This Jason is a few Argonauts short of a Voorhees. Wait, what does that even mean?
It’s time for yet another entry in the ever-growing and increasingly popular DVD Verdict Dictionary:
• Cheesy (adj.)
1. Having to do with the taste or aroma of cheese.
2. Having a cheap, chintzy, or unintentionally ridiculous quality.
3. Jason of Star Command: The Complete Series.
It’s the future. The galaxy has been conquered by the sinister tyrant Dragos (Sid Haig, The Devil’s Rejects), with the exception of Space Academy, which is protected by Star Command and by Jason (Craig Litter, Blazing Saddles), a heroic soldier of fortune. Whenever Dragos attacks, Jason jumps into action with the help of fellow space adventurer Captain Nicole Davidoff (Susan O’Hanlon, All My Children), klutzy scientist E.J. Parsafoot (Charlie Dell, Fight Club), and Star Command’s leader, Commander Canarvin (James Doohan, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). Jason would later be joined by a new boss, the alien Commander Stone (John Russell, Pale Rider), and mysterious space traveler Samantha (former fashion model Tamara Dobson). And let’s not forget the two tiny, adorable robots, Wiki and Peepo. Spaceship battles, kidnappings, escapes, rescues, evil clones, dinosaur-like aliens are all in a day’s work for Jason of Star Command.
In 1977, a guy named George Lucas made a movie that was slightly successful. Also in 1977, Filmation’s children’s show Space Academy had its run and was cancelled. These two events had a confluence, with TV producers reusing the sets and special effects from their series to create a spin-off heavily influenced by the Lucas flick. The resulting series—Jason of Star Command, set in the same “universe” as Space Academy—promised non-stop sci-fi thrills for kids as they gulped down their sugary cereal every Saturday morning.
When seen through today’s cynical eyes, there’s a lot to laugh about in this series, such as the obvious model work in the special effects, the way Jason’s black vest makes him look a lot like a character from that Lucas movie, the rubbery-looking rocks on the alien planets, the way the extras in the background stroll around nonchalantly while the main characters panic during a crisis, or how people can just float around in the vacuum of space without needing helmets or spacesuits or anything (okay, so Jason presses a “life support” button on his belt before he goes outside the ship, but still).
But that’s the modern perspective. If you view this series as a product of its time, then it’s quite a rockin’ kid show. Like the best sci-fi B-movies, these stories exist in the realm of pure imagination. Anything is possible in this universe. Freeze rays, giant monsters, time/space distortions, you name it. The cynical eye can tell that the little robot Wiki is just floating around on a string, while the nostalgic eye sees how the creators never ran out of ideas for ways Wiki could save the day.
Jason of Star Command stands out among other children’s shows of the time for several reasons. For one, the special effects might be obvious compared to what we’re used to today, but these were pretty advanced for the time, especially for a cheapie Saturday morning show. Also, Jason has got to be the most non-violent action hero ever. He never carries any weapons and he never throws a punch, yet he always somehow saves the day. Plus, this is that rare kids’ show that has no kid or teen characters. Most folks in Hollywood would argue that you need a young character for young viewers to relate to, but this series thrived for two seasons with an all-adult cast.
Craig Litter does a fine job as the always-does-the-right-thing hero, while Susan O’Hanlon and Charlie Dell keep up with him as his sidekicks. James Doohan, however, looks a little bored during the first season. When he left to make Star Trek: The Motion Picture, John Russell brought some serious dramatic weight to the commander position, mostly thanks to his deep, authoritative voice. The other new addition to the second season was Tamara Dobson, who becomes Jason’s ally while exploring her own mysterious past. The writers clearly had great fun with her character, always giving her something strange or exciting to do. And do you hear that chomping sound? Why, it’s Sid Haig munching on the scenery as the series villain. He hams it up big time, just as an over-the-top B-movie bad guy should.
Although there are plenty of 1970s trappings seen, mostly in everybody’s hairstyles, this show is more like watching those great old Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s and 1940s. At less than 15 minutes each, the 16 episodes of the first season fly by, with the characters barely getting any breathing room as they dash from one cliffhanger to the next. The second season, with 12 half-hour episodes, speeds along just as quickly, with stories broken up into four-episode arcs. You won’t have time to wonder why no one at Star Command notices a one-eyed gorilla-like monster walking around the hallways, because you’re too busy wondering why Jason mysteriously disappeared just before rescuing Samantha from a stop-motion animated giant lizard.
Every episode of the series is here on this three-disc set, as well as a Dragonship-sized helping of bonus features. The picture quality shows its age, with flat colors and a slight overall haze. But there are no specks or scratches seen, and other video flaws are kept to a minimum. The sound is unimpressive, but all the dialogue, sound effects, and goofy 1970s score comes through without distortion. Three episodes get commentaries, with actors, producers, and special effects experts going over various aspects of the series. These are both amusing and informative tracks. The 30-minute documentary traces the history of the show, with plenty of modern-day interviews and reminiscences from those who were involved. An old special effects demo offers a glimpse at how the space action was created. There’s also a trailer gallery, numerous photo galleries, an art gallery for a proposed but never made Jason of Star Command animated series, and scripts to every episode on DVD-ROM. It’s yet another excellent DVD presentation from the hard-working folks at BCI Eclipse.
What you take from this show depends on what you want from it. If you’re looking for sophisticated, intelligent science fiction, you’re not going to get it here. If you want a lighthearted, kid-friendly, and nostalgic roller coaster ride through space, then it might be right for you.
Why did no one notice that one-eyed gorilla again?