Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin

Director: Steven Hahn

With the existence of movies in our lives, and such a wide range of movies to choose from, a lot of the time it doesn't seem right that we should complain about what we have at hand. True, as a movie review critic, I do my fair share of complaining about certain movies, but I make sure that at the very least that every other movie that I review is a good movie. Anyway, there are some movie complainers that really annoy me. One complaint that I hear every so often that irks me is when people complain that movies supposedly aren't as good as they were decades ago. And when they lay the blame on what is the cause of the supposed decline of movies, there is one movie that more often than not that they blame - Star Wars. They claim that the success of that movie pushed Hollywood film executives to concentrate on blockbusters. Curious about this often repeated argument, I decided to do some research. Looking through my personal library of film books, I uncovered a list of the ten most popular movies of 1977. Star Wars was on top, of course, but what about the nine other movies? Well, the serious-minded Rocky (yes, first released in 1976, but did most of its business in 1977) was second, but look at the next eight movies. The rest of the top ten movies were the good ol' boy movie Smokey And The Bandit, the second remake of (and Barbra Streisand egofest) A Star Is Born, the first remake of King Kong, the underwater treasure hunting movie The Deep, the goofy comedy Silver Streak, the Dirty Harry movie The Enforcer, the science fiction fantasy Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and the pseudo-documentary slash exploitation movie In Search Of Noah's Ark.

As you can see from that list, when Star Wars was released the audience at the time was not exactly clamoring to see arty and highbrow dramas. The taste for blockbusters had been building for the past few years (remember all those James Bond films? The Poseidon Adventure? The Towering Inferno? Jaws?) So to blame Star Wars for the change of direction in American films to me seems very unfair. I am convinced that if Star Wars had not been made, the kind of films being released today in multiplexes would be just the same as it is now. Neverless, I will admit that Star Wars was a very influential movie. Very influential, because it make a ton of money unlike any other movie released before it. How did it influence many movies that were made in the more than three decades since? Well, the movie obviously had a lot of appeal to kids and young adults. And since they showed they had a lot of cash to spend if the product was just right, many movies since have been aimed at younger rather than older moviegoers. And one thing that the youth audience liked about the film were the special effects. That's why (unfortunately to some people) many movies nowadays spend more on providing eye candy rather than having a script containing good dialogue and strong characters. Speaking of scripts, the script of Star Wars created a world of fantasy. There was violence and death, but with George Lucas' direction of these harsh and sobering elements were softened. People often don't like their fantasies to be interrupted by reality, so that's why many blockbusters today seem almost like cartoons at times.

There are other ways Star Wars has influenced subsequent films, but I'll leave it at that. What may come as a surprise to many people is while the movie has been greatly influential, it hasn't inspired that many B movies that closely resemble its story and characters. The fact that Lucas is more Starchaser: The Legend Of Orinthan willing to sue blatant copying (like with the first incarnation of Battlestar Galactica) is probably one factor, but I think the main reason is that closely copying Star Wars would cost a lot of money. There aren't that many B movies that ape Star Wars because of the expense it would require. But recently I found a B movie that found a way to imitate Star Wars on a limited budget. It was Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin, and it managed to do so by not only making it an animated movie, but shipping much of the animation and other production work to South Korea, where it's cheaper to make animated movies. Though I knew a fair share about Japanimation, I knew little about animation from South Korea, so I was intrigued by the movie's pedigree. Anyway, here's the plot of the movie (Warning: parts of it are going to sound very familiar):  On the planet of Trinia (probably in a galaxy far, far away), the evil space dictator Zygon (voice of Anthony De Longis, Expect No Mercy) has under his thumb a large group of human slaves who are forced to live in the bowels of the planet mining crystals for him and his followers. One of the slaves is a young man named Orin (voice of Joe Colligan), and one day during his digging in the mines he finds a sword with a mysterious blade that quickly disappears shortly after discovery. The sword then projects a hologram of an old man that tells Orin he's about to start a quest to free himself and the rest of the slaves from the brutal rule of Zygon. In short notice, Orin gets it in his head to escape to the surface with the sword, and upon reaching it quickly finds the surface full of even more dangers than his people had been lead to believe. Not to worry, because Orin soon stumbles across Dagg (voice of Carmen Argenziano, Stargate SG-1), an intergalactic smuggler (with his own spaceship) that is initially reluctant to mess with the Evil Empire, but is eventually convinced to help Orin. Orin and Dagg eventually cross paths with a beautiful daughter of a big-time politician named Aviana (voice of Noelle North, Adventures Of The Gummi Bears) who joins in the fight to bring Zygon and his Evil Empire down once and for all.

I realize that the above plot description may be a little lacking in detail, but honestly, it is not necessary to get into more detail of the basic plot if you have seen Star Wars. As you've no doubt saw in the above paragraph, both movies have a number of similarities. The magic sword in Starchaser is really a glorified light sabre, and the characters of Zygon, Orin, Dagg, and Aviana are essentially thinly disguised versions of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. There are plenty of other similarities between the two movies that I haven't mentioned, including one scene at a space bar full of many different species of aliens, and a stop at a disreputable space port that, while not a wretched hive of scum and villainy, is mentioned to contain "the thickest den of thieves this side of Bordogon." Also, Aviana is kidnapped by Zygon at one point and needs rescuing, and there is comic relief artificial intelligence, such as the computer on Dagg's spaceship, which has a voice that sounds remarkably like the one C-3PO had. By this point, you may be wondering if the movie has any original ideas of its own. Well, there are a few. For one thing, there's... um... ah... oh yeah, the fact that the events in this movie don't take place a long time ago, but in the future. Also, Star Wars didn't have a female robot that, after Dagg tinkers with the circuitry in her posterior ("You've got no right to go probing around inside of me," protests the female robot at one point), all of a sudden has the hots for her human master, eventually getting a deep kiss in the mouth from him. And Star Wars didn't contain enema references, as well as a character suggesting that the rugged space smuggler was actually having some sort of gay relationship with the youthful hero on a quest.

As you can probably see from that material I have just described, the makers of Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin did not think that this animated movie should be strictly kiddie material, and were aiming at a wider audience. Parents might want to know that there's a good amount of mature material in this movie, such as a liberal amount of PG-level swearing and a good number of individuals who die in various ways. (Though most that are killed are robots with artificial intelligence.) There may be some potential viewers (kids or adults) who, upon hearing this news, may welcome the idea of an animated movie that's not aimed at a young mentality. But I think the majority of people, regardless of age, that watch the movie will be very disappointed. The main problem is with the movie's script, and not just that the main story is lacking in originality. The next biggest problem with the movie is that the characters are very weak. Zygon should have been a formidable villain, one who exudes evil throughout. But surprisingly, he only makes a handful of (most brief) appearances. His various commands and statements aren't very colorful, not helped by the fact the actor voicing him doesn't sound very enthusiastic. The central character, Orin, is also a disappointment. We barely get any time to get to know him before his quest starts, and during all his subsequent adventuring he comes across as surprisingly one-note. "One-note" is also the best way to describe Dagg, who doesn't get to show much humanity because he's constantly bragging and spouting off one-liners like, "Your tongue moves faster than a water snake, kid!" As for Princess Leia - I mean, Aviana - she gets very little dialogue, and her falling in love with Orin comes across as both sudden and unbelievable.

George Lucas has been sometimes criticized for his writing skills, but even with his weaknesses he still managed to come up with interesting and likable characters in Star Wars, not to mention a plot that felt fresh despite getting its inspiration from many previous sources. The script for Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin is without heart and freshness, and dooms the movie right from the start. Wait a minute, some of you might be saying, what about with the direction and the animation? Doesn't the movie at least have some good action or eye candy? Well, a space adventure like this in my opinion needs a breakneck speed and a sense of urgency. But what will surprise viewers is how sedate much of the movie feels, even during the action sequences. There's a real lack of excitement, as well as no feeling the characters are in danger. How about the animation? Well, there is some immediate interest with the fact that the movie was the first feature length animated 3-D production ever made, but since the DVD I watched presented the movie in 2-D, I can't comment on how effective the 3-D was. I can comment on the art design and the animation, however. The movie does at times look a heck of a lot better than the quality of television animation at the time. Some backgrounds look pretty detailed, and some sequences involving spaceships or human characters have these things moving around in an acceptably smooth fashion. On the other hand, quite often the characters and other moving objects have a "sketchy" look to them, lacking a final polish. And there are some backgrounds where everything is one color and there are only a few black lines drawn to show corners, doors, and other features of these backgrounds. At times these backgrounds looked like something from a Filmation television show of the time. In fact, some of the design of the various animated characters look straight out of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe. So while the art design and animation isn't completely terrible, a lot of it leaves a lot to be desired. Will die-hard animation buffs still find enough interest with the movie? Possibly, but for those in the mood for space-opera thrills, you would be be better off watching Star Wars for the hundreth time instead of seeing this shabby imitator.

(Posted September 2, 2014)

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See also: Laserhawk, The Shape Of Things To Come, Star Knight