- Movie Rating -

Spaceballs (1987)

| June 24, 1987

I think back, way back to a short film that I saw on television.  It was called Hardware Wars, and it was a pretty funny parody of the first Star Wars movie that used puns, funny names (Fluke Starbucker, Ham Salad, Auggie Ben Doggie) and general silliness as a send-up to George Lucas’ phenomenal hit.  It was like a student film gone mad and it inspired an industry of parody films.

Hardware Wars was also new.  Ten years after Star Wars the idea doesn’t exactly feel fresh anymore, so it begs the question of why exactly Mel Brooks thought that the time was right for Spaceballs.  You’d have thought he might have struck while the iron was hot, maybe around 1981 when the saga was still fresh.  I carp, but I do so with the knowledge that Brooks is a comedy legend who knows that timing is everything.  Does his film feel out of date?  I don’t know.

Perhaps the idea of a Star Wars parody is well timed.  We’re now four years out from the end of the series and it has lain dormant enough to be ripe for a reprisal.  Does Brooks parody feel fresh?  Not really.  It is funny?  Yeah, I laughed a few times, though I acknowledge that it’s a cute and silly film that is way down in quality for the man who created The ProducersYoung FrankensteinBlazing Saddles and High Anxiety.  When the space station radio gets jammed with literally a giant jar of jam, I was groaning.

The movie opens with a very funny gag based around the long panning shots of George Lucas’ ships before the movie settles in on a silly yarn about a gang of galactic criminals from the planet Spaceball who are threatening to steal the air from the peace-loving planet Druidia.  The heroes aren’t all that inspired.  Bill Pullman mixes the Han and Luke role into a space jockey named Lone Starr.  John Candy is a half-man/half-dog named Barf.  Daphne Zuiniga is the snobbish Princess Vespa.  And Joan Rivers is the voice of the C3PO-like Dot Matrix.

They’re cute in an amateur short film kind of way, but they aren’t anywhere in the league of Rick Moranis who has the film’s Darth Vader role – Dark Helmet, a ill-tempered shrimp who takes pleasure in zapping the genitals of insolent crew members with this power ring.  Just the sight of the diminutive Moranis in that suit with the massive helmet had me laughing, especially later in the film when he switch over to a safari version.

The other inspired character is played by Brooks’ himself as Yogurt who possesses the other half of Dark Helmet’s magic ring.  When the heroes meet up with the Zen master in his plasti-foam cave, he extolls the virtues of Moy-chin-dizing, putting the movie’s name on everything from cereal to lunchboxes to flame throwers (“The kids love this one!”).

I laughed at those moments.  I laughed more than I am probably admitting, but I have to say that this is a good Brooks movie without being really inspired.  After High Anxiety, he entered into the realms of parody from which he never looked back and you almost wish that he’d sit down and write something original again, like The Producers.  Brooks has made his living in comedy and so the madness of the world of a comic must bode something more than just movie parodies.  Spaceballs is good, but I’ll hold out for great.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy