May the Schwartz be with you!
Spaceballs was Mel Brooks’ opportunity to spoof the sci-fi and space opera genre, specifically Star Wars. His film hits some high moments but is mostly a mediocre mashup of various space fantasy ideas with a smidge of Brooks’ mischievousness thrown in.
In what quickly becomes apparent as a parody of the Star Wars films, the trailer for Spaceballs introduces a princess and her robot, a space pilot and his furry alien companion, and a comically large helmeted villain who is trying to steal the air from a planet called Druidia. Lightsaber battles, space battles and mention of The Schwartz, are apparently all on display in the Mel Brooks spoof from a galaxy far, far away.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
The comically long spaceship, Spaceball-One, commanded by Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner), approaches the planet of Druidia. They have been sent by President Skroob (Mel Brooks) to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and force her father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten), into giving the Spaceballs air from their planet. The Spaceballs have squandered theirs and will do anything to get more.
Vespa is getting married to the last Prince in the galaxy, a narcoleptic named Prince Valium (Jm J Bullock). She decides she doesn’t want to go through with the marriage and flees with her golden robot/servant, Dot Matrix (Lorene Yarnell with the voice of Joan Rivers). As they leave the planet they are grabbed by the Spaceballs in a tractor beam. King Roland puts out a call to a pair of mercenaries to save her.
Captain Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his mawg co-pilot, Barf (John Candy) agree to save Vespa for enough money to pay off Pizza the Hutt (voice of Dom DeLuise). They rescue her in their space Winnebago, Eagle 5, but crash land on the Moon of Vega, a desolate sandy planet. Dark Helmet finds them with the help of a videotape of Spaceballs: The Movie, fast-forwarding the movie to find the correct part.
The heroes are saved from the desert by Dinks, small brown robed characters that work with Yogurt (Mel Brooks), a wizened, aged, creature that handles the merchandising for the film. Yogurt provides Lone Starr a cryptic message, along with a fortune cookie, and a ring that helps channel the Schwartz, a powerful energy field that can lift statues, and more. Meanwhile Dark Helmet has had his troops combing the desert and kidnaps Vespa, returning to Spaceball City with her.
Lone Starr and Barf stage a rescue from the prison by disguising themselves as Ping Pong troopers. During the escape the Spaceballs end up capturing the hero’s stunt doubles. Spaceball-One has made its way back to Druidia, and transforms into MegaMaid intending to suck the air off the planet. Lone Starr uses the Schwartz to reverse the vacuum cleaner and save the planet.
Lone Starr sneaks aboard the Spaceball command ship and activates the self-destruct mechanism after having a Schwartz-saber fight with Dark Helmet. As they leave Vespa at her wedding, Barf opens the fortune cookie provided by Yogurt, which reveals that Lone Starr is a certified Prince. He and Barf return to Druidia and ask Vespa to be his Queen. They are married and depart in the Eagle-5.
“Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs-the T-shirt, Spaceballs-the Coloring Book, Spaceballs-the Lunch box, Spaceballs-the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs-the Flame Thrower.” – Yogurt
History in the Making
Spaceballs was another in the long line of Mel Brooks spoofs of various film genres. Previously his humor was drawn towards the Western with Blazing Saddles, Universal monster movies with Young Frankenstein, Hitchcock suspense films with High Anxiety, the golden age of cinema in Silent Movie, and the historical epic in History of the World: Part I. Spaceballs was also his longest gap between films, coming six years after History of the World. It represents the beginning of the decline of Brooks’ influence on film comedy, which continued with the hit-and-miss Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
The film also represented one of the first “authorized” spoofs of Star Wars. There of course had been rip off and homages in the preceding ten years, as well as some low-budget spoofs, like Hardware Wars, but Brooks actually received permission from George Lucas in order to create a spoof closely relating to the original film. Since then, many other films and television shows have officially spoofed the Star Wars Saga, including The Simpsons, The Family Guy and Robot Chicken. But spoofing one film alone is never part of Mel Brooks’ style. His movies take wide aim at a number of types of films in the genre.
Star Wars was, of course, an easy target. How could a parodist like Brooks not take aim at the most lucrative films of the last decade? His jokes were aligned to a plot that borrowed from all three (at the time) Star Wars films. The opening moments featured a title crawl denoting this film as Chapter 11 in a bigger story. This is followed by a comically long starship, over-emphasizing the Star Destroyer model from A New Hope, along with a bumper sticker attached claiming “we brake for nobody.” Lone Starr became a mash-up of Luke Skywalker, a hero with a destiny to fulfill, and Han Solo, a loveable smuggler with a furry sidekick. Instead of a ruthless Empire, Brooks created the Spaceballs, led by President Skroob (an anagram of his own name) which is inept and stupid, rather than menacing and powerful. Brooks even had a dual role as the diminutive Yogurt, a parody of Yoda, who dealt with all of the merchandise for the film; both parodying the film and its pop culture aspects.
But Lucas was not the only filmmaker spoofed. Brooks included a number of jokes from other high profile science-fiction films over the past 20 years. His send ups also featured jokes about Star Trek (both Commanderette Zircon mentioning how Scotty beamed her last night, and Lone Starr using the Vulcan neck pinch–incorrectly at first), Alien (bringing back John Hurt to play the doomed man who births a chestburster through, his–uh, chest), and Planet of the Apes (in which a pair of horseback-riding, humanoid-apes, discover the crashed pieces of MegaMaid on their beach. He also took aim at films like The Wizard of Oz, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, TV Commercials and lots of various pop culture phrases.
What does Spaceballs do to advance the notion of humanity and science-fiction? In a word: nothing. It was never intended to explore the human condition or analyze humanity’s place in the universe. It was designed as a simple comedic parody of extremely popular films. However in delving into the same mythic structure that George Lucas did, Brooks couldn’t help but make some of the same points about the hero’s journey. Of course all the characterizations were done in a way that was extreme, but all the same, these characters shared much with their “real” counterparts. Lone Starr, while often just looking out for himself, was a good man that didn’t need the actual “magic ring” to get the Princess. Vespa was a vapid and self-absorbed “Druish princess,” but also was able to take care of herself, providing a strong female presence, at least in a couple of scenes. Dark Helmet was not only evil, he was ineptly evil. So much that his villainy was comically pitiable. Barf was a loyal and constant companion (played by the much loved John Candy) that was always there for his friends, even when the times were hard, or he was out of kibble. Even in parodying films like Star Wars, it’s hard to get away from the core character elements that audiences enjoy.
The Science in The Fiction
All the technology in the film is played for laughs. And much of the humor comes from Dark Helmet and crew getting caught up in overly complicated problems brought on by their technology. The most obvious is the lack of air on planet Spaceball, which they plan to steal by vacuuming the atmosphere away from Duidia. In the meantime, they use cans of Perri-Air, air in a can, as supplements to their stale, reprocessed air. Spaceball-One, converts into a Transformer called MegaMaid, whose crown looks like the Statue of Liberty, and further fulfills that role when the vehicle explodes and crashes on to the Ape planet. Brooks also creates faster levels of hyperspeed, which include Ludicrous speed, a speed so fast that the spaceship breaks the color barrier and goes into plaid. It’s also a world where giant jars of raspberry jam gunk up the radar dish, and soldiers use giant black plastic combs to sift through desert sand looking for the good guys. If anything good comes from the technology presented, it’s most likely the reminder that 1-2-3-4-5 is a horrible password, and you should change it right now.
The Final Frontier
Spaceballs, complete with theme song performed by The Spinners, is a fun film. Fans of Star Wars and other sci-fi franchises will chuckle and the various moments culled from other films. But sometimes it might feel like the film is making fun about the films, rather than enjoying a laugh about truly funny things. As with other comedies from the 80s, there’s some humor that was funnier at the time, but is not really thought of as appropriate anymore, as was the case with The Ice Pirates. Still, the film is a classic in the way that it looks at the growth of the sci-fi film as a blockbuster. There are some great moments in the performances, and several of the jokes are quite amusing. And if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to make the follow-up film teased 34 years ago, Spaceballs II: The Search for More Money.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.