George Lucas threatened Spaceballs’ Mel Brooks over Star Wars parody
The recently published memoir of Mel Brooks, All on me!, is a virtual time machine for anyone interested in the history of comedy or show business. Brooks’ career spans working with Sid Caeser and Carl Reiner on the variety show Your Show in the 1950s with the recent signing of a deal with hulu for comedy series based on History of the world, part 1. There isn’t a living comedian who hasn’t taken advantage of Brooks in some way.
LitHub posted one except All on me which details how Brooks created a sci-fi masterpiece: Space balls. Released in 1987, Space balls came a decade after the first movie he parodied, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and four years later Return of the Jedi. While critics viewed the film as an improvement over his other decade-long efforts (including the infamous “Hitler Rap” from To be or not to be), Janet Maslin from New York Times felt that it is “the underlying stupidity can not help but wear out”.
But unlike Hitler’s rap (“My name is Adolf / I’m at the microphone / I’ll show you the history of the New Third Reich”), Space balls has the power to stay. Talk to Weekly entertainment on his 25th birthday, Brooks said that “I have made a dozen films – some of them really big hits – and all of them have been left in the dust by Space balls. ”
Why? As Brooks explains in All on me!, even a sci-fi parody starts with finding the right story. Rather than looking to Star Wars, alien, 2001 or one of the other famous sci-fi storylines, Brooks writes that Space balls was “inspired by Frank Capra’s 1934 classic It happened one night.
“It is the story of a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) who escapes her marriage by fleeing on her wedding day from a very, very rich but very, very dull husband, then she falls in love with an attractive wise commoner (Clark Gâble). We took that same basic plot and pushed it into space! “
Which also makes Space balls the work is pouring. Brooks found an actor working on Off-Broadway who only had one screen credit to his name. He had “charm, presence and I knew he was the right guy for the role.” That actor was Bill Pullman, who in 1996 would become a household name as President Thomas Whitmore in a very different sci-fi film, Independence Day.
Pullman, as Han Solo Lone Starr’s replacement, played against Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa, Leia’s replacement who gets a lot of borscht belt jokes (being told she’s a Druish princess: “Funny, she doesn’t look Druish.”), John Candy, Chewbacca’s replacement as Barf, half-man and half-dog, and Rick Moranis, who plays Vader’s replacement Darth Helmet.
Brooks’ explanation of Dark Helmet goes to the heart of Space balls: “Because Rick was small, we decided to literally lock him in a huge black helmet. The giant helmet is a sight gag that works every time. It was a huge, silly, funny idea. was the kind of cartoonish joke that worked for adults as well as kids. Seeing a guy with a comically large headgear is just a gag that hits, whether it’s a black helmet or Turd ferguson.
Brooks sent the script to Space balls to George Lucas as a courtesy, “if not to get his blessing, then certainly to give him a warning.” Lucas, a Flaming saddles and Young Frankenstein fan, gave Brooks a request: no toys. “He explained that if I made toys from my Space balls characters that they would look a lot like Star wars figurines. And that would be a no-no for his lawyers and his studio’s business affairs department. “
Merchandising and penchant for cash-in sci-fi movies is a recurring gag in Space balls. Dark Helmet is seen playing with action figures, and Brooks’ Yoga Stand-in Yogurt gives a speech proclaiming “Merchandising!” Merchandising is where the real movie money is made. Space balls the T-shirt! Space balls the coloring book! Space balls the lunch box! Space balls breakfast cereals! Space balls the flamethrower!
But Brooks agreed with Lucas that the situation could turn out to be confusing, so he refrained from creating any real meta-goods for. Space balls.
Space balls is not a sci-fi parody that is very aware of or revere details of the genre. Rather, it comes up with big, general ideas, makes them as wacky as possible, and adds a little heart to them to boot. As Brooks told Entertainment Weekly in 2012, Space balls is not “a better movie than Young Frankenstein and it’s not as dangerous as Flaming saddles. But I think the secret is it gets sweet and emotional. It’s kind of a beautiful fairy tale.