One Of The Most Influential 'Star Wars' Films (Is A Cheap Spoof)
Today, when a big movie comes out, any jackass can grab a phone camera and shoot their own dumb parody version for $20, but this was considerably harder back in the '70s. Assuming you were lucky enough to have access to the necessary equipment to create even a short parody film, the same friends who served as cast and crew would probably end up being the only audience. Hardware Wars, a 13-minute short about the epic adventures of Fluke Starbucker, changed that by doing one simple thing: making lots of money.
Hardware Wars was the brainchild of director Ernie Fosselius and producer Michael Wiese, who became friends at a shadow-play party in 1977 -- literally, parties where people would get together to make shadow puppets on the wall for entertainment (because that's what it took to avoid looking at each other all night before the invention of mobile phones). Fosselius already had the idea of recreating that new Star Wars film that was all the rage with household items, and Wiese, impressed by his shadow puppet interpretation of Jaws, helped him make it happen. They used stuff like steam iron instead of ships, a regular flashlight instead of a lightsaber, and a basketball instead of the planet Alderaan.
They managed to get the animation done for cheap because Fosselius worked on Sesame Street cartoons, while the only reason they scored a professional trailer narrator was because of some maintenance work they did in exchange. Fosselius and Wiese managed to screen the short on school classrooms by making a deal with a distributor for educational films, and from there, word of mouth grew until they ended up playing it on film festivals, then cinemas across the country. It helped that Empire Strikes Back was still a couple of years away and people were so desperate for more Star Wars that they were willing to pretend Fluke, Ham Salad, and Chewchilla the Wookie Monster were the real thing.
Overall, Hardware Wars grossed $1 million on an $8,000 budget -- that's a 12,500% profit margin, which dwarfed Star Wars' measly 7,045%. Because of the unprecedented success, this cheap spoof made with kitchen appliances was released on home video via Warner Bros. and was played over and over on some '80s cable stations. It even got on network TV via the popular show where Dick Clark punked celebrities and laughed at newscasters flubbing their lines. More significantly, the home video release also included other fan films (including the classic Bambi Meets Godzilla), proving that there was a viable audience for such nerdery.
Hardware Wars crew members went on to work in movies like Ghostbusters II, Titanic, and Man of Steel, while Fosselius himself was hired to do "characters voices, sound effects, and miscellaneous vocal grunts" for some Lucasfilm productions, including actual Star Wars ones. He came up with these unforgettable lyrics:
Ironically, he also worked as a sound effects editor in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, a better known Star Wars parody that Wiese seems to consider a ripoff. Whether Brooks got the idea from them or not, the fact remains that Hardware Wars paved the way for a whole genre of YouTube videos, some of which get millions of views. In 2017, The Last Jedi brought things full circle by including a shot of a clothes iron that looks like a spaceship -- which director Rian Johnson confirmed as an intentional homage to Hardware Wars.
But Fosselius wasn't amused because he says this perpetuates the idea that his movie is a fan film when it's not. It's a spoof, dammit. Learn the difference, people. (This is where we went back and changed all "fan film" mentions in the article to "spoof.")
Top image: Ernie Fosselius