Star Wars — specifically, A New Hope — is one of the most important movies ever made. But is a parody version actually superior?
Spaceballs is a 1987 science fiction parody created by Mel Brooks. It stars Brooks, Rick Moranis, John Candy, and Bill Pullman and is a satirical look at science fiction movies, specifically Star Wars.
And as much as a fan I am of Star Wars, I have to say that Spaceballs possibly surpasses it. Keep in mind I’m referring to episode IV A New Hope and not The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Those are obviously untouchable movies.
But when it comes to the prequels, and some of the latest offerings we’ve got, Spaceballs blows them all away — and here’s why.
Some Spaceballs Fun Facts:
- The movie did ok in theatres bringing in $38.1 million and opened at #2 behind Dragnet
- John Hurt would reprise his role of Gilbert Kane from Alien but thought he was just doing a quick appearance and not recreating the death scene
- Spaceballs was shot on the same set as The Wizard of Oz and in an article in the LA Times from 1986, the crew would often find pieces of the Yellow Brick Road when wandering around.
- Pizza The Hut was voiced by Dom DeLuise, but the guy who wore the suit refused to come back when reshoots were needed
- The movie found a massive audience on home video, which is where I would first discover it
OK, so we’re up to speed with the movie, now let’s look at why Spaceballs is better than Star Wars.
The Special Effects Are Better Than a New Hope
This is because of a few different reasons. The first one is that the technology had advanced quite a bit since the end of the original trilogy.
Spaceballs had a pretty large budget for a comedy film at $22.7 million. It, in fact, was the most expensive movie made in all of 1986.
This was because Brooks wanted to make this a true parody of space films, but keeping the integrity of the special effects that made them so great.
Brooks always said that you “have to love what you spoof” and that means staying as true to the original as possible. He accomplished this with movies like Blazing Saddles of the Western-style tropes, and also Young Frankenstein.
To do Spaceballs the right way, it needed to look the part, and that meant getting the special effects up to snuff.
Spaceballs looks so good because they actually used Industrial Light & Magic to create the special effects shots. And as a kid, I always thought that the ships in Spaceballs looked like they were right out of Star Wars — that’s because they were.
The models used to create the Spaceballs ships were created by another Star Wars alum, Grant McCune. McCune made the spaceship models for all the Star Wars movies and even some Star Trek ones.
He also helped to design Bruce from Jaws.
Star Wars is Just as Cartoony as Spaceballs
Let’s make this clear: I love A New Hope. We don’t have time to get into how important it is as a film, but you already know all the reasons why.
The big thing to remember is that Lucas made the original Star Wars with a younger audience in mind — and it’s very apparent when you watch it.
I’m not sure when the last time it was that you watched A New Hope, but when you look back at it as an adult, there’s a bit of a unique experience with it.
The foremost thing that draws you in is the nostalgia factor and the memories it gives you of being a kid and being blown away by this “space opera.”
But it doesn’t always hold up as well today. Sometimes you feel like you’re watching a student film. The acting is not exactly epic in it and a lot of the dialogue comes across as extremely corny and often eye-rolling.
The Demands of George Lucas
Lucas is noted as wanting his actors to rush through the dialogue and not as concerned with their performances as his attention was more on the action, sets, and special effects.
Lucas is also noted as always using the direction “faster and more intense” with the line readings during A New Hope.
This gives it that cartoon-likeness to it, and with Spaceballs, there is nothing that’s hiding the fact that it itself is basically a live-action cartoon.
The thing that makes Star Wars as a franchise grow is the movement away from the original into The Empire Strikes Back.
They didn’t do a rehash with the second film, and it took a darker and more mature tone — and it’s what really helps cement the trilogy.
If they had made three movies that all had the same tone and structure as the first one, it’s hard to tell if they would have had the impact they did.
George Lucas Was Just as Involved With Spaceballs as He Was With Star Wars
When Brooks was first getting Spaceballs off the ground, he actually had to get permission from George Lucas.
Spaceballs is a parody of all space movies, but primarily Star Wars, so they had to get Lucas to sign off on the idea.
Lucas was ok with it but had a few qualms. The big thing is that he didn’t want any merchandise from Spaceballs released to the public.
We’ll get to some of that specific plot that was based on the move in a bit, but for Star Wars, the merchandise was really their bread and butter.
For every dollar that a Star Wars movie has made over the last forty years, they have made $2 in merchandise.
So with that out of the way, Lucasfilm would not only help create the special effects via Industrial Light & Magic, but they also helped with the post-production of the film.
Lucas might have been more involved in the movie, but he was working on his own little “funny” movie at the time called Howard The Duck.
But If you ever wondered what Lucas had thought of the movie that was essentially mocking his creation — he apparently loved it.
He might not if they were to make a parody of all the other movies today…
The Amazing Intertextuality of Spaceballs
Spaceballs is another early example of a movie doing things like being self-referential and breaking the fourth wall.
The idea with it is they are a part of the movie, but observing it all the same way the audience is. One of the best examples is when Helmet and Sandurz are watching the tape, trying to track down the princess.
Another grand part reflecting the self-awareness is the Yogurt merchandising scene.
Knowing that they weren’t allowed to put out any products — as they would appear too similar to Star Wars — the scene reflects this with the Spaceballs brand being put onto everything.
It’s mocking the approach taken by all big movie studios and their shameless attempt to slap a logo on something as mundane as toilet paper.
Mainly, however, it’s referring to the real-life situation that involved Brooks having to avoid any merchandizing to make George Lucas happy.
The thing is, Lucas should have allowed them and taken a big cut of the profits as Spaceballs merchandise would have been a sure winner.
Also originally connecting the movie to its own self-awareness was the original title. Brooks wanted to go with “Planet Moron” for the film, knowing that everything about it was a parody and farce.
He couldn’t lock down this title however as a movie called “Morons from OuterSpace” had just been released. Brooks did realize it was important to put the word ‘Space’ in the title, so audiences knew what they were getting.
Spaceballs, of course, brings awareness to the fact that they make most movies with the intention of a sequel.
Their version of this they mention would be called “Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money.”
This is a brilliant title as it refers to the desires of the characters in the movie — specifically Lone Starr — but also the true intent of every Hollywood movie studio in the pursuit of more profits.
But a sequel to the original had bounced around quite a bit. Rick Moranis would be the one that showed some interest in getting a possible sequel up and running.
In an interview with Heeb Magazine, Moranis said that his idea was to call it “Spaceballs III: The Search For Spaceballs II.”
Mel Brooks wasn’t totally on board with it for some reason, even though he and Moranis met to try to structure the movie.
His passing on it may be because he hadn’t done a sequel before. With Spaceballs, the massive audience it found after its release would have lent itself well to another go-around.
A New Star Wars
When The Force Awakens came out in 2015, Brooks thought the renewed interest in all things Star Wars might show a Spaceballs sequel could now work.
This time he wanted to go with his original title; Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money. Obviously, nothing came of this and it might have been because Rick Moranis all but retired from acting.
There was the animated series that came out in 2008. I knew of this, but I’ve seen none of it. It lasted just one season with 13 episodes, even though Brooks, Zuniga, and Joan Rivers lent their voices to it.
So I guess we can’t complain as a follow-up — of sorts — exists.
There’s even the Spaceballs book written by the author of Goosebumps if you’re indeed dying for more Spaceballs content.
Wrapping it Up
It’s probably clear that I love Spaceballs. I had a taped copy off of TV that had a lot of censored parts I didn’t even know were censored until getting a VHS copy.
As I said, I probably watched this movie at least once a week for years. I know every line and could probably recite the movie backward.
I feel that — age-wise — I was right in the wheelhouse for a movie of this sort. I’m obviously not alone as it resonated with so many people too.
To me, I think it’s the work of the great Rick Moranis that makes this movie connect with me and others so well. He and I are both Canadian, so that may have something to do with it…
May the Schwartz be with all of us.