Monday, January 16, 2012

Series Commentary: Power Rangers in Space

Power Rangers in Space is widely regarded as the greatest season in Power Rangers, and it's not hard to see why. After Turbo, Studio execs knew that a drastic change in the series was required in order for Power Rangers to keep breathing. The result, something that I thought of at the time as jumping the shark, was to take the series into space.

But space wasn't the only change made in Power Rangers in Space. Individual zords were done away with, and even when they came back, they were no longer ridden into battle the same way they were before. The Red Ranger, rather than being a natural leader and a friend to the Rangers from the start, was a loner and outsider- a Space Elf, if anything. But these were just the most superficial of changes.

No, the real change was the scope, and the villains. Dark Specter, the ruler of the United Alliance of Evil, loomed like a shadow over everything the Power Rangers had ever accomplished. We saw Lord Zedd, Rita Repulsa and Divatox, vanquisher of the Turbo Rangers, literally brushed aside in favor of Astronema, played by the then twenty-something Melody Perkins. For the first time, we had a villain who was young and had an air of mystery about her (nobody ever asked about the origins of Rita, Zedd or Divatox), who embraced the attentions of the young audience and was damned sexy to boot (more on that next time, I promise). She was also a diverse actor with no Megaranger footage to speak of.

Astronema's lieutenant, Ecliptor, was the first morally grey villain on the show. Despite being dedicated to the team of evil, Ecliptor was an honorable opponent, an honest warrior who sided with the strongest side, raised Astronema for Dark Specter, and generated audience sympathy without raising too many questions as to why he would stay with the Alliance, save for one gamble toward the end of the season that I'll get to in a minute. Ecliptor was not only the Goldar of this season, but in many ways he was also the Lord Zedd, and one of the most powerful sentient threats the Power Rangers have ever faced. E.Z. Peterson of Toku Time has stated on Twitter in regards to his Top 10 Power Rangers Villains episode, had Astronema not taken the #1 spot, the top two villains would have been Ecliptor and Darkonda.

If Ecliptor is the more machine than man warrior that we love to hate, Darkonda, his counterpart, is the one that we just hate. Darkonda is a vicious brute, Boba Fett if you crossed him with Jabba the Hutt and Grand Moff Tarkin with just a hint of Darth Maul. He literally has nine lives (you even see him keeping score at one point) and only Ecliptor can face him in a fair fight- if Darkonda ever fought fair, that is.

While Darkonda is the last villain introduced to the series, he really finalizes the tone of PRiS. A bounty hunter that can be seen visiting seedy cantinas, laying traps and having a mysterious relation to the past of the main characters on both sides? This show may blatantly borrow from Star Wars, but it does so in an original way. Every Star Wars similarity is an obvious reference and homage, making Power Rangers in Space a unique blend of Star Wars, Power Rangers, and something new- something with a main villain who both the Silver Ranger and the audience want to spend the night between episodes with every time she's on screen.

Now that I've mentioned Zhayne, I should say he's the one real disappointment of the season. He's not a total joke like some later Rangers, but he's the first real instance of a sixth ranger who could really help whenever he wants, but the Sentai footage doesn't allow that. They make some effort to blatantly write him out of episodes he doesn't need to be in, but that's the thing, it's blatant every time. This may be nostalgia talking, but when the Green Dragon Ranger couldn't make every fight, we believed the excuses, and they felt natural. Here, we have scenes like Cassie blatantly telling Zhayne to sit the fight out and rest. Add that to scenes talking about the Silver Ranger's awesome reputation when we never see him doing anything that his friend and partner Andros can't do, and the Silver Ranger just seems like a pretty wrapping on an average character. After the Green Dragon Ranger, the White Ranger, the Gold Ranger, the Blue Centurion and the Phantom Ranger, this is all too obvious and comes across as a let down. This wouldn't be the first time that the writers had trouble matching the needs of the Sentai footage to a new story in regards to the team's trump card, though.

It's obvious that I love this show, even as an adult, and I would probably need a full review to talk about everything that I want to, but I'm going to start easing this commentary out. I promised I would talk about the one time Ecliptor and Astronema questioned their alliance to evil, so that will be the last thing I mention here. This was really a huge gamble for the show- Astronema develops various allegiances to the Red and Silver Rangers, and openly questions if she's on the right side while coming to enjoy the company of the whole team. Ecliptor's allegiance as a surrogate father is of much greater import to him than the Alliance, so he backs her up.

There were three ways to go forward with this plot. The first, and probably most predictable route, would be to eliminate or heavily weaken the Rangers' new allies, allowing Darkonda and possibly a new enemy to rise in their place. The second route would be to allow them to step in as extra not-quite Rangers, similar to how Ninja Storm would have a two-man Ranger team in addition to the main team and the sixth Ranger.

The third route- the route Saban chose- was to take Astronema and erase her character, leaving her under the cyborg control of Dark Specter. This left Locutus- I mean, Astronema- as an even more ruthless, deadlier enemy that the Rangers could not bring themselves to attack.

I was really iffy about this when I first saw it, but the In Space writing team pulled it off. I still think more could have been done with these characters, but I understand why they made the choice they did, and I maintain that it was a better decision than having never had the redemption plotline in the first place. Ultimately, it was much less contrived than creating a new Big Bad in the eleventh hour, or even letting Darkonda run the last group of episodes.

I said I'll this commentary a while ago, so about the two-parter that was supposed to end Power Rangers for all time, all I'll say is that it does its job extremely well, in addition to setting the foundation that Lost Galaxy would come to be built on.

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. You can find more of his content at http://www.MiBreviews.com

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I know the Power Rangers were a non-animated cartoon and wore different color uniforms. I'm afraid that's it.