What do you get when you cross Star Wars with one of its biggest inspirations, then mix in John-Boy and Banacek?
This week’s Sci-Fi Saturday looks at the Roger Corman classic (?) Battle Beyond The Stars. Released in the fall of 1980, just in time for Oscar Season, to a lukewarm reception both critically and monetarily. It tells the story of Shad (played by Richard Thomas of The Waltons fame) a young farmer who seeks the help of seven mercenaries to protect his home from an evil force bent on its oppressive plundering.
If you know your film history, you may be thinking this sounds suspiciously like The Seven Samurai. You would be right! But fear not, this is not a mere ripoff, but an adaption because Akira Kurosawa is actually given story credit.
When Star Wars quite literally changed the art of filmmaking, many ripoffs and wannabes were made in the following years. Producer Roger Corman, whose prolific works were usually made on miniscule budgets, decided to cash in on the craze. It was no secret that George Lucas was inspired by Akira Kurosawa. Screenwriter John Sayles looked to the Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, which itself had been made into a western The Magnificent Seven two decades earlier. A young aspiring props and model maker names James Cameron was hired to help make the sets and ships. Another up and coming name was composer James Horner. You may have heard his music in several Star Trek films, and most James Cameron productions.
Allegedly, much of the film’s $2 million dollar budget went to the salaries of co-stars George Peppard and Robert Vaughn. Most of the other cast were TV or character actors, including a young pre-Newhart Julia Duffy and sex symbol Sybil Danning.
If you know Roger Corman, you know what to expect. If you don’t know, let’s just say you’ve probably seen some of his work on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, this movie is probably ripe for a Rifftrax treatment. However, if you’re a fan of enjoyable, if a bit silly, B movies this one is worth picking up. Corman’s trademark use of young talent on the rise behind the scenes is probably why he was able to make so many profitable films on microscopic budgets.
In a trivial note, Peppard and Vaughn would later co-star together in the final season of The A-Team.