TBT Review: ‘Spaceballs’ Confirms ‘Star Wars’ Cultural Influence
“Spaceballs” gets a “Throwback Thursday” review!
Star Wars isn’t just a series of 7 movies, like other cultural touchstones, it’s often just as much about the impact that the film makes on the world. “Star Wars” is also about all the toys, games, comics, novels, fan art, etc. and yes even the spoofs. One of the best and most well-known spoofs came out in 1987 by Mel Brooks, “Spaceballs.” I’m not going to try to pretend that this is as influential of a movie as “Star Wars” but I do think it was a sign that “Star Wars” was firmly set in pop culture. Mel Brooks’ career was still going strong and he could have picked anything to spoof next, but he picked this.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 3
First let’s talk about the good, The actors here all do their jobs well and in many ways are the saving grace. Say whatever you will about the rest of the filmmaking, but the actors all find the right balance. It actually reminded me of what the actors in “Star Wars” talk about in interviews. When you really go over the dialog in those movies, it’s pretty odd for us and at first the actors said they had trouble speaking it. They eventually decided the best way to play it was with no winking at the camera, just being totally sincere and earnest about the whole thing. Even though this is a comedy and a goofy one at that, it seems like this is very much the same approach these actors are taking within the context of this silly world.
Another thing that I love is that they don’t seem to feel that they have to just be exact copies of “Star Wars.” Lone Star is basically a Luke Skywalker/Han Solo hybrid and Barf (played by the late John Candy) is Chewbacca, but other than being Lone Star’s co-pilot he gets to have his own sort of personality. Rick Moranis plays against type wonderfully as Dark Helmet. Mel Brooks plays President Skroob (the Emperor Palpatine type) and Yogurt (Yoda… Duh) both on opposite sides of the spectrum of good and bad but both are fantastic. Beyond all the acting which is fine and they all get good comedic moments, the chemistry is what really sells it. Because both sides have groups with great chemistry we never worry about the film cutting from one to the other and when they do end up mingling they continue to shine. The music follows suit by being epic and lush sounding like John Williams’ score, but still its own thing that is also great to listen to.
Now for the film’s shortcomings, if you’re looking for a deep plot (or even one that just makes sense) then you aren’t going to find it here. This is a simplified version of a very simple story. It basically exists to be able to string all the gags together, and even as far as that goes there are still a ton of moments that don’t advance anything and are just detours for the movie. The movie itself cares so little about the plot that it’ll often put it on hold for entire scenes. However one thing that I appreciate about these older spoofs, they aren’t just copies of the films they’re spoofing. Sure the basic strokes are there but otherwise this is a different story that because it’s a spoof can do weird stuff like having the bad guys trying to steal all of the air from another planet.
If this film has a major failing it’s the same one as all of Mel Brooks’ other films; visually it’s not terribly impressive, the lighting is flat, the camera doesn’t move much, shots are pretty basic, etc. A great visualist, Mel Brooks is not. To be fair to the movie, while the cinematography isn’t great, the special effects look just as professional as any other science fiction movie of the time… when it’s in space. The sets show their lower budget in size and design, as does the set design and costumes. In many ways it feels closer to the old “Flash Gordon” serials than “Star Wars” itself does. The Druids look like characters out of a “Robin Hood” movie, much like how in “Flash Gordon” they reused the studio’s costumes from other films. Unlike “Star Wars” which has a timeless quality, “Spaceballs” looks even older and it came out almost a full 10 years later.
Entertainment Value – 5
After all that being said in the Cinematics section, the film still works. It’s the weird thing about comedies and what they can get away with. Many of the classic comedies fall apart on a technical level whereas plenty of other comedies are better made but just don’t make the audience laugh so they become forgotten. What it all really comes down to is is the film funny? People will have different opinions and that will affect how you feel about the movie overall but speaking for myself, yes, it’s damn funny and that’s why it’s remembered and loved to this day. In fact a lot of the flaws I mentioned earlier end up helping it in this section. However if you don’t find it funny, I understand if you don’t like the film. As established earlier, there’s not much meat to chew on.
The hard part is going to be not filling this section with just all the jokes that make me laugh, almost all of them do. Also something that I love about it is that it never feels cynical. It’s not a take down to show you how or why “Star Wars” doesn’t hold up. It’s a film that obviously loves “Star Wars” as much as we do and gets why. It doesn’t even restrict itself to just “Star Wars,” it spoofs “Star Trek,” “Alien,” “Planet of the Apes” and more. There are plenty of Mel Brooks tropes like Hitler cameos, fourth wall breaking, and making fun of sequels. The film is filled with one-liners and jokes that my friends, family, and I still quote to this day. In fact that got me into trouble at a young age as it was one of the first movies I watched with cuss words and when I’d reenact scenes I’d say the lines out loud in front of my parents and grandparents.
Rewatchability – 5
Here’s how I became aware of this movie, I was at the mall with my family and we were looking through a video store and happened to come across the VHS. My eyes were drawn to it as it looked similar to Star Wars but it wasn’t. I stared at it for who knows how long until my dad came by and saw me entranced by the cover. I asked what it was and he told me it was a spoof of Star Wars. “What’s a spoof?” was my response. This is an early memory of mine so I’m not sure how old I was, probably 5 or 6 MAYBE 7 at the most. We bought the VHS and I watched it that night and it quickly became a movie I loved to revisit to this day. So yes, I’ve been watching this for almost as long as I’ve been watching the Star Wars trilogy; which is my whole life so yes, I’d say this is very re-watchable.
Not Mel Brooks' greatest or funniest film but it's still darn good. The love and affection for “Star Wars” and all things science fiction shine through. While it may be a spoof that couldn't have come into existence without “Star Wars” it does stand on its own. For many who watch the film, it is as prominent and loved as the trilogy itself. I give it 4 stars out of 5. May the schwartz be with you.