Friday, March 23, 2018

'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The Radio Drama' Episode Review: Prophesies and Destinies'

(C) 1996 HighBridge Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 
Prophesies and Destinies


  • Jabba the Hutt (Edward Asner)
  • See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels
  • Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs)
  • Luke Skywalker (Joshua Fardon)
  • Lando Calrissian (Arye Gross)
  • Imperial Officer
  • Moff Jerjerrrod (Peter Dennis)
  • Lord Darth Vader (Brock Peters)
  • Yoda (John Lithgow)
  • Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi (Bernard "Bunny" Behrens)
  • Emperor Palpatine (Paul Hecht)
  • Sail Guard
  • Last Guard
  • Narrator (Ken Hiller)
Sound/FX Roles

  • Artoo-Detoo 
  • Salacious Crumb (Ian Gomez)
Reviewer's Note:

All quoted material is from the 1996 book Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The National Public Radio Dramatization.  This edition contains Brian Daley's complete radio play, which differs slightly from the version of the Radio Drama which aired on National Public Radio in 1996 and the original 1990s HighBridge Audio cassette and compact disc editions. The version in Daley's script was recorded, but as with the original 1981 Star Wars Radio Drama and its 1983 sequel, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – The Radio Drama, edits were made at the request of NPR due to the needs of the radio format. The longer version of this episode is available in HighBridge Audio's more expensive Limited Edition CD collection of Star Wars: The Complete Radio Drama Trilogy.


Music: Opening theme.

Narrator: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there came a time of revolution, when Rebels united to challenge a tyrannical Empire. Now an ultimate confrontation looms near, as the threads of the Emperor Palpatine's master plan draw the Rebel Alliance toward a last, apocalyptic battle. 

Sound: Background battle around the Sarlacc pit as per the end of Episode Two, but heard from POV of Jabba's sail barge.

Narrator: But above the pit of the monstrous Sarlacc, on the desert planet Tatooine, one small group of freedom fighters is facing its own day of reckoning. There, Luke Skywalker and a band of allies have risked all to free Han Solo from the clutches of the evil gangster Jabba the Hutt.

Sound: More combat, including Luke's lightsaber, Jabba's bellow, chaos among Jabba's hangers-on, etc. 

Narrator: Han, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca are battling guards to liberate a sand skiff. Nearby, on Jabba's great sail barge, all is chaos and carnage. Luke Skywalker is on the attack, lightsaber in hand - to free his other companions, and end Jabba's reign of terror.


Sound: Battle furor up, off

Jabba: (SLIGHTLY OFF) <Oohlah loobah cogh!>

Sound: Under preceding, Boba Fett's rocket pack has made a belching approach to near off, ending in a loud bonk signifying the bounty hunter's impact with the ironclad hull by Jabba's banquet cabin.


Leia: (SURREPITIOUSLY) Threepio, what was that?

Threepio: (MATCHING HER TONE) If I understand correctly, Your Highness, Boba Fett just ricocheted off the hull plates and went plummeting down into the Sarlacc.

Leia: Everybody's busy watching, pass me that statuette.

Threepio: Certainly, Your Highness. (INDICATES EFFORT OF PASSING IT) But I don't understand why you want it.

Leia: (INDICATES TAKING THE HEAVY LITTLE OBJECT) You will in a second. Stand back.

Threepio: But Princess Leia, that instrument panel controls all the power circuits on the barge.

Leia: Not for long.....


Threepio: Salacious Crumb - get away, you heinous little imp! (TO LEIA) What a torment he's made of my life!

Leia: Threepio, go find Artoo. I need him to get this chain off me.

Threepio: But what about Jabba?

Leia: I'll deal with him. (INDICATING EFFORT OF SWINGING THE STATUETTE, OVER NEXT) Now...stand...back....

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie. (C) 1983 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Prophesies and Destinies is the third episode of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, a 1996 radio adaptation of the eponymous 1983 film. Produced by HighBridge Audio for broadcast on National Public Radio, it was written by novelist Brian Daley (with additional material by John Whitman) and directed by John Madden. 

In the tradition of radio's Golden Age of dramas, Prophesies and Destinies begins where the series' second episode, Fast Friends, ended: at the climax of the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of a lethal creature called the Sarlacc. 

As the episode begins, the fate of Luke Skywalker (Joshua Fardon), Princess Leia (Ann Sachs), Han Solo (Perry King),  Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian (Arye Gross), See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels), and Artoo-Detoo literally hangs on a very slender thread of hope. In a daring rescue, Luke has freed liberated a nearly-blind Han and the others from Jabba the Hutt's minions at the Pit of Carkoon. But even though the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Ed Begley, Jr.) and many of Jabba's crew of killers are either dead or incapacitated, the fight is not over yet.  Leia and the droids are still aboard Jabba's giant sail barge, and the crime lord himself (Edward Asner) still believes he has a chance to kill the galaxy's last Jedi Knight. 

That changes when Princess Leia, still chained to the slug-like gangster, takes a small but heavy  statuette and smashes an instrument panel that controls the sail barge's power circuits. In the darkness and confusion that follows, the captive Rebel from Alderaan finally turns the tables on her gross, overbearing, and evil captor.

 Jabba: <Aarrgh! Poosak tawa ch'upa, Leia!> 

Leia: That's right, Jabba. You forgot one thing.

Sound: She gathers the slack of the heavy chain, to use it as a weapon of revenge.

Leia: (INDICATING THE EFFORT OF ATTACKING HIM, TO GARROTE HIM WITH THE HEAVY CHAIN) When you put a slave on a leash...the other end is attached to you!


Leia: (THROUGH GRITTED TEETH, AS SHE SLOWLY CHOKES THE LIFE OUT OF HIM) Now you know how it feels to have cold iron around your throat, Jabba!


Leia: Call for help all you want. (GRUNTS WITH EFFORT; SHE'S GOT HER KNEE IN HIS BACK, HAULING BACK ON THE CHAIN GARROTE)  Your fine pack of cutthroats are too busy saving their own necks.


Jabba's court jester, the demented Kowakian monkey-lizard called Salacious Crumb (Ian Gomez), attempts to save his dying master by bombarding Leia with dishes and anything at hand he can throw at the Princess and Threepio. But it is to no avail.



Sound: Deck-shaking thud as Jabba collapses dead.

Leia: (OUT OF BREATH FROM THE EPIC CONTEST) You're out of business.

As in the film, Artoo arrives on scene just in time to save Leia and Threepio from the frantic Salacious Crumb's attempts to avenge his now-dead master and cut the Princess free from her iron chain. 

Meanwhile, on the deck of Jabba's sail barge, Luke, Han, a wounded Chewbacca, and Lando fight off wave after wave of Jabba's desperate minions. Soon, only a few of the crime lord's goons are left, and Leia, Artoo, and a somewhat harried Threepio rejoin their friends on the top deck. Lando, Han, and Chewie get on the sand skiff by the sail barge's side as Luke improvises a way to destroy Jabba's barge and prevent the surviving criminals from pursuing the victorious Rebel freedom fighters.

Prophesies and Destinies not only chronicles our heroes' escape from Tatooine (and the Imperial blockade in orbit), but it also depicts:

  • The arrival of Darth Vader (Brock Peters) aboard the second Death Star, now under construction above the Sanctuary Moon of Endor, and his meeting with Moff Jerjerrod (Peter Dennis)
  • Luke's return to Dagobah and his final conversation with his Jedi instructor, Yoda (John Lithgow)
  • A conversation between Luke and the Force ghost of his first Jedi mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Bernard "Bunny" Behrens), in which the young Skywalker is told an abridged account of his father's fall from grace and his kinship to Leia Organa
  • The arrival of the Emperor (Paul Hecht) aboard Death Star II and his own chat with Vader about prophecies and destinies
My Take:

With a running time of just over three hours, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is the briefest of the three Radio Dramas that aired on National Public Radio between 1981 and 1996. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that producer Tom Voegeli, director John Madden, and the production team  had a smaller budget to work  with to make the series. Originally, the Jedi radio adaptation was slated for production in late 1983 or early 1984, but Reagan era Congressional cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which runs the Public Broadcasting System television network as well as National Public Radio) put those plans on hold...for 13 years! 

Chances are that if HighBridge Audio (which is now a division of Recorded Books), a Minnesota recording company which manufactured and sold tapes and compact discs of various NPR shows, including the first two Star Wars radio dramas, had not decided to fund the Jedi series, it would not have been made at all. 

Another reason, I think, for the brevity of Return of the Jedi in comparison to its two precursors was Brian Daley's poor health. In 1996, the 47-year-old novelist was sick; he had been fighting cancer for some time and the news from his doctors was not good; the disease was terminal. He turned in the six scripts in the nick of time; Brian Daley died on the same day that the actors completed the recording sessions at LA Theater Works in California. 

Even knowing that a second writer, John Whitman, was brought in to make some adjustments to add a few details from such Legends works as Steve Perry's Shadows of the Empire and Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, it is not an exaggeration to say that Prophesies and Destinies shows what good storytelling and fine writing can accomplish Daley cleverly found a way to take an already familiar tale told in another, more visual medium and still make it interesting and suspenseful.

Of course, Daley did not do this on his own. Director Madden, who returned for a third Star Wars radio drama, got outstanding performances from Radio Drama veterans Ann Sachs, Brock Peters, Paul Hecht, Perry King, and, of course, Anthony Daniels, who reprised his iconic role of the always-nervous protocol droid See-Threepio from the Star Wars films. In addition, Madden was able to get Joshua Fardon to step into the role of Luke Skywalker as a replacement for Mark Hamill, who was unavailable for a third go-around as the Radio Dramas' Jedi hero. 

Surprisingly, Arye Gross is also a good stand-in for Billy Dee Williams, who wasn't able to participate in the Return of the Jedi radio drama because of the show's limited budget. Gross captures the essence of the roguish, charming, and flirtatious Lando Calrissian with his witty and lively vocal performance.

As in the previous NPR-produced Star Wars radio adaptations, Lucasfilm Ltd. collaborated in the creation of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The Radio Drama. The company not only granted the producers at HighBridge and Tom Voegeli Productions the license rights, but it provided Ben Burtt's library of sound effects and John Williams' 1983 score from Episode VI. This would mark the final appearance of Williams' original "Ewok Celebration and End Titles" track in a Lucasfilm-sanctioned work; in 1997, the Special Edition re-release of Return of the Jedi would feature a new track titled "Victory Celebration and End Titles" composed by Maestro Williams for the "definitive" version of the Classic Trilogy's final chapter. 

As the publicist for HighBridge Audio writes in the booklet that comes with each Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The Radio Drama CD set: 

Like its radio predecessors, Return of the Jedi is a remarkable fable for the mind's eye - a spellbinding story of heroes and villains, good and evil, temptation and redemption, all played out in a shimmering, almost palpable, universe of sound. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Talkin' About Politics: Why I will be voting for the Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020

Three words:  “The Republican Party.”
I’ve been a voter in my home state of Florida since 1984. That’s a 34-year-long span of time that encompasses almost all of my adult life.
Interestingly, even though until recently (last week, as a matter of fact) I was a “No Party Affiliation” voter, I started out as a mostly-Republican voter. I was a “Cold War kid” who was born a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. My childhood played out in the shadows of the Vietnam War and the chaos of the era. I hated Soviet-style Communism (still do) and distrusted/feared the Russians (still do). And, because I always wanted to join the armed forces but can’t due to (back then) a physical disability, I was very pro-military.
Soviets. I don't like these guys.  (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Naturally, the party I voted for in the 1984 and 1988 elections (and the 1986 mid-terms) was, mostly, the Republican Party. I wasn’t a die-hard Ronald Reagan fan at the time; I thought that he was a bit too old and too glib to be President, but I was naive enough at the time to buy into the prevailing notion held by conservatives that “liberals” were weak on national defense and were unpatriotic.
As I grew older, though, I started noticing that Republicanism had acquired a dark side, starting in the 1970s during the Nixon years and escalating during the Reagan-Bush years. I was aware, for instance, that the Party of Lincoln, with its roots in the anti-slavery movement and other progressive causes of the pre-Civil War era, had turned its back on African-Americans and other minorties and bowed and scraped to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Evangelicals who were against women’s rights to choose, and was allying itself with tax cut fiends who were gutting public school systems, social services for the poor and the disabled, and enriching the coffers of Big Business and Big Banking.
For many years, though, I refused to join either of the Big Two parties, and I have always been leery of the smaller, more leftist parties. I would not have voted for any of the so-called third parties like Jill What’s-Her-Name…a vote for those is usually a wasted vote that usually helps the candidate I want to lose…who is usually now a Republican.
What has pushed me to finally get off the fence and choose a party affiliation after nearly 40 years of being proudly independent?

If only Sarah Palin had been as intelligent as her running mate, maybe I would have voted for them in '08. Photo credit:

  • Florida’s closed primary system. Independents can vote in almost all local, statewide, or national elections, except party primaries. I feel that NPA voters are thus disenfranchised when voters are choosing state electors for Presidential candidates. If I leaned Republican rather than Democratic, I’d still feel robbed of a chance to choose.
  • The takeover of the GOP by the Newt Gingrich hardliners/Fox News/Christian Evangelicals/former Southern Democrats who started switching parties in 1968 and helped elect Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the Presidency. I still like moderate Republicans and will gladly vote for candidates who are willing to work with their opposite numbers on the Democratic side of the aisle. Heck, I almost voted for John S. McCain III in 2008…until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.
  • The 2016 Presidential Election.
Need I say more?

Movie Review: 'The Dirty Dozen'

Pros: Great cast; well-written screenplay; lots of action in third act

Cons: Unflinching look at war's violence, but not as graphic as modern war films

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

All art, as writer-director Nicholas Meyer (The Seven Percent Solution, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) has observed in several of his Star Trek-related audio commentaries for home video, is a reflection of the time in which its conceived.  One can, for instance, look at a painting by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and one by Pablo Picasso and tell right away that one was done in the 17th Century and that the other was created in the 20th.

As such, movies – no matter what genre they may fit in – tend to reflect the social, cultural and political environments of the times in which they are made.  Not only in simple terms of cinematic techniques and casts – a film such as Casablanca is clearly identified as a 1940s-era film because it’s in black-and-white, it stars actors who were prominent between 1930 and 1950, the music, its visual style, its themes, its political undertones and the very way it was written.

On the other hand, you can’t confuse 1993’s Schindler’s List with Casablanca even though they’re both (mostly) in black-and-white and are set during World War II.  Schindler’s List’s director Steven Spielberg and his cinematographer may borrow some ingredients from World War II era films – such as lighting setups and the big themes that portray Nazi Germany’s tyranny – but the movie’s realistic portrayal of violence and Nazi war crimes can’t be confused for Casablanca’s crowd-pleasing mix of wartime propaganda, romance, comedy, musical interludes and even bits of clear-cut good-guys-versus-bad-guys action adventure.

Though all genres tend to change along with the times in which they are made, movies about World War II underwent a major transformation as filmmakers’ perceptions about the conflict evolved – often influenced by writers’ or directors’ political philosophies. 

For instance, movies made in Hollywood between 1939 and 1945  (but especially those produced after December 1941) tend to be inspirational, escapist or almost simplistic in nature.  American “combat” films, even those which depict the dark days of 1941 and 1942, tend to showcase small units of white servicemen from various ethnic groups who, despite their initial differences, come together by Act Three to fight the evil Axis and give them a drubbing, All-American Style.  Even in movies like Wake Island or Bataan – battles which resulted in Japanese victories – the 1940s era viewer was left with a certain belief that these setbacks could and would be reversed.

By 1967, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, the cultural and social pendulums had swung so radically that producer Kenneth Hyman felt at ease with an adaptation of E.M. Nathanson’s novel about 12 GIs convicted of serious crimes being recruited and trained to carry out a perilous mission in Nazi-occupied France.

If Nathanson’s novel The Dirty Dozen had been written, say, in the early 1950s, it’s quite likely that the writer would have chosen 12 trouble-prone GIs for Major John Reisman’s ad hoc unit instead of hardened criminals who are sentenced to either death by hanging or 20 years of hard labor. 

However, the book was published in 1965, by which time the national mood toward the military was turning cynical and anti-heroes were beginning to be staples in popular literature and war movies, even those set during “the good war.”

Perhaps even more relevantly, by 1967 support for the U.S. military operations in Vietnam was eroding significantly; this is reflected in The Dirty Dozen’s obvious anti-authoritarian undertones, personalized by the attitudes of not only the 12 “hard cases” placed under the command of Maj. Reisman (Lee Marvin), but those of the anti-heroic major himself.

Written by Nunnally Johnson (The Three Faces of Eve) and Lukas Heller (The Flight of the Phoenix), The Dirty Dozen is set in the early spring of 1944, a few months before the Allied invasion of Normandy.

In a  prologue which essentially sets up the film’s plot, Reisman, an infantry officer who apparently has been seconded to the Office of Strategic Services, witnesses the execution (by hanging, no less) of a GI who has committed murder.  As Reisman digests this unpleasant event, he is ushered into a briefing room by Major General Worden (Ernest Borgnine), where other Army officers – including his previous commanding officer, Col. Breed (Robert Ryan) and the more sympathetic Major Armbruster (George Kennedy) – are also in attendance.

Maj. Gen. Worden: This war was not started for your private gratification, and you can be damned sure it's not being run for your personal convenience, either!

Though Worden clearly doesn’t like Reisman’s methods of making war, he does recognize that behind the major’s insubordinate attitude and dislike of generals who don’t really know how to fight battles there is a real soldier’s mind and skill set.  Knowing that Breed and the by-the-book General Denton (Robert Webber) object, Worden nevertheless offers Reisman an assignment proposed by Allied headquarters: to choose 12 convicts, psychos and  losers from a U.S. Army prison in England, train them, then lead them on a daring and deadly raid in enemy territory a few weeks before D-Day.

At first, all Worden can offer Reisman is the possibility of commuting the prisoners’ sentences if they somehow survive the mission. The canny Reisman knows that this is no deal that the men will accept, so he gets the reluctant general to guarantee full pardons to the men if they take the assignment, don’t try to escape and complete the raid.

The first two thirds of The Dirty Dozen – so called because the 12 soldiers refuse to shave or shower to protest their shabby living conditions during training – center on how Reisman chooses and trains his team for what he and his superiors consider to be a veritable suicide mission.

The team-in-the-making includes Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson), Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown), Samson Posey (Clint Walker), Pedro Jiminez (Trini Lopez) and Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland). 

Other members include Archer Maggott (Telly Savalas) and Milo Vladek (Tom Busby).  Each man has his unsavory side and would otherwise be unfit for military duty, but Reisman and Sgt. Bowren (Richard Jaeckel) have made it their mission in life to get them back into fighting form and unleash them against the enemy.

My Take:  The Dirty Dozen is not one of those World War II action movies to be watched for their realism and historical accuracy. Though the novel it’s based on may have been inspired by accounts of GIs taken from stockades (military jails) to serve in a front line during a battle, the movie’s audio commentary – which includes comments by the well-known technical adviser Dale Dye – points out that in such cases the soldiers were being punished for drinking on duty or having gone AWOL.  The film’s conceit that the U.S. Army would have ever used hardened criminals in any military action is merely for entertainment, although it is true that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did, in fact, shanghai convicts of all types (but mostly political prisoners) and send them to battle.

The film, though, works quite well as a piece of high-octane action-adventure; the Johnson-Keller screenplay does a great job at introducing the various characters and gives each of them unique traits. The Dozen aren’t the kind of guys you particularly would want to hang out socially with; Cassavetes’ Franko is a cold-blooded hoodlum and Savalas’ Maggott is a racist religious zealot who is violently misogynistic, while some of the others are shifty, undisciplined, crazy and malcontented. 

Once they have undergone their training, however, the Dozen prove to be soldiers who can carry out any mission, especially once they turn their hostility toward the Army to the Germans instead. 

Though "tame" by the standards of films such as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, Aldrich's movie is, at times, shockingly violent and unflinching in its portrayal of war.  In a well-known anecdote, MGM told the director that The Dirty Dozen would garner Aldrich an Oscar nomination if, and only if, he would remove one scene from the movie's climax.

Aldrich thought about it for a moment, but he turned the studio's request down and shot the scene as written in the script.  When he was asked later why he gave up a chance for an Oscar win just to keep the scene, he said, "Because I wanted to show the audience that war is hell."

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

DVD Box Set Review: 'Star Trek: The Motion Pictures DVD Collection'

(C) 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment

Pros: The few great Trek films are included; extras are mostly nice

Cons: If you have the two-disc Collector Editions, you don't need this!

Although I've come to love the DVD (Digital Video Disk, or Digitally Versatile Disk) format ever since I purchased my first in the spring of 1999, there's one particular sales technique involving the admittedly-useful and versatile format that has made me somewhat annoyed with the various movie studios - the seemingly endless re-release and repackaging of popular films such as the Alien franchise, the Jack Ryan film series and the Die Hard series.

All right, I confess: sometimes it's good that studios will backtrack and improve upon a "bare-bones" first edition of one of my favorite movies, particularly DVDs that lacked such extras as director's commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. I tend to like those bonus features; as an online reviewer, I find them incredibly helpful, and if done right, they can be fun additions to the feature films they're supplementing.

That's why I was willing to replace the first single-DVD versions of Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact when Paramount began releasing the 2-disc re-issues of all the 10 Star Trek feature films. Some lacked English subtitles, others had spelling errors in them (in Star Trek: First Contact, the subtitles misspelled the last name of warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane as "Zefram Cochran." A small error, yes, but it bugged me to no end.)

So when my late best friend Richard de la Pena gave me the Director's Cut of 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a Christmas present in 2001, I was hooked on the new editions of the big-screen voyages of the three Starships Enterprise. I liked (but not loved) the tighter and better-looking version of the first movie, and I really enjoyed all the commentaries, both in the audio track and the text ones by Michael and Denise Okuda.

And I was wowed by both Director's Cuts of The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, which were slightly expanded versions of the second and sixth entries in the Original Series-based saga, both directed by Nicholas Meyer.

To make a long story short, I own nine of the 10 Special Edition double-disk sets; I'm dithering about getting the one for Star Trek: Nemesis because it's one of my least favorite entries of the Next Generation movies, and as much as I like the extra features disks and the Okudas' entertaining text commentary, I don't seem to be too keen on buying the re-issue.

Of course, Paramount Home Entertainment knows that not every Star Trek fan purchased either the previous bare-bones one-disk "first issues" or the two-disk "Special Edition" re-issues, so when the 10th film was given the bells and whistles treatment, the company bundled the entire collection "as is" and packaged it as a 20-disk box set.

The Star Trek Motion Pictures:

This 20-disk set includes all 10 feature films made so far, along with a huge assortment of extras such as audio commentaries (except, curiously, for Star Trek: Insurrection, text commentaries, and a starship's cargo bay worth of making-of documentaries and featurettes.

The films, which were released over a span of 23 years, are based on two of the five television series that form the Star Trek franchise, and their quality tends to swerve between the very good (The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, and First Contact and the bad to bland (Final Frontier, Insurrection) with three so-so chapters bridging the extremes.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The first of the series, ST:TMP is a film that started out with good intentions and a solid first act, then got bogged down in a mish-mash of rehashed storylines from the Original Series: the refit Enterprise encounters a powerful alien entity that turns out to have a NASA Voyager probe at its very heart in a screenplay that combines elements from "The Changeling," "The Immunity Syndrome," and "The Doomsday Machine." (Some fans waggishly call this Robert Wise-directed film Star Trek: The Motionless Picture because its pace is so slow and the plot is so turgid.) Paramount's insistence on long effects-heavy scenes and the bland costumes, sterile interiors, and "cold" procedural storyline practically overwhelm the good intentions of Roddenberry and crew to create a smart, non-shoot 'em up science fiction film.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: In order to avoid the excesses of the first motion picture and to save the franchise from extinction, Paramount Pictures took creative control of the movies away from Gene Roddenberry and hired Harve Bennett from the studio's television division to take the producer's reins. After watching most of the 79 episodes of The Original Series, Bennett realized that there were two elements needed for a good Star Trek movie: a story about the Kirk-Spock-McCoy trinity and Khan, the genetically engineered 20th Century warlord who nearly defeated Kirk in the episode "Space Seed." Writing the script with Jack B. Sowards and hiring Nicholas Meyer to direct, Bennett gave Trekkies a movie that zipped with energy and had enough dramatic impact to make film critic Janet Maslin start her review with the phrase "Now, this is more like it!"

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: The middle chapter in the Spock Trilogy, this movie is not a bad film at all, considering it was Leonard Nimoy's directorial debut and that it had to depict the return of a character -- Spock -- who had died in a previous film, shake up the audience somewhat (by destroying the USS Enterprise), and set up the next film in the series. Its main drawbacks -- besides the obvious negative fan reaction to the death of Kirk's son David and the loss of the Enterprise -- are its cliffhanger ending and the obviously low budget; the sets, particularly those of the Genesis planet, look, well, like sets, and cheap ones at that.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: "The one about the whales," as non-fans refer to what turned out to be Star Trek's most successful theatrical release, is the light-hearted and delightful conclusion to the Spock Trilogy. Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer's script involves time travel, witty observations on the mores and folkways of 20th Century America, a pro-conservationism message, and broad comedic turns not seen in Star Trek since the episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." This collaborative effort gave The Voyage Home wide crossover appeal, as repeat viewings by fans and non-fans alike made this one of 1986's top grossing movies.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: The weakest, and therefore worst, film in the franchise, this movie had every flaw a Star Trek film shouldn't have: a lower-than-normal budget, a bargain-basement special effects company, William Shatner's directorial debut, and a mediocre script involving the takeover of the Enterprise-A by a Vulcan renegade on a mission to find none other than God Himself. It doesn't help the film's reputation that Gene Roddenberry expressed his disdain for the idea that the Vulcan renegade was also Spock's half-brother, or that the Enterprise-A was a "lemon" of a starship for about two-thirds of the film. The only good thing -- besides a few scenes between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy -- about Star Trek V was Jerry Goldsmith's score

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: The last of the Treks completed before Roddenberry's death in 1991 (he managed to see it at a private screening on the Paramount lot before he passed away), this was the final film to feature the entire cast of the Original Series and was part of the series' 25th Anniversary celebration. Basically a 23rd Century take on the end of the Cold War (substituting Klingons for Soviets and the Federation for the U.S.), Star Trek VI boasted a literate screenplay by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn, solid directing by Meyer (who insisted on a Hunt for Red October feel for the Enterprise-A's interiors), and above-average performances by the regular cast and the supporting actors, including David Warner, Christopher Plummer, and Kim Catrall.

Star Trek: Generations: This first film to feature The Next Generation cast -- and the last appearances of William Shatner (Capt. Kirk), James Doohan (Scotty), and Walter Koenig (Chekov) -- is watchable but, in the end, uninvolving and somewhat lackluster; even the screenwriters, Brannon Braga and Ron Moore, think it's not as good as it could have been. Spanning two eras in Star Trek history, eschewing "normal" time travel with a bizarre energy ribbon called the Nexus, Generations pits Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D (in its first and final appearance on the big screen) against a mad scientist who is willing to destroy entire star systems in order to achieve eternal life within the Nexus. And though there is genuine chemistry between Patrick Stewart and William Shatner in their scenes together, the plot is muddled by several subplots which require some knowledge of the TNG lore, such as Data's emotion chip and the resolution of the Duras sisters' story arc. Director David Carson did the best he could with this somewhat awkward story, and the special effects are good, but Dennis McCarthy's musical score was too subtle and what should have been a hell of a dramatic moment -- Kirk's death -- was anticlimactic at best, uninvolving at worst.

Star Trek: First Contact: Clearly the best of the Next Generation crew's feature films, the eighth entry in the series has most of the ingredients a good Trek film requires: a well-written script (by the Braga-Moore team),a good directorial debut by Jonathan Frakes, a good ensemble that includes guest stars James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard, a dangerous "heavy" (Alice Krige's Borg Queen and her host of Borg drones), and a storyline that blends elements from four Star Trek TV series. Although it does succumb to the temptation of making this basically a Picard/Data episode writ large for the silver screen, the introduction of the Enterprise-E and its action-packed mix of drama and comedy lifts First Contact head and shoulders above the rest of the Next Gen features.

Star Trek: Insurrection: This ninth film in the series also ranks ninth in quality, even though it was penned by Next Generation vet Maurice Hurley and directed by Jonathan Frakes, the same filmmaker behind the wonderful Star Trek: First Contact. Its lackluster story about a greedy alien race -- allied with an equally greedy Starfleet admiral -- that seeks to take a "fountain of youth" world from their rightful owners, forcing Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E to intervene is not very involving, and the two heavies, played by F. Murray Abraham and Anthony Zerbe, are not in the same league as Khan or the Borg.

Star Trek: Nemesis: This movie isn't as bad as The Final Frontier by any means, but it isn't all that great, either. Basically, this is another Picard-Data film; the A storyline has the good captain of the Enterprise-E facing off against Shimzon, a ruthless human who has seized the reins of the Romulan Empire in a bloody coup and seeks to defeat the Federation by destroying Earth. He's also Picard's clone, though when and how the Romulans obtained the genetic material is never explained. The B story has Data having to deal with his own prototype B4, who -- unbeknownst to all -- has been reprogrammed by Shimzon to act as a "sleeper" spy. Although well-directed by Stuart Baird (the acclaimed editor of Superman: The Movie), this lame attempt to meld elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with The Next Generation was not well-received by fans and died a quicker-than-average death at the box office.

Who should buy this set? Obviously, if a Star Trek aficionado never bought the individual Director's Edition/Special Edition two-disk reissues, then perhaps this is one possible option that might prove a bit economical, depending on whether one is interested in buying "new" copies rather than used ones on eBay or even Amazon Marketplace.

Who shouldn't buy this set? Anyone who already owns the 2001-2004 two-disk sets. The only difference is that all 10 films and their extra features DVDs are sold together, with only the slipcover box to hold the 10 two-disk sets together. There are no new featurettes, no theatrical versions of the second and sixth Original Series' cast's films, and still no audio commentary on Star Trek: Insurrection, so there's no need to bother.

Unless, of course, you want to use the DVDs as Star Trek-themed coasters.