Set aside Last Blood, Sylvester Stallone's recent return to the role of Rambo. It's December, and that means the Cold War kitsch on your plate should be "When S.A.V.A.G.E. Stole Santa," a seasonal tale in which Rambo helps an orphan learn the true meaning of Christmas.
It's a Very Special Episode from one of the odder excretions of the Ramboverse: Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a Stallone-free TV cartoon that ran for a few months in 1986. This was about a year after the movie Rambo: First Blood Part 2 transformed the title character from a disillusioned vet persecuted by sadistic cops into a supersoldier retconning the Vietnam War. A smash hit, the picture unleashed a flood of cash-ins, including this show and the line of toys that accompanied it.
Beneath its patriotic fervor, First Blood Part 2 maintained some of the anti-establishment undercurrents of the first film—it was a militarist fantasy, but it was also a conspiracy thriller, and its climax came with Rambo destroying an American command center. But that insurgent side of the character went out the window with The Force of Freedom, in which Rambo was basically a bulkier incarnation of G.I. Joe. He now worked for a military peacekeeping unit, and he traveled the world battling a brotherhood called the Specialist Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy, and Global Extortion, or S.A.V.A.G.E.
And the stories? Cross the absurd action sequences of First Blood Part 2 with the conventions of a children's TV show, and you get…
…well, eventually you get Rambo saving Christmas. That's one of the classic steps of the hero's journey, right? First they send you to war; then you run into a little trouble with the law; then you rescue some POWs; then you save Christmas. There are some other steps too—I think at some point you go to Afghanistan—but you definitely save Christmas. I'm pretty sure Joseph Campbell said that somewhere.
(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For a more thorough and serious look at Rambo as a cultural figure, go here. That article later doubled in length and became chapter 10 of my book The United States of Paranoia, which can be found here. I hear it makes a great gift.)