Battle Beyond the Stars answers that age-old question… what if you mixed the star-fighting of Star Wars, the visual grandeur of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and some of the production design of Alien, but also had all the sexy babes in the galaxy hot for John-boy Walton’s bod. Also, it’s a remake of Seven Samurai.
I should also mention the budget—approximately twenty percent of the original Star Wars (two million, which mostly went to the respectable special effects). Stars has shockingly good space effects. They just don’t have enough of them and sometimes reuse the same footage. They can’t do multiple ships in a frame, which limits the visuals after a certain point, but it’s a fine effort. James Francis Cameron did the special effects for the film.
Unfortunately, even though the space stuff looks good, the sets and “exteriors” are rather wanting. There are some okay matte shots of the alien worlds, but the actual sets are… I wanted to say iffy, but they’re much closer to bad. There are good exterior shots, but they’re models without any people. Sorry, I really want to talk about how Stars somehow didn’t know what trench warfare meant, but we’ll have to wait a bit.
The movie opens with intergalactic (literally, screenwriter John Sayles likes to talk about all the galaxies) bad guy John Saxon showing up at the peaceful world of Akir (home of the Akiras, which is more amusing now than when Stars originally came out) and threatening to nuke them from orbit if they don’t promise to be his subjects. The Akira are a peaceful people ruled by the Varda, a guide to a pacifist lifestyle, but Sayles didn’t write more than a rule and a half. Or they cut the rest. Some of Stars definitely got cut; you have to wonder about other parts.
Saxon’s seen Seven Samurai so he knows he’s got to threaten the yokels and then give them a deadline so they have time to mount a resistance, and there can be a movie. So, he leaves to go mess with some other planet.
Young farm boy with a hankering for adventure, Richard Thomas, decides he’ll go round up some mercenaries to defend the planet—he hasn’t seen Seven Samurai but the town elders explain it to him—and he takes Obi-Wan Ke… he takes Jeff Corey’s space ship, which has an AI on board named Nell (voiced by Lynn Carlin). The spaceship looks like a part of the human anatomy. Well, two parts, but parts in a pair. In fact, from different angles, it looks like two different pairs of parts of human anatomy.
Thomas’s first stop is Corey’s old friend Sam Jaffe, who isn’t going to a lost cause but also wants to breed Thomas with his daughter, Darlanne Fluegel. Fluegel seems like she’s going to be quite bad in Stars and she might be quite bad, but once Sybil Danning shows up, Fluegel improves, thanks to the comparison. It might not be Fluegel’s (or even Danning’s) fault. While director Murakami is good at the space stuff and some of the dramatic stuff, he’s utterly inert with the romance. And since Stars becomes a low-key race between Fluegel and Danning to bed Thomas, the romance will be important. Ish. I mean, it’d have been nice for Fluegel not to oscillate between love interest and exposition blatherer, and it’d really have been nice if Danning weren’t a scantily clad star warrior, but I’m not sure it’d have made too much difference.
But it would’ve made some kind of one.
Fluegel and Thomas team up to save his planet; he goes one way to get more help, she goes another. He’ll bring in George Peppard (as future Earth hillbilly space trucker Space Cowboy, one half of Stars’s Han Solo), Robert Vaughn (the other half of Han Solo, this one a soulless space assassin), and these nice Borg, led by Earl Boen, in a lot of makeup.
Plus Danning, who demands he let her fight alongside, but Thomas doesn’t like pushy women, so he tells her to bug off. She’ll tag along because that bod’s too hot.
Meanwhile, Fluegel gets kidnapped by space lizard Morgan Woodward, who, it turns out, hates Saxon–so, lucky timing.
Thomas is an affable, likable enough lead, but the best performances are Vaughn and Peppard. Peppard takes a while to warm up, but Vaughn’s on from his first scene. Carlin’s a lot of fun–unfortunately, Saxon’s awful. The supporting cast’s okay; there are no standouts either way.
The sublime editing from Allan Holzman and R.J. Kizer is the standout of the entire film (besides James Horner’s proto-Star Trek score). They cut the effects sequences just right and the non-effect sequences just right. Holzman and Kizer’s cutting is responsible for many effects sequences’ success. They cut just as the limitations are about to show.
Daniel Lacambre’s photography is good, too. Stars is visibly cheap but never bad-looking. Well, never too bad-looking.
It’s a peculiar, always diverting, usually engaging oddity.
Even if someone thought fighting in the trenches meant digging wide corridors where they could have battles on the same set but pretend they’re somewhere else.
Finally, look fast for Julia Duffy and faster for Kathy Griffin.