I’m the kind of person who loves all kinds of movies, but one corner of film that will forever hold a place in my heart is the classic B-movie. The silly, campy and sometimes nonsensical attempts to tell a story that’s often inspired by a better story that came before it is just loads of fun for me. B-movies embody a particular type of schlocky charm that other movies can’t quite reach.
Recently, I spent some time seeking out B-movies that were inspired by Star Wars just to shake up some of my re-watches of the franchise and see if anything else came close to capturing a fraction of the magic.
Spoiler: they don’t.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still fun to watch. So, while this is by no means comprehensive, here are 5 Star Wars-esque, B-movie knock-offs that I’ve come to enjoy.
Message from Space
In this film, the peaceful planet of Jillucia is attacked by a militaristic, empire-like regime of aliens known as the Gavanas, and their leader, Emperor Rockseia XXII. The Jillucians send out a set of seeds from their planet as a distress call of sorts and one ultimately captures the attention of some hotshot pilots from Earth.
Message from Space is a Japanese production directed by Kinji Fukasaku that was released one year after the original Star Wars and was clearly inspired by its success. This has some less-than-stellar special effects, some incomprehensible science, and a relatively thin plot; but what it does have going for it is some very cool aesthetics and costume designs.
I mean, take a look that:
While this movie is far from great, it is the only one on this list that inspired a 27-episode spinoff TV series. So, it’s got that going for it.
Hawk the Slayer
Hawk the Slayer is a bit like what might happen if your DM from you Dungeons & Dragons campaign had just seen Star Wars for the first time and was instantly inspired.
Rather than a space opera, this one uses a sword & sorcery framing, but that’s really the biggest difference. The Star Wars DNA in this is strong with this one. There are magic swords, Kurosawa homages, a family divided by good and evil, a villan wearing a black helmet, and a very Han Solo-like outfit on our main character. Despite that, I kind of…love(?) this weird mashup of Star Wars themes and epic fantasy imagery.
On top of that, it also boasts a scene-chewing Jack Palance as the big bad, and has since amassed itself a cult-following, garnering praise from folks like Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.
Space Raiders is the Han Solo spinoff that could have been back in the 80s (although we can all breathe a sigh of release that it wasn’t). Produced by legendary king of B-movies, Roger Corman, this film tells the story of a group of space smugglers who find a young boy accidentally stowing away on their ship. The crew then embark on a mission to return the boy to his home while simultaneously attempting to thwart a robot invasion.
There’s a lot going on, but – given its low budget (the score for this was simply re-used music from another Corman production, Battle Beyond the Stars, which is also on this list) – the scope just isn’t able to match the plot. The universe just doesn’t feel big and we really only see about three different set pieces.
Despite that, there are still some cool prosthetics, wacky aliens, and some fun visuals that ultimately make for a decently enjoyable watch.
The plot of Starcrash comes off as if someone threw a bunch of sci-fi related concepts in a blender and made a movie out of whatever came out.
The film follows a scantily clad outlaw named Stella Star (Caroline Munro) who is recruited by the Emperor of the Galaxy to rescue his son and destroy a secret weapon being created by the evil Count Zarth Arn.
Over the course of this movie, we get an android character who wields what amounts to a lightsaber, a tribe of cavemen, a giant, kaiju-esque robot with boobs, the inexplicable ability of the ‘good guys’ to stop time when need be, and Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff even show up! It’s a wild ride.
Battle Beyond the Stars
For the most part, Battle Beyond the Stars plays out like a grand, family-friendly space-fantasy adventure. Of the films on this list, this one feels the most the most Star Wars-y. There are lots of different and unique settings, cool alien prosthetics, fun space battles, a beautiful James Horner score, a plot modeled after Kurosowa (in this case, Seven Samurai), a young, bright-eyed farm boy and even a Han Solo surrogate from Earth who is simply referred to as ‘Cowboy.’ Of course, in this, Cowboy travels the galaxy in a cowboy hat and flannel shirt while always having some scotch ready to pour from a special mechanism on his utility belt.
However, this being another Roger Corman produced flick, beneath the surface it’s a bit more adult oriented. There are some somewhat surprising instances of casual cursing, fairly explicit sexual innuendo (boobs on the space ship), and some pretty bloody scenes during the final battle.
Tonally, this all makes for an overall inconsistent movie, yet out of the rest of the movies on this list, it’s probably the one I enjoy the most.
What other Star Wars-inspired B-movies would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the comments.