Thank you for pressing the self-destruct button, Tor.com. This website will self-destruct in two minutes! Okay, not really. But maybe you should read this post at ludicrous speed, just in case.
That’s right: today’s Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia is one of the most parodiest of all sci-fi film parodies: 1987’s Spaceballs! Whoo!
(I apologize in advance, by the way, for the sheer number of gifs under the cut. But I just couldn’t help myself!)
Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
LIZ: We should do the drinking challenge this time.
ME: I feel like I might get in trouble for that. Also that we might get alcohol poisoning.
KATE: Not possible, we have seen this movie TEN BILLION times.
“The drinking challenge”, O my Peeps, refers to an often-discussed-but-never-actually-implemented contest in which my sisters and I would theoretically watch certain excessively-beloved films of our childhood, and be obliged to correctly recite all the dialogue along with the actors in real time. And if you mess up, of course, you have to take a drink. Yeah.
Like all drinking games, this is (a) an inherently terrible idea, which is (b) probably going to happen at some point anyway. Even if it didn’t on this particular occasion, because I am a dreary killjoy who hates fun, according to certain unnamed parties.
Kate’s point, though, is valid, in that we have seen Spaceballs so many times over the course of our lives that we probably really could recite just about every line from memory. And I know what you’re thinking: why, exactly, have we watched this movie so freakin’ much?
Well, I mean, “because it’s funny” may seem like a reductive answer, but it does have the virtue of being true. Still, there are lots of very funny movies out there that we have not seen eleventy zillion times, including most of Mel Brooks’s oeuvre, so why this one in particular?
On reflection, I think it had to do with two things more than anything else: timing, and subject.
Parody, particularly the brand of joke-a-minute goofball slapstick parody Mel Brooks is famous for, generally tends to do best with people occupying a rather specific sweet spot on the maturity front. By which I mean, you have to be mature enough to have the knowledge to understand what’s being parodied (and what parody even is in the first place), but you also have to be juvenile enough to genuinely enjoy things like pratfalls and dick jokes and general relentless silliness.
A lot of people hit that sweet spot and then leave it as adults (and a lot of people—like, say, Mel Brooks—hit that spot and then never ever ever leave it), but you generally don’t arrive at that sweet spot until your age is at least in double digits. Before that you’re generally just too young to get why exactly making fun of other people’s art can be so entertaining.
Spaceballs came out in theaters in 1987, and went to VHS the next year, and to cable probably within a year after that. Which meant that in terms of timing, it arrived in my life at pretty much the precise juncture I was most likely to think it was the most gut-bustingly hilarious thing ever invented in the whole wide world—whether it actually was or not.
Spaceballs is probably not the most gut-bustingly hilarious thing ever invented in the whole wide world. But I retain enough of my inner pre-teen-year-old that you’ll never be able to totally convince me (or my sisters) of that.
Which brings me to the other reason Spaceballs was so viscerally satisfying for my siblings and me to watch over and over and over again, and that of course is what it was parodying: i.e. Star Wars.
I know Star Wars is once again a big deal in the world (and that it honestly never really stopped being a big deal, even before the new sequels came out despite the prequels what prequels there are no prequels), but even so I don’t think people who weren’t kids in the late 70s and 80s can really appreciate what a Honkin’ Humongous Deal Star Wars was to those of us who were. I’m not going to let this article derail into a Star Wars appreciation post, so just trust me when I say that our appetites were so whetted for new Star Wars material (that at the time we thought we were never going to get) that even a parody of the franchise was cause for paroxysms of joy.
Spaceballs covered a lot more territory than just Star Wars, of course, lampooning everything from Alien to Indiana Jones to the above Planet of the Apes even to The Wizard of Oz, but at its core it was a Star Wars parody, and that made our geeky selves incredibly happy.
As a side note, I’m not a hundred percent sure whether this movie was the thing that introduced me to the concept of breaking the fourth wall, but I sure did love when it did. (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which also took great glee in the trope, came out in 1986, but I almost certainly didn’t see that in the theater, so who knows which one I saw first.) Dark Helmet getting knocked down by a dollying camera should not be so freakin’ funny, for example, but it really is.
Although that might just be because every single thing Rick Moranis did in this movie was hysterical, then and now. My sisters and I basically can’t mention him or his delicious send-up of Darth Vader without segueing into a flurry of quotes.
KATE & LIZ: “KEEP FIRING, ASSHOLES!”
So many of the jokes in this movie should absolutely not have worked, except that the actors delivered them so well. Moranis is the clear winner, but he had George Wyner (as Colonel Sandurz) as well as Mel Brooks himself (as President Skroob) to play off of, and the three of them together were hilarious.
Also awesome despite the fact that in general I didn’t care for them as comedians were Joan Rivers as C-3PO send-up Dot Matrix and John Candy as Chewbacca stand-in Barf. RIP, you two.
LIZ: That’s Barfolomew!
Bill Pullman, meanwhile… eh, he got the job done as Lone Starr, the haphazard sort-of generic hero amalgamation of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
KATE: He’s better than Greg Kinnear, anyway.
LIZ & ME: [very long stare]
ME: That is the strangest thing you’ve ever said.
KATE: I was trying to think of comparable actors!
Sure thing, honey. (Does anyone even remember Greg Kinnear at this point?)
Anyway. Daphne Zuniga as Druish Princess Vespa got in a couple of good zingers (and has a lovely singing voice), but really her greatest contribution to the movie (and should have been to fashion and/or electronics) was her Princess Leia headphones, which is one of the many things I was terribly sad to see were not available to buy at the time (or now, apparently, even though someone was selling them at one point).
But this is because there is no merchandise from Spaceballs—none official, that is. Which makes the whole moichandising! scene pretty ironic, really. Apparently Brooks made a deal with Lucas that in return for Lucas’s endorsement, he wouldn’t produce any Spaceballs merchandise, because Lucas thought they would look too much like Star Wars merchandise. Which, besides being kind of a dick move on Lucas’s part, seems completely dumb to me. Like getting to buy a Yogurt doll wouldn’t have stopped me from also buying a Yoda doll.
KATE & LIZ: “May da Schwartz be with you!”
…Although I have to admit that these days I would be much more likely to buy a Yogurt doll. So maybe it wasn’t dumb on Lucas’s part, who knows. (Still a dick move, though.)
Speaking of Druish princesses and Da Schwartz, I’m… not sure I’m up to getting into the Jewish jokes, and why it’s okay for a Jewish man to make Jewish jokes but not okay for non-Jews to do the same, but if you want some (lengthy) commentary on the subject of Mel Brooks and the ethics of satire, here you go. Suffice it to say that generally speaking, as far as I am concerned comedy is funny when it’s punching up, or at least sideways, and not otherwise; and that therefore if there’s anywhere I feel like Brooks falls down on the job it is where it concerns women, but usually not otherwise. If we were discussing Blazing Saddles I would probably have to examine that more closely, but fortunately we’re not, so I don’t! Yay!
ME: STOP HARSHING MY SQUEE, LIZ.
The ethics of it notwithstanding, though, the question is: is Spaceballs still as funny as it was in the 80s?
It is to us, mostly: a few of the lamer jokes have lost their luster, but the many priceless bits remain priceless (and if I listed them all we’d be here till the end of time, but here’s one of my faves, just for you):
But would it be as funny to a non-alive-in-the-80s audience? Liz thinks not, pointing out how dated many of the references are. I disagree, though. Sure, maybe millennials will have no idea that the Dink Dinks’ song is from Bridge Over the River Kwai (which predates even us) or why a reference to the “Ford Galaxy” is funny, but the sheer number of properties lampooned in Spaceballs that have been rebooted or rejuvenated since the 80s (including Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Star Wars itself) means that an awful lot more of the humor in it remains current than probably ever could have been reasonably expected.
KATE: And besides, some things are just universally funny no matter how old they are.
We would love to watch this movie with someone who’s never seen it, to see how funny they would find it, but agree that we would almost certainly annoy this person to death by gleefully yelling all the best quotes along with the movie, so—
LIZ: “Did you see anything?”
KATE: “No, sir! I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again!”
—SO we shall have to be satisfied with the knowledge that we, at least, still love it, and probably always shall.
And that’s all for now, kids! Time to close with our Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!
Hopefully there will not be a delay for the next MRGN like there was for this one (sorry about that), so come back in two weeks for more!