Not sure if you’ve heard, but some more “Star Wars” content got released in latest. You may not be a fan of that franchise, but you have to admit their cultural caché; plus, they’re all good in their own way (yes even parts of the prequels) and everyone associated with them has every reason to be proud. But come on, they’re no “Spaceballs.”
Mel Brooks’ cinematic masterwork, which turns a robust 30 years old in 2017, remains the gold standard by which all other science-fiction films should be judged. Having seen it a ludicrous amount of times, we’re here to tell you that compared to “A New Hope,”* “Spaceballs” is 100% the better film. Apples and oranges, you say? One’s a space opera and one’s parody, you say? There’s no reason to pit them against each other but pointless nerd competition? Semantics! See the scientific and objective list below, and evolve from blind “Star Wars” acolyte to true sci-fi cinephile.
*Most of these entries will compare “Spaceballs” to “A New Hope” only, but 5 and 11 touch on the Episodes 4-6.
One of the many ways “Spaceballs” improved upon the original was its use of language. First and foremost, there’s only one. No Wookies yawning, no droids beeping and no Jabba’s… hutting? While R-2D2 did serve to provide expository opportunities for Anakin, C-3PO and Luke to explain certain context to the audience, having everyone speak English makes things blessedly streamlined. And it’s still possible to demonstrate the infinite diversity present in the Star Wars universe without coming up with 50 different languages for everyone to speak and no one to recognize. Time is money, kids.
Also, PEOPLE SWEAR, DAMMIT. Despite the sex, violence and high, high stakes prevalent in so many popular sci-fi fantasy juggernauts, some of the biggest (“Star Trek,” “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars”) feature little to no cursing. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint — these stories are inherently family entertainment, so why lose a percentage of the audience so Han Solo can drop an “F” bomb here and there, however apropos? But “Spaceballs” was under no such restriction, and, thankfully, Lone Starr, Barf and Vespa all let out delicious choice words that’ll make you wonder why no one in the recorded history of Star Wars has ever called Darth Vader an asshole.
13. PIZZA THE HUTT
Don’t get it twisted. If we were faced with the prospect of becoming slaves subject to the whims of an IRL poop emoji, we wouldn’t be pleased. Jabba the Hutt is no joke. He damn near deprived the world of Han Solo, and that, friends, is no easy feat (unless you’re his kid of course). But honestly, in person, a thing so fat it almost doesn’t have a face just isn’t that intimidating. Pizza the Hutt, on the other hand? He looks like barfed up pizza. He sounds like barfed up pizza. He probably smells and tastes like barfed up pizza and… well, you get the picture.
Seriously, though. While the name is painfully punny, it led to the creation of a character so physically vile that what he lacked in gravitas, he made up for in nausea. You can’t look at Pizza without being revolted, which, frankly, if you’re a villain, is almost as effective as terror. Remember the Bog of Eternal Stench in “The Labyrinth”? All that thing did was make you smell bad and that made it the most frightening thing in that entire maze, bar none. At the end of the day, Jabba’s upsetting, but Pizza makes us cry.
12. THE SPECIAL EFFECTS
Upon a rewatch of both films, this one is kind of surprising. If you’re a “Star Wars” person, odds are you did your dork diligence last year and rewatched Episodes 4-6 before seeing “The Force Awakens.” For someone not watching with the rose-colored glasses sentiment often provides, it’s hard to ignore what are now bush-league-at-best effects. That said, given the relatively lower budgets of comedies versus blockbuster epics, it’s still kind of jarring how good “Spaceballs” looks in comparison to the object of its parody.
However, that fact becomes less remarkable once you remember that “Spaceballs” had an impressive budget of $22.7 million. That’s only slightly less than the adjusted-for-inflation $13 million “Star Wars” had in 1977. In addition to that, Mel Brooks actually wound up using Lucasfilm for the post on “Spaceballs,” so the film got the benefit of a “Star Wars” budget, “Star Wars” post-production and 10 years to improve on both. You can tell.
11. SPACEBALL ONE > THE DEATH STAR
The Deathstar is by far the superior name, but we’ve never been able to take that flying doughnut hole as seriously as we’re probably supposed to. Even as it commits heinous atrocities and outright planet-cide, it’s still a big, black ball zooming around the galaxy. The inherent humor in that detracts from the scare factor — if you doubt us, we dare you to think about BB-8 without smiling. And before you accuse us of inherent Trekker bias regarding starship/space station design, we said the same thing about the Borg sphere in “Star Trek: First Contact.”
On the other hand, the Battlestar-like design of Spaceball One makes it more realistic, and thus, more frightening. Even though it’s absurdly-sized, enabling it to effectively parody the planet-sized Deathstar, Spaceball One and its boxy, inelegant design give the ship a much weightier presence. Based on appearances alone, Spaceball One is the force to be reckoned with. And let’s not forget all of its capabilities, like transforming into the Mega Maid (basically Voltron’s aunt) and its ability to reach ludicrous speed. It also has its own shopping mall and zoo — your move, Deathstar!
10. PRESIDENT SKROOB
Okay, Emperor Palpatine doesn’t actually appear in “A New Hope,” but since Skroob is clearly based upon him, we’ll draw on his appearances in the original trilogy. While both villains are two-dimensional, the Emperor is literally that for a goodly amount of his screentime as a hologram. He’s an evil puppetmaster, no doubt, but he’s more of a figment than anything else (until the Prequels, of course) — a reminder that Vader isn’t the worst of the Empire and that there still may be good in Skywalker Sr. Palpatine just isn’t around enough to inspire any real vitriol that would be solely directed at him. Also, he’s not spectacularly intimidating in the looks department, bearing a striking resemblance to the Evil Queen from “Snow White,” post-hag makeover.
Skroob, on the other hand, as the malevolent, resource-wasting Spaceball president, has enough of a presence in the film for us to get good and riled at his mindless greed. Despite Mel Brooks’ penchant for farcical characters, there’s an underlying venom to Skroob that hits a nerve, regardless of the comedic context. A buffoonish leader with such blatant disregard for anything but his own agenda makes us far sicker than a distant, pseudo-grandmotherly dark wizard.
9. DIRER CONSEQUENCES
It never ceases to amaze how quickly Leia bounces back after the destruction of her homeworld and the annihilation of her people. The total. Annihilation. Of. Her. People. This includes her adoptive parents, remember. Even before PTSD became part of our cultural lexicon, we remember thinking, “She’s going to see the ship’s counselor at some point, right…?” But no! Obviously it informed her actions as leader in the Rebellion, but it’s very, very, VERY odd she literally doesn’t mention this event again. Or her parents.
“Spaceballs” would never commit such a grievous oversight. Instead of blowing up planets willy-nilly just because they can, Spaceball One treats the possible destruction of Druidia with the gravitas it deserves. The entire film builds to a thrilling climax of Mega Maid damn-near winning the day, only to be stopped by our heroes just in the nick of time. This is called “raising the stakes,” a concept “Star Wars” writers would’ve done well to acquaint themselves with before they blew their wad in the first 20 minutes.
We should preface this by saying we’re huge Han and Chewie shippers. Theirs is truly a bromance for the ages — they’ve got great banter, their storied journey together is on-point and they make a damn cute couple. That said, we defy you to find any movie upon which the late, great John Candy wouldn’t improve. We’d even go so far as to say that “Home Alone” does not achieve its immortal Christmas Classic status without his kindly, polka-playing genius. As much as we love HanBacca (Chewbolo?), we feel like Lucas missed an opportunity not giving Chewie the ability to speak, while Mel Brooks capitalized on it.
After all, legend has it the inspiration for Chewbacca came to Lucas after watching the way his dog sat up in the front passenger seat like a co-pilot while Lucas drove. Brooks really leans into this idea with Barf — half man, half dog — and it works so, so well. Candy’s “mawg” is the perfect blend of man and dog, happy and devoted to his master, but not above whining when things don’t go his way. While it’s not strictly relevant to the storyline, watching Candy perfectly embody this 50:50 creature is a masterclass in character work.
8. SPACEBALLS IS MORE RELEVANT
“Star Wars” is an effective Nazi metaphor to say the least, but Nazis are so WWII. The same goes for any communist subtext, as well (depending on your interpretation). We don’t understand why Lucas placed his story so far away from his own reality — it doesn’t make sense from a marketing standpoint. We know “Star Wars” always does impressively well at the box office, but think of how much better it could’ve done if it had tackled some of the more prevailing issues of the day.
“Spaceballs” features an evil president who’s a threat to the environment. Vespa and Lone Starr’s romance raises issues of classicism and even interfaith marriage. Yogurt brings to light the destructive but inevitable intersection of art and consumerism. These issues speak to EVERYONE. The narrow scope of “Star Wars” pales in comparison. If Lucas had written about a galaxy two lightyears away and, like, five years ago, think of the possibilities! Product placement alone could’ve padded the grosses beyond belief, and opportunities to capitalize on current events would’ve been abundant. Yes, “Star Wars” is probably the most successful franchise of all time, but it could’ve been so much more. If only Lucas had had Brooks’ vision…
7. DARK HELMET’S COSTUME
Eternal slow clap to Donfeld, the single-monikered costume designer responsible for Dark Helmet’s outfit. The oversized head, the silk boxer/diapers, the exaggerated tie — they all serve to gloriously highlight the overcompensation inherent in all insecure middle-management trolls. Middle-management is the key word, there. What’s most effective about Dark Helmet in general, but best represented by his costume, is the idea that Vader’s character is essentially just that — middle-management.
He feels like a cog in the Jedi machine, so he escapes, but only to become a pawn of the Emperor. Then, despite sacrificing everything to be a Company Man, he still answers to someone else, and only gains the fear of his underlings, not their love. Basically, his boss undervalues him and he doesn’t have any friends. In “Star Wars,” Vader is so grandiose that it distracts from this particular interpretation, but Dark Helmet and his distinct look hit the nail right on the head. We dare you to unsee it next time you watch.
6. SPACEBALLS IS MORE QUOTABLE
After a lifetime of experimenting, we’ve found that lines from “Spaceballs” come in remarkably handy navigating everyday slings and arrows. Bad first date? “That was my virgin alarm. It’s programmed to go off before you do.” Miss your flight? “Spaceballs. Too late.” Stuck at the DMV? “I knew it, I’m surrounded by assholes.” Out with Colonel Sanders and he refuses to arm-wrestle? “What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?” We could go on…
Suffice it to say, watching “Spaceballs” will arm you with a veritable buffet of snappy comebacks to hurl back at whatever life hurls at you. We suggest keeping a laminated card in your wallet if you’ve only seen the movie 10 or 12 times and don’t have the script tattooed on your brain, yet. As for poor ol’ “Star Wars”? God bless it, we’ve tried to use “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for,” at the bank, but they still refuse to give away other people’s money without calling the police.
5. YOGURT > YODA
Lone Starr meets Yogurt and inside 10 minutes, he’s lifting statues with the Schwartz (the Force knock-off). In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke meets Yoda, who pretends to be a backward-speaking garden gnome. We understand being precious with the Force, considering how things turned out with Anakin, but seriously? Yoda couldn’t have maybe warned Luke that chasing after Vader might lead to some significant family revelations and maybe Luke should prepare himself for more than just mortal combat if and when the two should cross sabers?
Naaaaah. Let’s just let Luke learn the truth in a traumatic way from a less trustworthy source. Maybe he’ll lose a hand and build some character. Or — and this is just an idea — give the kid the full story? If Yogurt had been there, Luke would’ve learned his family tree back to front, with time left over to plan a bar mitzvah. He’s a toss-you-in-the-deep-end kind of mentor, hence the fact that Lone Starr and the Eagle 5 are in and out of his pad in a jiffy, Ring of the Schwartz in hand. Yogurt clearly understood that everyone paid to see a little less conversation and a little more action, and didn’t waste time being obfuscatory for no damn reason.
4. ITS META-GAME IS STRONG
If there’s a better 4th Wall break than Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz searching for the Eagle 5 by fast-forwarding through the early released “Spaceballs VHS,” we haven’t seen it. It’s genius. Being a parody of “Star Wars,” the most prominent running joke in “Spaceballs” is the prospect of the major merchandising opportunities the film will bring. “Star Wars” pioneered modern licensing and made unprecedented amounts of money on merchandising in the years after the trilogies’ release.
“Spaceballs” has a decidedly cynical take on this; their all-knowing sage, Yogurt, dedicating his lifelong study of the Schwartz to the pursuit of material gain. It’s funny, but also a gentle reminder to dedicated “Star Wars” and sci-fi fans that the objects of our affection may exist, in part, because they make money. That said, the relationship between content and profit can be a symbiotic one. As recently as 2015, Mel Brooks expressed interest in producing a parody sequel to “Spaceballs” to follow-up “The Force Awakens.” We may still be far from that, but we can certainly dream!
3. NO LUKE
Don’t get us wrong, we loves us some Mark Hamill. He is hands-down the best Joker, and we’ll say that to Jack Nicholson’s face. But damned if “Star Wars” could’ve used less Luke Skywalker. Or better yet, NO Luke Skywalker. What if R2 had avoided the Jawas and just made his way back to Obi-Wan, bypassing Luke entirely as originally planned? We’ll tell you what — Obi-Wan would’ve left Luke in safety, snagged Leia, shown HER the ways of the force and she would’ve become Head Skywalker in Charge; an asset for someone with so much experience with war and resistance from an early age. Toss in a little romance with Han Solo, and you’re starting to really, really want to see that movie, huh?
Lucky for you, “Spaceballs” is basically the gender-reversed version of that story — no character directly parodies Luke. Instead, we get Princess Vespa and Lone Starr (admittedly, an amalgam of Han Solo and Luke, but mostly showcasing the traits of the former), showing us just how fun saving the galaxy can be without an extra sibling tagging along, gumming up the works with possible incest. And speaking of Vespa…
2. PRINCESS VESPA
Our only complaint regarding Princess Leia is that she doesn’t get enough credit. At their heart, Episodes 4-6 are Luke’s story, but after a few movies watching his sister go from rebel to diplomat to warrior to general and back again, while he… learns how to use the Force, it feels like the Princess gets taken for granted. Also, as the only female, she’s gets the dubious honor of achieving sexual maturity by way of sex slavery. Yeah, that gold bikini is fine AF, but the fact that there’s a chain around her neck at the same time makes the image uncomfortable.
Not so in “Spaceballs!” Vespa’s a brat for sure, but her story is just as important, if not more so than Lone Starr’s. And while she possesses maybe a tenth of the badassery Leia does, literally everyone takes notice when she whips it out (her badassery, that is) after someone threatens her hair. Beyond that, the movie doesn’t go out of its way to objectify her sexually beyond her dress falling apart in a conveniently lascivious pattern. So, despite her shallow, petulant nature, we maintain that “Spaceballs” treats her with more respect than “Star Wars” did Leia, and is arguably a more feminist treatise because of it!
1. DOT MATRIX IS C-3P0 BUT SASSIER (AND IN SKATES)
Let’s call a spade a spade. C-3PO is the WORST. He is a giant, tut-tutting buzzkill who is neither as useful nor as cute as R2-D2. Thank God he’s around to translate, but his grating presence is a high price to pay for knowing what R2’s saying. Dot Matrix is a vast improvement on this droid. She’s graceful, has a killer outfit, is a staunch buddy to Vespa and takes exactly zero crap from anybody. She’s also quicker on her feet since she has smartly (and quite fashionably) replaced them with skates.
Not only is she far handier than C-3PO, she’s calmer, less concerned with letting everyone know how many damn languages she speaks and deeply invested in Vespa’s happiness. She provides a shoulder to cry on when Vespa runs away from her wedding, and takes excellent care of the princess’ virginity until… well, it becomes a non-issue. She fends off all unwanted suitors with no-nonsense wit that only Joan Rivers could deliver. While Yogurt initially gives her the willies, she is just as capable, if not more so, of assisting her human friends in whatever situation arises; far more than C-3PO, and technically she can’t even walk. Let’s all start using #DotFTW. Thanks and good night.
How will you be celebrating 30 years of Spaceballs in 2017? Let us know in the comments!
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