Theatrical release poster
by John Alvin
|Directed by||Mel Brooks|
|Produced by||Mel Brooks|
|Music by||John Morris|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff IV|
|Box office||$38.1 million|
Spaceballs is a 1987 American science fiction parody film co-written, produced and directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Brooks, Bill Pullman, John Candy, and Rick Moranis, the film also features Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, and the voice of Joan Rivers. In addition to Brooks in a supporting role, the film also features Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise and Rudy De Luca in cameo appearances.
The film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on June 24, 1987, and was met with a mixed reception. It has since become a cult classic on video and one of Brooks's most popular films. Its setting and characters parody the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as other sci-fi franchises including Star Trek, Alien, and the Planet of the Apes films.
Planet Spaceball, led by the incompetent President Skroob, has wasted all of its air. Skroob schemes to force King Roland of the neighboring planet Druidia to give them their air by kidnapping his daughter Princess Vespa on the day of her pre-arranged wedding to the narcoleptic Prince Valium. Skroob sends the villainous Dark Helmet to complete this task with Spaceball One, an impossibly huge ship helmed by Colonel Sandurz. Before they can arrive, Vespa abandons her wedding and flees the planet in her Mercedes spaceship with her droid of honor, Dot Matrix.
Roland contacts mercenary Lone Starr and his mawg (half-man, half-dog) sidekick Barf, offering a lucrative reward to retrieve Vespa before she is captured. Lone Starr readily accepts, as he is in major debt with the gangster Pizza the Hutt. In their Winnebago space ship the Eagle 5, Starr and Barf are able to reach Vespa before Spaceball One, rescue both her and Dot, then escape. Spaceball One tries to follow, but Helmet foolishly orders the ship to "ludicrous speed," causing it to overshoot the escapees.
Out of fuel, Starr is forced to crash-land on the nearby "desert moon of Vega". The escapees travel on foot in blazing sun and pass out. They are found by the Dinks, a group of diminutive red-clad aliens, and are taken to a cave occupied by Yogurt, who is old and wise. Yogurt introduces Starr to "The Schwartz", a metaphysical power similar to the Force. Yogurt also introduces the audience to the film's merchandising campaign. Starr and Vespa begin to flirt, but Vespa insists she can only be married to a prince.
Helmet and Sandurz break the fourth wall by using a VHS copy of the film to discover Vespa's location, and Helmet orders Spaceball One to the moon. The Spaceballs capture Vespa and Dot, and return with them to planet Spaceball. Their captors threaten to reverse Vespa's nose job, forcing Roland to give over the code to the shield that protects Druidia. Helmet takes Spaceball One to Druidia, where he transforms the ship into Mega Maid, a giant robotic maid with a vacuum cleaner that begins sucking the air from the planet. Starr and Barf rescue Vespa and Dot from captivity, and then race to Druidia. Starr is able to use the Schwartz to reverse the robot's sucking action, returning the air to the planet.
Starr and his allies enter the Mega Maid to attempt to destroy it. Starr is forced to fight Helmet with lightsaber-like "Schwartz rings" near the ship's self-destruct button. Starr manages to defeat Helmet, causing him to involuntarily strike the button. Starr and his friends escape the ship, while Skroob, Helmet, and Sandurz fail to reach any escape pods in time. Trapped in the robot's head as the ship explodes, they land on a nearby planet, much to the regret of its Planet of the Apes-like population.
With Starr's debt to Pizza nullified by the gangster's untimely death, he returns Vespa to Roland and leaves, taking only enough money to cover his expenses. After a lunch break at a diner and a strange incident involving an alien and an astronaut, Starr finds a final message from Yogurt informing him that he is a prince and thus eligible to marry Vespa. He manages to reach Druidia in time to stop her wedding to Valium, announces his royal lineage, then marries Vespa.
- Bill Pullman as Captain Lone Starr
- John Candy as Barfolomew "Barf"
- Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa
- Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix (voice)
- Mel Brooks as President Skroob and Yogurt
- Rick Moranis as Lord Dark Helmet
- Dick Van Patten as King Roland
- George Wyner as Colonel Sandurz
- Leslie Bevis as Commanderette Zircon
- Michael Winslow as Radar Technician
- Lorene Yarnell as Dot Matrix (body)
- Jim J. Bullock as Prince Valium
- Rudy De Luca as Vinnie the Robot
- Dom DeLuise as Pizza the Hutt (voice)
- John Hurt as himself (cameo appearance)
- Sal Viscuso as Radio Operator
- Ronny Graham as Minister
- Sandy Helberg as Dr. Phillip Schlotkin
- Stephen Tobolowsky as Captain of the Guard
- Dey Young as Waitress
- Rick Ducommun as Prison guard
- Jack Riley as News Reporter
- Tim Russ as Trooper
- Brenda Strong as Nurse Gretchen
- Jim Jackman as Major Asshole
- Mike Pniewski as Gunner's Mate First Class Philip Asshole
- Robert Prescott as Sand Cruiser Driver
When Mel Brooks developed Spaceballs, he wanted his parody to be as close to the original as possible. Even though Yogurt mentioned merchandising during the movie, Brooks's deal with George Lucas on parodying Star Wars was that no Spaceballs action figures be made. According to Brooks, "[Lucas] said, 'Your [action figures] are going to look like mine.' I said OK."
Brooks also had Lucas's company handle the post-production, saying, "I was playing ball with the people who could have said no." Lucas later sent Brooks a note saying how much he loved Spaceballs and that he "was afraid [he] would bust something from laughing".
Bill Pullman got the part of Lone Starr when Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft saw him in a play. Brooks had been unsuccessfully trying to sign on big-name actors such as Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks for the film. Pullman said, "I think [Mel] was hurt that they didn't take him up on it ... but then it attract[ed] two of the big comics at that time: John Candy and Rick Moranis. Once that was secured, then he said, 'Heck, I'll get somebody nobody knows!' And I got a chance to do it."
Daphne Zuniga initially found Brooks's film parodies "too crass and not too funny", but after working with Brooks, she said, "I have this image of Mel as totally wacko and out to lunch. And he is. But he's also really perceptive, real sensitive in ways that make actors respond."
When the film was released, Spaceballs: The Soundtrack was also released on Atlantic Records on audio CD and Compact Cassette, featuring many of the songs heard in the film, as well as three score cues by composer John Morris.
For the "19th Anniversary", La-La Land Records released a "limited edition" CD, presenting the score in its entirety for the first time, with bonus tracks featuring alternate takes and tracks composed for, but not used in the film.
- "Spaceballs Main Title Theme" – John Morris
- "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" – Jeffrey Osborne and Kim Carnes
- "Heartstrings" – Berlin
- "Spaceballs Love Theme" (Instrumental) – John Morris
- "The Winnebago Crashes"/"The Spaceballs Build Mega-Maid" – John Morris
- "Spaceballs" – The Spinners
- "Hot Together" – The Pointer Sisters
- "Good Enough" – Van Halen
- "Wanna Be Loved by You" – Ladyfire
- "Raise Your Hands" (hidden track) – Bon Jovi
Characters and parodies
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- Captain Lone Starr combines traits from Star Wars's two male heroes, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), as well as Indiana Jones (also Ford). His name is derived from Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr series and the "Lone Star State" of Texas. He hails from the Ford Galaxy, in reference to Harrison Ford (who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones), and also a play on the Ford Galaxie, a car made by the Ford Motor Company. Lone Starr's costume is intentionally misplaced, resembling a Colonial Warrior from Battlestar Galactica and Ford's Indiana Jones costume (he is seen wearing a cowboy hat in his first scene, which is set aside and not seen for the remainder of the film) rather than that of Han Solo or Luke Skywalker.
- Barf (full name: Barfolomew) is an obvious parody of Star Wars's Wookiees and more specifically Chewbacca. He is a "mawg" — half man, half dog; thus, he is "his own best friend".
- Their ship Eagle 5 is a modified Winnebago RV. Its shabby state resembles the Millennium Falcon. The bumper sticker says I ♥ Uranus. "Eagle 5" is also a reference to Space: 1999, as the spacecraft used in that series were called "Eagle Transporters" or just "Eagles".
- Yogurt, a parody of Jedi master Yoda, is a sage with deep knowledge of the mysterious power called the Schwartz, as well as merchandising. He speaks with an exaggerated Yiddish accent.
- The Dinks, a parody of the Jawas from Star Wars, assist Yogurt in his work, particularly merchandising, "where the real money from the movie is made". When first seen, they are singing a version of the "Colonel Bogey March" from The Bridge on the River Kwai as a reference to Sir Alec Guinness who played the main character in The Bridge on the River Kwai as well as the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.
- Princess Vespa resembles Princess Leia in her noble heritage and her love/hate relationship with Lone Starr/Han Solo. She is a Druish princess (a play on Jewish princess), a caricature of a spoiled young Jewish-American woman. She was pampered by her father and is used to a life of luxury, which includes a Mercedes-Benz spaceship. Her hooked nose was changed by rhinoplasty as a 16th birthday present. In one scene, she appears to have a hairstyle similar to Princess Leia in Star Wars, but it is revealed that she is actually wearing a pair of headphones. In the final wedding scene, the flowers that she wears in her hair also strongly resemble the same hairstyle.
- King Roland, Vespa's father, dotes on his beloved daughter, but nonetheless requires her to marry the "last prince in the galaxy". Upon the Spaceballs' attack on Vespa's Mercedes spaceship, King Roland hires Lone Starr and Barf and requests that "if at all possible, try to save the car".
- Dot Matrix, Vespa's golden droid-of-honor, resembles C-3PO; her placid nature is broken only by her dedication to keeping Vespa safe, and maintaining Vespa's virginity. Her name is a reference to the old dot matrix-style printers.
- Prince Valium takes his name from the title character in the comic strip Prince Valiant, but combines it with the sedative, Valium. He is called "a pill" by Dot and "Sleeping Beauty" by Yogurt because he is narcoleptic.
- President Skroob appears to be a parody of a modern American president; in the scene where he is caught in bed with the twins by Commanderette Zircon he pretends unconvincingly to be reading a book about Richard Nixon, as he holds it upside down. His name is an anagram of "Brooks", but also resembles the verb to screw (to cheat).
- Dark Helmet is an obvious parody of Darth Vader. He resembles Vader in appearance, but is shorter and has a much larger helmet; he changes into a khaki uniform and an equally over-sized pith helmet during the desert scene. Similar to his namesake, Dark Helmet serves as the main antagonist of the film, speaks in a deep bass voice, and breathes audibly — until he lifts his helmet to reveal his bespectacled face and normal voice. He is the commander of the Spaceballs' "Imperious Forces" and uses "the Schwartz" to discipline his subordinates, not by using force grip to strangle them (as with Darth Vader), but by crushing their testicles. Vader's biological relationship to Luke Skywalker is parodied by Helmet declaring himself Lone Starr's "father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate". He frequently breaks the fourth wall and in one scene refers to the actual VHS tape of Spaceballs (which is pulled off a shelf filled with other Mel Brooks films, like Blazing Saddles and Silent Movie).
- Colonel Sandurz' name is a pun on KFC's founder Colonel Sanders. At one point, Dark Helmet taunts him into action by saying "What's the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?"
- Snotty, who operates the transporter in planet Spaceball's capital city, is a reference to Star Trek's engineer Scotty. His stereotypical Scottish attire (kilt and tam o' shanter) and his referring to "Loch Lomond" also point to their common Scottish background.
- Major Asshole and Gunner's Mate First Class Philip Asshole are two cross-eyed Spaceballs serving aboard the Spaceball One, both being generic parodies of Imperial personnel from the Star Wars films. Phillip's inept shooting prowess is also a parody of the Stormtrooper's infamous inability to successfully shoot the main protagonists.
- Commanderette Zircon is a dominating female Spaceball officer and the head of Central Control in Spaceball City. She perpetually keeps in touch with President Skroob via videophones on various walls. Like Sandurz, she appears to be a parody of various Imperial officers.
- The Captain of the Guard is an effeminate officer who appears briefly as the Head of Security of Spaceball City, and accidentally captures the stunt doubles of the heroes.
- Radar Operator: The man who operates the radar is able to mimic realistic sound effects with his voice, much like many other Winslow characters, in particular the character Larvell Jones in the Police Academy franchise.
- Spaceballs: The grunt soldiers under Dark Helmet's command. They are similar to Stormtroopers, but have cue-ball shaped helmets.
The Spaceballs' weapon of conquest, Spaceball One, is a powerful spaceship and the equivalent of the Death Star in the movie, although in appearance it much more closely resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer. The opening scene with the ridiculously long, wide angle continuous shot of Spaceball One is an homage to the opening scene of Star Wars. The Spaceballs' attitude toward others is expressed by the ship's large bumper sticker: "We brake for nobody". In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks mentions that he wanted the introductory 'spaceship' scene to be much longer, but changed his mind when it was pointed out that at the length he wanted, that one scene would become the entire movie.
The ship's absurd size is a frequent point of reference:
- The ship is so large that it contains a shopping mall, a zoo, and a three-ring circus (complete with a freak show).
- When shown on a radar, it takes up almost half the screen, while other spaceships appear only as dots.
- The ship takes about 1 minute and 38 seconds to cross the screen at the beginning of the film. This is emphasized by the music theme (based on the musical theme from Jaws) which stops and resumes again several times, each time growing louder.
- President Skroob is once forced to jog to the bridge in order to arrive before the end of the film. He references this by saying "The ship is too big. If I walk, the movie'll be over."
Spaceball One is capable of traveling at four different speeds: When a situation requires it to travel faster than its normal "sub-light" speed, it can accelerate to "Light Speed", "Ridiculous Speed", and "Ludicrous Speed". When going to Ludicrous Speed, all crew members must use a seat belt for their own safety. The only exception to this is Dark Helmet who ignores Colonel Sandurz's warning to buckle up ("Ah, buckle this!") and pays the price for it (when the emergency brake is pulled at his order, he is flung forward into a console, denting his helmet, breaking his glasses, and dazing him). This scene mocks a crucial scene from Polish/Soviet sci-fi movie Test pilota Pirxa where some human team members speed up a space ship to destroy a humanoid robot astronaut who attempts to kill others by decelerating their ship abruptly. Ludicrous Speed results in the ship leaving a trail of plaid, parodying the "warp trail" seen in the first few Star Trek films and 2001.
Spaceball One's secret weapon is its ability to transform, in parody of various transforming robot toys (Barf describes it as "a Transformer"), into Mega Maid, a colossal cleaning woman holding a gigantic vacuum cleaner used to extract air from other planets and take it back to planet Spaceball. As the "vacuum cleaner" has a three-way switch in its handle, it can also be made to reverse that process, expelling air ("Sir, it's Mega-Maid! She's gone from 'suck' to 'blow'!!!"), as Lone Starr uses "the Schwartz" to move the switch through telekinesis, into the "reverse" position to restore planet Druidia's atmosphere. When Spaceball One begins to undergo its transformation into "Mega Maid", Dark Helmet exclaims "Ready, Kafka?", an allusion to Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
The ship's destruction mixes-and-mashes the destruction of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi with that of Unicron in Transformers: The Movie. Lone Starr's ship flies through a small hole in Mega Maid's ear to reach the self-destruct button, then escapes out the other ear only seconds before the ship explodes. Mega Maid's head, and the hand holding the vacuum-cleaner handle, crash on a nearby planet's sandy ocean beach with Sandurz, Skroob and Helmet still aboard (but escaping shortly after the landing). Mega Maid's telescoping escape pod launch tubes exposed outside her head, in addition to her right arm's broken-off vacuum cleaner handle looking like her "torch", give Mega Maid's remaining pieces a sizable resemblance to the wrecked Statue of Liberty as seen in the final scene of Planet of the Apes.
- Pizza the Hutt, named after the Pizza Hut restaurant chain, is a half-man, half-pizza slice-shaped Mafioso and a parody of Jabba the Hutt. He demands Lone Starr pay him one million "space bucks" ("or else," Hutt's companion threatens, "Pizza is gonna send out for you!"). By the end of the film, however, a "news segment" watched by Lone Starr and Barf reveals that Pizza got locked in his limousine and ate himself to death.
- Hutt's android companion Vinnie takes the place of the various courtiers and associates of Jabba, such as Bib Fortuna, but is metallic and likely references Boba Fett, the bounty hunter in the Star Wars films.He resembles a stereotypical gangster with an outlandish costume, and exhibits stuttering speech patterns and mannerisms similar to Max Headroom.
- John Hurt appears in a restaurant scene where a small alien bursts out of his abdomen, parodying his role as Kane in Alien. After the alien bursts out of his abdomen, Hurt's character mutters despairingly, "Oh no, not again!" The alien then dons a straw boater hat and does a vaudeville-style performance of "Hello! Ma Baby" down the length of the diner's bar, in a reference to Michigan J. Frog in the Warner Brothers Looney Tune "One Froggy Evening" (including using the audio from the cartoon) before zipping away.
- When Lone Starr, Barf, Dot, and Princess Vespa enter the tomb, Dot gets scared and says, "Goodbye, folks! Lemme know how it turns out!" when Yogurt's statue spews fire. This is a parody of the scene where Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tinman, and the Scarecrow meet the Great Oz in The Wizard of Oz.
- Lone Starr asking to be paid just his expenses instead of the reward money imitates a scene near the end of It Happened One Night. Like Spaceballs, It Happened One Night starts with a spoiled heiress running away and ends with her marrying her rescuer.
- In a reverse parody, the special high-speed variant of the all-electric Tesla Model S car has an ultra "Ludicrous Mode" setting, paying direct homage to the dangerous "Ludicrous Speed" available in Spaceball One.
Primarily, "the Schwartz" is a play on "the Force", from Star Wars. The lightsabers emanating from the Schwartz-rings held in front of the crotch are phallic symbols. Schwarz (an adjective) is German for "black" and a common Ashkenazi Jewish surname. The Light and Dark sides of the Force are parodied by being called the "up side" and the "down side". In the first episode of the animated series, the Dark Side is called "the Schwarz side of the Schwartz". It has also been widely reported that "the Schwartz" is a reference to Brooks's lawyer, Alan U. Schwartz. The word is also reminiscent of the Yiddish word Schwanz, "tail", which is Yiddish/German slang for "penis". This is also implied by the phallic symbolism and jokes ("I see your Schwartz is as big as mine").
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 54% of critics gave positive reviews based on 35 reviews with an average rating of 6.2/10. At another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 46%, based on 14 reviews. Many critics agreed that, while it was funny, doing a Star Wars parody ten years after the original film had been released seemed pointless. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, and remarked "I enjoyed a lot of the movie, but I kept thinking I was at a revival…it should have been made several years ago, before our appetite for Star Wars satires had been completely exhausted."
Spaceballs was first made available on VHS and LaserDisc in February 1988; they were re-released in the late 1990s. The VHS edition was issued twice; the latter edition was presented in widescreen. The laserdisc, meanwhile, also gained a commentary track with Brooks; this was transferred over to the DVD and Blu-ray releases. The film was first released on DVD on April 25, 2000. This version also contained "the making of..." documentary and the collectible "making-of" booklet. The film was then released in the "Collectors Edition" on May 3, 2005. This edition contained more extras including the documentary about the film and the video conversation about the making of the film with Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan. On August 7, 2012, the "25th Anniversary Edition" was released on Blu-ray containing many of the same bonus features as the 2005 DVD release with the addition of a new featurette.
Sequel and animated series
The possibility of a sequel was satirized in the film, with Yogurt's quote: "God willing, we'll all meet again in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money".
In September 2004, news about a sequel, parodying the Star Wars prequel trilogy, appeared online. A follow on to Spaceballs was eventually developed into an animated television show which debuted in September 2008 as Spaceballs: The Animated Series on G4 and the Canadian Super Channel.
Moranis claimed in an interview that he and Brooks had discussed a potential sequel, with Moranis pitching the title Spaceballs III: The Search for Spaceballs II. However, Moranis added that he and Brooks were unable to structure a deal that would allow the project to move forward.
In February 2015, Brooks said that he would like to make a sequel to be released after the next Star Wars movie and hopes that Rick Moranis would reprise his role from the first film. A sequel with the whole cast is not possible since John Candy, Joan Rivers, Dick Van Patten and Dom DeLuise are all deceased. This proposed film, Brooks said, may be called Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money.
In 1989, the film Martians Go Home was distributed in the Italian market as Balle Spaziali 2 - La vendetta (Balle Spaziali being the localized title of Spaceballs). The film has no connection to Spaceballs.
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