Sep 14, 2020
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), a recap (part 5 of 6)
Last time: Sador’s sentries upon Akir they preyed and were themselves waylaid. Our heroes prepared for Sador’s raid by constructing moat and stockade, all the while a harmonica was played. Then St. Exim at Sador threw shade! But was her solo attack a masquerade?
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So, I’m looking at this scene with Sybil Danning as she calls Sador…
…and I can’t help but wonder if Sybil’s trying to look nervous (which to her credit, she does), or if the director told her to breathe harder for “dramatic effect”. Either way, I’m not complaining. According to Richard Thomas, the wardrobe department had to resort to tape to keep Sybil Danning’s outfit in place. No doubt. St. Exim is chased by Sador’s fighters while other ships are directed to start the ground assault. Exim goes toe-to-toe with the pair but neither side hit. The pilot in Sador’s fighter is wearing a helmet…
…which I presume was to cut down on the time and cost to apply make-up. He’s mashing buttons like he’s jamming on an old school synthesizer, and honestly it doesn’t look all that dramatic. Yes, I know, when you’re flying a fighter jet and you launch missiles or fire a cannon, you’re pretty much doing the same thing, but here he just looks like he’s working on Peter Gabriel’s next solo album. Heck, at least St. Exim’s buttons glow.
Lots of laser fire is traded between St. Exim and the two ships, but neither side can draw a bead on the other, which considering everyone’s comparative speed feels almost realistic. As the dogfight rages, we cut to Sador, who looks on pensively. I have to hand it to John Saxon; he has a face made for pensive and annoyed expressions, which makes him the perfect guy to play cops and dads, or in some cases both. St. Exim is now in full retreat and flies over Akir’s horizon with Sador’s fighters in hot pursuit. But once they’re out of sight, there’s an explosion and one of Sador’s fighters has done a 180, with Gelt and Shad/Nell now pursuing. Nell tells Shad the second one’s theirs, implying Gelt got the first one. Shad runs the other one down, and is able to blow his target out of existence.
Meanwhile, Cayman’s on the hunt.
His ship isn’t suited for dogfighting, so he goes after Sador’s hammer-headed vessel directly, which considering his unmitigated obsession makes perfect sense. He opens up with a volley from one gun, but Sador’s shields hold. Then he fires with what look like laser machine guns while Sador returns fire, but as the two pass, neither one is damaged, much to Cayman’s frustration. Though, all of what I just described is a little bit of guesswork because neither ship is actually seen on screen at the same time and the scene ends with the back of Cayman’s ship and his frustrated slapping of his controls to imply all of this.
Nestor’s ship is flying through space and we cut to the control room, which I really dig because of its alien minimalism, then… Okay, we cut back to Gelt? Is Nestor’s ship just super-slow or something, and hasn’t gotten in position yet? Gelt looks to be making an attack run on Sador’s ship now…
…and something I really dig here is how there are these design elements reminiscent of what you see in Nell’s cockpit. The control yoke is similar and he has a nodule overhead not unlike Nell’s speaking globe. It’s like Gelt is flying a ship from the same company, albeit a much later model. Oh, and fun fact: the word “gelt” is old Yiddish and means “money”. I can’t help but wonder if Roger Corman was just having fun here.
Sador’s response is to launch three more fighters to deal with this threat, which to me implies that Gelt’s moving too fast to be hit by Sador’s ship-mounted weaponry. Again, I’m guessing but the fact that Sador is launching fighters and not shooting says something. Where St. Exim fired a load of shots and missed, Gelt is more lethal, choosing his shots and blowing away the first two fighters with ease. The third closes in, and Gelt plays a deadly game of space chicken and prevails. Meanwhile, Sador launches nuclear missiles and one locks onto Nell. She explains to Shad that there’s no way to knock it out, so he decides to use it. He flies up behind Sador’s ship…
…and then jerks Nell upward. The missile flies into one of the six engines, blowing it out.
Back with Gelt, he does a fly-by over the hammerhead ship, firing on it, but a blaster turret catches him from behind. Shad sees the hit and calls Gelt, asking him if he’s okay. Gelt’s response is, “That remains to be seen, Shad. Have a nice fight!” And as smoke stars filling up his cockpit and the white lights that flash behind his head start flashing red, his engines die and he heads for the planet below.
On the surface, Sador’s forces land and deploy. Cowboy gives his greenhorn farmers some last-minute instructions and they wait for the bad guys to show. Said bad guys come running around the corner, apparently expecting little to no resistance, and end up heading face-first into a hail of blaster fire.
The bad guys manage to get some of the Akirans, but they opt to retreat down another stony corridor. But apparently this was all part of the plan, because a slab of stone drops down, blocking half of them and leaving the other half helpless, to be cut down by the farmers turned fighters. A straggler turns the wrong corner and he’s introduced to Cowboy’s knife.
This turns out to be a one-sided conversation and he drops. Mmm, looks like some left over pea soup from The Exorcist! The lead soldier orders a retreat and he calls in the “sonic tank”. That doesn’t sound too good. The tank lets out a frightful wail as Sador’s troops begin an almost sedate pace to keep with the tank, and the result from the weapon is a horrific assault on the ears…
…causing them to bleed. Damn, I miss early ’80s PG movies: you could get away with so much.
Cowboy finds Nanelia and both are clutching their own ears as the former wonders what the hell that thing is. Nanelia tells him it’s some sort of sonic weapon. Well, yeah, duh. Then again, did Cowboy really have to ask? Maybe he was just being rhetorical. He figures maybe they can use the sensor network to cause a rockslide, but it’s a no-go; Sador’s sonic tank is interfering with the sensor, which I have to say is pretty cool, because they established earlier that the device was itself sonic-based. It’s a nice bit of continuity and a nice way for the writers to knock out the Akiras’ wonder weapon. A farmer panics and says they’ll all be killed, and Cowboy looks ready to talk the man down, but Sador’s troops show and blow the guy away. More farmers are shot dead and the good guys have to retreat.
Later on in other tunnels, the dead and wounded lay around and there’s some nice cinematography going on here, with bloodied farmers looking exhausted and defeated. Nanelia tells the gang that the bad guys are wearing shielding to protect themselves from the sonic tank, and not even plugging their ears can do anything to stop it. Cowboy looks a bit dejected and he asks the Kelvins to step back, but Nestor says they’re trying to volunteer. Cowboy wonders what they can do, and Nestor points out they don’t have ears. Fun fact I missed last time when Cowboy was serenading everyone with his harmonica: the Kelvins were standing in the center, as if they were a stand in for a traditional campfire.
Sure enough, the Kelvin lie in wait, hiding until Sador’s troops march past. They then leap in front of the tank, which gets shorted out from their heat.
That’s what you get when you don’t use Prestone in your radiator. A pair of Sador’s troops, suddenly realizing they’ve lost their cover, turn back and walk right into the Kelvin’s heat attack, and end up surrounded by what look like pink fireflies. I guess if you wanted to see them actually melt, you’d have to rank the movie up to rated R.
All of this proves to be too much for the little guys and they collapse, with their flesh cold and all their energies used up. Cowboy and a group of Akirans pick the pair up to take them to the “protein tanks”. Protein tanks? You mean like the bacta tank in Empire Strikes Back? I’m sure that was just a coincidence on Corman’s part (wink-wink). The twins are moved by the farmers and… damn, one of the guys looks like what you’d get if you spliced John Oates with Doug Henning.
He even looks like he helps other people lift up the Kelvins with levitation. With the power of both music and magic on their side, how can the Akira possibly lose? Cowboy rallies the farmers into a counter-attack that sends Sador’s men running. Cayman’s man Quopeg throws his harpoon and impales a pair of soldiers…
…and the look on the leader’s face is priceless, like he’s thinking, “Shit, that coulda been me!”
Zed wanders around through stone corridors. Damn, didn’t somebody leave a person with working eyes to keep track of the blind guy? He stumbled into a befuddled soldier and Zed proves he’s still got it as he beats the man to death. But then a group of soldiers come running by and shoot Zed down, almost as an afterthought. On board Nell, Shad senses something’s wrong with the ship when the lights dim. After a bit, Nell assures him she’s alright, but she’s received a transmission that “Zed the Corsair” has been ended.
It’s a nice touch, with her using her old partner’s nom de guerre from his glory days. Shad sits there, not sure how to process the information. Nell says he was the last of the “great ones”, and combined with how Gelt’s friends got wiped out and Zed being the final member of some legendary group of heroes, it implies that this universe had once been a much wilder and exciting place, and perhaps it was the passing of these legends that allowed the likes of Sador to rise. It kind of makes me wish there had been a novel adaptation. I remember reading the one for Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was a teenager, and it filled in a lot of blanks regarding Indiana Jones’ past.
Shad heads down to the surface and we cut to a makeshift infirmary full of the wounded and dying. St. Exim strides in and brags to Shad about how she tricked a pursuing fighter into crashing into an asteroid, but he’s not impressed and chews her out. St. Exim apologizes, explaining she’s from a warrior race and all she’s looking for is a good fight and a beautiful end. Shad says no violent end is beautiful, but St. Exim only smiles and says, “You’ve never seen a Valkyrie go down.” Damn, I’d have to check, but I’m starting to think half of Sybil Danning’s lines are double entendres.
Shad heads to another chamber, where medics are attending to Gelt…
…and it doesn’t look good. Gelt ruminates on where he’s wound up, here on a minor planet in a third-rate galaxy. He takes his last breath and another legend has died. Shad tells the people to prepare a full course meal and bury it with the man; it was their arrangement, after all.
Meanwhile, what was up with Nestor? I mean, we saw his ship but it didn’t do anything; it just showed up for that one flyby and then was gone for the rest of the fight. As it turns out, while four of them were zipping through space, the fifth one on the ground was captured.
But not to worry; it’s all part of the plan.
Next time: Nestor endures Sador’s hospitality, and we reach the conclusion of our epic tale.