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So Forced: The 20 Craziest Star Wars Rip-Offs And Tributes

It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the impact of the movie Star Wars, though in some cases folks have done just that. Plenty of the film elite lament “the death of the adult drama” at the hands of George Lucas’ space opera, but reports of its single-handed destruction have been exaggerated. Just a few years prior, the box office was topped with films like Earthquake, The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Others credit Star Wars for inventing the blockbuster, though spectacle cinema had existed since the days of D.W. Griffiths, and even the modern blockbuster era owes more to Lucas’ pal Spielberg’s Jaws the year prior.

No, the true power of Star Wars is the impact it had on the imagination. It made the fools who dream, dream bigger, and rescued the adventure story from the trappings of old world othering and xenophobia back into the realm of the riveting and the fantastic. In short, Star Wars inspired generations, sometimes in bizarre and diverse ways. Some artists channeled their love of the galaxy far, far away into masterworks of quirk and satire; others sought to cravenly copy in the wake of the initial film’s success, hoping to cash in on a wave of robots and effects shots.

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20 STARCRASH

To this day, Starcrash director Luigi Cozzi swears that his “science fantasy” was conceived and designed before the release of Star Wars, and their similarities are simply coincidence. After all, Starcrash features a blonde, waifish hero imbued with mystical powers and a laser sword, a friendly robot companion, a sensuous and rebellious heroine, a dashing brunette secondary male lead with star quality and a fearsome near-Shakespearian foe dressed in black.

Starcrash is mostly notable for a cast that includes Christopher Plummer as the Emperor of the Universe (in this film the Emperor is a good guy), and David Hasselhoff as the Han Solo stand-in. Originally set to be released by American International Pictures, best known for cult films like Blacula and Mad Max, the distributor was so repulsed by the final cut that they passed it off to Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.

19 BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS

In terms of films from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures that tried to cash in on the Star Wars craze, Battle Beyond The Stars wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, but it very well might be the best. Of course, that’s a rather low bar. The film does have a remarkable pedigree behind and in front of the camera, with actors like Robert Vaughn and John Saxon, a script by revered indie auteur John Sayles and special effects by some young upstart named James Cameron.

Despite the film’s glacial pacing, questionable acting and blatant cribbing of the plot of the iconic Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, the film turned a considerable profit in its day and has since developed a cult following. In 2010, Battle Beyond The Stars still had such public interest that Bluewater Productions released a prequel comic entitled Battle Amongst The Stars.

18 DEATH STAR PR

Death-Star

It’s one thing to spoof Star Wars, as everyone from Family Guy to Robot Chicken has done it. It’s quite another to use the lexicon and iconography of Star Wars to create biting social satire. The folks over at the Death Star PR Twitter account (@DeathStarPR) have been firing off fun workplace-style missives from the Empire’s PR team since June of 2010, reminding employees/clones about uniform sales and Happy Hour.

However, especially since the most recent election, Death Star PR has been tackling every bizarre cultural flicker and meme with appropriately Imperial riffs. Whether skewering partisan dog-whistles like “A Blue Lightsaber means Crime and Open Borders. A Red Lightsaber means Safety and Strength!” or excoriating a Death Star cosplayer with “My culture is not your {…} prom dress,” you can always count on Death Star PR to respond to the newest trend or tweet with Star Wars-related wit.

17 TURKISH STAR WARS

Now, to be clear, the film in question wasn’t released as “Turkish Star Wars.” Rather, in 1982 Turkey was graced with a science fantasy adventure starring genre icon Cuneyt Arkin entitled Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, or The Man Who Saved The World. However, its unauthorized use of actual footage and music from the actual Star Wars earned the film its monicker in US cult film circles, where the film has taken on a second life.

Sure, plenty of countries ripped off Star Wars and other popular films of the day in shoddy pastiches. Yet, The Man Who Saved The World has the distinction of not even attempting to hide its theft, lifting shots and sound cues not only from Star Wars but iconic sci-fi like Planet of the Apes, Flash Gordon, and even the James Bond film Moonraker.

16 JASON OF STAR COMMAND

Star Wars didn’t just change movies, its shockwaves were also reflected in the airwaves. Space-set serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were revived, and the now-beloved Battlestar Galactica began as little more than an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze. Yet, those shows all have their merits, and we’re looking for the craziest and most craven copies out there; and we need look no further than Jason of Star Command.

Filmation already had the live-action Space Academy on the air in 1977 as an attempt to replicate the success of shows like Star Trek and Lost in Space. But in the wake of Star Wars, Filmation jettisoned the kiddie, pseudo-educational elements of their old series in favor of the adventure spin-off Jason of Star Command, and even attempted to boost their sci-fi credentials with the stunt casting of James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek).

15 GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE

Though on Hollywood’s radar with the success of American Graffiti, Star Wars propelled the publicity-shy George Lucas to a level of cultural saturation equal to any of his fictional characters. Though Lucas has been the subject of many spoofs and tributes, few are as clever, or as popular, as the 1999 short George Lucas In Love.

A spin on the absurd Oscar winner from the previous year, Shakespeare In Love, Joe Nussbaum brilliantly forces many “inspirational” moments for his titular young director along the way, both to garner laughs from Star Wars fans and to also jab at Shakespeare In Love’s incredulous inclusion of similar moments for The Bard. Though fan films often fail to make a splash, Nussbaum built a notable directing career off of his delightful little short, and even got recognition from the iconic director he lampooned with a congratulatory letter.

14 THE BLACK HOLE

Decades before Disney owned Star Wars, they tried to rival it with their own tale of swashbuckling amongst the stars with The Black Hole. Except, without the swashbuckling, and way more scientific babble. And not even accurate scientific babble. But at least the robots looked cool.

Starring Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, and Ernest Borgnine, The Black Hole tried to blend the sensibilities of Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, with shades of Heart of Darkness and their own 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The result was an utter mess, complete with knock-off C-3PO and R2-D2 hybrids V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B. voiced by Roddy McDowall and Slim Whitman. The film bombed, and in the ultimate dash of irony, the intended Black Hole motion simulator ride Disney was developing their parks was repurposed for the more popular film and renamed Star Tours.

13 GEORGE LUCAS TALK SHOW

Star Wars has taken over movies, TV, video games, and even theatre. The hippest of New York comedy nerds know that once a month, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre gets a visit from the man behind hits like Strange Magic, Radioland Murders and, less notably, Star Wars.

Connor Ratliff, best known for the late Chris Gethard Show, has spent four years impersonating the notably stoic director with a deranged energy, handing out bizarre eBay-bought memorabilia and destroying actual copies of the original cuts of the Star Wars films, which he dubs “rough drafts.” Attracting devoted fans in costume (including, once, a microphone from Lucas’ ‘90s flop Radioland Murders) and celebrity guests like Abby Jacobson and Jon Hamm, George Lucas Talk Show is taking the stage of New York Comic Con 2018, and maybe one day, Skywalker Ranch.

12 STARCHASER: THE LEGEND OF ORIN

If you say “Game-changing special effects in a sweeping sci-fi epic with thrilling 3D” we all think of the same film, right? Wait…What’s Avatar? We’re talking about the iconic Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin!

Released in 1985, Starchaser is the story of Orin, the sword-wielding space pilot who battles the villainous Zygon to free the slaves of Trinia. Notable at the time for being the only animated film made for 3D, Starchaser failed to make more than a fifth of its $15 million budget (failing to even beat Back To The Future its 21st weekend), and was ripped for its similarities to Star Wars, with the New York Times going so far as to suggest Lucas call his lawyers.

11 GEORGE LUCAS STRIKES BACK

There are plenty of spoofs and tributes with better effects and longer run-times, but the deliriously dopey George Lucas Strikes Back stands out for its pastiche of genre cinema, its intentionally shoddy craftsmanship, and its clever premise. We all know George Lucas made the Star Wars prequels, but what this film presupposes is…maybe he didn’t?

Heavily referencing the South Korean masterpiece Oldboy to tell the story of a George Lucas untimely ripped away from his wife Marcia Lucas (in this film by a team of ninjas in a white van rather than by the man who did the stained glass at Skywalker Ranch), this parody of a teaser trailer finds the visionary director let loose on the world twenty years later, teaming up with Leia, Chewie and Short Round to take down those who besmirched his franchise. Keep an eye out for homages to Shawshank Redemption, Kill Bill and even “Sabotage.”

10 KRULL

Of all the films that tried to ride the Star Wars wave, Krull is both the most infamous and, in its own way, the most admirable. Helmed by the director of iconic crime films like Bullit and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, plagued with a ballooning budget and hampered by an array of production issues, Krull became shorthand for disaster, the sci-fi answer to Heaven’s Gate.

Of course, given that its a film that existed in the ‘80s, it's received a reevaluation from bloggers, podcasters, and anyone else who can’t let go of the Reagan years, as a misunderstood masterpiece. The truth is somewhere in-between the initial reception and the newfound effusion: it’s a fine failure, it trying to do too much, most of it cynically assembled by a studio desperate to replicate the success of Lucas’ vision. But still, it tried.

9 HELLO KITTY’S CAT WARS

Countless kids cartoons have lampooned Star Wars, everything from Muppet Babies to Alvin and the Chipmunks to Fairly OddParents, none of them making efforts to obscure their obvious homages. Yet there’s something oddly maddening about the Hello Kitty’s Furry Tail Theater’s interpretation of the iconic film, Cat Wars.

Part of it, of course, is how deeply unsettling it is to see the famously mouthless cat talk in a typically ‘80s cartoon voice, but there, of course, is more. The fact that Tuxedo Sam still rocks his bowtie just underneath his Luke costume is one of the problems. The nightmarish aliens in this film’s version of the Mos Eisley Cantina. The way the film seems to cut from each shot just a moment too quickly. Perhaps this is putting too much thought into a hastily assembled episode of a licensed TV show, but something about this Star Wars knock-off just feels…off.

8 MESSAGE FROM SPACE

Every country with any kind of film industry tried to make their own Star Wars, and Japan, who was experiencing a cinematic resurgence thanks to the Japanese New Wave, was no exception. Legendary director Kinji Fukasaku (best known for his later film Battle Royale) recruited martial arts movie royalty Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi to star alongside American actor Vic Morrow in one of his final film roles before his untimely death on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

The film continually fluctuates between lavish set designs and insanely low-budget sequences, and is plagued with dreadfully dated hallmarks of the era including a psychedelic dance sequence, and the story is utterly incoherent at times. Treated even in its day as a “so bad it’s good” spectacle, the film actually garnered a 27 episode TV spin-off entitled Message From Space: Galactic Wars.

7 WIZARDS

Astute readers may be wondering “But Wizards came out in 1977, the same year as New Hope. How could it be influenced by Star Wars?” Simple: Ralph Bakshi’s animated sci-fi/fantasy film was the first film to ever be affected by Star Wars, since the two films were being made practically next door to one another.

Lucas and Bakshi were keenly aware of each others’ work at the time, even being turned down for budget increases on their respective films in the same meeting. Lucas and Bakshi had gone back and forth several times while crafting their simultaneous “technology meets fantasy” epics, even sharing an actor (Mark Hamill took time off of Star Wars to voice Sean, prince of the mountain fairies). When Wizards was due to be released, Bakshi even changed the name from the original title War Wizards as a favor to Lucas.

6 HARDWARE WARS

The original Star Wars fan film left as much of an impact on a certain breed of Star Wars fan as the actual original trilogy had. Assembled from household objects, as the title suggests, and relying on a detailed knowledge of the original film, it was the first in a wave of “by fans, for fans” tribute films in an era where the average cinephile was just beginning to get their hands on the equipment needed to bring their dreams to life.

Clocking in at just 13 minutes, Ernie Fosselius’ silly spoof proved more successful than he could ever imagine, when the $8,000 short went on to gross more than $1 million. Director Fosselius officially joined the Star Wars family when he provided the voice of Poggle the Lesser in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Rain Johnson even included an homage to Hardware Wars in The Last Jedi.

5 TITAN A.E.

You may look at this list and wonder, “Were all the attempts to copy Star Wars in the immediate aftermath of the original trilogy? Were there no attempts to capitalize on 1999’s prequel hype?” Well, look no further than Fox’s terrible animated epic Titan A.E. You’ll be the first person who’s looked at it in over a decade.

Originally meant to be a live-action epic to stand alongside The Phantom Menace, Fox couldn’t make the film work after sinking $30 million into the project. Eventually, the studio turned its attention to animation legend Don Bluth and practically put a gun to his head, demanding he make the sci-fi film or the entire animation department would be shut down. The result is a dispassionate mess of poor casting, convoluted plot and beautiful but empty animation that delivered Fox a $100 million loss.

4 TROOPS

One of the most memorable Star Wars fan-films is notable not just for its impressive visual effects and accuracy, but for its role as one of the early viral videos, taking the nerd internet by storm after its 1997 San Diego Comic-Con debut. A dead-on parody of proto-reality show COPS, TROOPS followed the Black Sheep squadron as they tussle with Jawas and settled a domestic dispute between Owen and Beru.

Director Kevin Rubio was working for Fox Kids at the time of production, and his access explains the stellar production value and cameos from voice actors like Jess Harnell and Bill Farmer (though the best cameo by far is MST3K’s Tom Servo). In perhaps the highest honor, TROOPS actually saw a physical media release as a bonus feature on the 20th Anniversary DVD of the show that inspired it, COPS.

3 STAR ODYSSEY

Italy had already had some cinematic sci-fi success with the 1968 hit Barbarella, and the arrival of Star Wars nearly a decade later spawned a wide array of imitators trying to meld the two. Notably, Italian B-movie director Alfonso Brescia, under the alias “Al Bradley,” produced five films within three years of Star Wars: War of the Planets (1977), Battle of the Stars (1978), War of the Robots (1978), Star Odyssey (1979) and Beast In Space (1980).

It’s hard to pick just one “Al Bradley” Star Wars rip-off, as the quintet are almost interchangeable (well, except Beast in Space, which abandoned all “classy” space opera pretense and went full…grown-up Shape of Water). But Star Odyssey is the most tedious, and the most egregious in its theft, telling a lazily assembled story of Dirk Laramie defending Sol 3 from the evil Kress.

2 LUKE’S CHANGE: AN INSIDE JOB

If you went to college in the late 2000s, odds are you have encountered a “free thinker” who’d tell you “You gotta check out Loose Change,” the first in a seemingly endless series of conspiracy theory “documentaries” about how 9/11 was an “inside job.” Most likely you’d respond that all of those claims had been debunked, at which point he’d start ranting about Zionist conspiracies and Zeitgeist while you tried to back out of the room.

Though the pseudo-documentary has been refuted again and again by experts, perhaps the best takedown of the film’s sputtering conspiratorial nonsense came in the form of a Star Wars fan film. Positing that the destruction of the Death Star was actually an “inside job” arranged by members of the Empire, Luke’s Change brilliantly skewers every element of the original film, from its dreary voiceover to its ill-fitting hip-hop score, to highlight the absurdity of the original work.

1 SPACE RAIDERS

Roger Corman found some reasonable success with his Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond The Stars, and he wanted to do it again. So three years later, he repeated it. Well, not the success, but the film itself, reusing the same special effects footage, spaceship, and score in his new film Space Raiders.

An even more blatant purloining of Lucas’ visionary work, Space Raiders follows the very Han Solo-esque C.F. “Hawk” Hawkins, a smuggler attempting to steal from the villainous “The Company.” Whereas Battle Beyond The Stars developed a cult following, Space Raiders was swiftly forgotten. A DVD release in 2014 was accompanied by an extremely limited 2,000 copy Blu-Ray release, intended to be a much-sought-after collector's item, fetching huge money on the secondary market. As of this writing, it’s still available at a reduced retail price of $20.

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