The other day I found myself having to explain who He-Man was to a college-age friend of mine. I was telling her about a midnight screening of “Masters of the Universe” I’d attended at a local revival house that had since closed down. She gave me a puzzled look when I name-dropped MotU, and I realized that even someone born in the late-1980s might not know Man-at-Arms from Man-E-Faces.
The MotU cartoon debuted in 1982, pre-dating “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe” and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It’s a marriage of sword-and-sorcery with science fiction, a genre mashup that succeeded for George Lucas a few years earlier. MotU also has some comic book elements thrown in, as Prince Adam uses the Sword of Grayskull to transform himself into He-Man in order to thwart the evil, skull-faced Skeletor.
MotU was my point-of-entry into the toy collecting hobby. Mattel’s action figure line must’ve eaten into my parents’ discretionary income during that time because I remember having dozens of figures. My favorites were battle-armor He-Man and battle-armor Skeletor, whose rotating chest plates would reveal different degrees of damage inflicted upon them when struck by an opponent’s weapon. Said hero and villain would clash swords on the parapets of my Castle Grayskull playset on numerous occasionas. Oh, how I wanted a Snake Mountain playset for Skeletor and his minions to hatch their next sinister plot.
If I remember correctly, the series had left the air when the Cannon Films-produced, Dolph Lundgren-starring “Master of the Universe” film hit the big screen in 1987. My interest in the cartoon had subsided to an degree, but I still recall seeing it in the theater. The movie definitely tries to ape the aesthetics of “Star Wars” but on a “Starcrash” budget. To this day, I maintain it’s a fun little cash-in. I’m only disappointed by the fact that the post-credits tag, which I didn’t discover until I saw the movie for the dozenth time on cable, sets up a sequel that never happened (to date).
A few years ago, I revisited “He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special” on DVD and found it holds up surprisingly well. I only had vague memories of seeing it (on a black-and-white TV, no less) during its original airing. The only thing that had stuck with me over the intervening years was the scene where Skeletor grows a conscience and helps some children in peril.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of MotU in the early-1980s, not every property gets to enjoy a renewed interest and a second generation of fans, like the “Transformers,” and to a lesser extent, “G.I. Joe.” Attempts at a cinematic reboot of the MotU franchise have been unsuccessful thus far. I’d love to see He-Man make a big-screen comeback, so I don’t get any more confused looks when I namedrop one of my childhood heroes.