starcrash was co-written and directed by Luigi Cozzi, who is most famous for his b-level Hercules films starring Lou Ferrigno, as well as his bizarre 1977 colorized, re-imagined version of Godzilla. His co-writers for Starcrash were producer Nat Wachsberger and one R.A. Dillon, who has no other listed IMDb credits.
Starcrash interestingly had two credited cinematographers: Paul Beeson, who worked as a second unit director of photography on movies like Willow, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Never Say Never Again, Ishtar, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli, who shot Tentacles and Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.
The editor for the film was Sergio Montanari, who most notably cut the spaghetti western classic Django and Luigi Cozzi’s later films Hercules and The Adventures of Hercules II.
The musical score for Starcrash was composed by John Barry, a five-time Academy Award winner (and one-time Golden Raspberry winner) whose credits included Howard The Duck, The Living Daylights, Out Of Africa, Dances With Wolves, A View To A Kill, Octopussy, Thunderball, Goldfinger, Game of Death, Diamonds Are Forever, and many others.
The effects team for the movie included Giancarlo De Leonardis (The Last Shark, Troll) Armando Valcauda (Hercules, The Adventures of Hercules II), Germano Natali (The Gaul, Devil Fish, Suspiria), and Ron Hays (Can’t Stop The Music, Demon Seed, Grease).
The cast of Starcrash is made up of David Hasselhoff (Kung Fury, Knight Rider, Baywatch, Baywatch Nights), Marjoe Gortner (American Ninja 3, Earthquake, The Food of the Gods), Caroline Munro (Maniac, Slaughter High, Dracula A.D. 1972), Christopher Plummer (Dracula 2000, Alexander, Wolf, 12 Monkeys, The Sound of Music), Robert Tessier (The Deep, The Sword And The Sorcerer), and Joe Spinell (Rocky, Rocky II, Sorcerer, Night Shift, Vigilante, Maniac, Cruising).
An outlaw smuggler and her alien companion are recruited by the Emperor of the Galaxy to rescue his son and destroy a secret weapon by the evil Count Zarth Arn.
Almost all of the actors had their dialogue dubbed over for the English-language release by different people, due to the production not being able to afford to fly the whole cast out to record their lines.
A number of sequences in the movie feature David Hasselhoff’s character donning a mask: apparently, this is because he wasn’t able to film that day, and a production assistant was standing in for him.
Famed and prolific Italian composer Ennio Morricone reportedly turned down an offer to score Starcrash, which led to John Barry taking the job.
Christopher Plummer went on record about his experience shooting on Starcrash (which reportedly only took him a single day) with The A.V. Club:
Starcrash. Oh, my God…I mean, how can you play the Emperor Of The Universe? What a wonderful part to play. [Laughs.] It puts God in a very dicey moment, doesn’t it? He’s very insecure, God, when the Emperor’s around.
Starcrash has a pseudo-sequel in the form of 1981’s Escape from Galaxy III, which, in true Italian fashion, re-uses numerous effects shots from Starcrash, and was occasionally marketed as Starcrash II.
Starcrash currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.0, along with Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 33% from critics and 40% from audiences. I wasn’t able to dig up solid gross or budget numbers, but it was clearly crafted in an attempt to mimic Star Wars on as thing a budget as possible. This technique wound up paving the path for the later b-movie Battle Beyond The Stars, which hybridized The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai and Star Wars on a Starcrash budget.
Starcrash, honestly, is one of my favorite b-movies of all time. It is easy to write off as just a Star Wars knock-off, but there is a peculiar charm to this movie that is missing from a lot of similar productions. The effects and sets, while cheap, are pretty decent for what the team was working with budget-wise, and the use of stop-motion adversaries is a great throwback to earlier adventure movies. The performances are also memorable, like Marjoe’s pseudo-Jedi, the southern-fried Robot Cop, and Christopher Plummer’s Emperor of the Universe, equipped with the ultimate deux ex power to “halt the flow of time.”
Starcrash could easily have been a sleazy and soulless attempt to leech off of the success of a Hollywood franchise. Instead, this movie is a charming, honestly-crafted, and even imaginativly frugal take on a 1970s space opera. What it lacks in sensible writing, fight choreography, and coherence, it makes up for in gumption, overacting, and pure fun. Having watched a fair share of Italian knock-offs, I can confidently say that Starcrash didn’t need to try as hard as it did, and it stands out from the pack of its peers because of it. For example, I would watch this countless times before going back to Devil Fish or The Last Shark again.
For bad movie fans, Starcrash might as well be mandatory viewing, and I would go so far as to say the same to any dedicated Star Wars fans out there as well. Starcrash actually holds an interesting place in the history of Star Wars, as one of the few stop-gaps between A New Hope in 1977 and The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. As fans enter the waiting game once again for a new Star Wars feature, Starcrash is on the menu once again, and is deserving of a watch.
For more thoughts on Starcrash, you can check out just about any bad movie guru out there. Personally, I advise checking out R. L. Shaffer’s review on IGN, the video reviews by Brandon Tenold, Kyle Anderson, and Diamanda Hagan, and the podcast episode from the Bad Movie Fiends.