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‘Spaceballs’ Doesn’t Hold Up, And That’s Ok

An exploration of Mel Brooks’ ‘Star Wars’ parody and its lasting influence.
By  · Published on June 23rd, 2017

An exploration of Mel Brooks’ ‘Star Wars’ parody and its lasting influence.

If the internet at large were represented by one human appendage, it would be a knee. So designated for its usefulness? Not at all! This hypothetical assignment is earned by the web’s propensity for quick, reflexive reactions that aren’t always founded upon objective reflection. It’s understandable to a degree, the movies and stories we love are sacred to us because of their attachment to significant moments in life or vital experiences. This is also true of those things we hold to be universally subpar that suddenly develop angry online followings arguing its previously unrecognized merit. Detractors and defenders materialize at an even rate of speed.

When we are faced with the insinuation that something we love, that is so much a part of us, isn’t actually quality, we battle cognitive dissonance and assert that a thing we love must be great because why else would we love it?

The Junkfood Cinema podcast is here to say that it is perfectly acceptable to love a thing that isn’t great or at least isn’t as great as the younger version of yourself firmly attests that it is. It’s not merely acceptable, it’s etched into the mission statement of the podcast.

All this to say, “hey…remember Spaceballs?

For years, this writer had given Mel Brooks’ Star Wars spoof equal purchase on the top shelf with his other triumphs Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Teenage Brian would have gnashed teeth and spit rage at anyone claiming Spaceballs was anything outside of genius. The Brian who revisited Spaceballs last week, however, arrived at a decidedly different conclusion. To be clear, Spaceballs is not a bad film, and in fact, it still stands up against the vast majority of studio comedies churned out today. However, there is a major flaw working against it.

Spaceballs is wildly scattershot, to a degree that it appears unfocused. While Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein were rooted in the genres, and in the case of the latter, the specific films they were respectively lampooning, Spaceballs is only barely reminiscent of Star Wars. It follows no Star Wars film structure and spends as much time sending up Trek as it does Wars, to say nothing of the dozens of other sci-fi mainstays it mocks.

Yes, Blazing Saddles would stray from Westerns for, say, a massive set piece wherein a cowboy brawl spills into the other productions at the movie studio, but the western thread unified the narrative in such a way as to support these dalliances into seeming non-sequitur. Conversely, Spaceballs, with no single-minded narrative, creates entire plot points for the sole purpose of setting up gags bordering on, though never reaching the egregiousness of, Family Guy cutaways.

It just doesn’t seem Mel’s heart was in Spaceballs as much as it was in Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein. It certainly seems so when the man himself revealed in an interview that he decided to do Spaceballs (a decade after the release of the movie he was ostensibly parodying) because he realized he “had yet to spoof space movies.” It would seem Spaceballs was as much an afterthought as anything else.

But again, Spaceballs is still funny. It’s endlessly quotable, features a dynamite cast, and some of the bits do incite as many laughs today as they did upon release. We just need to reconcile the fact that it’s not as good as we remember, but that that knowledge doesn’t reduce our affection for it.

Want a deeper dive into the appeal and setbacks of Spaceballs? The Junkfood Cinema podcast does some Schwartz-measuring on this week’s installment of their Summer of 1987 series!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to weekly bonus episodes covering an additional cult movie, a new movie in theaters, or a mailbag episode devoted to your submitted questions! During Summer of ’87, there will be an entirely separate Summer of ’77 miniseries just for Patrons! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.