My, how time flies!
It really is amazing to think back at all of the many books, comics, TV shows, and films from the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres that I have enjoyed over the decades. And those are just the ones I liked! There are plenty more that I never knew of, didn’t have a chance to sample, or just never interested me, but others have enjoyed them. It is even more amazing to consider how far back these genres reach, especially when you include genres like Gothic horror, Victorian sleuths, “travellers’ tales”, and other early adventure novels. Even further, if you go back to the fantastic myths and legends of old, from the pagan pantheons and tales of “brave Ulysses” to those of King Arthur and Robin Hood.
Not long ago, I became aware of a few of the more “modern” stories & characters that were having notable anniversaries this year. (Well, really just some multiple of 5, to be honest.) I tracked down a few more and decided to present brief comments on each, spread out over three, non-consecutive posts. Beginning with the most recent and working our way backwards, we have…
Debuting Jan. 3, 1993, DS9 was the third live-action TV series — fourth series overall, including the animated one — of the über-successful Star Trek franchise. It was unusual for a number of reasons. For one, it took place primarily on a space station rather than a ship, which was a somewhat daring move for CBS/Paramount. Previous series (and movies) had always been centered on a ship named “Enterprise”. Could this new setting really work? Would fans accept it? Much of the general tone and many storylines were a bit “darker” than fans were used to with previous series. Flawed characters, along with recurring themes of war and moral ambiguity, were of particular concern. Some people are still turned off by that, while many others have come to embrace the differences. It was the first Star Trek series to air without the involvement of ST’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and some claim it goes against his vision. Indeed, Roddenberry is on record as having expressed some reservations early on, but he eventually signed off on it before his death in 1991. The show also had a Black man as the senior officer, which was still a bit of a risk back then and all the more a triumph in the show’s success.
Me? I loved the show. I mean, it was more Star Trek, and it even started before The Next Generation was over! Like with any new show, it took a bit of getting used to, but the writers and cast all found their groove. (Not that every episode was a gem, of course.) I got used to the idea of most action taking place on a space station (and one with a nasty history at that), as opposed to a space-warping starship of exploration. It made for different types of stories, while maintaining the overall feel and shared history of Roddenberry’s universe with The Federation, Starfleet, and other familiar organizations and races. The characters grew on me and many other viewers, and they became just as beloved as those from earlier Star Trek series.
DS9 may not have been quite as popular as its predecessor series, but it was nominated for many awards and even won a few. It’s a little hard to believe it has been 25 years since it premiered, though!
The regular series actually premiered Jan. 26, 1994, but the property debuted with the TV movie Babylon 5: The Gathering on Feb. 22, 1993. Audiences were introduced to several of writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski’s beloved characters — i.e., Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair, Michael Garibaldi, Lyta Alexander, and ambassadors Delenn, Mollari, G’Kar, and the mysterious Kosh. Others — i.e., Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, Vir, Talia Winters — first appeared in the series premiere, while still others — e.g., Dr. Stephen Franklin, Lennier, Na’Toth, Capt. John Sheridan, Zack Allan, Marcus Cole, Bester — would not show up until later episodes, even later seasons.
Although DS9 debuted first, Straczynski (aka JMS or “Joe” to the fans) had shopped his concept around in the ’80s, and there was some controversy over whether or not the Star Trek folks had ripped off the idea. Personally, I didn’t think the similarity went very far past centering on a strategically-located space station frequented by various star-faring races. That basic idea had been done many times before in sci-fi in various media. Plus, it just seemed like an unnecessary cause of strife between fans who thought they had to favor one over the other. I liked both.
Besides, there were other differences that set B5 apart, like the fact that it was the first series planned from the start to have an overarching, 5-year arc, with long-term narrative threads. The dramatic setting was an elaborately constructed, fictional future, implemented with great care for detail, diversity, and history. The grown-up, character-driven storylines were often deep and thought-provoking, while the aliens and their ships were some of the best-designed in the industry. The show garnered multiple awards over the years, mostly for the writing and the groundbreaking CGI effects. It is no wonder that many Babylon 5 fans rival those of Star Trek, Star Wars, or Doctor Who, in their “intensity” and loyalty.
This second sequel to the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope), was actually declared to be Episode VI, since it completed the middle trilogy of an originally-envisioned trio of trilogies. (Though, I have also heard that creator George Lucas said, no, it was just the first two trilogies, and he didn’t expand his story ideas until later. Or, something like that.) Continuing the blockbuster Star Wars series, RotJ (aka simply “Jedi”) added to its menagerie of alien creatures, planets, technology, and lore. It showed us Han Solo’s fate (from the Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger), the blossoming romance of Solo and Princess Leia, the latest efforts of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, and the continued Jedi training and maturing of the now cybernetically-enhanced Luke Skywalker, culminating in his confrontation with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine.
While generally not rated as highly as the first two films of the franchise (especially among those who find Ewoks annoying), RotJ was nevertheless a fairly satisfying conclusion to that first three-part story arc. I, for one, look back on it fondly as an enjoyable part of my teen years.
Creator/producer Glen A. Larson finally got financial backing for his Mormon-influenced sci-fi concept — originally called “Adam’s Rib” — thanks to the success of the original Star Wars. Yes, this was the ’70s, so some of the writing was a bit hokey, and the tech looks almost as laughable to our 21st-century eyes as that of the original Star Trek and others from the ’60s and prior. But, it was a big-budget science-fiction show that took place far from Earth, had spaceships, robots, a few alien creatures, cool F/X, and it was just a lot of fun for young genre fans like me. The series only lasted one full season, debuting Sep. 17, 1978, and ending on Apr. 29, 1979. If you’re “old” like me, you might remember that they then showed a condensed version of the 3-hour pilot as a movie at theaters starting May 18, 1979. (Technically, this was also how it premiered — in Canadian theaters — before the TV series began.)
I recently finished re-watching the whole original “Battlestar Galactica” series for the first time in, well, nearly 40 years! For its era, it actually holds up pretty well. (It even won “Best New TV Drama Series” at the 1979 People’s Choice Awards.) The writing and acting weren’t too bad, really, especially when compared to its ill-conceived spin-off, “Galactica 1980”. I’m working my way through that later one now, and while I enjoy seeing a few familiar faces and the flying motorcycles are cool, let’s just say I’m glad there were only 10 episodes. (I sure did love it as a kid, though!)
OK, that’s it for Part 1. I’ll continue some time next month with a few more anniversaries of note. ‘Til then…