Imagine you’re a movie producer in the late 1970s. Everyone is talking about this new science fiction phenomenon called Star Wars. You naturally want a piece of that pie but you’ve never actually seen the film: you only know there are space battles, some kind of doomsday weapon, a comedy robot, there’s a space princess, a guy with special powers and a laser sword who disappears when he dies.
Throw in a fraction of the technical knowledge that Industrial Light & Magic had and Star Crash is probably the film you’d end up with.
I’m pretty sure that is exactly how Star Crash got made: someone decided to cash in on Star Wars and ‘borrowed’ everything that sounded good but hadn’t ever seen it, resulting in a film that vaguely looks like Star Wars but completely misses what was good about the source material. Ultimately, someone said, “That’ll do! It’s got spaceships and laser swords, what more do you want? It’s good enough.” Only it isn’t. It really isn’t…
The plot to Star Crash revolves around Stella Star, a smuggler, who is the best astro pilot in the galaxy and her sidekick, Akton. They get arrested, get involved in a riot, have a shoot out, there’s a massive explosion for no reason, Stella is recaptured and then released, if she agrees to find the Space King’s son, Simon, who has gone missing. Of course they agree.
So they fly around the galaxy, landing on planets, looking for Space Prince Simon and encountering various terrible bad guys and engaging in very unexciting space battles. They are accompanied by an alien Sheriff, Thor, and his Police robot, Elle. Elle is programmed to have a really bad redneck accent because that’s obviously hilarious. And it is, if by ‘hilarious’ you mean ‘painful’.
Eventually they find the Space Prince (who is played by David Hasslehoff) who reveals he’s been searching for the bad guy’s doomsday weapon and it’s obviously on this planet. They find the doomsday weapon, which is controlled by “pre-programmed computers” (they can run forever!), the bad guy turns up and rather than shooting everyone, leaves his (really badly animated) robot henchmen to delay them while he blows the planet up.
The Space King arrives just as Simon defeats the robot bad guys using Akton’s definitely-not-a-lightsaber but he is too late! The planet is going to explode! But it’s ok, the Space King has a time ray on his spaceship, which he uses to give them enough time to escape the planet.
The Space King then launches spaceships to go and have a final battle with the evil bad guy’s capital ship (which looks like a giant fist). They lose the space battle, so the Space King decides the only way to beat his nemesis is to fly his spaceship into his. But Stella instead volunteers to commandeer a space station and fly it into the bad guy’s space fist.
Stella steals the space station, which has been evacuated, and then sets a course for the Space Fist. Right at the last moment, she jumps out of the airlock before the impact. The Floating City flies into the Space Fist and explodes. The good guys win. Simon then rescues Stella and takes her home and they get married. The end!
Pretty much everything that could be good about this film is in fact “like Star Wars, just not as good”.
Let’s take the main protagonist, Stella Star (played by the rather attractive and relatively famous, Caroline Munro). She’s a competent woman (like Princess Leia) who is clearly in charge. She’s a smuggler (like Han Solo). She doesn’t take any crap and saves the day, several times. However, she spends most of the film dressed in some kind of leather bondage gear (see above).
The actress who plays her does this thing where she completely overacts. With her eyes.
Worse, she had all her lines re-dubbed after the movie, so it’s not even her voice which is badly acting! She spends most of the film wearing next to nothing and, doing space karate at people. Despite that, I actually quite liked her as a protagonist: she’s like a more kick ass version of Barbarella and in a different film (with better dialogue, better effects, a better script, more clothes…), Stella would be a pretty decent character.
Her sidekicks, Akton and Elle, are just… I don’t even know what’s going on here.
Akton has psychic powers and a lightsaber. He saves the day at one point because he can absorb lasers and can see the future. Even Stella, who has presumably spent a lot of time with Akton, is curious about how he can do any of these things but when she challenges him over this, he just brushes her off, never explaining anything. Then he later turns up with a lightsaber because shut up, that’s why.
Elle is a ridiculous redneck robot which offers a running commentary all the way through. Clearly, he’s modelled after C3PO but aside from a robot helmet, it’s just obviously a guy in a rubber suit.
This brings me to the special effects. I can handle bad special effects (and to be fair, the effects here are not actually the worst thing about this film), particularly from older films which try hard but are obviously limited by the time. Here, they use models on rails (which leads to a lot of spaceships flying in straight lines and turning at right angles) and a few stop motion effects for some of the robots. Consequently, the space battles look a bit silly and the stop motion effects aren’t even up to the same standard as Ray Harryhausen (who was doing amazing things 10 years earlier!). The non-practical effects are actually behind contemporary Doctor Who in terms of quality, which is fairly ludicrous if you think about it.
No the worst thing about this film is pretty much everything else. A decent plot or decent acting or anything could have salvaged this film. Unfortunately, there is nothing redeemable at all and everything just seems to be unintentionally bad.
For example, many of the principle players have been dubbed over with other voice actors and I’m fairly certain that there was a problem with the sound boom as it looks and sounds like most of the actors re-did their lines with ADR. Quite often, the dialogue looks like it has been re-recorded by another voice actor and in doing so, they have actually changed it to fit the mouth movements, producing weird stilted delivery.
The plot itself is just bad. Many things happen just because, with no rhyme nor reason. Like the time ray or when the temperature drops and Elle puts Stellar into suspended animation or Akton’s special powers (or just any time Akton is on screen) or the Emperor of Space deciding to crash his ship into the Space Fist and then suddenly they have a Floating City they can use, the writers clearly didn’t really care. I think everyone knew what kind of film they were making…
It is largely a very silly, very campy film but the one thing it isn’t is boring. I have to say, that for its complete lack of anything good about it, I was entertained all the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed Caroline Munro’s overacting eyes and she genuinely looks like she is having fun, despite the fact that she is barely clothed throughout the film.
I could never in good conscience actually recommend this film to anyone. There are far worse films in the world but there are also a million billion better ones. However, if for some reason you want to do your own version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, this would be an excellent choice.
TL;DR “Star Wars was made. A production company ordered Starcrash. They then watched Starcrash and refused to distribute it. Need I say more?”