NBC-TV’s “Star Wars”: The Martian Chronicles (1980)

With the second Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, due in theatres in May, NBC-TV premiered their “Star Wars” in January. While elaborate and well-acted, this ultimately technically unconvincing, sci-fi mini-series was produced by former Amicus Productions’ founder Milton Subotsky for his newly formed Sword & Sorcery Productions. Playing more like an actionless, philosophical story-arc of the British-syndicated Space: 1999 TV series than it did 20th Century Fox’s Star Wars, this three-episode mini-series ran just over four hours at a total of 291 minutes, while the uncut VHS and DVD versions run just over five hours at 320 minutes.

Rock Hudson serves as the commander of the first manned expeditions and colonies on Mars—inhabited by his co-stars of Roddy McDowall (The Planet of the Apes), Darren McGavin (Firebird 2015 A.D, Hanger 18), Barry Morse (of the not-H.G Wells adaptation of The Shape of Things to Come and Space: 1999, aka the theatrical Destination Moonbase Alpha), Bernadette Peters (George Amitage’s Vigilante Force, 1976), Fritz Weaver (Jaws of Satan), Maria Schell (Maya the shape-shifter from Space: 1999), and Nicholas Hammond (TV’s original Spider-Man).

The three episodes each running 97 minutes (1 hour 37 minutes), without commercials, are:

The Expeditions: Episode 1: January 27, 1980

A joint NASA-NATO force sends three manned “Zeus” missions (on Saturn Vs, natch; as with the Star Wars-inspired Capricorn One and Operation Ganymed) to the Red Planet in the years 1999 and 2000—each which meet with failure at the hands of Martians. A third mission in 2001 soon discovers Earth accidentally killed off the last remaining Martians with a strain of chickenpox accidently brought from Earth by the first two crews.

The Settlers: Episode 2: January 28, 1980

A 2004 return to the Red Planet with a fleet of spaceships begins Earth’s colonization efforts—and Earth-bred greed and corruption slowly destroys the colonies. Meanwhile, back on Earth, nuclear war is imminent: Congress cuts the space exploration budget to fuel the war effort and the colonies are forced to evacuate.

The Martians: Episode 3: January 29, 1980

By 2006, Earth is a wasteland—with only a few scattered humans remaining on Mars. With both civilizations destroyed and Earth the less inhabitable of the two, the last remnants of Martians and Earthlings learn to co-exist in the ruins of Mars.

Watch the trailer.

To direct his Star Wars knockoff of the Ray Bradbury 1950 short-story collection scripted by Richard Matheson (of the 1954 novel I Am Legend), Subotsky hired Michael Anderson, he of the Star Wars inspirer, The Dam Busters (1956), and the Star Wars-inspired, Logan’s Run (1976) (along with Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, Orca, Second Time Lucky, and a 1956 version of George Orwell’s 1984).

Ray Bradbury—as were U.S. TV viewers—was ultimately disappointed with the final product, displeased that Matheson’s script deviated significantly from novel’s plot regarding the history of Earthmen’s life on Mars from the first landing of Viking 1 in July 1976 and up through March 2007. When the creator of the source material calls the subsequent film, “just boring,” you know you have problems.

Is Ray Bradbury right? You can watch the full, first episode on You Tube.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker will be released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

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