The Starlost (1973-1974): An Assessment   Leave a comment

Above:  My Starlost-Related Books

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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We believe that [The Starlost] is a fresh and startling exercise of the imagination–an audacious television concept which lends itself perfectly to sophisticated production techniques and to unlimited dramatic stories and characters.

–Keir Dullea, in The Starlost series pitch film (1973)

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Actually, The Starlost was a stale and tedious exercise in ineptitude–a stultifying television series which lent itself to subpar production techniques and to amateurish dramatic stories and characters.  The series was awash in bad hair, worse wardrobe, lamentable science, poor storytelling, and rank gibberish.  How else can one explain a “Class-G solar star,” “space senility,” and “radiation virus”?  Episodic television was a poor choice for a series that should have been serialized.  With few exceptions, nothing that happened in one episode influenced any other episode.  For example, Devon became the commander of the Earth Ship Ark at the end of The Return of Oro (episode #12 in the proper viewing order).  Yet Devon did not seem to know that he was the Ark commander in the remaining four episodes of the series.  Most importantly, though, the series jettisoned its premise early in the sixteen-episode-long run.

The series pitch film is a wonder to behold, even with its faded colors.  Keir Dullea and Douglas Trumbull, their hopes for the series not yet dashed, pitch The Starlost as if it were to become a classic.  The ship visuals come from Silent Running (1972), a fine and profound film on which Trumbull worked.  In the pitch film, the name of Dullea’s character is Victor, not Devon.

I know, based on reading that Douglas Trumbull, one of two Executive Producers, left The Starlost before the series ended.  I do know when that happened, though.  I do know that Trumbull’s name remained on the opening credits until the end.  Furthermore, I know that Science Consultant Ben Bova left a week after Trumbull did.  I know, too, that Bova’s name eventually disappeared from the end credits.

The fictional counterpart to The Starlost in Ben Bova’s 1975 novel, The Starcrossed, was The Starcrossed, based on Romeo and Juliet, yet set aboard spaceships and on planets.  That fictional series was also horrendous, but the studio, in the novel, kept making it.  The fictional series, The Starcrossed, found its audience.  Many science fiction fans, in Bova’s novel, enjoyed criticizing the series.  They watched it then criticized it.  The Starlost seemed never to have found its audience in first-run syndication, though.

The Starcrossed (the novel) is hilarious.  Likewise, the novelization (1975) and the graphic novel adaptation (2011) of Harlan Ellison’s original script for Phoenix Without Ashes (rewritten and turned into Voyage of Discovery) are enjoyable reads.  The novelization includes an informative introduction Ellison wrote.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about The Starlost and what went wrong with it.

The concept and premise of The Starlost are interesting.  Proper execution of it would lead to a series worth watching repeatedly.  This is perhaps more likely in this age of streaming services and serialization.

As I conclude this project, I know I will carry some seemingly odd memories with me.  I will never think of green egg crate mattress roam the same way again, at least.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

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