Spaceballs marked the beginning of a second stage to Mel Brooks‘ career. After a busy decade in the 1970s, he had been quiet since 1981’s History of the World, Part I. Unlike his early films, where he satirized broad genres or at least the entire life’s work of a single director, this second wind would find him targeting a single film for parody and, in this case, a full decade after the film in question, Star Wars, was current and considered ripe for the spoofing.
The real weakness of this and later Brooks films is the laziness of the humor. Brooks seems to be weakly emulating the style of Abraham/Zucker films that his early work helped to inspire, such as Airplane!. The humor is a scattershot collection of set-ups and punch lines that often seems obvious and labored. Jabba the Hutt is now called Pizza the Hutt. Har har. Yoda is now Yogurt. Stop it, you’re killing me. It’s painful that the man behind Blazing Saddles is resorting to gags that seem more appropriate to Mad Magazine on an off day.
That being said, it would be wrong to suggest that Brooks was no longer funny. The hit-to-miss ratio of Spaceballs is a lot lower than classic Brooks of the 1970s, but when he hits, you’ll still bust a gut. In the movie My Favorite Year (produced by Brooks and based loosely on his early career in television), King Kaiser says, “You never cut funny.” What you do cut, however, is the dull stretches in between the funny parts and Spaceballs is a movie badly in need of a more ruthless hand at both the scripting and editing stages.
Another thing that Spaceballs lacks, and it’s probably just a concession to times in which it was made, is the subversive spirit that bouyed movies like The Producers and Blazing Saddles. This film, and the ones that followed it, are performing with a net and you miss the sheer exhilaration of Brooks pushing the envelope like he used to.