Flashback Fridays: Spaceballs
Long before the "Scary Movie" series, Mel Brooks was going it solo when it came to making parodies of box office hits, and among his best was "Spaceballs." Released in 1987, "Spaceballs" arriveed on time to mark the tenth anniversary of the release of George Lucas's space opera "Star Wars," which by then had already cemented itself as a major cultural icon and the most popular movie of all time. It marked a trip into sci-fi by Brooks, the director behind such comedy staples as "The Producers" and "A History Of The World, Part 1."
"Spaceballs" lampoons the "Star Wars" franchise to no end. The plot deals with President Skroob (Mel Brooks) attempting to steal all the air from Planet Druidia. He employs Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to find and kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and use her as ransom for Druidia's air.
Meanwhile, Captain Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his partner Barf (John Candy) are trying to repay a debt from their boss, Pizza the Hut. When they encounter Princess Vespa's spaceship, they decide to return her and her robotic assistant, Dot Matrix (voiced by comedienne Joan Rivers) to the planet Druidia for the hope of being handsomely rewarded.
"Spaceballs" pokes fun at "Star Wars" with outlandish glee. Dark Helmet is a hilarious version of Darth Vader, trying to be intimidating but fails constantly due to his height and comically large helmet. Lone Star evokes Han Solo and a bit of Luke Skywalker by name; he carries the bravado of Han, but lacks the wit at times.
There is even the slight digs at Jewish-American culture thrown in as well, this being a typical Brooks gag as in his "History Of The World, Part 1" which ends with spaceships shaped like Stars of David with a chorus of "the Jews are in space" providing the soundtrack.
In "Spaceballs" Princess Vespa acts like a stereotypical Jewish-American princess, with her spoiled entitlement and insistence of being married to royalty. Her "droid-of-honor" Dot Matrix is basically Joan Rivers' stand-up material channeling C-3P0. The "Schwartz," the film's spoof of The "Force," is based off an Ashkenazi Jewish surname.
While it may not have humor at the level of "Monty Python," it still outshines its heirs such as the "Scary Movie" series which began as parodies of hits like "Scream." Brooks's work is a reminder of what is genuinely funny, particularly in this age where being gross passes for humor in nearly every new comedy premiering over the weekends.
It's not a masterpiece, but there is so much wit and memorable dialogue that even its low budget (at least in comparison to the actual "Star Wars" movies), retains a real charm. If you're a devotee of "Star Wars," you will enjoy the countless throwbacks and references. Nearly 30 years later, if you like campy and meta-humor, "Spaceballs" delivers and has the feeling of seeing it in the now.