Top 10 Reasons Why Star Crash is Better Than Star Wars
The Ten Reasons Why Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash Is Infinitely Better Than The Original Star Wars
I will always reserve a place in my heart for the Star Wars movies, albeit a dimly-lit and vacant place where the only other occupant is a 90-year-old security guard asleep at his post. But much like the toys I enjoyed playing with as a child Star Wars is something I had to put away a long time because I could no longer get any pleasure from interacting with it. I’m not one of those whiny fan boys endlessly chastising George Lucas for ruining Star Wars; it’s his creation and he owns it lock, stock, and barrel. Therefore he will milk the franchise for all it’s worth and laugh all the way to the bank, our childhood memories be damned
Over a year ago I saw for the first time one of the many outer space adventure movies to come along in the wake of the original Star Wars’ blazing blockbuster success, the 1979 Italian production Star Crash. To call it a rip-off of Star Wars would be an egregious insult since the term “Star Wars rip-off” is an oxymoron. The two films are separated by language barriers and a few million dollars in production costs but are united by an unabashed love of fantastic cinema and the spectacular heights they can scale when the crucial components are in place. After watching the amazing restored print of Star Crash on Shout! Factory’s jam-packed 2010 special edition DVD several times since picking it up early last year at a Moviestop I found there was so many aspects about the film that put Lucas’ overblown Flash Gordon wannabe to shame, and where better to start than at the very beginning…..
1. STAR CRASH HAS THE BETTER TITLE
Even before I first watched Star Crash I had long known of the movie and its reputation as an Italian space opera in the vein of Star Wars, but I was very intrigued by its title. What the hell did it mean? Star Crash, while sounding awfully crude and cheap, had a mysterious allure to it. The title may have been imposed on co-writer/director Luigi Cozzi (credited on the American print as “Lewis Coates”) by the film’s producers, but he found a clever way to make it work in the end. Star Wars on the other hand has no mystery; it’s all there in the title. Star….Wars. Dull. Unimaginative. Lacks character. It’s pretty pompous now that I think of it. Star Crash sounds more like a rowdy punk rock band busting down the doors of Lucas’ sleep-inducing Sunday morning tea party. In other words, my kind of movie.
2. THE CASTING IS PERFECT AND THE CHARACTERS DON’T CONSTANTLY ANNOY YOU
When Cozzi set out to make Star Crash he wasn’t trying to build his own shaky quasi-religious mythology out of the spare parts of far superior films and works of literature. He just wanted to make a fun and unpretentious adventure with cool heroes and detestable villains. Heroes don’t get any cooler than Stella Star, played by the eternally beautiful Caroline Munro, and her all-knowing wingman Akton, played by the charismatic evangelist-turned-B movie actor Marjoe Gortner. These two attack every situation they’re thrown into with an infectious energy that perfectly embodies what the late George C. Scott coined “the joy of performance”. Recent Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer only shot for one day as the Emperor of the Universe at a salary of $10,000 but his performance never reeks of “phoning it in”. He makes his every line of magnificent dialogue just sing to the heavens with a theatrical flair. Then you have the immortal character acting legend Joe Spinell as the evil Count Zarth Arn, giving a true to-the-cheap-seats performance that chews up so much scenery he was probably picking prop control panel buttons out of his teeth until the day he died. David Hasselhoff’s role is smaller than he would be used to playing in later years but at least he makes his every moment on screen count and even with limited screen time he still gets the girl at the end. Why? Because he’s the fucking Hoff baby! George Lucas had talented actors like Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher at his disposal but knew jack shit about how to direct them. Luigi Cozzi didn’t have that problem at all. He chose performers with talent and enthusiasm to spare, suited them up, and turned them loose. That’s how it’s done my friends.
3. IT PUTS THE “OPERA” IN “SPACE OPERA”
Star Crash’s running time is a good half-hour shorter than Star Wars but you won’t find one wasted moment in Cozzi’s gonzo rollercoaster ride. The best Italian filmmakers were always master stylists - Leone, Antonioni, Argento, Fulci, and Visconti to name but a few - and the emperor of the cinematic universe of Star Crash makes his film a feast for every sense. Characters get shot and die in slow motion, fight scenes are messy and uncoordinated but still kick ass, spaceships battle it our amidst star fields that twinkle with the colors of a glorious Christmas lighting display, mythological beasts and tribes of Amazon women (ON HORSEBACK!) and predatory cavemen menace our heroes. In short, you could play this movie with the sound off (and most people would probably prefer to) and the movie would still be fun to watch.
4. THE MUSIC BY JOHN BARRY
Barry, the legendary composer of many classic James Bond films, supposedly composed the score for Star Crash in just a few weeks, but that was all the time he needed to give the movie a lush and memorable soundtrack that plays like the swingin’ 60’s equivalent of John Williams’ iconic Star Wars score. The main theme in particular is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard in a genre film. Barry’s score swoons with all the adventure and wonders of the universe, but never forgets to kick back and enjoy itself.
5. THE SPECIAL EFFECTS ARE CHEAPER, BUT ALSO MORE IMAGINATIVE
Star Wars is justifiably hailed as a groundbreaker in the advance of modern visual effects, with its fascinating alien creatures and dazzling space battles, but it’s also a very drab and depressingly designed film at times. The story takes place on dour sand planets, inside spaceships that look about as much fun to ride in as taking a cross-country road trip with Mitt Romney, and a planetoid-sized space station that resembles a pinball left on the railroad tracks for a few days. Star Crash is set on fantastic worlds with stop-motion animated goliaths that shoot gigantic swords at our heroes and lost planets that host destructive weapons that would make the Death Star look like a bright and noisy toy gun you’d buy at Dollar General for your nephew‘s eighth birthday. The spaceships look like they were assembled from plastic model kits - because they were - but that only adds to the movie’s high entertainment.
6. THE DIALOGUE IS PURE POETRY
Harrison Ford once famously said to George Lucas regarding the dialogue in Star Wars, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it.” By the time The Phantom Menace came along it was painfully obvious he could no longer type it either. Lucas put together a cast of talented newcomers and screen legends like Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness and expected them to bring a little life to a script loaded with mealy-mouthed dialogue that induces many a cringe to this day. The screenplay for Star Crash, which Cozzi co-wrote with producer Nat Wachsberger, is packed with terrific one-liners that the cast rips into with pure aplomb. When Munro says “Go for Hyperspace!” early in the movie she can’t help but smile, because there is a simple childlike quality to the dialogue. Watching the characters on screen reminded me of staging imaginary adventures with my friends when I was a kid. The actors are clearly having the time of their lives and it’s very difficult to not get caught up in the fun. Star Wars lacks that quality; you feel like you’re being kept at arm’s length from the adventure while everyone else gets to play. Fuck that noise. Christopher Plummer gets the movie’s best single line of dialogue and he gives it the full dramatic sound and fury that a great Shakespearean would: “Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!”
Two of Star Wars’ most beloved characters are the sweet-natured robots C-3PO and R2-D2. They’re lovable and nice to be around but they serve little to no function in the story, at least not after R2 fulfills his function of delivering Princess Leia’s mail hologram to Obi-Wan. Star Crash has only one robot character, the mechanical cowpoke lawman Elle, played by Caroline Munro’s husband Judd Hamilton and voiced for the American release by comic actor Hamilton Camp. Elle is a badass ‘bot, all rough-riding attitude and gear-spinning gusto, and he’s quick to come up with a good survival plan when all hope is lost. He also stands by his friends in battle and never runs away screaming like that golden gimp C-3PO.
8. CAROLINE MUNRO
The British B-movie siren and one time Bond girl not only makes for a great protagonist but she also quite easy on the eyes. Munro spends most of the movie in a leather bikini and looks amazing even when she’s fighting her way through an endless array of murderous foes. The only shame about her performance is that because she was unable at the time to dub her own dialogue the filmmakers tapped American actress Candy Clark (American Graffiti) to provide Stella’s voice for the final film. Even still Caroline Munro makes for a far more stunning heroine than Carrie Fisher, although I’m pretty sure Fisher was a much more fun drunk.
9. THE FINAL BATTLE IS EPIC AND INSANE
Star Wars ended with a final assault on the Death Star with a bunch of characters we’ve never met until now flying into battle in ships that are essentially fighter jets with extra cool shit glued to them. Star Crash ends with a similar battle where the Emperor sends in his nameless soldiers to blast the holy bee jabbers out of Zarth Arn, with two key differences: whereas the spacecraft used by Star Wars’ rebel forces bring to mind reconfigured post-war avionics, the noble forces in Star Crash are propelled through the cosmos into the thick of chaotic battle crammed inside smaller ships that resemble giant gold bullets, with two troopers emerging from each ship that comes crashing through the windows of Zarth’s ship while the black caped madman rallies his henchmen into the fight by shouting “KILL! KILL! KILL!” When all else fails the Emperor basically says, “Ah fuck it. Let’s just take our big-ass spaceship, fill it with explosives, and ram it into his big-ass spaceship.” The best part about that plan? IT WORKS! No convenient “exhaust port” plot holes to be found here. And what was the name of that brilliant final strategy, you might ask? Take a wild guess.
10. LUIGI COZZI IS A BETTER DIRECTOR
Cozzi may never have reaped the great riches his American contemporary Lucas continues to receive to this day, but he didn’t have to. He didn’t make endless Star Crash sequels and spin-offs the sole focus of his career. Cozzi made his film, packed in every thing he ever wanted to see in a fantastic space adventure, and moved on. He had other projects he wanted to do and so he went and made them. Cozzi made mythological adventures, gory horror flicks, and even got paid to make a fan edit of the original Godzilla that saw a release in Italian theaters in 1977! Eventually he retired from directing and went on to run Dario Argento’s movie memorabilia store Profundo Rosso in Italy, and the world of fantastic cinema is all the worse off for it.
So there you have it. Those are the reasons why I believe in my heart of hearts that Star Crash is an infinitely better film than the original Star Wars. You may disagree with me, but personally I don’t give a flying fuck. I stand by everything I say and I will defend this movie with my body and soul until the day I die. Check out the spectacular and fun Star Crash for yourself and then let’s see where you stand on the matter.