One Of Mel Brooks' Favorite Spaceballs Gags Started Life With Blazing Saddles

Mel Brooks' 1974 Western "Blazing Saddles" takes place in a town called Rockridge, a peaceful and very, very racist berg out on the edge of the Western frontier. The citizens, as described by Jim (Gene Wilder), are the common clay of the New West. "You know," he adds, "morons." In a cute gag, the citizens are named Olson Johnson, Howard Johnson, Harriett Johnson, Gabby Johnson, the Reverend Johnson, and Anal Johnson. On one hand, the similar surnames could just be an absurdist gag from a writer who opted to plug in generic names for the characters rather than invent new ones for each. On the other, it could have been Brooks making a cute joke about how literally incestuous Rockridge was. Are relatives marrying and having kids? It sure looks that way. This author prefers the second interpretation. 

Flash forward 13 years later, Brooks wrote and directed "Spaceballs," a spoof of the "Star Wars" movies. The year 1987 was a weird choice for a skilled Skywalker skewering, as the final "Star Wars" shows and TV movies aired in 1985, and the last big-budget feature was released in '83. When Brooks came out with the beatin' stick, "Star Wars" was already on the ground. But, as it reads on the poster for "Blazing Saddles," never give a saga an even break. Brooks was willing to satirize "Star Wars" with all his might, happily pointing out that the movies had been eclipsed by their own merchandising. "Spaceballs" features multiple scenes of characters using "Spaceballs" branded toys and bedsheets and flamethrowers. In the film's funniest metaphysical gag, they even watch a VHS copy of "Spaceballs" while the movie is still being made. 

In a 2021 interview with Literary Hub, the 95-year-old Brooks reminisced about making "Spaceballs," and how the everyone-named-Johnson gag from "Blazing Saddles" easily ported over to the bridge of Spaceball-One.

'I knew it. I'm surrounded by a**holes'

The plot of "Spaceballs" isn't so far from a typical Saturday morning sci-fi serial that inspired "Star Wars." The wicked planet Spaceball has squandered their own supply of breathable air and intends to steal the air from the neighboring planet Druidia. The princess of Druidia, Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), upset that she has to marry the boring Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock), flees with her robot Dot (body by Lorene Yarnell, voiced by Joan Rivers) and unwittingly into the tractor beam of the Spaceballs, the stand-ins for the Empire. It will be up to the handsome rogue Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his man-dog friend Barf (John Candy) to rescue them. Rick Moranis plays the evil Dark Helmet, and George Wyner plays the militant Colonel Sandurz. 

When the Spaceballs first encounter Princess Vespa's craft, they fire a warning shot across her nose. When the laser gunner gets a little too close for comfort, Dark Helmet pleas for a more careful shot. The gunner (Mike Pniewski) turns around, revealing his eyes are permanently crossed. "Sorry sir," he said, "Doing my best." When Dark Helmet asked who made that man a gunner, his cousin (Jim Jackman) pipes up. "I did, sir! He's my cousin." He, too, has crossed eyes. When Dark Helmet asks who he is, Sadurz says he's an A**hole. It's not just a mean descriptor, but that's his actual name. Major A**hole. The gunner is also named A**hole. 

"How many A**holes we got on this ship anyhow?" Dark Helmet pleas in frustration. Almost the entire bridge crew rises to their feet in unison and reply with a resounding "Yo!"

"I knew it," Dark Helmet says, "I'm surrounded by a**holes."

Comedy gold. According to Brooks, it was one of his favorite bits in the movie.

They've gone to plaid

"Spaceballs" was an enormous hit — in the cult comedy sense — and has scads of filmbro fans the world over. Brooks pointed out that Elon Musk is a big "Spaceballs" fan, and noted that several of the features on a standard Tesla are named after gags in his movie. For instance, the Spaceball-One is capable of traveling far beyond the speed of light, with its fastest officially designated velocity called Ludicrous Speed. When they reach that speed, the ship turns plaid (?). Brooks knew about the features, and even explained the plaid gag to Literary Hub:

"Obviously famous Tesla automaker Elon Musk is a fan of 'Spaceballs.' His cars feature a ludicrous mode and he's even announced that for a future model they'll be 'going to plaid.' Which happens later in 'Spaceballs' when, in a twist on 'Star Trek's' warp-speed visual effect, the Spaceballs-One ship actually goes to 'plaid.'"

Rumors swirled on many a school yard about a potential sequel to "Spaceballs." In the film, the wise sage Yogurt (Brooks) indicates that he would reunite with his friends in "Spaceballs II: The Search for More Money." Although never confirmed, many young people once even believed that Brooks would skip "Spaceballs II" entirely, and make the cheeky "Spaceballs III: The Search for Spaceballs II." Sadly, neither came to pass. Given that the world is oversaturated with "Star Wars" right now — "Andor" is the 57th "Star Wars" title just this year — it's high time for "Spaceballs" to return. 

We cannot stand idly by and give the saga an even break.