Director – James Goldstone, Teleplay – Ed Spielman, Producer – Howard Alston, Photography – Robert Stevens, Music – Lalo Schifrin, Visual Effects/Miniatures – Boss Film Corporation, Production Design – John F. De Cuir, Jr.. Production Company – Marstar Productions, Inc/Disney Television
Brian McNamara (Commander Jonathan Hays), Duncan Regehr (Captain Jacob Brown), Julia Montgomery (Dr Sally Arthur), Jason Michas (Jessie ‘Beanie’ Bienstock), Tom Breznahan (Huxley Wells), Margaret Langrick (Luz Sanstone), Peter Donat (Admiral Beasley), Bruce Harwood (Dr Leland Eugene), Sean O’Byrne (Vance Arthur), Ric Reid (Captain Forbes), Henry Kingi (The Shell), Dinah Gaston (Lani Miyori), Frank C. Turner (Willy), Andrew Kavadas (Brody Arnold)
The year 2088. A group of young freshly graduated recruits are selected for a mission – to man the spaceship Earth Star Voyager on a twenty-six year mission to travel to and explore the earth-like planet Demeter orbiting Berenson’s Star as a possible home to relocate humanity away from a polluted Earth. Soon out onto the mission, the middle-aged Captain Forbes is accidentally ejected from an airlock accident and young Commander Jonathan Hays must step in to become the new captain. They encounter the abandoned ship Vanguard Explorer and rescue its’ still alive captain Jacob Brown who joins the Voyager crew. The Vanguard Explorer was attacked by the Outlaw Technology Zone, rebels who use illicit technologies and have converted most of the crew into cyborg Shells. As the journey continues, it appears that the OTZ is closely following the Voyager with the intent of claiming them too.
Earth Star Voyager was a tv mini-series that aired on the Disney Channel. It was originally made to air in a four-hour timeslot. The story is clearly intended in an open-ended way that Disney were hoping to spin off as a subsequent series, although it failed to garner the ratings to go any further than that.
Earth Star Voyager aired four months after the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94). Both shows come in the same vein, following a crew on a long interstellar voyage aboard a ship – there is the almost certain probability that Earth Star Voyager was intended to jump aboard the bandwagon of a resurgence in televised space opera that it was seen that The Next Generation was heralding. One became an instant classic and a huge hit and the other has been relegated to little more than a forgotten footnote.
One of the reasons that Earth Star Voyager failed to go to series was that the pitch seems to have been the unappealing idea of ‘teenagers in space’. While this is dealt with via a clever justification – they are chosen young because of the length of the mission – it becomes clear that Disney thought that the only audience for such a show would be a juvenile one, whereas Star Trek: The Next Generation (apart from the casting of the character of the much hated Wesley Crusher) made its appeal to an adult audience. Similarly, the various Star Trek series always made a point of casting the crew complement with characters of different ethnicities and later species, whereas here there is not even a single crewmember who is not white skinned or speaks with an American accent.
Everything on the show seems laughably dated. The computer displays are all dull monochrome line diagrams that take the better part of thirty seconds to load – something that must have seen cutting edge technology at the time but today seems a vision of the future that was outmoded not even ten years after Earth Star Voyager aired. By being a little more imaginative than this, by casting its designs well into the future and looking beyond the present, Star Trek: The Next Generation came up with a timeless looks that still looks futuristic when seen today.
Perhaps the one idea that the show does predict is the Borg – the cybernetically-enhanced collective that became the favourite villains of The Next Generation after memorably appearing in 1989 – with the idea of the cyborg rewired Shells. It is quite possible that The Next Generation borrowed its idea from here. The computer with the petulant female personality that develops a crush on Tom Breznahan is one groan-worthy aspect of the show; again, compare this to The Next Generation‘s female-voiced computer that managed to avoids any of this silliness.
The main other problem is that Earth Star Voyager is not terribly interesting a mini-series. The plot takes a long-time to go anywhere. Most of the first two-thirds of it seems episodic – encounters with wild man Duncan Regehr aboard the remains of his ship and the outlaw technological crazies – but the story lacks an overall drive. We are still waiting for the show to go somewhere as the second part kicks in. Despite it being all about their setting forth into uncharted waters, most of the story seems to be about how every step of the way they keep encountering leftover expeditions or are absurdly easily followed by others. Even when the mini-series gets its story together, the villain of the show lacks much of a threat and the eventual revelation of their scheme seems improbably far-fetched.
The sets are well designed – some using real world locations that were built as exhibits for Expo 86 in Vancouver and are still tourist attractions around the city today. Where the show starts to fall down is with some of the weak model effects work, which has been poorly photographed, making the ship look like just a routine 1980s era spaceship doing endless passes of the camera every time we see it.
Full mini-series available online here:-