Filmation’s Jason of Star Command (1978 – 1980) was a live-action Saturday morning space adventure, created in the mold of Star Wars.
Specifically, Jason of Star Command
re-used the props, settings, and miniatures from an earlier Saturday morning effort, Space Academy
(1977), which had featured a more didactic, Star-Trek
-like quality in its storytelling.
By contrast, Jason of Star Command was all space swashbuckling all the time. The first series aired as a fifteen-minute segment on Tarzan and the Super 7. It was rather deliberately cast in the mold of the original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, with cliffhangers at the end of each installment.
Jason of Star Command featured Craig Littler as the space adventurer, Jason. He was a man who dressed a lot like Han Solo (black vest, white shirt) but was a bit less-roguish in demeanor. Operating from Star Command headquarters on the Space Academy asteroid, he routinely battled an outer space despot named Dragos (Sid Haig). At Jason’s side was Professor Parsafoot (Charlie Dell), who was prone to trouble. In the first season, James Doohan played the friendly base commander.
Dramatic changes were in the offing for the second season of Jason of Star Command, as the series became a standalone program, and episode length was increased to fit a half-hour time slot. Doohan left the series to fulfill a commitment to appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and he was replaced by John Russell as Commander Stone.
In “Mission to the Stars,” the second season premiere of Jason of Star Command, Jason, Parsafoot and their robot sidekicks Peepo and (a re-designed…) WiKi await the arrival of Commander Stone. But an impatient Jason test-flies a newly modified Star Fire fighter — the “fastest one this side of Beta 2” — and accidentally strafes the new Commander as he arrives aboard a Seeker. Stone dresses Jason down, indicating his desire to command “by the book.” “The galaxy is not your personal playground” he scolds Jason. Jason reminds him that he is not officially under Star Command jurisdiction, but seems chastened by his bad first impression.
Before long, a derelict spaceship appears in the close vicinity of the Star Command asteroid, and Jason’s unique daredevil skills are required to rescue any crew aboard it after a “destructor” is sent to destroy the wreckage. Aboard the ship, Jason finds a beautiful, Amazonian woman in cryo-freeze, Samantha (Tamara Dobson). He quickly awakens her and learns that she is an amnesiac. All she remembers for certain is that her people were conquered by Dragos.
Jason attempts to rescue Samantha, but is injured when a ceiling beam falls on him. Samantha utilizes super-human strength to save him, and the duo flees the derelict just as it blows up.
But a new threat emerges quickly. Drago has fired a “freeze ray” at Star Command, and it’s up to Jason and Samantha to determine the source and disarm the device.
The first half-hour of Jason of Star Command’s second season flies by at a quick pace, and introduces new characters Stone and Samantha nicely. In the former case, Russell makes a strong impression as a more strict, less-friendly commander than Canarvin. He’s a more imposing physical presence, and brings a much-needed sense of tension to the drama.
Although Jason of Star Command often comes off as mindless kid’s stuff, without a deeper concentration on action than upon characters, this episode is a happy and distinct change. Jason and Stone really clash, and the character sparks make the episode more interesting for forty-something adults than some earlier installments. Samantha also looks like a strong new companion in “Mission to the Stars, and there is a mystery at the heart of her story. Where did she come from, and how did she get on that derelict? Is she part of Dragos’ trap?
Jason of Star Command was explicitly designed for children and so there is a kind of two-dimensional, simplicity to the production. The good guys and bad guys are clearly delineated, and there aren’t many moral quandaries to sort out.
And yet the series is fun, and features some great 1970s era special effects too. The spaceship and starbase designs are really terrific, and are indicative of a kind of consistent approach to the universe, and to futuristictechnology. Also, I could watch Sid Haig in anything, and he’s always a lot of fun as Dragos. Haig had certainly mastered the maniacal cackle here, playing almost a silent-screen-styled hissable villain. Haig seems to be enjoying himself tremendously, and the result is that his scenes are always a kick.
As a kid, I loved Dragos, the Starfire fighter design and the special effects. But even as a ten year old, I liked Space Academy better.
There was more to latch onto in terms of each story. I suspect this helps to explain why I was always more a Star Trek kid than a Star Wars kid. I loved the hell out of Star Wars (and saw it in theaters 11 times…) but for me, Star Trek was superior because there was: a.) much more of it to enjoy (and I didn’t have to wait three years between episodes), and b.) Star Trek was more thought provoking on a regular basis. Star Wars had the unbelievable action, epic sweep and great special effects…but Star Trek had the brains, and to some extent, the heart.
That’s roughly the same dynamic you get between Space Academy and Jason of Star Command.
Next week, the adventure continues in “Frozen in Space.”