“We all know Homer pretty well, and his outburst this afternoon sort of bothers us. He said things I’m sure he didn’t mean–but still, he did touch on what’s worrying all of us. Just what are our chances, really, of getting to Iscandar and returning to Earth with the Cosmo DNA?” – Mark Venture
This is the last of the smaller, more personal episodes that make up the spine of the middle section of the first series of STAR BLAZERS, and it’s a good example of how the human drama was just as important, if not more important, than the space battles and pyrotechnics in the success of the show. Once again, it’s a bit blunted from its source material, but it still packs an emotional wallop, and is about greater considerations concerning faith and hope and fortitude than any other show during this time period was delivering.
The episode opens by immediately establishing its point of human drama. Homer, the Star Force’s communications officer, is at his wits’ end, and so he goes to visit Doctor Sane. He complains of a constant ringing in his ears, and he can’t eat or sleep. Recognizing the twin signs of homesickness and stress from being cooped up aboard ship for several months, Dr. Sane recommends a session in the Holography Room, a concept that had been set up in one of the earliest episodes of the show, but not touched upon since.
This was more than a decade before STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION made the Holodeck a recurring locale and plot point of its series, and it functioned in much the same way. Nova projects Holography Tapes that Homer recorded before the ship left Earth, reconstructing Homer’s home town. (Presumably, these films were made before the Gamilon bombing, as they seem to be taking place on the tranquil surface.) But when Homer sees his elderly mother gathering wood, he has a full-on emotional breakdown. Nova is mystified as to what is going on with him.
Part of Homer’s stress, it seems, may be due to a new development. Under mysterious circumstances, and despite now being 70,000 light years from Earth, the Star Force has discovered that it can once again communicate with its home planet. It’s a source of much joy among the crew as the recovering Captain Avatar calls in to Earth Defense Headquarters to update them on the Star Force’s mission (In YAMATO, a number of specific details are listed that STAR BLAZERS omits, such as the fact that their mission is presently 51 days and 61,000 light years behind special, but that by warping twice a day for a distance of 1,200 light years each time, he believes they can be back on Earth in 152 more days.) but some uncertainty to, as the crew becomes aware of just how bad conditions are currently on Earth.
Adding to this, Homer bursts into the room and has a full-on meltdown: “You’re all a bunch of idiots listening to that! What are you all doing here? Do you like being fooled? Don’t you realize no one here knows anything at all about where we’re going? Captain, have you ever been to Iscandar? Every space warp takes us further into the dark unknown! We’re on a fool’s errand, and Gamilon is waiting, and waiting, and waiting! They know all about space! They’re playing with us! They let us go a little ways, then pounce! Like a cat with a mouse! You don’t know how bad things are on Earth! They won’t tell you!” It’s a tour de force performance by Homer’s voice actor. When Captain Avatar asks Homer about the source of his information, the communications officer hyperventilates and passes out.
Morale continues to break down for the Star Force crew that evening, when Captain Avatar invites the senior staff to dinner, to thank them for their assistance during his recovery period. Rattled by Homer’s outburst, Mark Venture takes the opportunity to voice what is running through everybody’s minds at this point: is Homer right? Is their mission to save Earth doomed? What, really, are their chances of success, alone against an overwhelmingly more powerful enemy force? STAR BLAZERS makes an interesting and positive choice here, to eliminate the upbeat cut of music that plays over Venture’s monologue in the YAMATO episode. It’s one of the few times that I can think of where the American show drops music from the soundtrack–but it lends a greater sense of weight to venture’s question.
It falls to Captain Avatar to try to put the crew’s mind at ease, even while he must be holding some of the same misgivings himself: “Venture, we’ve come this far together. It’s true we don’t know what lies ahead, but no one knows tomorrow. There are no guarantees. We know we’ve been entrusted with the life of Earth. Only the Star Force can save Earth. To do that, we must believe in a future for all of us. To do our job today. If we don’t, we’re lost. Earth is lost.” The rest of the meal passes in silence.
At this point, as they did a few episodes ago, the production team on STAR BLAZERS chooses to shuffle a few scenes from the source material, to more clearly convey what is going on. So at this point we cut (with a bad slice on the music cue) to Balan, where an aide reports to General Lysis that their communications relay satellite is allowing the Star Force to contact Earth, and that this is all a psy-ops strategy to destroy the morale of the crew (while also gathering intel about the Star Force, I’d assume.) In YAMATO, this scene doesn’t show up until much later.
As the previous music cue fades up again, we see Homer awaken in the middle of the night and make his way down to the communications room, dismissing the crewman who is on station there. With nobody else around, he contacts Earth–and specifically, the home of his elderly parents. He’s been doing this routinely, we learn–and his father is extremely ill.
Actually, he’s quite a bit more than ill, but STAR BLAZERS cuts out the harshest portions of this next bit from YAMATO, as Homer’s mother tells him that Food is growing scarce and that riots have become a daily danger in the underground cities. In order to provide for his wife, Homer’s father went out into one of the riots to secure them food, and was terribly injured as a result. (STAR BLAZERS chalks up his conditions to fatigue from having worked so hard to build the underground cities.)
As his mother turns the viewscreen to the bed in which her husband lies, so that he can see his son Homer one last time, Homer’s father tells him to get back to Earth, that his mother needs him–and then he dies. Again, STAR BLAZERS conceals this death, having him simply pass our–but you can see the sheet covering his face in the very last shot in this sequence, as Homer turns to discover that Wildstar has learned his secret. Almost insane, Homer bolts from the room.
Homer races to the bridge where, for some reason, Venture is the only one on duty, piloting the Argo. Homer begs Venture to turn the ship around: “Venture, we’ve got to get back to Earth! Turn around! It’s not too late yet! Please! I’ve been talking to Earth! My family–my father’s sick! My mother–s-she cried! Look, I’m begging you! We’re never gonna make it! Turn back!” Again here, Homer’s voice performer really sells the genuineness of the moment. But it’s to no avail–Venture will not chance course, and so Homer races out again, just steps ahead of Wildstar, who’s been pursuing him.
The pair call down to Conroy on the flight deck, who saw him creeping around near the space suit lockers. YAMATO provides a bit of ill-timed fan service at this point, as Nova comes out of her room in her nightgown. She was looking out of the porthole in her cabin and saw Homer drift past, scaring the hell out of her. From here, we get a wonderful shot of the very end of the standard Argo fly-by, with Homer left in its wake, trying vainly to swim through space back home.
This is the point in YAMATO where the narrative switches to Balan and General Lysis explains about the communications satellite he’s set up to follow the Argo and allow them to communicate with Earth. STAR BLAZERS instead has another rough music cut as the Argo, amazingly, comes to a halt and the Black Tiger squadron is dispatched to fly a search patrol for their missing crewman. It’s a very human gesture, but given that the fate of all mankind is at stake, it’s a bit astonishing that the Star Force puts the mission on hold this way.
Meanwhile, Homer is floating through space, experiencing a full-on nervous breakdown. He hallucinates the Earth in the distance and half-passes out trying to reach it. Amazingly, he floats crash-bang into the relay satellite that’s been following the ship. It’s a pretty huge stretch given the size of space (and the fact that STAR BLAZERS never establishes that the relay satellite is literally trailing the Argo) but we’ll go ahead and give it to them. Recognizing the satellite for what it is, Homer realizes the implication and the danger to the Star Force that it represents. But he has no way to contact them. (You might think that, being the communications officer, he could use this enormous transmitter he’s sitting on to send them a message. But no such luck.)
Fortunately for Homer, Wildstar comes across him just a few minutes later. Now snapped back to reality by his discovery of the relay satellite (YAMATO spends a few seconds and some repeated footage in making Homer’s sudden recuperation feel more earned) Homer tells Widstar what the satellite is all about, and they destroy it using the guns in Wildstar’s fighter.
Communication with Earth is now once more cut off, but perhaps that’s for the best. “Our next message, we’ll be on our way home, “ says Homer, “with good news from Iscandar!” It’s quite a turn-around for the young officer, whose language almost makes him seem a bit Born Again. But it makes for an upbeat ending, and that’s what’s called for her. As the pair and the rest of the rescue team returns to the Argo, narration tells us that there are still only 255 days remaining for all life on Earth, so the mission must go on!