Aug 17, 2021
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a recap (part 4 of 6)
Last time: Shad and Nan found new recruits: an assassin for hire, a collective consciousness that was bored, and a reptilian space whaler with a grudge. Oh, and Sybil Danning. Speaking of which…
Gelt (Robert Vaughn, in case you forgot his character’s name) notices that they’re being followed. It seems St. Exmin hasn’t given up on joining the team. Gelt tells Shad about their shadow and the farm boy says to ignore her and hopefully she’ll go away. Damn, Shad sounds like a boy who got his Asteroids high score smoked by some girl. She beat you, Shad; get over it. By the way, I love how Space Cowboy keeps telling people he’s from Earth and asking if anyone’s heard of it; it kind of implies the planet’s some jerkwater town. It does make me wonder, though, what races are Gelt, Nan, and Shad supposed to be. Are they human? Has humanity been in space so long almost nobody remembers Earth is the birthplace of mankind? Were humans already on other worlds? Do these questions matter in a Roger Corman film? Anyway, mercy sakes, the gang’s got themselves a convoy, and they make their way to Akir.
Meanwhile, the space orcs watching the planet are busy being total bastards to their abducted woman. I really wish Corman could have been talked out of this scene. We already know the bad guys aren’t above randomly shooting people and turning planets into miniature stars; did we really need to add rape to what was, up until now, a more or less pulp-style space adventure? I’d have to re-watch Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, but I’m almost positive neither film got so… seedy.
While one of the orcs is having his way with the woman, the other is at his station and he counts seven ships approaching. He calls to his friend who shows up fully dressed, so I guess that implies he hadn’t raped the woman yet, so, um… yay? The two wonder what they should do and one suggests they run away, while the other says that’s a good idea. The exchange is played for laughs, which is really at odds with what was going on in the back of the ship. The orc ship tears off, but not to worry, because Gelt’s on the case.
I realize a flying wedge might not exactly sound like an exciting ship concept, but hey, it worked for the Cylons. I do love the design, because everyone else seem to be driving space trucks or vans and Gelt’s vessel is like a Ferrari in comparison. I also love the sound effect they use for Gelt’s ship; while the other vessels have a rumbling sound, Gelt’s has this menacing humming that fits perfectly with the predatory nature of his ride.
Gelt tears off after the fleeing orc ship which has the pedal to the metal, but our resident assassin has got more star ponies under his hood and he’s closing the gap. The orcs are panicking and that’s when their victim comes staggering up from the back of the ship and attacks their controls. The pair struggle with her and by then it’s all over, because Gelt targets and blows them out of space. Space Cowboy murmurs his admiration while Shad gets his first sign the bad guys can be hurt, which gives him hope. The gang land on Akir and Shad leads them into the city square, which is deserted.
Cayman, who brought along his crew, says ironically, “Hail the conquering heroes!” Up until now, Roger Corman’s borrowed the general plot of the Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven but has done a credible job of adding his own spin to things. Oh sure, Vaughn’s recruitment is reminiscent of his scene from Magnificent Seven, but Gelt is a different animal than Lee, in that the latter was a man who had seen too much killing and has lost his nerve, and the former is a paranoid, almost soulless killer. Hell, they even keep in the fact that he’s the last guy to enter the town square. But the frightened villagers? Right out of both earlier films. It feels a touch forced here, especially since it appears no one brings up the abduction, which is a very good reason why people would be so scared. Heck, Shad even asks them why they’re hiding, so it’s a perfect time to bring up the abduction. Imagine the gang realizing they just inadvertently killed a hostage. How does Gelt react to that? Or Cowboy, who just a few minutes ago murmured how great it was to watch Gelt in action? How does Shad respond? But no, the scene plays out with Shad chastising the hiding citizenry, then Zed coming out, then some random woman, and then the whole village appears and cheers the gang. It’s just a great deal of wasted potential.
Later, Nanelia mounts her not-so-little black box into a big white computer console. She says the warning system is complete and no Malmori will be able to get within a “rotation and a half” without getting spotted. “Rotation and a half” sounds like a unit of time rather than measurement, which is about as confusing as Han Solo talking about the Kessel Run being done in under twelve parsecs. Hell, just stay two “stellar units” or something; it’s both cool sounding and ambiguous. Man, I’m suddenly super picky tonight. I guess the first half of the film just felt a bit more solid, script-wise.
Nanelia breaks down the plan: they’ve got five fighting ships to the Malmori’s twenty-five. How do they know how many—you know what? Screw it, I’m done nitpicking right now. There’s a five to one disparity, and a woman who’s the equivalent to a nerd having never left her basement is telling them stage one of the plan, which is to strip the hammerhead ship of its fighter cover. Later, Nanelia and Cowboy work with the locals on ground defenses.
One is playing what looks and sounds like a space xylophone, which is controlling the sensor crystal that previously alerted the planet to Sador’s arrival… five minutes before he showed. They’re able to use the crystal’s harmonics to dig trenches, and create kill boxes for the space orcs. Space Cowboy tells the woman in charge the whole procedure is pretty impressive, but he’s got some surprises of his own. He then pours himself a scotch and soda from a dispenser on his hip.
Elsewhere, St. Exim talks about what she could do with “that boy”, meaning Shad. After a few saucy sci-fi double entendres, she says, “You know, sex.” Yeah, Roger, we get it. It turns out St. Exim’s talking to Nanelia, who finds the Valkyrie’s openness about the subject funny, and says she can’t imagine what sex is like. St. Exim tells Nanelia to stick with her and she’ll “get an education”. And all at once I’m wondering if there’s an unrated director’s cut of this film out there.
Cut to Sador, and our villain is trying to raise the ship he left behind to guard Akir. Sadly for him, he has no Uhura to make his calls, so he has to do it himself. When he gets no answer, Sador wonders if they’re out of range. He laments that his mutants are all pretty moronic, but his head mutant suggests the rearguard ship might have been shot down. Sador points out Akir has no ships, so the guy comes up with the idea that somebody came to help. Yeah, I’m thinking it’s not a matter of stupidity; Sador just doesn’t encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Sador says, “Nobody could be that stupid.” Yeah, I think this is what military historians call the Victory Disease. As an aside, there’s something I’ve been wondering about, and that something is Sador’s arm.
It’s been in a sling all this time. Is this a cultural thing, like Napoleon sticking his hand in his jacket? Did Saxon break his arm in real life and they decided to roll with it? Hmm.
Back at Akir, inside Nell—and man does that sound dirty—Shad and Nanelia are hanging out in the cockpit… and that sounds even dirtier. Nan asks Shad if she could show her the ropes, and he has no clue what that means. Nanelia then explains she was talking to St. Exim and she now wants to know about sex. With a male. Well, Shad’s a farm boy; I’m sure he knows all about animal husbandry. Shad starts out by talking about “a man and a woman”, but then Nanelia says that on Bilantia they have three sexes. So wouldn’t that be Trilantia?
Shad assures her that Akira is a binary planet in that regard, then she asks if they do a thing called “kissing”, and right away we’re in that old familiar sci-fi trope of the alien wanting to know what love is. Nanelia all but tells Shad “I want you to show me”, and if you got that musical reference, congratulations: you’re at least middle-aged and think modern music’s too loud. The pair kiss…
…and then Nanelia points out that Shad’s “torque bar” has slipped its groove. Yes, no doubt. Oh, but she’s talking about a part on the ship! Shad smiles nervously and proceeds to get back to work. Oddly enough, Nell is quiet during this entire scene. Elsewhere, we hear the sounds of a harmonica. Gee, he said with faux perplexity, I wonder who might be playing this archaic Earth musical instrument? We find out it’s Cowboy and he’s entertaining the locals, plus Cayman and his crew in the trenches.
Wait, who is the woman in black? Oh, it’s Sybil Danning, having dressed down a bit. Honestly, I’m digging this look a hell of a lot more than her silver number; here she looks like some space buccaneer. Oh, and I like how they’re using the Superman: The Movie Jor-El effect on the thermal speaking aliens’ outfits to make them glow like that. Cayman’s really diggin’ the tunes, which, considering the cowboy actor under the makeup, is no surprise. Nestor #1 asks what’s cooking on the fire, and Cowboy explains it’s a hotdog from… wait for it… Earth! Yes, I get it: Cowboy is from Earth. You know what would be funny is if he really wasn’t and was some sort of Earth fanboy, like a nerdy American Otaku at an anime convention. Cowboy lets Nestor have a go at one of the hotdogs, and Nestor #2 eats it while the others’ mouths move in unison, with all of them savoring what’s called “meat” via the loosest of definitions.
Meanwhile, a couple of kids tempt fate by approaching Gelt…
…and I can’t tell if Robert Vaughn is acting or is just regretting his life choices. The kids ask him if he’s a bad man, and Vaughn says he is. The girl asks Gelt how he feels, and he tells her he doesn’t. The kids then ask if Gelt was bad when he was little. Gelt says he was never that little. An uncharitable person might accuse Vaughn of sleepwalking through this part, but I think this is just his preferred style of acting. Fortunately for the kids, the crystal alarm goes off before Gelt can tell them any stories about the horror show that was his youth.
Shad dashes out and tells the gang it’s on, and some go rushing off to their ships while Cowboy wishes Shad luck. Gelt—bringing up the rear again—stares at the night sky and looks…apprehensive. Maybe Vaughn forgot his line here and felt embarrassed and they left it in. Cowboy catches up to one of the women and suggests they hightail it out of here and back to Earth, but she tells him Sador would see them take off and shoot them out of the air. Cowboy decides it’s time for a whiskey straight up, and says, “Remember the Alamo!” Of course.
Up in space, Sador’s people spot a small ship approaching: it’s St. Exim, who tells them to back off, because she’s the planet’s protector. Sador orders his men to blow her out of the sky and to prepare ground troops. He looks quite annoyed, probably because his bearded subordinate was totally right and now he looks all kinds of dumb. Sador’s fighters launch, and the battle for Akir is on.
Next time: Our heroes go toe-to-toe with Sador’s forces.