The Amazing True Story of “Turkish Star Wars”
The episode of “Deja View” that’s been years in the making.
This video is based in part on interviews I conducted with the filmmakers in Istanbul in 2016 and uses never-before-seen high-def footage from the sole surviving 35mm film print. If you like it, please share it!
Öğünç, Pınar. Jet Rejisör Çetin İnanç. Beyoğlu, İstanbul: Roll, 2006. 34-35. Print.
Remake Remix Rip-Off. Dir. Cem Kaya. Drop-Out Cinema, 2014. Film.
Tombs, Pete. “Dracula in Istanbul.” Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998. 103-15. Print.
Clips from “Star Wars.” Music from “Indiana Jones.” Mummies. Skeletons. Cylons. …Bigfoot? “Turkish Star Wars”: the most infamous rip-off ever made. And after more than 30 years, its remarkable true story.
On this episode of Deja View, the Ottoman Empire strikes back!
It’s 1982 and prolific filmmaker Çetin İnanç and his studio boss are in the middle of an eight-picture deal with Turkish action mega-star Cüneyt Arkın. Together they’ve made successful cop movies and crime thrillers, but now they’re looking for a new angle. Unfortunately their options are limited. For example, with Turkey under martial law since a 1980 coup, any political subject matter is strictly off-limits.
So in search of inspiration, İnanç recalls that “Star Wars” sequel “The Empire Strikes Back” is playing in theaters. And it hits him: over the years Arkın has played countless swashbuckling adventurers; why not one in outer space? It would make an ideal semester break movie for kids. So together İnanç and Arkın conceive “Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam”—“The Man Who Saves the World.”
But right away there’s a problem. Space operas aren’t cheap, and Turkish genre movies have to be cheap or they risk not making their money back. However, İnanç’s boss is in a gambling mood. He puts up 50 million liras — twice his standard budget.
It’s still not much, but with some of that extra cash İnanç plans to create his own sets and special effects. So in the sandy, seaside village of Kilyos, he and his team build a number of outdoor spaceship sets. But the Force is not with them. Just before filming begins, a freak storm hits—and decimates their work. With no money to rebuild, İnanç is desperate. How can he get his crucial spaceship footage?
His solution… is unorthodox. Çetin İnanç steals “Star Wars.” He bribes a night watchman and “borrows” a copy of “A New Hope” from its Turkish distributor. Overnight he makes an internegative copy of the shots he wants and returns the original print the next morning. Voila, he has his special effects.
But they’re a little, uh, thin. “Star Wars” was filmed with anamorphic lenses that squeeze a widescreen image into a standard 35mm frame. When correctly projected, that image is stretched back out to appear normal. But İnanç’s film isn’t anamorphic, so his pilfered footage is noticeably squished.
Meanwhile, to depict his heroes in the cockpits of their space fighters, İnanç places each actor, wearing a safety helmet commandeered from a passing motorcyclist, in front of an improvised movie screen. And on that he projects scenes from the “Star Wars” Death Star assault—including the cuts.
The stolen footage is how the film eventually gets its nickname “Turkish Star Wars.” But its plot is something else entirely. “The Man Who Saves the World” is a religious allegory. Set in the distant future when a war has shattered the Earth into several smaller planets, two brave pilots are marooned on a fragment ruled by a satanic tyrant called The Wizard. Siding with the oppressed populace, the two heroes battle The Wizard and his supernatural cronies, and set out on a quest for holy relics that can destroy him once and for all. But first they have to toughen their muscles by bashing rocks with their bare hands, and overcome gravity by strapping boulders to their legs. Like you do.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the costume department has its hands full creating all of The Wizard’s minions. His evil army is seemingly drafted from a Hollywood vault, with baddies resembling “Battlestar Galactica’s” Cylons, “Forbidden Planet’s” Robby the Robot, and a host of generic classics like mummies, skeletons, and… multi-colored yetis. The monster suits are fashioned, by necessity, from cheap material. So each day they’re shredded in one fight scene after another, and each night the wardrobe team dutifully stitches them back together for the next day’s punishment.
Back in the editing room, İnanç and editor Kunt Tulgar, in an effort to beef up production values, lift even more footage from a stack of disparate films. These include biblical epic “Sodom and Gomorrah,” 1962’s “The Magic Sword,” the trailer for “When Worlds Collide,” newsreel footage of a Soviet Soyuz rocket launch, and even the Futurist logo for Euro International Films.
And because the resulting picture still needs music, Tulgar also raids his extensive library of soundtrack LPs, incorporating cues from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Flash Gordon,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Moonraker,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Ben-Hur,” and more.
But they’re still not done. The first cut of the film is an unwieldy two and a half hours—a behemoth when its competitors run just 75 minutes. İnanç rejects a proposal to divide it into two movies—a common practice from years before—so at Tulgar’s suggestion they remove over an hour of material.
And so, finally, after two hectic, strenuous months of work, “The Man Who Saves the World” premieres. Sure, it’s a little disjointed; and yes, the audience can recognize the cribbed “Star Wars” footage; but it doesn’t matter, because it succeeds first and foremost as entertainment. And for the kids, it’s a big deal: this is the first time they’ve ever seen a Turkish astronaut.
There’s no question about the film’s success. It’s a certified hit. Its profits buy Çetin İnanç an Alfa Romeo. They buy his boss a Mercedes and a summer home. It’s a windfall that lets them purchase outright the production offices they’ve hitherto only been renting.
But outside of Turkey and the Turkish diaspora, the film remains completely unknown until the late 1990s, when it begins to surface in bootleg videotape circles—and its outlandish plot and trippy visuals earn it instant cult status.
İnanç and Tulgar get a kick out of the film’s occasional designation as the “worst film ever made,” with Tulgar contending that, really, one of his own movies is more deserving. But when the topic comes up with anyone involved, there’s no hint of shame or regret; only pride. For, as İnanç explains: “ ‘The Man Who Saves the World’ became ‘The Man Who Changed My World.’ ”
2006 sees a belated sequel, “The Son of the Man Who Saves the World.” It boasts none of the original cast or crew except a brief cameo by Cüneyt Arkın. And it’s played, unsuccessfully, for laughs. It reads more like an attempt to cash in on the recent success of Turkish sci-fi comedy “G.O.R.A.” than on the internet-era cult status of “Turkish Star Wars.”
However, Çetin İnanç’s own idea for a sequel is rather grander. Conceived in 2009 but never produced, it involves the creation of “zombie ninja space warriors,” the abduction of the Turkish and American presidents by aliens, and a voyage to a planet on the other side of a black hole. It’s all in the service of a tale which, İnanç proclaims, plays God against the Devil in an epic war for Earth.
That sounds more like it. When can we start?