Spaceballs (1987)

Directed by Mel Brooks

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The top three things I remember from 2003: The first news footage of the war in Iraq, Ivan Rodriguez dashing the Giants’ postseason hopes, and watching and re-watching the trailer for my most anticipated movie of the year, Scary Movie 3.  It’s one of those parody movies satirizing or really just referencing a series of recent popular movies, including 8 MileThe Ring and Signs.  For an 11 year old it was the funniest thing of all time, a series of gags based on very immediate reference points.  To understand the joke all you need is to have watched those small handful of movies.

Scary Movie 3 was hardly original, not only because it was the third movie of the series, but because these types of parody films have been around for quite sometime.  Spaceballs is one of them, and not even the first of such movies directed by Mel Brooks.

This is mostly just a Weird Al song of a movie, poking fun at the Star Wars films while finding an occasional reference to films like Alien and Planet of the Apes.  Because it is based entirely in referencing another piece of work, all of the characters are shallow renderings of past creations.  Han Solo is now Lone Starr (Bill Pullman), Darth Vader is Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), and Yoda is Yogurt (Mel Brooks).

Lone Starr has a Chewbacca-like sidekick, Barf (John Candy) with whom he roams the galaxy in a winged winnebago.  Soon they will kidnap a runaway bride, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and her robot Joan Rivers sidekick with the intention of selling them to Pizza the Hutt.

Before that can happen they will get caught up in Dark Helmet’s plan to steal oxygen from Princess Vespa’s home planet, and then things unfold from there as you expect, the good guys win and Lone Starr and Vespa get married.

Now, if you’re watching Spaceballs it’s not for the story.  The movie is full of absurd gags that would very much have appealed to my 13 year-old self, at least that which wasn’t beyond my comprehension.  I found certain moments funny, but it’s just not the movie for me.

What I will say is that there is something to be admired about the relentlessness of Mel Brooks’ jokes.  You don’t ever go very far without some kind of gag, and for perhaps a younger audience this is all you need, but I found it a little off-putting because it so often interrupts the story.  Again, why should I care because the story itself is almost tangential to what the movie is all about.

Certain gags call attention to the movie itself (at one point they ‘turn off’ the camera, cutting to black), and multiple jokes target the incessant merchandising culture which benefited from or helped give rise to the Star Wars popularity.  If this film has its sights set on anything, it seems to be capitalism, and it assigns guilt not only to those who sell but those who buy as well.

I imagine there are many a fan who enjoy Star Wars as well as Spaceballs, but there seems to me to be an underlying resentment of the type of movie which this lampoons.  Sure, it might be made out of love, but the movie only really calls attention to the framework and construction of these movies without adding anything to the conversation.  If this movie is to be believed, Star Wars is only about selling toys, and looking at it from a certain angle he might be correct.

And yet, that’s a reductive view of the franchise as a whole and those whom it has inspired, but it’s what I took away from the film.  The movie just reminds you how inane this all is, and that’s that.  To enjoy both movies is to buy into the fantastical world and then to agree that, yes, it’s quite silly and even a little stupid.  And that’s great!  I love plenty of stupid things, and there is a beauty to appreciating something while able to acknowledge how ridiculous it is because isn’t everything ridiculous?  Movies of any kind– just the concept of movies, of sitting there and believing something onscreen that is anything but real, is ridiculous but also wonderful.

However, when I think about Star Wars and the intense fandom surrounding it (or Game of ThronesLord of the Rings, etc.) I think of people who are actually quite militant about these movies.  This is very much an unfair generalization of a large body of people based on select stories and articles, but there does seem to be some truth to such a faithful following.  So are those the same people who enjoy Spaceballs or is there more of a divide between the two films?

I don’t know, and I’ve written far too much about it, mostly just because I didn’t know what else to say about this movie itself.

Up Next: Widows (2018), The Grifters (1990), Ben Is Back (2018)

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