Counterclockwise from top left: Fluke Starbucker, Chewchilla the Wookiee Monster, Ham Salad, and Augie "Ben" Doggie.
|Directed by||Ernie Fosselius|
|Produced by||Ernie Fosselius|
|Written by||Ernie Fosselius|
|Narrated by||Paul Frees|
|Music by||Richard Wagner|
|Cinematography||John V. Fante|
|Distributed by||Pyramid Films|
|October 16, 1978|
|Box office||$1 million|
Hardware Wars is a 1978 short film parody of a teaser trailer for the science fiction film Star Wars. The thirteen-minute film, which was released almost 18 months after Star Wars, consisted of little more than inside jokes and visual puns that heavily depended upon audience familiarity with the original. The theme song is Richard Wagner's famous "Ride of the Valkyries".
The film begins with the text "Meanwhile — in another part of the galaxy — later that same day". A household steam iron flies through space, fleeing a toaster, which fires toast at it. Two robots named 4-Q-2 (who looks like the Tin Man from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz) and Arty-Deco (a canister vacuum cleaner), escape from the evil Empire. After launching from the ship (a cassette player) in an escape pod (a cassette tape), they land on a desert planet (a watermelon). They are found by young Fluke Starbucker (played by future multi-platinum award-winning music producer Scott Mathews) who finds a video message saved on Arty-Deco. It is a loop of Princess Anne-Droid saying "Help me, Augie Ben Doggie, you're my only hope." Upon meeting Augie "Ben" Doggie (of the venerable Red-Eye Knights), Fluke receives his father's lightsaber (a flashlight). After tricking the Imperial Steam Trooper guards (steam cabinets) to let them into the city, they reach a cantina, which Fluke describes as "too weird". The cantina is a country-and-western bar, where they meet space renegade Ham Salad and Chewchilla the Wookiee Monster (a puppet that resembles Cookie Monster from Sesame Street). Meanwhile, the villainous Darph Nader is interrogating the Princess. When she refuses to talk (mainly because she can't understand him; his speech is muffled by his welder's mask), he destroys her peaceful home planet, Basketball.
After a light-speed chase, Fluke, Ham, Augie, and the rest are sucked into the enemy base (a waffle iron) by a tractor beam. While the rest of the crew attempt to rescue the Princess from the base, Augie tries to shut off the tractor beam, which requires going to an exposed pylon and lowering a switch next to an animated picture of a farm tractor. After they rescue the Princess, Augie Ben Doggie chooses to stay behind to battle Darph Nader, and the rest of the group dismiss him as a "martyr". Their spaceship is assaulted by bits of tin-foil trash, which makes Chewchilla jittery until he spies Princess Anne-Droid's hair whorls, which are cinnamon rolls worn on the sides of her head. He eats one as the Princess looks on in disgust.
Fluke joins a squad of spaceships (bottle openers). He is told to "trust your feelings" by the ghostly voice of Augie. The climactic destruction of the enemy base is not shown. The film ends with the voiceover, "May the Farce be with you". The very end of the credits state that the production was "filmed on location in space", followed by the statement "no animals were killed in the making of this film", reflecting the legal statement that was beginning to appear in film credits at that time.
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Hardware Wars was written and directed by San Francisco native Ernie Fosselius and produced by Michael Wiese. It was structured as a mock movie trailer, and Fosselius even secured narration from veteran voice-over artist Paul Frees, who provided the voice work for the original Star Wars trailers. Fosselius capitalised on his budget limitations by using deliberately ridiculous household objects as props; spaceships were represented with such items as steam irons, toasters and cassette recorders, and the lightsaber of "Fluke Starbucker" was a flashlight. The characters, played by actors who were just as low-budget as the props, were also parodied in name and appearance; for example, Chewbacca the Wookiee was replaced by "Chewchilla the Wookiee Monster," an obvious Cookie Monster puppet, dyed brown, and Darth Vader's counterpart, "Darph Nader" (also a parody of consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader), wore a welding helmet that distorted his voice so much that no one could understand anything he said. Other notable characters include "Ham Salad," "Augie Ben Doggie," "Princess Anne-Droid," and the drones, 4-Q-2 (who resembles the Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz) and "Arty Deco" (an antique canister vacuum cleaner). Upon completion, Scott Mathews vowed to never act in another film again, saying; "I'm goin' out on top, baby!"
Hardware Wars won over 15 first-place film festival awards, including the award for Most Popular Short Film at the Chicago Film Festival. It is considered to be the most profitable short film of all time, grossing US$1,000,000; considering its paltry US$8,000 budget, its profit ratio was much better than Star Wars. George Lucas said in a 1999 interview on the UK's The Big Breakfast television show that Hardware Wars was his favorite Star Wars parody.
In 2003, the film was honored by Lucasfilm when it was given the Pioneer Award at that year's Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards. In August 2010, Time magazine listed it as one of the Top 10 Star Wars fanfilms.
In 2017, Rian Johnson paid tribute to it by referencing it in the Star Wars film The Last Jedi in a scene in which a robotic steam iron is briefly framed to resemble a landing spaceship. Johnson said that John Williams had enjoyed creating a bombastic music cue to match the iron descending on a uniform. In Time Out New York, critic Andrew Johnston wrote: "Thanks to Digital Domain, Hardware Wars now includes a fleet of Corkscrew Fighters as well as effects that parody Lucas's additions to the Tatooine sequence in the first film. The contrast between the slick new effects and the bargain-basement old ones adds a new level of satire to the film and nicely spoofs some of Lucas's less-than-seamless changes to his own film."
Hardware Wars had originally been available on film from Pyramid Films. It was first made available commercially on home video with the Warner Home Video release Hardware Wars, and Other Film Farces, which also included another Fosselius parody, Porklips Now. The tape also included Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind and the animation classic Bambi Meets Godzilla.
To spoof the "Special Edition" re-release of Star Wars in 1997, which included additional scenes and more advanced digital special effects, Hardware Wars was re-released on VHS as a twenty-minute "Special Edition," with new digital "special defects." Fosselius did not participate or approve of this release, as noted in a disclaimer on the packaging.
The film was released on DVD in 2002 in its original form, with commentary tracks and other special features.
It was later released on DVD again by Apprehensive Films for its 30th Anniversary. This release is approved and licensed from Ernie Fosselius.