Power Rangers: My Journey
Part 8: Punch it, Chewie
By Ben Taylor
Last time we were here, we discussed Lost Galaxy, which I consider to be the end of the Zordon Era. Lost Galaxy was a galaxy-spanning space opera with insectoid raider villains and some dubious choices here and there. This time we return to Earth with what is the true start of the next generation of Power Rangers (and not a Patrick Stewart in sight, sadly) with…
Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue (aka – I believe the kids would call it “Straight Fire”)
Lightspeed Rescue (referred to from here on as Lightspeed or LSR) is the 8th season of Power Rangers and drags the franchise back to Earth, literally to a city called Mariner Bay, which we discover was built on the site of an ancient demon temple. This is where we get our first major change of the season. This season’s powers are made by Humans, a military style organization that is the eponymous Lightspeed, as opposed to strange alien heads floating in tubes, weird Dudley-Do-Right aliens, or mystical Quasar Sabers, and it really does bring a different feeling to the season. Lightspeed includes a commanding officer, an R&D division, a home base full of people doing jobs such as watching scanners and analyzing data. It’s completely unlike anything we’ve seen before in regard to the actual Ranger side of things. Yes, in Lost Galaxy, Terra Venture had all those things, but they weren’t related to the Rangers. They were secondary. Here it’s all related directly to the Power Rangers.
Unlike IN SPACE and Lost Galaxy, the people making Lightspeed have a pretty firm grasp on what the Sentai they were adapting was all about, in this case Kyukyu Sentai GoGoFive, which roughly translates as Rescue Squadron GoGoFive, which featured a lot of the same themes as Lightspeed, even though the organization in the Sentai is more private that military. The ability to adequately prepare shows makes the season feel more cohesive than the previous two seasons, and less flying by the seat of their pants.
Lightspeed is also a very different Ranger team. The first major difference is that for the first time in franchise history, the Rangers identities are not secret. The first time they morph, they do so in the middle of a busy area with people watching them. These aren’t some “overbearing and overemotional” (as Zordon calls the original team in the very first episode) teenagers being selected by chance. These aren’t the hand-picked replacements for said people and they aren’t mystical warriors chosen by prophecy. They are five people with jobs to do, and they want to do it as efficiently as possible. They’re more likely to pick up a blaster and shoot a monster before it sees them than run up and challenge it to a kung fu fight, even if they can throw down in a good old fashioned fight too.
Another very different aspect to Lightspeed is the second part of the subtitle: Rescue. At several points we see the Rangers saving people, and I don’t mean by defeating monsters, I mean systematically getting people out of burning buildings or from being stuck in the elevator of crumbling buildings. Some of these rescues are on foot, at other times, the Rangers use their individual Zords, all of which are styled after rescue vehicles. It was so cool to see things I had been missing from previous seasons. I didn’t know what I was missing until I watched Lightspeed.
At the beginning of the season, we get to see three people open a tomb and free the demon forces. In the Lightspeed Aquabase (we will come back to this), after the demons reveal themselves, we see this season’s “Mentor” character, Captain Mitchell, opening a series of dossiers and authorising the assembly of the Lightspeed Rescue Ranger team, each of them an expert in their field. I specify the Ranger team here because the infrastructure of Lightspeed is already in place at the beginning of the season, not really giving us any clues to its history (another thing I will talk about more later), but this sequence shows us that this is a moment that Lightspeed has been preparing for.
There are a LOT of characters to cover this season with the rotating cast of villains, six Rangers, and two main support characters, so I guess that we should get to it. Please bear in mind, these are my impressions of the characters and not direct synopses taken from anywhere. Usually, I start off by talking about the season’s Villains; however, the villain situation this season is… complicated, so instead I’m going to discuss the Lightspeed personnel first, then Captain William Mitchell and Miss Fairweather, and then onto the villains. I’ll start with the five main Rangers themselves.
Selected to be this seasons’ Red Ranger is Carter Grayson, or as I like to call him, “Badass.” When he is recruited, Carter is working as a firefighter in Mariner Bay. He chose to become a firefighter after he was saved from a fire in his home by a firefighter, whom he has idolised his entire life. This also led Carter to be very single minded on being the best he can be and not taking time off to relax. Instead, all of his energy goes to serving and protecting the public. Personality wise, it would have been easy for the writers to veer into the trope of making Carter super serious and not having a fun side (much like they do later in SPD with Sky), but even before his focus episode where he learns to take time off, Carter still has a funny bone. We saw Carter was a different kind of Red Ranger and therefore Lightspeed was a different kind of team. When upon first seeing one of the demons, instead of challenging it to a fight, he tries to run it over in a HumVee.
Taking up the mantle of Yellow Ranger this season is Kelsey. Allegedly, Kelsey is a “Professional Mountain Climber,” though I’m not sure how one does that. She is an extreme sports enthusiast which, to be fair, only really manifests itself as her rollerblading everywhere, and she includes the trope of “extreme athletes take unnecessary risks and don’t think things through.” Even after a focus episode where she doesn’t think before acting and it causes her to get caught, unmorphed, in an explosion and suffer injuries, she’s still as eager to jump into situations blindly. Her personality is bubbly, joyful, and caring. She shares a very close relationship, and is often seen doing things, with this season’s Blue Ranger, Chad.
Suiting up in Blue this season, is Chad, aquatic operations expert. Recruited from working at the equivalent of Seaworld, Chad has a knack with things from the sea, often preferring to just take an oxygen tank and spend time swimming around the aqua base than interacting with others. Chad is an incredibly well trained martial artist. We even meet his former sensei at one point, and Chad even spends time trying to teach Kelsey Tai Chi so that she can use it to meditate and relax a little. Personality wise, Chad is the quietest of the team, not saying a whole lot unless he has to (which is good because I have to be honest here, he’s not the best actor) and he has issues talking to women he finds attractive. Also he ends up falling in love with a mermaid that is the daughter of King Neptune. She gets the Rangers involved when the demons steal Neptune’s trident… Yeah… it’s as goofy as it sounds… and I love it.
Joel is the Green Ranger this season. He’s the Ranger who probably gets the most screen time, or at least it seems that way, as he’s not only the Ranger most likely to speak up, he has a storyline where he basically falls in love with one of the major support characters this season, Miss Fairweather. In his civilian life, Joel was a stunt pilot, the “Sky Cowboy.” Other than wearing a cowboy hat, he displays no other cowboy-like qualities so weird name I guess, but branding is branding. From the beginning, Joel is set up as a heart throb, but Miss Fairwather keeps turning him down. Until she doesn’t and then they even end up getting married after the season end. Through most of the season, even though he’s trying to woo her, Joel and Miss F have a fairly adversarial relationship. Sometimes it’s when Joel wants to go off book while on mission, at others it’s just when Miss F wants to needle him in their personal life. Joel is a confident person, comfortable with being in the public eye. He’s also used to being the star of the show, so he has some issues early on working in a team, but he gets over those quickly.
Rounding out the team is the Pink Ranger, aka Dana. Dana is a medic. We don’t really get to see Dana in a civilian life as she is a member of Lightspeed when the series begins. She is billed as a medical professional, though it’s quite clear she’s about 18 year old at the start of the series. In a later season, we see Dana is a trained pediatrician, but the fact that basic training is 4 years for that, the timeline doesn’t add up. It has been speculated that it is likely the only medicine you see her practice during the season is basic first aid, she could actually be undertaking an internship under one of Lightspeed’s more experienced medics, and then later undertakes more in depth training after the season ends. Though that doesn’t quite add up either, as Time Force (the season in which we see Dana as a practicing doctor) takes place in 2001 and Lightspeed isn’t really dated, though it is assumed that the seasons take place in the year they air, unless stated otherwise. So, presumably, Lightspeed would have been 2000, only 1 year earlier. Dana is serious and focused, with a passion for various kinds of science, which makes sense as she was raised to join Lightspeed. She is the daughter of the commanding officer, Captain Mitchell. I won’t lie to you, one of the first things you will notice about Dana is how ABSURDLY SHORT her skirts are, and I’m talking Deanna Troi in Encounter at Farpoint short (that’s a Star Trek: The Next Generation reference), which is kind of weird when you consider a) she’s wearing a military uniform, and b) her father is the commanding officer, who probably had some say in said uniform. Small fun note about Dana, she is the first Pink Ranger to buck the “K” (or C) sound trend at the start of their name. Her predecessors were Kim, Katherine, Cassie, Kendrix, and Karone.
This season’s sixth Ranger is very cool. He is Ryan, the Titanium Ranger, and Dana’s older brother, therefore Captain Mitchell’s son, who grew up with the demons. When Ryan was around 4, he, Dana, and then-not-Captain Mitchell were in a car accident that left the family dangling over a cliff. The Captain had a good hold on Dana, but when Ryan was about to fall, Diabolico (we’ll talk about him in the villain section) showed up and promised to save Ryan in exchange for taking him. Captain Mitchell, under duress, agreed. Diabolico said that he would not see Ryan again until his 20th birthday. Ryan was then raised by the demons for 16 years and as far as anyone but Captain Mitchell knew, had died in that crash. So, on what happens to be Ryan’s birthday (which creepily Dana and the Captain celebrate with cake every year), Ryan sneaks into the Aquabase and steals the experimental Titanium Morpher, starting the usual evil Ranger cycle when he uses it against the Rangers. The Rangers struggle, eventually stop him, and he turns good and joins the team. HOWEVER… there are two things that really need to be discussed about Ryan and the Titanium Ranger. First of all, the Titanium Ranger is a WHOLLY AMERICAN construct. Meaning any footage including him is specially shot for Lightspeed Rescue. This made filming expensive, which leads to point two, he disappears for like 90% of the season. Usually this annoys me (yes, I’m aware they are constrained by the sentai footage) but it really doesn’t this season. Why? Because Lightspeed is a team of people who are PRACTICING EXPERTS IN THEIR FIELDS. Having grown up among the demons for 16ish years, he understands things about them that the others don’t, so it makes SENSE that he is the one that leaves to study ruins and find a non-military way of ending the conflict. Much like each of the other Ranger’s roles are playing to their strengths, this plays to his. The Titanium Ranger avoids one of my least favorite tropes in Power Rangers. I know you’ve heard me discuss it before, but I hate when an evil Ranger joins the Power Rangers and just suddenly can’t do all the stuff that made him a threat (Trent in Dino Thunder is particularly guilty of this). Here, Ryan retains a lot of his powers, but since he’s off screen most of the time, it doesn’t matter that he overshadows the other Rangers.
Onto our two main “support” characters, Captain Mitchell and Miss Fairweather.
Captain Mitchell is the head of Lightspeed operations. We do see at points in the season that even he has superior officers to answer to, but when it comes to day-to-day, Captain Mitchell is in charge and is responsible for the training regimes that we often see the Lightspeed Rangers going through. He’s also tied very tightly to three of our Rangers, being not only Dana and Ryans’ father, but he was also the firefighter who saved Carter when Carter was a child, a fact Carter finds out after he’s been recruited, meaning that their bond of mentor and student strengthens as well. Personality wise, Captain Mitchell is stern but usually fair. Coming off as a bit aloof in the early season, he has an annoying habit of not explaining his orders, instead forcing the Rangers to work out why he is ordering them to do something after they have done it. As I said, this is only really in the early season, and he opens up a little to the Rangers after Ryan’s return, which was a really nice turning point for the character. There’s another nice moment in the finale, where the Aquabase is getting trashed, as is the tradition now that IN SPACE introduced that trope, and Captain Mitchell freezes. Unable to deal with the destruction of everything he’s worked for, he has a “going down with the ship” moment, which leads to our other support character taking the reins for a while.
Angela Fairweather, or Miss Fairweather (or Miss F as the Rangers call her), is the head of Lightspeed’s R&D/Design labs and she is responsible for designing and building the Rangers equipment, from morphers, to Zords, to Battlizers, and more. Miss F is a beautiful genius with the patience of a saint. Though, if someone wears that patience thin, they are going to get the sharp edge of a razor sharp wit. The running theme of her cat and mouse game with Joel is fun to watch. He makes advances and she does her best to avoid them in every instance. Throughout the series, Miss F is always looking to evolve the Rangers’ tech against the threats from the demonic underworld and while it is apparent that she doesn’t hold a military rank, she definitely holds sway within the organization, even being listened to when she issues orders in the absence of the Captain.
The main heroes are now covered, which leaves the season’s villains, so here goes. This season’s main overarching villain is Queen Bansheera, demon queen, and not present for like 90% of the season, except in projections and voice overs, though when she IS present, she’s an imposing and threatening presence, even if she is stuck in a statue for most of her time on screen. In fact the main thrust of the villains’ desire to destroy Mariner Bay, is that the palace once on the site where the city is built, belonged to Queen Bansheera and they want to have it ready for when they summon the Queen back from the otherworld. Given that the Queen is not present, most of the actual antagonizing falls to Bansheera’s lieutenants, Diabolico, Loki (pronounced Low-Kai), and Vypra, and then later yet another lieutenant, Prince Olypmius, the grown up form of Impus, who is the son of Queen Bansheera. We meet Impus at the beginning of the season. Lost yet? Yeah, I would be too if I hadn’t watched the show.
It gets even more complicated when the various lieutenants start making power plays among themselves vying for Bansheera’s favor. While Queen Bansheera is the “main villain,” she is more the person in whose name deeds are being done (though the few times she gets directly involved she wrecks shop). Let’s talk a bit about each of the villains, not to the length of the Rangers, but still.
The two minor villains are Vypra and Loki. Of the two, Vypra sees more screen time being the “hot female villain” who seems to have become a running thing in Power Rangers since… well… since Divatox, really. The issue is, to put it frankly, her acting is not good. It’s the performative equivalent of an asthmatic chipmunk trying to fight its way out of a wet paper bag and failing. She is by far the worst actor in a major role to have been on the show in 7 seasons, and that is saying something when this season has Chad and previous ones had Kat and Justin. Ultimately, it really becomes all I noticed about her, that and apparently, for some reason, a demon has an obsession with a car that has a machine gun. Loki is… there. He’s the henchperson of the lieutenants who all of a sudden, out of nowhere, at the end of the season, is suddenly Diabolco’s best friend of decades even though they had talked the rest of the season.
Diabolico is the “focus” villain early in the season. Queen Bansheera trusts him to not only take Mariner Bay and rebuild her palace, but to care for her infant son, Impus. After many failures, Diabolico played his trump card, Ryan, who becomes the Titanium Ranger. This proves to be the beginning of his own initial downfall, as with Ryan’s help, the Rangers defeat Diabolico. Drained of his power, he rapidly ages Impus into Olympius. After Olympius tries to kill Loki and Vypra, they decide to resurrect Diabolico, and he and Olympius enter into a battle for control, which Diaboloco wins. Bansheera consumes Vypra’s soul to power herself, then uses that power to take control of Diaboloco’s body, forcing him to shoot a weapon at the Rangers who are fighting Loki at close range. The weapon kills Loki (this is right after the whole, “sudden best friends” thing), which causes Diaboloco to turn on Bansheera and… OH GOD I’VE GONE CROSS EYED. Yes, the villain situation is really complicated compared to other seasons, but it’s good watching.
The other thing that I’ll talk about in every column if there is one, is the seasonal crossover (not all seasons have them). Unlike the previous crossover, “Trakeena’s Revenge” is a complete mess, spending more time focusing on Carter and a Young Girl who spots some monsters than the relationship between the two Ranger teams. It hand-waves away things that really need explanation, like how the Lost Galaxy Rangers get to Earth from Mironoi. Neither Mike nor Karone are even mentioned (as discussed in the last column, it is Kendrix who has the Pink Ranger powers here). It also featured what might be the stupidest thing I have ever seen in a Power Rangers episode. When the Young Girl tries to alert someone, in this case a receptionist, of the existence of the monsters, the woman just says “there’s no such thing as monsters.” THE POWER RANGERS ARE PUBLIC FIGURES! THERE ARE MONSTER ATTACKS ON YOUR CITY LIKE EVERY OTHER DAY. Ugh. Even if you don’t prescribe to the universal theory that all of Power Rangers takes place in the same universe, the receptionist should at least have known about the attacks on Mariner Bay, let alone, oh let see here… I don’t know, maybe a little thing like THE EARTH BEING INVADED DURING “IN SPACE.” As I’ve said before, I don’t know much about the backstage politics and goings on in Power Rangers, as I’m fairly new to the franchise, but it is widely touted that the crossover was also plagued by behind the scenes turmoil. Danny Slavin, who plays Leo in Lost Galaxy, split part way through filming due to a wage dispute,leaving the Red Ranger morphed 90% of the time, and Amy Miller who played Trakeena in Lost Galaxy, just flat out refused to return when she realised she would be getting less screen time than a small child, and as such, they wrote in the whole mask and voice change due to scars motif.
One cool note about the crossover is that it was the first crossover to receive a home video release, which meant that it offered a glimpse into Lightspeed Rescue’s future. When the video was released, things like the OmegaMegaZord, the Max Solarzord, the V Landers, and Olympius hadn’t debuted in the main series yet. This had some…unintended consequences, like Olympius’ voice being much more understated, and Vypra and Loki’s strange loyalties. Oh, and there is a really cool moment where the Lost Galaxy Rangers enter the Lightspeed Zord and power it up with their powers, the Lights of Orion. Great moment.
This season’s Morphing call is simply “Lightspeed Rescue,” and the morphing sequence is simple, but fitting. I know a lot of people have issue with the Ranger outfits this season. The color and whale sections look a lot like pinwheel mints. Viewers also had an issue with the Rangers’ helmets being the first helmets to lack silver mouth sections, but this doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. I didn’t get the mint impression as others did, though I can see why such a break from tradition with the helmets bothered some people, but these were designed by military personnel and needed to be as smooth as possible. I really liked the added touch of the internal rebreather we can see during the morphing sequence.
And speaking of being military designed, I would like to talk about Lightspeed’s Zords and technology. I really like the Rescue Zords, the Rail Rescues, and even the Omega Zords. The one Zord that stands out as weird, is the Lifeforce Megazord, which drains the Rangers’ life energy to power itself, and is shoehorned into the last few episodes. It feels a bit like it was only added because it played such a big role in the finale, they couldn’t cut it out of the Sentai footage. Everything else, the Battlizer, the upgrades, new weapons, fits the theme really well. Also the model work is exemplary in this season. We’re still a season or two away from the CGI Zords of Wild Force and one season beyond of the frankly laughable Galactabeasts of Lost Galaxy.
But the question is, where did this tech come from? As I covered earlier, this is the first season to not have the Powers come from a “mystical” source (it could be argued that Turbo had a more mundane thing going on, but Zordon still magicked those powers out of freaking nowhere). This season, the powers are civilian. It is basically stated that everything Lightspeed has in the way of tech and Zords is thanks to Miss F and her team. How did they get to where they are? Well the best theory I have read is that Lightspeed took parts of old wrecked Zords and machine empire tech and basically reversed engineered it. That is part of the reason that the Commander Center of Aquabase feels a lot like the bridge of the MegaVoyager from IN SPACE.
As I said before, in Lost Galaxy, it was explicitly set in the universe of Mighty Morphin. Leo and Mike are from Angel Grove. Leo states he was there during the “Countdown to Destruction,” so Lightspeed is the real start of the Ranger “extended” universe. I LIKE the idea that all of the Ranger seasons (except those that explicitly don’t, of which I have been informed there are at least two), take place in the same universe, and apparently so do the makers of the show, with references and crossovers. From what I can tell, the timelines are a bit out of whack, but that is dealable, given that manipulation of the time stream is a plot point next season.
I could keep going on and on about Lightspeed, but frankly I have to draw the line. I LOVE Lightspeed Rescue. I’m not sure if I communicated that here adequately, but Lightspeed just hits on all levels for me. I’m even acutely aware of the season’s faults, but they aren’t enough to really affect my enjoyment of it. I have no idea if this season will resonate with you all as it did with me, but I love Lightspeed. I hope that you will join me next time as it will be time for… Time Force.
SEASON POWER RANKINGS
- Lightspeed Rescue
- IN SPACE
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 3
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 2
- Lost Galaxy
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 1
If you want to discuss things more or follow me, you can find me on Twitter @BobTGoldfish, or tune in to hear me co-hosting Voices from the Grid (or VftG)’s sister show, AwesomeMania, where Mike and I talk about things in the world of professional wrestling. I also do Twitch streams over at twitch.tv/321_tv, which we announce on Twitter beforehand. Speaking of Twitter, we just got a Twitter for Voices from the Grid, which can be found at @vftg_pr.
Until Then –
Guys, Gals, and Non-aligned Pals, in the words of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, “Be Excellent to each other and Party On Non-gender specific honorifics!”