Buck Rogers: The Serials

Larry “Buster” Crabbe, the former Olympian, helped Buck Rogers make the leap from the radio waves to the theaters.  Cheaply made for the time, it was released as a cliffhanger serial in 1939.  These film shorts played and then lay dormant until they were edited together and re-released as a theatrical release in 1953 as Planet of Outlaws.

Later, Buck’s popularity soared when it brought into the living room.  In 1965, Planet of Outlaws was re-titled Destination Saturn and played on television.  This version has remained the most commonly shown of all early science fiction serials, concurrent with Crabbe’s other starring role, Flash Gordon.

Throughout the serials, Buck’s focus was preserving Earth’s technology from thieves from outer space, most notably the Draconian Empire forces led by Killer Kane and Ardala Valmar.  Centralized in the American Industrial Revolution a few decades before, Buck, like United States leaders at the time, realized that security was based primarily in maintaining a technological advantage over potential enemies. 

The 1939 serial villains were taken from the pulp fiction of the era.  These fast action tales capitalized on the distrust of foreigners rampant at the time.  The Chinese Boxer Rebellion provided a firm background for these ideas that writers exploited.  Consequently, space foreigners intent on causing Earthlings harm was a well accepted theme.

The serial’s impact has never fully been realized.  It laid the foundations for thousands of later stories, television shows, and blockbuster movies.  Many elements of Star Wars:  A New Hope were directly lifted from this serial.  Over the years, practically every scene in “Destination Saturn” has been adapted and worked into subsequent television shows and movies.