As you undoubtedly know, the Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer was released on Friday, and has since pretty much taken over the internet. While the reviews, speculation and countless breakdowns may form a large part of it, the bulk that I have seen has actually been comedy. Gifs, memes, mash-ups and retakes started appearing what seemed like minutes after that minute-and-a-half of footage was released, and show no signs of stopping. It's fantastic, it's hilarious, it's occasionally a little frightening, and it made me think back to the days of old when the internet wasn't a thing, and a way to poke fun at a movie was....to make another movie.
Created by that king of parody, Mel Brooks, SpaceBalls tells the story of Princess Vespa, a spoilt Dru-ish princess, and Lone Starr, a mercenary in a Winnebago sent to rescue her from Dark Helmet of the Planet SpaceBall. It's the classic parody formula: take a popular tale, turn every name into a pun, add some slapstick (at least ten percent of which should be groin-related), and make sure it's a happy ending.
It's a simple enough strategy, and as always, it gets the job done. The puns are (unsurprisingly) wonderful, from Pizza the Hutt (my personal favorite) to Lone Starr himself. Every other line is a joke, with the kind of silly wordplay that Mel Brooks movies are known for. Everyone who has ever seen this has a favorite scene, a favorite line, something that reduces them to fits of giggles, no matter how long it's been. Combing the desert, the necessity of hairdryers and being surrounded by assholes are a few of my personal snicker-inducers.
As well as being funny, the effects hold up surprisingly well for a movie nearly thirty years old. Like most of Brooks' work, I believe that this is because he doesn't do a lot with FX, or trying to make things look slick or fancy. His work is purely about the dialogue and physical humor, and so the vast majority of it is simply great comedic actors on a set, and that doesn't need a whole lot of impressive effects to be wonderful. Brooks also makes a point of breaking the fourth wall constantly, whether it's the cameras appearing in a fight scene, referencing other movies, or in this case, even referencing the movie itself! Nothing is sacred, and so the clumsy parts don't matter. This isn't a movie for escapism, so much as an hour and a half long skit about Star Wars. With really impressive costumes.
However, despite all the elements seemingly present, this isn't one of Brooks' best by a long shot. There is a definite feeling that this was something of a money-spinner, rather than a work of heart; in fact, Brooks himself (as Yogurt) says as much on camera! It could be that he is just making a joke at his own expense, but I actually feel like there's an edge to the line "God willing, we'll all meet again in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money."
Although the comedy is on point throughout, the whole thing feels a tad soul-less, as though someone told Brooks "you should do a Star Wars parody", rather than him having a deep love for the movies himself. The plot is much, much simpler, and missing two very important figures - where are the take-offs of Luke Skywalker and R2D2?! It's arguable that the complex storyline of the original trilogy is just too much to have every character in a parody, but come on!! The jokes themselves are also stacked much more heavily in favor of getting-hit-in-the-nuts jokes, which can be a little frustrating at times. Not that parodies are known for their sensitive and subtle nature, but re-watching as an adult, it was just a bit much.
Spaceballs lacks the finesse and passion of Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, even Men in Tights (at a push). Watch it through a haze of nostalgia, and because you loved it as a kid, but I'm guessing if you've never seen it and sat down to watch today, you would be underwhelmed. (Exception to that rule: if you are a thirteen year old boy, you'll probably still love it, because Mel Brooks is basically also a thirteen year old boy.)
It's a fun re-watch if you used to love it, can still quote it, and either smoke a lot of weed or can turn it into a drinking game. (Drinking games could focus around puns, penis-and-ball jokes, intentional antisemitism, or characters names that are actually food.) But if you need me, I'll be watching Blazing Saddles.