James Cameron is a big name these days. I mean, his Wikipedia description reads as “film producer, deep-sea explorer, screenwriter, and editor”, so it’s kind of hard not to think of him as a big deal. Well, that and he was behind some of the biggest blockbusters of the past three decades.

But before ‘Terminator‘, ‘Titanic’, and ‘Avatar‘, there was ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’, where James Cameron did some of his very first work with special effects, and it is the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column on classic science fiction (or in this case, should-be classic science fiction).

Now, I want you to watch this trailer, but please try not to judge Cameron on his special effects too harshly. For the time period, they were actually quite excellent… though, I think it does bear mentioning that his spaceship inexplicably looks like a uterus and testes all at the same time.

The shape of the ship is very much open to interpretation.

So what is ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’? The long answer is that it’s about a young boy assembling seven warriors to help protect a defenseless planet from invaders. The short answer is that it’s an unabashed sci-fi knock off ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (which of course is a western knock off of ‘The Seven Samurai’). How much of a knock off, you ask? Why, Robert Vaughn stars in it.

Wait. Robert Vaughn? Wasn’t he in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ playing Lee, a character who had a price on his head, and agrees to help the heroes in exchange for a safe place to hide?

Robert Vaughn as Lee in The Magnificent Seven.

Yup! And guess what? Robert Vaughn plays exactly the same role in ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’. Except this time, the price on his head is in space. And he hides… in space. Bonus points for have the same end to his character arc… only in space. Of course, we shouldn’t be that surprised. If ‘The Magnificent Seven’ had a pimp, it would be him. He was in the original movie, the 90s TV show, a sci-fi spoof, and a movie called the ‘The Magnificent Eleven’, which has the same theme as ‘The Magnificent Seven’ only it involves gangsters and a Tandoori restaurant.

Robert Vaughn as Lee Gelt in Battle Beyond the Stars.

As far as I’m concerned, Robert Vaughn is ‘The Magnificent Seven’. All seven of them.

‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ also has some big names from the 70s and 80s, including George Peppard… you know… John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader of the A-Team? 

There was also John Saxon who played the infinitely bad-ass Roper from ‘Enter the Dragon’. But then I remembered it starred Sybil Danning, the queen of cult and B-movies. How cult and how B-movie, you ask? Well, she had a role in Del Toro and Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse’ in Rob Zombie’s fictitious trailer for “Werewolf Women of the SS”.

Well, you really don’t get more B-Movie than this outfit.

Oh, and the producer was Roger Corman, who has credits like ‘Sharktopus’ and ‘Slumber Party Massacre III’. You don’t really get more B-movie than that.

Well, actually it does. The movie is peppered with classic lines like “Does your species have kissing?” and my favortite:

The best part about this scene is that before the father insists on the main character, Shad, breeding with his daughter, he informs him, “If you’re on my ship, you’re in my presence”, which is very disturbing in every way. It really feels like he’s saying, “Breed with my daughter! Oh by the way, I’ll be watching.”

Maybe that’s what endears the movie so much to me. It’s a pastiche of the most impossible things for no reason other than someone decided they really liked ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and science fiction. My point is that it’s so classically kitsch sci-fi that it can’t help but be a satire for everything that went wrong with the genre in the 60s and 70s. I’m fairly certain that wasn’t was originally intended, but that’s okay with me because I probably wouldn’t have liked it if I saw in 1980. Now, 30 years later, I love it.

So, I suppose that perhaps there is a reason this movie bobs along the tides of the cult movie lovers. But then again, it has a 30th anniversary Blu-Ray, and that’s saying quite a lot for a movie that absolutely no waves when it came out. Well, actually, it’s unthinkable for a movie that absolutely failed to capitalize on the ‘Star Wars’ fad, seeing as ‘Empire Strikes Back’ came out only a few months earlier. So maybe there is just a little bit more to the B-movie than meets the eye, eh?

Still, I love this movie, as horrible as it is. I love it for taking old science fiction clichés and amping them up to 11. It’s a celebration of nerds by nerds for nerds, but it’s clear that the kind of people it would appeal to is a very small group of people.

Yet, here I am, on Throwback Thursday, bringing up this gem of an 80s film that no one seems to remember, if only because I never laughed out loud so much at something being so serious about being ridiculous. If you decide to pick this up, do me a favor: don’t watch it alone. It can be enjoyed in the only the way all camp movies are enjoyed, with good company and good food.