Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

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BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, Roger Corman’s ‘take’ of the STAR WARS saga, is a film justly recognized as a cult classic. Shot in his new studio (“The paint was still wet,” Corman has joked), in just five weeks, on a budget that would have paid for one of George Lucas’ effects, the end result is proof that with the right talent, anything is possible!

A remarkable array of future industry giants participated in the creation of the film; the screenplay was co-written by John Sayles, whose breakthrough film as a maverick writer/director, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7, would be released the same year…young model builder James Cameron impressed Corman so much that he was promoted to Art Director for the film, and it would be the first step in a career that led to TERMINATOR, ALIENS, and eventually, the most Oscar-honored film since BEN-HUR, TITANIC…James Horner, with only three prior film credits, gave Corman the STAR WARS-quality music he wanted, with an orchestra a fraction of the size of John Williams’ London Philharmonic; Horner would eventually score two STAR TREK films, and a wide variety of other ‘prestige’ projects, culminating with two Oscars for TITANIC, and a place as one of America’s finest film composers. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS would have a ‘look’ and a ‘sound’ unlike any ‘B’-movie ever made.

Based on Akira Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI (which was also the source for the classic western, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), Sayles tried to keep the film as faithful to the original as possible (a tiny, defenseless village hires warriors to defend them against a band of outlaws), even naming the beleaguered people the Akira, as a homage to the director. As warriors from different races ally to face down the nearly invincible forces of Sador (veteran actor John Saxon), Corman paid tribute to John Sturges’ western, as well, casting Robert Vaughn in virtually the same role as he’d played in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Other terrific actors round out the cast; Richard Thomas, still appearing in ‘The Waltons’ at the time, played young Shad, the film’s central character; George Peppard, who was about to achieve a MAJOR career resurgence with ‘The A-Team’, became boozy Earthman ‘Cowboy’; ‘B’-movie queen Sybil Danning portrayed Valkyrie-like Saint-Exmin; veteran TV and film ‘tough guy’ Morgan Woodward was wonderful, if unrecognizable as Cayman of the Lambda Zone; and Darlanne Fluegel, beginning a long career as a popular character actress, was cast as Shad’s love, Nanelia. Corman then cast two long-time friends and Hollywood legends in cameo roles; Jeff Corey as blind Zed, who encourages the Akira to fight; and 89-year old Sam Jaffe as the robotics expert who introduces Shad to Nanelia.

A note about director Jimmy T. Murakami…a veteran animator, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS marked his directorial debut, and he does an exceptionally good job, considering his budget restraints. After working on HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, he married an Irish girl and settled in Europe, limiting his subsequent film career to an occasional project that interested him. Roger Corman’s ‘family’ of filmmakers were NEVER dull…

While some of the FX are shaky, the overall production is very impressive, and holds up remarkably well, today. Roger Corman has called BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS one of his favorite films, and he has every right to be proud…the movie is a terrific SF adventure!