Spaceballs' Classic Merchandising Joke Had Another Layer
We asked readers to tell us which supervillains they'd like to see return to the big screen. A couple different people said Dr. Doom—"the *real* Doctor Doom," says William W., "not that Josh Trank–made abomination." A couple different people said Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. Jeff H. suggested the tech billionaire from Don't Look Up, the unexpected highlight of that otherwise poorly received film.
Unsurprisingly, several different readers mentioned Darth Vader, with Michael B. hoping for a movie about him and the Emperor. "I believe there's a lot to be explored regarding their tragic bond/relationship," he says. But Jason H. and Joey R. instead pick Dark Helmet, the Vader parody played by Rick Moranis in Spaceballs.
Rick Moranis famously stepped away from acting for decades, but he's now signed on for a sequel to Honey I Shrunk The Kids. In 2018, he informally reprised Darth Helmet in a voice role in The Goldbergs (this was a big deal for viewers who hadn't seen him in decades). And he previously said he was up for a Spaceballs sequel, which he suggested calling Spaceballs III: The Search for Spaceballs II.
The joke there is that it would pick up after the imaginary sequel referenced in the dialogue of Spaceballs itself, Spaceballs II: The Search For More Money. The movie had plenty of such jokes acknowledging that it was a movie, such as the scene where not-Yoda reveals that his true power comes from selling merchandise of the movie they're all in.
And yet Spaceballs did not sell a bunch of merchandise. Partly because the movie wasn't a huge success in theaters but mostly because Mel Brooks signed an agreement with George Lucas promising not to produce action figures of the characters. Lucas knew well the power of merchandising (he made his fortune by personally securing the merchandise rights to Star Wars), and in return for Spaceballs avoiding taking any toy sales from Star Wars, he granted permission for Brooks to do his parody.
It's possible that Brooks never needed Lucas' permission—copyright law gives parodies a lot of latitude—but he agreed to the deal just to be safe. And so Spaceballs had no tie-in products. Unless you count the novelization, which was written by future megaauthor R.L. Stine.
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Top image: MGM