Saturday Matinee: Star Wars Knock-Off Double Feature

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Media hype surrounding the release of the latest Star Wars film is similar to the release of the previous films in the series except for the fact that prior to the release of the first installment, few outside the sci-fi community predicted it’d be such a success. Though it’s too early to tell how much of an enduring cultural impact The Force Awakens will have, in hindsight the impact of A New Hope has been substantial. It definitely raised the bar for effects-laden “event” films and marked a transition point for Hollywood from releasing films with a more gritty pessimistic tone and European-influenced aesthetic of the early and mid seventies to films with larger budgets and more optimistic “retro” sensibilities of the late seventies and beyond.

Star Wars also upped the ante for the potential boon to be had not just for studios but from merchandising partnerships, multimedia spin-offs expanding the franchise universe and countless opportunists attempting to cash in. Kids growing up in the post-Star Wars era had no shortage of Star Wars toys and products to choose from (or Star Wars-like toys and products) which helped boost a generation’s interest in sci-fi, space and technology. On television kids and adults could get their sci-fi fix through such shows as Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Quark, and an anime from 1974 repackaged as Star Blazers for American audiences. Meanwhile Hollywood was diving head-first into the sci-fi/fantasy resurgence with Disney’s The Black Hole, a space-bound James Bond in Moonraker, new versions of Superman, Star Trek and Flash Gordon, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and Jimmy Murakami (When the Wind Blows) and Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars among others.

Movie producers around the world also jumped on the bandwagon with films as diverse as Os Trapalhões (The Dabblers) from Brazil and Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World), also known as “Turkish Star Wars” due to the filmmaker’s liberal use of Star Wars footage for spliced in effects shots and backdrops. As many horrible examples of this subgenre of world cinema as there are, there’s at least two I’ve found to be charming and enjoyable in their own ways: Message From Space (Japan, 1978) and Starcrash (Italy, 1979). Both feature eclectic casts with hammy performances (eg Vic Morrow and Sonny Chiba in Message From Space and Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff in Starcrash), both have low-budget yet creative production design, and like Star Wars, they also make a decent attempt at recombining various mythological and cinematic tropes to create new fantasy worlds. Message From Space also had the benefit of having Kinji Fukasaku in charge, the auteur who also directed Black Lizard, Battles Without Honor and Humanity, and Battle Royale.

Message From Space (Full Movie)

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