The 9 Most Infamous Star Wars Rip-Offs

In the wake of Star Wars’ global success in 1977, filmmakers around the world — from low-budget schlockmeisters to the most powerful Hollywood studios — tried to cash in on the commercial craze launched by George Lucas. Many of these knock-offs were truly pitiable attempts but there were a few that have achieved a cult (and, in some cases, even mainstream) status of their own.While Hollywood in the late 1970s to mid-1980s certainly embraced sci-fi in a major way, not every sci-fi film or show that was produced during that era was a knock-off of Star Wars so much as the entertainment industry’s reaction to obvious audience demand. There was the 1980 Flash Gordon movie and the TV series revival of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but seeing as both were adaptations of space-faring comic strips and serials that had themselves influenced Star Wars, they’re not included on this list.

This era also gave us Alien and Blade Runner, neither of which bear any resemblance to Star Wars. 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture saw the iconic TV series (which predates Star Wars by a decade) make the leap to the big screen as a ponderous epic that owed more to the heady 2001 than to the pulpy Star Wars. Even James Bond got in on the sci-fi craze with Moonraker (yes, 007 once fought in outer space laser battles).

While Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole has often been cited as a Star Wars knock-off, it owes more to the star-studded disaster films of the 1970s than it does to Lucas’ saga, its inclusion of droids aside. And Spaceballs doesn’t make this list because the film was openly parodying the Star Wars craze, right down to joking about cashing in on merchandise.

Star Wars Rip-Offs

Here then are the most infamous Star Wars rip-offs of all time, in alphabetical order:

Battle Beyond the Stars

Roger Corman, the legendary king of B-movies and exploitation flicks, cashed in on the Star Wars craze with this 1980 space opera, one of his more expensive undertakings. Just as George Lucas borrowed liberally from Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress for A New Hope, Corman retooled another Kurosawa classic, The Seven Samurai, for his film. (Hollywood had already remade that film as The Magnificent Seven, and Corman even cast one of its stars, Robert Vaughn, in Battle Beyond the Stars.) The movie follows a farm boy out to destroy an evil empire’s planet-killing vessel. Seriously. Battle Beyond the Stars also boasted two notable (but then-aspiring) creatives behind the scenes: Aliens’ James Horner did the score while James Cameron got his break handling the film’s visual effects. Corman later reused the film’s sets for another Star Wars knock-off, Space Raiders.

Battlestar Galactica

Its 21st century reboot may be better and more acclaimed, but the original ‘70s TV series is one of the earliest and best known knock-offs of Star Wars. While creator Glen A. Larson’s idea for the show predated Star Wars by several years, the series borrowed enough design and narrative elements and overall flavor from Star Wars for 20th Century Fox and George Lucas to sue Universal over Battlestar Galactica’s many similarities. Larson and Universal even hired Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie and visual effects whiz John Dykstra to work on the show, much to Lucas’ chagrin. While both franchises have each evolved in their own significant ways since, BSG’s early days are marked by the clear influence of Star Wars on it. (Call it karma but about a decade later the exploitation flick Space Mutiny outright stole visual effects shots from Battlestar Galactica.)

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (aka The Man Who Saved the World)

The movie nicknamed “Turkish Star Wars” literally rips off Star Wars by opening with extensive footage lifted right from A New Hope — X-Wings, the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star! — and plugged into the movie’s story. This 1982 film — which sees a pair of protagonists crash land on a desert planet (hmmmm …) — also incorporates footage from the Mos Eisley cantina sequence. But Star Wars isn’t the only movie “Turkish Star Wars” ripped off. Portions of the Raiders of the Lost Ark score are also played throughout!

The Last Starfighter

This 1984 flick follows a working class youth living a mundane life in the middle of nowhere who becomes embroiled in an intergalactic conflict against an empire where his sick piloting skills help win the day. He even has an old mentor who appears to die but later comes back. While The Last Starfighter is most clearly a reaction to the then-exploding popularity of video games and arcades, this cult classic also owes an obvious debt to Star Wars.

Masters of the Universe

While the toy franchise and Filmation animated series that spawned this 1987 movie borrowed sword & sorcery elements that were popular in the wake of Conan the Barbarian, the movie adaptation was also infused with sci-fi/space fantasy elements familiar to Star Wars fans. The movie’s Skeletor was basically a hybrid of Darth Vader and the Emperor, its protagonist He-Man wielded one helluva sword as well as a laser blaster, and the movie also introduced the tiny creature Gwildor (Billy Barty) as a sort of response to Yoda, R2-D2, Jawas, Ewoks, and Star Wars’ overall penchant for little, often comic relief characters.

Message from Space

Considering how much George Lucas lifted from Japanese culture and cinema for Star Wars, consider this 1978 movie a case of, ahem, striking back. Message from Space was made by the Toei Company, which produced the show Super Sentai (footage from which was repurposed for Power Rangers). Message from Space features many elements familiar to Star Wars fans: a white-clad princess on the run, an evil empire, armored bad guy troopers, an obnoxious beepy droid, a trench run, a cantina, and spaceships flying in formation. There’s even a long shot of an enemy starship cruising into frame. And while Darth Vader may have drawn visual inspiration from samurai, Message from Space actually has full-on space samurai as the villains.

Star Odyssey

The most notable lift from Star Wars in this Italian production — one of four Star Wars-inspired films made by Alfonso Brescia — is that its characters employ their own version of lightsabers as well as a pair of droids. (The difference there? One of the droids is suicidal!) Side note: One of the human characters wears a Spider-Man shirt! Overall, it’s a terrible movie with very low production values but, hey, it has cheapo lightsabers in it.

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

This 1985 oddity is among the earliest films to mix traditional and computer animation (it also received a 3D theatrical release). It boasts some elaborate design work and world-building but it’s also a thinly conceived sci-fi fantasy tale that owes more than a bit to George Lucas’ hit. There’s a fabled sword, a teen hero called to action by a projection, a romance with a princess, a roguish smuggler, droids, hands severed in duels, and an evil overlord who chokes captives. The movie also managed to beat The Phantom Menace to the punch by having its bad guy cut in half by an energy sword during the climactic battle, his bisected body then plummeting into a chasm. And as with other edgy animated fare of the era (e.g. Heavy Metal), the coarse and violent Starchaser: The Legend of Orin is, unlike Star Wars, decidedly not kid-friendly.

Starcrash

Director Luigi Cozzi’s Star Wars knock-off includes Christopher Plummer and David Hasselhoff among its cast so it must have some value, right? Not really. This outrageous 1978 flick includes its own version of lightsabers, C-3PO style droids, blasters, stormtroopers, an emperor, jumps to hyperspace, cosmic superweapons, smugglers, text crawls, and spaceships flying slowly into frame. There’s even a mission to save a royal!


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