A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…George Lucas created Star Wars and everyone wanted to cash in on the outer space fever that the movie inspired. The sci-fi craze of the late ’70s brought us many good things (Battlestar Galactica and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for starters), but it also resulted in some strange attempts to recapture lightning in a bottle that were misguided at best, and a shameless copy of the adventures of Luke Skywalker and company at worst. But what were these creative misfires like, and do any of them possess any charm of their own? Let’s make the jump to hyperspace and look at ten unforgettable Star Wars rip-offs. Set phasers to fun! Wait, scratch that. Here we go…
Turkish Star Wars
The most infamous of all Star Wars ripoffs is 1982’s Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam. Released in Turkey, this celebration of possible copyright infringement blatantly uses footage and music from other films (oh, hello Raiders of the Lost Ark theme) and incorporates it into it’s own tale of, well, whatever this movie is supposed to be about.
The Bunglers in War of the Planets
While we are taking a world tour of creative pilfering, here’s a funky Brazilian rip-off that features the country’s beloved Os Trapalhões comedy troupe. In other words, this one is supposed to be goofy.
Japanese Tuna Fish Ad
Back in 1978, Japan’s Hagoromo tuna fish was promoted with a Star Wars -themed commercial in which a shoddy-looking C-3PO interrupts a lightsaber battle between an off-brand Luke and a crappy Vader by serving them lunch. As if the Empire would cool their jets over chicken of the sea.
Battle Beyond the Stars
Back in 1980, the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond the Stars hit theaters with Richard Thomas (The Waltons‘ John Boy) playing a sort of surrogate Luke Skywalker on his own hero’s journey, one that included a spaceship inspired by the female anatomy, albino aliens, and, naturally, George Peppard. Despite its cheesy trappings, it was an early project for both screenwriter John Sayles and James Cameron, who worked on production design, special effects and art direction. I think this film is more enjoyable than Avatar, you may think that makes me a monster.
Ever wonder how to make Star Wars boring? Turn it into an educational film set inside the human body with characters that are supposed to be riffs on Luke and Leia but instead look like refugees from a lost Slim Goodbody segment.
By now, you’re probably realizing that as derivative as these things are, they are not without their charms. And Starcrash is the most charming Star Wars ripoff ever made. Despite the low budget, it makes up for its shortcomings thanks to cheesy performances from the likes of Christopher Plummer, Caroline Munro, and a pre-fame David Hasselhoff (who still manages to be surrounded by semi-nude women even in a galaxy far, far away)
Another enjoyable result of Star Wars mania was Ernie Fosselius’ 1978 parody Hardware Wars. This silly and sublime short film seems inspired more by a love for its source material than commerce. There’s some truly stellar gags here, chief amongst them rebranding Han Solo as “Ham Salad” and having a Cookie Monster take over for Chewbacca. It is also extremely clever in its own right, making this one of the few examples of a cash-in that can stand on its own merits.
Rick Springfield’s “Human Touch”
In the 1980s, Rick Springfield had a few videos that touched upon sci-fi themes, but the greatest was “Human Touch.” This forgotten epic features plenty of dubious ’80s dance movies and an alien saxophonist who looks like he was kicked out of auditions for The Max Rebo Band.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
Nerd philosophical question of the day: Can an officially sanctioned Lucasfilm product be considered a Star Wars ripoff? In the case of the excruciating Star Wars Holiday Special the answer is a resounding yes. This program — broadcast once in 1978, and then never again — features what feels like pale imitations of the characters we love, even though they are portrayed by the original actors, and an uninspired bunch of meandering. Legend has it that the show was created to keep the characters in the public’s mind during the wait for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters. This seems logical, but then again so does the argument that this was just a quickie cash-in designed to sell Star Wars toys.
Billy Ocean’s “Loverboy”
“I don’t know what you’ve got, but it plays with my emotions. I want you so much.” Those words kick off Billy Ocean’s 1984 single “Loverboy,” but they also perfectly convey my feelings towards the song’s demented video. It’s hard to say why Billy Ocean, an artist who heretofore seemingly had no connection with science fiction, decided to go full Star Wars for this clip, but there are many great things happening at once here.
First off, “Loverboy” itself is an absolute banger of a song that sounds as fresh today as it did some 30 years ago. Then, there’s the fact that despite being a blatant rip-off of the Cantina scene, this video actually features some terrific character designs and makeup effects that put the prequel trilogy to shame. (Not that that is an especially difficult task, but still). Forget about the original Star Wars movies on Blu-ray, I want a copy of this thing in high-definition so that I can stare upon its bizarre glory again and again. Of all of the dubious art featured on this list, this is the most enduring. It thrusts viewers into a decidedly alien world and captures their imagination. Take that, The Ewok Adventure.