It was bound to happen, because imitation is the most sincere — and self-serving — form of flattery.
Battlestar Galactica (1978)
Glen Larson’s long-proposed space TV series Adam’s Ark suddenly sounded like an awesome idea to ABC after Star Wars became the biggest movie in history, so a year after wide-eyed Luke Skywalker and jaded smuggler pilot Han Solo hit movie screens, wide-eyed Apollo and jaded Viper pilot Starbuck hit TV screens in a show full of space dogfights set aboard a Star-Destroyer-sized space carrier that barely survived an intergalactic Pearl Harbor. With Star Wars VFX wizards John Dykstra, Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren along for the ride, the visual effects were beyond anything before created for television.
Starship Invasions (1977)
Refusing to play second fiddle to Japan or any other international rip-off artists, Canada whipped out this UFO extravaganza that managed to exploit both Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — and they got the movie out before the end of 1977. Christopher Lee plays a swollen-headed extraterrestrial leader, Robert Vaughn looks bewildered, while most viewers only had eyes for the numerous female extras in form-fitting spandex.
Message From Space (1978)
Vic Morrow leads a rag-tag bunch of misfits in search of a handful of golden, glowing, magical walnuts — yes, walnuts — in this Japanese sci-fi adventure that features a square-rigged space schooner and some extra goofy costumes. Best of all is a wholesale re-creation of the Death Star battle using model spaceships flying on strings.
The incomparable Luigi Cozzi brought his eye-popping artistry (which consists mostly of gluing model kit parts together, painting them silver, and lighting them with Christmas lights) to this production featuring the ravishing Caroline Munro, the confusing Marjoe Gortner and the merry, heavily eyeliner-ed David Hasselhoff in a Barbarella-like space fantasy. Cozzi’s greatest trick was roping Christopher Plummer into playing the Emperor of the Galaxy.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
Universal cannily threw this Glen Larson TV pilot into wide theatrical release with vague teaser trailers that made it look like yet another outer-space blockbuster. Audiences were horrified to discover a cheesy TV production featuring Gil Gerard (also, horrifyingly, in white spandex), a smack-talking robot voiced by Mel Blanc and disco dancing aplenty.
The Black Hole (1979)
Disney raided their 1950s classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to deliver a Nemo-like megalomaniac scientist orbiting a black hole in his gargantuan spaceship, the Cygnus. That’s an intriguing concept for a science fiction movie, until you throw in cutesy, googly-eyed robots and science so bad it makes the time-bending concepts in the 2009 Star Trek movie seem like something Stephen Hawking might have come up with.
Speaking of spandex, this low-budget exploitation comedy featured the comedy stylings of Avery Schreiber and goofy-looking spaceships, but mostly lots of footage of Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten in a skintight white catsuit. If you’re into that sort of thing and can put the thought of Stratten being horribly murdered the day of the film’s release (in a tragedy that inspired the film Star 80) out of your mind, then this one is entertainment gold.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
If you like your callow space heroes with HUGE, DISTRACTING MOLES on their faces you may enjoy Richard “John Boy Walton” Thomas and a cast of B-movie all-stars in John Sayles’ “The Magnificent Seven in Outer Space.” James Cameron worked on the special effects, James Horner’s score rips off everything from Star Trek – The Motion Picture to Jaws, and Sybil Danning flies a spaceship that sports prominent breasts while revealing her own.
Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)
A hero nabs a legendary glowing sword in order to lead his people to freedom, accompanied by “a sensitive fembot” among other miscreants, in this animated epic produced in South Korea for three times the cost of Star Wars (which then generated about 1/40 the Lucasfilm movie’s grosses).
Turkish Star Wars (1982)
Titled The Man Who Saved the World, this 1982 “movie” recycles plenty of footage from Star Wars and music from every other sci-fi movie ever made to tell the tale of two space warriors who get involved with an old wizard on a desert planet where they eventually track down a magic sword and defeat a great evil. The space battle scenes are ingeniously created by having two guys in motorcycle helmets sit in front of footage from Star Wars projected behind them. Really!