We’re not sure if you’re aware, but the release of George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977 was a pretty big deal. In fact, you really can divide the history of filmmaking into a “before Star Wars” category and an “after Star Wars” one, in terms of technique, promotion, and the operations of the global movie industry. The majesty of Star Wars’ special effects combined with the simple cinematic nature of its story spoke to the souls of viewers everywhere as loud as the unprecedented financial success of the Star Wars property spoke to studio executives, who suddenly appreciated the moneymaking potential of films like never before.
It should come as no surprise then to learn that the culture of Star Wars‘ success led to countless numbers of Star Wars rip-offs. To be clear, we’re not calling every movie with spaceships, blasters, and handsome rogues a Star Wars rip-off. No, this classification is reserved for a special breed of movies that feature stories, characters, effects, and designs that are essentially pulled straight from one of the most popular movies of all-time. These flattering films are such a clear imitation of Star Wars that you almost have to appreciate what they have to offer in terms of that distinction. There’s an art to making a proper rip-off, and these movies are masterpieces of the form.
These are the 15 Most Shameless Star Wars Rip-Offs Of All Time.
15. H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things To Come
H.G. Wells‘1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come is a thoughtful meditation on the possible future of humanity based on the on the dreams of a history professor. It tells a complex tale that revolves around the repercussions of a few simple decisions. Some of the predictions outlined in that book — such as a second world war — even turned out to be true. A film adaptation of that book done with respect could have been an incredible piece of entertainment. Instead, we got this.
Despite using both the name of the original novel and the name of the author in its title, H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come has nothing to do with the book. So far as anyone can tell, a Canadian production company simply secured the rights to the book so that their Star Wars cash-in could be attached to a somewhat familiar name. The movie itself is incredibly thin on plot and heavy on bad special effects, complete with low-budget robot designs that are as close to those seen in Star Wars as the production team could legally make them.
14. Masters of the Universe
While the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated series wasn’t exactly a complex masterpiece full of subtleties and smart characterization, it was a consistently entertaining spectacle that boasted a pretty bountiful mythology. Unfortunately for young He-Man fans everywhere, the producers of Masters of the Universe decided to ignore pretty much all of that mythology in favor of capitalizing on the success of Star Wars.
The fact that Masters of the Universe drops the very relevant He-Man part of the show’s title really tells you everything you need to know regarding the film’s true purpose. Someone got the bright idea to take a He-Man property that was popular in its own right and try to turn it into a modified take on the galaxy far, far away. While Skeletor’s Emperor Palpatine makeover and the stormtrooper-esque units he commands are the most obvious nods to Star Wars, the whole movie is drenched with not-so-subtle references to another franchise, thereby robbing the movie of the mythical fantasy elements it could have benefited from.
13. The Last Starfighter
In a way, it feels wrong to call The Last Starfighter a Star Wars rip-off. If anything, the movie capitalizes more on the golden age of arcade gaming by telling the story of a young man named Alex Rogan who finds out that his favorite arcade game might not be as fictional as he previously thought. Once Rogan actually starts exploring the very real world his favorite game is based on, though, things take a bit of a turn.
The Last Starfighter’s plot is largely devoid of any unforgivable Star Wars parallels, but the design of the film is an entirely different story. The film’s producers got artist Rob Cobb, who had previously worked on Star Wars, to design the movie’s ships, and Cobb’s previous work certainly shines through in the final product. They also spent a large sum of money on the film’s special effects and soundtrack, which both sadly fail to eclipse the brilliance of Star Wars, even though they will certainly remind you of that film franchise.
Imagine that you’ve seen Star Wars in theaters multiple times and declared it to be your favorite movie. Now, imagine that Star Wars has just been taken out of theaters and will not be available for the foreseeable future, as the home video market of the late ’70s is not quite prepared to deliver such a thing yet. Devastated, you turn to your local theater in search of any sci-fi film that can feed your need. This is roughly how films like Laserblast came to exist.
Laserblast tried to combine elements of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind into a sci-fi/horror/revenge film about a man and his laser cannon. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, that’s because it is. The final film is a creatively bankrupt adventure that either “subtlety” rips-off Star Wars by copying its ship designs and elements of its plot, or just straight-up references the movie by having a character destroy a giant Star Wars billboard. It’s rightfully remembered as one of the worst movies ever made.
11. Hawk The Slayer
Not every Star Wars rip-off was a sci-fi film. Hawk the Slayer is a sword and sorcery adventure movie that follows a man named Hawk who comes into possession of a magic sword and must use it to defeat an evil tyrant named Voltan. To be honest, if Hawk the Slayer was released in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, it might be remembered as a fairly innocent and slightly amusing fantasy tale. Because Hawk the Slayer was released in 1980, however, it’s almost impossible to get past its many Star Wars similarities.
While things like evil lords, chosen heroes, and magic swords are not the sole property of Star Wars, the way that everything is presented in Hawk the Slayer will leave you feeling like someone owes George Lucas a royalty check. From the “half a Vader helmet” design of the evil dictator to the film’s poster, which borders on parody, Hawk the Slayer is an unabashed attempt to capture the attention of Star Wars fans everywhere.
During a much simpler era of filmmaking, all you really needed to secure funding for your movie idea was to convince a really attractive semi-famous woman to play the lead. For instance, the creators of Galaxina might have crafted a half-hearted story about an interstellar police ship that becomes involved in the pursuit of a powerful crystal, but because 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten agreed to star in the movie, they were given the greenlight to begin filming.
In defense of Galaxina, it is presented as more of a parody of Star Trek and Star Wars than a movie that is trying to get away with straight-up copying those movies. However, the film is so poorly executed that you would never know it is a parody unless someone informed you beforehand. Otherwise, this highly sexualized take on Star Wars will likely just leave you feeling like you’ve watched a 13-year-old’s most shameful fantasy play out before your eyes
9. Battlestar Galactica (Original Series)
We cannot emphasize enough that this entrant is in reference to the original 1978 series Battlestar Galactica and does not extend to the 2004 re-imagining. For those who never saw the original series, the basic premise is very similar to the 2004 version. Just as in that great show, this version features a group of ragtag survivors who must outrun a pursuing Cylon army that is trying to destroy what remains of the human race. However, the original series lacks the subtlety and political intrigue of the reboot. Because of this, the Star Wars similarities are that much more apparent.
In fact, Universal Studios was sued by 20th Century Fox, who claimed that Battlestar Galactica had stolen precisely 34 ideas from Star Wars. While many of these ideas are fairly generic – such as an imprisoned heroine and destroyed planets – when you add all of them together, the resulting show really does begin to feel like an uncomfortable re-purposing of the Star Wars story. The show was eventually canceled due to erratic ratings and its large budget, but the lawsuits were certainly the final nail in the coffin.
8. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
You know, not every Star Wars rip-off is inherently bad. While the vast majority of movies that copied George Lucas’ highly-lucrative creation were just trying to get their piece of the Star Wars profit pie, some of them were enjoyable in their own right. (Like the 13th entry on our list, for instance.) Rest assured, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is not one of those movies. It is, in fact, one of the most shameless Star Wars cash-ins of its era.
Spacehunter was released on May 20, 1983. The reason that release date is so significant is because Return of the Jedi was released on May 25, 1983. Yes, the producers of Spacehunter felt that Star Wars fans would flock to their movie just because they wouldn’t be able to wait those extra five days. In order to please that particular market, they loaded the film with numerous Star Wars references, including the exact same sound effects used for R2-D2. But hey, at least Spacehunter was presented in (very poorly done) 3D.
7. Battle Beyond the Stars
In some ways, Battle Beyond the Stars is more of a representative for an entire generation of Star Wars knock-offs. Released in 1980, this film became the first of Roger Corman’s many attempts to make his own Star Wars. In retrospect, it proved to be the leak that turned into a flood of similar knock-offs we’d receive during the decade. Of that particular group of films, however, Battle Beyond the Stars may just be the most historically notable.
Battle Beyond the Stars follows the adventures of a farmer who must save his planet from the invading army of an evil tyrant. If that description gets your rip-off sensors tingling, just wait until you see the farmer’s allies, which include a space cowboy, an elderly ancient warrior, a beautiful heroine, and a couple of robots. To Corman’s credit, however, he at least had the good graces to steal characters and elements from The Magnificent Seven as well as Star Wars. He also made the very wise move to hire a young James Cameron to serve as the movie’s art director.
A seemingly common tactic among the creators that churned out the first wave of Star Wars rip-offs was to engineer a checklist of tropes and ensure that their movies only checked just enough of them to remind people of Star Wars without inciting a legal battle. In that respect, director Luigi Cozzi must be commended for managing to check off so many entrants on his Star Wars checklist without inspiring someone to call the lawyers.
In case Star Crash’s opening — which features a group of heroes running away from the evil Count Zarth Arn via escape pods — doesn’t clue you in to what you’re about to experience, the following scenes in which we learn that our heroes must find a way to destroy the secret weapon that Arn’s malicious forces control certainly will. Yet none of that can prepare you for the moment where our hero pulls out his laser sword and swings it around without a hint of irony. To this rip-off’s credit, it features a few decent visual elements that seem to be based on mostly original designs.
5. Starchaser: The Legend of Orin
The remainder of the films on this list are notable for just how little the people behind them cared that they were ripping off Star Wars. Released in 1985, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin was a little behind the times in terms of the peak years of Star Wars rip-offs. Don’t worry, though, because Starchaser had a few promotional aces up its sleeve. Along with being a 3D animated film, Starchaser was also one of the first animated movies to feature a combination of hand-drawn animation and computer animation.
So why isn’t it better remembered for its technical innovations? Well, because the movie itself is a more or less entirely plagiarized. Let’s put aside the movie’s young hero, his magic sword, the evil dictator that opposes him, and the space princess he’s trying to rescue for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that this movie went so far as to steal some of the exact designs and sound samples from Star Wars. Despite all this, the movie itself is surprisingly watchable.
4. Message From Space
As you’ll soon see, there were many foreign film directors that decided to essentially remake George Lucas’ groundbreaking film while altering certain elements in ways that would appeal to their respective home markets. Japan’s most notable Star Wars rip-off, for instance, is a little movie called Message from Space. If you ever look up a full breakdown of this movie’s plot, you might notice that it is shockingly long. That’s because Message From Space is an incredibly convoluted film that was seemingly designed to be complex so that people wouldn’t so easily spot the many Star Wars rip-offs it contains.
That valiant attempt at trickery becomes moot the moment that you see the film’s villain — Emperor Rockseia XXII — wander on screen. This kabuki-take on Darth Vader’s design is admittedly pretty awesome, but it’s a shockingly shameless rip-off nonetheless. From there, the movie’s bizarre attempts to replicate characters and plot points begin to add up so quickly that it becomes almost impossible to appreciate the charming weirdness that fuels the film.
3. Star Odyssey
Anyone who has ever indulged themselves in the world of Italian rip-off cinema will be the first to tell you that Italian schlock directors have a special gift for replicating international hit films in a manner that is so overt that you’re essentially forced to respect them just a little. Such is the case with Star Odyssey.
Thanks to the wonderfully convoluted world of international copyright laws, Italian director Alfonso Brescia did not need to hold back when it came to ripping off Star Wars. Granted, his hero is a little more roguish – he’s essentially a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo – and there’s no real Death Star equivalent to be found in its simple little plot, but those are the only flaws in its rip-off game. It’s hard to say whether the movie’s poorly animated lightsaber clone or strange caveman version of C-3PO is the worst copyright offender, but honestly, it’s all pretty embarrassing.
2. The Bunglers in The Planet Wars
If you’re wondering why anyone would name their Star Wars rip-off so strangely when there are so many good names out there similar to Star Wars, the answer, in this case, is actually pretty simple. The Bunglers were a Brazilian comedy group that are comparable to the Three Stooges. Along with physical comedy spots, they primarily relied on parodies in order to make their audiences laugh. While this movie is essentially their Abbot and Costello-style take on Star Wars, the fact that it was made without the permission of Fox or George Lucas makes it a particularly blatant rip-off.
Here, there are almost no attempts at re-imagining certain Star Wars trademarks. This movie’s version of Darth Vader looks exactly like Darth Vader, and its Luke Skywalker is dressed exactly like Luke Skywalker. The only real difference between the two properties is that The Planet Wars features a bizarre influx of Brazilian humor so strong that fans have taken to simply calling it Brazilian Star Wars.
1. The Man Who Saved The World (AKA Turkish Star Wars)
Forget Japanese Star Wars, Italian Star Wars, and yes, even Brazilian Star Wars. If you are looking for the number one, undisputed, absolute worst Star Wars rip-off that was ever committed to film, you must travel to Turkey and find a copy of a little movie called The Man Who Saved the World.
Where do we even start on this one? Well, first off, nobody is quite sure where this film was initially distributed. It seems possible that it was released in a few cheap theaters, but nobody has ever been able to say for sure how the film’s initial audience got to see it. Thanks to the internet, however, a new generation of film fans have been able to bask in its kung-fu, mascot costume-abusing, copyright-dodging glory. Forget the various plot points and character designs that this movie steals without shame. What really matters is that this is the only known Star Wars rip-off in existence that goes so far as to steal footage directly from Star Wars. Then again, considering how poorly produced the movie’s “original” elements are, it’s kind of a shame they didn’t just steal the entire Star Wars movie and run it instead.
What other Star Wars knockoffs are you aware of? Can any of them hold a candle to George Lucas’ masterpiece? Let us know in the comments.