I was an excited eight-year-old when Mighty Morphin Power Rangers premiered in 1993. It was colorful, action-packed, and endlessly entertaining to kids of the time. We didn’t need to know what Super Sentai was, or care that half the footage was obviously from Japan. For a generation of kids, the Power Rangers were the heroes we all wanted to be. And the franchise has continued apace ever since, but those original Mighty Morphin years remain the ones people remember fondest. And it’s for those people that the Once & Always special exists.
The Netflix special—which runs about 55 minutes—does not deal directly with anything the franchise has put forth after the first three seasons. So even though several of the characters went on to wear different suits and even have different colors depending on the season, it’s the original dinosaur-themed suits and Zords and villains we get. Basically, if it was in Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, it’s here. But more than just the suits, this acts as a tribute to one specific member of the original cast.
The story features Billy Cranston (David Yost) accidentally reviving arch-nemesis Rita Repulsa and her subsequently capturing Red Ranger Jason, Pink Ranger Kimberly, and Green Ranger Tommy. (Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson, and Jason David Frank do not appear in the special.) Rita also, while attempting to kill Billy, instead kills Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan. In the series, actress Thuy Trang portrayed Trini, but left the show partway through season two. Trang subsequently lost her life in a tragic car crash in 2001.
The bulk of the special then deals with Billy and Zack Taylor (Walter Emanuel Jones) trying to rescue their captured cohorts while jointly raising Trini’s daughter Minh (Charlie Kersh). Minh, a fantastic martial artist, wants to get revenge on Rita much to her guardians’ chagrin. But they’ll definitely need more Rangers if they’re going to defeat her. To that end, they enlist second Red Ranger Rocky (Steven Cardenas) and second Pink Ranger Kat (Catherine Sutherland).
It’s a funny thing, this special. Because of the focus on the loss of Trini, it feels much less celebratory than a 30th anniversary special might. Sure, we have some fun jokes and references to past events, and the compulsory action. And yes, it’s fun to hear that Kat and Tommy have a son, and Zack used to be a congressman while Billy runs a Stark Industries-esque tech conglomerate. Rocky is a firefighter. Stuff like this brought a smile to my face. But it truly felt more like a special to highlight Yost and Jones and properly pay tribute to Trang.
Jason David Frank, as we know, also passed away recently. That must have been after this was filmed, though we do get his name and picture next to Trang’s in the special’s credits. Once & Always didn’t quite give me the shot of nostalgic adrenaline I was expecting. Maybe if more of the main cast had appeared, or if the scope was a little bigger, it would have given me that. Instead it was a somber, surprisingly intimate reflection on growing up and growing apart. The new generation must carry on while the older passes on what they’ve learned.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is not a perfect special, but it does perfectly encapsulate why a generation of kids loved this show, and who it was that made us love it in the first place.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is on Netflix April 19.
Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.