"Space Stars! A galaxy of heroes teamed together in an interstellar battle against evil! Blast off on adventures as big as the cosmos itself! Race, poised on the edge of time, with Space Ghost and his young friend! Streak through the universe with Space Ace, Astro, and the Space Mutts as they spring into action! And somewhere deep in space, super-danger threatens the Teen Force! Join the Herculoids in their new battles to preserve peace on the planet Quazer! Now...get set for 60 laser-blasting minutes of action, adventure, fun...on Space Stars!"
Not bad-at-all H-B "all-star" mishmash. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released, under their Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection banner, Space Stars: The Complete Series, a 3-disc, 11-episode gathering of the hour-long NBC Saturday morning cartoon's 1981-1982 season. An anthology of short solo and group toons featuring old H-B standbys Space Ghost and The Herculoids in newly-animated adventures, along with rookie toons Teen Force and Astro and the Space Mutts, Space Stars has never been shown in its entirety since its initial run (the individual shorts have popped up occasionally as break-fillers on Boomerang and Cartoon Network). So this restoration--including the "recently uncovered" "Space Science" educational segments--should be great news for dedicated H-B fans. Historical significance aside...it can be a fairly amusing show, as well. No extras for these good-looking fullscreen transfers.
Even if you've never seen it, Space Stars' anthology format should be pretty familiar if you've watched any of the many other H-B "all star" shows, like Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics or Yogi's Gang: each character(s) gets a separate short toon segment (with frequent cross-over appearances by the anthology's other characters), before a final segment teams up most of the group for a stand-alone finale. A typical Space Stars episode opens, after Keene Curtis' hilariously stentorian intros, with a brand-new Space Ghost segment (arguably the most popular character in this anthology), with buff superhero Space Ghost (voice talent of Gary Owens) and his teen sidekicks Jace (voice talent of Steve Spears) and Jan (voice talent of Alexandra Stewart), as well as impish space chimp Blip (voice talent of Frank Welker), racing around the cosmos in their Phantom Cruiser and Scout Ship, battling their foes (including new evil "twin" Space Spectre, from voice talent John Stephenson). A short linking segment, "Space Magic," comes next (in one episode, Space Ace shows the viewer how to be a detective), followed by another educational linking segment, "Space Fact." Next, a Teen Force toon pops up. Hailing from an unknown universe beyond Black Hole X, the three young superheroes of "Teen Force" are lightning-fast Kid Comet (voice talent of Darryl Hickman), sexy Elektra (voice talent of B.J. Ward) with her electronic headband thingy, and shape-shifting Moleculad (voice talent of David Raynr), with hydrocephalic sidekicks the "Astromites:" Plutem and Glax (voice talent of Michael Winslow). Another educational segment, "Space Mystery," comes next (Space Ghost may discuss the science of comets for you), before a brand-new Herculoids adventure, with highly intelligent (but sartorially challenged) humanoids Zandor (voice talent of Mike Road), the guardian of planet Quasar, his wife, Tara (voice talent of Virginia Gregg), and their son, Dorno (voice talent of Sparky Marcus), battling enemies who wish to pollute the low-tech purity of Quasar. Following that, a multi-segment "Space Code" link lets the youngsters out there try and break a secret code, before comedy relief toon Astro and the Space Mutts begins, with The Jetsons's dog Astro (voice talent of Don Messick), now working as a quasi-intergalactic cop, accompanied by fellow canines Cosmo and Dipper (voice talent Frank Welker and Lennie Weinrib), and their human C.O., Space Ace (voice talent of Michael Bell). Finally, another Space Ghost segment airs, frequently with other Space Stars characters in tow, for an action-packed finale.
I'm not sure I had ever even heard of Space Stars prior to the arrival of this collection, let alone watched it. I was already 16 when it premiered, so Astro and Space Ghost took a backseat at the time to my job, my first car and girls (although I will admit to having caught the occasional episode of Thundarr the Barbarian or The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour, and of course The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show...if I had a Saturday morning off back in '81). Admittedly, my heart belongs to the H-B titles I saw as a little kid in the 70s (along with all the repeats of the older 60s titles then in syndication), so when I hear the words "Astro" and "Space Ghost," I'm thinking back to toons a good 10-15 years prior to Space Stars. Not being an original fan, and certainly not claiming to be an H-B "expert," I don't know where Space Stars ranks in their canon. Do fans from that era like it more than Yogi's Space Race? Or less than The New Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show? I don't know. When it premiered in the fall of 1981, its direct competition at 11:00 was ABC's Super Friends and CBS' Blackstar (yes... the "Ice Castle" that I bought for my nephew--it set me back like, twenty 1981 bucks--shattered into a million pieces just like everyone else's), two iconic titles that certainly get more name recognition points than Space Stars (and probably more ratings points at the time, too). Was Space Stars considered an "important" title for the H-B animation factory at that time? Not sure (its hour length might indicate some level of commitment...but I don't remember any Teen Force action figures, either). I would imagine, though, that the execs at Hanna-Barbera were more than a little preoccupied in 1981 with their break-out smash hit (also on NBC), The Smurfs, rather than worrying too much about whether or not little Johnny and Janey liked retreads of The Herculoids and Space Ghost.
That being said...there's not much more I can add about Space Stars itself. Warners is promoting the fact that the "recently uncovered" (where were they?) educational "Space Science" segments have been put back in the episodes for the first time...which means ___ all to me, since I hate my Saturday morning television to be overtly "educational" (the only Saturday morning character who could possibly teach me anything is Isis in her little "morals" wrap-ups...and trust me: she ain't teaching me the things I want to know from her). Still...they're well-done, I suppose ("Spacey Acey"'s explanation of the ocean's tides cleared up a few things for me), and they're at least half-way integrated into the stories, more or less. Even though many animation aficionados disparage H-B's limited animation style, it is a "style" that you can get into, achieving a sparse, kabuki-like, herky-jerky feel that can be fun if you're tolerant. The character designs were solid, too, right down to even minor creatures and villains (Mr. Galaxy looked, delightfully, like a cross between Gorgeous George and a peroxided Victor Mature). Electra constantly poses like a statuesque Barbarella; the water-head Astromites reminded me of disco versions of the It's Alive! baby; and "Spacey Acey," as a hilariously plastered-sounding Astro jibbers, cracked me up with his Freddy Mercury/porn-ready 'stache (he looks very reluctant to dance with stacked Jan in one episode...). I was even pleasantly surprised by the dialogue, which was frequently amusing and even clever at times, particularly in the deliveries by the talented voice cast (when a bitchy, fey Space Ace sighs, "I deserve better, I really do," after Astro screws up for the umpteenth time, it somehow delivers a big laugh). Do I think Space Stars is top-shelf Hanna-Barbera? No...but it's a lot better than I expected it to be.
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 transfers for Space Stars: The Complete Series looked quite good, with sharp images, solid color, and just a few screen imperfections. Nice.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track was clean, too, with little hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions available.
No extras for Space Stars: The Complete Series (would it kill someone at the Archive to throw a couple of vintage Saturday morning TV commercials and show promos into these collections?).
Surprisingly entertaining. Look...I'm not going to put Space Stars near the top of any list of "classic" Hanna-Barbera productions. However, I did enjoy myself watching this frequently funny outing--something you can't always say for later H-B efforts. I'm recommending Space Stars: The Complete Series.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.