And I thought I was familiar with every atrocity in the Star Wars universe. The Holiday Special, the Christmas album, all three prequels – hell, I’d even seen that clip of Yoda break dancing. Somehow, Brazilian Star Wars slipped right by me, only ending up in my lap after a friend spotted it on a coworker’s desk and realized it was one of the few Star Wars-related oddities I had never brought up during the many long, pointless conversations we’d had about that galaxy far, far away over the years. My friend’s coworker, by the way, has a mint condition Revenge of the Jedi poster hanging above his work station that he loves to brag about (“They were supposed to send me the one that was folded,” he nerdily gloated to me once. “But they accidentally sent me the good one!”).
Brazilian Star Wars is very similar to Turkish Star Wars, the most famous of the foreign Lucas rip-offs, in that it’s extremely low budget, poorly paced, and so strange in some parts it makes you uncomfortable. However, Brazilian Star Wars, released in 1978 under the official title Os Trapalhões na Guerra dos Planetas (“The Tramps in the Planet War”), predates its middle eastern cousin by five years and is more of a spoof than a straightforward intergalactic adventure. The Tramps in the title were a Brazilian comedy team who had their own television program for decades. I’ve been told they’re the South American equivalent of the Three Stooges. I’ll buy it, even though there are actually four Tramps and not once in this movie did any of them use the term “knucklehead.” Two other things that set this film apart from Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam (“The Man Who Saves the World,” in case you were wondering): no footage is recycled from our American Star Wars and the soundtrack is entirely porno funk. Turkey’s version famously copped gratuitous Star Destroyer and Death Star clips in addition to borrowing all of its music from other popular movies of the time (including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Moonraker).
The film opens on a high-speed dune buggy chase through what I assume is some rural section of Brazil. When I say “high-speed,” of course, I mean fast motion. The footage in this film is often sped up to Keystone Kop levels of wackiness, but it also slows down sometimes to emphasis devastating blows during fight sequences. Anyway, the Tramps are being chased because Didi, the group’s Moe Howard, has been up to no good with some other guy’s girlfriend. Deciding to camp out on the edge of town that night, the amigos go to sleep only to be interrupted by a visitor from another planet. It’s Prince Flick, who looks like the runner-up in a Rick Springfield look-a-like contest. Flick’s Princess has been kidnapped and he can only retrieve her with the help of four bumbling earthlings. Drawn in by the promise of gold, the Tramps board the Prince’s spacious ship. It’s there we meet Bonzo, the Brazilian Chewbacca. The Wookiee mask the filmmakers found is cheap and ill-fitting; as a result, fake Chewie looks like he’s about to sneeze at all times. At least he’s got those stylish khakis and that button-down shirt. He’ll get that busing job at Red Lobster for sure.
Most of the action in this South American sci-fi epic takes place on a desert planet very similar to Tatooine, right down to the white dome huts. The Tramps, Flick, and Bonzo land there just as an epic battle breaks out between a group of camouflaged Jawa-type creatures and these weird pumpkin-headed blowfish people who apparently live in the dome huts. I’m not sure what the pumpkin heads did to invoke the wrath of the camouflage Jawas, but it must have been pretty bad. The beatings these freaks receive are merciless, no-holds-barred, and sound effects-laden. The main characters get drawn into this ridiculous comedic melee, naturally; just as they do, Hardshellz, the Darth Vader character (whose outfit is just bootleg enough to be completely terrifying), emerges from one of the huts with the sought-after Princess in his grip. He disappears over a sand dune with Prince Flick in hot pursuit.
If you make it this far, I must congratulate you. You’ve seen the most impressive section of Brazilian Star Wars. It’s all downhill from here. Immediately following the desert slobber-knocker is the film’s painfully long cantina sequence, where the aliens all disco dance, rub heads together suggestively, and engage in fisticuffs with the Tramps. Eventually we find out Hardshellz is after half of a super computer Flick is harboring. Flick gives it up, only to be handed an alien disguised as his beloved Princess. Turns out the real Princess was erased or died or never existed at all (I’m not sure; the subtitles are a little confusing). Luckily, the Princess has a sister, who by space law gets to become the new Princess. Good news for Flick, but bad news for Didi, who gets his heart broken when it’s revealed the Princess’s sister is the alien chick he’s been sweet on ever since this stupid adventure began. She drops his Tramp ass without hesitation and starts sucking face with the Prince right in front of the poor guy. What an intergalactic bitch.
I don’t want to give anything away about the ending, but I will tell you the climactic final battle takes place at what appears to be an Al-Qaeda training camp and involves gratuitous use of a freeze ray. I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out the stylish yellow jacket Didi wears for the duration of the film. I’m sure one day Quentin Tarantino will claim this jacket heavily influenced his decision to put anything yellow in all of his films.
Os Trapalhões actually did pretty well at the Brazilian box office (or so Wikipedia tells me), cracking the top ten despite being shot on video and thus looking like the kind of thing you’d flip past on cable access. It probably would have gone right to number one had director Adriano Stuart stuck with original plan of calling his creation Star Wars. That certainly would have confused more than a handful of Portuguese audiences. Apparently George Lucas caught wind of this idea and went down south to legally regulate on Stuart. I applaud Adriano for triumphing despite this titular handicap and for giving the world the best dune buggy-centric video space comedy the Brazilian Three Stooges ever made. It’s a shame a Brazilian Empire Strikes Back was never produced. I’m sure they would have had Yoda break dancing years before Lucas did.