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If you make a successful, genre-defining film chances are that someone will try to replicate it. The success of The Avengers not only proved that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could work, but the blockbuster sent every studio into a race to create their own “cinematic universe”. Barbie has already led Hasbro to start developing a plethora of toy-related movies – including Uno, for some reason. But nowhere is this more prominent than with Star Wars. George Lucas‘ vision of a galaxy far, far away has spawned many imitators. Some of them were surprisingly good, like Spaceballs. Others reek of hubris, particularly Max Landis – who claimed that Bright was “his Star Wars” (the reception proved otherwise.) Perhaps the biggest Star Wars imitation is the 1980 space Western Battle Beyond the Stars. Not only did it take overt influence from Star Wars, but it also came on the tail of The Empire Strikes Back. In the end, the Roger Corman-produced film has a unique charm, as well as some major science fiction legends behind its production.
How Did Star Wars Inspire Roger Corman With ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’?
Roger Corman is one of the most interesting figures in filmmaking history. He produced and directed a wide variety of films across a wide variety of genres, including Frankenstein Unbound and Death Race 2000. Corman would also give a number of Hollywood legends their start including Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese. Yes, you read that right. Of course, one can’t forget his producing credit on the first-ever film adaption of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four (which has never seen the light of day). Needless to say, Corman was an intensely savvy businessman – so when Star Wars: A New Hope exploded in popularity, he decided to hop on the bandwagon and produce his own sci-fi epic.
But George Lucas wasn’t Roger Corman’s only source of inspiration. Battle Beyond the Stars also draws major inspiration from the Western classic The Magnificent Seven – which itself is an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai. The war epic had previously inspired a lot of films – ironically, Star Wars was chief among them – but it also helped in part to kick off the wave of spaghetti Westerns that would populate Hollywood until the 1970s. Both films and Battle Beyond the Stars share a similar plot: a small colony is besieged by enemy forces, which leads the population to seek out help from local mercenaries. In the process, the mercenaries and townfolk form a strong bond and manage to repel the invaders. Though the plot and the setting might change, Seven Samurai has become universal; to this day many filmmakers cite it as an influence.
Battle Beyond the Stars managed to mix elements from both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. In lieu of a town, there is the planet Akir – named in honor of Kurosawa. Many of the mercenaries that young farmer Shad (Richard Thomas) finds to defend Akir happen to be cowboys – particularly the Scotch-slinging gunslinger who’s actually named Cowboy (George Peppard) and the fugitive Gelt (Robert Vaughn). Ironically, Vaughn played a similar role in The Magnificent Seven as the on-the-run gunslinger Lee. The fact that this movie managed to pay homage to both of the films that inspired it, while also chasing Star Wars‘ glory, is a feat in and of itself.
Which Sci-Fi Legends Worked on ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’?
To bring Battle Beyond the Stars to life, Roger Corman wrangled together his own all-star team including director Jimmy T. Murakami (Heavy Metal) alongside screenwriter John Sayles and composer James Horner. Sayles would go on to script other science fiction films including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestial and The Howling, while Horner would score Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Rocketeer. But his biggest get would have to be none other than James Cameron. Yes, the same James Cameron who would bring the world the Terminator and Avatar sagas to life got his start working on a Star Wars pastiche.
James Cameron was brought onto Battle Beyond the Stars by Corman when he was 25, first serving as a model maker before becoming art director on the film. Cameron’s skill for crafting worlds out of full cloth is on full display throughout Battle Beyond The Stars, especially when it comes to the vehicles. The spaceships populating the film have their own flair, particularly the living ship Nell; eagle-eyed fans noticed that she bears more than a passing resemblance to the female reproductive system which is extremely ironic given the themes of motherhood that ran through Cameron’s other work. Cameron has only continued to push himself forward when it comes to visual effects in movies, and it all started with Battle Beyond The Stars.
‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ Was a Surprise Success
When it premiered in theaters, Battle Beyond the Stars managed to gain a considerable profit – earning $11 million off of its $2 million budget. A lot of this is in spite of the quality (the film received mixed reviews upon release) and due to the fact that the nation was still in post-Empire Strikes Back euphoria. Years later, a prequel comic titled Battle Among the Stars was released by Bluewater Productions, which depicted the long-standing feud between Akir and the malevolent Sador. Battle Beyond the Stars would gain cult status, with film fans conceding that while it wouldn’t reach the height of Star Wars it’s still worth a watch.
Ironically, Battle Beyond the Stars may have a modern predecessor in Rebel Moon. Zack Snyder‘s upcoming science fiction epic originally started life as a Star Wars pitch prior to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm; Snyder retrofitted it into an original story, though like Corman he specifically cited Seven Samurai as an influence. D Battle Beyond the Stars is worth a watch, whether its viewers enjoy bombastic B-movie fair or want to learn how to properly ride the coattails of a popular film. Battle Beyond the Stars is available to stream for free on YouTube.