Spaceballs (1987) – Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is hit and miss with me, I love Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but Spaceballs, no matter how quotable it is, and how much it delightfully skewers the Star Wars universe (with George Lucas’ blessing, and some special effects by ILM) has never done it for me. There are moments I like, but overall it feels like a swing and a miss.

That may have something to do with when I was exposed to it too, it came out in 1987, four years after the last Star Wars movie, and no one knew that the the Skywalker Saga would continue in the future. So it felt like it was way too late to be cashing in on it, and honestly, it’s not terribly funny. There are some great moments, renting the movie while making the movie, the dig at merchandising, and some of the dialogue, but overall I was disappointed with it as a teen, and disappointed with it as an adult.

The best satires, parodies, and homages work when those doing it love the subject matter (Galaxy Quest is a prime example!) and while there are clear moments of geek joy in the film, even its story could have benefited from the example set by the Star Wars (and other science fiction films) example of the Hero’s Journey.

Dark Helmet (a hilarious Rick Moranis) is leading his Spaceballs to capture Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) to hold her for ransom for the planet Druidia’s air, it seems planet Spaceball has used up most of theirs and needs to replenish it. Her father, played by Dick Van Patten, reaches out to hero for hire, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman – dressed more like Indiana Jones than Han Solo) and his Mog (man and dog) Barf (the wonderful John Candy) in the flying winnebago, Eagle 5 to save his daughter.

Along the way, our heroes tumble from beat to semi-familiar beat, elude capture by the Spaceballs, learn from the wizard Yogurt (Brooks), and Vespa and Starr begin to fall in love with one another, but she can only marry a prince…

Sure it has all the fairy tale and sci-fi elements that could be combined for a fairly decent story, as well as the potential for an environmental message, but the story fumbles, goes for the cheap jokes, and is no where near as funny as it could have been. I think if it was made today, it would be a different kind of film, the production would look better (the sets look like, well, sets), have a more meta script, and wiser nods to science fiction and fantasy films (not to mention the wealth of material they could skewer from Star Wars).

Instead, it’s very much a product of the 80s, and feels like a cheaply made comedy no matter how much I love some of the dialogue… May the Schwartz be with you!

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