“When you think about it, it’s almost weird, kind of a great joke. But it’s not funny. Here we create these machines and then they have the ability to destroy us. Science has to do better than that. We must keep control of the machines we create. If not, the world will end up inventing its own destruction.” – Sandor
This next episode of STAR BLAZERS puts the focus on one of my favorite characters in the series, Sandor, the Star Force’s chief mechanic. He’s been around since the beginning, but apart from accompanying the away team attacking the Reflex Gun and assisting IQ-9 in neutralizing the Desslok Space Mine control mine, we haven’t learned a whole lot about him. That’s about to change. And while, as is typical in this stretch of episodes, STAR BLAZERS blunted the sharpest edges of the content here, it’s still a strong entry, mostly due to the emphasis on the relationship between Sandor and Wildstar, and their mutual history.
As the episode opens, the Star Force is still headed towards Balan, the halfway point on their voyage to Iscandar. Presently, they are 8 days away from that waypoint, and they’ve come across a strange object floating in space. Captain Avatar has Wildstar dispatch a recon plane to investigate, and despite the fact that he was clearly in the last shot (and the pilot of the recon plane is wearing a uniform with red piping rather than blue) Wildstar reports that Sandor is flying it.
There’s a good reason for this substitution. As the plane approaches the object, it begins to come apart at the seams. Watching a playback of the event, Sandor reports, “Whew! I was sure lucky to get out of that one! Just in time!” In YAMATO, though, Sandor isn’t flying the plane, and the pilot doesn’t get out at all–leading to one of the most gruesome deaths in the series, as this unnamed pilot is as demolished as the plane he’s flying in.
Watching a playback of the event, and determining that the plane was destroyed without any sort of an outside blast, Sandor theorizes that the cause of the destruction was a magnetron wave, which set up vibrations in the ship that caused it to vibrate itself apart. Worse, the enemy satellite has become attracted to the Argo, moving when the ship moves, so there’s no way to go around it.
Fortunately, Sandor has developed a seamless plane, which he thinks might be able to withstand the destructive vibrations of the magnetron wave. Wildstar, of course, wants to be the one to pilot it and attack the enemy fortress, but Sandor isn’t having it–the plane is his baby, he’s going to fly it. Ultimately, the two men decide to combine their efforts. Fortunately, the seamless plane is as good as Sandor has said, and stands up to the magnetron wave. But when Wildstar attempts to shoot into the ports on the surface of the structure, automatic shutters close to block the shot. If they’re going to shut down the magnetron wave, Wildstar and Sandor are going to have to venture inside the base itself.
Entering into the structure of the Gamilon fortress, Wildstar and Sandor find the interior to be not sleek and polished metal, like you’d expect, but rather much more organic-looking. The place is a maze, and they spend time having to climb down precipitous drops. What’s more, they discover robot servitors wandering the rough-hewn corridors of the place, on the lookout for intruders.
As the pair conceal themselves from the robots, Sandor takes this moment to unburden himself of a secret that he’s been keeping from Wildstar ever since their mission to Iscandar began. Sandor had been a close friend and classmate of Wildstar’s now-dead brother Alex. While the elder Wildstar was assigned the command of the Paladin upon graduating from the Space Fighter Training School, Sandor went into spacecraft maintenance.
Three days before the Battle of Pluto witnessed in the first episode of the series, the Paladin came into dock for repairs, which Sandor was in charge of making. He and his team carried them out swiftly, and ever since he’s felt some responsibility for Alex’s death. “I can’t help but feel if I had enough time to repair his ship properly, the Paladin could have gotten him and his crew back safely, and your brother would be alive today. If I had done a better job, his ship could have survived the Gamilons’ attack.”
Wildstar is shocked and saddened by this revelation, but his sympathy quickly turns towards Sandor as the engineer continues to torment himself over Alex Widstar’s demise. “You’re blaming yourself too much, Sandor. You did your best. In these times, things like that happen.” Lost in emotion, Wildstar is almost killed by one of the robots, but Sandor pulls him out of the way and destroys the automaton with his sidearm.
As they descend deeper into the complex, Sandor begins to tell Wildstar about a moment that changed his life forever. It was when he was in grammar school, and his family went to a new amusement park on the moon. He chose to drive a rocket car, even though he wasn’t really up to it, and he collided with another vehicle. “It was a terrible crash, and I’m still living with the consequences of it.” In point of fact, it was a bit worse than STAR BLAZERS let on.
The important detail that STAR BLAZERS excised from this YAMATO episode is that young Sandor wasn’t the only one in that rocket car he was piloting. His older sister was also along for the ride in that vehicle, and that crash cost her her life. It was a seminal event, the cause of his seriousness and studiousness about life, a tragedy that he can never take back.
Back at the Argo, the magnetron wave is beginning to affect the ship, causing pieces of the deck plating to shear themselves away from the ship. The rest of the Star Force can do nothing but wait and wonder, as Wildstar and Sandor are beyond radio contact inside the magnetron base. But time is clearly of the essence. Venture reckons that the ship’s odds of surviving a space warp from within the magnetron wave field are about 50%, but Captain Avatar tells him to begin preparations nonetheless.
Sandor has realized that the corridors he and Wildstar have been walking along are the circuits of a giant computer, and he’s followed them back to the brain of the installation. He and Wildstar set about destroying this computer core–Sandor musing about the role of technology in life all the while. (In YAMATO, he laments that he had wanted to be a painter, but became a scientist in the aftermath of his sister’s death to prove to himself than men were the masters of their technology.)
Unfortunately, as they begin their work, the computer core detects them, and its self-defense tendrils flood the chamber, smashing Wildstar to the ground and entangling Sandor immobile. Meanwhile, back at the Argo, the calculations for the space warp have been completed, and Captain Avatar stares at his pocket watch anxiously.
Realizing that the Star Force may have to attempt a warp and leave them behind, Sandor urges Wildstar to his feet and reveals his great secret to him: ever since that childhood accident, Sandor has been a quadriplegic. His arms and legs are bionic, and can be removed. What’s more, they also contain a powerful explosive, one strong enough to annihilate the central computer controlling the magnetron wave.
(Let us pause here for a moment to consider just how much of a badass or how much of a lunatic one must be to walk around on robotic limbs containing that much explosive power. The mind reels…)
Sandor instructs Wildstar on how to detatch his prosthetic limbs, and the two men retreat to the exterior of the station. Let’s not worry too much about ow Sandor survives given that his protective space suit is now open to the void at four points. Sandor tells Wildstar to leave him and return to the Argo. Sandor needs to be within a certain range in order to set off the explosives in his limbs, so he can go no further. but rescuing Wildstar will make up for Alex’s death. (Sandor is also banking on the automated shutters closing to protect him from the worst of the blast, but STAR BLAZERS cuts this moment.)
Just as Captain Avatar gives the order to warp, the Star Force receives a communication from Wildstar apprising them of the situation. Back at the fortress, Sandor is somehow able to pull on the rip-cable in his shoulder (in space no less) to set off the explosives in his arms and legs and destroy the central computer. The station lights up like a Christmas tree, but doesn’t full-on explode, so Wildstar heads back into the conflagration in the hopes of locating Sandor.
And he does! His uniform is pitted and blackened by soot, but Sandor is still alive. He gives us this positively evil shit-eating grin–one so extreme, it made me think that something sinister was going on with him when I first saw this episode. But no, it’s simply that Sandor is the coolest.
Amazingly, STAR BLAZERS left in the one glimpse of General Lysis and Volgar that we get in this episode, in a sequence in which the pair watch the destruction of the magnetron fortress and Volgar attempts unsuccessfully to light Lysis’ cigar. It was weird to see such an overt image of smoking in a cartoon, and it’s even weirder today.
As the Star Force departs the area, Wildstar is surprised by Sandor, who is now sporting new prosthetic limbs. “Yep, latest model.” In as unsubtle a bit of foreshadowing as one could imagine, Wildstar muses, “I’ve been thinking. Your survived that explosion. You’re tough, and so was Alex. it gives me hope he’s alive somewhere.” Sandor finishes the sentiment: “If he only could be. It would mean as much to me, Wildstar, as it does to you.” Somebody’s been reading ahead! And now, there are only 260 days remaining until the human race becomes extinct.