Space Cadet is a spiritual successor to Legally Blonde

A woman in the cockpit of a fighter jet screaming in Space Cadet.
Image: Amazon Prime Video

To the stars… with a lot of glitter and tie-dye!

In 2001, Legally Blonde told a generation of girls they could be unapologetically girly, unabashedly plucky — and still sharp, smart, and capable of getting into Harvard Law School, becoming lawyers, and winning a landmark case. It’s a staple of girl-power movie lists, winning and memorable enough to inspire a sequel, a musical, and an upcoming spinoff series.

Prime Video’s Emma Roberts vehicle Space Cadet takes a similar route with a radically different profession. This time, the protagonist is a big-hearted Florida party girl who gets into NASA’s astronaut candidate program. The parallels are intentional: Writer-director Liz W. Garcia told us Legally Blonde was a huge inspiration for her movie.

That isn’t a bad thing: Space Cadet is a strong addition to the girl-power canon, full of glittery, sticker-covered notebooks and tie-dyed T-shirts. Garcia’s movie is the perfect successor, adding just enough to the formula to make it stand out, but keeping the same heart and message that resonated with audiences 23 years ago.

[Ed. note: This review contains some slight setup spoilers for Space Cadet.]

Emma Roberts sits in a yellow lawn chair, looking eagerly at a sticker covered laptop
Image: Amazon Prime Video/Everett Collection

Emma Roberts (American Horror Story) plays Tiffany “Rex” Simpson, a bartender whose childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut were dashed when her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Rex chose to turn down a full-ride scholarship to college so she could focus on supporting her parents. After a high school reunion, where she reunites with a friendly former academic rival who’s found success in space tourism, she decides to pursue her dreams, hoping the admissions committee at NASA will see her potential. Her best friend, Nadine (Poppy Liu), takes matters into her own hands and embellishes Rex’s resume a little. Rex gets into the program, but doesn’t initially find out that Nadine fabricated her credentials. Even though she’s burned by Nadine’s deceit, Rex is determined to see the stars, so she decides to see the facade through to the end.

The comparisons between Rex and Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) in Legally Blonde are pretty evident. Like Elle before her, Rex is clearly capable. She’s smart and a quick learner, she knows her way around applied physics and mechanical engineering, and she’s a fantastic team player. But what sets Rex apart is her motivations, and the whole reason she’s out of place: She got screwed over by life, and this is her chance to go to space. Her drive doesn’t come from trying to get back a boy who dumped her for being too girly and fun-loving. (No shade to Elle! Spite is a great motivator.)

Rex (Emma Roberts) unearths an old model of the solar system
Image: Amazon Prime Video/Everett Collection

Rex’s motivations — and the fact that her resume is a lie — add a grittier texture and more intense stakes to her journey. She’s a great character, and Roberts imbues her with a lot of heart. Seeing her ricochet around like a bright, sparkly rocket amid the more serious, traditional astronaut candidates is absolutely wonderful, especially as they start to warm up to her.

Due to the program’s cutthroat eliminations, some of Rex’s most interesting relationships don’t get much screen time — like her connection with secret romance novelist Violet (Kuhoo Verma), who offers to catch Rex up on theoretical science in exchange for Rex helping her ace the physical components of the training. And her romance with handsome yet tight-laced program coordinator Logan (The Umbrella Academy’s Tom Hopper… in glasses and cute sweaters <3 <3) feels a little shoehorned in, like it’s an obligation for the genre.

Logan is dreamy, and his crush on Rex is endearing. But when half of his screen time is just him performing his job duties and calling up Rex’s professional references (all Nadine, using different phone numbers and increasingly elaborate theatrics), Space Cadet doesn’t really take the necessary time to sell their mutual romantic attraction as something more than just a check box on a list of tropes.

Logan (Tom Hopper) looks dreamily at Rex while the two sit in a planetarium.
Image: Amazon Prime Video/Everett Collection

But that running gag with Nadine is hilarious, as are the scenes with Rex’s ghost-tour guide dad (Gossip Girl’s Sam Robards), and the moments when her party-girl lifestyle comes in clutch and helps her with traditional astronaut training. Garcia does a great job of balancing the humor with the more grounded emotional stakes. Part of the reason Rex is so driven is because her mom fostered her love of science and space; she wants to make her mom proud. That relationship is threaded throughout the movie, and Rex never resents her mother or her situation — she just wishes it could be different and ultimately lets it fuel her.

Space Cadet is incredibly funny, but it’s also about someone pursuing a life she thought she’d missed out on, and finding her own strengths when she feels like she can’t measure up. Legally Blonde had Elle find a passion for law, even though people around her turned up their noses at her ambitions; in Space Cadet, Rex grits her teeth and lets her unique background inspire her instead of holding her back. Like Rex’s moonlit beach parties, this movie is a good time — but Space Cadet is also inspiring enough that it might persuade viewers to take a moment while laughing to look up at the metaphorical stars and decide to pursue something they once talked themselves out of.

Space Cadet is now streaming on Prime Video.

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