Movies

The Tom Cruise Connection, How You Can Buy Dark Helmet’s Helmet, And Other ‘Spaceballs’ Facts


Since it was released 30 years ago, director Mel Brooks‘ send-up of the classic Star Wars trilogy, Spaceballs, has become a beloved classic in its own right. Following the adventures of Lone Star (Bill Pullman), his half-man/half-dog Barf (John Candy) and Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) as they team up to fight the notorious Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), Brooks’ manages to balance a swashbuckling adventure with his trademark humor, resulting in a movie that appeals to fans of all types. Including hardcore sci-fi nerds.

To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, here are a few facts about the notorious and revered parody.

It Had The (Conditional) Blessing Of George Lucas

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Brooks didn’t necessarily need the approval of George Lucas to make Spaceballs because it was a parody, but out of respect he nonetheless wanted the creator of Star Wars to sign off before he started filming. While Lucas liked the script, there was one condition he insisted on. Brooks told Maxim back in 2013 that “he gave me one incredibly big restriction: no action figures.” Apparently, Lucas feared that any Spaceballs merchandise would look too much like the ones he’d made for Star Wars as a part of the merchandising that Spaceballs and Brooks (as Yogurt) so cleverly lampooned.

It Was The Second Star Wars Spoof

Spaceballs might be the most well-known live-action spoof of the famous space opera, but the first one came courtesy of filmmaker Ernie Fosselius, who put together a 12-minute short entitled Hardware Wars in 1978. It was ultra-low budget, costing just $8,000 to make, and featured props like a flashlight lightsaber and a vacuum cleaner R2 unit in place of what were then high-tech effects.

It also proved to be wildly popular, relative to its budget, making more than $500,000 the year it was released. Even George Lucas called it a “cute little film.” While Fosselius passed on any offers to extend it to a full-length movie, his producer, Michael Wiese was perturbed by Brooks’ spoof. “We always knew it was a one-joke movie and wouldn’t sustain that length. Of course that didn’t stop Mel Brooks from ‘quoting’ us — some might say ripping us off — with Spaceballs,” Wiese told Slate in 2002.

The Studio Wanted A Tom

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While Bill Pullman would immortalize the role of Han Solo/Skywalker hybrid Lone Star, the studio originally wanted Brooks to cast either Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks as the hero. “That’s what’s wrong with this business,” Brooks was quoted in his biography, It’s Good To Be The King, “If you make it a ‘Tom’ movie, it’s no longer a parody, it’s a ‘Tom’ movie, and you have to build scenes around him.” Eventually, Brooks got his way, and approached Pullman for the role.

Barf’s Look Changed A Bit Throughout Pre-Production

After the late John Candy was cast to play Barf (short for Barfolomew), Lone Star’s Chewbacca-esque sidekick, the effects team originally worked up a full mask, which Brooks wasn’t a fan of because, in his view, obscuring Candy would nullify the point of hiring him. Eventually, Brooks and the effects team landed on some face-paint along with animatronic ears and a tail. But deciding on a look wasn’t necessarily the hard part.

Strapped with a 40-pound battery, Candy would operate the tail himself, with two puppeteers who would follow close behind when filming to operate the ears. At one point, Brooks told effects artist Rick Lazzarini to not “move the ears so much,” as he feared they’d distract too much from the other actors on screen.

Dark Helmet Was Originally Just One Big Helmet

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter back in 2015, Rick Moranis explained that in the first Spaceballs script, “the whole costume was one gigantic helmet.” Then, before production began, “it got scaled back to just an exaggerated version of the Darth Vader helmet.” In the same interview, Moranis wondered where the helmet is today, before jokingly responding with “The Smithsonian?”

Turns out, earlier this month, the original helmet was put up for auction by the website Invaluable.com. The current bid is sitting at $15,000. It’s set to remain on the auction block until June 28 of this year. So if you’re about to buy a new compact car, maybe rethink your decision and buy a piece of history!

Rick Moranis Is Responsible For One Of The Film’s Best Scenes

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Speaking of the film’s villain, when Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) walks into Dark Helmet’s chamber, he catches him in a rather embarrassing moment while playing with his Spaceballs action figures (that don’t really exist because George Lucas). Brooks came up with the idea one day on the Spaceballs set and told the idea to Moranis, who in turn went and improvised the entire scene despite the fact that he wasn’t feeling well that particular day. It’s no Indiana Jones whip scene in the bazaar, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Michael Winslow Saved The Production Money

Best known as the ‘sound effects guy’ from the Police Academy films, Michael Winslow was hired for a small role as a radar technician on Dark Helmet’s spaceship. During his scene, Winslow provided all his trademark sound effects for the ‘bleeps, the creeps, and the sweeps,’ which Brooks said saved the movie roughly $1,000 in sound effects.

The Millennium Falcon Makes A Cameo

At the beginning of the film’s final sequence — the one where the late John Hurt reprises his role from Alien and a song and dance star is born — you’ll notice Star Wars’ most recognizable ship parked outside Gus’s Galaxy Grill as a loving nod. Which isn’t a surprise, considering Lucas’ company, Industrial Light and Magic, did all the special effects.

Brooks’ Smooth Talking Ways Made The John Hurt Cameo Possible

Hurt was a highly regarded dramatic actor but he also had a minor place in Brooks’ company of frequent players, appearing as Jesus in History Of The World Part I and the aforementioned scene in Spaceballs.

Hurt’s relationship with Brooks actually stretches back before those films, though. Brooks, it’s often forgotten, was an uncredited producer on The Elephant Man, which Hurt got an Oscar nomination for. And their level of familiarity allowed Brooks the chance to get Hurt for cheap, according to the actor’s 2011 interview with The AV Club.

“Mel [Brooks] called and said, ‘Look, John, I’m doing this little movie and there’s a bit in there that has to do with Alien, so come on over.’ He made it sound like a bit of a picnic. He also did that to me on History Of The World: Part I [in which Hurt plays Jesus]. He always does that. ‘Come on, I’ll give you a couple grand, we’ll put you up in a nice hotel, you’ll have a good time, and then you can go back again.’ And when you get there, you suddenly realize, it’s a $3 million scene—God knows how much the animatronic singing and dancing alien cost—and they couldn’t possibly have done it if it hadn’t been for you. What I’m saying is, I think he got me rather cheap. [Laughs.]”

The Novelization Was Written By R.L. Stine

Writing under the pen name ‘The Jovial Bob Stine,’ the author of the Goosebumps series penned the novel based on the movie Spaceballs: The Book. While Stine was able to up the adult content a bit, which was hindered in the movie thanks to a PG rating, he added a couple of details, including a scene where Barf and Yogurt discuss the mythical Red Eye Knights at the desert temple. While novelizations of satirical movies that rely heavily on sight gags are uncommon, it remains the lone exception to Lucas’ condition of no Spaceballs merchandise.

The Sequel Has Been In Discussion For A Long Time

The idea for a Spaceballs follow-up has floated around as a possibility for some time, though it has been held back for numerous reasons, including the availability of the now-retired Rick Moranis. However, Brooks has said recently that he’s again open the possibility of returning to the Spaceballs universe.

At a recent Q&A held by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, he said that the studio was “interested in doing it,” thanks to the renewed interest in the franchise on the heels of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the upcoming The Last Jedi.

And that was before the original made news thanks to Goldberg‘s creator Adam Goldberg’s expert level Twitter troll job recently. Which just goes to show that the Schwartz is still with a lot of us.

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