9 scandalous Star Wars clones that made the galaxy cringe

Contributed by
Dec 28, 2016

Star Wars is easily one of the most ripped-off movies in pretty much the entire universe. George Lucas’ iconic space opera triggered a Death Star explosion of Han hopefuls and Wookiee wannabes. While some of these poseur films could pass as unnaturally inspired — think the Darth Vader-izing of Skeletor in Masters of the Universe — others are so blatant in their copy-pasting of Darth, droids and even Han Solo’s space cowboy wardrobe that you can see they’re clones from a galaxy far, far away.

More ironic than a Jedi having Dark Side DNA is that George Lucas has admitted to his magnum opus borrowing more than a few lightsabers from the 1958 Akira Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress. While swords and sticks stood in for glowing weapons in Kurosawa’s black-and-white re-creation of Edo-era Japan, the similarities are so startling that you’re almost tempted to call his captive warrior princess Leia. Think identical scenes that Lucas blasted off into space 20 years later, and a plot eerily echoed by dueling prototypes of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. 

While Lucas also used the Force to borrow from Flash Gordon, Ben-Hur and even organized crime kingpin Jabba the Hutt from Casablanca’s den of iniquities, the imposters that tried desperately to cash in on Lucasfilm’s success are more glaringly obvious than a blaster assault. Put the Millennium Falcon on autopilot and marathon these 9 so-bad-they’re-good Star Wars copycats that will make you wonder how they managed to zoom away in their stolen X-wing starfighters without a lawsuit.

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Message From Space (1978)

Japan’s most expensive movie at the time (half the budget of its intergalactic inspiration) is littered with space junk. Even the title font looks shamelessly copied and pasted down to the 3-D perspective effect. In what sounds like an entry from The Thesaurus of Long, Long Ago and Far, Far Away, Message From Space is set in “a captive planet two million light years away” at a perilous time when a princess from a colony on the verge of extinction escapes to an insanely familiar spacecraft piloted by a ragtag team of rebels. She just wears enormous headphones instead of cinnamon-bun braids. Déjà vu yet? The film is run over by a swarm of cheap monochrome Stormtrooper imitations with Boba Fett helmets and a certain beep-booping droid that suddenly grew legs and antennae. Han Solo’s doppelganger sees things in his whiskey and Darth Vader is a black spray-painted samurai. Oh, and that obvious frozen wasteland is Hoth, no matter how you spell it in Japanese.

So what message is being transmitted to us from space? Probably to not infringe on someone else’s copyright. The one mildly entertaining moment that didn’t happen the exact same way in the real Empire is when the dark samurai lord hurtles into the chasm of darkness, sizzling like a neon action figure after being zapped with electro-pink lightning—at least “Luke” makes sushi out of him.

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Starcrash (1978)

Forget pizza and Prada, because Italy is infamous for spaghetti sci-fi dupes that orbit around reused props and less-than-stellar special effects. An evil count with a weapon of mass destruction that’s no moon scours the universe for his only son. Smugglers try to dodge the intergalactic police force. Hologram messages are the norm in an era advanced enough for space colonies but obviously not smartphones. Let’s see, what rhymes with Zarth?

If the thinly veiled plot doesn’t scream Star Wars at every spacecraft swoop and saber duel, just about every other element of this movie will. The emperor speaking via hologram is Obi-Wan even if he does look more like Santa Claus with serious bling. C-3P0’s head would roll off again if he found out someone manufactured several hundred silver versions of him. The Stormtroopers are only a can of white spray paint away from being any more obvious. At some point the smugglers land in the sands of what must be Tattooine in a parallel universe. So how do you avoid getting slapped with a lawsuit when you realize Count Zarth shooting laser beams from his eyes just isn’t enough to divert attention from all those fake sabers? Randomly throw in a bunch of Neanderthals, an army of Amazons and a disembodied head in a bubble that might be the evil long-lost twin of the Wizard of Oz.

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The Black Hole (1979)

Disney apparently wanted to make a killing off Star Wars years before it actually owned Star Wars, but this attempt to rocket into Tomorrowland didn’t get much further than the ozone layer. Imagineers just weren’t using their imaginations. The only quasi-original element is the creepy robot that tires to use a spidery lobotomizing instrument on Leia’s alternate self, wearing something that can only be described as tinfoil couture, while she is strapped to a gurney. That scene is definitely not G-rated.

Besides one piece of artificial intelligence that clearly belongs in the Haunted Mansion instead of Space Mountain, everything else is just a hologram. Disney must have run out of ideas when they tried to think of how to copy Darth Vader without really copying Darth Vader, so their solution was sticking a sinister crystal ball on an otherwise headless black-robed villain. That scene where the ship’s doctor tears off the mask of a supposed android to expose the catatonic face of a lobotomized crew member? It’s just the Darth reveal scene playing over and over again in another part of space. The Luke character’s blaster is just a cheap water gun that shoots low-powered lasers. So they changed the colors on the droids (oddly enough one of them ended up looking like the oversized ‘80s precursor to BB-8), and another has wings built in, but that isn’t enough to stop that computerized voice in your head from going “Blatant. Ripoff.”

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Star Odyssey (1979)

Notorious low-budget movie director Alfonso Brescia (of that cult sci-fi quartet that includes War of the Planets) must have had a little too much vino to dream up a name that mashes up Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Never mind that the logic in making the Empire seem like it’s totally not the Empire was just to translate the name to Latin and call it Imperium. It only keeps getting sucked deeper into the black hole of mediocrity from there. The acting is robotic. The not-light-sabers are shameless. The droids might as well be walking, talking tinfoil hats. The evil overlord who buys Earth aka Sol 3 is Emperor Palpatine down to his homicidal eyes, Pinhead complexion, and Imperial collar, except without a velvet budget it’s done in the kind of faux leather that looks faux from hundreds of light-years away without a telescope (kind of like everything else in this movie).

Perhaps the biggest fail in Star Odyssey is the character that so desperately tries to be an aluminum C-3P0. His head, which looks like Donald Duck if Donald Duck wore a knight’s helmet, and the strange antenna sprouting from it are hardly a disguise for the recycled robot’s painful attempts at comic relief. R2-D2’s clone is recognizable right away—just in case you didn’t realize this was a Star Wars ripoff by now.

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Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Is that Battle Beyond the Stars or Battle Beyond Star Wars? The title alone smacks of an overconfident venture beyond the stardom of the original—which only goes so far as to run it through a dying copier. Except a few aliens that were apparently modeled after extras at the Mos Eisley Cantina, including something that could pass for a distant relative of Sloth from The Goonies and three-eyed humanoid clones with a creepy shared consciousness that prefers to be called Nestor, this movie doesn’t even try to differentiate itself with silk tracksuits or samurai helmets like some of the others. It’s bombarded with sabers and blasters and laser beams you’ve probably been blinded by in every known Star Wars knockoff, except there seems to have been some hot pink thrown in to change up the aesthetic (end sarcasm). Even the Han Solo Character is called—you can only imagine the eureka moment on this—Space Cowboy.  

It’s hard to believe that future Oscar-winning director and composer James Cameron and James Horner conjured the special effects and the score to back up the thin plot and copy-paste characters, sometimes out of recycled McDonald’s containers (yes, the budget was that low). You almost feel sorry for them. Like the hot dog Nestor dubiously taste-tests, this space monstrosity is made of the same soybean meal, niacin, dextrose and sodium nitrate flavoring.

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Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Wizards? Witchcraft? No ranged energized particle weaponry? Sounds like something in a completely different galaxy from Star Wars—until you see through the magic. Hawk the Slayer just repackages it as fantasy and magicks it through a portal to an enchanted kingdom. Sabers are now swords and blasters a barrage of Elven arrows. Turning Darth into a sorcerer, Luke into his righteous brother whose neon-glowing sword can be summoned with an invisible dupe of the Force, Leia into a nun (Han’s mirror image just stays his rogue self in medieval-ish garb), the droids into an elf and a dwarf and Chewie into a giant is hardly a disguising spell.

If Darth Vader doesn’t immediately flash in your brain cells the first time you glimpse Voltan’s helmet, his telltale black cloaked silhouette or even its shadow, then you have obviously never been exposed to the fandom. He’s so obvious that most people could probably point it out in a semiconscious state. The only difference is that half of it was slashed completely off because they just had to think of some last-minute costume edit. Scary. What’s even scarier is that there was supposed to be a sequel to this hocus pocus, but some mysterious power from beyond kept that from ever coming into being. This is also not the first knockoff space opera with a main character named Hawk.

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The Man Who Saves the World (1982)

There are so many atrocities in the nightmare fodder otherwise known as Turkish Star Wars that you may actually wake up screaming from visions of unidentifiable things in furry red costumes. The Ottoman Empire strikes back by splicing in illegally swiped footage from its inspiration. “Thousands of years passed, and the solar system was replaced with the galaxy system” is an egregious opening that deserves another entry in the Thesaurus of Long, Long Ago and Far Far Away as well as a citation from NASA for making no astronomical sense. Even the title fails a movie trying to dress up as one of the highest-grossing sci-fi film franchises of all time, because Luke Skywalker saved many alien worlds when he blew the Death Star to smithereens.

One simply does not attempt to remake a film of galactic proportions with three ancient cameras and a trunk full of Halloween costumes that could have been obscenely creepy mascots in another life. Those terrifying red fuzzy things can only be even more deranged Ewoks (if that’s even possible) who live on Hoth instead of Endor since they chase alt-Luke through ankle-deep snow. Will his blue tracksuit jacket actually protect him from the claws of those things? Something in a demon mask must be Vader. Or that other thing in the other demon mask. There are too many demonic-looking creatures to even guess. This movie also boasts what is by far the worst counterfeit version of the Millennium Falcon yet, which is basically a paper airplane. Oh, and FYI, droids are not TV-headed things in metallic Teletubby costumes. But it gets worse. Some years ago, there was actually a showing with live sound effects. People were smashing pumpkins and sacrificing cabbages backstage for the sake of a foreign ripoff. The horror.

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Space Raiders (1983)

As Yoda would probably say in one of his backward lectures, changing one thing does not an original movie make. Being ten years old and not tall enough to ride most roller coasters will only make it easier for anti-Padawan Peter to crawl into the Death Star and disconnect the right things, which he inevitably does. Pirate captain Hawk might as well have raided Han Solo’s closet while he was out pillaging and plundering the universe. If you’re going to steal the Star Wars plot down to the last particle of moon dust, the least you can do is mutate the costumes to the point of being another species altogether. The title text is copy-pasted from yet another Harrison Ford movie: Indiana Jones. Vaguely recognize the music from somewhere? And some of the special effects? You aren’t hallucinating from hypoxia after too many interstellar adventures on an almost exact replica of the Millenium Falcon. Director Roger Corman reused them from his other attempt at a space opera that crashed and burned: Battle Beyond the Stars.

The one redeeming quality about this film is that it could be a confidence booster for kids too young to understand copyright ethics. Hawk also has an alien sidekick this time, the one thing the managed to make look completely different form the original by going in the way of the polar opposite. Instead of Bigfoot’s alien subspecies, this thing is hairless, purple and (telepathically) speaks English.

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Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)

While this animated knockoff from the edge of imitation—er, imagination—launched before animating Star Wars was a thing, it looks like someone took the live-action movie and rendered it in cartoon form scene for scene. The only lame attempt at convincing people this wasn’t Star Wars in 2-D was to rip off even more movies in the process. This warped idea can explain why elements from The Sword in the Stone (that jeweled sword and a Merlin-esque mentor) were somehow drawn in by its gravitational force, and the main character bears a startling resemblance to He-Man. Not that his nemesis strays too far away from Skeletor save for a face reminiscent of Darth Maul with less makeup.

You know those movies like where actors jump into completely animated worlds as animated versions of themselves? If you were to watch Episode IV and this one immediately after, it would be exactly like that. Maybe there are no light sabers to be seen, but there are armies of pseudo-Stormtroopers, a galactic garage of stolen spacecraft, the same exact battle scenes between the rebels and Empire forces, and that sword which lights up and changes color from Dark Side red to Light Side green and blue like a lava lamp. Even Cloud City is the same sans Lando’s cape. This movie is so full of copyright fail it hurts.