BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (FILM 3/30/79)
Inspired by the massive success of Star Wars two years earlier, Universal began developing Buck Rogers for television, spearheaded by Glen A. Larson, who had a production deal with the studio. Initially, Larson and Universal had planned on making a series of Buck Rogers TV movies for NBC. Production began in 1978, however, the pilot for Larson's other sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica (1978), had been released theatrically in some countries and in key locations in North America, and had done well at the box office. Universal then opted to release the first Buck Rogers TV movie theatrically on March 30, 1979. The movie grossed over $21 million in North America and was later released internationally, which led NBC to commission a weekly series, which began on September 20, 1979.
The plot: In 1987, NASA astronaut Captain William "Buck" Rogers (Gil Gerard) is piloting the space shuttle Ranger 3 when he flies into an unexpected space phenomenon and is frozen for 504 years. In the year 2491, his shuttle is found drifting in space by the alien ship Draconia, which is headed to Earth for a trade conference, under the command of Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her aide, Kane (Henry Silva), a former native of Earth. Rogers is revived from his cryogenic sleep. Princess Ardala is visibly attracted to Buck, though Kane arranges for Buck to be put back on his shuttle and returned to Earth.
It turns out though the Draconians are actually planning to conquer the Earth through staged pirate attacks on Earth's shipping fleet, forcing Earth to seek a treaty with the Draconians and unwittingly opening up their defenses to the invaders. They plant a homing beacon aboard Buck's shuttle to track a way through Earth's planet-wide defense shield. Buck is escorted through the shield by Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) of Earth's military forces. He lands in the futuristic city of New Chicago where he is interrogated and learns that Earth has been rebuilt in the centuries during his absence following a nuclear holocaust, and now much of the Earth outside of the city is a desolate, radioactive wasteland. During his time in the city, Buck meets Dr. Elias Huer (Tim O’Connor), the leader of Earth's Defense Directorate, the AI computer Dr. Theopolis, and the robot drone Twiki (Felix Silla/voiced by cartoon legend Mel Blanc), all of whom try to help him adjust to his new surroundings.
While recounting his encounter with the Draconians, Buck notices several discrepancies and suspects that the Draconians must be armed, contrary to the terms of the trade meeting. Against advice, Buck ventures outside the city to the ruins of old Chicago in an attempt to see that what he has been told is real, eventually finding his own parents' grave and having to be rescued by Wilma and her troops from the violent mutants inhabiting the ruins. Following Buck's return to the Inner City, the Draconian tracking device is found aboard his ship, and the authorities accuse Buck of espionage and sentence him to death. Buck claims the Draconians simply used him, and Wilma persuades Dr. Huer to test Buck's claims by requesting a meeting with Princess Ardala and Kane aboard the Draconia. During the meeting, the "pirate ships" (actually Draconian marauders) attack their flagship as a diversion, but Buck manages to destroy them single-handedly, thus earning Wilma's respect.
At the official diplomatic reception on Earth, Ardala, who is still attracted to Buck, invites him back to the Draconia later that night. Buck uses the invitation to go aboard and find out the truth behind the Draconians' plot. On the ship, Ardala tells Buck she needs a man such as him to rule by her side and offers him the position. After drugging Ardala, Buck explores the ship and discovers their marauder ships and imminent plans to attack Earth. Dr. Theopolis and Twiki, who have followed Buck aboard, eventually meet up with him and alert Earth to the Draconian threat. Wilma immediately scrambles Earth's starfighters and attacks the Draconia, while Buck sabotages the Draconian bomber fleet prepared to attack Earth and fights off Ardala's bodyguard, Tigerman. During the battle, the Draconia is critically damaged, but Buck, Theopolis and Twiki are rescued by Wilma before the ship explodes. Ardala and Kane also escape the Draconia's destruction in a shuttlecraft, with Kane vowing to return to take his revenge on Buck.