Starcrash (1978) — An overblown scifi turkey

“I only have logic and emotion circuits. No room for craziness.”

Wolfy’s review: The passing of Christopher Plummer left far greater of an impact than I had realized. He was an actor that I had seen lots of times before but a name I had forgotten by mere dint of the fact that he embraced the roles he took on so wholly. And when I learned that he had played a part in Starcrash, a film that I had only watched once a long while ago thanks to MST3K, I had to see for myself just how he performed in the film. As well as to remind myself just how rough this movie is to watch.

That’s not to say that Starcrash is a hard film to follow, of course. It’s easy to see almost from the off that this film was a direct attempt at Hollywood to cash in on Star Wars and Star Trek popularity. I could see the movie’s proposal from a mile away: slap together a bunch of popular sci-fantasy ideas together, tie it all to some larger actor names, and watch the money roll in. Unfortunately, while the schlocky delight of its contemporaries certainly shines through, the writing and pacing in Starcrash makes almost none of them land.

The entire film felt like at least two seasons’ worth of sci-fi serial silliness rammed into an hour and a half-long dough ball that was then loaded into a cannon and fired at my face. Conflicts were set up and almost immediately knocked down, removing any sort of weight or stakes to the situations the film’s heroes were put against. On top of that, the character of Akton was made into a walking deus ex machina, demonstrating inexplicable space wizard powers at the most convenient of times; whether it was suddenly being invulnerable to laser fire or straight-up whipping out a Schwartz-style finger laser sword, there were practically no consequences to anything.

Arguably, that’s no better than the Force in Star Wars, but it’s the delivery of Akton’s abilities that make it feel like an unacceptable form of cheese instead of, for example, Luke Skywalker suddenly being able to project himself across massive planetary distances.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the conflicts in Starcrash is that they probably would have been more interesting if they were episodic instead of stuffed into a single feature-length film. Granted, there was the binding tie of finding an evil count’s doomsday planet as well as the missing crew of a beneficent empire’s ship, but then there were moments where our heroes fought space amazons and their giant awkward robot, interstellar cavemen, a traitor, and even a frigid planet (which, incidentally, was survived through the power of handholding). It really hit some Star Trek TOS vibes in terms of its goof level, but never allowed any of the obstacles to gain any weight or traction.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the primary plot was also throwaway, feeling like it often took a backseat until it was conveniently made important and ultimately resolving in a magnificently stupid way. The Emperor literally threw an abandoned floating city at the problem. That was the grand gambit.

The world and characters of Starcrash was also implied to have a history but none of it really felt explained. There didn’t appear to be any form of rapport built between the main characters in spite of the fact that they talked like they knew one another, making all of the performances of the protagonists feel kind of awkward. The stilted delivery and writing brought to mind the feeling of seeing a person who immediately recognizes you at a party and is delighted to see you but you can’t for the life of you remember who they are so you’re forced to talk to them like you know them.

It’s not all completely awful, though. I have to admit that the models built for the film were actually done with an obvious level of love and care not unlike those built for MST3K or even Thunderbirds. And, as expected, Christopher Plummer brought a level of gravitas to his role as the Emperor, delivering his lines with an unmistakable level of class. I was sort of hoping he’d chew the scenery like Raul Julia’s M. Bison or Jeremy Irons’ Profion, but instead Plummer gave it a sense of depth like he did with General Chang in Star Trek VI. Honestly, I don’t know why I expected anything less.

Overall, Starcrash is an unmitigated disaster of a film; a turkey so overblown, overdone, and underthought that it truly is best left to be experienced in the related MST3K episode. Still, I had a good enough time with it, laughed at inappropriate moments, and didn’t come away feeling like I had waded through trash. It’s forgettable silliness.

Even so, thank you for trying Mr. Plummer. You will be missed indeed.

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