Much to the delight of scores of ’90s kids, this week marked the release of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always, a 30th-anniversary reunion special that brought back (some of) the original Rangers from the 1993 series and its follow-up seasons for one last jaunt ’round the Morphin Grid.
The results are as bittersweet as they are achingly sincere, embracing the aw-shucks corniness of ’90s Rangers while throwing decades’ worth of member-berries at its prospective audience. (At the same time, the show serves as an extensive tribute to late Yellow Ranger actor Thuy Trang — and, by dint of sheer tragic timing, franchise icon Jason David Frank, who died by suicide late last year.)
After all, Power Rangers has run practically nonstop since its inception, spawning 30 seasons, dozens of Rangers and hundreds of Zords (and a heaping helping of lore in the meantime). While this special is squarely for the first generation of Ranger fans, there are quite a few nods to lore and legacy from throughout the show’s decades-long (and counting!) run. So strap on your nostalgia goggles, hold out your Power Morphers, and let’s run through the bevy of references that eagle-eyed Ranger-heads can unearth in Once & Always.
Once & Always knows it’s only got 55 minutes to thrill us. So we leap immediately into a battle with an old villain made new: Robo Rita, a reincarnated — and, as the name implies, robotic — version of the series’ original baddie, Rita Repulsa. She’s got the horned witch’s hat, the staff, the pointy breastplate, and (most importantly) her original cackling voice, courtesy of classic series actress Barbara Goodson.
But the “robo” part (which conveniently sidesteps the problem of getting her face right, since the original Rita was all Japanese footage for the first season) also recalls the hard lines and chrome-domed look of Power Rangers Zeo villains The Machine Empire — who infamously kicked Rita and her hubby, Lord Zedd, off the moon at the start of that series.
The death of Trini
Once & Always kicks off its downbeat prologue with a move practically unheard of in Ranger history: The death of a Power Ranger in battle, namely original Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan. Thuy Trang, who played Trini in the first season and a half of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, died in a car accident on Sept. 3, 2001, at the age of 27.
While Trini’s fate here is similarly devastating, the show at least leaves behind a daughter, Charlie Kersh’s Minh, whose quest for vengeance eventually leads her down the path of Rangerdom. (In her house lies a shrine to Trini, including Trang’s headshot.)
Breaking baddies: Snizzard and Mighty Minotaur
The two monsters Robo Rita decides to resurrect to keep the Rangers busy are classic MMPR baddies Snizzard (from “Foul Play in the Sky”) and Mighty Minotaur (from “Teamwork”). Fun fact: Snizzard was voiced by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, who came back to the franchise as Zordon in the 2017 reboot film — and serves as the inspiration for Billy’s surname!
RadBug fully loaded
In the intervening years, Billy’s become a tech billionaire (but one of the few who are actually working to save the world) with his own company, Cranston Tech. But perhaps his greatest invention is the RadBug V2, a souped-up Volkswagen Beetle first seen in “Big Sisters,” and which played a big part in the “Green With Evil” arc that introduced Tommy Oliver to the series. Rather than looking like Herbie with a septic tank glued to it, this new version is a slick white-and-blue Beetle convertible with a big ol’ jet engine strapped to the front. (Yes, it still flies.)
RIP Harvey Garvey
During their first fight with Snizzard and Minotaur in a cemetery, Minotaur busts up a gravestone that reads: “HARVEY GARVEY, 1953-2022.”
That’s a cute, if odd, reference to the talk show host who brought the Rangers on TV all the way back in season 2 (“Lights, Camera, Action”). They were there to talk about the importance of education and regale the audience with tales of their past exploits. (In other words, it was a clip show.) I guess he took his explanation for how a TV show managed to book five anonymous superheroes all the way to the grave.
Riding the Z-wave
But how did Robo Rita return, you may ask? In flashback, we learn that Billy inadvertently reconstituted her (in the body of poor Alpha 8) thanks to his efforts to find Zordon again in the wake of the “Z-Wave.” That refers to the climax of Power Rangers in Space, the sixth season and the previously canonical ending of the main Power Rangers story, which saw Zordon sacrifice himself to generate a wave of “good energy” that dissipated all the evil in the world. (Seeing as the universe still needed Rangers the very next season, I’d say results were mixed.)
Total alpha move
Speaking of Alpha, don’t worry — Billy’s got a spare. While Alpha 8 ends up the host body for Robo Rita, Billy activates a new version, Alpha 9, to ai-yi-yi and hold down the Command Center (now Cranston Tech headquarters). We’ve even got the original voice actor, Richard Horvitz, to lend his frenzied squeak.
Getting the band(ora) back together
With everyone but Billy and Zack shrinkified or dead, the remaining Rangers know they’ll need backup to fight Robo Rita. Luckily, they’ve planned for this, and the Rangers activate “Bandora Protocol” — a nod to Rita’s name in the original Japanese series, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, Witch Bandora.
A signal goes out across a host of other locations, most of them the main settings for other Ranger series: Coral Harbor (Beast Morphers), Reefside (Dino Thunder), the Astro Megaship (in Space), Turtle Cove (Wild Force), and Terra Venture (Lost Galaxy). And Osaka, too, likely just a reference to the show’s Japanese origins (though the Dino Fury Rangers go there in one episode).
Ranger cameos (once a ranger…)
But it seems the two classic Rangers who answer the call are Rocky (Steve Cardenas) and Kat (Catherine Sutherland), who replaced Jason and Kimberly as the Red and Pink Rangers, respectively, in Mighty Morphin and stayed on the team through Zeo. (Kat stuck around for the first half of Turbo as well.)
They’re not the only former Rangers to make a flesh-and-blood appearance; we also get cameos from Aisha (Karan Ashley) and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch), who came on the team with Rocky in season 2 and replaced Trini and Zack. We also see they’re wearing the uniforms of Space Patrol Alpha — presumably a similar organization to Space Patrol Delta, the space cops at the center of Power Rangers SPD. (They even name-drop the Troobian Empire, who were SPD’s baddies.)
Mighty Morphin nepo babies
Kat makes mention of “helping J.J. at his junior karate camp,” referring to the son she has with Tommy Oliver — and yes, the two are canonically an item. J.J. Oliver is a character from the BOOM! Studios comics run of Power Rangers (a Ranger in his own right) and is actually referenced off screen in Super Ninja Steel.
Too much pink energy is dangerous
When Rocky and Kat get their Proxy Power Coins (so they can morph into Dino Rangers even though Jason and Kim are technically still morphed), Kat remarks that she doesn’t care “how dangerous pink energy is.” In the season 2 two-parter “Wild West Rangers,” Zordon warns Kimberly that “too much pink energy is dangerous.” Wiser words have never been spoken from a floating head in a tube.
Use your skull, buy in bulk
Everyone’s favorite bullies-turned-rookie-cops-turned-private-detectives-turned-monkeys-turned-invisible-turned-space-bartenders are tragically missing from this reunion special — flights to New Zealand must be pricey! Still, we get a quick nod to them, complete with that lumbering polka motif, in the form of a billboard advertising their bulk food business. (Guess the power of the Morphin Grid can’t stave off inflation.)
Smoothies and smooth moves
Still, if we can’t get more familiar faces, we can at least get familiar places. As the Rangers teleport around the world to beat up the Putties terrorizing the population, Rocky and Zack (and Minh, eager to join the fight) strut their stuff in Ernie’s Juice Bar, a regular haunt for the original Rangers and a place that hasn’t updated its neon-and-pastel decor in a quarter century.
It’s an easy fight for the Rangers, though, especially since Zack breaks out once more into “hip-hop kido,” his patented fighting style that mixes martial arts with breakdancing. (Tapping the sign once more: It was the ’90s.)
To power her dastardly time-travel device, Rita’s evidently been shrinking and snatching Rangers from all over the galaxy, as indicated by the rows of action figures captured Rangers plugged into her console:
- The Green, Red, and Pink MMPR Rangers (Tommy, Jason, and Kimberly)
- The Blue, Red, and Gold Beast Morphers Rangers
- The Yellow Zeo and Space Rangers, as well as the Phantom Ranger from Turbo
- The Red and White Rangers from Dino Thunder
- The Blue, Red, and Green Rangers from Lost Galaxy
- The Wolf Ranger from Wild Force, and the Black Space Ranger
Get your Zord on
It’s not a Power Rangers adventure without their Zords, and the special recreates the Zord-summoning sequence, shot for shot, with crisp (albeit ropey) CGI. The Tyrannosaurus Zord rises from an earthquake, the Pterodactyl Zord emerges from an erupting volcano — you get the drill. We even get a redo of the Megazord assembly sequence and its Power Sword finishing move, even if none of it quite beats the feel of a dude in a blocky robot suit.
There’s a whole wide Ranger universe out there
With Robo Rita thwarted and the universe at peace, we get a few more mentions of alien planets with connections to the Rangers. Adam explains that the shrunken Rangers will be taken to Aquitar, the aquatic home planet of the Alien Rangers (who took over fighting duties for the Rangers late in season 3 when they got turned into kids — don’t ask). He even brings up Cestria, the Aquitian who Billy fell in love with in Zeo and facilitated Billy’s (and Yost’s) exit from the show.
On top of that, Billy teases Minh at Ernie’s that he could bring her back “a souvenir from Mirinoi,” the alien planet that served as a central setting for Power Rangers Lost Galaxy.
Trini’s old adventures
Fitting the special’s secondary aim as a tribute to Trang, the special closes out with Billy and Zack reminiscing with Minh about Trini’s tenure as a Ranger. That includes the time Billy helped her overcome her fear of heights (“High Five”) and the time that a turtle monster with a traffic light attached to him made Trini run uncontrollably (“The Trouble With Shellshock”) — the kinds of universal experiences that shape everyone’s formative years.
…always a Ranger
But the ultimate tribute comes in the special’s closing moments, flashing back to a scene from season 2’s “The Song of Guitardo.” There, the original six Rangers — Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, Zack, and Tommy — lounge at Ernie’s while Kim lays down some Lilith Fair energy with the Amy Jo Johnson-penned folk ballad “Down the Road.” In the episode, it’s meant to be a goodbye to Tommy’s Green Ranger powers; here, with its held shots of Jason David Frank and Trang, it becomes a tear-jerking ode to the two original Rangers who are no longer with us. May the Power protect them.