At the climax of Moonraker, the eleventh film in the James Bond franchise and the fourth to star Sir Roger Moore as 007, an infamous laser fight breaks out in outer space. Following the lead of the Star Wars franchise, which popularized death rays and laser battles between spacecraft just two years before, Moonraker‘s offensive added an extra layer of bravado with its free-floating mass of astronauts, like some zero-g riff on an infantry unit.
The scene has earned the 1979 film a lot of mockery because of its campy outlandishness. But in the wake of Moore’s death from cancer on Tuesday, at 89 years old, the entire sequence is worth a rewatch—along with the opening skydive chase—because it captures what was quintessentially special about the beloved actor’s take on Bond.
Moonraker laser fight. Video: Eddiesfedora77/MGM/YouTube
In the above scene, as the astronauts whirl around wildly, lasers blasting with characteristic “pew pews,” there’s no mistaking the dizzying collision of cinematic spectacle and comic absurdity that defines Moore’s vision for 007, and makes Moonraker ripe for parody.
This tone is further reinforced when Bond tracks down the villain Drax in a hijacked space station, tosses him out the airlock, and says, “Take a giant step for mankind,” paraphrasing Neil Armstrong, who had stepped on the Moon just 10 years previously.
Moonraker has inspired a “love it or hate it” reception since its release. But it captures the magic of space-age visions in the final year of the 1970s, reflecting the afterglow of the Apollo program while anticipating President Ronald Reagan’s weird obsession with building a space-based laser defense system during the 1980s.
It’s also interesting to note that the main Bond girl in Moonraker is an American astronaut named Holly Goodhead (heh), making her one of many fictional female spacefarers who predated the first American woman in space, Sally Ride (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, who also debuted in 1979, is another example).
Though there are myriad ways to celebrate the life and legacy of Sir Roger Moore, we recommend starting that journey with the epic and wonderful silliness of the Moonraker orbital laser showdown.
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