The planet Spaceball's inhabitants, known as the Spaceballs, have long since destroyed their world's ecology and now there is no atmosphere left. This presents them with a conundrum: what can they do to get some oxygen to return? But the answer comes through theft when one of their evil leaders, Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), settles on stealing the atmosphere of the neighbouring planet Druidia. Only one obstacle prevents them, and that is the protective shield around it, but if they had a bargaining tool, the Spaceballs are sure they could get their way...
After winning the permission of George Lucas, writer, director and star of this film Mel Brooks went ahead with his spoof of the Star Wars films. Unfortunately for him, the critical reception was a poor one, with many dismayed at the low quality of his gags compared to the comedies of his seventies heyday, yet over the years Spaceballs has won over plenty of science fiction fans and has gone on to attain status as a cult favourite. But was this because it was genuinely funny, or were the fans simply enjoying spotting the references?
It looks like the latter, because Spaceballs is really no better than the lampooning Scary Movie series and its follow-ups which were patently inspired less by the great Airplane! and more by the underwhelming likes of this. Taking the subject of a million and one television sketch shows, Brooks doesn't even aspire to be better than that, with depressingly lazy humour from an entertainer who had proved himself time and again worthy of so much more. Every joke aims squarely for the obvious, so when, for example, the radar is jammed we get a shot of a radar dish having raspberry jam thrown at it.
It really is that poor, and it's a shame because Brooks assembled a solid cast of talent who can do nothing but put in the broadest performances possible with what they're given. Instead of Han Solo and Chewbacca there's Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and half man-half dog Barf (John Candy), who is only called that so other characters think he is about to vomit when he tells them his name. There is no Luke Skywalker, but there is a Princess Leia, here Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), who Dark Helmet is moved to kidnap so he can hold her to ransom for the code to the protective shield to her planet.
Brooks is keen to show off his breadth of knowledge, so there are jokes about Transformers, Planet of the Apes and Alien (John Hurt gamely appearing for a cameo) among the expected digs at Star Wars. Perhaps the trouble is that he appears reluctant to really go for the jugular, with the better, slightly amusing moments having nothing to do with the Lucas universe. The best bit in the whole film is where Brooks displays the kind of imagination that might have salvaged the project and features Dark Helmet and his right hand man watching the videocassette of Spaceballs to find out what happens next to see where the Princess has gone. Otherwise, it's all on the level of illuminating the fact that Yoda sounds a bit like Yogurt. A big disappointment, in other words. Music by John Morris.