I didn’t get to see The Secret of the Sword in theaters. I was worried I would miss something important to the series, but Filmation repackaged the movie into the first five episodes of She-Ra. That was the first time a cartoon series had done a five-part opening. The formula got to be pretty common in the 80s and 90s. It still happens on newer shows, though, usually in somewhat of a different fashion. Modern adventure cartoons are much more conscious of story-arcs that run through the entire seasons or even entire series. She-Ra is rarely given credit for that innovation.
Anyway, before I get out my soapbox here, let me share my She-Ra experience. The pilot episode, Into Etheria, impressed me. Okay, I was like nine, but I was in the show’s target demographic, so it must’ve been doing something right. Surprisingly, the rest of the five-part arc lived up to the pilot.
I loved the early episodes’ opening sequence because it was so different from He-Man, but it was still clearly Filmation. To me, it was different enough to catch my interest and familiar enough to feel like I was coming to a comfortable place. And it was gloriously cheesy in the way of most good 80s cartoons.
I loved that the first episode began on Eternia (for familiarity) and sent Prince Adam (not He-Man, but Adam) on an epic quest. I have to admit that I really did like the look and feel of Etheria as compared to Eternia.
I was excited to see that the villains were actually in charge of Etheria and that She-Ra and her rebel companions had the deck stacked against them. Maybe it’s the Star Wars fan in me. The rebels get a lot of knocks for their visual designs. Some of that I agree with, but as characters, they seemed dramatic and compelling in those first episodes, and I especially liked that Adam decided to dispense with his cowardly prince disguise and just be his true self.
Shadow Weaver and Hordak seemed much more sinister and threatening than Skeletor or Evil-Lynn. The spell of deception that Shadow Weaver had on Princess Adora was serious freaking dark magic, and the level of manipulation Hordak exhibited with her was far beyond anything I had seen Skeletor accomplish.
The other villains, like Grizzlor, Scorpia, and Mantena, were kind of goofy, but then so were a lot of the villains on He-Man. Catra had as much potential as Evil-Lyn did, and I immediately wanted to know about her shape-shifting mask.
As much as I loved He-Man, I never felt like there was a sense of threat or danger (except on the rare occasion that something happened to the Sorceress or King Randor.) The heroes were firmly in charge of Eternia, and there was never any doubt that Skeletor’s schemes were going to fail.
In She-Ra, it felt different. I knew that the rebels would “win” each episode, but there was always risk of them being captured or retaliation from the Horde. How were they ever going to drive the Horde, with its massive army of robots and superior technology in general, off of their planet?!
Was Queen Marlena going to get in her spaceship and come to her kids’ aid? Was King Randor maybe going to send in the Eternian army? Well, obviously, those things would’ve killed the series before it started, but I was imagining a grand finale that ended something like that in a couple of years.
Did it ever happen? Well, a girl can dream. 😉
Well, I’m sad to say that I need to wrap up the memoir today. As I was writing, I realized I had a lot more to say about She-Ra, gender-based marketing in cartoons, and the state of “shows for girls” today, almost 30 years after She-Ra hit the airwaves, but all of that’s going to have to wait for another blog series. Maybe here, maybe over on my blog.