Lately, it seems we’ve gotten a new announcement about Power Rangers just about every week. Between the 2017 Lionsgate reboot and the Boom Studios comic series (along with the Pink Ranger miniseries written by Brenden Fletcher), it’s like 1993 got resurrected and made ten times better.
While Power Rangers has never gone off the air for more than a few years (there are 20 series after the original three seasons of MMPR), many of the original fans stopped watching during the MMPR era. As such, getting back into the Power Rangers fandom can be daunting, to say the least. I’m here to give you a quick guide to the Power Rangers fandom, describing the best arcs to follow in a rewatch, the best later series to check out if you want to get more in depth, and some other places on the internet to check out the fandom. Thankfully, every series of Power Rangers up until the most recent is on US Netflix, so you can dive right in.
Power Rangers began as a quirky idea to develop an action/adventure show for children by adapting the long-established Super Sentai series from Japanese television. The idea was to mesh together American actors in a high school setting with the costumed fights and kaiju battles of the Japanese show. No one wanted it for a long time, because it couldn’t possibly become popular, could it?
The premise of the show: five teenagers are recruited by an intergalactic being (and giant floating head) known as Zordon to protect the Earth from monsters sent by the evil space witch Empress Rita Repulsa. The set-up for each episode was pretty simple: the teens face some kind of obstacle (Trini is afraid of heights, a kid didn’t get on the soccer team, etc.), and Rita would use that situation to inspire a monster. The Rangers would fight the monster, usually defeat it with their giant dinosaur robots called Zords, and then they would resolve the obstacle from the beginning of the episode, usually with a 90s-style moral lesson thrown in. The episodes worked to match the original Japanese Sentai footage, though the circumstances are very different. In the Sentai series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers adapted, Zyuuranger, the five warriors were ancient dinosaur royalty resurrected to fight the evil witch Burai, who mainly wanted to straight up murder children. Power Rangers takes a more American mainstream superhero approach: super normal teens with secret identities who otherwise do charity work and deal with minor teen dramas. One of the joys of rewatching the original show, though, is to look for the obvious Japanese footage, where suburban Angel Grove suddenly turns into Tokyo.
The show reached the height of its popularity in season 2 and 3 and its first movie. It started using more American footage and adopted a rotating cast of characters as actors had to be replaced. Eventually the show rebranded to adapt new Sentai footage, changing from Mighty Morphin to each season getting its own title: Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Turbo, and Power Rangers In Space. This is a tradition that the show continues. By Turbo, the show was quickly losing ratings and viewership (the car theme and stunt-casting a 12-year-old did not prove popular), and the show was facing cancellation. Deciding to go all out and tell a big story before cancellation, Power Rangers In Space used the format of a giant space opera and boosted the show’s popularity. The series got renewed, though this time Power Rangers would follow a much different format. Each new series would be separately named, adapt one Sentai series, and feature a whole new team of Rangers to tell a self-contained story. Each series tended to follow the same basic show mythology, and most series featured some kind of crossover with a previous series, but the emphasis was on self-contained storytelling. Eventually the property was bought by Disney, but then reacquired by Saban in the past few years. To see more about some of these later series, see below.
The Original Five Rangers:
Red Ranger Jason Lee Scott (Austin St. John)
Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart (Amy Jo Johnson)
Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan (Thuy Trang)
Black Ranger Zack Taylor (Walter Jones)
Blue Ranger Billy Cranston (Davis Yost)
Jason, Trini, Billy, Zack, and Kimberly are recruited by Zordon as the “teens with attitude” to defend the Earth as Power Rangers. They have fairly simple characterizations: Jason leads, Billy does machines… Sorry, I mean Jason is the leader, Billy the genius, Kimberly the Valley girl, Zack the jokey hip-hop dancer, and Trini the… well… her character was mostly volunteering, doing martial arts, and translating for Billy. They’re all really good friends and spend most of their time volunteering and teaching martial arts classes when they’re not fighting space aliens. The actors for Jason, Trini, and Zack leave halfway through season 2 after an unsuccessful protest for better pay and workplace safety (which, seriously, the actors were paid next to nothing and were constantly in danger), and they were written as being accepted to a Peace Conference and moving to Switzerland. Billy and Kimberly get the most character development, as they stay on the longest: Billy becomes more athletic and more involved with inventing, eventually deciding to give up his powers in favor of a technical adviser role; and Kimberly becomes less frivolous and more disciplined and heroic, eventually leaving to become a competitive gymnast. These are the five characters featured in Boom Studios comic, and have also been recast in the 2017 movie reboot.
Okay, elephant in the room. Yes, the Black Ranger is African American and the Yellow Ranger is Asian. The writers honestly didn’t realize that until a few episodes were already filmed. However, the was some pretty bad 90s racism going on. Zack of course has to be a breakdancing martial artist with his Hip Hop Kido. At a panel I attended at Dragoncon 2014, Walter Jones said that he walked off the set once when the producers gave him bananas (you know, because Africa?) for an episode about a Cultural Food Fair. He had to explain to the producers that that was racist; they apparently didn’t get it. He also had to sort of invent Hip Hop Kido (something completely made up by the writers) when asked to give a demonstration for an episode.
The Sixth Ranger: Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank), Green Ranger, then White Ranger
Tommy is initially recruited as the Green Ranger and placed under a spell by Rita Repulsa, during which time he pretty well trounces the Rangers. They are eventually able to break the spell (the aftermath of which is pretty sedate in the original show, but is going to be explored more deeply in the Boom Studios comic series), and Tommy joins the team. His tenure as Green Ranger is marked by losing and regaining his powers, until Tommy becomes the new leader of the Power Rangers as the White Ranger. He remains on the show the longest, and eventually reprises his role several times, including becoming the mentor in the series Dino Thunder.
The Replacement Rangers:
Red Ranger Rocky DeSantos (Steve Cardenas)
Yellow Ranger Aisha Campbell (Karan Ashley)
Black Ranger Adam Park (Johnny Yong Bosch)
Pink Ranger Katherine Hillard (Catherine Sutherland)
Rocky, Aisha, and Adam replace Jason, Trini, and Zack halfway through season 2. They’re first introduced as students from Stone Canyon participating in a team ninja tournament, and they’re kidnapped by Lord Zedd, who plans to turn them evil. They’re saved by the Rangers, only to accidentally discover their identities. They end up moving to Angel Grove and becoming Power Rangers. They’re not entirely well-developed at first: Adam is shy, Aisha likes fashion… They get better defined characterizations later: Rocky is carefree but with an inferiority complex, Adam is painfully shy but a dedicated martial artist, and Aisha cares for animals and eventually decides to work at a wildlife reserve in Africa. Adam is probably the best-known out of the bunch, and makes the most reappearances after he leaves the show in Turbo.
Katherine was introduced onto the show as a transfer student from Australia who is secretly under the spell of Rita Repulsa, and even more secretly has a crush on Tommy. Rita turns her into a literal cat who becomes the pet of Kimberly and Aisha, which is just weird. She steals Kimberly’s power coin and is responsible for Kimberly injuring herself during practice. The guilt from this act breaks the spell on Katherine, and she is able to recover the pink power coin. It’s revealed that she used to be an Olympic (or a Pan-Global, as the show calls it) diver, but that she hit her head, which scared her off further competition. The show was rather scattered in its portrayal of her, as she participates in the most activities, from dog training to ballet to teaching a chimp sign language. She finally begins a relationship with Tommy in Zeo (after an awkwardly-written “dear John” letter from Kimberly), but the show doesn’t really develop their relationship. (A Christmas special shows Tommy and Katherine married with grandchildren in the future, but the canonicity of this is hotly contested.)
The Villains: Empress Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd
Rita is the Rangers’ first foe, an evil space witch who decides, logically, to conquer Earth as soon as she escapes her space “dumpster” prison. Her attacks against the Rangers include casting spells and sending down monsters, and most of her plans are inspired by whatever the Rangers are doing… to the point where it sort of feels she’s there to make them feel bad. She’s eventually banished at the beginning of season 2 by Lord Zedd, but then returns to place Zedd under a spell and marry him.
Lord Zedd is the first American-only villain, and is genuinely terrifying when introduced, with his HR Giger-esque design. He carries the Z-staff, which can create monsters and cast spells, and his throne room turns red to match his anger. After being put under a love potion, he marries Rita, but later after the love spell if lifted it’s revealed that his love is genuine. He’s also rather misogynistic, thinking that he can order Rita around, but finding that such is not the case. He mellows somewhat after marrying Rita, but they are able to achieve far more victories against the Rangers together.
The minions: Goldar, Scorpina, Finster, Squatt and Baboo, and Rito Revolto
Rita and Zedd employ a variety of warriors, scientist, and… whatevers… along with weekly monsters. Goldar is their strongest fighter, Finster the scientist and monster-maker, and Baboo and Squatt their… comic relief? Basically they make jokes. Scorpina is a fighter who turns into a scorpion monster, but only shows up for half of the first season (she’s going to be featured in both the new comic series and the 2017 movie reboot). Rito Revolto, Rita’s carefree brother, starts working for them in season 3.
Zordon and Alpha V
Zordon is an “intergalactic being” from the planet Eltar, who was imprisoned in another dimension by Rita Repulsa right before her own imprisonment. He acts as recruiter and mentor to the Rangers, providing them with information and weapons. He’s also a giant floating head. Alpha is Zordon’s robot assistant, running the Command Center and assisting the Rangers with technology. He’s also a comic relief character, yelling “ay-yi-yi-yi-yi” when he panics (which is far too frequently for a robot) and trying out new slang.
The Real Heroes: Farcas Bulkmeyer (Bulk) and Eugene Skullovitch (Skull)
These are perhaps the true heroes of the show, and stay on the show the longest of all the cast members. They begin as school bullies who like to pick on the Rangers (particularly Billy) and hit on Kimberly and Trini. They otherwise form a sort of Laurel-and-Hardy-mixed-with-Three-Stooges physical comedy duo, with Bulk as the heavy-set straight man and Skull as the skinny wise guy. Early on, their bullying usually gets foiled by cake pratfalls or their own stupidity and cowardice. In season 2, they begin a quest to discover the true identities of the Power Rangers (usually foiled by their own stupidity or, on occasion, by the Rangers themselves). In season 3, they become junior police officers. These two get the most character development, transforming from mean and cowardly to genuinely heroic.
The Major Arcs
The Tommy Oliver arc
In the first two seasons, Tommy’s story is perhaps the most significant and causes the most impact on the plot. In the 5-parter “Green with Evil,”, Tommy pretty much wrecks the Rangers. He kidnaps Jason, plays mindgames with Kimberly, destroys the Command Center, throws the Rangers bodily from the Megazord cockpit… It’s still fairly PG-rated, but the show gets pretty dark here. He’s freed from the spell and joins the team, but there are indications that he’s haunted by what he’s done (further explored in the Boom Studios comic series). Rita eventually takes his powers away, and later he’s able to regain them, but his powers become unpredictable, which often leaves him vulnerable during battles. Zedd takes away his powers entirely, but Zordon gives him new powers, as well as leadership over the Power Rangers.
However, the show will continue to make callbacks to his evil past. To experience the whole arc, watch the following episodes: Green with Evil (s1e17-21), The Green Candle (s1e34-35), Return of an Old Friend (s1e49-50), On Fins and Needles (s1e56), The Green Dream (s2e7), The Power Stealer (s2e8), Welcome to Venus Island (s2e10), Green No More (s2e12-13), Missing Green (s2e14), White Light (s2e17-18), Return of the Green Rangers (s2e44-46), Master Vile and the Metallic Armor (s3e29-31), King for a Day (Zeo e42-43), and Forever Red (Wild Force e34).
The Rita and Zedd arc
Empress Rita and Lord Zedd have one of the most long-lasting and entertaining relationships in Power Rangers. While they meet as mortal enemies, Rita returns to cast a love spell on Zedd. The two immediately get married, with Rita singing her own bridal march (”Here comes the queen / ain’t that a scream”) and the two dancing at an inexplicably Jewish reception. The marriage begins as a power struggle, as the two try to one-up each other on evil schemes, but they slowly find that working together works better. They also just start to enjoy each other’s company more.
To experience their entire relationship, watch the following episodes: The Mutiny (s2e1-3), The Wedding (s2e41-43), Ninja Quest (s3e4-7), Wizard for a Day (s3e10), The Potion Notion (s3e15), A Ranger Catastrophe (s3e17-18), Changing of the Zords (s3e19-21), A Different Shade of Pink (s3e23-25), Master Vile and the Metallic Armor (s3e29-31), Rangers in Reverse (s3e33), Alien Rangers of Aquitar (Alien Rangers e1-2), A Zeo Beginning (Zeo e1), From Out of Nowhere (In Space e1), and Countdown to Destruction (In Space e42-43).
The Tommy and Kimberly shipping arc
Tommy and Kimberly are the first established couple in Power Rangers, and the one with the largest following. They’re frequently seen going on dates, and they even share two kisses (which is about as steamy as Power Rangers is going to get). In Power Rangers Zeo, wanting to pair off Tommy and Katherine after Kimberly left the show, the writers forced the couple to split through a Dear John letter, and BOY is that controversial in the fandom.
Watch the following episodes to experience their best scenes together: Green with Evil (s1e17-21), Welcome to Venus Island (s2e10), The Song of Guitardo (s2e11), Green No More (s2e12-13), Beauty and the Beast (s2e16), White Light (s2e17-18), Best Man for the Job (s2e47), The Potion Notion (s3e15), A Ranger Catastrophe (s3e17-18), Changing of the Zords (s3e19-21), A Different Shade of Pink (s3e23-25), There’s No Business Like Snow Business (Zeo e15-17), and the Turbo movie.
The Billy arc
Billy lasted the longest of the original Rangers, and he was my favorite. He was the awkward nerd who grew into an athletic genius inventor: in essence, everything I wanted to be. To follow his journey, watch the following episodes: Day of the Dumpster (s1e1), Switching Places (s1e16), The Ninja Encounter (s2e22-24), Blue Ranger Gone Bad (s3e52), Climb Every Fountain (Alien Rangers e3), Hogday Afternoon (Alien Rangers e10), A Zeo Beginning (Zeo e1-2), Graduation Blues (Zeo e10), Revelations of Gold (Zeo e33), and Ranger of Two Worlds (Zeo e47-48).
The Bulk and Skull arc
Like I said, Bulk and Skull are the real heroes. The Rangers are smart, intelligent, athletic, and popular, and Bulk and Skull are none of these, but they become heroes anyway. To follow their journey, watch the following episodes: Day of the Dumpster (s1e1), The Mutiny (s2e1-3), When is a Ranger Not a Ranger (s2e31), Ninja Quest (s3e4-7), The Potion Notion (s3e15), Attack of the 60-foot Bulk (Alien Rangers e5), Instrument of Destruction (Zeo e12), King for a Day (Zeo e42-43), Parts and Parcel (Turbo e43), and Countdown to Destruction (In Space e42-43).
Beyond MMPR: Best Series
In Space: Power Rangers moves from Angel Grove to outer space, where an intergalactic war rages between the Rangers and their allies and the forces of evil. The finale is the culmination of the first six seasons of Power Rangers.
Time Force: Rangers from the future go back in time to save Earth from an evil mutant. The tone is serious and features a tough leader Pink Ranger.
Dino Thunder: Former Ranger Tommy now has a doctorate in paleontology and teaches science at a high school, where he accidentally recruits three new Rangers. The show has a lot of good callbacks and self-referential humor.
RPM: In a Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic future, humans have sequestered themselves into the haven city of Corinth, where the Rangers fight against the evil computer virus Venjix. It has surprising dark storytelling and complex characterizations.
Other places on the internet
Linkara’s History of Power Rangers
This is essential viewing for a Power Rangers fan, especially one who wants to experience all the shows without slogging through all 900+ episodes. For each season, Linkara has put together a video series that summarizes, editorializes, explains, and cracks wise about each season as a whole. Originally published on Blip, he’s now revamping to create Youtube-friendly versions of his earlier videos.
Comics Alliance’s Ranger Station
Chris Sims is writing a retrospective for every episode, starting at the beginning and published every Monday. He compares the Power Rangers episode and the Sentai and comments on the sheer strangeness of each episode. It’s very funny.
In 2015, Joseph Kahn directed a send-up of gritty movie reboots in a short film about Power Rangers, starring Katee Sackhoff as a tough-as-nails Kimberly and James Van Der Beek as a sell-out Rocky. The film is over-the-top violent, positing a world where the Machine Empire took over and Zack got rich off Hip Hop Kido. It’s entertaining enough, though definitely not for kids.