Exploring: Episode II . . .
A long time ago . . . on a theatre screen far, far away . . . long before Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker . . .
2001: A Space Odyssey holds the distinction—in a gullet-stifling glut of Italian rip-offs of every successful American movie known to man—to never be victimized by pasta-cloning.
So the Italian film industry stuck with the films they knew best, and could pull off with aplomb; thus came the retreads of the American films Spartacus, The Magnificent Seven, the James Bond film series, and Death Wish, etc.—the list goes on and on. If a film cleaned up at the box office in America, a pasta variant was in Euro-theatres with a year of the release of its English-language inspiration. You don’t believe this writer? How many Italian reimages of the successful American films Alien, Conan the Barbarian, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Road Warrior can you name in sixty seconds—GO!
There is no denying Star Wars is a story-telling and technical achievement that, almost immediately upon its March 1977 release, became the most successful movie ever made—with its two subsequent sequels achieving an estimated world-wild box office gross of a billion dollars. It can’t be denied: Lucas’s vision is the most influential movie ever produced.
However, Star Wars, when compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, is cartoon-styled, childish goofiness. True, Lucas’s vision presented things on screen that young, impressionable film goers never seen before—and if we did, the rehashed elements were handled with such style that it had the “air” of originality. Regardless of their ingenuity and inventiveness against restrictive budgets and tight schedules, there was no way the Italian film industry could successfully execute the complex, introspective psychological insights of 2001.
Yes, Italy was the land of superior psychology-inspired storytelling courtesy of the inventive writing and directing of Federico Fellini (8 1/2 and Amarcord) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow Up or The Passenger), but neither of these “stars” of Italian cinema were dipping their toes into any cinematic black holes to go up against Kubrick. (It’s a shame they didn’t: that would be a hell of a sci-fi film.)
Courtesy of its Japanese The Hidden Fortress-inspired tale of epic battles rife with devil-may-care, risk-taking rogues and damsel-princess, Star Wars, unlike its Kubrickian antecedent, was easy to copy. Strip away the spaceships and lasers and Star Wars was no different than any of the American Westerns that the Italian film industry fleeced — and made American television actor Clint Eastwood into an international film star.
So . . .
Cue the John Williams-inspired orchestra.
Cue the baritone announcer: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way. . . .”
Cue the Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe-inspired opening title crawl.
Break out Mama Leone’s pasta pots . . . “Let’z a-make us-sa Star Wars!”
And the kitchen duties fell to Alfonso Brescia to create the first-out-of-the-gate “Spaghetti Wars.”
Under his Americanized director-nom de plume of Al Bradley, he presented 1977’s Anno Zero Guerra ello Spazio, aka Year Zero War in Space (Cosmos: War of the Planets in America) to the Italian-cuisine loving world. Many sci-fi connoisseurs believe Brescia’s “Star Wars” debut isn’t so much a rip-off of Star Wars; they opine it’s a homage to another Italian space epic, one that was produced amid all of those Antonio Margheriti-spaghetti space operas: Mario’s Bava’s Terrore nello Spazio, aka Terror in Space (known in American theatres as Planet of Vampires; then in its U.S TV syndication as Demon Planet).
And they’re right: Look at the costuming, and alien-possession subplots of Bava’s and Brescia’s films for comparison. Adding to the celluloid confusion: Cosmos had similarly-influenced—if not the very same-recycled—costumes and sets as Margheriti’s films. In addition: Cosmos was also distributed as War of the Planets—which was the title of the second film of Margheriti’s Gamma One series.
Amid Cosmos’ self-recycled stock footage and shot-through-sheets-of-sepia-paper-and-cheese-cloth special effects, Cosmos also ineptly-lifted whole scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey (an astronaut completes an upside-down communication device repair-in-space) and Barbarella (sex via touching a “blue orb of light” between beds). The “plot” for those who fell asleep: Our heroes journey to a planet where a green-skinned race is subjugated by an evil computer . . . and the Earth’s Italian “Hal 9000”, “The Wiz,” is possessed by the evil alien computer. . . .
“Hey, this isn’t ‘Star Wars,’ this is ‘Star Dreck’,” said the scrawny, pimply-faced and horned-rimmed glassed twelve-year-old spaz in the theater’s darkness.
“Dude, this more like ‘Star S**t’,” replied his portly, mullet-haired, eleven-year-old sidekick. “Let’s use the rest of our money to go bowling next door.”
Believe it or not, with everyone tricked into believing they were seeing another “Star Wars,” Brescia’s debut-rip turned a profit. So he came back a second time with his “Empire Strikes Back” in the form of 1978’s Battaglie negli spazi stellar, aka Battle in Interstellar Space (Battle of the Stars in English-speaking countries; “sounds” suspiciously like “Battlestar Galactica”).
Unlike Cosmos, aka Italy’s “Star Wars I,” Italy’s “Star Wars II” suffered from poor theatrical distribution and a weak reissue via home video and TV syndication. Then, with all the alternate titling that plagues European films as they’re distributed to the international markets, spacesploitation buffs believed the almost-impossible-to-find Battle of the Stars was Cosmos—with a new title. It’s not. Battle of the Stars is an entirely new film that cannibalizes Cosmos for stock footage—and all the costumes and sets return. As is the case with most “sequels” (Alien vs. Aliens and Mad Max vs.The Road Warrior being the exceptions to the rule), Battle is a just remake/reimage of Cosmos—with a little script tweak: Instead of traveling to the planet-home of the evil computer, this time the rogue planet without-an-orbit comes to Earth, which . . . (so exhausting) was the plot of Margheriti’s Battle of the Planets. (See the confusion?)
Then, all of the one-piece spandex suits and pull-over headpieces were back for a third sequel in 1978’s La guerra dei robot, aka War of the Robots (Reactor in the international markets) with a society of gold-painted skin people pinch-hitting for the green folks from Cosmos. Also back: All of the stock SFX footage, costumes, and sets—and whole scenes lifted from the previous two films. The “plot,” such as it is, concerns gold Aryan robots with Dutch-boy haircuts on the brink of extinction that kidnap a couple of Earth scientists to save their planet. So a crack team of space marines (see Aliens; which wasn’t made yet!) are sent in for a rescue. What makes Reactor so utterly confusing: All of the same actors from the last two films come back — as different characters. So, it’s a “sequel” . . . then it’s not.
Mind you, George Lucas was still in production with the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)—and Brescia is already on his 4th sequel with 1979’s “The Gold Ayran Dutch Boy Robots” (joking) . . . but they really were back in Sette Uomini d’oro nello Spazi, aka Seven Gold Men in Space which, if you’re able to keep up with the alternate-titling of Italian films, became Star Odyssey for English-speaking audiences. All the footage and props are back (Brescia’s recycling is actually worse than the cheap n’ shameless footage, prop, and costume recycling from the Battlestar Galactica–Buck Rogers U.S TV axis) in the year 2312, where the Earth is referred to by evil aliens as “Sol 3.” “Darth Vader” is some guy in a (quite impressive) lizard skin mask (but it’s topped with a Farrah Fawcett-’70s feathered hair cut) that “buys” Earth in some inter-galactic auction to cultivate Earthlings as slaves to sell on the open market.
The “Han Solo” of this mess is some guy in a shiny-silver Porsche racing jacket and a funky, disco-inspired spider web tee-shirt contracted for a The Magnificent Seven-inspired recruitment of a rescue team of rogues. . . . (“Wait, didn’t Roger Corman make a space-version of The Magnificent Seven?” you ask. Yes, he did, and that was called Battle Beyond the Stars . . . I know, it’s confusing!). So, this Star Oh-Why-Am-I-Watching-This-Crap comes complete with its own R2D2 and C3PO in the form of a bickering male/female robot couple (the female has eyelashes and red lips) dealing with “sexual dysfunction” and “relationship issues.” And there’s a scrawny n’ skinny Han Solo-replicant acrobat who backflips and summersaults into battles—and makes a living fighting in boxing rings with Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. (“Hey, wait. That sounds like 2001’s Real Steel?” you ponder. Yep!)
Oh, my god. Is this Italian Star Wars Film Festival over? Even in written form, this is painful. You’re killing us. Please, dear god, stop!
Sorry, kids. There’s more. And it gets worse.
Do you, the sci-fi film buff, remember the infamous X-rated Flash Gordon porn-flick, Flesh Gordon (1972)? Did you ever wonder: What if Reece and Ripley (and we know they did, off-script and off camera) “got it on” in Aliens?
That was Brescia’s next opus: Porn Wars.
There’s George Lucas, killing the box office with The Empire Strikes Back, and Brescia responds with his “Star Wars V”: 1980’s La Bestia nello Spazio, aka The Beast in Space. The interesting twist to this “sequel”: it not only occurs in the same universe (courtesy of footage, costumes, props, sets, and actors recycling) continued from Star Odyssey, it’s also a “sequel” to an infamously popular Italian exploitation movie, The Beast (1975): both films star noted erotic/exploitation actress Sirpa Lane. (Because of the success of The Beast, and her other erotic/exotic films, the Euro-press christened Lane with the affectionate stage name: “The Beast.” In the early days of her career, she was marketed as the next “Brigitte Bardot.”)
Issued in a “PG,” “R” and “X”-rated format, the “plot” concerns the Earth’s search of the cosmos for a rare element: Antallum, the key ingredient for bomb construction to basically kill off everyone in the universe. But that’s just a minor-plot irritation. The real story: The crew is “horny,” with chauvinistic men and slutty women astronauts seducing each other on their way to Lorigon to plunder the planet of its Antallum honey hole. Well, the planet’s sentient super-computer isn’t having any of that nonsense. That’s his Antallum. So “Hal 9000” sidetracks the Earthlings by inciting them to indulge in their deepest, darkest sexual desires. Did I mention the gold Aryan Dutch-boy robots are back as well?
After five “Star Wars” films in short three years, Brescia turned over the keys to the Millennium Falcon. His space opera career was over. But let’s cut Uncle Al a break: he was saddled with the cheapest budgets and pressure-shoot schedules that no filmmaker should endure in their careers.
After 1980’s The Beast in Space, Brescia continued to make non-science fiction films for the remainder of his career—14 more films for the next 15 years. At the time of his retirement in 1995, he completed a career total of 51 films.
Most of Brescia’s post-1980 work was primarily restricted to Italy-only distribution. His career took a financially-positive turn in the late-‘80s with the worldwide-distributed Iron Warrior (1987; the third in the hugely successful Italian rip-off series of Conan the Barbarian) and Miami Cops (1989; violent Miami Vice-inspired buddy-cop flick starring Richard Roundtree). Sadly, even with the success of Iron Warrior and Miami Cops, Brescia was unable to secure distribution for his self-financed final film, the 1995 action-comedy, Club Vacanze.
Alfonso Brescia, the king of the Star Wars-inspired spaghetti-space opera died, ironically, in 2001. And that was the end of Italy’s “Spaghetti Wars.”
. . . And what critical and box office fate awaits Uncle Walt’s latest volley from the Star Wars canons?
We wait with pasta-bated breath. (Sam just weighed in with his insights . . . uh, oh!)
* * *
And that finishes our crazy, two-week intergalactic rodeo as we remembered all of the influences and pre-and-post Star Wars films and ripoffs from the ’70s and ’80s.
Be sure to surf on over to our December 16 posting where we explored the galaxy of space operas that inspired George Lucas with “Exploring: Before Star Wars.”
Here’s the complete list from our celebration of the Star Wars canons:
The Compilation Lists
Attack of the Clones: Redux
Ten Star Wars Ripoffs
Exploring: Before Star Wars
Exploring (Before “Star Wars”): The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey
A Whole Bunch of Alien Ripoffs at Once
Ten Movies That Ripped Off Alien
Before Star Wars: Destination Moonbase Alpha (1973) (1980)
Before Star Wars: Genesis II (1973), Planet Earth (1974), and Strange New World (1975)
Before Star Wars: Invasion UFO (1970) (1980)
Before Star Wars: The Starlost (1973) (1980)
Brave New World (1980): NBC-TV’s other “Star Wars”
Canada’s Star Wars: H.G Wells The Shape of Things to Come (1979)
Japan Does Star Wars: Bye, Bye Jupiter (1984)
Japan Does Star Wars: The War in Space (1977)
Kirk Douglas Does Star Wars: Saturn 3 (1980)
NBC TV’s “Star Wars”: The Martian Chronicles (1980)
Star Wars Droppings: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
Star Wars Droppings: Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam (1982)
Star Wars Droppings: Escape from Galaxy 3 (1980)
Star Wars Droppings: Galaxina (1980)
Star Wars Droppings: Hangar 18 (1980)
Star Wars Droppings: The Ice Pirates (1984)
Star Wars Droppings: Meteor (1979)
Star Wars Droppings: Mysterious Planet (1982)
Star Wars Droppings: Os Trapalhoes na Guerra dos Planetas (1978)
Star Wars Droppings: Space Raiders (1983)
Star Wars Droppings: Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)
Star Wars Droppings: Star Odyssey (1979)
Star Wars Droppings: Starship Invasions (1977)
Star Wars German Style: Operation Ganymed (1977)
Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
The Star Wars TV Movies: The Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)
Tobe Hooper Does Star Wars: Lifeforce (1985)
And . . . here are a few older reviews of films in the Star Wars “universe” to enjoy:
* * *
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker had its world premiere in Los Angeles on December 16, 2019, and was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.