Efficient. That's the word that springs to mind on rewatching this. All the major characters are introduced, the world is set in motion, motivations are explained, jargon is deployed, all within 50 minutes. We learn everything we need to know about John Crichton in 7 minutes. He's living in the shadow of his father. In a neat bit of foreshadowing, his father tells him "everybody is their own kind of hero."
8 minutes in, Crichton Jr encounters the fateful wormhole and the show is off to the races.
One thing that stands up even now is the sense of disorientation/dislocation. The wormhole graphics look great, and the sound design and camera work contribute greatly. Emerging from the wormhole, John is dazed and confused. He's quickly snared by a giant ship. I was hoping for some sort of Star Wars tractor beam reference, but those sorts of lines are not being used much yet. The closest we get is John's musing later on that "Spielberg got it all wrong".
We meet Zan and D'argo first. It's a nice progression. They are humanoid but clearly alien. Next, we meet Rygel, who is the first of the puppets, and although the initial impression is that he's clearly sharing some DNA with Kermit The Frog, the voice acting by Jonathan Hardy really sets him apart. It's a testament to the skill of the production team that we quickly accept him as a serious character. We also find out that despite not looking like much, he was instrumental in the escape plan.
Crais is a fascinating villain. His motivation seems sound from his point of view, but he's obviously going to be Ahab and Crichton will be his whale.
Random thought: Crichton is awfully buff and sunburnt for a scientist. You'd expect that sort of rocket scientist to be scrawny and pasty.
Although the story at this point is looking like it's cobbled together out of familiar pieces, the production design is so striking that it doesn't really matter.
One thing I want to mention is the music. Obviously the title music is striking with the tribal drums, wild grunting and crazy melismatic female vocalizations, but the incidental cues are great as well. Countless hours of televised Star Trek had led us to expect fairly dull aural wallpaper, but there are some striking touches with ethnic percussion, guitars, and general weird synth noises.
Despite the show's reputation for exotic (and sometimes silly) futuristic slang, terms like "frell" are nowhere to be found. The only one I noticed was "metra".
So, after 50 minutes, we've got a crew of misfits who don't really like each other but are forced to work for a common cause, a ship, and a mission. Nothing groundbreaking really but done with a great sense of pacing and style. I can't wait to see where we're going next.