Battle Beyond the Stars came out in 1980, riding the coattails of Star Wars. Every studio was scrambling to find an equivalent franchise after SW hit the movie scene like a nuclear bomb. Roger Corman, the king of low-budget schlock, slapped together this movie in short order.
The results were . . . surprisingly, not too bad. Subtle? Not so much.
Battle is essentially a remake of The Magnificent Seven in space. Seven was also a remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai. So it’s a remake of a remake. Which sounds terrible, but the initial premise is still strong and Battle has decent actors and production values.
The setting is the far future planet Akir. Akir is inhabited by peace-loving space Amish . . . or something. Anyway, the Akira (a nod to Akira Kurosawa) get a visit from an unpleasant character called Sador. (Yes, Sador. A subtle name.) Sador (John Saxon) packs a giant battleship, an army of mutants and a “stellar converter” that can blow up planets. Not having an army or experience in fighting, they send out Shad (Richard Thomas) to look for help. Richard at this point had just come off playing “John-Boy” on The Waltons for five years. I suspect he was attempting to find any role that would break out of that typecasting.
Shad flies off in an intelligent ship with a sarcastic personality named Nell. And the ship has boobs. Seriously, the ship is stacked. Through various encounters, Shad manages to dig up a group of fighters who are willing to defend Akir.
First is Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel) who doesn’t bring any weapons except a battle computer, however she is Shad’s love interest. Second is Space Cowboy. Yes, his name is Space Cowboy. Did I mention this film isn’t subtle? Space Cowboy (George Peppard) doesn’t have much of a ship, but has plenty of ground weapons to fend off troops.
Nestor, a group-mind of clones, volunteer for the fight because they’re bored with their sameness. Next comes Gelt (Robert Vaughn), an assassin whose success has made him too many enemies. All he wants is a place to live peacefully, without watching his back. Vaughn essentially plays the same character he did in The Magnificent Seven, only with a spaceship.
Next is Saint Exmin (Sybil Danning) from the race of Valkyries. She shows up in a tiny, super-fast ship and wants to fight because she comes from a warrior race and loves it. For you younger folks, Sybil was the go-to sexpot in every B film in the 80s. She’s wonderful eye candy in this.
Finally we get a lizard alien named Cayman (Morgan Woodward). Yes, he’s named Cayman. Just let it go. Cayman has a massive warship and wants to fight because Sador destroyed his race. Although unrecognizable in his makeup, you might know Woodward from Cool Hand Luke, and two appearances on the original Star Trek series.
The group of fighters meet Sador in battle and . . . well, you can guess how this goes if you’ve seen The Magnificent Seven.
I enjoyed the hell out of it as a kid and when I rewatched it recently, it held up pretty well. It doesn’t hurt that you have real actors and decent special effects (by none other than James Cameron). The spaceship designs are nifty and John Sayles‘s script is damn solid.
It has since become a bit of a cult favorite among aficionados. It still pops up from time to time in pop culture references. If you’ve ever played the classic PC game Master of Orion II, you’ll recognize the “stellar converter” technology reference.
If you like science fiction and have never seen this, I recommend it without reservation.
The whole movie’s available on YouTube. You’re welcome.