Hardware Wars


Street Date 5/7/24;
$14.95 DVD, $19.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Scott Mathews, Cindy Furgatch, Jeff Hale, Bob Knickerbocker, Frank Robertson, Ernie Fosselius, Paul Frees.

The success of Star Wars in 1977 came with it no shortage of imitators, hangers on and parodies. One of the first spoofs of the film, and still one of the best, was the 13-minute Hardware Wars from writer-director Ernie Fosselius released in 1978.

Structured as a trailer for a not-so-epic sci-fi film, Hardware Wars’ central premise pokes fun at the propensity for filmmakers to turn everyday objects into futuristic movie props. Fosselius dispenses with the pretense and just uses the everyday objects as spaceships and equipment. The Millennium Falcon is just an iron; the cantina is a singles bar; the Death Star is a waffle maker; lightsabers are simple flashlights; the planet it destroys is just a basketball on a string, literally named Basketball; that famed princess hairdo is just cinnamon buns attached to the sides of her head; and everyone’s favorite little droid is played by a vacuum cleaner.

More-typical parody elements poking fun at names and similarities to other movies are here as well. Aping the plot of Star Wars, the story involves the droids Artie Deco (the vacuum) and 4-Q-2 (the C-3PO stand-in who is just a guy dressed like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz) bringing the message of Princess Anne-Droid’s pleas for help to Fluke Starbucker and Augie “Ben” Doggie, last of the Red-Eye Knights. They team with pilots Ham Salad and Chewchilla the Wookiee Monster (an orange version of Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street,” presaging Jim Henson’s later involvement with the original “Star Wars” trilogy) to rescue the princess from the clutches of the evil Darph Nader (who no one can understand because he wears a welder’s mask).

The short was filmed in four days with an $8,000 budget. Cheapness is the film’s virtue; in a shot of the droids roaming the desert planet, Fosselius doesn’t even bother cutting around a random woman cleaning up her picnic in the background. Even the strings attached to the “ships” are completely intact.

And yet Hardware Wars sports an air of credibility thanks to a soundtrack consisting of Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and narration by the legendary Paul Frees (who younger audiences will recognize as the voice of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion).

The film attained a cult status, which helped ensure its legacy. George Lucas in 1999 called it his favorite of the “Star Wars” parodies, and Rian Johnson paid homage to it in 2017’s The Last Jedi with a shot of a steam iron angled to resemble a landing spaceship.

For the MVD Rewind Collection edition, the granddaddy of the “Star Wars” parodies has been beautifully transferred to HD in all its cheap glory. Hardware Wars was originally transferred to HD in 2012, but MVD found that version to be too dark and commissioned Vinegar Syndrome to create a new 2K transfer from a 16mm reversal release print, which is thought the be the last surviving original element of the film. The presentation brags that no effort has been made to clean up the scratches and dirt from the film, which preserves its low-budget ’70s indie quality. While the new transfer is presented as the main feature, the darker 2012 transfer is also included as an extra at the request of Fosselius.

The disc also includes two additional Fosselius spoofs, each running a bit more than 20 minutes. The first is Porklips Now, a 1980 spoof of Apocalypse Now that involves a BBQ enthusiast venturing into Chinatown to track down a rogue butcher who has been manipulating the meat market. Then there’s Plan 9.1 From Outer Space, which hilariously uses puppets to re-create scenes from Ed Wood’s 1959 “worst movie ever made” Plan 9 From Outer Space, with the actual audio from the original film.

Also included is something called “Hardware Wars Saves Christmas,” a six-minute reworking of the film into a holiday storybook involving Santa Claus.

A one-minute “Awards Reel” shows off some of the trophies Hardware Wars has won over the years.

The remaining bonus materials consist of standard-definition holdovers from a 2002 Hardware Wars DVD release.

First is a 10-minute “Director’s Cut” of Hardware Wars consisting of raw footage and outtakes, clearly assembled to mimic a “work print” version of the film to great effect. Then there’s an 11-minute foreign re-edit of the film.

Next up is a six-minute tongue-in-cheek 1978 “Creature Features” interview with Fosselius, who bills himself as a “Video Laugh Specialist” and says he’s mostly there to promote Hardware Wars collectibles, lampooning the “Star Wars” merchandising trend (beating Spaceballs to the punch by about 10 years). The best is the soundtrack album The Sounds of Space, which has nothing on it because sound doesn’t travel in space.

Also amusing is a video titled “Hardware Wars Prequel Featurette,” which turns out to be a five-minute “Antiques Roadshow” spoof in which an elderly lady has discovered a rare film print of Hardware Wars, which the appraiser claims was the original inspiration for Star Wars, but now has no value aside from some of the stickers on the outside of the canister.

A Fosselius commentary also carries over from the DVD. In it, the director feigns not remembering anything about the production, but when seeing how cheap it looks, assumes the people he paid to do the special effects ripped him off.

Not included from that earlier DVD is a five-minute retrospective with producer Michael Wiese, speaking at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. That DVD also included galleries of set photos and a copy of the shooting script that have not been reproduced for the new MVD edition.

Also not included is the 1997 “Special Edition” version of Hardware Wars that, as with the “Star Wars” special editions of the original trilogy that year, updated the visual effects with anachronistic CGI.

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