A “Modestly Priced” Sci-fi B-Movie…
Battle Beyond the Stars is a 1980 space opera/sci-fi film that was produced by Roger Corman, the fabled king of b-movie, exploitation and independent filmmaking, at a modest budget of $2,000,000 USD.
Isn’t that a weird thing to say? “A modest budget of two million buckeroos.”
Believe me, it is modest. For a feature length science fiction film that features exotic create designs, dogfights in space, and surprisingly good visual effects, it’s a miracle this thing cost that much to produce.
The film is a soft-retelling of the classic western The Magnificent Seven, which was in itself a retelling/remake of Akira Kurosawa’s iconic film Seven Samurai. Never heard of it? It’s the song that The Barenaked Ladies referenced in their hit single One Week. In this version of the movie, we follow a plucky youth named Shad who must assemble a team of mercenaries to help him defend his pacifist home planet Akir from the homicidal tyranny of Lord Sador.
It has a passing resemblance to a movie that takes place in a galaxy far, far away…
Alright, it’s a bit more than a passing resemblance. It’s… well, it’s very Star Wars. The film was clearly produced, in typical Corman fashion, to cash in on the success of the original Star Wars film (later subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope). And with its 1980 release, Battle Beyond the Stars was also double dipping by being released only a few months after the followup to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back. Why, the films soundtrack even alludes to moments from the respective scores of A New Hope and Empire and it’s (simultaneously talented but not given much to work with) cast even are clear composites of the characters found in A New Hope.
But is that such a bad thing though? I honestly think that comes down to personal preference. For me, I’ve always been partial to camp in cinema and can entertain the idea of watching “Star Wars-lite” without thinking much of it. Sure, the film is very derivative of both The Magnificent Seven and Star Wars and sure, the film isn’t going to win any awards for what it tries to do with these similarities; but I genuinely felt myself having a lot of fun with this one. The movie itself is slight and doesn’t do anything to really stand out, but I genuinely felt something genuine in it’s execution because of that.
When all’s said and done, this movie is unremarkable… In a good way!
I think there’s a particular quality to the brand of carelessness that went into films like Battle Beyond the Stars. While produced quickly and with the sole intention of cashing in on the success of one of the first true blockbusters, the movie has a level of endearment to it that I struggle to find in newer cash-grab/straight-to-video movies. I feel like movies coming out today that are trying to accomplish the same goal as this film are usually more phoned in and intend to use the label of “so bad it’s good” as a means of justifying an inferior product. But that’s nowhere to be found here. Yes, this movie was made quickly and for little-to-no-money (again, given the scope of the film itself). But it also exists as a complete, thought out, albeit not well thought out, motion picture. While seemingly self-aware of how over the top it is, Battle Beyond the Stars doesn’t try to lean too heavily on that in the name of irony and, as a result, is a much more genuine movie going experience than a lot of people might assume it would be.
Simply put, the movie is unremarkable but competent, which puts it a mile above more recent cash-in movies that aim to be remarkably incompetent in the name of “irony” or because the filmmakers love the B-movie genre. And to me, that made it a lot of fun to watch.
Oh, and this is the movie that gave James Cameron his big break. He was behind this movies special effects and garnered a really warm reception for his work here, which was honestly well warranted. While nowhere near the technical level of visual trickery found in Empire or A New Hope, Cameron really showcased some clever effects and work in this movie and was recognized for the effort. In a weird way, this movie helped set him on his path to box office dominance in the later half of the decade, through to the modern day. Without ˆBattle Beyond the Stars, we may have never gotten Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic or Avatar and it’s quarter-million sequels that may-or-may-not ever get released.
If you wanna hear more about our thoughts on Battle Beyond the Stars, check out our podcast episode on the movie! It’s available on every major podcast player, as well as on YouTube as a full video episode!
Written by Nicholas Abouhamad for The Media Obscura