In the wake of Star Wars, the world was bound to see some cheap space opera knock-offs. When I was about four my dad took me to see Starcrash and to my brain at the time it was every bit as fun and exciting as the film it was aping. The movie had energy swords, talking robots, an evil emperor, and a bodacious heronie in a skimpy outfit–how could that not be awesome?
Of course my dad saw things a little differently. I’ll never forget the look of disappointment and disgust on his face when we walked out of that matinee screening somewhere in the summer of 1979. My best friend and I were jumping through the parking lot, hopped up on low-budget sci-fi energy and quoting lines from our favorite character, the cowboy robot named Elle. “You can’t keep a good robot down” I exclaimed! “That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” my dad replied. I skipped along pulling my robot six-shooters out and blasting cars with lasers until I turned around and saw my dad’s face. He meant it. He hated Starcrash.
Oh wait, really? I had a hard time wrapping my brain around that. Starcrash was like ice cream to me. Everyone loved ice cream, but if Starcrash had been an ice cream cone my dad would have chucked it into the bushes, not even dignifying it with a trash can. Was it possible that what I liked and thought was good might be absolute garbage in some objective adult world?
My parents never raised me to believe in Santa Claus or anything like that so I never had that moment when I woke up out of my childhood to the realization that a fat man in a red suit had never snuck into our house at night, but I did have this moment. This moment when I was giddy with movie excitement and I looked back at my dad and I wondered why he hated the movie so much–how he could possibly hate the movie so much. I mean, the good guys won, the robot survived, the evil skeleton robots were destroyed… how could that be bad?
To be fair to Starcrash, as if it deserves some level of fairness, it was ripping off and pasting together movies other than Star Wars. It was built on liberal doses of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Barbarella too, but it was so hacked together that all of those influences never really formed into a coherent story. David Hasselhoff swung a poorly-made lightsaber around at stop-motion animated roboskeletons. The space ships looked like the kit-bashed older brothers of Ed Wood’s flying saucers. The basic acting, voice dubbing, and editing made the film feel like a flimsy effort shot in a local cable access studio. Still, none of that mattered to me in 1979, so my dad’s outright dismissal of the film had me puzzled.
His disappointment hung with me for a long time. I was suddenly aware that he judged things and that made me wonder what else I was wrong about. Was Star Wars really any good? Clash of the Titans? When we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and I lost my mind over it, was I just overreacting?
Dad never took us back to see Starcrash a second time despite many protests. It was a bridge too far for him to subject himself to low-budget Italian sci-fi twice in one lifetime. I re-watched the film recently and I can understand why he felt that way, but I sure wish that I could get back some of that unbridled enthusiasm I had before I understood that space robot movies could be bad.