If you grew up in the 1970’s like me, you probably love Star Wars. Or you’re some kind of cynical person who wants everyone to know how cool you are and you pose, constantly telling everyone exactly how much you hate the fact that blockbusters destroyed the artistry in film. Well, arty farty movies are still getting made and so are Star Wars movies. I might even agree with you a bit. But I also like Star Wars. However, I love the ripoffs of the saga even more.
1. Message from Space (1978): Even though it only cost $6 to $7 million dollars — nearly half the budget of Star Wars — Message from Space was still the most expensive movie in Japanese history up until 1980. It’s also the only Star Wars clone with Street Fighter star Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow in it. It’s also directed by the same guy who made Battle Royale, Kinji Fukasaku, so let that sink in.
2. The Humanoid (1979): Alan Lado made some awesome giallo like Who Saw Her Die? and Short Night of Glass Dolls before he jumped into the space opera trend, bringing along giallo villain supreme Ivan Rassimov as his Darth Vader, here named Lord Graal. Throw in Richard “Jaws” Kiel, Corinne Clery from Yor Hunter from the Future, Arthur Kennedy from The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and Ringo Starr’s wife Barbara Bach and you have a delicious concoction of pure nonsense, like a robot dog that pisses so hard that stormtroopers fall through the hole it makes in the floor. Also: the costumes for the fake stormtroopers were reused in Yor Hunter from the Future!
3. Starcrash (1978): Starcrash is the first movie that I ever loved more than the movie it ripped off. I mean, I love Carrie Fisher, but Caroline Munro? Marjoe Gortner over Mark Hamill? What about Joe Spinell, Maniac himself, as Count Zarth Ann, the Darth Vader of this? I mean, does the Death Star turn into a giant fist? Does David Hasselhoff get the Force? Come on. Starcrash forever!
4. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980): On the very same night that I saw Starcrash at the drive-in, I also saw this movie. My life was never the same again. It literally fried my eight-year-old brain. Imagine: The Magnificent Seven in space, with Robert Vaughn playing the exact same part, George Peppard as an even better Han Solo, Sybil Danning as a valkyrie and John Saxon as an evil cyborg. I don’t know if movies ever got this good again.
5. Dunyayı Kurtaran Adam (1982): The Man Who Saved the World isn’t afraid to rip off Star Wars By that, I mean literally taking special effects sequences and cutting them out of the actual film and putting them into this movie. Yet it also has zombies, bone soldiers, an evil wizard, and gloves and boots that were made from gold brains and a sword, made so that the hero Murat can karate chop monsters in half.
6. Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985): One look at that poster and you may say, is this an animated version of Star Wars? No, it’s all about Orin facing an evil overlord named Nexus. There’s also a charming smuggler named Dagg Dibrimi that has nothing to do with anything from Star Wars. Nope.
7. Star Odyssey (1979): Alfonso Brescia would go on to direct the absolute baffling artistic sword and sorcery movie Iron Warrior, but before that, he made four Star Wars cover movies in four years (Cosmos: War of the Planets, Battle of the Stars and War of the Robots are the others). This is all about Earth, now called Sol 3, being defended against the forces of Kress and his robot army. It also has Sartana himself, Gianni Garko, in it!
8. Space Mutiny (1988): I originally had The Black Hole on this list, which is a bit of a stretch. Then I watched Space Mutiny, which goes so far to rip off Star Wars that it has a character named Dr. Lea who looks just like Debbie Reynolds instead of Carrie Fisher. That said, any movie that has Danger: Diabolik star John Phillip Law battle Yor Hunter from the Future star Reb Brown is one I’m going to love, even if it steals all of its spaceship shots from Battlestar Galactica and has a climactic final battle with golf carts. And be sure to count all of the “rail kills” throughout the film.
9. The Last Starfighter (1984): Nick Castle went from being Michael Myers to directing this science fiction classic that Gene Siskel referred to as, “a Star Wars ripoff, but the best one.” I mean, did George Lucas have an allusion to The Music Man? Did he get Dan O’Herlihy to play a lizard alien? Nope. He did not.
10. H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come (1979): Don’t go into this thinking that it’s a literary work. This movie only takes the names and title of Wells’ book. Instead, Omus the Space Master — Jack Palance! — battles three kids and their robot dog in space. That said, it’s directed by George McGowan, who also made Frogs.
But wait…isn’t Star Wars itself a ripoff? Or a homage? Or influenced by other movies? You know what that means. It’s bonus round time!
1. Flash Gordon: Supposedly, George Lucas’ original plan was to make a Flash Gordon movie and when he couldn’t get the rights, he wrote his own script. A lot of Flash’s tropes remain in the final mix. And let’s not forget Flash’s cousin, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger!
2. The Hidden Fortress: Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film starts with two peasants escaping a major battle and arguing, just like C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars. There’s also a princess starting a rebellion and turning to an old general for help, who must battle his old protege. And there are also plenty of transitional wipes — decades before Lucas would use them to death. The director claimed that all the moments that are twinned between the two films are a coincidence. So why did he consider Toshiro Mifune — the general in this movie — for the role of Ben Kenobi?
3. The Dam Busters: The final battle against the Death Star wasn’t fully animated yet when George Lucas showed Alan Ladd Jr. the early footage of Star Wars. Instead, the bombing sequence from this movie was used. Much of its dialogue, including lines like “Get set for your attack run!” and “Look at the size of that thing!” were also copied. In a twist: Director Michael Anderson also fronted the Star Wars-inspired Logan’s Run (1976) and The Martian Chronicles (1980).
4. The Fighting Devil Dogs: The Lightning and his henchmen look so much like Darth Vader, it has to be more than a coincidence.
5. Casablanca: You’ll never meet a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Mos Eisley. Well, except for Casablanca, where Rick’s Cafe American looks pretty much exactly like the cantina. Hey, at least they didn’t do a straight, space opera remake of Casablanca — the way they did with Hitchcock’s 1944 classic, Lifeboat (as Lifepod), not once — but twice — in 1981 and 1993. (Uh, wait, they did: Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire, in 1996!)
6. Lost Horizon: The High Lama and Yoda speak the exact same way and instead of just dying, they fade away. Hmm…
Jack Kirby’s New Gods: Jack Kirby co-created or created most of the Marvel Universe. He didn’t stop there. This gigantic saga — introduced a half-decade before Star Wars — is all about Orion learning how to use The Source before going into the final battle against the man he just learned is his father, Darkseid. George Lucas was even told how close his story was to this and shrugged it off. For Kirby, it was just another galling slight in a lifetime full of them. Adding insult to injury, Darth Vader also looks like another Kirby creation, Dr. Doom.
Frank Zappa’s son, Ahmet, was interviewed about the friendship between Kirby and his father, which seems like one hell of a strange pairing. “Jack confided in Frank that he felt like the stories he created helped shape the Star Wars saga, that he saw direct parallels between his characters and the movie’s story arcs… He told my dad stuff like, “Darth Vader was Doctor Doom and the Force is the Source” and that George Lucas ripped him off.”
Kirby only drew a Star Wars illustration once for a trading card. Here it is — and it’s every bit as amazing as you hope that it will be.
Thanks for reading all about Star Wars, its ripoffs and influences. Did we miss any? Let us know.