You can’t really blame any film producers of the 80’s for trying to copy Star Wars. Lucas’ galaxy far far away was a success of never-before-seen proportions. To get just a fraction of that kind of return would be well worth a few verbal jabs claiming you to be a ripoff artist. Eight years after the release of what we now know as Episode IV, copycats were still coming, including this animated, 3-D epic, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.
Orin (Joe Colligan) is a slave who has spent his life in an underground crystal mine. The slaves are kept in line by an army of robots with laser whips commanded by the mysterious helmet sporting ruler Zygon (Anthony De Longis). When Orin finds a magical sword hilt without a blade, it begins an adventure beyond his imagination.
To start with, he finds out that Zygon is just a purple skinned dude with a temper. Then, Orin manages to escape the mines and discovers an amazing world above the surface. After a run-in with a bunch of gruesome looking Man-Droids, he meets up with a lovable rogue of smuggler named Dagg (Carmen Argenziano). Of course, the smuggler has a ship, called the Starchaser, with a worrisome on-board computer. A curvy lady robot named Silica also joins the quest, as well as a princess with eyes for Orin named Aviana. Together this team will fight to help Orin free the slaves with the power of the mysterious bladeless sword.
Back in 1985, Starchaser’s time in theaters was short-lived. I remember it being marketed extensively, with ads airing during afternoon cartoons on local UHF stations. The chance to see a 3-D animated sort-of-Star Wars just didn’t resonate with kids. The film doesn’t seem to have been made with kids in mind, though. Yes, it’s animated and it’s rated PG (after the creation PG-13, by the way), but several elements are not typical kiddie fare. The Man-droids, for example, are pretty grotesque, with torn skin and exposed organs. There are also several sexual references, most blatantly through the sexy robot Silica, who flirts with Dagg and in one scene must be reprogrammed by accessing a panel in her…um…posterior. There’s certainly plenty of stuff kids will enjoy, but films like Heavy Metal or Fire & Ice seem to have been just as much of an influence as Star Wars.
Now, make no mistake, Starchaser is one of the films most guilty of pilfering from Mr. Lucas. There is an idealistic young man looking for adventure, and he happens to have a magic sword! He meets a cocky pilot/smuggler. There’s a princess. The bad guy has a big menacing helmet. Though, to be fair, Zygon sheds his headgear for most of the film. The biggest bit of Star Wars influence is the on-board computer, which could be C3-PO’s long lost brother. Now, did any of this bug me? Not that much. Ultimately, the film ends up being pretty enjoyable, despite being only about 60% original ideas.
I guess it wasn’t too difficult for me to get past the blatant Star Wars ripoffs as I found myself being quite caught up in the animation. The film features creative character designs that are inspired by classic comic book art. Refreshingly, the characters are also not overly buff or buxom as would be seen in the animated genre films of directors like Ralph Bakshi. The film also features creative background designs and early uses of computer animation that are well-integrated with the traditional hand-drawn elements. The film certainly has moments where the narrative struggles, but for this viewer, the visuals helped pick up the slack.
It’s often said that there are no original ideas in Hollywood. Starchaser is evidence of that, no doubt. But if you’re going to rob other films in broad daylight, at least make it interesting and entertaining. Starchaser did that for me. It’s a film that is creative in its presentation, even if it isn’t in its ideas.