Hardware Wars is a thirteen-minute video parody of Star Wars that was released the same year as the original, 1977. Directed by Ernie Fosselius (the intro splash touts “20th Century FOSS”), the spoof, which is structured as a coming-soon preview, is essentially a MAD Magazine takedown come to life—albeit not quite as funny. The central joke is that all of the expensive sci-fi effects are replaced with cheapo footage of flying toasters, irons, and so forth. Made for a mere $8,000, it grossed, at a conservative estimate, $500,000, making it more profitable, on a percentage basis, than Star Wars itself.
George Lucas himself, who has not often expressed enthusiasm for satires of his saga, is fond of the parody, calling it “a cute little film.” According to Salon, it is “the only non-Lucasfilm product to be sold in Star Wars Insider magazine.”
The names of the characters are in the purest eye-roll spirit of MAD: “Fluke Starbucker,” “Ham Salad,” “Augie ‘Ben’ Doggie,” “Darph Nader,” “Princess Anne-Droid”—are these even jokes? No matter. The movie derives from an earlier, cruder form of parody than we’re used to today, in which invoking an entity with any kind of offbeat spin serves as the joke, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense. The conceit of Hardware Wars is to twit the big-budget techno-wizardry of Star Wars by replacing the weaponry, robots, and spacecraft with flashlights, toasters, vacuum cleaners, and the like. Big metal flashlights stand in for light sabers. Leia’s spiral braids are represented as cinnamon rolls. “Chewchilla” is portrayed by a Cookie Monster puppet painted brown.
Fascinatingly, “Fluke Starbucker” was portrayed by Scott Mathews, who later compiled an incredibly impressive resume in the music industry. He’s won several Grammies…. Wikipedia is usefully concise here:
[Mathews] has produced Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, Rosanne Cash, Jerry Garcia, Huey Lewis, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Dick Dale, Sammy Hagar, Van Dyke Parks and many others. He has written songs and/or recorded with ... Barbra Streisand to John Lee Hooker, including Keith Richards, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, Steve Perry, Johnny Cash, Todd Rundgren, Robert Cray, Ry Cooder, The Tubes, Sammy Hagar, Jefferson Starship and Raphael Saadiq. He has performed on various musical instruments with Neil Young, John Fogerty, Kid Rock, Steve Miller, Carlos Santana, Boz Scaggs, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Brown, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Clint Black, Tom Waits, Chris Isaak and Joe Satriani
Of Hardware Wars, Mathews, who was all of 22 when the movie was made, avers, “I think a lot of the charm of that movie is the fact that we didn’t really know what we were doing. ... It was cinéma vérité at its finest. I’m sitting there spaced out and cracking up in some of those scenes.”
In 1997 Lucas began releasing the “altered” versions of the original trilogy, and Michael Wiese, who had produced Hardware Wars, decided that it was time to produce an updated version of his low-budget classic. The intense reaction of the movie’s fans, at least at the San Diego Comic-Con screening attended by Freeling, revealed levels of obsessiveness reminiscent of the fans of Star Wars.
Says Cindy Freeling, who played “Princess Anne-Droid”:
“It was unbelievable. The room was jampacked. There were people flowing out into the hall. The audience knew every single little detail of the movie. I’ve certainly seen Hardware Wars, but I don’t have every frame memorized. Whenever a ‘special defect’ would come up, the whole audience would start cheering and clapping. They knew right when it was happening.”
However, just as with Lucas’ masterpiece, the decision to clean up some of the technical shortcomings of the original was not universally well received by the diehard—in the case of Hardware Wars the decision is more ironic, given that the cheesy low-budget tactics were the central point of the movie.
“When Ernie was transferring all the old footage from the original print, they had all this amazing gear where they could embellish it. They told Ernie that they could erase the strings! They weren’t checking with him: They were telling him they would be doing that in their transfer. Ernie tried to explain it. He said: ‘No, wait. We put extra strings on there so you could see them! There’s more light shining on the strings than there is on the flying iron!’ He got a kick out of it. These were the guys that he was collaborating with to make the next phase happen. And they don’t even get the premise of the original.”
Herewith, the original cut of Hardware Wars: