Author: Mark Bautista
I love Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. I’m sure that’s not a surprise to anyone who’s had a class with me (I usually incorporate my love of the Toy Story movies into my obligatory icebreaker), but it’s honestly a surprise to me because I haven’t really thought about the show in years. But with this year marking the 20th anniversary of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – The Adventure Begins, I thought it’s as good a time as any to revisit my long-lost childhood love—and it’s just as kick-ass as I remember.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (henceforth referred to as just Star Command because that title is too long to type out) was a 2-D animated cartoon show starring Buzz Lightyear. Airing for two quick seasons on ABC and other Disney-affiliate channels, the series followed Buzz and his Space Ranger buddies (the goofy janitor, Booster, the hothead rookie, Mira Nova, and the combat robot, XR) as they journeyed through space, protecting the galaxy from evil.
“Mark, wait,” you raise up your arms in confusion. “I thought Buzz was just an action figure?” And he still is! The genius of Star Command is that it doesn’t invalidate the existence of the Buzz you know and love from Toy Story. The series is actually framed as something the toys in Andy’s room watch on a day-to-day basis when Andy’s at school— the Buzz toy we all know and love is merchandise from this TV show. It’s a whole meta-thing.
So while Tim Allen still voices Buzz (at least in the pilot), the character of the show is a different character. Same personality, but he’s the “real” Buzz Lightyear, the version who can actually fly and shoot lasers from his forearms.
Star Command is a different beast from Toy Story, of course. Instead of the poignancy of the movies of Woody and the gang, Star Command gives you wacky, over-the-top space adventures filled with weird aliens, campy villains, and space explosions. And it’s just as awesome as I remember it. Will you cry as hard as you did during that infamous incinerator scene in Toy Story 3? No, but what Star Command lacks in complex emotional power it makes up for in sheer, unadulterated fun.
Take this basic setup: Buzz works for Star Command, the Galaxy Police Force, an advanced HQ complete with the requisite grumpy Commander figure. And Star Command is in constant battle with Evil Emperor Zurg, who has an army of yellow drones for combat, talking brains for technology development, and little roly-poly bug aliens as minions. It’s an eternal battle between good and evil.
Remember Toy Story 2’s opening scene, where Rex the Dinosaur played a Buzz Lightyear video game? And it showed how Buzz Lightyear was actually supposed to operate in the “real world?” Star Command is like that opening scene times ten. There’s actually so much intense world-building here it actually makes the video game sequence look hollow and basic in comparison. Upon re-watch, the series’ pilot renewed my appreciation for the crazy amount of detail the creators put into the show. Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley (who also created Kim Possible; oh yeah) constructed a world so rich in lore that it’s impossible not to be immersed in that fiction. It’s unapologetic about how goofy it is, and that’s what I love about it.
I especially love the pilot, called The Adventure Begins, for this reason. A major part of the plot involves Zurg trying to take over this alien artifact, the Uni-Mind, for his own nefarious purposes. Because the Uni-Mind unites its alien race through a shared mind link, Zurg attempts to engineer the artifact with his own, unmatched evil, so that he can send a nefarious mind-control ray throughout the galaxy.
Like I said, goofy, but the show plays it so earnestly that it’s a blast to watch. The creators could have easily said, “Zurg just created a mind-control ray,” but they actually chose to justify its existence by way of a pre-existing alien lifestyle— that kind of creative thought process blows me away. (And the effects of the mind control ray are actually scary—the red eyes of the possessed population are close to nightmare inducing).
Star Command is Star Wars meets Toy Story—what’s not to love? This show was the very best, the cream of the crop of Saturday Morning cartoons. It’s an unironic, pulpy set-up of good vs. evil, filled with explosions, excitement, and with characters who are easy to love. And a killer theme song (probably the best instrumental Disney has produced for television). If only Disney Plus would put this on their service…
Good or Nostalgia?: You bet your asteroid this is an underrated masterpiece.
Mark Bautista | Peanut Butter Enthusiast | KXSU Arts Reporter