I recently caught The Last Starfighter on TV, which led to a discussion with my friend Phil about the film Battle Beyond The Stars, which as it happens was also on TV around the same time but I happened to miss. I certainly remembered borrowing this film from the video library several times as a child, but I remember very little about it, so I was pleased when Phil came to the rescue with his copy of it on DVD. Cheers mate!
Before re-watching the film, my over riding memories of it were that it was a bit like Star Wars (like so many films were back then), and that it starred John Boy Walton (Richard Thomas) and had some space cowboy character in it.
So I popped the disc into my player to begin my journey of rediscovery. Up pop the menus accompanied by a piece of music that at once felt stunningly familiar to me, and there’s a picture of John Boy and a cowboy character. So far, so well remembered then.
The film begins with the peaceful inhabitants of the planet Akir being invaded by the evil Sador (John Saxon) and his Malmori warriors. Sador tells them that unless they bow down to his demands he will destroy the planet with his Stellar Converter (Death Star anyone?), and to prove his intent goes about killing a few innocents just for good measure.
Most of the Akira believe they are doomed, but young Luke, sorry, John B… I mean Shad, says that he will take the planets only space craft, powered by a computer named Nell, on a mission to go and recruit some mercenaries to help the Akira defend themselves.
Shad’s first stop is at a space station where he is hoping to get his first recruits. He meets a young woman named Nanelia who repairs androids. He is taken to see her father, who is now more machine than man, who hopes to keep Shad there as a mate for his daughter. Nanelia takes pity on Shad and allows him to escape, before also deciding that she will join his cause.
Good to his word, Shad manages to enrol further help including the afore mentioned space cowboy character (who is actually just called Space Cowboy and is played by The A Team’s George Peppard). Other members of his team are Gelt, an assassin played by The Man From U.N.C.L.E Robert Vaughn, and Nestor, who are a strange race of clones who share a single consciousness – an intriguing Science Fiction idea.
Shad and his mercenaries help defend the planet when Sador attacks. Both sides take heavy casualties during the initial battles which take place both in the space around Sador’s ship and on the ground, with Space Cowboy leading the charge against the ground troops.
Both sides then take time to regroup and lick their wounds, but it isn’t long before Sador decides to roll out his Stellar Converter, so everyone springs into action to defend Akir or die trying. Sadly most end up taking the latter path, with the only new recruit to definitely survive being Nanelia.
I have to say that watching this film again felt like a new experience for me as I really didn’t remember anything from it at all. The plot was based on the western The Magnificent Seven (which coincidentally also starred Robert Vaughn), which in turn was based on the classic Japanese story The Seven Samurai. It also borrows heavily from Star Wars, what with the hero being a young farmhand, the presence of a planet destroying weapon and the Space Cowboy character being very much like Han Solo.
The film came out in 1980 and was quite a low budget affair. Whilst this does show to a certain extent the cast do an excellent job, there are some very funny moments (like when the Nestor sample one of Space Cowboy’s hot dogs) and the effects aren’t all that bad either, perhaps due in part to James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron) being the art director on the film. Indeed they were good enough, as was the sound track, that a lot of the space shots were even reused wholesale in another film called Space Raiders (nothing to do with the similarly named crisps).