I first saw Spaceballs around when it was initially released on June 24, 1987. I was seven years old and a big Star Wars fan, so obviously I liked it on a very base level: “That guy looks like Darth Vader, that guy looks like Han Solo and they say ‘asshole’.” Spaceballs is a perfect movie for a 7-year-old and yet, you miss so, so much.
In the years that followed, I’d rewatch the film often, always laughing at the same parts, and most importantly discovering new parts. Case in point, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with meta-narratives. Films that reference themselves, dissect the nature of their existence, etc. And now I realize I must have fallen in love with that thanks to Spaceballs. Growing up in the 1980s, watching the general blockbusters of the day, I hadn’t been exposed to the kind of fourth-wall breaks Mel Brooks was so famous for. So, scenes like the instant cassette moment where Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and Colonel Sanders (George Wyner) find a VHS of the movie as they’re filming it and watch the movie back in the movie they’re watching blew my mind. It still does today. Plus, in the 1980s, the idea of having a VHS cassette of a new movie was almost overwhelmingly exciting. You honestly couldn’t have imagined anything better than owning a VHS of a new movie and the scene gave you that joy. It’s probably my favorite scene, for a few minutes at least.
Soon after the VHS scene, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman), Barf (John Candy), Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), and Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers) meet up with a Yoda-like character named Yogurt (Brooks.) Yogurt explains he keeps relevant thanks to merchandising and opens up a Spaceballs merchandise shop in his cave. To this day, every time I see this scene, I’m overwhelmed with joy. “I want to live in that place,” I’d often think. When it was first released, especially to a young kid, the concept was so foreign. Can you imagine? A store dedicated to all merchandise of your favorite movie? Is this heaven? No, it’s Spaceballs.
Over the years, those two scenes have really, really stuck with me. And so I’d keep watching. Years would go by, I’d grow up, watch more movies, and then see more things to enjoy about Spaceballs. “Oh, that’s the guy from Alien and this is a joke about Alien.” Or “Oh, the Statue of Liberty, that’s from Planet of the Apes.” Very, very obvious jokes that I didn’t get as a kid, I’d get later, and they just enriched the film further. I realized this wasn’t just a Star Wars spoof. Star Wars was the root, but the movie was poking fun at all of sci-fi.
More years would pass. I’d keep watching Spaceballs and then I’d realize oh, “Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis,” that’s why that’s funny. “Joan Rivers’ catchphrase was ‘Can we talk?’ so that’s why that’s funny.” “Isn’t that the music from Lawrence of Arabia? Oh, and they’re in a desert, I get it.” Every single time I’d watch Spaceballs, my life experience only enhanced it while my nostalgia for the parts I already loved grew and grew.
My most recent rewatch played like a greatest hits tape of them all. I heartily and consistently laughed throughout, at the moments I loved at seven and the moments I loved at 37. This time, the new addition was an extra level of excitement of just how silly and perfect the song “Spaceballs” by the band the Spinners was, and how I missed movies where artists would write songs with the same title as the movie, that told the story of the movie. Seriously, I don’t think I could love Spaceballs any more than I do. Even the jokes that don’t land make me incredibly happy because they’re believed by those characters and actors. And while plenty of films can have that effect, so few can change and grow with the times. It’s beyond rare to find films that are so sharp and layered you can watch them at any age and find something else to love about it. But that’s Spaceballs.
Credit the cast, credit the crew, credit everyone involved. I’m just glad we live in a world where Spaceballs exists. It was amazing in 1987, it’s amazing in 2022, and it’ll be amazing in 2087 and 2122. It’s just that great.
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