#WayBackWednesday – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.

It’s no secret that I love science fiction. The #WayBackWednesday lineup I’ve covered thus far is telling of this fact. Heck, I even got a Master’s degree on the topic. That being said, I am an absolute mark for anything science fiction, but especially science fiction of the retro variety. This week’s film covers all those bases. Check out the trailer for Battle Beyond the Stars and we’ll get started with #WayBackWednesday. 

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After the success of Star Wars, every film and TV studio wanted a piece of that Space Opera pie in the late 70s and early 80s. That made space for lots of films in space. (Rim shot). There are good and bad aspects to this trend. You’ve got real gems, like Alien and Battlestar Galactica (though technically BSG was in the works before Star Wars). And then you’ve got others that were less successful, but I personally find interesting, such as Disney’s The Black Hole and today’s film, Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars is led by Richard Thomas (probably better known as John-Boy Walton from The Waltons or Bill from the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It) and is directed by genre great, Roger Corman, and Jimmy T. Murakami. The film, according to IMDB, is a futuristic remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. While I have not seen Seven Samurai or either of its Hollywood remakes, The Magnificent Seven, and therefore cannot comment on how it functions as an adaptation or reboot, it is notable that Kurosawa’s work heavily influenced George Lucas in the creation of Star Wars. Thus the reason that Battle Beyond the Stars  feels a little like “off brand” Star Wars

While I have no nostalgia for Battle Beyond the Stars, as the first time I watched it was a few years ago, what I do like about the film is the look and feel. Is it effectively the film version of what happens when your mom buys the off brand cereal? Yeah, a little bit. But what it does do well is create a retro science fiction visual style before the film itself could even be considered “retro.” I get Flash Gordon vibes watching this movie…and I like it. I could watch anything with this visual aesthetic, even if I don’t really care for the story, which is one of the reasons I wanted to revisit Battle Beyond the Stars. I don’t care for the story, but I do love the visuals. I was also surprised by how good most of the practical effects still look 40 years later. Take note, filmmakers–it will almost always look better in the long run if you use a model rather than a computer.

The thing I enjoy the most about Battle Beyond the Stars is the score. The score is composed by James Horner, the first of his “major” theatrical scores. This is the prelude to his exquisite work down the road on other major science fiction and action films. If you’ve seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Jumanji, Titanic, Avatar, or funnily enough, the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven, you’ve heard James Horner’s work. That’s just a small sampling; the man has 164 credits as a composer on IMDB. If nothing else, queue up the score for Battle Beyond the Stars on Spotify. You won’t regret it. 

A word of caution to a modern audience–It’s quite clear that there weren’t any women in the writing room for this film. There are some misogynistic treatments of women in the film that are glaring to the modern eye. However, perhaps the most pro-woman character in the film is Shad’s (Richard Thomas)’s ship, Nell. Nell has the sass of L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story and the smartass lines to boot. It sounds strange to say my favorite character in the film is a spaceship, but it’s true. 

I was also surprised by Cowboy’s (George Peppard)’s spaceship. Not only is he a, well, interesting, stereotype of a southern person, he sports a Confederate flag on the side of his ship. That definitely would not fly today. (Another rim shot). Frankly, I’m a little surprised it happened then. It does drive home the stereotype of a southern person that they want to portray in Cowboy. However, as a southern person who is exhausted by negative stereotypes of the south, especially in a futuristic setting, I found it irksome. It doesn’t sit well with me when the future we portray in our stories doesn’t allow room for growth or change. 

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Are you in the mood for a B-level science fiction flick? Want a film you can laugh at with friends? Need to turn your brain off for a while and watch some retro sci-fi aesthetic? Grab some popcorn and watch Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. 

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