Comments Off on Starcrash

Starcrash (1978) is probably exactly what one would expect from a Roger Corman produced Star Wars (1977) knock-off; it’s cheap, campy, gaudy, and hilarious. Since I first saw this film when I was six years old I have been a part of the Starcrash cult. Starcrash has endured as a cult item for far longer than critics expected back in 1978. Why just a few years ago Phicen manufactured a limited release figure of Stellar Star (Caroline Munro), the main protagonist of Starcrash.

For a Star Wars knock-off Starcrash isn’t actually that bad when measured up against the aesthetics that inspired George Lucas’ science fiction opus. Primarily Lucas drew on the style, format, and look of the great American movie serials by Frederick Stephani, Lambert Hilyer, Ray Taylor, and Alan James. These serials stretched every dollar, pushed the boundaries of special effects, relied upon an episodic structure whose breaks in narrative mandated a series of escalating cliffhangers. Star Wars does all of this for sure, but not as well as Starcrash.

Goerge Lucas stuffs his film with allusions to Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking studies on Western mythology, determined to elevate his film from the micro budget tradition of serials onto the same level as Kurosawa’s samurai epics. Director Luigi Cozzi didn’t have the luxury of Twentieth Century Fox resources, he had Corman. And it is this difference that plants Starcrash directly in the tradition of the movie serial. For me this makes Starcrash even more enjoyable. The earnestness of the players, the ridiculousness of the plot, the total disregard for world building and the exploitation vibe are all hallmarks of the serial that Star Wars lacked.

Then there’s the seemingly anomalous progressive take on gender roles in Starcrash. Of course Caroline Munro is outfitted as “eye candy” for teenage boys, but she is the lead, she is the hero, she’s an ass kicking badass with a penchant for campy as hell line readings. She’s also never the victim in the same sexualized way as in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) or William Sachs’ Galaxina (1980). This is the one area of Starcrash where it actually has a leg up on Star Wars. Despite the significance of Carrie Fisher’s role in the franchise and our culture she is never the hero, never the “chosen one”, and she does become victimized sexually in Return Of The Jedi (1983) at the hands of Jabba.

This is most likely why B-movies and exploitation movies continue to thrive even today. Not all of Corman’s productions can boast of this kind of quasi-progressive gender politics, but a few, like the Slumber Party Massacre series, certainly can. In many ways it is movies like Star Crash that are the most compelling forms of, as Manny Farber would say, “termite art”.