BraveStarr: The Legend (1988) — A visually imaginative tale of cowboys and aliens

“I sent you after a great weapon. One that you could trust with your life. This you have found. It is called friendship.”

Justin’s rating: I’ve only got the stomach of the Earthworm and the sniffles of the Anteater

Justin’s review: A recent realization that mildly shocked my system was discovering how many of my childhood cartoons had extremely limited runs on TV. It is actually a rare feat to see an ’80s cartoon that lasted for more than one or two seasons (they’d only last as long as the toys sold, really). This makes it all the more impressive how they managed to make a stamp on pop culture during that time.

Such is the case for BraveStarr, a space western that blazed a trail in its single 65-episode run from 1987 to 1988. Predating Firefly by decades, this fusion of the past and future packed in a surprising amount of creative world design and character diversity. It took place on the planet New Texas, where I guess New Californians went to for more favorable tax rates? Or something.

Anyway, colonists discovered that there was a malevolent force on the planet named Stampede, who urges Tex Hex and his gang to do all sorts of bad things. Desperate for help, the settlers requested a marshal — and got BraveStarr, an Indian who could tap into his spirit animals for extra power. He also had a horse who could sometimes stand up on his hinders and punch people, which was worth the price of admission right there. The science fiction setting allowed for all of those fun western tropes while skirting the more problematic historical realities.

Also, it gave us cactus robots, so don’t complain.

After the show’s run, Filmation took a chance on a movie to serve as a prologue to the series itself. It only saw a very limited theatrical run, keeping a lot of kids from actually seeing or knowing about it.

So here we see the rise of Tex Hex and his gang, the calling of Marshal BraveStarr, and the force of the mysterious Shaman who will guide our hero to victory. (Shaman has a beef with Stampede, as the two butted heads on a different planet in the past). Everyone on New Texas expects an army of marshals, but BraveStarr tells them that it’s one marshal per uprising. Plus, he’s got the strength of the Bear, speed of the Puma, ears of the Wolf and eyes of the Hawk, so he’s got an army tucked into his head anyway.

Also on the side of all that is good is Judge J.B. (who eventually gets her own wicked-looking outfit) and the native Prairie People of New Texas. With their help, BraveStarr and 30/30 are finally able to put Tex Hex and his gang in their place… at least until next week’s episode.

While the movie suffers from some unnatural pauses and awkward transitions (as one would expect from cartoons at the time), I was really impressed by Bravestarr’s character and world design. The aliens, technology, and weapons show a lot of imagination — far more than I’d expect from a lot of ’80s cartoons. BraveStar, 30/30, and Tex Hex in particular boast terrific and memorable looks. Once you’ve seen a few minutes of this, you can understand why it became a cult favorite from the period.

Filmation gets (rightfully) knocked around for some rather shoddy and cheap-looking enterprises, but BraveStarr — its very last show — proved that the studio could pump out quality material. The movie is an excellent introduction into this universe, especially if you want to get a handle on its unique setting and characters.

Didja notice?

  • Dude really likes to talk to himself on a spaceship even when no one is listening
  • Maybe holding your electro-spear next to a ship’s controls isn’t a smart idea
  • Cactus robot!
  • You’re not a futuristic cowboy unless you have antennae sticking out of your cowboy hat
  • Punching meteors through a window into space is the only way to deal with them
  • Eye lasers… that shoot snakes
  • BraveStarr’s pistol always disappears when he “holsters” it

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