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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Hitler in the 25th Century

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck slips a powerful pain reliever into Princess Ardala's drink. After she drifts off to sleep, he slips out of her stateroom to explore the Draconian flagship. He finds the fighter bay filled not with Draconian ships, but pirate marauders. Just so there is no mistake, the snout of each vessel is emblazoned with that eternal symbol of piracy, a grinning white death's head.

Then he notices something even more frightening.

The livid red and black stripes in which the fuselages were decked gave the strange impression, here in the shadowy light of the launch deck, of an ancient symbol of death and destruction and sheer, malevolent evil, that Buck remembered learning about in his history classes back in the early 1980s.

They were formed like the evil, broken-limbed cross, the ancient swastika.

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E Steele (aka Richard A Lupoff)

Earlier, Lupoff described Emperor Draco's physical features like those of a decadent sultan or king in a Sword And Sorcery story like Conan The Barbarian. He compared the Emperor and his accomplishments to those of Henry VIII of England and the Mongol chieftain (and empire builder) Genghis Khan. Now he enhances his portrait of Draco by suggesting a link with Adolf Hitler.

I'm not sure why Lupoff would associate Draco with a government leader remembered for killing off an entire race of people. But then, I'm puzzled why any people in their right minds would found or join a movement in the 21st Century, identify themselves with a symbol associated with racial hatred and genocide, and believe they could accomplish anything good or worthwhile through their efforts. And I'm astounded by the suggestion that a national leader could, even for a moment, sympathize with such a group.

But then, I'm often amazed by people's choices in entertainment, and by the character of the people they follow, discuss, and otherwise support.

I'm certainly glad Glen Larson never suggested a Nazi comparison in the film or TV series. I've always liked Princess Ardala. While technically a villain, she became one of my favorite characters. But I can't imagine watching the stories she starred in with such pleasure if I saw her as the daughter of a 25th Century Hitler. Could you?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Princess Ardala Vs Wilma Deering

Commander Kane, Princess Ardala's 2nd in command, aspires to rule (or help rule) the Draconian Empire. In this, he is even encouraged by Draco. All of Ardala's sisters have married men whom they could control. Kane longs to marry Ardala, temper her wild, irresponsible tendencies, and thus help groom Ardala to succeed Draco.

There's only one problem. Ardala doesn't want him. Like any child, she always longs for what she cannot have. And she recognizes strength in Buck Rogers, a man who should have died several times, both due to her treachery (in framing him as a spy), and by sending him out to battle the "pirate ships" that attack her supposedly defenseless flagship. So when Buck courts her, in his 20th Century way, in the ballroom, she welcomes his advances. 

Sensing he is losing his hold over Ardala, Kane interrupts their dance, and asserts that she must attend to affairs of state now. Ardala's response is instant, and primal:

Ardala made a low animal growl in her throat. Her eyes flashed, and she raised her long talon-like fingernails as if she intended to rake Kane's face with them.
--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E. Steele (Richard A Lupoff)

The warrior princess is a longstanding Science Fiction trope. The idea of the feral, barely civilized princess, harkens back to Lupoff's comparison between Emperor Draco and Genghis Khan. It also makes an interesting comparison in the novel between Ardala and Wilma Deering. 

As Buck leaves the ball, Wilma Deering corners Buck. Like Ardala, Buck has awakened feelings in Wilma too. Unlike Ardala, who is all passion, Colonel Wilma Deering is all cold intellect, with her emotions firmly in the "Off" setting. Buck's arousal of unfamiliar feelings leaves Wilma confused. So she constantly vacillates between love and hate of Buck, between wanting to rush to his defense, and wanting to condemn him to death. 

Wilma may be the cool, civilized woman. Unlike the Princess, she's achieved her rank in society through hard work, determination, and merit. She may not intend to use Buck or control him like Ardala. Still, in this way, even though she's 180 degrees different from Ardala, she treats Buck in a similar way to the Princess. If he responds as she desires, she believes in him. If he doesn't...well then, he must be the enemy!

As Buck shakes off Wilma's advance and leaves the Ball, there's a poignant moment. Ardala parades grandly from the Ball, sure of her womanhood, and believing that she has Buck under her spell. Wilma watches Buck leave, and bewildered at his refusal, her passion for him turns dark at his rejection. Once more, she tells herself that he must be a spy. Then she gazes down at her fingernails. 

Unlike Ardala's, her fingernails are short and carefully trimmed.

If this physical difference between the two women was not an elaboration of Lupoff's but present in Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' screenplay, it was abandoned during production. The Princess Ardala we see is not a feral creature. She's sensual, calculating, and willful. She is no warrior princess, capable of literally clawing out Kane's eyes. Still, she's more than a match for Kane, even if she can never capture Buck's heart.

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Twiki's Rebellion

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, after the reception in the Palace of Mirrors, Twiki and Dr. Theopolis follow Buck. When they see him sneak aboard Princess Ardala's shuttle, they follow, and hide in a cupboard. Unfortunately, the cupboard is refrigerated. At one point, Twiki emerges shivering. Dr. Theopolis reminds him that they need to stay out of sight, and orders him back inside. 

Instead, Twiki grabs a bottle of Vinol, opens it, and takes a swig. The computer brain Dr. Theopolis relents at this point, musing that the Vinol will help prevent Twiki's circuits from freezing. So he can drink the rest of the synthetic wine, provided he returns to his refrigerated hiding place immediately.

What can you say? Due to Dr. Theopolis' loyalty to Buck, Twiki was banished to the wasteland along with Buck. Then he was chased, and nearly taken apart by scavengers. Is it any wonder he starts to rebel in small ways, like getting down on the dance floor, or taking to the bottle? Poor Twiki! When adults like Buck behave, it's always the drones that suffer!

Dragon Dave

P.S. Keep safe on the space ways. Remember to never drink Vinol and Fly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Evolution of Twiki

All the while Buck and Ardala had been dancing, Twiki had watched and listened, his mechanical relays and circuits clicking over in time to the music. Now he tried a few steps of his own in imitation of Captain Rogers.

"Twiki, stop that! People are watching!" Theopolis scolded. 

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Richard A Lupoff (Addison E Steele)

Disco surged in popularity in the late 1970s, due in no small part to the movie "Saturday Night Fever," which came out in 1977. The film was so popular (even more popular with adults than "Star Wars," which also came out that summer), that it's easy to imagine Lupoff thinking of John Travolta when he wrote that scene. While Disco proved a fad, today's dancing are just as freeform and expressive of one's feelings as John Travolta's star-making performance. Unlike more formal styles, there are no barriers to entry. One doesn't need to practice intricate movements. With little or no experience, one can just get down and boogie. Even Buck's robot companion, the drone Twiki, decided to follow Buck's lead, and give it a go.

While we all know and love the waist-high wisecracking robot from the film and TV series, in the novelization he is quite different. The first time Buck sees him, he can barely keep from laughing. Twiki totters around the room with his head at an angle. The drone reminds Buck from the chimpanzees he saw in the Chicago Zoo during his childhood. Nor does Twiki talk. Instead, he squeaks, squeals, and makes electronic noises reminiscent of the droid R2-D2 in "Star Wars." The interplay between Twiki and his talking A.I. companion Dr. Theopolis makes an interesting comparison with R2-D2 and C-3PO in "Star Wars."

This makes me wonder if Glen Larson originally planned to use a chimpanzee-in-a-suit for Twiki, as he had previously for Daggit in "Battlestar Galactica." If so, I'm glad Larson's concept of Twiki evolved into the fun-loving guy we all know and love. For all his complaining, George Lucas, the creator of "Star Wars" was right: "Battlestar Galactica" copied too many aspects of "Star Wars." Larson's final version of Twiki helped make "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" a far more unique creation.

Dragon Dave