Posts by Great Books Guy

Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022) Review

Rating: 1 out of 5.

In another frustratingly wasted opportunity by Disney, a new show based on Obi-Wan Kenobi –one of the most beloved heroes in the Star Wars franchise– has been cranked out. Aside from a few glimmers of nostalgia, the show is mostly a disappointment, not unlike The Book of Boba Fett before it. Kenobi was most likely rushed through production and released on Disney Plus in order to scoop up as many former Netflix subscribers as possible. This show unfortunately reeks of lazy corporate decisions. It looks cheap and bland (the color tint looks fresh out of a David Lynch movie –it is dull and grey), and the show is poorly acted with a mostly uninteresting story –at points its script decisions are downright ridiculous. For fans of classic Star Wars, it really is painful to watch how Disney has degraded this once-brilliant franchise.

Kenobi takes place ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. “Part I” re-introduces us to Obi-Wan in his remote hideout on Tatooine where he keeps careful watch over a young Luke Skywalker from a distance, however an Imperial group of inquisitors are hunting the last remaining Jedi Knights. The not-so-fearsome hunters include a Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) followed by a Fifth Brother (Sung Kang), and a Third Sister who is also known as Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram). Sadly, these villains are just terrible plot devices. They are unfortunately poorly cast and frivolously written characters. Surprising no one, Reva secretly has a heart of gold with a dark past, and in the end she is made to be a heroic figure. I had next-to-zero interest in these villains throughout the show. Apparently, there was some racist drivel lobbed toward actress Moses Ingram regarding this show –an act which I find abhorrent and distasteful– however Disney has once again weaponized a few people scribbling mean tweets on the internet as a shield against any legitimate criticism of this obviously flawed show.

At any rate, onto the meat of the show. Obi-Wan is now a tired, jaded, weak old man who has lost much of his force powers. This is not the confident sage as portrayed by Alec Guiness in the original trilogy. Instead he looks more like a bitterly defeated Luke Skywalker as featured in The Last Jedi –a movie which was another deeply disappointing narrative choice.

As the six episodes pass, it becomes apparent that Obi-Wan is not even the hero of his own show. He constantly bungles his own plans and makes silly mistakes –including revealing himself to storm troopers, and running/cowering in fear when he first faces Darth Vader (hardly the “rematch of the century” as described by Kathleen Kennedy). Obi-Wan even plays second fiddle to a young Princess Leia, a pre-teen girl he is supposed to be rescuing. In fact, this bizarre retcon becomes the arch of the whole show while the petulant and annoying Princess Leia outruns groups of incompetent henchmen (one of whom is Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers). These early scenes rival the goofy slapstick comedy of Home Alone, and after being rescued she bosses around a tired Obi-Wan who now goes by “Ben” in a pathetic attempt to avoid the full retcon of “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” from Episode IV (but this is later fully retconned by the sixth episode in the show anyway). And instead of Obi-Wan being a noble hero, the true sacrificial hero of the show is revealed to be Reva –she is a former youngling Jedi-in-training who gradually developed a chip on her shoulder when her friends could not be saved during the Order 66 downfall of the Old Republic in Revenge of the Sith. However, a few words from Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Reva suddenly decides to turn on Darth Vader, a man who is one of the most powerful Sith Lords in the Empire. Nevertheless, she is easily defeated. She is stabbed through the chest by Vader –and then a miracle! She survives anyway and quickly flies to Tatooine after she learns of a boy in hiding: Luke Skywalker. She tries to kill Luke but then decides at the last moment not to kill the boy (all of this occurs after being stabbed through the chest by Darth Vader’s lightsaber). Anyway, the final duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the few highlights of the show –thankfully they did not recreate another elaborate, choreographed sequence as found in the prequels. During the fight, there is a notable nod to the Star Wars Rebels show during which Vader’s helmet is sliced open (in the cartoon it is Ahsoka who battles her old master Vader/Anakin). However, none of these compelling moments manage to salvage this show. In the end, Obi-Wan returns Princess Leia to her home on Alderaan and he heads to Tatooine where he meets Luke with a trademark “hello there” before reuniting with the force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn. Thus concludes the show. The few stand-outs in this show performances are the performances of Ewan McGregor, and the brief cameos by Ian McDiarmid and Liam Neeson.

In summary if you must watch any of this series, I recommend exclusively watching the last episode or two. Otherwise don’t waste your time. The differences between Kenobi and The Mandalorian are as stark as they are severe. Hopefully Disney will learn their lesson and only greenlight future programs which carry the seal of approval by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni.

Return to my survey of the Star Wars series

Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Twenty-Four “This Side of Paradise”

Stardate: 3417.3 (2267)
Original Air Date: March 2, 1967
Writer: Nathan Butler (a.k.a. Jerry Sohl), D. C. Fontana
Director: Ralph Senensky

“I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories, and we all have to live in them, mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise has been dispatched to Omicron Ceti III, a distant planet where an attempt was made to establish a colony several years ago (in the year 2264), however after all 150 Federation colonists were sent to Omicron Ceti III, it was discovered that the planet is actually plagued by deadly “berthold rays.” Spock notes that these berthold rays destroys mammalian animal tissue and even limited exposure might kill humans. The chances of long-term survival on Omicron Ceti III are unlikely, but in order to fulfill its mission, the Enterprise maintains standard orbit, and Uhura opens the airwaves for any transmissions but all she receives is dead air.

The Enterprise has been tasked with investigating this situation on Omicron Ceti III. Spock’s analysis indicates that humans can survive about a week on the planet’s surface in spite of the berthold rays, so Kirk organizes a landing party to search for any survivors of the colony. The landing party consists of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu and two others: DeSalle, and Kelowitz.

When they beam down a constructed farmhouse is visible. Kirk remarks on what could have been a successful colony. However suddenly, the colony survivors miraculously appear led by Elias Sandoval (Frank Overton). They have been living here for four years, and their sub-space radio stopped working. Generally speaking, the colonists have returned to an organic life in harmony with nature, growing vast fields and crops on this bountiful planet, and they maintain no mechanical tools, weapons, nor vehicles (all of their animals have died). Dr. McCoy completes a health scan of the colonists and he curiously determines that they are all in perfectly “excellent” health. In another strange twist, Sandoval once had his appendix removed years ago though his appendix has now miraculously re-grown inside his body. Kirk receives orders to evacuate Omicron Ceti III but the colonists refuse to leave.

A woman named Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) is a botanist who introduces herself as Mr. Spock’s old romantic flame. She leads Spock out to a strange flower whose spores are blasted in Spock’s face. Almost immediately, a strange sense of ease overcomes Spock’s typically stiff demeanor. He expresses romantic attachment to Leila, and he becomes unreachable via communicator while watching clouds and rainbows from a lush green meadow.

Several plants are then brought aboard the Enterprise and the whole crew becomes insubordinate after being infected through the ship’s ventilation system, and disobeying Kirk’s orders, they all decide to beam down to the planet. Alone on the ship, Kirk realizes he cannot pilot the Enterprise alone –he is in effect marooned, until finally he too is sprayed by the plant’s spores while on the bridge of the Enterprise. Before he can beam down to the planet (which would make it impossible for anyone to beam back to the Enterprise again), kirk soon figures out the infections’ weakness. He convinces Spock to beam back aboard the Enterprise and then proceeds to lob an array of insults at him —“half-breed!” “overgrown rabbit!” “subhuman!”— and Spock eventually responds with rage which actually removes the infection. Strong emotions undo the effects of the spores. Apparently, these Plants thrive on berthold rays and they act as a repository for thousands of spores in search of human bodies, but they also block the effects of berthold rays in humans.

At any rate, Leila is then beamed aboard the Enterprise, and she and Spock share a final embrace together –they reminisce about six years ago when they lost touch– before Spock says he cannot return to her. He must remain committed to his profession aboard the Enterprise.

Meanwhile the Enterprise broadcasts a subsonic transmitter to the surface of Omicron Ceti III causing the remaining crewmen on the surface to grow enraged with one another. But once they come to their senses from the plant’s effects, the colonists and Enterprise crew beam back aboard the ship and the Enterprise slowly speeds away. We hear Bones and Kirk whimsically ponder the nature of paradise, and then we zoom in on Spock’s face as he remarks on his experience on Omicron Ceti III –for the first time in his life he was happy.

“Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise.”

In an episode somewhat reminiscent of “Shore Leave” we are treated to a beautiful lush paradise replete with forests and farmland, and the scenes are overlaid with an inspiring symphonic score which is partly borrowed from “The Cage” and “Shore Leave.” These moments serve to accentuate the tender romance between Spock and Leila. At the same time, this is an anti-sentimental episode in which a kind of Rousseau-esque ‘return to nature’ is demystified and criticized as mere fantasy –the folly of the philosophers.

As with other recent episodes in the series, “This Side of Paradise” betrays a thematic critique of communities which are unable to face the full brunt of reality and its many associated difficulties (think the mind-numbing religious cult in “Return of the Archons” or the digital computer war in “A Taste of Armageddon”). Living in a false world devoid of struggle, honesty, authenticity, challenge, failure and other experiences natural to the human experience is an unacceptable proposition for Starfleet –regardless of the Prime Directive. The colonists on Omicron Ceti III live in an empty-headed state of ethereal bliss, but are they truly happy? The Greek word Eudaimonia –or the good life– implies there is more to happiness than mere empty-headed indulgence, and in this respect, the colonists have failed to stretch out and discover a higher way of being. Hence why upon awakening, Elias comments on the time he has wasted on Omicron Ceti III.

“This Side of Paradise” brings to mind the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s Odyssey, and it also anticipates the advent of 1960s drug-fueled hippie communes. No doubt, the Federation may use Omicron Ceti III for certain purposes in the future –perhaps as a rehabilitation program for depressives, or healing center since the regenerative properties of the plant’s spores can re-grow organs like a man’s appendix. While a few questions linger for me about the true nature of the berthold rays as well as the plant spores, broadly speaking this is an excellent episode of Star Trek.

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) previously wrote “The Corbomite Maneuver.” His original script for “This Side of Paradise” contained some notable differences, such as a romance side-plot for Lt. Sulu and remarkably different reactions to the spores akin to the characters getting high on PCP. However, the Star Trek team was displeased with this direction and Gene Roddenberry invited Dorothy D.C. Fontana to edit the script, eventually leading to her full-time job as a writer/editor for the show. Mr. Sohl was unhappy with the changes to this episode so he listed himself under a pseudonym “Nathan Butler.” Of course, in addition to three episodes of Star Trek, Mr. Sohl is widely celebrated for his work on The Twilight Zone (as a ghostwriter for Charles Beaumont), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits.

Director Ralph Senensky (1923- Present) is apparently still alive as I write this review making him nearly 100 years old. He directed many episodes of classic television including an episode of The Twilight Zone and six episodes of Star Trek.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The title for this episode is taken from the poem “Tiare Tahiti” by Rupert Brooke and also the 1920 novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • In Jerry Sohl’s original draft (originally entitled “Power Play,” and then “The Way of The Spores”), it was Lieutenant Sulu who was infected by the spores and was able to fall in love with the Eurasian beauty Leila. There were also unique telepathic abilities granted, and the effects of the spores were akin to being high on PCP.
  • Dorothy Fontana very much liked this finished episode.
  • At one point during their tender embrace, Leila asks if Spock goes by another name, but he merely smiles and says that she could not pronounce it.
  • Jill Ireland who played Leila was initially concerned about being fitted into too risqué an outfit, however in the end she was pleased with her appearance.
  • At the time of this episode, Jill Ireland was in the midst of a divorce from her first husband David McCallum but her new boyfriend Charles Bronson apparently occasionally visited the set during filming. Jill Ireland and Charles Bronson were later married not long after this episode aired.
  • This episode was mostly shot at the Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA (Bronson Canyon) on land owned by Disney. It was also shot in a forested area near the Griffith Observatory.
  • Frank Overton (1918-1967) plays the leader of the colonists, Elias Sandoval, in this episode. He appeared in such classic films as To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as Gig Young’s father in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance.” He died a few months after filming “This Side of Paradise.”
  • For some reason, Spock’s clothes inexplicably change after he is infected with the plant spores. This is the first time that Spock wears the green jumpsuit. He wears it again in “Spock’s Brain” while being remotely controlled.
  • In his log, Kirk mistakenly refers to the planet as “Omicron III.”

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Star Trek, Season 1, Episode Twenty-Three “A Taste of Armageddon”

Stardate: 3192.1 (2267)
Original Air Date:
Writer: Robert Hamner/Gene L. Coon
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Computers, Captain.
They fight their war entirely with computers.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise is carrying Ambassador Robert Fox (Gene Lyons) en route to star cluster NGC 321 with the objective of opening diplomatic relations with the known civilizations located there. In particular, they head toward a little-known planet called Eminiar VII which was once contacted about year prior but the ship soon disappeared (the S.S. Valiant). As the Enterprise approaches, scanners reveal an advanced civilization located on Eminiar VII. The Eminians have the capacity for space flight but they rarely venture outward as they are believed to be locked in war with a neighboring planet called Vendikar. Uhura opens hailing frequencies but there is no response. The Eminians scan the Enterprise while it sits in orbit and they issue a stark warning for it to depart.

Ignoring the warning, Kirk leads a landing party down to the surface consisting of First Officer Spock, and additional security personnel Yeoman Tamura, and two security officers, Lieutenants Galloway and Osborne. The surface reveals a clean, orderly, and well-constructed civilization. They are met by Eminian representatives Mea 3 (Barbara Babcock) at the Division of Control who leads the crew to the High Council where we learn more about the situation from High Councilor Anan 7 (David Opatoshu).

Eminiar VII has been at war for 500 years with Vendikar. Each year about 1-3 million people die hence why the Enterprise is in danger. Indeed, while they are speaking a direct hit fusion bomb strikes the city, but there appears to be no explosion, no destruction, no chaos. As it turns out, Spock figures out this is actually a computer war. Per an agreement regarding the rules of this war, people are classified as “casualties” and they die by voluntary stepping into disintegrator machines in order to avoid mutual shared destruction. Otherwise Vendikar will launch real weapons causing mass destruction. And in this most recent virtual attack, the Enterprise has been classified “destroyed” by a tricobalt satellite, and so the Eminians require all Enterprise crewmen report to a disintegrator.

Anan 7 uses a voice duplicator to imitate Kirk’s voice, he communicates with Acting Captain Scotty and orders the crew to transport down. However, Scotty is suspicious. He has the ship’s computer analyze the message and confirms it is 98% fake. Scotty then orders the shields raised and when the crew fails to transport down, Eminiar fires upon the Enterprise, but the attack is deflected by the shields. Ambassador Fox, another stuffy enfeebled Federation bureaucrat, continues to maintain optimism about peaceful engagement with the Eminians. He speaks with Anan 7 who falsely claims the attack was merely due to a malfunction. Ambassador Fox, placing his full trust in Anan, beams down and is immediately taken to a disintegration chamber along with Mea 3, who was also marked as a “casualty” in the simulated war –but at the last moment Spock and the security officers rescue them, after having escaped their own predicament.

Meanwhile, Kirk invades the High Council chamber and quickly turns the tide of this war by destroying the Eminians’ super computer (this is a different mode of destruction than was found in “The Return of the Archons”). He deliberately violates the agreement with Vendikar thus forcing a hot war –unless Anan can agree to a new peace treaty. In a choice between peace and assured mutual destruction, Anan employs the help of Ambassador Fox to negotiate a peace agreement with Vendikar.

In the end, the Enterprise makes way for Organa II while optimism remains for a new agreement between Eminiar VII and Vendikar. As the Enterprise speeds away, Spock slyly remarks that Kirk makes him almost believe in luck, whereas Kirk retorts that Spock makes him to almost believe in miracles.

Created prior to the video game age, this episode is not unlike “The Corbomite Maneuver” or “Balance of Terror,” is a fascinating examination of the nature of warfare. It pits diplomats like Ambassador Fox against military men like Kirk. There is a time for peace and a time for war, but a defensive posture is generally preferred when charting the unknown. “What is the greater morality: open honesty, or a deception which may save our lives?” Diplomats have a proclivity for greater faith in mutual goodwill, and that is why he very nearly falls victim to the disintegrator.

This is a great Scotty episode. He takes the helm and then immediately butts heads with the disagreeable Ambassador Fox (“that mealy-mouthed gentleman”) only to find himself threatened under penalty of banishment to a penal colony (“my haggis is cooked!”) Leaving the Enterprise in the hands of its chief engineer was clearly the right decision in this difficult, morally ambiguous situation.

There are lots of other ideas worthy of consideration in this episode, not least of which is the absence of the Prime Directive, the Federation’s presumed imperialism, and even Spock’s strange telepathic abilities as he is capable of mind control through his prison walls. I was struck by Kirk’s “General Order 24” which instructs the Enterprise to use all means of firepower to destroy an enemy. it would be interesting to learn about the specific legal hurdles that must be crossed in order for it to be invoked. Something tells me we have not seen the last of “General Order 24.”

Robert Hamner (1928-1996) wrote the story concept for this episode before it was taken over and adapted into a teleplay by Gene L. Coons. Mr. Hamner wrote many scripts over the decades and he co-created the show S.W.A.T.

Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his third directed episode in the series.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Technically, this episode is the first full acknowledgement of the “United Federation of Planets” after the show fluctuated between a few different similar phrases in the first season.
  • According to David Gerrold, the computer tally of the war dead in this episode was intended to be a commentary on the Vietnam War at the time. The idea that 1-3M people are killed each year for 500 years for the Eminians is an extraordinary catastrophe.
  • Apparently, Scotty’s refusal to lower the shields in defiance of the Ambassador is based on an actual story from James Doohan’s military service. As a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery, he was threatened with Court Martial for saying “No sir, I will not,” to a visiting colonel when he realized a training exercise order would entail blowing the heads off some of his own men. Fortunately, his immediate superiors backed him up and, like his fictional character, he was eventually promoted to captain. I was not able to verify if this was a true story.
  • The Eminians use “sonic disruptors” when attacking the Enterprise in this episode.
  • At one point, Scotty states that he cannot fire full phasers while the shields are up, but that he could “treat” the Eminians to “a few dozen photon torpedoes.” These restrictions and capabilities are not mentioned in any other episodes.

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Star Trek, Season 1, Episode Twenty-Two “Space Seed”

Stardate: 3141.9 (2267)
Original Airdate: February 16, 1967
Writer: Carey Wilber/Gene L. Coon
Director: Marc Daniels

“A world to win, an empire to build…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise comes upon a derelict Earth vessel floating in deep space called the S.S. Botany Bay. It is broadcasting an old Morse Code signal. Perhaps this vessel is an old DY-500 class ship, though Spock suggests it is actually a much older ship, a DY-100 class ship built centuries ago in the 1990s. Spock notes that the era of the mid-1990s was a “strange, violent” period which sat on the precipice of a new dark age. It was the age of the last “World War,” and the rise of The Eugenics Wars, a series of brutal conflicts spawned by ambitious scientists attempting to genetically improve the human race. So what is the S.S. Botany Bay? Apparently, Botany Bay was the name of a penal colony in Australia, a colony which mysteriously lost several ships in the Eugenics Wars though the records are scant.

Scanners trace faint heartbeats for over sixty people on the Botany Bay. Captain Kirk leads a landing party to investigate, along with Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, and a historian named Lieutenant Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), a woman with a particular fascination for imperial conquerors like Leif Erikson, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Richard the Lionheart. In fact, she betrays a certain romantic attachment to these adventurous despots of yesteryear.

The crew beams aboard the Botany Bay where they discover a collection of sleeper berths holding dozens of “handsome” people –ghostly shadows, relics of an old imperial age known as the 20th century. The room lights up and one man is awoken from his berth. Notably, Lt. McGivors cannot take her eyes off this man –he appears to be a fantastic leader perhaps hailing from Northern India, and likely a Sikh (famously played by Ricardo Montalbán). The man slowly regains consciousness and whispers: “How long?” to which Kirk quietly responds that he has likely been asleep for two centuries.

The crew returns to the Enterprise where this strange man receives care from Dr. McCoy. When awoken, he snatches a sharp knife off a nearby display case –why would such a decoration exist in a medical facility? Does it have a more practical use? The strange man interrogates Dr. McCoy before meeting Capt. Kirk and requesting some additional reading material in order to gather his bearings. Kirk offers him the ability to read through the huge digital library made publicly available on the Enterprise.

With the Botany Bay in tow, the Enterprise sets course for Starbase 12. Kirk and Spock learn that 12 units on the Botany Bay have malfunctioned leaving 72 people still alive, 30 of whom are women. However, no records or logs are found aboard the Botany Bay. Notably, the survivors possess 50% better lung capacity than normal humans, and their heart-rate is twice the pace of a typical person. Most importantly, we learn their identity: this man is Khan Noonien Singh or simply “Khan,” a genetically-engineered super-human from the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. After fleeing from a penal colony in Australia, Khan and his crew put themselves to sleep in deep space.

Over a fancy dinner that evening, the group discusses how Khan’s ship managed to escape from the penal colony centuries ago in the “War Against Tyranny” which Khan disputes as merely a noble attempt by his compatriots to unify humanity and offer a better, more ordered world. Spock recalls that in the 1990s, entire regions were ruled by bands of petty dictators, though Khan deflects and comments on Kirk’s tactical silence –“It has been said that social occasions are merely warfare concealed.”

Khan seduces Lt. McGivers such that she becomes his mere peon, and he easily breaks free from his locked room. He overpowers an armed guard and beams back aboard the Botany Bay to awaken his fellow crewmen while McGivers jams the Enterprise communications. Khan and his crew quickly overtake the Enterprise by shutting off life-support systems to the bridge, threatening to suffocate every crewmen. Khan was apparently thorough in his study of the ship’s schematics –why would these weaknesses be freely available to read within the ship’s library? Is this not exposing a major flaw aboard the Enterprise?

At any rate, Khan begins torturing the Enterprise crew starting with Kirk. He requests help from Spock to join him and help navigate the newfangled machinery of the 24th century so they can navigate to a suitable colony to conquer, which would save the Captain from his torturous decompression chamber. However, Lt. McGivers redeems herself and leaves the room claiming she cannot handle watching her old crew-mates as they are tortured to death. In a sudden turn of allegiances, Lt. McGivers saves the captain as well as Spock, and then Spock takes out another Khan crewman with a Vulcan nerve pinch.

Kirk and Spock then flood the room with gas, and Kirk battles Khan (who physically rips apart a phaser with his bare hands) while Kirk surprises Khan by striking him with a utility device in the engine room. Control of the ship is regained.

Kirk assembles a makeshift court martial for Khan, however rather than allow Khan the chance to enter a Federation “reorientation center,” Kirk drops all charges and decides to maroon Khan and his crew on the harsh planetary landscape of Ceti Alpha V where Khan claims it will be better to reign in hell than serve in heaven (a quotation from John Milton’s Paradise Lost). The traitorous Lt. McGivors surprisingly decides to join Khan on Ceti Alpha V.

As the Enterprise sails away through space, Spock ominously remarks: “It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and to learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted today.”

“Space Seed” is perhaps my personal favorite episode of early Star Trek episodes. It fulfills a deeply satisfying blend of horror and science fiction while continuing the trend of the Enterprise stumbling upon echoes of long-decaying civilizations just waiting to be resurrected. What else might be lurking out there in the dark reaches of space?

Putting aside the shockingly feeble security protocols aboard the Enterprise, perhaps the biggest cautionary moral in “Space Seed” can be taken from the complacent crew which seems to marvel at Khan’s livelihood and ingenuity. By this point in the 24th century, brutal tyrants of the Napoleonic variety are mere relics of a bygone era. When the crew actually meet one in-person, they welcome him with open arms.

One other point of note in this episode: Kirk mentions the “reorientation centers” offered for prisoners of the Federation. The existence of this type of recidivism in the 24th century raises all sorts of questions –many of which were explored in the earlier Season 1 episode “Dagger of the Mind.” Are these centers made for rehabilitation? Or should we interpret them as examples of the Federation’s true imperial machinations?

Carey Wilber (1916-1998) was a journalist and television writer from Buffalo, New York. He wrote for television programs like Lost In Space and Bonanza. He was hired to write a script for Star Trek. His idea for the story was based on an episode he wrote for the television series Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949–1955). His work on that show featured Ancient Greek-era humans transported in suspended animation through space, with the people of the future finding that they have mythological powers. He was also inspired by the British Empire’s 18th century penal colony expulsions. The script actually changed numerous times during preproduction because producer Bob Justman felt that it would be too expensive to film. Eventually Gene L. Coon and series creator Gene Roddenberry also made alterations.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Fifteen years after the events of this episode Khan returns in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Many Trekkies consider it to be the finest film in the Star Trek movies. In the movie, Khan amusingly claims to recognize Pavel Chekov’s face, even though Walter Koenig’s character Chekov was not yet introduced in “Space Seed.” This later became known as the “gaffe notorious throughout Star Trek fandom.” The novelization for Wrath of Khan attempts to find a way around this error by suggesting Chekov was working the night shift at the time.
  • In Wilber’s early draft for the story that became “Space Seed” the villain was named Harold Erickson, an ordinary criminal exiled into space. The story was partly inspired by the use of penal colonies in the 18th century.
  • The character of Khan required five costumes, more than any other guest star in the entire series.
  • Ricardo Montalbán had previously appeared in a television movie created by Gene Roddenberry, The Secret Weapon of 117 which was his first attempt to create science fiction on television.
  • Madlyn Rhue, who portrayed Lt. Marla McGivers, worked with Ricardo Montalbán several other times in Bonanza and Fantasy Island, as well as in Gene Roddenberry’s NBC television series, The Lieutenant. Tragically, she contracted multiple sclerosis and did not appear in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.
  • Khan is said to have a North-Indian ethnicity, but in original drafts of the script he was intended to be Nordic.
  • “Space Seed” actually cost a total of $197,262 against a budget of $180,000. By this point, the series was nearly $80,000 over budget in total.
  • In his novelization of this episode, James Blish, used the name “Sibahl Khan Noonien” which was taken from an early unfinished script.
  • A version of Khan is reprised by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Kelvin timeline film Star Trek: Into Darkness.
  • The Eugenics Wars appears many more times throughout the Star Trek universe, from The Animated Series to the paperback books.

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Star Trek, Season 1, Episode Twenty-One “The Return of the Archons”

Stardate: 3156.2
Original Air Date: February 9, 1967
Writer: Gene Roddenberry/Boris Sobelman
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Joy to you, friends. May peace and contentment fulfill you.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Enterprise is orbiting Beta III in the C-111 system in search of any trace of the Starship Archon, a Federation ship which disappeared about a hundred years ago near Beta III.

The episode opens with an amusing scene as Lt. Sulu and another Enterprise crewman named Lt. O’Neill (Sean Morgan) are dressed in 18th century garb, outrunning strange hooded figures (“Lawgivers”) on the streets of a small town on Beta III. Sulu is zapped by one of them shortly before beaming back to the Enterprise where he starts acting strangely, he appears to be in a “highly agitated mental state” –and Lt. O’Neill is nowhere to be found.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy and three other crewmen form a search party and beam down to Beta III’s surface. At first the place seems peaceful. People strut about the streets with an empty, mindless demeanor smiling while declaring “joy to you, friend” and asking if the Enterprise crewmen have come from the “Valley” or if they are “Archons.” Soon, the crew are warned of the start of the “Red Hour” which will begin at 6 O’Clock.

We learn that these people are members of an unusual religious cult, ruled by a mysterious cleric called “Landru” who preaches that people should be “absorbed” and “of the body.” The “Red Hour” is shown to be a strange “Festival” in which all hell breaks loose –to quote John Milton– as the citizens begin wildly shrieking, breaking things, and violating all manner of social and cultural mores. Robbery and property destruction is suddenly widespread, as is rape and sexual assault. The scene is akin to a wild, untamed bacchanalia. Once the “Red Hour” ends, the people return to their formerly pleasant state of peace and tranquility.

Kirk and the landing party seek out a hotel room where the crewmen are asked if they are the “Archons.” Soon enough, the crewmen are brought before Landru, a hologram who accuses them of being hostile actors. He intends to “absorb” them whether they like it or not. Hypersonic sound-waves render them unconscious and the crew are thrown into a dungeon. In time, they escape being absorbed into the utopian cult and donning the robes of the “Lawgivers,” they head for overthrowing Landru. Spock mentions this being a violation of the Federation’s “Prime Directive” (the first such allusion in Star Trek lore) but Kirk notes a technicality: that the non-interference principle of the Prime Directive only applies to a “living, growing culture,” not forcibly stagnant societies as on Beta III. They meet a colorful cast of local denizens: Tula (Xenia Gratsos), Marplon (Torin Thatcher), and other “Lawgivers” (Sid Haig).

As they arrive at Landru’s cave dwelling, the Enterprise enters a decaying orbit as Landru is capable of pulling starships out of space sending them crashing down upon the Betans. With time running out, the projection of Landru appears not to hear the crewmen and so they fire phasers at his projection, and their phasers blast a hole in the wall for the big reveal: Landru is nothing more than a super computer reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode “The Old Man in the Cave.” We learn that a man named Landru died some 6,000 years prior. At that time, Beta III was tearing itself apart in violent warfare and so he built this machine to govern a future peaceful society. The good of the body is the directive of Landru, in order to pursue a harmonious continuation of the body. However, Kirk argues with Landru by noting that this civilization lacks spontaneity, creativity, and humanity. Kirk twists Landru’s logic and persuades him that Landru is in fact a threat to the body. Persuaded of its own evil, Landru then short-circuits and dies. Kirk casually walks away, remarking to Marplon that he will soon need a new job.

With the situation now resolved, the Enterprise leaves Beta III as Sulu is returned to normal and Sociologist Lindstrom (Carl Held) remains behind to help restore the planet’s culture to a normal human state (or as Kirk puts it, “a more human” society). As they depart, Spock remarks on the marvel of engineering that Landru had created on Beta III, to which Kirk amusingly responds, “You’d make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock.”

While this episode contains lots of intriguing premises, it seems to be an incomplete story. There are lots fascinating threads here –a 6,000 year old computer which governs a formerly violent civilization in such a way that it now becomes a peaceful, brain-dead cult with occasional supervised bouts of animalistic lawlessness. Why has the Enterprise only arrived now, a full century later, to search for the Archon? How do Landru’s powers actually work? How is he able to send the Enterprise into decaying orbit so easily? Why is he only capable of brainwashing certain people? What is the point of the “Red Hour?” How has Landru managed to govern a society for 6,000 years without malfunction? And how was Kirk so easily capable of persuading Landru to self-destruct in a matter of minutes? What happened to O’Neill? How did Sulu manage to recover? Many questions linger for me, though I will admit there are glimpses of brilliant science fiction themes explored here.

I should also note there is something strangely imperial about Kirk’s handling of this situation. Is it truly “more human” to destroy Landru, thus upending a 6,000 year old civilization? Were the Betans truly oppressed under Landru’s rule? Perhaps further investigation was warranted by the Enterprise, though with a decaying orbit it appears Landru was indeed a hostile actor. At any rate, Kirk has a point that restricting human freedom, spontaneity, and creativity is an inhuman state of affairs. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” Landru’s civilization on Beta III is orderly and safe for the most part, but it is neither honest nor beautiful. Landru’s assimilating rule of the Betans is an obvious prelude to the Borg in The Next Generation. Many reviewers have also made note of parallels to certain religious cults, the thematic dominance of machinery, problems associated with the loss of hope and creativity as found in tyrannical communist regimes (like the Soviet Union), and even parallels to the United States in Vietnam. It would no doubt be interesting if offered the opportunity to read Lindstrom’s future sociological reports about this strange civilization.

One of the endlessly alluring traits of early Star Trek is that we constantly find ourselves stumbling upon ancient civilizations with ghostly relics of centuries past. Along with the ancient computer Landru in “The. Return of the Archons” we have also seen ancient androids in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and centuries-old children in “Miri.” In the next episode –a true classic– we will discover a race of genetically-engineered humans who have been suspended in space for centuries, as well.

1960s television writer Boris Sobelman (1909-1971) drafted this teleplay based on a story by Star Trek founder Gene Roddenberry which was originally in the line-up of stories considered for the pilot episode.

Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his second directed episode in the series after “Arena.”

Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode was originally in the running for the pilot episode but it was replaced by “The Cage” and years later the story was picked up again by Boris Sobelman to draft the teleplay.
  • According to internet resources, Gene Roddenberry once belonged to a club in school called “The Archons.” The word “Archon” comes from the ancient Greek word for ruler.
  • Apparently, this episode contains one of the first references to the Prime Directive.
  • “The Return of the Archons” was shot on a 40-acre backlot in Culver City, California. The street scenes were part of the “Town of Atlanta” set which was originally constructed for Gone with the Wind in 1939.
  • The “Festival” in this episode served as the inspiration behind the 2013 film The Purge.
  • “The Return of the Archons” is one of actor Ben Stiller’s favorite Star Trek episodes. “Red Hour” was borrowed for the name of his production company.
  • Frequent stunt performer Bobby Clark (who previously donned the Gorn suit) has his only speaking role in this episode when he shots: “Festival! Festival!” at the beginning of the episode.
  • A subplot involving Sociologist Lindstrom falling in love with a local girl was cut from the episode’s final draft script. Perhaps this would make an interesting bit of fan fiction.
  • The exact timeframe in which the “Festival” is typically set to regularly take place is not made explicit, however in James Blish’s episode novelizations (which were based on original screenplays) he describes Reger consoling Tula after the “Festival” that it is “…over for another year.”
  • Roddenberry picked this as one of his ten favorite episodes for the franchise’s 25th anniversary.

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Star Trek: Season 1, Episode Twenty “Court Martial”

Stardate: 2947.3
Original Air Date:
Writer: Don M. Mankiewicz/Steven W. Carabatsos
Director: Marc Daniels

“Because Jim Kirk, my dear old love, I am the prosecution.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise has just traveled through a severe Ion storm causing considerable damage to the ship. In the midst of the storm one crewman tragically died after the decision was made to jettison his pod, saving the rest of the ship. His name was Lt. Cdr. Ben Kinney (Richard Webb), a records officer and old friend-turned-rival of Capt. Kirk. His death casts a pall over the crew, particularly Kirk, and since the Enterprise is damaged, Kirk orders an unscheduled layover on Starbase 11 to be fitted for repairs.

Once they land, Kirk is interrogated by Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) who grows convinced that Kirk is lying about the order of events leading to Finney’s death –even Finney’s own daughter blames Kirk for her father’s death, despite being a close family friend (she is actually named “Jame” after James Kirk). When the recorded tape aboard the Enterprise is replayed, the evidence is damning. Did Kirk issue an alert thus giving Finney notice to vacate the pod, as Kirk claims? Or did Kirk eject the pod out of bitterness and vengeance against his one-time nemesis? Many of Kirk’s old school-chums from his graduating class at Starfleet Academy blame him for the accident. Kirk also reconnects with a one-time flame, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall) –but it turns out she is actually the lead attorney intending to prosecute him!

As the trial unfolds, Spock and McCoy are called to testify, and it becomes apparent that Kirk has committed willful perjury. Despite the best efforts of his quirky attorney Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr.), Kirk’s chances of winning appears to be over. While on a break from the trial, Kirk makes an offhand comment to Spock about how the next Captain on the Enterprise might allow for better chess games in which Spock can win –and this leads Spock to investigate a hunch. Later, McCoy finds Spock alone in the recreation room playing chess –and beating the ship’s computer! Just before the defense is about to rest its case, Spock bursts into the room and speaks with Cogley who then calls the ship’s computer as a trial witness. It turns out someone has either wittingly or unwittingly adjusted the programming of the computer.

In a strange twist of events, Kirk institutes a Phase 1 search of the ship and the sensors are able to locate a unique heartbeat in the Engineering Bay –Ben Finney is actually alive. Kirk confronts Finney and they battle while Finney lists his many grievances for being passed over for a promotion, until Kirk distracts Finney by telling him that his own daughter is on board. This grants just enough space for Kirk to detain Finney and end his vengeful tirade.

In the end, Kirk and Shaw share a kiss and Cogley plans to represent Finney in his own Starfleet trial. Cogley sends the gift of a book to Kirk before the Enterprise departs from Starbase 11 (earlier Kirk and Cogley had an amusing exchange regarding the merits of books vs. computers –perhaps now Kirk will see the merits of the former).

I love a good courtroom drama –perhaps one day John Grisham will pen a script for Star Trek! We might dub it the trial of the twenty-third century. At any rate, there is an interesting contrast here between the supposedly unreliable testimony of Capt. Kirk, and the cold, unmoved record of events provided by the ship’s computer. However, machines are mere tools and can thus be edited by malicious humans in the service of wayward machinations. This is the case with Benjamin Kinney who stages his own death and edits the historical record to defame Kirk. In this episode, we in the audience sympathize with Kirk as he is expected to make decisions affecting many hundreds of people –including an old nemesis. Leadership is a burdensome task, and Kirk is forced to govern a man who both despises and resents him. As per usual, Star Trek treats its audience like competent adults, capable of grasping the hurdles facing leaders, and the struggle to tell the truth in the face of overwhelming odds. A more modern version of this story might offer a more sympathetic glimpse of Finney.

Writer Don Mankiewicz (1922-2015) was perhaps best known for writing the Harper Prize-winning novel entitled Trial about a prejudicial trial of a falsely accused boy. It was made into a 1955 film.

Steven W. Carabatsos (1938-Present) was the editor of Star Trek between the tenures of John D. F. Black and D. C. Fontana. He helped Mr. Mankiewicz adapt this script into a teleplay. Mr. Carabatsos’s tenure did not last long.

Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The script for this episode was originally entitled “Court Martial on Star Base 11.”
  • The setting of a courtroom drama was chosen as a means of saving money (only four chief sets were required).
  • Apparently Elisha Cook Jr., who played Kirk’s flashy but eccentric defense attorney, had a tremendously difficult time remembering his lines. Many of his lengthy speeches in the script did not make it into the aired version.
  • In this episode, we learn that no captain has ever been put on trial like this before.
  • When the Enterprise first arrives at Starbase 11, Commodore Stone orders Maintenance Section 18 to stop work on the USS Intrepid in order to prioritize the Enterprise –giving further glimpses of other starships. The Intrepid is an all-Vulcan ship. There is also a list of registered starships briefly visible in Stone’s office.
  • Starfleet dress uniforms debut in this episode.
  • The bar in this episode is called “M-11 Starbase Club.” The barkeeper wears the same costume later worn by the barkeeper on Deep Space Station K-7 in the later episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
  • Actress Joan Marshall also appeared in The Twilight Zone episode “Dead Man’s Shoes.”
  • This episode is one of the first to affirm the hierarchy of Starfleet command.
  • The backstory to Kirk and Finney is as follows: Finney taught at Starfleet Academy when Kirk was a midshipman, and his daughter was later named after Kirk (“Jame” after “James”). But a number of years later, while they both were serving together on the USS Republic, Kirk says that Finney had left a circuit open to the atomic matter piles that should have been closed. In another five minutes, the Republic could have self-destructed with all hands. Kirk had closed the switch and logged the incident. Finney then had a letter of formal reprimand written into his record, and he was sent to the bottom of the promotion list where he slowly built up resentment. Kirk says that Finney believed that Kirk’s action delayed Finney’s assignment to a starship and ultimately his opportunity to command.
  • The date of the Ion storm was: 2945.7.

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