No one I know was ever really sure they had seen Blackstar Warrior, the legendary (emphasis on the “legend” part there) “Blaxploitation Star Wars” series made sometime in the 1980s, but most claimed to have heard of it. What they had heard proved equally elusive—rumors, half truths, strange clues, on-line interviews, comments seeded on forums, long conversations at sci-fi cons that mulled over dreams of half-remembered episodes that may or may not have been seen.
Then the evidence started to arrive.
One day, clips from a documentary appeared on YouTube that told the tale of writer/producer Frederic Jackson Jr. and his attempts to make the first blaxploitation science-fiction movie in the 1970s—Blackstar Warrior—about a hip African-American spaceman Tyson Roderick who has been described as “James T. Kirk’s evil twin… a ruthless and daring sexual egomaniac,” who was “unapologetic, tough as nails yet tender-hearted.” A man who mixed the coolness of Shaft and Superfly with the leadership of Captain Kirk.
To produce his dream movie, Jackson Jr. sold his car wash business, but just as he was about start filming everything fell apart when police raided the BSW studio set and arrested Jackson Jr. and his crew for allegedly stealing costumes from the Star Wars set. It has been claimed that to avoid prosecution Jackson Jr. sold his movie script to George Lucas. Though there is no proof this ever happened, some Blackstar Warrior conspiracy theorists claim parts of Jackson Jr.‘s script ended up in The Empire Strikes Back—citing the inclusion of black character Lando Calrissian as proof. But still no one was ever really sure
From such inauspicious beginnings, Blackstar Warrior morphed from a potential blockbuster movie into a cult TV series, which first aired at 10am on a Saturday morning, September 29th 1979. Leonard Roberts starred as Tyson Roderick, with Mindie Machen as his blonde-haired pneumatic robotic partner, Alphie.
Every generation has its own “Golden Age of Television,” usually fixed around the shows watched during childhood. From the fifties to the nineties—before the high tide of crime and cop shows—science-fiction (or speculative fiction) held sway—from The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Star Trek to The Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers, Deep Space Nine and Stargate.
Blackstar Warrior could have been have been on the list, maybe, but the show flopped, was pulled from the schedules, and most of the episodes wiped—videotape cost good money in those days, and it was considered best to reuse tapes rather than keep them carpeted in dust in some rarely visited vault. This seemed the end of it, until a VHS cassette of four episodes turned up at a yard sale, which in turn led to the remnants of the series being screened on Japanese cable access TV in 1989. Blackstar Warrior had at last had become a cult hit.
Cassette cover for ‘Blackstar Warrior.’
I wanted to know what had happened to Jackson Jr. and his plans for Blackstar Warrior, so sent I sent an email off into cyberspace, and through a series of serendipitous accidents, I received strange answers back from a man who claimed to be the real Frederic Jackson Jr.
DM: How did you come up with the idea?
Jackson Jr.: We had always wanted to do something set in space, we knew that this was the direction television was headed. One of us, I can’t remember who, had been up for three days straight, watching blaxploitation flicks with this girl he picked up at a bar. Whichever one of us it was—we had all spent similar weekends so it’s all a blur to be honest—insisted that we make a hip detective show, set in the world of these movies he had just inhaled over three sleepless days. At this point, the production had already started building what would eventually be known as The Blackstar Starship—we decided to have our cake and eat it too, and combine both ideas. It was the 80s, and every idea seemed like the best one in the world.
Well, in 1962, I was in college at Pomona Tech in the middle of writing my first novel, Home Sweet Murder when I was handed two tabs of Baja Brown by my future business partner on this very show. Now, at the time, you understand, I really hadn’t done anything stronger than a little bit of weed and the occasional eight-ball, but Billy decided he needed to broaden my horizons, so off we went.
Three days later, we came out of our fugue state in Ladysmith Wisconsin, in the back of a Citroen with thirty-four British pounds sterling, a half-eaten cheesecake and a slightly mangled tuba. Somewhere in there we knew there had to be a story, so we started writing.
I was beginning to suspect I was part of some geek fantasy, but decided to press on.
Original trade advert for ‘Blackstar Warrior.’
DM: What are your plans for ‘Blackstar Warrior’?
Jackson Jr.: Well, nobody saw it when it first aired. At least not in America. We had some success in Japan, and then a little resurgence in Mexico, but overall we never had any idea that people were into it, and that there were fans out there trying to find these tapes. Now that the idea of found footage is becoming a “thing”—we’re realizing that people really did enjoy the show and that even more people who have never heard of it, would be into it. Our plan is to remaster the episodes and finally release them—at least our favorites. We still have a warehouse full of toys, lunch boxes and comic books.
‘Blackstar Warrior’ trading cards.
Jackson Jr.: There has also been talks about a reboot—we are in the works to finally shoot the Blackstar Warrior movie we wrote back in 1984. And of course, there is a documentary being filmed at the moment, on the history of the show and all of us who were involved.
Well, you remember the guy who did American Graffiti? Turns out, we hung out with that dude at a party in Sausalito one night and turned him on to a dose of “Purple Double-Dome.” Guess his tolerance is a little higher than ours because we must have spilled our entire story to him and next thing we know—BOOM—“galaxy far, far away.” Just saying. Our lawyers are looking into it, I don’t know.
The TV show is gonna be the biggest thing since Sanford & Son. We’re talking comic books, action figures, an opera maybe, sky’s the limit. Especially if we can get that guy Ted Nugent to guest star, what a coup that would be…
DM: What were your inspirations?
Jackson Jr.: Mushrooms, mostly. Little coke. Oh, and I read the Bhavagad Gita once. Well, not exactly read, more like “slept on top of,” but you can absorb a lotta knowledge that way.
It was the 80s man. We had a lot of pharmaceutical help, and a lot of energy. But movies like Truck Turner were a big inspiration—and we put a lot of our own lives into the show. Divorces, family issues, drugs—we infused a lot of ourselves into each episode. Remember the one where Tyson gets lost in a maze and has to kill a version of his younger self in order to surf the Aurora Borealis? Well that happened to one of the producers during a “trip” he took.
DM: How did you go about creating and producing BSW?
Jackson Jr.: Boy, that’s a tough one. Billy’s uncle had a warehouse in Fresno he was using as a chai tea distributor to cover his grow operation. Had this big Komondor dog guarding it. Anyway, he said we could use it as long as nobody got tipped off to what he was doing with it, and hell, we could shoot this thing in a closet if we had to, which we actually ended up doing, that’s why the sets are so small. So, we put a third mortgage on my house and Billy’s family farm and the rest is history!
As it turned out, this was all part of a ruse, and little of what this man said proved to be true.
Article on ‘Blackstar Warrior’ from ‘Starlog’(?)
Probably the greatest pitch ever written for a movie consisted of only seven words:
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are twins.
Whether it’s true or not is unimportant—it’s the image and the brevity with which a whole movie can be conjured up that makes this pitch so successful. It’s just a shame the finished movie wasn’t as good as its pitch.
When DC and Marvel comic book artist, writer and director Matt Haley and producer and writer Simon Oré decided on creating Blackstar Warrior, they needed a pitch, an angle, to get a broadcaster interested. They had a pretty damned good idea and decided the best way to create interest in their project was to produce a whole false back story about the producer Frederic Jackson Jr. and his struggle to make a “Blaxploitation Star Wars.”
The commissioners and broadcasters were very slow on the uptake—but the response from sci-fi and movie fans was phenomenal, with many buying into the tale of this supposedly forgotten movie/lost TV series, hook, line and sinker.
Haley and Oré made a pilot, and seeded clips, found footage, a fake documentary and artfully created ephemera all about a show that had never happened.
Another set of questions were sent off—to which this time Haley and Oré ‘fessed up about ‘BSW’...
DM: How did you come up with the idea of Blackstar Warrior
Haley: The original idea was mine—thinking that there was a serious lack of blaxploitation elements in science fiction. Working with Justin Manask and Simon Oré, we tried to come up with an idea that would fit the era that we loved, and also the time period when blaxploitation was dying out and a new image for African Americans started to surface on TV. Simon had been wanting to do a found footage show for a while, the idea of creating and crafting new comedy out of the building blocks that were used in earnest and cheaply made sci-fi and horror films of the 70s and 80s. Utilizing unintentional humor as an inspiration and guideline for writing comedy, all the while taking the show as seriously as we could. Combining Matt’s idea of a blaxploitation sci fi show, with Simon’s idea of producing it in like it would have been in the world of low budget, cocaine fueled 1980’s television, and Justin Manask’s clear vision of what who our main character was, is what got the show to where it is today.
I had created a Star Wars spoof trailer starring “Lando” as a joke. Nobody had done a blaxploitation Star Wars short and I’d been directing shorts with an eye towards getting a feature together. We made the original Blackstar Warrior for about four grand with a ton of volunteers and it blew up on the web, garnering millions of views. It got me in touch with Justin and Simon, and Justin’s idea was to take the Star Wars out of the concept and just do a blaxploitation sci-fi pilot. From there it was Simon & me figuring out the world and characters. Simon is a ridiculously funny and focussed writer, so he came up with a lot.
DM: So, what are your plans for the project?
Haley: Since we are reissuing the old comics, remastering the old tapes and finally getting the show out on the air again, the plan is to keep expanding and exploring the mysterious world of Blackstar Warrior, continue to seek out its elusive episodes, spin offs and merchandise. To find and interview people “involved with the making of it” as well as find the inspirations for the show, and the shed light on all the things that came after it, that drew inspiration from Blackstar Warrior.
The idea is to “bring back” the show, create a rich and full history of the making of it, and the fan base that sprung from it. To release the old comics and perhaps board game that was made as a limited run. A made for TV movie is in the works, as well as a documentary on the people responsible for the making of the series.
There’s literally no stopping BSW’s potential since it has had the potential history of being involved with everything and anyone, in a way that up until now has been kept in the dark.
There’s a real hunger for “hidden” or “lost” pop culture out there, and BSW seems to fill a need we didn’t know existed. Everybody who hears about it or sees the material goes ape and wants more, so it’s going to be a hoot to slowly reveal bits and pieces of this “lost TV show” that shaped sci-fi in the 1970s.
DM: What were your inspirations?
Oré: I can’t speak for anyone else, although I do know that shows like Buck Rodgers, movies like Star Wars and Truck Turner, and bad B-films like Condorman and Manos Hands of Fate, were all inspirations to us in many ways. But personally it was just looking at how much me and my friends loved to watch badly made horror, sci-fi and adventure movies, done so cheaply but so earnestly, that they were not only hilarious but charming and accidentally wonderful. The goal was to create something that purposefully tried to capture that accidental quality. So, other than the obvious Star Trek inspirations, and Dolomite inspirations—I found that I really drew from B Movies of the 80s.
Just an unabashed love of sci-fi and wondering why there wasn’t a sci-fi show or movie in the 1970s with a black hero star.
DM: How did you go about creating and producing BSW?
Haley: We tricked a bunch of people into working very hard for no money, and got them excited to be part of something so bad it’s good. Although the writing process was difficult, it took around six reinventions of the show before we really understood what it was and what it had to become.
Yeah, we kind of went around the universe with the concept until Simon hit on the very simple idea that Tyson Roderick is just a “space detective” on his toughest missing persons case ever—his mother! The production itself was a true life demonstration of “necessity being the mother of invention”, in that we did more with less. All physical models, no CGI, and lots of on-the-fly problem solving. Plus, Portland is full of geniuses who are hungry to show what they’re made of.
Now that we know “the truth,” it’s up to some bright-eyed TV executive to bring Matt Haley and Simon Oré‘s labor of love on to our screens—and as soon as possible, thank you.
In the meantime, here is Haley and Oré‘s trailer for Blackstar Warrior to whet the appetite.