The peaceful planet of Akir is disrupted when a huge spacecraft appears in the sky, destroys a manned weather satellite to show it means business, and then projects the image of evil warlord Sador overhead. Sador (John Saxon) gives the people of Akir an ultimatum: he will return in seven days to claim the planet and its resources as his own, or else they will be destroyed. Shad (Richard Thomas) doesn't believe the Akirans should give in without a fight, and climbs aboard the only space ship they have to head for the space station of Dr. Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe) where he expects to get help...
With Star Wars the massive hit that it was, it was understandable that lower budget enterprises would arrive to cash in, especially during the year that The Empire Strikes Back was released. So it came to pass that Roger Corman put up a bit more money than usual to produce Battle Beyond the Stars, a fast-moving space opera that scriptwriter John Sayles had cheekily based on The Seven Samurai, which in turn had spawned The Magnificent Seven. With some great art direction from future Aliens director James Cameron, especially in the diversity of spaceships on display (note the marvellous bosom on Shad's feminine craft), this effort had a definite advantage over its competitors.
Once Shad, and his ship board computer Nell (voiced by Lynn Carlin) dock with the space station, they find that the doctor's companions are a bunch of androids (portrayed by blokes in boiler suits doing robotics - excellent) and his lovely young daughter, Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel), who takes care of maintenance. The doctor wants Shad to stay on and start a family with Nanelia, but he escapes - not before winning Nanelia over to his cause. They then begin a search of the galaxy for mercenaries to assist in the defence of Akir.
The mercenaries are a colourful bunch, all engagingly acted, and adept at pushing random buttons on a console while looking as if they know what they're doing. First up is Cowboy (George Peppard) a laconic, intergalactic version of a truck driver who Shad saves from pirates. Then there's the Nestor, a collective of consciousness-sharing aliens who speed about in a glowing flying saucer, Cayman (Morgan Woodward), a reptilian fellow who has a big grudge against Sador after the villain wiped out his planet with his Stellar Converter, and Saint-Exmin (Sybil Danning), a Valkyrie who wants to fight at all costs. Lastly, Shad tracks down Gelt (Robert Vaughn basically reprising his Magnificent Seven role), a deadly bounty hunter who just wants a safe place to retire.
Amongst the gunfire and zooming space ships, you get a coming of age story with Shad growing up, learning to look after himself, and falling in love (with Nanelia, naturally). The tongue in cheek humour is welcome (the Nestor are asked why they have five in their party when they only need four to fly their ship, and answer, "We always carry a spare"), but what surprises you is how much dignity what is essentially a pulpy sci-fi cash-in lends its characters. The film is not afraid to kill them off, and great sacrifices are made to beat Sador (even the amusingly despicable Saxon ends up gaining a little of your respect), but you'll feel sorry when they get shot down; I hesitate to call it poignant, but you really do warm to them, which simply adds to the fun. Good work all round, and not an Ewok to be seen. Rousing music by James Horner.
American animator and producer who, after a career in award-winning shorts and documentaries, got his break in feature length movies assisting Roger Corman, notably on The Red Baron. He directed the Star Wars-inspired romp Battle Beyond the Stars before once more turning to animation with the Raymond Briggs adaptations The Snowman (as supervising director) and When the Wind Blows, and Dickens adaptation Christmas Carol: The Movie.