I was going to save this post about Hardware Wars for Ernie Fosselius’s birthday — but that would truly be neurotic of me, wouldn’t it? And what has everybody been talking about for days? So I post it today.
The title of this post is hyperbole, an exaggeration. I love the original three Star Wars pictures, and I am prepared to love the new one (the middle three don’t count). But I put them in perspective. I enjoy fantasy, often a great deal, but normally with a certain vague cognizance that it is in large part, welll… silly. Ask the Marchioness; if Game of Thrones is on, I make jokes about it. I make fun of the names. It might be easier to put in perspective when you remember that George Lucas was greatly influenced by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. Most people recognize those as camp because we now watch it through the clarifying aether of time. But I assure you — some future audience will laugh at Star Wars. They will. They just will.
When the original film came out, my obsession was already comedy. No word of a lie, when my sister and I saw Star Wars the first time, we both fell asleep. Sure, candy, soda and popcorn no doubt played a role. But also, to us, anyway, the movie made no sense. We had no frame of reference. The names of everything were gibberish. But I was quickly schooled by my best friend, who was much more sophisticated about movies. He loved it, and everybody else seemed to. (Halloween 1977 was not to be believed. George Lucas OWNED Halloween that year.) And so by the time the two original sequels came out, I was majorly excited and really loved them. To be most accurate about how I feel — I have a nostalgic affection for them.
But…my true obsession remained and remains comedy. So as much as I enjoyed these films (and didn’t enjoy the second trilogy), nothing compares to the degree to which I appreciated Ernie Fossellius’s 1978 Star Wars parody Hardware Wars. This may surprise you, but nonetheless I think I can make this claim in all confidence — I sincerely believe that, pound for pound,minute for minute, joke for joke, I laughed harder at this movie than any other movie I have ever watched in my life. Laughed until tears streamed down my face. Laughed ’til I woke up the people sleeping upstairs. Laughed immoderately. Granted, my buddies and I were about 19 when we discovered it (circa 1984), and granted we were generally roaring drunk on beer, and that it is only 12 minutes long (easier to make a funny 12 minute film than it is a feature). Still, we watched it many times — maybe two dozen times — and our merriment never diminished.
Hardware Wars was the best of everything I love. On the one hand it was a spoof, in the Mad Magazine/ Mel Brooks mold, both clever and shamelessly low brow. Han Solo’s name is “Ham Salad”. Obi Wan Kenobi is “Augie Ben Dogie”. On the other hand, it was done on the cheap, with non-actors and props pulled out of someone’s garage (hence the movie’s title). So the writing and direction was very funny in an intentional way; yet much additional humor was derived from the poverty of it. It is poorly dubbed, like a foreign movie, for example. The things on the sides of Princess Leia’s head are coffee rolls. Chewbacca is “the Wookie Monster”. (You do the comedy math — what do you think happens when the Wookie Monster gets near the coffee rolls? Of course it does!) Best of all, it is narrated by the great Paul Frees, whose voice we recognized from EVERYWHERE. It is the perfect voice for this. If none of the rest of the film were funny, Frees’ voice by itself would have been enough to make us howl.
Interestingly, Mel Brooks did his own Star Wars parody Space Balls almost a decade later. The two movies are an interesting study in contrasts. What kind of comedy you can make on a shoestring vs. what kind you can make on a Hollywood budget. I think it simpleminded to claim superiority of one or the other; it is simply instructive to look at them side by side.
On the same tape as Hardware Wars (this was in the days of VHS), were two other favorites, Bambi vs. Godzilla and the Fosselius spoof of Apocalypse Now, entitled Porklips Now. But we’ll save those for another time….