Star Wars Droppings: Hanger 18 (1980)

A long time ago, on a theatre screen far, far away . . . Sylvia and Gerry Anderson transitioned from children’s marionette-science fiction into adult live-action programming. . . .

If you’ve channel surfed across the retro-cable channels MeTV or Antenna TV (or the early days of the ‘80s cable “Superstations” TBS, WGN, and WOR) you’ve see the reruns of NBC-TV’s highly-rated, family-friendly nature drama The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams starring Dan Haggerty. The program was the first foray by the big screen documentarian purveyor, Sunn Classic Pictures, into the live-action world.

Back in the days before the advent of the multi-channel universe created by cable television, our then “free TV” entertainment world consisted of the “big three networks” of ABC, NBC, and CBS—four if you count public television broadcaster PBS—and a smattering of local UHF channels. And there was only so much airtime on PBS and Saturday and Sunday morning commercial television for nature and documentary programming.

And that’s where Sunn Classic Pictures comes in.

Today’s retro-critics label the defunct studio as the producer of “awful, big screen documentaries.” However, back in the day, Sunn cleaned up at the box office with a series of G-rated nature documentaries and investigative conspiracy films, such as In Search of Noah’s Ark and The Lincoln Conspiracy, along with their big screen adaptations of the best-selling books by ancient astronaut and biblical theorists. If there was a corner of the Earth to be “investigated” and a “conspiracy” to be uncovered, Sunn Classic Pictures was on the case.

Then Sir Lew Grade’s ITC Productions, who backed Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s kid-oriented forays into sci-fi with Thunderbirds, UFO, and Space: 1999, had a box office hit with what is now the gold standard of sci-fi conspiracy films: 1978’s Capricorn One. (And they had a huge flop with Saturn 3.)

. . . And without some guy named George Lucas and his kooky space opera homage to Flash Gordon, there’d be no Capricorn One.

. . . So with a bunch of conspiracy experience and one live-action TV series under their belt, Sunn decided to make the Kessel Run to Star Wars gold.

. . . To say Sunn Classic Pictures couldn’t make the jump to light speed is an understatement.

Robert Vaughn? You should know better. Yeah, you did okay with Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, but didn’t you get sucked into the extraterrestrial boondoggle that was Starship Invasions (1977)? And Darren McGavin? Did you forget about Firebird 2015 AD? And Pamela Bellwood, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Steven Keats . . . Joseph Campanella? You’re all respected and dependable guest actors from all of our favorite TV series and TV movies of the ‘70s? What in the hell are you doing here?

While films such as Hanger 18 captivate old, VHS-era sci-fi ‘n’ horror dogs with youthful nostalgia, the new, youthful fans of the latest editions to the CGI-clogged Star Wars universe will see Hangar 18 for what it truly is: just another bad Star Wars (and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) knockoff that fails to live up to the promises of its far superior poster. No, it ain’t no Laserblast . . . but it ain’t no Capricorn One, either.

A certainly well-cast and acted film (that pre-dates the popular FOX-TV series The X Files), Hanger 18 is, nevertheless, a tedious foray into a so-called “based on a true case” sci-fi thriller about a government cover up—with the always charming Darren McGavin repeating his Kolchak The Night Stalker role—concerning a UFO incident aboard the Space Shuttle. That space accident, in turn, exposes the “truth” about an alien landing and extraterrestrial corpses hidden in the infamous “Hanger 18.”

So, if you can relate to those long ago days of sitting in front of the TV with a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese with cut-up hotdogs while you watched an endless analog-stream of awful sci-fi movies on your local UHF channels, then you’ll love Hangar 18.

But caveat emptor those syndicated and VHS-reissue attempts to breathe new life into Hanger 18 with the alternate titles of Space Connection and Invasion Force: both with “new” scenes (that add nothing to already unbelievable plotting) and an “alternate” ending (that’s even more ludicrously head scratching than the theatrical ending).

How much do we love this movie? Check out Sam’s July review from last year.

And as for those of you nurtured on the latest crop of post-‘80s Star Wars CGI-fests: you’ve been warned. You can watch the full movie 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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