DVD Review: Jason of Star Command - The Complete Series
by Paul Schultz
Published: May 5, 2007
Jason of Star Command was an off-shoot of Filmation's Space
Academy, first appearing as a segment of the Saturday morning kid's show Tarzan and the Super 7. Star Command operated as a secret section of Space Academy, and thus used the same model for the asteroid-based learning facility as it's predecessor, as well as the smaller Seeker ships, which are renamed here as Starfire craft. The fifteen-minute episodes (here clocking in at 11 minutes, minus commercials) contained one long story arc and was presented as a serial, complete with cliffhanger endings to entice the viewers to tune in next time. It was the highest rated portion of Tarzan and the Super 7, which prompted CBS to break it off into it's own show, debuting as a half-hour stand-alone series in the fall of 1979.
Obviously inspired by Han Solo from the recent science fiction smash hit film "Star Wars", space adventurer Jason (Craig Littler) leads a group of colleagues on escapades that are more action-oriented (while remaining non-violent) with less emphasis on educational value, which was a normal requisite of children's fare. In the first season, he was aided by Commander Canarvin (Star Trek's James Doohan), sexy computer expert Captain Nicole Davidoff (Susan O'Hanlon, from the soap opera "All My Children") and eccentric scientist Dr. E.J. Parsafoot (Charlie Dell). The robot Peepo
returns from Space Academy to lend a hand, along with pocket-sized robot W1K1, which Jason nicknames "Wiki" (not to be confused with the free encyclopedia). The main nemesis was the evil Dragos (Sid Haig) -- self-proclaimed "Master of the Cosmos" -- intent on ruling the galaxy from his monstrous Dragonship.
Opening narration: "The time: the distant future. Man has reached the farther stars, but has also uncovered dark, mysterious galaxies. And, as Star Command heads into the unknown, danger lies in wait."
As far as scientific accuracy, that's thrown out the proverbial porthole with
the first episode, "Attack of the Dragonship". Commander Canarvin is on a new planet expedition, and vanishes before the crew's very eyes following an unprovoked attack on Star Command's main power modules. His emergency locator signal is located in space shortly thereafter, along with a
fleeting visual of a large alien vessel. Jason and Parsafoot embark on a Starfire craft to rescue the Commander, who is floating in space unconscious. Never mind that he'd be long dead from exposure to a vacuum, Jason simply activates his life-support badge, opens the door to space, and recovers the senseless Canarvin.
The pensive crew of Star Command included
(from left to right): Cmdr. Canarvin (James
Doohan), Jason (Craig Littler), Capt. Nicole
Davidoff (Susan O'Hanlon) and Prof. E.J.
Parsafoot (Charlie Dell). The characters of
Canarvin and Nicole would be replaced in
the second season.
This is all a setup, of course, and Jason is soon captured and imprisoned by the sinister Dragos with his laser-eyed helmet that can be used for incapacitation. The rest of the season is spent attempting to escape the clutches of the malicious caped mad man, with stops at exotic locales along the way. They'll encounter a giant insectoid creature ("Planet of the Lost" and "Return of the Creature") and nefarious Queen Vanessa (Julie Newmar, who famously portrayed Catwoman in 1960's Batman television series). "The Disappearing Man" was one of the few episodes that
could stand on its own, with John Berwick (who would go on to star in
Filmation's Hero High) reprising his role of Matt Prentiss from Space Academy. "Marooned in Time" is even an homage of sorts to another popular Saturday morning offering called "Land of the Lost".
Season two was a bit of a reboot for the series, though not as drastic a
change as from its evolvement from Space Academy. Gone was Jimmy Doohan (off to film his role of Scotty in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"), replaced by blue-skinned, by-the-book, hard-nosed Commander Stone (John Russell) all the way from the Alpha Centauri group of planets. Much to my chagrin, also absent was hottie Susan O'Hanlon, supplanted by nearly equally attractive Tamara Dobson as the mysterious Samantha who is rescued from suspended animation by Jason in the opener, "Mission to the Stars", and exhibits telepathic abilities. Voice circuits were added to Wiki, as the miniature robot had now learned English. Dragos is back, too, with a new ship and a boardroom full of alien allies.
With the longer running time (about 22 minutes without advertisements), the show was now structured with shorter storylines that ran their course in three or four episodes. Dragos kidnaps Parsafoot to decipher a powerful Star
Disk ("Beyond the Stars!", "Secret of the Ancients" and "The Power of the Star Disk") and we learn about Stone's history as a descendant of the lost Tantalutian race. Another evil queen -- this one named Medusa (Francine
York) -- appears to wreak havoc through the episodes "Web of the Star Witch", "Little Girl Lost" and "Mimi's Secret". Long before the movie starring James Spader and pair of television series, episodes "Through the Stargate" and "Face to Face" introduced us to a stargate to another dimension (though the concept first appeared in the 1974 science fiction novel The Forever War by Joe Haldeman).
This show originally aired in my formative childhood, and I recall watching
it with wide-eyed wonder that fired my imagination and enflamed my love for
science fiction. Haig chewed up the scenery as the imposing Dragos, and
Dell stood out as the quirky professor. Upon further examination, though, I have to say I favor Space Academy slightly over Jason of Star Command. I'm at a bit of loss to explain why, other than I guess I prefer actually learning something (as was the edict of children's programming) over the more mindless shoot-'em-up style of the latter show. Indeed, the special
effects were much more impressive with Jason of Star Command, and in that respect it earned its title of most expensive live action children's show ever produced.
The packaging includes a six-panel foldout paper insert with descriptions and interesting trivia for each episode. For example, from #1 we learn that "Jonathan Harris was originally supposed to reprise his Space Academy (out now on DVD) role as
Commander Gampu on the series, but due to a falling out with the company, Harris was replaced by James Doohan and the character of Commander Canarvin was added." The three discs are housed in two slim, clear keepcases, sliding into a cardboard sleeve which showcases the cast.
Special Features Highlights
A complete list of special features appears in the table below, but highlights include the half-hour documentary "The Adventures of Jason of Star Command" which catches up with executive producer Lou Scheimer, actors Littler and Haig, and visual effects artists. Scheimer really only makes a token appearance, and when he does he says curious things like "we needed our own Indiana Jones, I guess" in response to creating the Jason persona. This is unlikely given the character of Indiana Jones didn't appear until "Raiders of the Lost Ark" hit theaters in 1981. There's talk about its budget of $200,000 per episode -- way up from the funds
available for its predecessor Space Academy even though it reused many of the same sets. A memorable moment was when Jimmy Doohan broke the news to the cast that a motion picture based on Star Trek was going to happen. We find out who the most difficult cast member was... Wiki. Apparently, it would stop working frequently, only to resume operation as soon of the cameras ceased rolling. Special effects supervisor Chuck Comisky relates how efforts on this show led him to work for Roger Corman on "Battle Beyond the Stars". Things get a little boring when they talk about the technical aspects of the show, but it concludes with a great story by Haig. As an actor in many horror films, Haig found himself invited to Rob Zombie's wedding. Rob's brother approaches him and says, "This is weird." "You mean the wedding?" Haig asks. "No, talking with you," comes the reply. He went on to explain how the brothers would get up every Saturday morning to watch Jason of Star Command.
The episodes "Attack of the Dragonship" and "The Disappearing Man"
contain optional Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Lou Scheimer, and actors Craig Littler and John Berwick. Both tracks are hosted by author Andy Mangels. It repeats some stories from the documentary while adding a few more tidbits. Littler talks about how doing his own stunts hurt because he couldn't fit protective pads under his skintight uniform. He also mentions that he's kept all the fan mail addressed to "Jason". An often-repeated comment is that Russell did not like the blue makeup required for his character. Berwick talks about working with director and future father-in-law Arthur Nadel. Mangels calls out Scheimer on his shaky empirical knowledge: "Didn't pay much attention to science, did you?" Finally, there's a great story Littler relates about a practical joke involving the destruction of a "fake" Wiki.
The episode "Beyond the Stars!" contains optional Audio Commentary by visual effects supervisor Chuck Comisky, stop motion animator Jim Aupperle, and live action creature effects artist John Carl Beuchler. They talk about how more sophisticated the miniature work was compared to Space Academy because of the use of micro computers. No more Christmas lights strung across the backdrop as in-camera mattes were now used (versus the familiar "blue screen" method). Though they uses many of the same props from Space Academy, very little footage was reused as they opted to go with new effects and optical shots using modern technology. Several technical people from "Star Wars" were utilized, and they talk about the influences from that film, as well as from Star Trek and (new-to-television at that time) Battlestar Galactica. They admit when things didn't work out as planned, with Aupperle noting that the space-faring Warp Dragon monsters looked too dark despite many different lighting techniques. The best comment was when interviewing people, they would discover their own work stolen and placed on prospective employee's résumés.
The Special Effects Demo Reel offers 6 1/2 minutes of the best space effects footage set to background music, and the ten images in the Style Guide show artwork for a proposed Jason of Star Command animated series.
Audio is in English or Spanish. It is neither closed captioned, nor is
subtitling an option.
Previews - He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Princess of Power,
The New Adventures of He-Man, Flash
Gordon, Filmation's Ghostbusters, "Journey Back to Oz", Groovie Goolies,
Jason of Star Command
The Complete Series
1. Attack of the Dragonship
Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Lou Scheimer, and actors Craig Littler and John Berwick
2. Prisoner of Dragos
3. Escape from the Dragons
4. A Cry for Help
5. Wiki to the Rescue
6. Planet of the Lost
7. Marooned in Time
8. Attack of the Dragons
9. Peepo's Last Chance
10. The Disappearing Man
Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Lou Scheimer, and actors Craig Littler and John Berwick
11. The Haunted Planet
12. Escape from Kesh
13. Return of the Creature
14. Peepo on Trial
15. The Trojan Horse
16. The Victory of Star Command
1. Mission to the Stars
2. Frozen in Space
3. Web of the Star Witch
4. Beyond the Stars!
Audio Commentary by visual effects supervisor Chuck Comisky, stop motion animator Jim Aupperle, and live action creature effects artist John Carl Beuchler
5. Secret of the Ancients
6. The Power of the Star Disk
7. Through the Stargate
8. Face to Face
9. Phantom Force
10. Little Girl Lost
11. Mimi's Secret
12. Battle for Freedom
"The Adventures of Jason of Star Command" Documentary
Special Effects Demo Reel
Image Galleries: Promotional Photos (24), Behind the Scenes Photos (20), Cast Reunion Photos (5), Spaceship Photos (25), Style Guide (10)
DVD-ROM Content: Scripts for 27 episodes in PDF format