Any discussion of Star Wars ripoffs can only really end in one place. Oh sure, there’s Battle Beyond the Stars and Starchaser to talk about, but those are spiritual ripoffs, borrowing ideas, visual cues, character archetypes and maybe a sound effect or two. These types are simply “inspired” by Star Wars, making sure that any accusations of theft a bit of persuasion to justify in a court of law. Except….for one. It’s one of those movies whose reputation precedes it, the kind of thing you’d read about from time to time, or hear mentioned among people who are into obscure, weird movies. And happily, its reputation as something jaw-droppingly weird, as something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated, holds true. It seems that sometimes you can meet your heroes.
So let’s do it. Let’s talk about Turkish Star Wars.
While Italy built up a reputation for shamelessly ripping off American movies during the late 70s and early 80s, they had nothing on the imitation blockbusters coming out of Yeşilçam, the Turkish film industry, at the same time. With only a handful of writers and directors, along with woefully out of date equipment, the small but dedicated community of Turkish filmmakers and producers churned out an almost countless number of ultra-low budget films in their heyday. While original films of virtually every genre were produced, a particular favorite tactic of Yeşilçam filmmakers was to produce their own versions of popular Hollywood films, sometimes going so far as to produce shot-for-shot remakes. There are Turkish versions of The Exorcist, Some Like it Hot, ET, as well as films that take American characters like Spider-Man and Captain America into some extremely strange new territory.
Of particular note in this endearing sub-genre is Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, which translates to The Man Who Saved the World. The film takes place in the distant future when man has begun to colonize the stars in a new age of prosperity. A mysterious enemy opposes the newly dubbed “Galaxy Tribe” of man, however, pushing back against humanity’s expansion. After a pitched space battle, two human pilots named Murat and Ali find themselves transported to a desert planet inhabited by monsters, primitive humans, and apparently the mysterious force that humanity has been struggling against. Trading in their spaceships for karate chops and flying kicks, the two set out to overthrow the evil Magician behind the Galaxy Tribe’s struggles, discovering the secret history of Earth along the way.
All of the setup for the movie is delivered in a breathless monologue in the opening sequence, one which makes crystal clear why the film is more often referred to as Turkish Star Wars. While some films may be content to borrow themes, ideas, and tropes from Star Wars, The Man Who Saved the World goes a step further by actually stealing whole sections of footage from A New Hope, particular the space battle and flying scenes. This alone earned this film its reputation, but there’s actually a lot more to the surreal experience we’re dealing with here. In addition to using footage from Star Wars, The Man Who Saved the World is also set to a soundtrack that includes the Indiana Jones theme, as well as tracks from the original Battlestar Galactica series. Turkish films from this era, you understand, were notorious for this kind of disregard for copyright law, and it’s somewhat important to view this in its proper context. There wasn’t any malice or ill-intent at play – just extremely tight budgets and a lot of genuine passion for the craft. Think of it like a remix.
When you pay attention to the original elements at work in the film, however, the borrowed footage and soundtrack become small potatoes in the strange smorgasbord that The Man Who Saved The World has to offer. It plays out like an odd combination of mythology, science fiction, and theology, mixing its adventure and space battles with a variety of unexpected elements. Eventually Murat takes on a more than slightly Messianic role after learning of the secret origins of the Magician and claiming an endearingly goofy-looking “sword of power.” It’s in these later sections of the film that we learn more about the mythology at play, a mix of Islamic beliefs and original elements that can get fairly confusing, depending on the quality of the subtitles. This, combined with the hero’s increasingly outrageous physical abilities after a training montage or two, makes the later half of the film play out like some kind of bizarre sci-fi religious text. Not in a propagandist or sermonizing way – just one that will probably leave you scratching your head and genuinely curious about the filmmakers’ headspace. It’s like if the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies were also trying to teach you about the virtues of Islam.
Your best bet is to try not to make too much sense out of it, and just let the film take you on its bizarre but endlessly endearing train ride. Let the stars’ repeated displays of hyper-virile masculinity and endless karate chopping of extras in whatever outlandish costumes the production had on hand do what they were meant to: put a big, albeit confused smile on your face. Turn your nose up at it if you prefer, but there’s a sincerity and earnestness to The Man Who Saved the World that more than makes up for the less-than-ideal production values, pacing, and editing. It’s the kind of film that can only be described as singular; there really is no other experience like it.