Wednesday, November 28, 2012

80s Animation Month: Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)

It's difficult to talk about Starchaser: The Legend of Orin without acknowledging the fact that it's a massive rip-off of George Lucas's Star Wars movies (particularly Episode IV). Don't get me wrong, there's some original elements and ideas to it but they are buried under a mountain of very familiar characters, story and action beats. I guess the director and writer were hoping no one would notice? Or maybe they were pressured by the studio into making it like Star Wars in order to guarantee success? Needless to say it didn't work out and the film flopped. While ripping off someone else's work is hard to defend you've got to admire their skill a little. I mean, just look at George Lucas's own attempt to replicate the Star Wars phenomenon with the distinctly lacklustre prequel trilogy. It's a lot harder than it looks.

So Starchaser
is set in on the planet Trinia in a galaxy far, far away. Our hero Orin (Luke) lives in an underground mining community digging up precious crystals for the evil overlord Zygon (Darth Vader) and his robot soldiers. One day Orin finds the hilt to a sword (lightsaber) and decides to dig his way to the surface. He runs into zombie cyborgs and is rescued by Dag (Han) a rakish smuggler and his female robot companion Silica (C3PO). They all travel in Dag's ship The Starchaser (Millenium Falcon) to a rough town full of criminals (Mos Eisley) where Orin is again rescued by the Governer's Daughter Aviana (Leia). Aviana explains that Orin's sword hilt is a relic from an ancient order of guardians called Ka-Khan (Jedi Knights). Orin and his friends team up to break into Zygon's base (Death Star) and save his people.

I'll say this. Starchaser isn't a terrible film. It's got a reasonably brisk pace and it's full of action sequences. Okay, it is a big rip-off but there's quite a lot of fun playing 'spot the similarities'. You could easily make a drinking game out of it. Like all the other 80s animated films I've covered, this too is surprisingly bleak and creepy at times. There's cyborg zombies who want to harvest Orin for his limbs, Orin's grandfather gets whipped around the eyes by a laser whip, Dag spanks his female robot and reprogrammes her to be more subservient and Zygon even strangles Orin's girlfriend to death during their escape early on. The film never really establishes a stable tone at any point. It goes back and forth between childish sentimentality and disturbing adult elements which makes the film very uncertain as to who it is aimed at.

And this is only compounded by the fact the animation style is very similar to a Saturday morning cartoon (which surely confused the audience even more at the time). The film was originally released in 3D but sadly you can only get it on a plain old 2D DVD. They use a lot of (obviously) early computer animation to draw the spaceships which sticks out a mile but I guess these were the major bits that were going to be converted into 3D. The rest of the animation is a pretty flat and uninspiring but there are a few impressive sequences, particularly the enormous firey portal where the miners dump their harvested crystals. As well as having a shaky tone the film also has a pretty weak story. The characters just seem to jump from place to place with little sense of a storyline unfolding.

The dialogue is also clunky in the extreme. I mean what kind of speech is this? "Thousands of years ago on some obscure planet a primitive chess computer was the first inorganic mind to beat men. In a few hours I will be calling checkmate in the last such game the humans and their kind will ever play." Interestingly the film was written by Jeffrey Scott who wrote a lot of episodes of the animated 'Dungeons and Dragons' TV show. I used to love that show as a kid and this film definitely has a little of that same vibe. Despite it being set over several planets and having loads of characters, it still feels very TV-ish rather than Cinematic. It's derivative and forgettable rather than original and memorable.

All in all,
Starchaser is an okay movie. Again, I think it would mostly appeal to someone who grew up in the 80s and wants a trip down memory lane. Surprisingly, it's been recently announced that a studio is looking to remake this film in live action! That should be very interesting, particularly given the fact that Disney has recently bought Lucasfilm and is aiming to get a new trilogy in the cinema soon without Lucas at the helm. Perhaps the new Star Wars and Starchaser will go head to head! Now that would be awesome to see.



  1. wOW, Ive never seen this, but it looks like a major Star Wars rip off, ala Starcrash! Then again, everything was ripping off star wars back in those days.

  2. Ha! Knew I'd find a film you hadn't seen sooner or later!

    Yeah, this is a major Star Wars rip-off. Still, it's a fun movie if you're into your 80s animation. I think you'd like it.

  3. Duuuuude I gotta see this!! "Spot the similarities" sounds like a fuuuuun game to play. :)

  4. Yeah, definitely check this one out. It's great nostalgia for people like us who grew up on 80s cartoons. And hilarious for how much it tries to rip off Star Wars.