Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a recap (part 3 of 6)
NOTE: This article is a work in progress.
Please check back soon for more installments!
Last time: Shad avoided a frog march to the wedding altar and made two new friends, and Sador nuked a planet… pretty much because he could.
We cut to Nanelia, who had been heading to the Lambda sector. She’s flying through space when her ship is caught up in some sort of energy cloud.
Wow, that’s some awesome special effects there… for 1966 Star Trek. Nanelia is even jerked around in her seat as consoles explode until she’s finally knocked unconscious. It all seems utterly hopeless for Nanelia, until a new ship arrives on the scene. It blasts away at the cloud, dissipating it without damaging Nanelia’s ship. Nanelia’s ship is then swallowed into the giant maw of the newcomer…
…or maybe the maw’s not so giant, and Nanelia is flying the space equivalent of a Chevy Sonic. She awakens trussed up and surrounded by aliens, with some big muscular guy standing behind her. Damn, bondage and muscle-bound dudes? I guess it was only a matter of time before Corman began borrowing from John Norman’s Gor series. Soon they’re joined by a reptilian guy and two short bald guys.
The reptile gets all touchy-feely as he admires the merchandise, and explains to Nanelia that he saved her from a “zime” that lives to eat living organisms. Damn, that pretty much explains everyone who isn’t a vegetarian. This gang is made up of zime-miners, so they go around rustlin’ up zimes to cook ‘em down for their protein. The reptile introduces himself as “Cayman, a Galadrazone”. He’s played by… oh man, I can’t believe it! It’s Morgan Woodward, prolific western actor who also appeared twice in Star Trek, first as an escaped psychiatrist turned mental patient Dr. Simon Van Gelder, then as the Prime Directive violating Captain Tracey.
And damn, he was also the sunglasses wearing, menacing sunovabitch Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke? I had no idea. Honest to God, this man is awesome. His two TOS episodes are mediocre, but his performances alone elevate them; in the first because of how he does crazy so well, and in the second because of his, well, okay, more crazy portrayal as Tracey, along with the fact that he’s one of the few guys who actually kicks James T. Kirk’s ass. And get this: he also appeared in a couple episodes of The Waltons. I’m now wishing they made him Space Cowboy and put Peppard in the lizard suit.
Where was I? Oh, right. Cayman (I guess Corman couldn’t afford a better name) introduces his crew. The bald guys are Kelvin, who communicate via heat. Yeah, that sounds kind of interesting, but I’m not sure how that would work. Maybe someone with infra-red vision like the Predator can see heat waves coming off their bodies and interpret them? I mean, it’s not crazy; insects communicate using pheromones and only creatures with the right senses can pick those up. So okay, points to the screenwriter for trying to give the aliens a bit of a twist.
The muscle guy is Quopeg. Okay, considering the tribal tattoos on his face and the harpoon in his hand, I’m wondering if Cayman here is going to suddenly go all Moby Dick on us. I mean, it sounds like they’re hunting space whales, right? Nanelia’s all grateful for the rescue and she’d like to be cut down now, but Cayman says a female like her could fetch him some “heavy dust” on the market. Nanelia’s shocked that Cayman would do that to her. Me, I’m wondering why she isn’t more freaked out at all by the aliens, seeing she’s been raised around human looking androids all her life. But Nanelia thinks quickly on her feet, even when they’re dangling a foot off the deck.
She tells Cayman she’s hiring mercenaries for a fight on Akir. Cayman’s intrigued and asks what Akir could offer him, and Nan scrambles and says they’ve got the biggest molybdenum supply around. Now the screenwriters could have used gold, or silver, or platinum, but they go and use a metal critical in industrial applications. In other words, a key metal for a space faring civilization, and so potentially far more valuable. Kudos to you, John Sayles and Anne Dyer, for actually giving a damn and doing your homework. Cayman laughs and says he knows all about Akir and how it’s pretty much got nothing he needs. Nanelia angrily says that Cayman is no better than Sador, which causes Cayman to freak the hell out. He makes sure she’s talking about Sador of the Malmori, and not, you know, Sador Weinstein or something. Nanelia tells him yeah, that’s the Sador she meant and suddenly Cayman changes his tune: he orders Quopeg to cut Nanelia down because it’s time to hunt the great white Sador.
Elsewhere, Shad and Nell have run into troubles of their own.
Borrowing from Close Encounters now? Sure, why not? The glowing ship has Nell in a magnetic net and she suggests Shad recall something from his Varda about using somebody’s strength against them. So, the Varda is a martial arts manual too, it seems. Shad agrees that this sounds like a good plan, and turns around to ram Nell right down those glowing aliens’ throats. Uh, if they have throats, that is. However, the maneuver doesn’t go quite as planned and Shad is enveloped by a blinding light. As the light fades, he finds himself standing on a glowing platform in a featureless room. Well, not entirely featureless.
Apparently, this is what the Blue Man Group changes into when they achieve their final form.
Okay, is anybody getting like old school Doctor Who TARDIS control console vibes here? Is there no franchise Roger Corman won’t shamelessly borrow from? The answer, obviously, is no. Shad pulls out his gun and asks what the big idea is, and the five aliens turn to face him silently and he says, “Don’t everybody talk at once.” Okay, that got a chuckle out of me.
When they still don’t respond, he says if he doesn’t get any answers he’ll have to use “this thing”, meaning his gun. The aliens’ response is to put their fingers to their own heads in unison, which causes Shad to start pointing his own gun at his own skull. Shad relents and the aliens do the same. One of them finally talks and explains that they read Shad’s mind and they realize he’s putting together a team and they want in. “We are Nestor,” the alien explains, and it turns out they’re a communal intelligence with hundreds of thousands of them all across the galaxy. And it takes four of them to run the ship. So why is there a fifth? They always carry a spare. Heh. Talking Nestor is played by veteran actor Earl Boen, who in recent years has turned to voice acting. You’d probably know him best as poor put-upon psychiatrist Dr. Earl Boen of the Terminator movies. Nestor says its biggest worry is becoming bored to death.
Meanwhile back at Akir, the two space orcs left behind to guard the planet do some creepy peeking in on a wedding.
One orc is lusting after the females, and talks the other orc into crashing the wedding. He swoops in and snatches one of the women, and damn, this movie went from campy to creepy in like five seconds.
Back with Shad and Nell, they reach a stormy planet. Nell explains in the “old days”, Neskosta was one of the wildest cities in the Smileax system, so they’re sure to find some badass roughnecks here to recruit. Shad’s not impressed with the planet, and explains the city is under the planet’s storm-swept surface. They fly in and Shad lands, dons a helmet and gloves, and heads out, where he soon finds a manhole. He opens it and finds himself in a deserted, cobwebbed up bar of some sort. His arrival triggers space-jazzy music and he starts throwing random switches. He turns on a “dial-a-drug” machine that ejects a pill, which he almost tries but wisely decides against. I was half-expecting Corman to liberally borrow from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas here. The book, I mean, not the movie. Having Shad wig out on some alien hallucinogens at this point would certainly make for a jarring left turn plot-wise. Shad finds another machine that seems to allow you to dial-a-date. Our naïve farm boy starts pressing buttons until he finds a girl he likes, and then a wall opens up.
So she’s either a sexbot, or a zombie. Shad backs off before he finds out which, and he almost walks right into laser fire. He freezes because he knows those were warning shots and he has no idea who shot at him. He slowly turns, and sees…
…Robert Vaughn, in the flesh. I have to say the guy had an interesting career. While he’s known for big movies like The Magnificent Seven and Bullitt, arguably he’s far better known for his prolific TV work such as The Protectors and The Man From UNCLE, among a great many other series. He asks Shad who sent him and the young farm boy makes his pitch, saying he heard there were a lot of guys on Neskosta that might be up for mercenary work. Vaughn says Shad’s a little late, and that there’s only him and the “lower forms”. So… Star Trek: Discovery fans? Vaughn explains that the other planets in the galaxy formed a “protective association”, raised an army, and cleaned them out. Vaughn further explains he’s got bounties on his head from all over, and he’s probably got death sentences in twelve systems, too. The reason? Vaughn settles disputes, usually by taking out one of the disputees. He’s got no family, no home, no scruples, and no place else to go. He lets Shad make his pitch and the kid admits all he can offer is a warm meal and a place to sleep. For the wealthiest killer in space, who can’t spend a dime of his loot anywhere without getting shot, who sleeps with one eye open and eats snakes seven days a week, Shad’s offer sounds pretty good. Which means Vaughn’s pretty much playing the same character he did in The Magnificent Seven. You gotta wonder if he asked if he could play the Yul Brenner or Steve McQueen roles in this one.
Shad leaves and asks Nell what she thinks of the guy. Nell says he’ll fight, but he’ll fight alone. But before they can talk more, an alarm goes off. There’s a tiny ship and it’s zipping all around them. Shad tries to draw a bead on it but it’s too quick, and in almost no time at all the other ship fires a “blank”, meaning no damage. The other ship calls them, and it’s…
…ah, Sybil Danning, the very definition of a B-movie actress. A woman never afraid to bare all, she would later appear in The Seven Magnificent Gladiators with Lou Ferrigno. So, Vaughn wasn’t the only guy to appear in two Seven Samurai-esque movies. She calls Shad and says she “counted coup” upon him and she’s offering up her services for the fight ahead. Among her people, the young head out to prove themselves in battle, so she, uh, needs a battle to prove herself. So… how are people like Saint-Exmin of the Valkyrie here and Nestor hearing about Shad’s hero hunt? Nell says Shad put out a call, but they never showed it. Would it actually have been more interesting if Cowboy or Hephaestus, concerned for his daughter’s safety, sent word out to people they knew? It’s irksome and you might think that with this being a low budget Roger Corman film I shouldn’t let it bother me, but up until now the movie’s been pretty competently written.
Shad finds Saint-Exmin’s offer pretty much worthless and gives her the brush off, pointing out her ship is really tiny and she wouldn’t be of much use. Saint-Exmin insists she’s hella fast but Shad’s not impressed and signs off. Nell says Shad was a little harsh and he points out the woman had been playing with him. Nell counters that yeah, it’s true, and Saint-Exmin won.
One by one, the allies gather. Shad, Space Cowboy, Nester, and Vaughn (who identifies himself as Gelt) are joined by Nanelia and Cayman. And as they make their way back to Akir, Saint-Exmin’s vessel stalks them, not far behind.
Next time: Our heroes reach Akir, and the showdown with Sador ramps up.