The most bizarre Star Wars ripoffs

One of the most popular ways to make a quick buck in Hollywood is to rip off a hit movie on the cheap. It isn't exactly the noblest way to earn a living, but it has a long history in the film industry—and the bigger the original hit, the more imitators it inspires. After Star Wars, it seemed like everybody got caught in the craze, from big studios like Disney to Brazilian comedians, and the result was an entire sub-genre of movies that obviously wanted to be in a galaxy far, far away…but never quite got there. These are the weirdest ripoffs of the post-Star Wars era.

Message from Space

Everybody in the world made a Star Wars knockoff in 1978, and this is the Japanese version. Message from Space stole much of the aesthetic and characterizations from the American film, but twisted it with Japanese manga and anime—to generally hilarious results.

The most striking thing about this movie is how bad the special effects look. The space walk scenes and ship miniatures are shockingly dated for 1978, with one reviewer only recommending it to "anyone who won't mind a movie that looks as though it costs less than his or her ticket." Characters are totally ripped off from Star Wars, with a princess on the run seeking help from wide-eyed space jockeys accompanied by a funny robot.

The similarities end there. Message from Space feels like the movie a person might make if they'd heard vague descriptions of Star Wars, but hadn't actually seen it. The main spaceship is literally that: an old-school sailing ship flying through space. A male comedian in drag plays an evil empress. Instead of the Force, there are space seeds that fly around choosing people to do…something? It's never really explained, since the script is completely indecipherable.

Most of the fun from the movie comes from trying to piece together the plot. It's worth watching as a look at how Japan tried to cash in on the Star Wars craze, if you can survive dialogue that describes mountains by calling them "the wolves who roam about very hungry at this time of year."

Starcrash

When most normal, well-adjusted humans watched Star Wars, they didn't come away thinking: "That movie was pretty great, but what if we made it more like a softcore porno?" Italian director Luigi Cozzi wasn't a normal person. He quickly whipped up the movie Starcrash, a shameless Star Wars ripoff that was basically an excuse to get nearly naked women on camera.

Starcrash tells the story of a war between a galactic Empire (actually the good guys) and the evil Count Zarth Arn. The Count has a superweapon disguised as a planet that the heroes have to go blow up. Characters use lightsabers and fight evil robotic minions. Once those similarities are out of the way, Starcrash reaches a level of ridiculousness that George Lucas could only touch in fever dreams.

The main character, Stella Star, spends a good chunk of the movie in a bikini, gets captured by a tribe of scantily clad Amazonian women, chased around by a giant robot woman, frozen on another planet, and helps the Empire win their giant space battle. While the set pieces are delightful and David Hasselhoff shows up for some great scenery chewing, the movie feels scummy, like Cozzi really tried to get as close to a trashy porno as possible while still seeing mass release. He says he came up with the script before Star Wars came out, though, so who knows? Maybe George Lucas was the one making the ripoff.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam

Also known as Turkish Star Wars, this movie is unique among other ripoffs in that it literally does rip off Star Wars. Instead of coming up with their own special effects, the filmmakers just lifted footage straight from A New Hope and plopped it into the movie. The Death Star, Millennium Falcon, X-wings, TIE Fighters, and the Mos Eisley cantina all show up. Oddly, that isn't the craziest thing about the movie.

Turkish Star Wars is like watching somebody else's daydreams. It starts with two "totally-not-TIE Fighter" pilots, Murat and Ali, crashing on a desert planet during a space battle. Past that, there isn't any hope following the plot. It's incomprehensible, but here are some highlights: while wandering around looking for help, Ali whistles to call attractive women and instead attracts an army of skeletons. Murat and Ali fight in a hilariously low-budget gladiatorial arena. There is a shield made of human brains. Murat karate chops a man in half. A love story is completely told with long, silent stares. Somewhere along the way, a story happens. We just don't know where.

When the movie came out, Fox was evidently so stumped by it that they didn't even try to sue. The reels were lost, but later restored and the movie ended up on YouTube. Hilariously, Lucasfilm still hasn't taken action. It's so bad they don't even view it as threat to their revenue.

The Shape of Things to Come

Canada wasn't about to let their southern neighbors revel in all the sweet science fiction cash, so in 1979 Canadian director George McCowen set out to make his own Star Wars knockoff, buying the rights to H.G. Wells' novel The Shape of Things to Come. Since Canada isn't really known as a science fiction hotspot, it's easy to guess how things turned out.

Like most movies of the era, The Shape of Things to Come had a shockingly low-budget look. The special effects are terrible for the era, even compared to what Battlestar Galactica was doing on TV. Plotwise, it's the same thing as Star Wars, just set in the Earth system after a "Robot War." There's a bad guy who has a massive fortress and a resistance movement trying to stop him. McCowen thought if he made the bad guy use robot drones as his minions and added more murder, nobody would know it was a shameless ripoff. (He was wrong.)

Wells fans reading this might be confused reading a description of the movie, because The Shape of Things to Come is actually a speculative novel about the history of the world from 1933 to 2106, noted for its eerily accurate predictions of the Second World War—and literally none of the things in the novel happen in the movie. McCowen bought the rights just so he could use a title people knew for his movie—he'd already written the script, and didn't use anything from the book.

Yor: The Hunter from the Future

At first, Yor doesn't look much a Star Wars ripoff. It starts as a barbarian sword-and-loincloth feature with Reb Brown running around the prehistoric era to the sweet sound of '80s hair metal, hunting dinosaurs, meeting magical people and seducing willing wenches. That goes on for the first half, and then suddenly it's like the movie got bored and reinvented itself faster than a middle school kid discovering emo. It goes 100 percent science fiction.

The second half of the movie is a blatant Star Wars ripoff about an evil organization led by a guy dressed in black robes that wouldn't look out of place in Knights of the Old Republic, evil minions who wear knockoff Darth Vader masks, and laser battles. Turns out (spoilers for those who for some reason want to watch this schlock), Yor is living on a post-apocalyptic Earth. With dinosaurs. It's every eight-year-old's dream: Star Wars but with dinosaurs.

That's a pretty absurd idea for a movie, but this wasn't just a case of the screenwriter mashing together two unrelated movies. It's actually based off an Argentinian comic book of the same name, which was evidently popular enough that the Italians got a hold of it. It's really not a bad idea for a movie, and could be pretty cool if done correctly. Somebody should remake it—Yor deserves better.

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

Starchaser tells the story of a young miner who discovers a sword and embarks on an epic quest to destroy an evil space empire with the help of robot sidekicks and a rogue criminal. It's exactly the same plot as Star Wars, with a few absolutely terrible differences.

Starchaser is way less kid-friendly than Star Wars, despite being an animated film. The characters swear a lot more and the violence is even worse. As if that isn't bad enough, the plot is also shockingly rape-y.

The heroes pick up an oddly curvy, totally-not-C3PO fembot during their adventures. Like C-3PO, she's pretty annoying. So how do our heroes deal with it? They hold her down, gag her mouth and reprogram her personality… by sticking probes in her robot butt. Oh, and she's not just less talkative afterwards, she becomes a full-on sexbot. This "children's" film deserves to have every copy destroyed just because of this scene.

Despite offering a terrifying view into the filmmaker's fantasies, Starchaser was pretty groundbreaking—it was one of the first 3D animated movies, and one of the first to combine computer graphics with traditional hand-drawn animation. Thankfully, those technologies were used to make movies that weren't creepy Star Wars ripoffs.

The Bunglers in the Planet Wars

Known in most English-speaking countries as "Brazilian Star Wars," Os Trapalhões na Guerra dos Planetas (The Bunglers in the Planet Wars) was the Brazilian attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze. For some reason, they didn't go for a straightforward sci-fi adventure film—instead, they made a parody.

This is basically the early version of Spaceballs, but with an indecipherable plot, really specific Brazilian humor and characters that aren't even attempting to be legally distinct. Not-Darth-Vader shows up looking like his mom made him a Halloween costume without having actually seen Star Wars. The main character dresses exactly like Luke Skywalker. They even included a giant furry sidekick who looks like somebody left a Chewbacca action figure in a vat of acetone. It's so bad, it's hard to tell which parts of the movie were going for intentional comedy.

The plot isn't too much to talk about. As with most of these movies, it follows nearly the same beats as A New Hope, but with tons of slow motion that try to hide the poorly done special effects (and has the absolute opposite effect). Despite its utter incompetence, the movie is notable for being one of the very first Star Wars parodies—thank heavens Mel Brooks came along and gave us something better.

Space Mutiny

In 1978, Glen Larson made his Star Wars knockoff Battlestar Galactica by designing new ships, mixing in some Mormon theology and making the bad guys robots. It was a total ripoff, but was pretty successful and even spawned an acclaimed reboot series.

Ten years later, a South African production company wanted to cash in on the long Star Wars craze and made Space Mutiny. They didn't have the money for special effects, so they just decided to go the easy route and steal effects shots. They knew they couldn't steal directly from Star Wars, but could get by stealing from Battlestar Galactica—making it a Star Wars ripoff twice removed.

Space Mutiny is at least 50 percent Battlestar Galactica footage. The "story" revolves around a mutiny on a colony ship, and the plot is skeletal at best, incomprehensible at worst. Characters die, only to re-appear in the next scene, plot elements are edited out of order, and it feels like key pieces of dialogue were cut.

That doesn't mean the movie is without charm, as any Red Letter Media or MST3K fan can attest. It has an awesome go-cart chase through the "engine room" of the ship, a cool hula-hoop dance club, and B-movie schlock icon Cameron Mitchell hanging around in a bathrobe. By 1988, Star Wars ripoffs just weren't profitable anymore, and the movie has too much stolen footage to stand on its own. How they never got sued remains a mystery.

Battle Beyond the Stars

Schlock auteur Roger Corman threw his hat in the Star Wars ripoff ring with his 1980 film Battle Beyond the Stars. For those who aren't familiar with Corman's body of work, the dude was well known for making fast, cheap movies to capitalize on whatever craze was going on at the time. He knew how to stretch a budget and made the most semi-competent movies he could. Basically, he was a downmarket John Carpenter.

Battle Beyond the Stars was his most expensive movie, coming in at $2 million, and as a result, the film ended up being surprisingly competent. It looked and felt just like Star Wars, but was more of a loose remake of Seven Samurai in space. It has a really thin plot, but the special effects look really good for only $2 million. Most importantly, it's actually comprehensible.

Shockingly, Battle Beyond the Stars had some future big names attached. James Cameron was in charge of special effects and art direction. James Horner wrote the score and liked it so much that he basically ripped himself off and reused it for The Wrath of Khan. All of that made Battle Beyond the Stars the most competent Star Wars ripoff from the era. Corman, being the cheapskate he was, didn't break down the sets after filming—he ended up reusing them for yet another Star Wars ripoff, Space Raiders. That man knew how to get the biggest bang for his buck.

The Black Hole

Storywise, The Black Hole actually has more in common with Star Trek. An exploration ship finds another ship stranded near a black hole and goes to investigate, only to find that it has a space Nazi scientist on board with evil robots, and the crew has to fight them off. While the plot is more Trek, a lot of the aesthetics are ripped off from Star Wars. The main character has two bumbling robot sidekicks, the spaceships look like Mos Eisley spaceport rejects, and the costumes for the robots are clearly based off the various Death Star crew members.

What makes this movie so bizarre is that it's dark as, well, hell. The main robot villain Maximilian is a frightening cross between Darth Vader and a Cylon. Biblical allusions and gruesome murder abound. Humans get melded with robots. And of course, we can't forget about the final scene, in which the characters are sucked into the black hole to find out that inside lies heaven with angels, and a terrifying fire and brimstone view of hell. Sleep well, kids!

There's arguably a good movie in the middle of The Black Hole, just marred by the fact that Disney couldn't decide whether to make a child-appropriate Star Wars knockoff or something more heady like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Instead of picking one approach and sticking with it, both elements got mixed, and the final product never quite comes together.

Still, it's worth watching. Disney would have to wait a few decades to make authorized Star Wars films—and they've also started working on remaking The Black Hole. No word yet on whether Satan will make an appearance.