- Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami
- September 8, 1980
In the future the peaceful planet of Akir is being threatened by the evil Sador of the Malmori and his forces. Now it is up to the young Shad to find help to save his people from conquest.
I have seen Battle Beyond the Stars only a handful of times over the years. Despite the rarity of my views, this film has stuck with me. It is just a fun and mostly well-made space opera adventure that sets out to entertain. It is pure adventure. It knows what it is and that is why it mostly works.
Some have called it “epic space opera on a budget” and in my opinion it truly is. And perhaps that is because of all the talented people that worked on it. George Peppard, Robert Vaughn, and John Saxon to name a few all appear in front of the camera while producer Roger Corman had talents like James Cameron, John Sayles, and James Horner working behind the camera. That is a great deal of talent working on one film.
This films existence owes its existence to not only the popularity of Star Wars but to the original The Magnificent Seven. It essentially is The Magnificent Seven in space. The Magnificent Seven itself was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai. There is a nod to the director in the name of the planet and its people.
As for the Star Wars influences, Richard Thomas stars as a heroic young farmer named Shad. Why they named him after a fish is weird. Anywho, Shad has developed a friendship with Zed the Corsair (Jeff Corey) who is nearly blind and the last of the Akira warriors. Shad has even learned to pilot Nell (Lynn Carlin voice) who is an AI controlled vessel belonging to Zed. When Akir is attacked by Sador of the Malnori (John Saxon) and his forces, Shad journeys from his home in the sentient Nell to find help.
Along the way Shad meets Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel), daughter of Dr. Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe), who becomes Shad’s love interest. He also meets Space Cowboy (George Peppard) who is the only character from Earth. That is the character’s name. His character is a cargo pilot delivering weapons and because Sador uses his stellar convertor on the people he is taking guns to, provides the Akir with weapons for a ground fight.
One of the more interesting characters in the film (and aliens in film in general) is Nestor (Nestor 1 played by Earl Boen). Nestor is one of many. His people possess individual bodies but a collective mind. What one experiences, all experience. This leads to a few comical and creative moments in the film. The Nestor agree to join the fight against Sador as it is part of their mission to provide new experiences for the collective. Boen is a name familiar to Terminator fans and the more I watch from my youth, the more I see him in things I love.
Robert Vaughn is next as Gelt. Gelt is a notorious assassin with a bounty on his head in just about every system. He is perhaps the saddest of all the characters. Despite his wealth and the reputation he has earned, he cannot enjoy any of it because there is nowhere safe he can be. He joins for “a meal and a place to hide”-something the Akir can provide.
Sybil Danning is Valkyrie warrior Saint-Exmin. Like all her people she has journeyed into the cosmos looking to prove herself in battle. I would call her a Klingon knockoff but their portrayal that mimics her came after this film.
We have the reptilian Cayman of the Lambda Zone (Morgan Woodward) who is slaver with a score to settle with Sador for destroying his species. He is accompanied by Kelvin 1 (Larry Meyers) and Kelvin 2 (Lara Cody) who are from a species that communicate via radiating varying levels of heat. It occurs to me just now that during the climactic battle when they overheat a tank that they are simply screaming at it.
There was a more talented (and more expensive) cast than the usual Corman stuff here. Reportedly a good chunk of the budget went to paying the salaries of Peppard and Vaughn. And I am glad he decided to get pricey. I wish back in the day he had done it more.
I never understood why Sador needed a new arm. He has a Napoleon type thing going with it for a good chunk of the film but why is never really mentioned. Then suddenly he needed a replacement and decides to get it from a captured Nestor.
When he got his replacement arm it was an interesting moment and a creative plan on the part of the characters, but they never told why he felt the need to attach it to his body. I’m guessing that bit got left on the cutting room floor-if it was ever filmed.
Sador, the galaxy threatening conqueror, has a real hard on for conquering a rather insignificant planet with one farming colony on it. The Akir appear to be the most pacifistic of pacifists. I am willing to bet Sador could have landed a handful of troops on the planet and subjugated everything without making some threat. And why leave one crappy ship to watch an entire planet? Then again this is space opera and such things are pretty common. It goes with the genre.
The story moves quickly yet there are not too many issues in the plot other than the ones I mentioned. The story explains most everything that happens no matter how weird it is and I think Dr. Hephaestus wanting to lock up Shad so Nanelia could pump out babies was definitely weird.
By modern standards the special effects are not that good. By the standards of the time they were good enough to get the story across. I never thought of them as great, but they were good. James Cameron, yes THE James Cameron, reportedly worked on them tirelessly. His hard work here and on other Corman productions allowed him the opportunity to do The Terminator.
I must admit Sador’s ship looks a lot like the blockade runner from the first Star Wars film and his stellar converter weapon feels like a variation on the Death Star. Shad’s ship truthfully has always looked to me like a scrotum. It always made me chuckle when I was a kid. The rest of the vessel designs are okay. Nothing too spectacular but no obvious rip-offs.
Costume designs in general are pretty good. The costumes of the Kelvins appear to be heavily borrowed from the miniseries The Martian Chronicles. Cowboy dresses more like a farmer than the farmers on Akir do. I do not know what the future farmers dress like I do not think it is this. So long as you do not think too hard you will be fine though.
As I said James Horner worked on the musical score from this. It is truly one of his better works. So much of what could be heard of his signature style here could be heard in such films as Star Trek II or III or Krull among so many others. He knew how to not only accentuate a scene with his music but to tell a story with his music. If you knew what you were watching, you could close your eyes and just listen to the notes and almost hear what was happening. He was truly talented, and his passing was a loss not only to music but to film.
Battle Beyond the Stars is a truly enjoyable movie. Not perfect but very enjoyable. I will give this a watch it because not only is it a good story, but it is well done on a little budget.
2 thoughts on “The Low Budget Fun of “Battle Beyond the Stars””
Its funny how similar this is to Star Wars and yet so different (mostly in execution): back in that immediate post-Star Wars period, there were so many imitators (the sincerest form of cinematic flattery?), films like Starcrash, tv shows like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. They all suffered by comparison to Star Wars. Critics may have sneered at George Lucas’ movie but it really was a genuine achievement, its not easy to do, that kind of film. The irony is that here we are decades later and its the actual new Star Wars films from Disney, that are similarly suffering by that same comparison.
I think the best thing about Battle Beyond the Stars is the rousing Horner score and while its visual effects date it, they are also part of the films charm, and I always loved that poster art: the film just can’t live up to its promises. Its actually a little sad that it would be so easy to remake this film even just for tv today and it would looks so great with how tech etc is now: maybe its time for a reboot, I’d certainly be curious to give it a try.
I would be for a remake that followed the script and fixed the weak points of it. Unfortunately remakes too often take the name of a property and slap it onto something related in broad strokes.