Monday, December 31, 2018

The Star Wars Holiday Special

by G. Jack Urso 
The Star Wars Holiday Special's, first, and only, broadcast on November 17, 1978, on CBS, is an infamous entry in the Star Wars canon. The plot centers around Han Solo getting his faithful Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca back to his home planet Kashyyyk for the Life Day celebration. Of course, Imperial troops are after them and the bulk of the story shifts between the search for the two rebels and small vignettes of everyday life on the Wookie home planet. Widely regarded as an embarrassing flop, the show has nonetheless acquired a cult following. Two segments and the complete program are provided below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Various problems quickly emerge. First, the special is modeled as a variety show — a then-popular format near the end of its lifetime on American TV. Layered with songs, dance, humorous sketches, and not-so-witty one-liners, the result feels like your grandparents' version of Star Wars. The special effects typify late 70s video and computer technology. Blue screen chroma key effects are rather obvious. Instead of custom-built futuristic-looking computer housings, off-the-shelf systems are used, like repurposed commercial desktop computers, or cassette tape players disguised as data playback decks, with a little electronic flash to jazz it up, resulting in very cheap-looking stage props.
The special features several set pieces, including Harvey Korman in two short segments where he plays an alien chef and a malfunctioning robot. The alien chef bit is the better of the two items, showcasing Korman’s knack for accents and broad comedy; however, the malfunctioning robot bit is just painfully slow and unfunny. On a side note, famed fashion designer Bob Mackie, who previously worked with Korman on The Carol Burnett Show, did the costumes for the special. Ralph McQuarrie, tasked with making the preliminary concept drawings for Star Wars, did the illustrations. Also, James Earl Jones gets his first on-screen credit as the voice of Darth Vader.

Diahann Carroll sings "This Minute Now" to Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, in a virtual reality set-up (who seems to be enjoying it just a little too much). The Jefferson Starship shows up as a hologram performing “Light the Sky on Fire,” which, notably, is Marty Balin's last recorded performance with the group until 1993, having departed the band in October 1978 (see clip below). Bea Arthur (Maude, The Golden Girls) plays a bartender at the Mos Eisley Cantina, trading banal dialogue with an enamored alien barfly played by Harvey Korman before closing out the segment with an entirely forgettable song. Carrie Fisher solves the age-old question of “Are there lyrics to the Star Wars theme?” and immediately makes us regret the answer. To her credit, however, the young Fisher has a surprisingly pleasant singing voice, apparently having inherited the vocal cords of her parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

Other segments include holographic circus acrobats played by the Wazzan Troupe Dancers and Art Carney fumbling about trying to put Imperial troops off the scent of Han and Chewy. Bruce Vilanch, one of the writers, in a December 2008 Vanity Fair article, noted that Lucas insisted that no subtitles be used with the Wookies, which meant that someone who spoke English had to be around in every scene in order to repeat what the Wookies said in their own language. This slowed down the action and dumbed-down the story, as if that were even possible.

Of course, the stand-out segment is the animated sequence introducing Boba Fett to the Stars Wars universe (see below). The impact was immediate and fans couldn’t get enough of the grim, mysterious, cunning bounty hunter. While Darth Vader is a great villain, he’s the sort of character you save for the epic showdown. Fett fills in the space in-between, providing a sense of danger and threat to the protagonists without overusing the primary antagonist.

George Lucas, whose participation in the production was minimal, was so embarrassed by the final result that he disowned the program and once famously said that if he could destroy every copy, he would. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your opinion, fans who videotaped the program on early VCRs preserved the show and shared bootlegs at conventions, where I first came across it in 1992 after having seen it on TV during its only broadcast in 1978. Despite all that, and probably a little to Lucas’ chagrin, the program has secured such a unique place in the hearts of Star Wars fans that it is considered a canonical work.

For me, The Star Wars Holiday Special holds a nostalgic place. It aired exactly two weeks before my mother moved us out of the family home after the divorce from my father. In her rush to move, and recognizing the realities of going from a house to a small apartment, she left almost all of my toys behind, including my precious Stars Wars figures, as well as many other relics of my childhood. In that sense, our experiences can raise a simple piece of overblown pop culture ephemera, such as The Star Wars Holiday Special, into something a little more significant than if judged on its artistic merits alone.
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Two Christmas Carols

by G. Jack Urso

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a ubiquitous part of the holiday season; so much so, in fact, that it is easy to overlook the power of this simple story. Two of my favorite iterations of this classic tale include the 1970 musical version Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, and the 1971 animated version, A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim recreating his role from the superlative 1951 film version, also titled Scrooge. Both are available below form the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

For me, the exuberant musical version Scrooge (1970) is a must-see for the holiday season. Though receiving mixed reviews at the time of its theatrical release, this version received wide airplay in the 1970s and 1980s, consequently gaining many Baby Boomer fans.  Albert Finney and Alec Guinness star as Scrooge and Marley, respectively, and fans of British TV and film will notice many familiar faces, including Gordon Jackson (The Great Escape, and Upstairs, Downstairs), Roy Kinnear (Help!, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Three Musketeers), and  Anton Rogers (The Prisoner, May to December, and Upstairs, Downstairs). The choreography is tight and a number of songs, including “A Christmas Carol,” “December the 25th,” “I Like Life,” “Happiness,” and “Thank You Very Much,” linger long in the mind well after the movie is over. The film was nominated for several Academy and Golden Globe awards and was later turned into a stage production in 1992 starring Anthony Newly in the title role.
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel:

1971’s animated A Christmas Carol is a brief 25 minutes, but all the essential elements from the book are covered, reminding one just how short a story it is. The animation can be both whimsical and dark, and indeed this is a dark version of Dickins' tale. At its heart, A Christmas Carol is more of a ghost story than a traditional feel-good holiday narrative. In fact, the full title of the book is A Christmas Carol. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. As the film progresses, the imagery grow more disturbing, evocative of Edward Gorey's work in tone, if not in composition. This is apparent in such scenes as when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come visits, and is so intense that it may scare some younger viewers. Alastair Sim ably demonstrates that he is the quintessential Ebenezer Scrooge and his performance provides the character with depth, nuance, and subtlety. The legendary Chuck Jones, of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes fame, lends his hand as executive producer. First released on TV, it was given a theatrical release and won a 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (which led to the rule banning programs first broadcast on TV from Oscar consideration). This is as much an underrated classic as ever there was one and deserves much wider appreciation by the general public.
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel:

That both these films date back to the earliest years of my childhood, it is no wonder that I recall them so fondly. As Christmas is for children, each year we can revisit our youth by enjoying the tales told to us as children. For more great Christmas programs, please visit these other Aeolus 13 Umbra articles: CBS Seasons Greetings (1966): Animation by R.O. Blechman and J.T.: An Urban Christmas Carol.


Jonny Quest: Time is Running Out

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:

Jonny Quest promo that ran on the Boomerang cable network channel in the mid-2000s.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Starlost: The Complete Series

by G. Jack Urso

The giant Earthship Ark — man’s greatest and final achievement out of control, drifting through deep space over 800 years into the far future. Its passengers, descendants of the last survivors of the dead planet Earth, locked in separate worlds, their destination long forgotten, heading for destruction unless three young people can save the Starlost!                 
                                                                      — Opening Narration to The Starlost

The Starlost is a 16-episode Canadian science-fiction television series that aired from 1973 to 1974 in both Canada and the United States. The series is usually derided as among the worst sci-fi series ever produced, and while that accusation is mired in a lot of hyperbole, the show, nevertheless, is an example of a good idea with lots of promise and fine actors that was penny-pinched by producers with little knowledge of science-fiction, or writing in general. Series creator and awarded-winning bestselling sci-fi author Harlan Ellison disliked the series so much, he disowned it before the first episode aired and was credited under the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird.” The complete series is available below from a dedicated Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel.

The series was intended to be a co-production of the BBC and 20th Century Fox for prime-time viewing with the hope it would be shot in London. Unfortunately, the BBC declined; however, the Canadian CTV television network joined in, though with less funding, and the series was broadcasted in Canada and syndicated in the United States to a total of 48 stations. Because of the loss of the BBC's potential investment, the budget was much smaller as were the Toronto studios the series was eventually filmed in. Both restrictions contributed to the general dissatisfaction from Ellison and his departure from the series.

How many episodes Ellison developed story ideas for is not quite certain from the information available. The pitch film (below), likely produced by the late Spring/early Summer of 1973, features footage from Trumbull's Silent Running (1972) and promoted the use of the ill-fated Magicam system (more about that later). Some details are different, such as Dullea's character's name being Victor Rann (spelling of the last name unsure) instead of Devon. Notably, Ellison is referred to by his real name rather than Cordwainer Bird, the name he used as his series credit (indicating his dislike) after leaving the production in September 1973. The film also indicates Ellison would be contributing six scripts, but which those were are unclear. He authored the story for the first episode, "Voyage of Discovery," but the Internet Movie Database credits him with contributing to every episode as “creator,” including the episode "The Goddess Calabra" based on a story by Ursula K. Le Guin (The Lathe of Heaven, see separate article on Aeolus 13 Umbra). Consequently, the writing credits listed below reflect those indicated on the episode credits themselves, or as otherwise noted.


The series originated in February 1973 when a 20th Century Fox television producer, Robert Kline, asked Ellison to develop a prime time science fiction TV series of eight episodes, which he would then pitch to the BBC as a co-production. Ellison was cold to the idea of limited-run series, but Kline persisted and Ellison eventually tossed out the idea for what would become The Starlost. While Ellison was certainly a creative genius, Douglas Trumball, who would co-executive produce the series, explored a similar idea of a biosphere ship in 1972’s Silent Running, so one wonders if Ellison wasn't just spinning off that idea to some degree.

Earthship Ark model.
Sci-fi author Ben Bova served as science advisor and, much to his dismay at working with producers who had such little concern for technical accuracy, left after the first episode aired. He later used the experience as the basis for his novel The Starcrossed.

The per episode production budget in 1973 for The Starlost was approximately US$100,000, or about US$569,560 in 2018. This was a little bit less than what an average episode of Star Trek: The Original Series cost in 1966 when the same US$100,000 equals approximately US$780,409 in 2018, so the same amount of money bought more in 1966 than it did in 1973. To put it in better perspective, the per episode budget for the live-action Saturday morning children’s series Jason of Star Command (see separate article on Aeolus 13 Umbra) produced a few years later in 1978 by the notoriously cheap Filmation, was US$200,000, or approximately US$773,454 in 2018. The Starlost's budget should have been about US$50,000 more in 1973 dollars to compensate for inflation and keep it on par with other sci-fi shows of the era.
The Starlost (left to right), Garth, Devon, and Rachel, look at a star rising above the 
massive Earthship Ark for the first time from the ruined main bridge.

The series takes place on the immense Earthship Ark, containing the last remnants of the planet Earth, in the year 2790. The Ark is approximately 200 miles (320 km) long and 50 miles (80 km) wide and home to dozens of self-contained biospheres, each containing a unique culture, totaling about three million people. An accident four hundred years in their past isolated the biospheres from each other and set the vessel on a direct course for an eventual collision with a star.

The not very helpful computer.
The lead in the series is Keir Dullea, who played Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dullea plays Devon, a farmer in an agricultural Amish-like community in one of the biospheres. The action in the series begins when Devon's love interest Rachel (Gay Rowen) is betrothed to another man, Garth (Robin Ward). This causes Devon to begin questioning the authorities, their way of life, and mysterious aspects of their existence, such as why the sun moves as it does, where the water comes from, and what lies beyond the door marked, “Beyond is Death.” Chased by the villagers, Devon makes his escape from the biosphere and discovers that he is on the Earthship Ark and that it is headed into a star. In order to save the ship, and the biospheres, Devon must find the backup bridge and restart the main engines. Unfortunately, the ship’s main computer is damaged and not always useful. Further, after 400 years, there seems to be no records of where the backup bridge is, so with help from Rachel and a wary Garth, the trio begins a journey of exploration and danger.

Making the protagonists agricultural workers unfamiliar with technology at first seems like a nice trick to present a logical scenario for the inevitable long expository common to sci-fi. Indeed, Devon, Rachel, and Garth are stand-ins for the viewers and their need for information about the Ark mirrors or own, so at first this seems like a convenient literary device. Nevertheless, it quickly becomes apparent that this often results in such plot holes as Devon, a farmer from a technically backwards society, frequently operating technology far outside his primitive skill set. After viewing the series, it may have been better for at least one of the three protagonists to be from a more technologically advanced biosphere.

Special Effects

For sci-fi fans of the 1970s, the special effects of The Starlost are somewhat on par with Blake’s 7 and Dr. Who of the same time period. Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-1973) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977) show clearly superior effects work, as do the live-action Saturday morning series Space Academy (1977) and Jason of Star Command (1978-1979) (click on links for reviews of the aforementioned series on Aeolus 13 Umbra). While the shots of Earthship Ark are impressive and the modeling detailed, they lack movement due to the limitations of the technology. The lighting is poor, the backgrounds are dull, and star fields almost virtually absent. Consequently, for a show that takes place in outer space, very little is seen of it.

Part of the pitch of The Starlost to Ellison, as detailed in his essay “Somehow, I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas, Toto,” in the preface to the novelization of Ellison’s script for the pilot episode by Edward Bryant (Phoenix Without Ashes), was that video, rather than film, would allow for high production values at a lower cost. Not only were the promised superior special effects not forthcoming, but the use of video tape rather than film further cheapened the look of an already financially-strapped venture. The results were not what were anticipated by either the actors or the TV stations who syndicated the series.

As previously noted, director/producer Douglas Trumbull released the film Silent Running in 1972 featuring a similar vessel with biospheres. Trumbull touted his Magicam system as a way to allow actors to move inside an effects shot and provide a heightened sense of realism. An example is provided in the pitch film, but Magicam, still in its early development, was a troubled and problematic system that was eventually abandoned for the series. As Trumbull’s effects ability is amply demonstrated in such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner, the technical problems with The Starlost were not with him, but with the production companies 20th Century-Fox Television, CTV Television Network, and Glen Warren Productions, who quite literally nickel-and-dimed the series into an early death.

The video effects, despite some occasional creative applications, are generally just random functions from an early video effects generator board. I am somewhat familiar with the technology from interning at a public access television station in the early 1980s. If that was all they could afford, it was a penny-pinching production indeed.

The studio they filmed in was so small even shots of long corridors were difficult. In the first episode, "Voyage of Discovery,"  a simple shot of a long corridor (at the 41:40 time mark) needed a blue screen effect to accomplish the shot. In the scene, Dullea and Rowen are recorded on tape looking towards the camera. Then, Ward is recorded on the other side of the corridor looking at a blue screen, upon which the footage of Dullea and Rowen is later inserted over in post-production. It seems like a complicated and expensive fix to accommodate an inferior studio they had to use because of budgetary limitations. Another technique to show long corridors was to have a full-scale photo-realistic painting simply mounted to one side of a doorway. On a 70s-era 19 inch, or smaller, color cathode-ray tube TV, the effect probably wasn’t very noticeable; however, on today’s high-definition TVs it is clearly visible.

The Pisces scout ship makes a pass below the Earthship Ark. The difference in quality 
between the two vessels in this shot is even greater on high-definition television.
Other than the impressive Earthship Ark, the other spaceships that do make the occasional appearance, such as the Astro-Medic ship or Pisces scout ship, look hastily conceived, or, in the case of Oro's flying saucer, just outright ridiculous. When the buildings inside the biospheres are shown, as in "Mr. Smith of Manchester," they look more like children’s toys just repainted and thrown together. Matte paintings would have been the better choice for such scenes and it is curious why they are not used.

The use of matte shots, where scenery is painted on glass with an area left clear for previously shot footage to be played through, allows for actors to move through various fanciful locations without the cost involved in creating such sets. Curiously, this technique is not really utilized (likely for budgetary reasons) despite having had been used in sci-fi movies for decades prior to The Starlost, and their use could have provided a sense of space in a series where much of the action takes place inside a room of some sort, apart from a very few exceptions, such as Devon’s EVA in the episode "Farthing's Comet." The Magicam system was meant to replace, or at least supplement, this process, but it proved to be an unreliable alternative at the time of the series.


Keir Dullea is an accomplished actor and was well-known even before his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gay Rowen and Robin Ward keep pace with Dullea, and Ward’s Garth makes for a good foil to Dullea’s Devon. The guest stars feature an array of talented character actors who have appeared in various sci-fi series of the era and later, including John Colicos, Commander Kor, Star Trek: The Original Series and Deep Space Nine and Baltor in Battlestar Galactica (1978); Barry Morse, Prof. Victor Bergman, Space: 1999; Lloyd Bochner, Commandant Leiter, Battlestar Galactica (1978) episodes “Baltar's Escape” and “Greetings from Earth”; Simon Oakland, Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Donnelly Rhodes, Dr. Cottle, Battlestar Galactica (2004); and Walter Koenig, Ensign Chekov, Star Trek: The Original Series, and Alfred Bester in Babylon 5. Indeed, the actors often, with some exceptions, generally rise above the material they’re given to work with, but it is seldom enough to move an episode into the “must-see” category.


In the end, The Starlost frequently leaves the viewer unsatisfied. Despite an intriguing premise, too often the phrase “If only they had done things differently,” comes to mind. That happens in even the best of series at times, but with The Starlost it is more the rule than the exception. That's not to say there aren't a few good episodes, but there are distracting inconsistencies. Devon, Rachel, and Garth, despite being from a primitive agricultural community become pretty adept at using highly advanced technology. Despite meeting an array of people on the Ark, including medical staff, security officers, scientists, artificially intelligent computers, and the various biosphere residents, few seem particularly concerned that the ship is headed straight into a star. A scout ship travels 10 years at near light-speed, but the crew seems ignorant of the time dilation effect which results in them being over 400 years out of time. Although the Ark is highly technically advanced and automated, the one robot seen (in the episode "The Return of Oro") looks like an antiquated relic from a 1930s Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers film serial.

The anti-war and environmental themes, questioning authority, and the concept of three young people who come from an agricultural, communal society to try and save the Earth are very 1970s sorts of ideas, so the series in some ways typifies the era in which it was produced. The use of video tape, video board effects generators, and early computers provides a point of research for TV and film production historians, but more as oddities and as examples of what not to do.

If you enjoy 1970s sci-fi, or just want to see what all the controversy is about, at least some episodes of The Starlost are worth checking out, such as "Voyage of Discovery," "The Alien Oro," and "Circuit of Death." Indeed, these episodes are the only ones I can recall after first watching the series back in 1973. If I can remember even those few episodes from a long-forgotten series I haven’t seen in 45 years, there must be something pretty good about it after all . . . or something awfully, if not gloriously, bad.

The Starlost: The Complete Series
Descriptions by G. Jack Urso. Click on the links below to view the episodes
on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Starlost TV YouTube channel!

Cast  (left to right): Keir Dullea (Devon), Gay Rowen (Rachel),  Robin Ward (Garth).
Opening Credits and Closing Credits Themes.
Episode 1: "Voyage of Discovery" | Original Airdate: September 22, 1973 | Writer: Harlan Ellison (as Cordwainer Bird) (story), Norman Klenman (teleplay)
Devon, a young man from a small agricultural community, accidently finds out his world is actually part of an immense spacecraft, the Earthship Ark, comprised of dozens of huge biodomes, and on a collision course with a star! Condemned by his people when he shares this knowledge, Devon escapes with his friends Rachel and Garth to try and save the ship and the last remnants of the dead planet Earth. Guest Star: Sterling Hayden (The Godfather).

Episode 2: "Lazarus from the Mist" | Original Airdate: September 29, 1973 | Writers: Doug Hall, Don Wallace
Devolved descendants of the Ark’s security forces capture Garth. Meanwhile Devon and Rachel discover some of the ship's engineers in suspended animation and revive one of them to help them repair the Ark. Note: The entire action takes place mainly on two sets which creates a claustrophobic feeling, a periodic issue with the cash-strapped series.

Episode 3: "The Goddess Calabra" | Original Airdate: October 6, 1973 | Writers: Ursula K. Le Guin (story), Martin Lager (teleplay)
Devon, Rachel, and Garth discover the Omicron biosphere where only men live. The governor decides to marry Rachel who resembles a goddess the men worship. Guest Star: John Colicos (Commander Kor, Star Trek: The Original Series and Deep Space Nine; Baltor, Battlestar Galactica (1978); and Barry Morse Prof. Victor Bergman, Space: 1999). Note: The costuming is cartoonish and anachronistic for a future society. The final fight between Colicos’ and Dullea’s characters is poorly choreographed and shot.

Episode 4: "The Pisces" | Original Airdate: October 13, 1973 | Writer: Norman Klenman
A scout ship from the Ark returns after a ten-year voyage travelling near the speed of light, but while only ten-years have passed for the crew, over four hundred years have passed on the Ark due to the time dilation effect. Guest star: Lloyd Bochner (Commandant Leiter, Battlestar Galactica (1978) episodes “Baltar's Escape” and “Greetings from Earth”). Note: This episode is largely a talkfest and it seems incongruous for scientists in the year 2790 to be ignorant of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as it applies to the time dilation effect.

Episode 5: "Children of Methuselah" | Original Airdate: October 20, 1973 | Writers: Jonah Royston, George Ghent 
Devon, Rachel, and Garth find what may be the backup bridge, but it’s manned by a group of immortal children with psychic powers who believe they have been navigating the Ark for hundreds of years — or have they? Note: It is not convincingly explained why the adults abandoned the children and it seems to be more of a last-minute afterthought to resolve a plot hole. Additionally, the child actors performances wildly vary and are less convincing than the children’s performances in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “And the Children Shall Lead,” for example.

Episode 6: "And Only Man Is Vile" | Original Airdate: October 27, 1973 | Writer: Shimon Wincelberg
Leisure Village, a biosphere with deceptively peaceful scenery, turns out to be an experiment in creating a superior breed of savage humans through survival of the fittest. Guest Star: Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker).

Episode 7: "The Alien Oro" | Original Airdate: November 3, 1973 | Writers: Mort Forer, Marian Waldman 
An alien, Oro, who crashed into the Earthship Ark, has been gathering parts from the giant spacecraft to repair his ship and return home. Garth, however, falls for a woman with Oro who must leave the Ark with the alien if she is to live. Guest Star: Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov, Star Trek: The Original Series; Alfred Bester, Babylon 5).

Episode 8: "Circuit of Death" | Original Airdate: November 10, 1973 | Writer: Norman Klenman
An angry, bitter man, Dr. Richards, sets the Ark to self-destruct and tries to escape with his daughter; however, when his escape ship is unable to leave, he and Devon must undergo a dangerous process to shrink themselves to microscopic size in order to deactivate the self-destruct and save the Ark and his daughter. Guest Star: Percy Rodrigues (Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Court Martial”). Note: Despite being heavy in expository elements, and dubious scientific technobabble, this episode is regarded as one of the most watchable efforts.

Episode 9: "Gallery of Fear" | Original Airdate: November 17, 1973 | Writers: Alf Harris (as Alfred Harris), and George Ghent 
Magnus, an artificially intelligent sociopathic computer, tries to trick Devon, Rachel, and Garth into helping complete his programming so he has complete autonomy and control. Keir Dullea (2001, A Space Odyssey), however, has some prior experience with psycho A.I. computers that he puts to use in this episode. Note: Magnus’ sexy, but illusionary, servant woman has abilities that seem to have not been well-thought out (she can hand out drinks, but can’t press buttons), and Devon, Rachel, and Garth, seem to keep falling for Magnus’ tricks even though they know he is trying to deceive them.

Episode 10: "Mr. Smith of Manchester" | Original Airdate:  November 24, 1973 | Writers: Arthur Heinemann, Norman Klenman 
The tyrannical ruler of a highly-industrialized polluted biosphere dedicated to making weapons tries to convince Devon, Rachel, and Garth to show him, and his army, the way out. Guest Star: Ed Ames (Mingo, Daniel Boone). Note: The biosphere’s buildings look little more than a children’s playset filmed by high school students.

Episode 11: "Astro-Medics" | Original Airdate: December 1, 1973 | Writers: Paul Schneider, Martin Lager 
Devon is injured and Rachel calls for help, which arrives in the form of a medical ship orbiting the Ark; however, an alien ship requesting assistance forces the medical staff to decide whether to continuing helping Devon or leave him and assist the aliens. Note: Despite knowing of the Ark’s trajectory into a star, the medical staff seems little concerned about it.

Episode 12: "The Implant People" | Original Airdate: December 8, 1973 | Writers: Helen French, Martin Lager, John Meredyth Lucas (uncredited), Allen Spraggett (uncredited)
Devon, Rachel, and Garth are taken captive in a biosphere where the workers are controlled by implants and the lower classes starved. With the leader unaware of what is happening, her assistant plots to take over. Guest Star: Donnelly Rhodes (Dr. Cottle, Battlestar Galactica (2004)). Note: Shot in about five indoor sets, the episode as a claustrophobic feeling and the brief shot of the biosphere’s buildings look like various parts of a children’s playset cobbled together.

Episode 13: "The Return of Oro" | Original Airdate: December 15, 1973 | Writer: Alex C. James
Oro the alien revisits Earthship Ark with promises to repair the ship and bring them to his home world of Exar, but is he telling the truth? Of course not, and the episode ends with Oro being abandoned by his people, stranded on Earthship Ark, and on the run from the Ark’s security forces. Guest Star: Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov, Star Trek: The Original Series; Alfred Bester, Babylon 5). Note: The robot, Tau Zeta, has completely useless arms and looks like a refugee from a 1930’s Buck Rogers serial.

Episode 14: "Farthing's Comet" | Original Airdate: December 22, 1973 | Writer: Douglas Hall
A scientist alters the Ark's course to pass through a comet's tail so he can study it; Devon must make an EVA to rewire a panel so the service reactors can be fired again; cometary debris damages the biospheres. Guest Star: Edward Andrews (The Twilight Zone episodes “Third from the Sun” and “You Drive”). Note: Why in the year 2790 do people need to wear 1950’s style black horn-rimmed glasses? Additionally, Devon, for a farmer, seems to be particularly well-adept at Extravehicular Activity (EVA) and piloting a small craft despite never having piloted a vessel before.

Episode 15:  "The Beehive" | Original Airdate: December 29, 1973 | Writer: Norman Klenman

Episode 16: "Space Precinct" | Original Airdate: January 5, 1974 | Writer: Martin Lager
Garth is recruited by the Inter-Ark police to help put an end to an interplanetary war, but gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Note: Despite being the Inter-Ark police, they show no concern over Oro the alien running around on the Ark or the fact the ship is headed straight for a star.

Episode 17: "God That Died” | Original Airdate: Unproduced | Writer: Unknown

Episode 18: “People in the Dark” | Original Airdate: Unproduced | Writer: Unknown

Note: The Starlog Photo Guidebook TV Episode Guides Volume 1 (1981) and the Internet Movie Database list "God That Died” and “People in the Dark” as the unproduced episodes 17 and 18, respectively. Additionally, in the late 1980s, five “movies” comprised of editing together two episodes each were released for broadcast on cable television. These include:

The Starlost: The Beginning ("Voyage of Discovery" and "The Goddess Calabra"
The Starlost: The Return ("The Pisces" and "Farthing's Comet")
The Starlost: Deception  ("Mr. Smith of Manchester" and "Gallery of Fear"
The Starlost: The Alien Oro ("The Alien Oro" and "The Return of Oro"
The Starlost: The Invasion ("Astro-Medics" and "The Implant People")


Friday, October 26, 2018

The Bermuda Triangle (1979)

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel:
Sunn Classics 1979 TV production. Based on Charles Berlitz's classic paranormal bestseller.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Jonny Quest PF Flyer Commercial

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel:

Jonny Quest PF Flyer Commercial that ran contemporaneous to the original run of the show (1964-1965).

Friday, October 5, 2018

Jason of Star Command: The Complete Series

by G. Jack Urso 

Danger hides in the stars! This is the world of Jason of Star Command. A space-age soldier of fortune determined to stop the most sinister force in the universe: Dragos, master of the cosmos. Aiding Jason in his battle against evil is a talented team of experts, all working together in a secret section of Space Academy. Jason of Star Command!
                 Opening Narration to Jason of Star Command

Jason of Star Command is a CBS Saturday morning children’s sci-fi series that aired in the 1978 and 1979 TV seasons. The show is a spin-off of 1977’s short-lived Space Academy, which was often referred to in the series, and used many of the same sets and props. The first season aired as a 15-minute segment as part of Tarzan and the Super Seven from 10:30 a.m. to 12 Noon, followed by reruns of Space Academy. For season two, Jason of Star Command was expanded to a full 30 minutes and got its own spot at 12 Noon. Both seasons aired first-run episodes in the fall and in reruns beginning in January, similar to Space Academy’s run. The complete series is available below. For more information on Space Academy please visit the Aeolus13 Umbra article.

Even though Jason of Star Command takes place “in a secret section of Space Academy,” none of the regular Space Academy cast makes an appearance nor are they or the events in the series mentioned. Peepo the robot turns up for six episodes in season two and Lt. Matt Prentiss (John Berwick), who appeared in the Space Academy episode, "The Cheat," turns up in the Jason of Star Command episode The Disappearing Man,”  and that is pretty much it. It was a lost opportunity to exploit the popularity of Space Academy which was still being shown in reruns at the time.


Season one cast.
In the starring role of Jason is Craig Littler, who was active from the 1960s to the 1990s mainly in guest starring and supporting roles on TV, and for whom Jason of Star Command seems to be his only lead in a series. Jason occasionally demonstrates feats of strength, though not much about this ability is explored. Jonathan Harris was to continue his role as Commander Gampu from Space Academy, but was unable to come to terms with Filmation over his contract. James Doohan, Lt. Commander Scott on Star Trek: The Original Series, stepped in as Commander Canarvin, but really isn’t given much to do and comes across as a bit bland when compared to the scene-crewing Sid Haig or the very earnest Craig Littler. Doohan left the series in 1978 to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was replaced in season two by John Russell, more noted for his Western roles (including Clint Eastwood’s 1985 film Pale Rider) as the blue-skinned alien Commander Stone. Character actor Sid Haig, who appeared in many popular TV and film projects starting in the 1960s (including THX 1138), appears as the malevolently persistent evil space lord Dragos.

Season two cast.
Other cast members include Charlie Dell as the wonderfully eccentric Professor E.J. Parsafoot. Dell pretty much steals most scenes he appears in. His quirky, yet empathetic, performance as Prof. Parsafoot makes him a fan favorite. Dell still turns up from time-to-time, but has spent the majority of his career in small character roles. Season one included Susan Pratt as Captain Nicole Davidoff. Dobson had a few roles before Jason of Star Command, and afterwards appeared mainly in daytime soap operas. In season two, Pratt is replaced by Tamara Dobson as the enigmatic and “powerful” Samantha, a refugee of Dragos’ war. Dobson was notable for playing Cleopatra Jones in two Blaxploitation films previous to Jason of Star Command and helps broaden the appeal of the show.  Wiki, Jason’s faithful micro-robot, is in every episode, and Peepo, the resident R2D2 clone from Space Academy, also turns up for six episodes in season two.


Sid Haig confirms in the documentary The Adventures of Jason of Star Command that the budget per episode was US$200,000 in 1978 (approximately US$773,454 in 2018), likely the highest ever for a live-action Saturday morning series. We can see evidence of this in the expanded range of models and special effects. Nevertheless, despite the popularity of the series, the high production costs limited how many episodes Filmation could commit too without it affecting other productions.
Jason’s Starfire spacecraft in flight.
Series creator and director Arthur Nadel provides a single unified vision for the series, establishing a continuity that would have been impossible to achieve with a contract director approach. Chuck Cominsky, special effects supervisor for Space Academy, continued his work with Jason of Star Command, providing an added measure of continuity to the production. New personnel were added to the crew, including directors of photography who improved the optical effects design, stop-motion artists, and microcomputers, which gave the capability for repeat moves on spacecraft flight tracking shots, compositing effects, and coordinated in-camera mattes so spacecraft and star fields could move together, rather than having a static background.

The line of spacecraft models was greatly expanded and the shots of planets and flybys have much the same quality as was being produced on Space: 1999 just a couple years previously. Nevertheless, despite the larger budget, Filmation still sought to cut corners in sometimes rather obvious ways, such as reusing background music composed for the company’s earlier Star Trek: The Animated Series, usually to underscore dramatic moments of crisis.
Star Command drone fighters race out to defend Space Academy.

Seasons One and Two

Season one debuted in the Fall 1978 and is comprised of sixteen 15-minute episodes, much in the same spirit of the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers/Commando Cody serials with a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter. The segments ran as part of Tarzan and the Super Seven, 10:30 a.m. to 12 Noon, opposite the 90-minute Scooby's All-Stars Laff-A-Lympics which started at 10 a.m. on ABC. On NBC, the competition included The Fantastic Four at 10:30 a.m. and The Kroft Supershow hosted by The Bay City Rollers at 11 a.m. Reruns of Space Academy followed Tarzan and the Super Seven at noon.
Advertisement for the show from period promotional material.
For season two in the Fall of 1979, Jason of Star Command produced twelve thirty-minute episodes that aired at 12:00 noon, and, much to my frustration, my local CBS affiliate WAST (later WNYT) Channel 13—Albany, usually preempted the show since stations could begin to cutaway at noon for local programming. Additionally, cable companies at the time had a “blackout policy,” which would blackout the programming of out-of-area stations if they were running the same show as a local station. This was to keep the ratings for local stations from losing share to out-of-market stations. Our local cable company, Capital Cablevision, offered WCBS, Channel 2 in New York City, which also ran Jason of Star Command at noon; however, that was blacked out by Capital Cablevision ostensibly to protect Channel 13 who didn’t run the show anyway since it cut away from the network at noon. This  prevented me, and many other local fans, from seeing season two of Jason of Star Command until the 2007 DVD release.


Jason of Star Command and its predecessor Space Academy are transitional series in the aftermath of Star Wars. Aspects of the cliff-hanger movie serials from the 1930s through the 1950s remain, but a stronger emphasis on, and a larger budget for, special effects ramped up the standard for children’s television programming. Members of the special effects crew went to work on Battle Beyond the Stars, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the current crop of films from the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes.
Jason holding his faithful micro-robot W.1.K.1. — aka Wiki.
The show has its short-comings: Jason gets captured as often as Lois Lane, the Dragos storyline goes on too long and gets repetitive, Peepo is a direct rip-off of R2D2, and, despite the increased special effects budget, Wiki (actually W.1.K.1.) comes across as little more than a wind-up, off-the-shelf toy. Still, the show is an exemplary model of creative children’s programming while exploiting a current trend in entertainment—in this case the space opera. While clearly designed for children, it doesn’t talk down to them, but simply strives to entertain. Lessons of cooperation and responsibility are integrated into the storylines without devolving into the dreaded “very special episode.”

As noted in my article for Space Academy, the rights to Space Academy, and consequently Jason of Star Command, are somewhat undefined right now. Filmation folded in 1989 and the rights to both shows subsequently went to “Sleepy Kids,” a media company specializing in children’s programming that coincidently formed in 1989. Sleepy Kids was later renamed Entertainment Rights who licensed the series to BCI Eclipse for the 2007 DVD release. In 2008, BCI Eclipse went out of business as did Entertainment Rights in 2009.

There remains a small fandom for both Jason of Star Command and Space Academy. Customized figures and models turn up from time to time, but they are scattered efforts usually by dedicated fans themselves. The shows are overshadowed by other sci-fi programs of the era, such as Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, not to mention Star Trek, Logan’s Run, and Star Wars. Nevertheless, Jason of Star Command and Space Academy remains excellent examples of sci-fi written specifically for children, features strong women, and different races, often in leadership positions. Not a bad way to raise the kids on a Saturday morning in that or any era. 

Jason of Star Command: The Complete Series
Descriptions by G. Jack Urso. Click on the links below to view the episodes on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Star Command Spaceport YouTube channel!

Season One Cast (left to right): Commander Carnarvin, Jason, Capt. Davidoff, Prof. Parsafoot.

Season 1
Opening Credits and Closing Credits Themes.
Season 1 Chapter 1: “Attack of the Dragonship” | Original Airdate:  September 9, 1978
Commander Canarvin is abducted by aliens and rescued by Jason, who soon finds himself captured by the evil Dragos!

Season 1 Chapter 2: “Prisoner of Dragos” | Original Airdate: September 16, 1978
While Jason is imprisoned by Dragos, back at Star Command the recently rescued Commander Canarvin isn’t acting like himself.

Season 1 Chapter 3: “Escape from Dragos” | Original Airdate: September 23, 1978
At Star Command, Commander Canarvin is revealed to be a clone created by Dragos. Back at Dragos’ ship, Jason helps the real Commander Canarvin escape, though Jason remains a prisoner.

Season 1 Chapter 4: “A Cry for Help” | Original Airdate: September 30, 1978
When Canarvin’s clone disables Space Academy’s shields, Dragos attacks! Meanwhile, Jason discovers his cellmate is beautiful princess.
Dragos’ massive asteroid headquarters ship.
Season 1 Chapter 5: “Wiki to the Rescue” | Original Airdate: October 7, 1978
Jason’s small helper robot Wiki helps rescue his master and the princess. In order to stop Dragos from destroying the Space Academy asteroid, Jason launches his spacecraft at Dragos’ ship.

Season 1 Chapter 6: “Planet of the Lost”| Original Airdate: October 14, 1978
Jason and Nicole protect the princess and are rescued by Professor Parsafoot and Wiki, but Dragos is on their trail! In order to save the princess Jason, Nicole, Professor Parsafoot, and Wiki draw off Dragos, but get stranded on the Planet of the Lost!

Season 1 Chapter 7: “Marooned in Time” | Original Airdate: October 21, 1978
On the planet called “Limbo of the Lost,” Jason, Nicole, Professor Parsafoot, and Wiki are captured by the legendary Captain Kidd! To repair his vessel, Jason needs Captain Kidd’s hoard of gold and silver, but ends up having to save Kidd himself!

Season 1 Chapter 8: “Attack of the Dragons” | Original Airdate: October 28, 1978
Professor Parsafoot repairs Jason’s ship and Captain Kidd agrees to join the fight against Dragos and Dragos ship is left adrift at the end of the episode.
(Left to right): Jason, Capt. Nicole Davidoff, and Dragos.
Season 1 Chapter 9: “Peepo's Last Chance” | Original Airdate: November 4, 1978
Reluctant companions Peepo and Wiki are captured while on patrol on a planet. Jason and Laura help rescue the wayward robots — but has Dragos reprogrammed Peepo?

Season 1 Episode 10: “The Disappearing Man” | Original Airdate: November 11, 1978
In a take from the Star Trek; The Original Series episode, “The Naked Time,” Jason must rescue a Space Academy officer, Lt. Matt Prentiss, caught in a time dimension moving faster than his own

Season 1 Chapter 11: “The Haunted Planet” | Original Airdate:  November 18, 1978
Jason and his Star Command crewmates go out looking for the missing robot Peepo, but are captured by the beautiful Queen of Kesh.

Season 1 Chapter 12: “Escape from Kesh” | Original Airdate: November 25, 1978
Professor Parsafoot  shrinks Jason down to help them escape from Kesh, but after stealing the queen’s spaceship, they soon find themselves her prisoners once again — and this time they’re headed to Dragos!
Pre-flight prep in the A6 launching bay.
Season 1 Chapter 13: “Return of the Creature”| Original Airdate: December 2, 1978
Jason escapes Dragos — once again — while Dragos disables Space Academy’s guidance system and send them towards a space typhoon! Peepo is rescued, but no one knows that the robot has been reprogrammed.

Season 1 Chapter 14: “Peepo on Trial” | Original Airdate:  December 9, 1978
Peepo sabotages Space Academy plunging the asteroid towards a “galactic storm.”

Season 1 Chapter 15: “The Trojan Horse” | Original Airdate: December 16, 1978
Space Academy is caught in the space typhoon, but survives due to the efforts by Jason and Commander Canarvin. Information from Peepo about Dragos’ crew inspires Jason and Nicole to sneak back aboard Dragos ship, but — big surprise — they are captured, yet again. Wow. Totally did not see that one coming.

Season 1 Chapter 16: “The Victory of Star Command” | Original Airdate: December 23, 1978
Dragos begins his attack on Space Academy, but Jason escapes to confront the evil space lord and manages to destroy Dragos’ massive spaceship.

Season 2
Season Two: Commander Stone in charge!
Opening Credits and Closing Credits Titles.

Season 2 Episode 1: “Mission to the Stars” | Original Airdate: September 15, 1979
Dragos is back, a new commander for Star Command takes over, and Jason discovers a derelict spaceship with a woman in suspended animation. Also, Peepo from Space Academy joins the crew.

Season 2 Episode 2: “Frozen in Space” | Original Airdate: September 22, 1979
A freeze ray puts the chill on Star Command.

Season 2 Episode 3: “Web of the Star Witch” | Original Airdate: September 29, 1979
Vanessa, an ally of Dragos, tries to lure Jason to her side with promises of riches. Since he gets paid by Filmation, the offer is probably tempting . . .

Season 2 Episode 4: “Beyond the Stars!” | Original Airdate: October 6, 1979
One of Dragos’ minions working in disguise tries to capture Professor Parsafoot.
A Dragoian drone fighter gets ready for launch
Season 2 Episode 5: “Secret of the Ancients”| Original Airdate: October 13, 1979
An ancient artifact, the Tantalusian Power Disk, is key to helping Professor Parsafoot save Jason.

Season 2 Episode 6: “The Power of the Star Disk” | Original Airdate: October 20, 1979
Dragos sends Jason and the Commander into limbo. Can a Tantalusian ghost help them escape?

Season 2 Episode 7: “Through the Stargate” | Original Airdate: October 27, 1979
A wandering space pilot (secretly working for Dragos) needs help repairing his ship, and a mysterious device in the ship’s hold sends Jason, Wiki, Samantha, and Professor Parsafoot into another dimension!

Season 2 Episode 8: “Face to Face” | Original Airdate: November 3, 1979
Still caught in another dimension, Jason must work with an alien to escape.
Dragos’ drone fighters come in for the kill!
Season 2 Episode 9: “Phantom Force” | Original Airdate:  November 19, 1979
Samantha rescues a boy in a lost spacecraft and a number of mishaps occur on Space Command. Are the two related and is Dragos responsible? Uh, yeah . . . duh!

Season 2 Episode 10: “Little Girl Lost” | Original Airdate: November 17, 1979
A little girl named Heidi and her doll are recovered from a crashed ship. Dragos and his minions are once again after Jason.

Season 2 Episode 11: “Mimi's Secret” | Original Airdate:  November 24, 1979
Heidi’s doll contains secrets that both Star Command and Dragos want.

Season 2 Episode 12: “Battle for Freedom” | Original Airdate:  December 1, 1979
The Commander is captured by Dragos to lure Jason to rescue him, but Jason figures out a way to rid themselves of Dragos.

A behind-the scenes look at the series with interviews with cast and crew.
Dragos’ alien allies stand by to lend support.