Spaceballs, by Albert W. Vogt III

In other reviews I have discussed my love for Star Wars. I mentioned how many times I have viewed the new releases in the theaters. As a kid, I would watch them obsessively, over and over, to the point where in high school I could play them in my head start to finish, including every line of dialog. It was useful when I did not want to pay attention in first period Spanish. Then there were the books. I read all the novels, excepting those related to the prequels and any that have been released in the past fifteen years or so. I think I may have also said how considered joining the real life Jedi religion? If not, then there you go. Spoiler alert: I ultimately stuck to my Catholic Faith. Nonetheless, given how serious I took the tales of “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” you would think I would take a offense at any slights to the beloved franchise. When I was a lad in the late 1980s when Spaceballs (1987) came out, I think I ignored the fact that it made fun of Star Wars. Watching it now that I am all grown up, it cannot be missed. It is still fairly chucklesome, but much more campy than I remember. Ah, to be seven again. . . .

Spaceballs lampoons Star Wars from the start with an opening crawl noting that it is “Chapter Eleven,” no doubt referencing what confused some in 1977 when the first of Lucas’ franchise was Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Nobody had missed the first three installments. Only Lucas really knew at the time that he was actually beginning his story in the middle. This is not the last time Star Wars is referenced in Spaceballs. They are too many to count, and I am not going to list them all as that would be tedious. Just know that the term “rip-off” is appropriate, but it is funny because it hits it so squarely on the nose. The evil henchman for the planet Spaceballs is Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), and he is traveling in his enormous ship to the Planet Druidia. He is ordered there by President Skroob (Mel Brooks) in order to steal their air, which is apparently in short supply on his planet. On Druidia, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) is about to marry, against her will, Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock). Instead of going through with the ceremony, she absconds with her robot assistant Dot Matrix (Lorene Yarnell Jansson, voiced by Joan Rivers) in her Mercedes rocket. Spaceballs arrive as she takes off, and they see taking Princess Vespa hostage as an opportunity to force Planet Druidia to give up their air. In desperation, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) turns to Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half dog/half man (Mog in Spaceballs parlance) Barf (John Candy) to save his daughter. They make it there in their flying Winnebago and manage to take the princess by “jamming” (they literally launch a giant jar of jam) the Spaceball sensors. Unfortunately, in their escape they run out of fuel and crash land on a nearby desert planet. There they meet the mysterious Yogurt (also Mel Brooks) who teaches Lone Star about the way of the Schwartz. Eventually, Spaceballs catches up with our heroes there after literally “combing” the desert. It is funnier than it sounds. Dark Helmet, who can also use the Schwartz, tricks Princess Vespa out of hiding and she is finally a hostage of Spaceballs. Thus Lone Starr and Barf must rescue her all over again, this time from the enemy planet. However, this is not before King Roland gives up the combination that will unlock his planet’s air shield, which is, of course, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” Thus Lone Starr is called upon once more to save the day, traveling into the giant Spaceballs ship and blow it up, which has transformed into a giant maid with a vacuum ready to suck out all the air. Even then he is prevented from being with the Princess he has developed feelings for because he is not a prince. That is until he opens a fortune cookie given him by Yogurt and is told that he is in fact of royal heritage. With that settled, he travels back to Druidia and shoves aside the perpetually yawning Prince Valium to take Princess Vespa as his wife. I suppose they all live happily ever after.

It should be noted that while moments in Spaceballs are meant to directly reference Star Wars, including making jokes about the merchandising blitz undertaken by Lucas’ production team, it also takes shots at other science fiction classics. There are comedic nods to movies like Alien (1979) and the original Planet of the Apes (1968). Spaceballs creator Mel Brooks did that in nearly all his movies. He takes things that are familiar and parodies them. They are usually quite humorous, and like Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) they are also irreverent. I say this in connection with Spaceballs because for the wedding (or weddings if you count the first one from which Princess Vespa ran away) the person presiding over the ceremony resembles a Catholic bishop, complete with stole. I discuss this in greater detail in my dissertation, but films have been using Catholic clergy as a stand-in for any person of a Christian faith for a long time. Films, particularly a parody like this, do not have the time to explain every aspect of what is going on. The filmmakers are relying on you seeing something and just getting it. As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It is both a blessing and a curse that the Catholic Faith is so visual. It is great that a simple piece of clothing can immediately signal holiness. On the other hand, this can be used in stereotypical ways like we see in movies like Spaceballs.

There is not much else to say about Spaceballs. This bit about the person marrying Lone Starr and Princess Vespa is a small part of the movie. I suppose it is an okay movie for the family to see, but there is a bit of sexual innuendo and foul language. The whole Schwartz thing is a less than overt reference to male anatomy. When Lone Starr and Dark Helmet face each other, the rings that produce their lightsaber-esque blades are held like they are erections. These kinds of jokes do not make up the whole movie, but they are there so proceed with caution. But if you are in the mood to see the Lucas empire taken down a peg, then have at it.


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