Starcrash (1979)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Flash Gordon

Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn

Star Wars Holiday Special


Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Please, God, let her take a cue
from the opening credits of Barbarella.
We'll give the Italians credit, they're fast. As we pointed out in our review of Tentacles, it was an Italian rip-off of 1975's Jaws, and hit theaters in 1977. Starcrash, an utterly amazing Italian rip-off of Star Wars, had a similar turnaround time. Star Wars was in theaters in 1977, and people desperate for another dose of space opera could go see Starcrash two years later.

But boy, you would have to be pretty desperate if you thought this compared to Star Wars in any way shape or form. Star Wars had Sir Alec Guiness and Harrison Ford; Starcrash has Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff. Star Wars built up a believable, if fantastic, universe; Starcrash's alien planets are all too obviously Italian locations, given away by the fact that we've seen them all in many a Hercules film. WIth Star Wars, a new age of special effects began. With Starcrash, we were instantly transported back to the previous age, in which soda bottles suspended from fishing wire were somehow acceptable substitutes for spaceships.

"The Galactic Council will now judge
which of you is prettier."
The hero of Starcrash is interstellar rogue Stella, played by sexy Caroline Munro. She and her vapid, mystical sidekick Akton (Marjoe Gortner) are captured by the Empire (or somebody -- it was never totally clear) and sent to a prison colony.

Stella, who is made to wear a revealing and degrading prison outfit that is actually less revealing and degrading than what she wears when she has a choice in the matter, engineers a breakout. This is helped along by the fact that the ore processor fatally overloads after being shot once. After a few very welcome scenes of the scantily-clad Stella running around an Italian field, our heroine is picked up by Thor and Robot L, the law enforcement officers who captured and put her in prison in the first place. Thor tells Stella that the Emperor of the Galaxy wants to see her.

Sure enough, he does. The Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher Plummer, who is dressed like he was waylaid into making this movie while on his way to play Marc Anthony for some other movie) charges Stella, Akton, Thor and L to find his son, whose ship was lost after it was attacked by red blob monsters. Stella and crew calculate three places that escape pods from the doomed ship may have landed.

They filmed our dreams!
The first planet is the planet of Amazons. We could really get behind this part of the film, as the scantily clad Amazons take Stella prisoner, and Stella fights her way out. Stella, it almost goes with out saying, is wearing knee-high boots.

The second planet is an ice planet. Stella wears a snow suit that covers her entire body. Boring! Let's move onto the next planet.

The last planet our heroes visit is populated by Neanderthals and David Hasselhoff. So just Neanderthals. Once Hasselhoff (who is the Emperor's son) is found we just have to wait for the good guys defeat the bad guy for once and for all.

Oh wait, we didn't mention the bad guy. He's Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), and he's out to do something really evil. We just don't know what it is, but it involves his terrifying space fortress, which looks kind of like giant hand. And when it goes into attack formation it makes a fist. Spinell is amazingly miscast -- he's supposed to be dark and menacing, but compared to Darth Vader, Zarth Arn is a pizza delivery guy. Spinell was a fine actor who even appeared in The Godfather, but "galactic overlord" just isn't in his repetoire.

In the pantheon of space badguys,
there's Darth Vader, then Ming the Merciless,
and somewhere at the bottom, Zarth Arn.
Starcrash is nearly unwatchable for many reasons. We love Caroline Munro, but for some reason her voice is dubbed by someone else. Everyone in the film is dubbed, except for Plummer and Hasselhoff -- and even their voices were added in later, presumably over lunch one day, because the words rarely sync up to the actors' lips.

Starcrash is a typical Cormanesque hack job -- recycled props and sets (note the costumes of the Imperial Guards, ripped straight from David Carradine's back after the filming of Death Race 2000), substandard effects, silly story, and a half-naked babe to hold it all together. If it weren't for the fact that she's been making similar trash all her career, we might even ask how Munro got roped into this movie.

The coup de grace is the fact that all the dialogue is horribly written. Take, for instance, this actual passage of dialogue, with a few superflous bits taken out:

"Get ready to ease out of orbit."
"This doesn't make you nervous, does it?"
"Well, leave it to me."
"Build up maximum energy!"
"OK, I'm ready."
"All system prepare for full power!"
"Let's lock in these controls..."
"Let's go!"

"Now if you'll excuse me,
I must go speak with Marc Antony."
This exchange prompted our friend Melanie to comment, "This really would have been more effective as a porn movie."

Melanie had many other choice comments, which we will quickly list here because she was so right about so many things.

  • On the coherency of the plot: "What the hell? I have no idea what just happened!"

  • On the protagonists: "They're morons."

  • Regarding the special effects: "It's somebody's Lego collection!"

  • Referring to Marjoe Gortner as Akton: "I think he's really convincing... as a hairdresser."

  • And finally, Melanie's thoughts on Starcrash as a whole: "Not enough Wookiees in this movie. That's the problem."

    We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

    Own it!
    VHS • DVD

  • .
    Review date: 05/19/1999

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    The master of the exploitative rip-off of a current cinematic hit is Roger Corman, who managed to get his Jurassic Park rip-off Carnosaur into theaters a week before Jurassic Park premiered. Go back!