Other the years, there have been many fan films and parodies of Star Wars, and this year's release of Episode VII will undoubtedly spark more. Thanks to the marvels of digital video tools and sites like YouTube, you can put together a Star Wars parody quickly, cheaply, and unleash it into the world for all to enjoy.
This was not the case when Hardware Wars came together in 1978. It was the first parody of Lucas' space opera--and reportedly one he enjoyed. It became an urban legend short film that played in theaters and on cable, and it's still great fun to watch after all these years. As Shock Cinema magazine notes, Hardware Wars "laid the groundwork for every DIY movie send up that now pops up on YouTube…Premiering when George Lucas's cash cow was still filling the theaters, it quickly became a pre-VCR, word-of-mouth phenomenon." And indeed, Hardware Wars was still playing in theaters as a short subject years after it was made. (A friend of mine saw it play before the animated movie Heavy Metal when it opened in 1981.)
Hardware Wars was written and directed by Ernie Fosselius, a multi-hyphenate who could not only write and direct, but also worked as a sound editor in Hollywood for years (his credits would include Spaceballs and Ed Wood). John V. Fante, who was the cinematographer of Hardware Wars, and who also went on to shoot the visual FX for The Right Stuff and Star Trek IV, says, "Ernie's a very gifted filmmaker, a multi-talented renaissance man, and he's very, very funny. I don't know if he's ever been a stand-up comedian, but he certainly could have been one. He's very gifted, and Hardware Wars only scratched the surface of what he was capable of."
The thirteen-minute film opens with a fake studio logo, 20th Century Foss. The parody names for the characters include Fluke Starbucker, Ham Salad, Darph Nader, Princess Anne-Droid, Augie Ben Doggie, and Cuchilla the Wookie Monster. And remember, this was a decade before Spaceballs.
Part of its charm is that special effects in Hardware Wars are hilariously cut rate. The land speeder is a dune buggy, and you can clearly see the wires on the spaceships, as well as on Android's home planet, which is a basketball floating in space. The spaceships are steam irons, the Death Star is a waffle iron, and R2-D2, redubbed 4Q2, is a vacuum cleaner. Fosselius also created lasers by scratching them directly onto the film negative.