The strange case of Turkish Star Wars
The sub-genre of mockbusters has been celebrated (albeit somewhat ironically) for years, with a brisk trade in VHS tapes and copied DVDs. Now, many of the “classics” of that genre are freely available on the internet, often with recently-added English subtitles.
While the likes of Asylum studio in America are currently doing fine with modern straight-to-DVD rip-offs and Bollywood regularly steals from American films (“now with added dancing”), few do it better than the Turks did. Some spectacular mockbusters were made in the 1970s and ’80s in Turkey that really need to be seen to be believed. The most famous of the collection is the “Turkish Star Wars”.
In 1982, director Çetin Inanç made a film called Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, which translates as “The Man Who Saves the World”. It would become famous by its unofficial title “Turkish Star Wars”. This was mostly due to the wholly unauthorised use of spliced-in footage from George Lucas’ ’77 original that Inanç used for many of his film’s scenes.
Not all of them made sense in context and they were all in a different aspect ratio to the rest of the film. But that didn’t stop the sticky-fingered director, who seemed to have a plan that consisted of stealing clips and music from wherever he could. He filled the rest of the (very loose) narrative with his own actors, and although the plot doesn’t follow the original Star Wars shot-for-shot (far from it) it’s very clear what film is mostly being copied.
Inanç’s film, and numerous others like it, was made because around that time the Turkish film board wasn’t letting many Western blockbusters into the country. Inanç had started out making erotica, but following the military coup d’état of the country in 1980 and the passing of new censorship laws, he decided to move into propaganda and action films instead. He soon gained the nickname “jet director” due to his penchant for making entire films in just ten days.
Unfortunately, the lack of money at his disposal and minimal time spent on his films was clearly evident in the final products. As well as stealing actual footage from Star Wars, other gaps in the film – and budget – were filled with stock footage of the Russian space programme and old newsreel clips of NASA rocket launches. And when it came to the original effects shot in Turkey, it’s evident that no expense was spent.
They did a least have a recognised actor. The film’s star was Cüneyt Arkin, who far from being a desperate B-movie jobber was one of the biggest actors in the country at the time. (He is now considered a legend of Turkish cinema, with over 250 films to his name.) Arkin was a qualified doctor but, more relevantly, was also a trained martial arts expert. So rather than lightsaber fights there are a lot of hand-to-hand combat scenes that make good use of his skills.
One scene in particular – the training montage – has become cult viewing. While such scenes have become a cliché to the point that even doing a parody of it is now clichéd, this one is bewilderingly fantastic. At one point the hero kicks a boulder into a wall causing an explosion. The fact that it’s all set to the Giorgio Moroder version of the Battlestar Galactica theme just makes it somehow better. And weirder.
In fact, the whole soundtrack is a rip-off, but as with the montage, rather than just taking the original Star Wars music by John Williams, it also makes use of other famous scores. Along with Battlestar Galactica’s music, the director also incorporates the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme tune; at other points it “borrows” music from Flash Gordon, Moonraker, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running and even uses Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”.
It was not uncommon at the time for soundtracks and characters from other films to be used in Turkish cinema. For example, in one of the Turkish Batman films, the villain looks suspiciously like a total rip-off of Ernst Blofeld from the James Bond series. Those suspicions are confirmed when you see him in one scene with a cat on his lap and then, just in case you still weren’t sure, the famous John Barry 007 theme strikes up.
While some of the martial art skills on display in Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam are fairly decent, it seems strange to see them being used in the famous Alderaan cantina scene on home-made aliens that look like Sesame Street puppets. At one point, a large Elmo look-alike is karate-chopped in half. All of this is intercut with actual Star Wars alien footage and with a ropey cover of the cantina bands music playing in the background.
Along the way we see a copy of Robbie the Robot from Lost In Space, working for someone who is clearly based on Ming the Merciless. There are skeletons on horseback, zombies, slave girls, ’50s style spacemen, two golden ninjas and a big furry monster that even the props department from early Doctor Who episodes would laugh at. This creature’s voice was seemingly over-dubbed by someone going “Grrrrr…raaaah” in post-production. It’s all a wonderful mess, but other than the unintentional hilarity, the only thing going for it compared to the Lucas series is the complete absence of Jar Jar Binks.
Although not a success at the box office, it spawned a sequel — Son Of The Man Who Saves The World. Arkin continued to get regular work although his last film in 2008 was a poorly received Turkish sex comedy that currently has an IMDb score of 1.8 out of ten.
Turkish Star Wars, however, has become cult viewing, with surprisingly regular public screenings, and it has led to director Çetin Inanç being celebrated as the Turkish Ed Wood. Inanç would go on to make rip offs of Jaws and Rambo during the ’80s, but Turkish Star Wars will forever be his magnum opus.
Despite the fact that the film infringes on a huge number of copyrights, the film itself is seemingly not in copyright so is free in the public domain to view or download via the excellent http:// archive.org. It’s worth seeing, if only so the next time someone says to you that the latest Hollywood film was the worst film they have ever seen, you’ll be able to reply, “Hang on, have you ever seen Turkish Star Wars?”
You can watch the film here on YouTube
SIX OTHER TURKISH MOCKBUSTERS
Translated as “Rampage”, this is the Turkish version of Rambo, and despite the low standard set by the American original this still falls comically short. His rocket launcher appears to be a child’s toy that barely shoots more than six feet, but that doesn’t stop the many explosions in the distance and hammy deaths galore.
SÜPERMEN DÖNÜYOR (1979)
This version of Superman has some truly horrible flying special-effects and the fight scenes are comically choreographed, in places looking more like an episode of The Benny Hill Show. In its defence, however, unlike the Indian Superman rip off , at least his Turkish counterpart doesn’t occasionally break into a very camp dance routine for no reason.
Special effects are tricky to do with no budget, but that didn’t stop the Turks making their own version of E.T. using a child in a rubber alien suit. It emits smoke from its rear end and some scenes are speeded up, but then it veers from slapstick comedy to heartbreaking scenes of animal death that would give Kes a run for its money. The sequel (Homoti) features an alien with a visible zip on his back.
In the Turkish version of Jaws, along with the famous shark (and its visibly peeling paint job) there are martial arts fights, high-speed car chases and in the middle of the film, an exotic dance sequence. Purists will be glad to see the famous John William theme is used, but also present one the soundtrack are Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky and instrumental cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”.
The Exorcist gets the treatment with a plot that pretty much follows the original (except being Turkish instead of using the Bible they use the Muslim Holy book) while the famous scene with the possessed child in bed is like a strange parody. That said, it’s not as bad as the others listed here. Sure it’s not going to have you leaving the light on at night, but we’ve seen worse effects in recent B-movies.
TURIST ÖMER UZAY YOLUNDA (1974)
The Star Trek rip-off was loosely based on one of the 1966 episodes of the original TV series and notably would have had a budget of about the same. And, rather than an American soundstage they got to use the actual ruins at Ephesus as a setting for an alien planet, yet still this comes off as pretty terrible. The addition of a comedy Turkish tramp named Ömer the Tourist (mentioned in the title) really doesn’t add to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.
For Esquire magazine – October 2012