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Film / Battle Beyond the Stars

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Battle Beyond the Stars is a 1980 American Space Opera film produced by Roger Corman.

Sador of the Malmori (John Saxon) and his crew of mutants roam the galaxy in a huge spaceship armed with a Stellar Convertor, the most powerful weapon in the universe. When Sador claims the peaceful farming planet of Akir as a colony, young Shad (Richard Thomas) volunteers to take Sapient Ship Nell and seek out mercenaries who are willing to fight him. They find Gelt (Robert Vaughn) a Professional Killer who just wants to live on a planet where no-one's trying to kill him, Space Trucker Cowboy (George Peppard) of Earth, Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel) a Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter, Saint-Exmin (Sybil Danning) of the Valkyrie—a warrior woman looking to prove herself in battle), Nestor (Earl Boen) a Hive Mind seeking new experiences, and Caymen (Morgan Woodward) of the Lambda Zone—who'd like to settle accounts with Sador for destroying his species. Counting Shad that makes seven. Sound familiar?

After Star Wars: A New Hope became a surprise hit, studios rushed to cash in on the public's sudden hunger for "Science Fiction" with a flood of bad Space Opera. Exploitation king Roger Corman had no intention of being left behind, but he showed more intelligence than most film executives by ripping off a good plot as well. When SFX companies presented outrageous quotes for their work, Corman took a leaf from George Lucas' book and created his own special effects (under the charge of James Cameron who got his "big break" with this film, along with producer Gale Anne Hurd, composer James Horner and screenwriter — later independent filmmaker — John Sayles). Corman being Corman, he made sure to get his money's worth by recycling the Stock Footage in countless other low-budget sci-fi movies. Horner's score was also used in other Corman productions (a case of Hilarious in Hindsight, given the composer's own recycling tendencies).

On October 31, 2023, it was announced that it would be the first of a group of movies for Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s 14th season, but the season wasn't funded.

Battle Beyond the Stars provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Actor Allusion / Casting Gag
  • Affably Evil: In his Establishing Character Moment, Caymen cheerfully introduces himself and his crew to Nanelia, whom he has strung up over a heating grid, planning to sell her somewhere that she might be Eaten Alive. This makes his Mood Whiplash when Nanelia drops Sador's name all the more effective.
  • Affluent Ascetic: Gelt, but not by choice.
  • Alien Blood: Cowboy stabs a Malmori soldier during the fight on the surface and green blood gushes out.
  • Berserk Button: Cayman the Lazuli, on being compared to the person who wiped out all the rest of his species.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Saint-Exmin's death. Sador has to lower the shields to fire the Stellar Converter, so Saint-Exmin crashes her ship into the Stellar Converter to disable it, ejecting in an Escape Pod which is immediately surrounded by three Malmori fighters. She tells the others It Has Been an Honor and destructs the pod, taking the fighters with her.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The text that appears on the screen of the Malmoris is Hebrew.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Akir is saved but most of the mercenaries are killed.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: This is what ends up doing Sador in. By the end of the final battle he had already destroyed all the mercenary ships protecting Akir and disabled Nell, but his insistence on getting his hands on the last defenders is what allows Shad to blow him up.
  • Brick Joke: Cowboy shows off his nifty belt that dispenses Scotch, soda, and ice, identifying to an Akiran that he's drinking a Scotch and soda. Later, upon realizing that he can't flee now that Sador is on his way (Sador's already too close for a ship to leave undetected), he pours straight Scotch. "You forgot the soda and ice." "No. No I didn't."
  • Bring It: After his Steller Converter is disabled, Sador's first instinct is to retreat behind the sun until Caymen challenges him. On seeing that the shields on Caymen's ship aren't as strong as his own, Sador turns the ship around to take him on.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Akir was apparently founded by Hindus, as their Holy Text is the Vardaa. However, all the colonists are caucasian.
  • Captain Ersatz: Gelt is essentially Lee from The Magnificent Seven Recycled In Space, with Robert Vaughn reprising his role in all but name. The only difference is that Lee was more sympathetic and likeable as a person.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Kelvin communicate through waves of heat, while Nestor are a telepathic Hive Mind. Both abilities come in useful as weapons.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Bluewater Productions released a four-issue prequel called Battle Among The Stars.
  • Coming in Hot: The deaths of Gelt and Cowboy.
    Cowboy: Thirty seconds to impact. (starts playing harmonica)
  • Contrived Coincidence: Good thing that Shad meets Cowboy, who is carrying a cargo load of several thousand laser rifles that were meant to a planet that was resisting Sador, which gets a nasty case of Stellar Converter while they were talking after Shad saved Cowboy from some space pirates. Cowboy even lampshades it as "well, I have this cargo and it's already been paid for... better give it to you and your folks, seeing that you have need for it and they don't anymore."
  • Cool Starship: Plenty of them, thanks to the work of James Cameron, who created a unique sound and appearance for each one.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nell, as she's none too impressed with her current wet-behind-the-ears pilot.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Having been raised in the pacifistic values of the Varda, Shad doesn't appreciate Saint-Exmin bragging about the Wronski Feint she pulled off while he's treating the Akirans who've been injured in the battle.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The hero's space ship looks remarkably like the female reproductive system, with guns for ovaries. The production crew even referred to it as "the flying uterus." It also has breasts, in case you didn't notice.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Averted as the Stellar Convertor can turn your entire planet into a sun, but not blow it up. You're still dead though.
  • Epic Movie: For certain definitions of "epic." While, for the rest of the world, this was a relatively low-budget Star Wars rip-off (not to mention a Magnificent Seven remake set on another planet), for New World Pictures, Roger Corman's production company, this was their Avatar. New World spent more money on this film than they had ever spent before or ever would — when adjusted for inflation — since.
  • Everything in Space Is a Galaxy
    • Gelt is living on a Ghost Planet because the rest of the galaxy formed a 'protective league', raised an army and cleaned it out. There's no mention of why this galaxy-wide league isn't doing something about Sador conquering and destroying planets, if just a single Wretched Hive made them so nervous.
    • As he's dying, Gelt bemoans the irony of dying on "a minor planet in a third-rate galaxy."
  • Evil Hand / Organ Autonomy / Life-or-Limb Decision: Sador finds out almost too late that a Nestor hand can be controlled by the Hive Mind even after it's been cut off and implanted onto his own arm. The surgeon is able to stop Sador from cutting his own throat by quickly chainsawing off the limb.
  • Exact Words: After Gelt dies:
    Shad: Have somebody prepare a meal.
    Akirite: A meal?
    Shad: Full course, then bury it with him.
    Akirite: Bury it?
    Shad: That was our arrangement: A meal and a place to hide.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Saint-Exmin just smiles and says that it was a glorious fight before blowing herself (and a few Malmori fighters) up while Space Cowboy decides to spend his final seconds before crashing playing his harmonica.
  • Faceless Goons: The Malmori fighter pilots wear full-face helmets. Also the assault troops they land on the planet, presumably to protect them from their own Sonic Tank.
  • Fan Disservice: Shad can't resist trying the Dial-A-Date service on a long abandoned planet. The screen displaying a sexy alien female rises to reveal a decaying but fully functional android.
  • Fan of the Past: Cowboy enjoys watching old Western movies, and partakes of 20th century food and booze. Subverted when Nestor eats one of his "hot dogs" and realises the meat is artificial.
  • Feel No Pain: Inverted with Nestor's drones, who have no tolerance for pain whatsoever, ironically making Sador's attempt at torturing one very brief and unproductive.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Shad's sister is never mentioned after being killed along with her captors.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Suggested with Gelt. He was a career assassin and very asocial, two red flags against him. But he was polite to those with whom he spoke, when he did speak. Although the other hired mercenaries got to know each other, nobody, including Shad, interacted with Gelt anymore than they needed to, and only on a professional level. Nell rightly predicted to Shad that this was what Gelt would be in their forming group ("He'll fight alright, but he'll fight alone."). When the battle is over, Nanelia mentions with regret the names of the other mercenaries who died, but omits Gelt.
  • Galactic Conqueror: Sador and his space crew roam the galaxy in search of planets to conquer or destroy.
  • Ghost Planet: Gelt is hiding on one, as he's not safe anywhere else. The only thing he wants from Shad is a place where he can have human company that doesn't want to kill him.
  • Hand Cannon: Check out the size of Gelt's laser pistol as he re-holsters it.
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: The second act of the film is Shad's trip to find mercenaries.
  • Hive Mind: Of the rare benevolent type. Nestor is an entire race that share the same consciousness.
    Nestor: You see... There is only one Nestor, one consciousness. As you might imagine, this has proven very lonely and very dull. We must avoid becoming... we believe you have a phrase for it... becoming "bored to death."
    • This leading directly to why Nestor decides to have those facets of Nestor join the fight: Nestor has never fought a hopeless battle before.
  • Huge Holographic Head: Sador delivering his ultimatum to Akir, with his Ominous Floating Spaceship as a backdrop.
  • Human Aliens: The Akirans and almost all the characters who aren't Humanoid Aliens are explicitly stated to be from different species, but are all outwardly indistinguishable from regular humans. Yago describes the Akirans as having "forms" similar to their own: oxygen burners with bilateral symmetry. It makes sense that Sador would want to seek out victims with compatible biology, so he could use them for Human Resources if needed.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Cowboy proudly tells everyone he's from Earth, but no one has ever heard of it.
  • Just a Kid: Shad is dismissed as being just a boy when he first proposes looking for mercenaries, but Zed (the only Akiran with fighting experience) is old and blind, and Zed's Sapient Ship is at least willing to tolerate him.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted with Gelt. A career assassin, he has acquired much wealth and managed to stay alive. However, he has countless people and organizations hunting him down for revenge. He is reduced to living a squalid, solitary, reclusive life among the ruins of a former Wretched Hive planet. He has nowhere to spend his wealth, and nobody to spend it with.
  • Kick the Dog: When he first arrives at Akir, Sador destroys an unarmed manned weather satellite orbiting the planet. Then after delivering his ultimatum, he orders his snipers to gun down random citizens simply to Prove I Am Not Bluffing.
  • Last of His Kind: Caymen
    Sador: Of what form are you, Cayman?
    Cayman: I am of the Lazuli.
    Sador: I thought I had the honor of making that form extinct, long ago. I won't fail this time.
    • Also when Zed the Corsair is killed, Nell describes the Old Soldier as "the last of the Great Ones."
  • Loud of War: The Sonic Tank, which emits a piercing tone that makes the Akiran soldiers bleed from the ears. Fortunately the Kelvin have no ears as they communicate through waves of heat.
  • Love Interest: Nanelia for Shad. Cowboy hooks up with Lux, an Akiran girl who takes a liking to him.
  • Mad Scientist: Weapons manufacturer Dr. Hephaestus, though he's senile rather than evil. He does however have a beautiful daughter.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: The Ingenue version; Nanelia has been raised with only androids and her increasingly senile cyborg father for company. Shad is the first 'organic' man she's ever encountered, and Dr. Hephaestus decides to hold him prisoner so he can breed with his daughter. Shad however convinces her to run away with him and see the universe, and they form a genuine romance over the course of the movie.
  • Magic Countdown: Averted by having Nell suffer battle damage which confuses her as to what part of the countdown she's at. She pulls herself together in the end though.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: One of the first films to start making this into a genuine Trope.
  • Mars Needs Women: Several different takes on this — Shad finds himself being held captive by Nanelia's senile dad because he wants them to make babies. Later Caymen cheerfully admits he could sell Nanelia for a good price... but it turns out he means as food. Tembo and Kalo kidnap a bride and rape her; this backfires badly when they need to concentrate on fleeing from Gelt and she runs into the control room and starts pushing buttons at random.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The Kelvin communicate through heat transfer. Kelvin is a measurement of heat, starting at absolute zero and going up, used by physicists.
    • Dr. Haephestus, best weapons maker in the system, who is in a life-support unit by the time Shad meets him. In Greek mythology, Haephestus (AKA Vulcan) was a disabled god of blacksmiths.
    • The sadistic Sador.
  • Misguided Missile: Nell has a nuclear missile locked onto her, so Shad does a Wronski Feint to send it into one of the engines of Sador's ship.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: Sador seeks immortality via Serial Prostheses.
    Kalo: Remember Bilko? He disobeyed orders, and now Lord Sador's wearing his left foot.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Saint-Exmin, played by the buxom Sybil Danning, wears some very revealing outfits, requiring glue as her nipples kept popping out. Even then the chest area had to be edited for television.
  • Mundane Utility: Caymen is shown warming his hands using his Kelvin crewmembers rather than a fire.
  • Mundane Wish: Akir's wealth is in its culture, so they don't have money to pay the mercenaries (presumably the harvest that Sador wants is meant for the population, meaning he'd be starving them). As per the original The Magnificent Seven Samurai, that means everyone joins the fight for their own personal reasons.
  • Pardon My Klingon: Nell drops a "sorry son of a mutant" to insult Sador as one of her last lines. Which is all the more weird because she calls him a "son of a bitch" much earlier in the film.
  • Perilous Old Fool: Despite being blind Zed the Corsair joins the battle, clubbing a soldier to the ground using his walking stick before another soldier shoots him dead.
  • The Perils of Being the Best: Gelt has committed so many high profile killings and become so infamous that he's no longer welcome anywhere in the civilized galaxy. Shad finds him sitting in a luxurious throne surrounded by overflowing chests of jewels, but he's living on a Ghost Planet and Reduced to Ratburgers because there's nowhere he can risk spending his wealth. The only thing he asks for payment for his services is a square meal and a safe haven.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Saint-Exmin, although Shad doesn't take her seriously because she has a tiny ship, until she soundly beats them in a ship-to-ship fight. Even then, he doesn't accept that there is such a thing as a beautiful death in battle, as her race's motto proclaims, until he sees her die.
    Saint-Exmin: Live fast, fight well, and have a beautiful ending!
  • Recycled In Space: This film is clearly based on The Magnificent Seven. Also Cowboy as a Space Trucker and Space Western cowboy.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Cowboy, lampshaded by Shad after his death. "He didn't want to fight, but he came anyway."
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Caymen is a slaver with no interest in noble causes, or reluctance to feed captive women to carnivorous aliens. Fortunately Nanelia happens to drop Sador's name just in time.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Saint-Exmin blows up her Escape Pod rather than be captured, and Nell performs a Heroic Sacrifice to blow up Sador's spaceship and win the battle. Unfortunately her memory systems have been damaged so she keeps messing up the countdown.
  • Serial Prostheses: Sador wants to live forever, so replaces ailing body parts with organs removed from his enemies by his torture-surgeon. According to his minions he's not above doing this to disobedient soldiers as well. Sador starts the movie with a damaged hand, so amputates the hand off the captured Nestor to replace it, then finds himself pondering his need for a new glove to fit the lesser number of fingers. His problem becomes moot when he has to suddenly amputate the arm again.
  • Sex Sells: Frustrated that no-one had built any spaceships yet, Roger Corman gave everyone a day to come up with a good design. James Cameron (then a complete unknown in the industry) was aware of Corman's reputation for sexploitation films, so drew up a design for a "spaceship with tits". Corman approved it instantly, and put Cameron in charge of building it.
  • Shoot the Messenger:
    Yago: (carrying a small bag) Our emissary has returned from Umateal. They have replied to our ultimatum.
    Sador: And? ...What's this?
    Yago: It WAS our emissary, sir. That is their reply to our ultimatum. They've... powdered him!
    (Sador throws the bag in a rage. A squicked Yago quickly brushes the powder off himself)
    Yago: They are a proud form!
    Sador: In an hour they'll be an EXTINCT one! There'll not be a trace of them left... Not even their dust.
  • Shout-Out: The planet under attack is named "Akir" after Akira Kurosawa, director of Seven Samurai.
  • Space People: Galt says he doesn't have a homeworld — he was born in space, which is appropriate for a cold-blooded killer, but also reflects his need for an actual home.
  • Space Pirates: We're first introduced to Cowboy being attacked by jackers who are blasting his ship with laser fire to wear down the shields, whereupon they'll blast him and steal his cargo. Cowboy responds by laconically calling for help and playing a Captivity Harmonica.
  • The Speechless: Caymen's minions — the Kelvin only communicate through waves of heat, and Quopeg doesn't talk either. Caymen more than makes up for their lack of dialogue.
  • Standard Alien Spaceship: Nell resembles a flying uterus, and the other mercenaries' ships includes Nestor's (a glowing Flying Saucer), Space Cowboy's (which roughly resembles an overgrown Lunar Landing Module), Gelt's (which resembles a flying manta ray), and Cayman's (which has a design that makes it look like a flying mouth).
  • Starfish Language: Caymin has two henchmen of the Kelvin race who communicate by radiating heat. Their excitement to greet Nanelia causes them to almost burn her, and they later weaponize it against a Malmori tank using sonic cannons (since the Kelvins also have no ears).
  • Stripperiffic: Saint-Exmin's battle-bra resembles a pair of silver hands clutching her impressive breasts. Later she appears in a black-and-red vinyl number with such a massive Cleavage Window it's amazing she stayed in it.
  • Surrounded by Idiots:
    Sador: What's WRONG is that I have an army full of GENETIC MISTAKES! Why can't my minions be sophisticated or intelligent, like... well, like ME?
    Yago: You can't expect all of us to measure up to YOU, Sir.
    Sador: Oh, don't flatter me! Those two probably slammed their ship into an asteroid or something.
    • Though rather than being a Number Two for Brains, Yago's Facial Dialogue indicates he disagrees with the two fatal mistakes that Sador makes (lowering the shields mid-battle to fire the Steller Convertor, and tractoring Nell into their ship after they've won the battle) but of course he doesn't argue because he doesn't want Sador to use him for body parts.
  • Thermal Dissonance: Nanelia jumps in alarm after touching Shad (mistaking him for one of her androids) and realizing he's a warm-blooded person.
  • Token Human: Played with. Most of the cast is made up of Human Aliens of different species, but Cowboy is the only one confirmed to actually be human, as he hails from Earth. His presence is the only thing keeping the film from slipping into A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... territory.
  • Torture Technician:
    Sador: This is Frojo, my Third Officer. Frojo is expert at inflicting pain... while keeping the victim alive.
    Nestor 2: It's good to have skills.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: The mercenaries and Shad/Nell do all the fighting in space, but there's some ground fighting by Cowboy-trained Akirans too.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Averted when Sador promises to return in "seven risings of your red giant" sun to the planet Akir to plunder its harvest for his army. Of course that does equal an arbitrary measurement of time that we humans call a week.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Some unforgettable dialogue from Saint-Exmin on what she'd like to do to the innocent Shad.
    Saint-Exmin: I could do wonders for that boy! I would recharge his capacitators, stimulate his solenoid; tingle, dingle, dangle, prangle his transistors! You know: Sex!
  • Utility Belt: Cowboy's belt dispenses a belt, e.g. Scotch, soda and ice. A practical man!
  • Villainous Breakdown: Sador spends his final moments before his ship blows up whining that he wanted to live forever.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: Sador's superweapon, the Stellar Converter turns planets into stars, killing all life on the world.
  • Wedding Smashers: When Tembo and Kalo become bored with their guard duty over Akir, they disrupt a wedding to steal the bride.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's unclear whether Cayman's remaining crewman, Quopeg is on his ship when it is destroyed.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Nanelia has been Raised by Robots with only her loony father for company, so hasn't had any sexual experiences. She scans the relevant information on alien mating and eagerly accepts Saint-Exmin educating her on the subject, then asks Shad to demonstrate kissing. He's more than willing to do so, but then Nanelia insists on diagnosing what's wrong with his ship in the middle of their smooching.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: Sador uses this trope to deride Yago when asking who'd come to aid the Akirans. "No-one would be that stupid, even you!"
  • Wretched Hive: Subverted when Shad lands on a planet notorious for its Hired Guns and criminal element, only to find the rest of the galaxy have raised an army and cleaned it out. As Gelt puts it: "We made them nervous."
  • You Owe Me: After Shad and Nell rescue him from jackers, Cowboy has no problem with dropping off his cargo of weapons on Akir (after all, his customers have just been wiped out by Sador) but Shad plays this card to make sure Cowboy stays behind to teach the locals how to use them.