A Brief History of the Star Wars Copycats
In 1975 the motion picture industry was stunned by the success of the film Jaws the first movie to gross more than $100 million at the box office. In the summer of 1977 the movie industry was once again caught off guard by the phenomenal success of Star Wars. which doubled the box office record that Jaws had previously set and eventually breaking the $300 million mark before it's initial run ended. The movie industry was still coming to grips with the phenomenal success of Jaws and was beginning to believe that it was just a fluke that would not be repeated for a long time to come. But by the end of the year they not only had Star Wars still going strong, but yet a third blockbuster was threatening to dethrone the new champ. After Jaws, Steven Spielberg had the clout to make any movie he wanted, and he wanted to make a quirky movie about a father who goes nuts obsessing about U.F.O.s after running into one on a desolate highway. Close Encounters of the Third Kind came within a few million of matching Star Wars success, just missing the $300 million mark by a couple million dollars. It had, never the less, made more than Jaws.
What was missing here was a formula. What were Spielberg and Lucas doing that the rest of the industry was not? Jaws, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were all completely different from each other. The only thing they did have in common was special effects. So studios began releasing a slew of big budget fantasy films, some which failed miserably, others which had phenomenal success, and the summer blockbuster event film was born. While you would think every film studio would have jumped onto the Star Wars bandwagon and immediately began work on their own space opera franchise, this was not the case. At the most only about 15 Star Wars inspired films were made worldwide prior to the release of it's sequel The Empire Strikes Back ( 1980 ). There were two reasons for this. One was Close Encounters.. being released on the heels of Star Warsand doing nearly as well at the box office. The other was that just a year prior to Star Wars, M.G.M. had released it's own big budget science fiction film, Logan's Run ( 1976 ) which only did modest business at $25 million.
For the studios this meant a confusion as to exactly what the formula was that made Star Wars attractive to audiences. Since science fiction/fantasy films were more expensive to make, the risk was that more money could be lost should the film flop. For a few other studios the formula was simple: space ships, robots, laser beams, and an evil space station the hero blows up in the last reel. Formula or not, after the summer of 1977 every studio was wishing they had their own version of Star Wars.
Making a fantasy film, even one with a terrible script and poor special effects, takes many months of planning and post production. For many studios it would not be until 1979 the earliest before their versions were released to theaters. On the other hand, there were the television production companies. These studios specialized on producing programming on the cheap and were capable of turning out their own versions of space operas in six months time. They had no problem reusing standing sets and props from other films, or using substandard special effects, which was part of the reason why they could turn out their own space opera so fast. The first major clone of Star Wars was a comedy show about deep space garbage collectors called Quark, which actually predated Star Wars by a couple of weeks. Written and created by Buck Henry, Quark was supposed to be a parody of Star Trek and other similar sci-fi themed shows like Space: 1999. A pilot episode was filmed and aired in May of 1977 where the ratings did not warrant NBC to order a full season. But they had a change of mind as Star Wars grew into a phenomenon. NBC ordered seven episodes which aired beginning in February of 1978, the series retooled to be more like Star Wars. In fact the first episode, titled May The Source Be With You had Commander Adam Quark ( Richard Benjamin ) and his crew blowing up a space station in a plot that parodied the first Star Wars film. Ratings were poor, and no more than seven episodes were made.
Filmation took an idea they had for a pending cartoon and retooled it as a live action Saturday morning show Space Academy which was followed a year later with a spin off series Jason of Star Command. Filmation was able to get this show on the air within a few months of Star Wars, premiering on September 10th of 1977. They did so using ultra cheap special effects and re-purposed sets and costumes from an earlier Filmation series, Ark II. There was also some stunt casting. Space Academy had Jonathan Harris from Lost in Space as the commander, while the commander on Jason of Star Command was James Doohan from Star Trek.
Another space opera that was rushed out in record time using substandard special effects was Toei Studio's Cosmic Message, released in the United States by United Artists as their Star Wars under the new title Message From Space.
Japanese studios had been making space operas and other science fiction films for a couple of decades. Not just the anime that had inspired Lucas when he was writing the outline for what would later become Star Wars, but live action films. So it was no problem for them to tweak their own formula a bit and come up with their own Star Wars knock off. One of the reasons why so many Japanese science fiction films were being made was that they were still using cheap special effects. Space ships fly around via models on wires instead of via blue screen as Lucas was using. It was quicker and cheaper, but the model work was obvious. Japanese audiences did not seem to mind. American audiences, however, were now spoiled on the superior effects used in Star Wars, were not willing to accept the 1950s style effects used in the Japanese movies. Another problem was that live action science fiction films made in Asia were generally aimed at children. Cosmic Message was no exception, and even though it was clearly made as a Star Wars knock off, was written in a style that would appeal to Japanese children and not American adults. Still, it was treated as a major Japanese production aimed at the international market. Sonny Chiba was cast as one of the stars mainly due to the fact that he had name recognition in America, although this was mostly due to his infamous film Street Fighter that made the news when they became the first martial arts movie to receive an X rating for violence. Chiba was no stranger to the space opera genre, having done Space Hypership in 1961 ( retitled Invasion of the Neptune Men for it's American dubbed release. ) In addition, American television actor Vic Morrow was hired for the production. The plot had Morrow and several others summoned by magic seeds to help liberate a planet conquered by an alien race looking to make it their military base. Much in the Star Wars formula the bad guy's base blows up at the end of the movie. In this case their base was the very planet the good guys had been attempting to liberate, the native inhabitants having already decided to abandon it and colonize a planet elsewhere.
The first of the Hollywood studios to release it's own space opera in the wake of Star Wars was Universal, the same studio that had produced Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Battlestar Galactica was proposed by television producer Glen A Larson as a weekly series and produced through Universal's television division. Since the special effects were far too expensive for television at that time, the idea was for Universal to release the pilot episode in theaters outside the United States as a stand alone film, this to recoup production costs. Wile the pilot cost Universal $7 million, the other episodes cost the studio far less to produce. This due to Larson reusing the same special effects from the first episode over and over again. fans of the series did not seem to notice that the weekly battles between fighters from the Galactica and the Cylon fighters were the same footage over and over again. While Battlestar Galactica was clearly meant to be another Star Wars knock off, credit has to be given to producer Larson who came up with an entirely original plot for the series. In some sort of futuristic world there are two major races, the twelve colonies of humans and robots who are called Cylons. During a sneak attack made possible by the human traitor Count Baltar, the Cylons destroy most of the humans leaving only one surviving planet and a lone space battleship, the Galactica. The survivors decide to put together a fleet of whatever ships were still working, and evacuate the last surviving humans. Together with the protection of the Galactica the fleet of 220 ships went in search of a fabled 13th colony they could immigrate to, a planet called Earth. However, while the series was based on a completely original premise, the pilot episode did steal one plot device from Star Wars, blowing up the Cylon's space station containing their emperor ( in this case tricking the Cylon space station into moving next to a planet that is about to explode. )
Battlestar Galactica was just to expensive a series to produce. It needed spectacular ratings for ABC to continue to afford paying for it's production, and while it continued to do well, it simply did not do well enough. Millions of viewers were lost when CBS counter programmed their hit show All in the Family against it. In addition, Universal was looking to abandon the series. After making a lot of money by releasing the pilot episode as a stand alone movie overseas, Universal Immediately edited together two more episodes and created a second movie to be shown in the overseas market, Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack.
20th Century Fox finally decided to sue Universal, claiming they had stolen 34 copyrighted ideas from Star Wars. Universal decided to counter sue, claiming Star Wars had stolen ideas from their 1930s movie serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. While both suit and counter suit were dismissed, Universal realized that if they had based a series on one of the space opera serials they had done in the 1930s and 40s then neither Fox nor Lucas Films would have had a case against them. Laron immediately began work on a Buck Rogers series while Galactica was allowed to die off with no attempt to offer it to any other network once ABC canceled it. But the series was not dead. After the success of the Buck Rogers series on NBC, ABC decided they wanted Battlestar Galactica back, provided Larson could produce cheaper episodes. By now most of the original cast was no longer available or unwilling to return. The only returning cast member were Lorne Green as Commander Adama and Herb Jefferson Jr as Boomer. Taking place 30 years after the original series, Galactica 1980 had the fleet finally discovering Earth, only to find out it did not have the advanced technology they had hoped for. ( In 1980 Earthlings had just invented the Atari 2600 and had not yet launched the first Space Shuttle. ) Now realizing they had lead the Cylons to a planet that could never defend itself, the series had the crew of the Galactica attempting to hide Earth from the Cylons. Most episodes were low-teck, taking place on modern day Earth. Fans of the original series did not appreciate the new theme of the series, nor than almost all of the original characters were missing, presumed killed off by the Cylons. Ratings tanked, and the series was canceled after 10 episodes. But not after an attempt by Larson to win the original viewers back during the final episode where in a flashback the fate of Starbuck ( the original series most popular character ) is shown.
The space opera genre began in science fiction pulp magazines in the 1920s, although it was not recognized as a genre until the 1940s by author Wilson Tucker. He had written an article blasting what he called "hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn" and had identified several melodramatic science fiction stories involving a conflict between two intergalactic civilizations, giving the genre he hated the term "space opera" which was meant to be an insult. The pulp novels that began the space opera genre soon transferred over to Sunday comics, and from there Saturday afternoon movie serials and eventually cheap feature films. The genre fizzled out in the late 1950s.
The exception was Japan, which kept the genre alive through their cartoons and children's movies, adding their own twists which usually involved either giant robots or superheroes. It was a combination of fond childhood memories of space opera films and his love for Japanese cinema that inspired George Lucas to write Star Wars. His American revival of the genre added something it never had before, big budget special effects. With state of the art special effects and sound effects, Lucas was able to amplify the excitement far beyond what the original space opera films offered. But while he was reviving a pre-existing genre, he was also reinterpreting the space opera, adding elements it never had before, and even inventing some elements ( such as the Light Saber ). The amount of special effects needed to produce a film similar to Star Wars meant that any film would take a couple of years at least to produce. Because of this most of the knock offs did not start appearing until 1979.
The first that year was the American release of the Italian film Star Wars Beyond the Third Dimension. Roger Corman, who was already producing his own knock off of Star Wars for New World Pictures, became aware of the Italian production and secured the rights to release it in America under the title Starcrash.
The finished product was ridiculous, which was no problem for Corman who had already produced a slew of ridiculous exploitation movies for his own studio. Corman did insist on cutting the movie by a few minutes to get rid of what he felt was a few slow spots. Predictably, the Italian Star Wars is not very original. Not only did writer/director Luigi Cozzi borrow ideas from the original, but from another more classic Italian sci-fi film Barbarella ( 1968 ) and, of all things, Jason and the Argonauts ( 1963 ). Cozzi was a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen that he insisted that the movie have stop motion animated monsters. In fact, it was his love of Harryhausen's films that lead Cozzi to cast actress Caroline Munro in the lead. Caroline was the lead actress in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad ( 1973 ), a film Cozzi studied while writing the script for Star Wars Beyond the Third Dimension. In fact, the movie had a dream cast of cult stars. Former model Monro had played the dead wife of Dr. Phibes in two movies, an starred in two other cult films, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter ( 1974 ) and At The Earth's Core ( 1976 ) before becoming a Bond girl in the movie The Spy Who Loved Me ( 1977 ). Then there was former child preacher Marjoe Gortner who had previously played the psycho in two disaster movies, Earthquake ( 1974 ) and the telefilm Mayday at 40,000 Feet! ( 1976 ) as well as the cult film Food of the Gods ( 1976 ). Rounding out the trio was former soap opera star David Hasselhoff in his first movie. Just the idea of those three actors in the same movie would be enough for any cult fan to seek it out, let alone a bad Star Wars knock off.
There were hopes that it would be an international hit. The main cast was recognizable actors from Hollywood. Character actors Joe Spinell and Robert Tessier were cast as the villains, while Christopher Plummer agreed to do one day's work where he played the Emperor of the good guys. Academy award winning composer John Barry was brought in to do the score. But the special effects were at best clunky, the script was ridiculous, and the acting ranged from over the top to horrible. And much like Message From Space, the American release of Starcrash succumbed to poor reviews and bad word of mouth, inevitably failing at the box office. Other studios planning their own space operas must have been cringing by now. The first two Star Wars knock offs to react the screen had failed, while Universal had to fight of a lawsuit from Fox. By this point each studio filming their own space operas had reached the point of no return, having already spent millions on sets and special effects, making it too late to cancel production. In most cases they were already shot the primary footage and were in post production. But in march, with the lawsuit dismissed, the tide began to turn. Universal released it's second space opera Buck Rogers in the 21st Century. The movie was combined with a deal from NBC. If the movie did well at the box office they would commission a weekly series using the same cast.
The film was a hit, and the series debuted in the fall. In fact, the Buck Rogers movie did so well that Universal decided to re-release the pilot for Battlestar Galactica theatrically in America, and in Sensurround no less.
In June United Artists released their second knock off of Star Wars, this time with a familiar face. The 11th film in the James Bond series, Moonraker ( 1979 ). Throughout the 70s, after Sean Connery left the series, producer Albert Broccoli decided his franchise needed a bit of insurance by modeling each new Bond film after the latest trend. Live and Let Die ( 1973 ) was produced while Blacksploitation films were popular, so it had a lot of elements from that genre. The Man With The Golden Gun ( 1974 ) featured a sequence with Bond at a martial arts school in response to the success of Kung Fu movies. The Spy Who Loved Me was in production when Jaws became a big hit, resulting in both the villain dispatching enemies by dropping them into a shark tank, and a henchman with steel teeth called Jaws. Thanks to a three year delay between films, The Spy Who Loved Me was not released until after Star Wars became a huge phenomenon. This gave Broccoli the opportunity to specifically plan the next movie in the series to exploit the latest trend, rather than retool a film already in production. The third James Bond novel Ian Flemming wrote was called Moonraker. It was initially planed to be used for the 8th movie in the series, but when it became clear that Connery would not be returning for the next Bond film, the Producers decided that an adaption of the novel Live and Let Die would be more appropriate for the new actor taking over the role. When Star Wars became a hit four years later, Broccoli decided to postpone the next announced Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only, and reactivate plans for Moonraker.
In the original novel, James Bond must stop a villain from launching a rocket with a nuclear warhead at England. The villain traps Bond on the launch pad so that when the rocket is launched he will be burned up. Bond escapes through a vent just before the rocket launches, then remotely changes it's trajectory so it detonates in the ocean. For the movie, the rocket is a space shuttle, and instead of a warhead the shuttle is headed to a space station above the Earth, along with a fleet of other shuttles. Once again Bond is trapped under the rocket and escapes through a vent, then smuggles himself onto one of the other shuttles. As with most Bond movies, most of the plot has nothing to do with the novel it is based on. Three quarters of the film has Bond globe trotting, as usual, trying to discover why a space shuttle was stolen. Once he tracks the shuttle to the space station he discovers a plot by the villain to poison Earth's atmosphere, killing everyone on the planet while the only survivors would be everyone on the space station, creating a new master race. If this sounds familiar, it is the same plot from the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me, where that film's villain wanted to kill everyone on the surface with a nuclear war while he and his master race survived the catastrophe in an underwater city. The finale had Bond alerting Earth of the impending doom, and a squadron of shuttles from the U.K. (?) launched into space to attack the station. But since the James Bond series was always grounded in technology that either existed or was in the realm of possibly existing, making the events in the movie plausible, there would not be much space opera action. Astronauts were armed with lasers which they shot at each other during the final battle, but otherwise it was nothing like the other movies where space ships zoomed all over the place, having dog fights. Still, the 11th James Bond movie became the most successful in the series, and was a huge hit for United Artists.
In December it was Disney and Paramount's turn. Disney had been developing a project since the early 70s called The Balck Hole, but once Star Wars became a hit, the studio decided to retool the project with more special effects that originally planned, and plenty of laser battles.
It turned out not to be that easy. Everything created for Phase II was more than acceptable for television, but was way too cheap looking for the big screen. Paramount ended up building new sets, fashioning new costumes, and building new modles for the special effects. Another problem, no Spock. Leanord Nimoy was not happy that Star Trek was a huge success in reruns, but he was not seeing any royalties. When they asked to sign him for Phase II he declined. But you can not have a Star Trek movie without the series most popular character, so Paramount sent Jeffery Katzenberg to Nimoy's home in New York with a check for the missed royaties, and Nimoy agreed to do the film, pending approval of the script. This was not the first attempt to bring Star Trek to the big screen. Producer Roddenberry had pitched a movie a few times, and at least twice a script was written. But this took place prior to Star Wars. Each time Paramount was not convinced there was enough of a market for a Star Trek spin off movie. Now with the success of Star Wars, Paramount was eager to cash in with their own space themed franchise. But once again the franchise nearly died on arrival. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was panned by both critics and Star Trek fans.
Over at Paramount, they had just revived what was once a dead franchise. Star Trek had a lot of potential, but was never very successful. When the original series was on NBC it did not do well in the ratings. The first time it was canceled, it's viewers successfully campaigned to bring it back for another season. But this still did not translate into higher ratings, and Star Trek was canceled a second time. But even with cancellation came success. It immediately became the highest rated show in second run syndication. Fans created the Star Trek conventions, which in turn paved the way for conventions like Comic-Con. The show was brought back for another two seasons, this time as an animated Saturday Morning cartoon featuring the voices of the original cast. Unfortunately, television networks at that time usually ordered no more than two seasons of any cartoon series, believing that children would not notice that the same episode kept repeating season after season. And for the most part, they were right. But that still meant that, once again, Star Trek was no longer on the air. In 1977 Paramount attempted to launch their own television network, and began pre-production on a series called Star Trek: Phase II featuring the entire cast from the original series. But once again, fate was against a Star Trek revival. A year after Paramount announced their plans for a fourth network, they decided it was not feasible. Star Trek: Phase II was canceled before a single episode was produced. But then there was a meeting between Paramount executives discussing if the studio should do their own Star Wars knock off. Some one brought up that the studio owned the rights to Star Trek, that the sets and costumes had already been built for Phase II, that most of the cast was back under contract, and they already had a script written for it's proposed two hour pilot episode. In other words, they could begin filming a Star Trek movie immediately.
The critics complained that the movie moved too slow, and too much of it was the cast looking at the view screen. Fans complained that instead of a new story, they were getting a reworking of an episode from the original series. While the film broke the $100 million mark at the box office, it made less that half of what Star Wars did. With a disappointing box office and poor reviews, there was a brief period when Paramount questioned if there would ever be a second Star Trek film.
Even Monty Python got in on the Star Wars craze. Monty Python's Life of Brian ( 1979 ) was a parody of biblical films, but the troupe could not help but add a scene where the lead character Brian inexplicably falls from a tower and ends up in the back seat of a passing alien star fighter that immediately engages in a dog fight with another spaceship above Earth. While Monty Python indulged in this one time poke at the late 70s space opera craze, members would later say that they could never do an entire Star Wars style parody because they felt their humor would be compromised by the special effects. This is not to say that a Star Wars inspired comedy was impossible. John Carpenter had pulled of a low budget parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey ( 1968 ) with the film Darkstar ( 1974 ), a movie that saw a theatrical revival to cash in on Star Wars success. Another low budget comedy was Galaxina ( 1980 ), which featured the late Dorothy Stratten in her first movie as a female shaped android. Both films spent as little time using special effects as possible. There would not be a real big budget parody until Mel Brooks Spaceballs in 1987. But neither Spaceballs nor the other parodies were anywhere as entertaining as some of the unintentionally funny Star Wars knock-offs. In early 1980 a second Italian space opera hit American theaters in limited distribution. The Humanoid ( 1979 ) starred Richard Kiel who had just reprises the character Jaws in Moonraker, making two Star Wars knock-offs he appeared in during the same year. As low budget as a space opera could possibly get, The Humanoid rivals Starcrash among cult movie fans as the funniest of the knock-offs.
1980 marked the end of the initial wave of Star Wars knock-offs. As already mentioned, Close Encounters of the Third Kind demonstrated that any movie with special effects could generate big box office. In early 1979 another special effects film, Superman: The Movie ( 1978 ), broke the $100 million mark. As far as the motion picture industry was concerned, it was the special effects that was the formula. This opened the door to any movie, and not just space opera. Some films did away with the space opera concept altogether. Both Alien ( 1979 ) and Saturn 3 ( 1980 ) used outer space as the backdrop for what was otherwise horror movies. Outland ( 1981 ) was a western that took place on one of Jupiter's moons. In May of 1980 the first Star Wars sequel was released, The Empire Strikes Back. This would have marked the end of the space opera wave, but there were two more productions waiting to be released later that year. Battle Beyond the Stars was Roger Corman's knock-off. With amazingly good special effects, considering the studio it came from was New World Pictures.
Based on the film The Magnificent Seven, Corman's film follows the same plot, only this time in space as a group of mercenaries are hired to protect a planet from conquering space raiders. In December Universal attempted to revive their other space opera property. The motion picture version of Flash Gordon was a highly stylized and deliberately campy version produced by Dino De Laurentiis. The lawsuit with 20th Century Fox over Battlestar Galactica was still in the courts, so Universal wanted the film to look nothing like Star Wars, and they succeeded. Suffering from it's campy script, and several years of Flash Gordon serials condensed into the plot of a single film, Flash Gordon was an expensive flop. Plans to turn it into a franchise ended when Universal officially canceled pre-production on Flash Gordon II.
By 1981 the Star Wars craze seemed to have ended with only two knock-off released that year. Space Raiders ( 1981 ) was yet another production from Roger Corman which reused the special effects footage and sets from Battle Beyond the Stars.
Now that he had already invested in both, it made sense to get the most money out of them by reusing them in as many movies as possible. Not uncommon for Corman who had done the same in the past with Gothic horror movies, making a slew of them to justify a single castle set. Similarly, in Italy the semi-sequel to Star Wars Beyond the Third Dimension titled Escape From Galaxy 3 was completed reusing the same special effects and sets. Even though it had a completely different cast playing completely different characters, and a completely different director, it still got billed as Starcrash II for it's very limited North American release. Otherwise the rest of the motion picture industry had lost interest in Star Wars and had begun releasing big budget special effects movies that did not involve space. There was the medieval fantasy Dragonslayer, Andy Kaufman's only leading role in the robot comedy Heartbeeps, John Landis' horror masterpice An American Werewolf in London, Terry Gilliam's breakthrough time traveling comedy Time Bandits and Ray Harryhausen's final movie, Clash of the Titans which was a loving swansong to old style special effects. Even George Lucas took a break from space operas, producing Raiders of the Lost Ark, an action adventure movie with a special effects climax. If the space opera had not fallen out of fashion, then another science fiction movie released in 1981 finished it off. The first Mad Max movie had been a hit in it's native country of Australia. Mad Max II was released outside it's country under the title The Road Warrior, becoming a huge hit and introducing the world to Mel Gibson. Mad Max II did for the post apocalyptic genre what Star Wars did for the space opera. There had been plenty of films released in that genre before, but none that had been as successful. And they were far cheaper to produce. The low teck sci-fi film was back.
This was by no means the end of space opera. In 1983 Columbia Pictures attempted to merge two genre's with the combo space opera/medieval fantasy Krull. The following year M.G.M. released Ice Pirates ( 1984 ), their attempt at a space opera comedy. The same year Warner Brothers and Universal combined forces and released The Last Starfighter, a fantasy about a teenage video game champ who is recruited to do the same in a real space ship fighting real aliens. The whole purpose of making the movie was to test out the newly created CGI technology to find out if audiences would accept it in an entire feature film. They didn't. And even though CGI was far cheaper than standard special effects, it would need to be further developed. Four 3D movies released in the 80s were space opera based, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone ( 1983 ), Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn ( 1983 ), the cartoon Starchaser: The Legend of Orin ( 1985 ) and Captain Eo ( 1987 ). In 1985 20th Century Fox attempted the first space opera drama. Enemy Mine had two combatants in a space war, a human and a lizard, crash land on the same planet where they are forced to put aside their hostilities and join forces to survive. Fox's attempt to turn a space opera into a tearjerker failed at the box office.
Paramount ultimately decided that Star Trek was too much of a cash cow to be abandoned, and in 1982 they released a second movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, this time to critical acclaim. Several other Star Trek films would follow. As would a spin off television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Taking place 100 years after the events in the original series, an entirely new cast, a budget of $1 million per episode and using the same primitive CGI effects that audiences had rejected in The Last Starfighter, the new Star Trek series was a risk for Paramount. Especially since there would be no network this time. The new show would be released directly to syndication. The risk paid off. Eventually the new Star Trek series would get it's own movies, and there would be three more Star Trek spin off series, followed by a reboot of the entire franchise. After having it's case thrown out in 1980, 20th Century Fox was able to get it's lawsuit against Universal back in court in 1983. By this time there was no question that the canceled series would never be the basis of an ongoing franchise. As it was, the studios attempts to revive Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon as franchises had both failed. In 1998 actor Richard Hatch, who had played Apollo in the original series, spent his own money producing a pilot episode for a new Battlestar Galactica series where he was the commander. This, despite the fact that his character was presumed dead in Galactica 1980. Universal reminded Hatch that they owned the rights to the series, and the pilot became nothing more that an expensive home movie. But it inspired original producer Glen A Larson to attempt his own relaunch of the franchise. And while Larson also failed, he did convince Universal that they should look into reviving the franchise. Eventually a successful reboot series was created for their Sci-Fi Network.
As for the Star Wars franchise, it concluded in 1983 with Return of the Jedi where all the villains and the entire evil Empire were wiped out. Lucas had only made three Star Wars feature films, and had allowed CBS to produce one dismal holiday special with the original cast. There was talk that the three existing Star Wars movies were meant to be part of a nonet of films, or more specific, three separate trilogies that together made up their own trilogy. The three existing films made the middle trilogy, and there was also a prequel trilogy as well as a sequel trilogy. After Return of the Jedi Lucas made it clear that there would be no more Star Wars movies. Following that was two spin-off telemovies featuring the Ewoks, and two cartoon series. But other than that Lucas was more than happy to allow the Star Wars franchise to live on in non cannon comic books, novels and video games that he collected the royalties from. But then ten years later Lucas announced that he was once again interested in producing the three Star Wars prequels. The next three movies were released between 1999 and 2005. Fans of the original films hated them. A new generation of Star Wars fans loved them. Since then Lucas has denied any plans for any future Star Wars chapters, claiming the entire saga was planed as six movies. But this was not the end of the franchise. The prequels were followed by a canon cartoon series called The Clone Wars that was launched with a theatrical release of it's pilot episode. In 2012 Lucas sold his studio to Disney, including the rights to all past and future Star Wars franchise projects. Almost immediately Disney announce they would be producing a new Star Wars film that picks up where Return of the Jedi left off.
More by this Author
How Marvel went from being a failure to owning the most successful studio in Hollywood by linking all their movies into a shared universe.
Here are nearly 20 films that were based on the Batman comics, but were made without Warner Brothers permission.
Once expected to be best sellers, the DVDs of movies from Honk Kong's Shaw Brothers studios have sold so poorly that no company wants to release any more of them. This is why they failed.