First off, let me say that this article marks my third anniversary writing for Forces of Geek!
When I first did my Bigfoot article back in November 2012, I thought I’d write for a year or two and then stop. Here I am three years into it, and I still have plenty of future article ideas. So thanks to FOG! and to everyone who enjoys reading this column!
Now, with anticipation building towards Episode VII, I thought it would be a fun time to list non-American films from the late 70s and early 80s that imitated the original 1977 Star Wars (Episode IV).
In comparison to the more famous American imitators (Battle Beyond the Stars being the most famous), these Asian and Italian ones were impressively epic and far-reaching. And while clearly indebted to Star Wars for settings, images, and characters, most of them were pretty creative with themes and stories.
Here, then, are the relatively few but surprisingly strong Star Wars imitators from abroad. I’ve written more about each of these in my Claws & Saucers guidebook, but I hope you’ll find these comments and comparisons helpful:
From Toho, the studio most famous for Godzilla, comes this rushed, busy, but fairly serious space adventure. Like Star Wars, it opens by panning through space. It’s got a Wookiee (with a horn in his head), a light dagger instead of a light saber, and the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” in translation.
The plot is surprisingly complex, mixing characters of different types with little battles of different types. The best battles come at the end. It’s inconsistent and choppy but never boring. A “Ghoten” mother ship shoots out smaller fighter ships like a gun shooting bullets.
Unlike the other films, below, it takes place in the near future in our solar system rather than a long time ago in a far away galaxy.
MESSAGE FROM SPACE (Japan, 1978)
From Toei, the studio most famous for Gamera, comes a space adventure much campier than rival Toho’s War in Space. A nutty cantina scene comes early, featuring Vic Morrow in a huge floppy hat. The heroine is Meia instead of Leia. A light whip replaces a light saber.
The plot harkens back to Seven Samurai, where a band of underdog heroes gets recruited to save an innocent planet from an evil warlord. How do the heroes get recruited? By receiving glowing walnut seeds!
Toho’s film was better, but Message from Space is not bad. Bonus: Sonny Chiba shows up toward the end.
THE HUMANOID (Italy, 1979)
Despite a glaring flaw, this grand flamboyant unrestrained galactic adventure is among my favorite imitators.
It has more thefts from Star Wars than anything else on the list (including Darth Vader helmets, R2D2 robots, “George Lewis” as the director’s pseudonym, and light arrows rather than light sabers) but boasts a creative and surprising plot where the apparent hero (Richard Kiel, most famous as Jaws from James Bond) is transformed into an evil “humanoid.” It sometimes resembles glam rock pictures but it has an electronic score from Ennio Morricone.
What’s the glaring flaw? It has brief nudity during a torture sequence. The nudity is disturbing, not sexual, so be ready for it when you watch.
STAR ODYSSEY (Italy, 1979)
Hack director Alfonso Brescia called himself “Al Bradley” when he made four(!) Star Wars imitators in quick succession from 1977-1979. This last one is by far the best, if also the campiest, of the bunch.
Many likeable characters – especially a Han Solo-like rogue and a pair of bantering robots – keep the movie interesting even as plot points grow sillier and sillier. Action is scanty, but it’s got several quasi-cantina or arena sequences. Instead of clone-like Stormtroopers, the antagonists are evil androids in blonde wigs.
Bradley’s other imitators are War of the Planets (1977), War of the Robots (1978), and Battle of the Stars (1978).
STARCRASH (Italy, 1979)
In the tradition of Barbarella, Starcrash gives us a sexy female heroine, but whereas Barbarella was goofy and naïve, Stella Star (leather-clad Caroline Munro) is tough and fierce.
Stella and her allies (including a pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff) must take down an army of bad guys headquartered in a space station shaped like a giant hand. Thefts from Star Wars include an opening shot of a spaceship flying over our heads, a light saber, and an evil warlord named “Zarth.”
With consistently strong special effects including stop-motion, it’s the best movie on this list.
TURKISH STAR WARS (Turkey, 1982)
Really a kung-fu fantasy, “The Man Who Saved the World” became known as “Turkish Star Wars” in the US because it literally steals Star Wars footage (space and Death Star stuff) for several minutes at the opening and closing.
It also has a bizarre bad guy who resembles Darth Vader with his black costume and mask. His troops are a cross between Star Wars Stormtroopers and Battlestar Galactica Cylons. You’ll spot music from Raiders and Flash Gordon too.
While frenetic and ridiculous, much of the kung-fu fights are fast and powerful. You might get confused, but you certainly won’t get bored.