The original “Battlestar Galactica” 40 yahrens later…

A year ago, I wrote of the excitement and anticipation my then-11 year old self felt back in the fall of 1978 with the television premiere of “Battlestar Galactica”:

Remembering Richard Hatch and Battlestar Galactica

With this post, I wanted to take an in-depth look at the three-hour pilot episode, “Saga of a Star World” (not the best title they could’ve came up with, granted, but since we never saw the title onscreen anyway it hardly mattered).  “Saga…” premiered nearly 40 yahrens—er, years ago this September.

“Battlestar Galactica” (BSG) came from the ABC television network (the same network that gave us cerebral fare as “Charlie’s Angels” “Three’s Company” and “Battle of the Network Stars”), and as a piece of television, BSG was very impressive for the time.   Not even Gerry Anderson’s visually top-heavy “Space: 1999” approached it in sheer production value.   Sporting visuals produced by Star Wars’ FX veteran John Dykstra, and with sets, costumes and vehicles that bested most other science fiction motion pictures of the time, “Battlestar Galactica” (despite its silly title) was unlike anything my then-11 year old eyes had seen on the boob tube at that time.   While perhaps not as clever or thought-provoking as “Star Trek” “Twilight Zone” or “Doctor Who”, BSG’s feature-film quality production design (at least in the pilot episode) made most other television science fiction productions look like high school plays by comparison.

While BSG is, admittedly, a triumph of style over substance, there is the core of a good idea in there as well.  Fusing elements from the Biblical Exodus, Egyptian mythology, Mormonism (producer Glen Larson was a practitioner of that faith), the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served with a generous helping of George Lucas’ Star Wars, the resulting pilot episode is a very entertaining if somewhat uneven 2.5 hours of 1970s space opera.

“Saga…” opens with Stu Phillips’ dynamic score (some seriously rich music for television) followed by “Avengers” actor Patrick Macnee’s voiceover dropping a few clues about the possible origins of our yet-to-be seen human characters (“There are those who believe that life here, began out there…”).

We then see twelve battlestars hovering in space; battlestars are giant spaceborne aircraft carriers, each defending one of the ‘twelve colonies’ of humanity.   Each colony planet bears a slightly corrupted name from the Zodiacal belt (Caprica, Picon, Sagitara, etc).  Hey, astrology was really big back in 1978.

The battlestar “Atlantia” is the flagship to president Adar, leader of the 12 colonies (played by Lew Ayres, of “All Quiet on the Western Front”).   Adar salutes the assembled ‘noble delegates’ (representing their own colonies/battlestars) for arriving together to inaugurate a new era of peace with their previously implacable foe of 1,000 years, the Cylons (they say ‘years’ in the pilot, but ‘yahrens’ in the subsequent television show… just one of those nitpicky things…).

Only the commander of the Galactica, Adama (“Bonanza”’s Lorne Greene), representing the colony of Caprica, remains skeptical of the Cylon’s motives.

Onboard the Galactica, a young nervous colonial warrior named Zac (played by future ‘80s rock/soap opera star Rick Springfield) asks cigar-chomping veteran pilot Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) if he’s told his older brother Captain Apollo (the late Richard Hatch) that he’ll be taking Starbuck’s patrol assignment (there are apparently no last names in this universe; don’t know why…).  Suddenly Apollo walks in, and Starbuck weakly feigns a stomach ailment.  Apollo knows what’s up between these two, and allows his kid brother Zac to take the ‘ailing’ Starbuck’s patrol assignment.   It’s a cute little scene that quickly and efficiently establishes the three characters.  We get their relationships in an instant; Apollo is the by-the-book senior pilot who doesn’t mind occasionally bending regs for his eager kid brother, and Starbuck is the “Brett Maverick”-type who’d rather stay on deck and play cards.

Apollo and Zac then board their two Viper fighters and shoot from the hangar deck of the mothership Galactica in what will be an oft-repeated, but still spectacular, launch sequence.   Stu Phillips’ vibrant and exciting music really gives it a lot of punch as well (I sometimes play it in my car when getting onto a freeway).

As neat as it is, I’m not exaggerating when I say the viper launching sequence is probably used no less than 80 or so times during the course of the series; and at least a dozen times in the pilot alone.

Out in space, Apollo and Zac come across a mysterious cloud-shrouded moon, and detect a couple of empty Cylon tankers.   Peering beneath the tankers, Apollo sees thousands of Cylon attack-craft waiting in ambush.  The peace summit was a ruse for a massive, Pearl Harbor-esque surprise attack on the colonial fleet.  As Apollo and Zac attempt to signal for help, they find the Cylons are jamming transmissions.  While engaging a handful of Cylon fighters, Zac’s Viper is crippled.  Apollo attempts to escort him back to the Galactica, but Zac insists on Apollo using full thrust to warn the fleet instead.  Apollo reluctantly agrees; leaving kid brother Zac to fend for himself.

Get the tissue ready, folks…

Adama returns to the Galactica, along with his daughter Athena (Maren Jensen), a comm officer (Galactica is one seriously nepotistic ship!), only to find out that they’ve lost contact with the patrol.  The last word received was a vague report of an attack.   Adama’s executive officer, Col. Tigh (a wonderfully high-strung Terry Carter) is adamant that they launch fighters to investigate, but Adama is expressly forbidden to launch a full fighter force due to the terms of the armistice.   Adama opens a channel to the Atlantia.

Adama then makes his case for launching fighters directly to president Adar, who is under the sway of the human ambassador to the Cylons, Count Baltar (a very hammy John Colicos).   Baltar is as smarmy as they come, yet Adar seems to trust him implicitly for some damn reason. Adar refuses his old friend Adama’s request.  The first of many blunders…

In frustration, Adama decides to, at the very least, put the ship on alert.  Hearing the battle claxon, the viper pilots snap into action; ruining a great “pyramid” card game for Starbuck.

Zac’s crippled fighter limps back within range of the fleet, only to be destroyed just short of it by the approaching wave of Cylon ships.  Adama and Athena are devastated as Zac is reduced to a vanishing blip on a radar screen.    A bewildered and confused Adar then asks, “What was that?”  Adama answers, “That was my son, Mr. President.”

As the armada of Cylon raiders bears down on the fleet, Adama defies orders and decides to “launch all vipers!”  Apparently, the Galactica is the only ship to do so, as the Atlantia and all other battlestars are soon destroyed.  Apollo makes it back to the fleet and rushes to the bridge of the Galactica, where he then learns that his kid brother didn’t make it.

Galactica’s viper squadrons slug it out with the Cylon raiders, as Tigh tells Adama the Cylons appear to have base-ships approaching the home colonies.   It’s an extermination.   With no choice but to try to protect the colonies, Adama temporarily abandons his fighters in an attempt to save their home planets.

Arriving at Caprica too late, the Galactica bridge crew discovers via television transmissions that the Cylons have already launched simultaneous attacks on all twelve worlds.  The Caprican news broadcaster, Serena (Jane Seymour, an early TV crush of mine) is frantically relaying reports of the attack on Caprica, but soon abandons the broadcast as her son Boxey (Noah Hathaway) runs off in pursuit of his dog–er, daggit, Muffit.

The Cylon fighters do strafing runs all over the planet; a wildly inefficient attack strategy that’s a bit like trying to blow up a city with a few handfuls of fireworks.  Why the Cylons don’t just nuke the colonies (as they do in the admittedly superior 2003 remake) is not made clear, but “Saga…” was made post-Pearl Harbor, not post-9/11.   American audiences of 1978  had not yet experienced such a massive, direct attack on American soil (and I wish we never had), so it gets a pass out of sheer naïveté.    As depicted, the attack on Caprica is somewhat less than brutally realistic, and more evocative of Irwin Allen disaster movies of the 1970s.   Nevertheless, the destruction of the colonies vaguely foreshadows 9/11; especially as buildings and columns crumble and topple onto people (and yes, even Boxey’s daggit).

Adama and Apollo arrive at the ruins of Caprica, at the site of their destroyed family home.  Adama gathers a portrait of his late wife Ila and his children from the rubble as a crowd of angry survivors gathers around their viper, demanding answers.  Serena is in the crowd as well, leading the charge.   Apollo defeatedly tells the survivors that rest of the fleet is destroyed, save for the battlestar Galactica.  Adama tries to muster some semblance of hope as he tells the crowd to spread word to all survivors to “set sail at once, in every assorted ship that will carry them.”  

Adama’s plan: To create a ‘rag-tag fleet’ of ships that’ll carry what’s left of humanity (protected by the Galactica) on a quest to find humanity’s lost sister world; the mythical planet known as… “Earth.”   These ‘colonials’ are perhaps our long lost cousins, or even our remote ancestors.   That some characters have names out of Earth mythology (“Apollo” “Athena”) and that the colonies are named after the Zodiacal constellations serves a point.   This space saga, unlike the Star Wars movies, somehow ties directly to our universe.

Baltar soon makes his own way onto the surface of the devastated Caprica (presumably after the survivors’ ships have launched), gloating over the annihilation of his own race (for some reason…?).  I’m assuming some nice girl on his home planet really broke his heart once, because this crazy bastard has it in for everybody.   One of the nearby Cylon centurions tells Baltar (in that Dalek-like voice) that there are rumors of human survivors in fleeing ships.   Baltar orders them pursued and destroyed, stating dramatically, “If they exist?  They’re doomed.”

Baltar is somewhat irony-impaired.

Aboard the Galactica, in a scene that is only in the TV version of “Saga…” and not the theatrical release,  Starbuck walks in on Athena, who is stripping out of her uniform, and wearing what appears to be a flesh tone body stocking (space underwear perhaps?).  It’s a somewhat pointless scene that only establishes that the two of them have (or had?) a relationship and that it’s on the rocks.

Moving on…

As the surviving ships of the human holocaust band together in space, several colonial warriors, Apollo, Starbuck and the level-headed Lt. Boomer (a wry Herb Jefferson Jr.) are sent to assess the conditions of the 220-odd ships of the rag-tag fleet.  Living conditions are horrific;  old creaky freighters doubling as starships are filled with sick, injured and starving people.

When I was 11, this was pretty intense for ‘kiddy’ science fiction.  To the older me, this scene is reminiscent of the refugees living in boxcars as they flee Moscow for the Urals in 1965’s “Doctor Zhivago.”

Aboard the freighter Gemini, they rescue a pretty blonde ‘socialator’ (a space geisha) named Cassiopeia (played by Laurette Spang, yet another boyhood crush of mine).  Cassiopeia has a broken arm, and she is danger of being mauled by angry fundamentalists on the ship who look somewhat down upon her profession (“dirty socialator!”).  She and other sick and injured are taken to the survey team’s shuttle for treatment aboard the Galactica.   Starbuck is, of course, immediately smitten with the young woman…

Next up, the team investigates rumors of food hoarding aboard the luxury liner “Rising Star.”  Once there, Apollo and Boomer encounter ex-journalist Serena, who wonders if the good captain might give her a moment to help cheer up her son, Boxey (who’s traumatized over the loss of his daggit).  Apollo promises the distraught little boy that he’s entitled to the first daggit that comes along.   It’s a nice little scene echoed by a sensitive piece from the talented Stu Phillips, the John Williams of this series.

BSG was a show that (despite robot holocausts and ‘socialators’) was a family show at its core.   While the middle-aged me much prefers the more sophisticated 2003 BSG remake, it is not as accessible for younger audiences as was the 1978 version.

Sire Uri (Ray Milland), a First-Class a$$hole…

Meanwhile, several decks above, Apollo catches up with Boomer in the first class accommodations (shades of the RMS Titanic), where they come across corrupt politician Sire Uri (the legendary Ray Milland) living in the lap of luxury as people starve below.  Apollo angrily orders redistribution of Uri’s hoarded food throughout the fleet.  Uri is not pleased.

Probably no coincidence that Uri is only one letter away from the popular Russian name Yuri; as this show was made during the height of the US/Soviet Cold War.   It seems that Cylons aren’t humanity’s only problem; corrupt and self-serving politicians are another.  That last point feels much more relevant today in the United States than it ever did in 1978 (even post-Watergate).   The decadent pleasure pig Uri could easily stand-in for a certain current US president who shall remain nameless

During a strategy session aboard the Galactica, Adama meets with an interim ‘council of the twelve’ to discuss the next step.  For reasons I never quite understood then or now (40 years later), we see Sire Uri leading the strategy discussion (yes, the same guy whose ass was firmly in Apollo’s sling only moments before).  Uri proposes to land the fleet for refueling/replenishment at a planet that is surely a Cylon trap.  Adama opposes the plan, of course. The council is hopelessly deadlocked.  Apollo then intervenes, and suggests they take an alternate route towards another planet; Carillon.  The route Apollo suggests is smack dab in the middle of a dangerous supernova remnant (later referred to as a starfield; astronomy is not the show’s strength), and is mined by the Cylons.  Undeterred, Apollo suggests taking two other volunteers (Starbuck & Boomer, of course), sealing their cockpit canopies (to avoid blindness from the starfield), and blowing the minefield apart using sensors to navigate.   The council agrees.  Adama is none-too-pleased, but reluctantly concedes to the logic of his son’s dangerous plan.

Later that evening, Starbuck has a brief tryst in one of the Galactica’s hangar deck launch tubes with the socialator Cassiopeia that is interrupted when the two are given a ‘steam purge’ by a jealous Athena, who is monitoring cameras of the launch bay.

Though it’s played for laughs, none of the parties in this scene look particularly good for what they’ve done; Starbuck for cheating on Athena, Cassiopeia for falling for an obvious womanizing cad, or even Athena, for endangering a pilot the night before a vital mission out of  her own personal jealousy.   Things have changed in 40 years.

Also on this rather eventful night before the mission, Apollo manages to find time to bring little Boxey out of his funk by making him the proud owner of a new robotic daggit named “Muffit 2.”   Think Doctor Who’s K-9, but cuddlier.   Odd that a species on the verge of extinction by murderous robots would be dabbling in AI, but hey…it was the ‘70s.  My then-11 year old self didn’t think too deeply about such things.   Muffit was this franchise’s furry R2-D2.

It may have been a chimp in a fake fur suit, but in 1978 it was a very marketable plush toy…

The next day, a curiously steamburnt Starbuck, Apollo and Boomer launch their vipers into the bright cherry red supernova/starfield, and begin to blow the minefield to hell in the most visually spectacular sequence in the entire pilot.   This was pretty cool beans for a kid in 1978.   It was even better seeing it on a big screen the following year (in “Sensurround” no less!).   The minefield is cleared, and the planetary port-of-call Carillon lies ahead…

“Sweet Carillon…Good times never seemed so good…”

Meanwhile, aboard the Cylon command ship, the Imperious Leader (once again, voiced by narrator Patrick Macnee) is told by his centurion subordinates that a single human battlestar, the Galactica, survived their otherwise devastating attack (yes, it should be Imperial leader; imperious is a slur for arrogance).  He then orders the centurions to go and fetch Baltar… uh oh.

Baltar (as played by the wildly OTT John Colicos) is to be executed, and he is executed in the theatrical version of “Saga…”; but in the television version I saw that night in 1978, he was spared for a reason made clear in the TV version’s coda.

The following sequence on Carillon is where the pilot episode goes off course a bit for me.

It feels more like a first episode of the series than a part of the previous hour’s story.   Galactica landing parties discover tylium fuel mines on the surface of the planet, mined by insectoid creatures called Ovions.  Apollo, Serena and another warrior named “Jolly” (because he’s overweight, get it??  Oy vey…) meet with the Ovion leader and begin to negotiate on behalf of the fleet for fuel and supplies.

Far above the mines, the Ovions incongruously host a giant gaudy casino complex; complete with hotels, gambling, and even live entertainment as double-eyed, double-mouthed disco singers belt out the deeply cheesy tune, “It’s Love, Love, Love…”

In a surprisingly short time, half of the human survivors in the fleet head down to Carillon and are immediately seduced by the Ovions’ pleasure palace.   It’s a somewhat jarring shift in tone from the survival-epic tone of the previous hour.   We go from a life-and-death Pearl Harbor-survival epic to a space age version of Las Vegas (?!).  It’s a clumsy transition, to say the least.

However, I got the intended message (even at then-age 11); the nobility of suffering all-too-soon makes way for corruption and vice.  

The futility/dangers of gambling & vice would be a recurring motif throughout the series; I’m assuming that was Glen Larson’s intent (?).   He was a devout Mormon, after all.   I’m not judging, nor am I in a position to judge one way or the other.

Anyway, moving on…

It turns out there’s a reason that the Ovions cater so specifically to human needs and vices; they’re fattening up the colonials like cattle for their newborn hatchlings to feed off of… and they’re working with the Cylons.   Dum-dum-DUUUUM!  

Maybe Apollo’s plan to head straight to Carillon wasn’t such a good one, after all?

The Cylon/Ovion plan is discovered nearly too late; as most of the colonial warriors appear to be attending an awards ceremony on the planet… but Adama was prepared for that possibility; he and Col. Tigh sent warrior decoys to the ceremony (civvies dressed in warrior uniforms), while the real warriors would be… ahem, well, also on the surface (didn’t say Adama’s plan wasn’t without a few kinks) but close to their ships and preparing to launch.  Why the warriors and ships didn’t remain to defend the fleet while the decoys attended the party eludes me.  Oh well.

All of the civvies on Carillon are quickly evac’d to the fleet, as Apollo and Starbuck ignite the highly combustible tylium within the Ovion mines on their way out.

The warriors launch from Carillon in a surprise counterattack on the Cylons, who have just reached a defenseless Galactica and the colonial fleet.  The tides are turned.

The Cylons retreat as their base ship, hovering too close to the surface of the planet, is obliterated when Carillon explodes.   Starbuck and Apollo are the last two warriors to land their vipers aboard the Galactica, and all is well.

A coda seen only in the TV version has a still-alive Baltar being dragged in front of a new Imperious Leader and offered his own base-ship for his oh-so noble efforts in betraying his own species for the Cylon cause.

To assist Baltar with his new command, the Imperious Leader calls for “Lucifer” (played by future Buck Rogers costar Felix Silla, and voiced by Lost in Space’s Jonathan Harris). Lucifer is a different kind of Cylon (of the “IL” series); and he (it?) looks like a gold-draped mannequin shoplifting pillows with a Christmas ornament for a head.


The End.

I guess it’s somewhat beside-the-point to dwell on the fact that the colonial warriors just committed mass genocide of the Ovions.   Yes, the Ovions were exploiting human vice in an attempt to feast on them later, but don’t most human beings (and creatures in nature) feed off of other species as well?   As for the Ovions’ collusion with the Cylons, they can hardly be blamed for that.   The Ovions didn’t look as if they had any kind of military or countermeasures to repel a mass Cylon invasion of their planet.   The colonials dealt the Ovions a somewhat harsh blow for their somewhat understandable actions.   This show clearly wasn’t Star Trek…

Moving on…

The cast of this short-lived series, even after 40 years, is very strong and charismatic.  The late Richard Hatch (1945-2017) was a stalwart lead, easily holding his own with veterans like Lorne Greene and Ray Milland (!).   I was lucky to get the chance to know Hatch a little bit from various conventions over the years, and a nicer man you’ll rarely meet.  He always had a smile and a story for any fan who asked.   I remember talking with him at length about his own series of BSG books that continued the story of the original series.  We also talked of his involvement in the 2003-2009 BSG remake; which he’d warmed up to, despite initial misgivings (he was excellent as the morally ambiguous character “Tom Zarek”).

The last I saw of Hatch was in San Diego, in July of 2016.   He and I were both at a local shopping center during a break from Comic Con.  I was preparing to see the movie “Star Trek Beyond” at the shopping center’s theatre, and he was walking through the upper level of the mall with a rolling tote behind him.   He recognized me, and gave a friendly wave.  I waved back.  Had no idea that’d be the last time I’d see him.

The last couple of conventions I’ve attended have felt a bit lesser without his presence.

I’ve had many nice encounters with Herb Jefferson Jr. over the years as well, and I always look forward to seeing him at these events.  Jefferson gave a moving tribute to Richard Hatch at WonderCon in Anaheim last year.   He also talked of attending the late Lorne Greene’s funeral in 1987.   Seems like Jefferson has a quality in common with Lt. Boomer; both seem like the kind of guy who’s always there for a friend.

The sexist, misogynistic 1978 version of Starbuck doesn’t play as well today; something the actor Dirk Benedict himself acknowledged in the 2003 DVD audio commentary of the pilot (a must-listen for fans of BSG).   But Benedict the actor is quite a character.  I’d met him back in 2010 (also at San Diego Comic Con, of course) and he seemed surprised that I’d heard he was doing a stage version of “Columbo” in London.  He did a few riffs of the character for me in the photo above (if only that photo had audio…he was really great).

I’ve also met actress Anne Lockhart (daughter of Lost in Space’s June Lockhart), who later played warrior/pilot “Sheba” in the series, the daughter of the “Patton-in-space” Commander Cain (the late Lloyd Bridges, in the two-part episode “Living Legend”).   Only talked to her briefly, but she seemed a very nice lady.

I’m also a fan of Terry Carter, who played Col. Tigh; the high-strung, short-tempered exec of the Galactica, though I’ve not met him (yet?).  He had many of the series’ best moments, such as in the pilot as he carefully steals warrior uniforms to clothe the ‘decoys’ for the ceremony on Carillon.  He’s accidentally interrupted by Starbuck and Boomer, and (thinking on his feet) Tigh pretends he’s doing a flash uniform inspection.  His best line: “When Commander Adama sees these?  He’s gonna go… crazy!”  The line is delivered to comic perfection, and I still laugh every time.   Yes, it’s that good.

Fred Astaire, in BSG’s “The Man With Nine Lives.” Sadly, it was one of his last roles ever.

The regular cast were aided by some strong guest stars, including the aforementioned  mentioned Lew Ayres, Ray Milland, Lloyd Bridges, Patrick Macnee, Wilfred Hyde-White (“My Fair Lady”), and even Fred Astaire (playing Starbuck’s suspected father).   The producers of this show spared no expense with the talent.

*  The Series in General.

As BSG progressed (nee: struggled) through its first and only season, there were some obvious signs of behind-the-scenes issues, despite the overall high production value of the series.   The highs were really high, and the lows were pretty mediocre.

This was NOT stock footage…

Shortly after the pilot there was an episode (“Lost Planet of the Gods” part 2) that actually shot second-unit footage at Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.    That was an amazing feat for series’ television in those days.  The big-budget Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” had shot there a year before.

Later episodes after mid-season would be almost entirely soundstage bound.  Admittedly, the Galactica sets were very impressive for television (the bridge set alone had rows of functional monitors and the upper level that swiveled) but these restrictions tended to give later episodes a slightly claustrophobic feel; especially when used with stock footage of the exact same ship flybys, viper launches and battle sequences.

One of the recycled shots you’d see many times throughout the show…

The writing was somewhat uneven as well; with openly stolen plots from classic movies such as “Shane” (“The Lost Warrior”), “The Dirty Dozen” (“Gun on Ice Planet Zero”) and a few others.  There were also inconsistencies with the Galactican lingo, with made-up expletives such as ‘frak’ and ‘felgercarb’, or chronological measurements such as ‘yahren’, ‘centon’ and ‘micron’ that seemed to vary in meaning from episode to episode.

Some of the more interesting ideas involved mutiny within the fleet (“Take the Celestra”), a second surviving battlestar Pegasus led by Lloyd Bridges’ Commander Cain (“The Living Legend”), and even the Devil himself in the form of “Count Iblis” (“War of the Gods”).  Iblis was (once again) played by Patrick Macnee.  It was even vaguely alluded to that Iblis might be the very inspiration for the Cylons’ machine leader.    The two parters “Living Legend” and  “War of the Gods” are definite series highlights.

Yes, Old Scratch himself (Patrick Macnee) makes an appearance in the BSG two-parter “War of the Gods” (1979).

Weaker entries including an insipid two hour ‘special’ involving Terran Space Nazis known as ‘the Eastern Alliance’ (“Greetings From Earth”), a generational penal colony populated by drunken Irish stereotypes (“The Long Patrol”) and Adama being forced to woo the amorous ‘Siress Bellaby’ (“Match Game” star Brett Somers) on a planet of rapacious pig people in “The Magnificent Warriors.”   Somewhere in between those extremes were entries like “The Young Warriors”; a decent enough episode which saw Starbuck captured by Viking-esque siblings to trade for their father, held captive by the Cylons.

By the end of the year, the series began to feel simultaneously rushed and tired; and in a final hurrah (and one of the best episodes of the series), it ended in the spring of 1979 with a terrific standalone installment called, “The Hand of God” (a title that the new version of the show would use completely unintentionally many years later).  The episode saw Adama and his crew taking the offensive against the Cylons (a dramatic turn from their usual policy of “fleeing the Cylon tyranny”) and taking on a Cylon base star that is unaware of the Galactica’s presence.   Some great character moments throughout; in fact, the amped-up character relationships are key to this episode’s success.

The final scene shows a wayward signal picked up by an abandoned Galactica comm station showing an Apollo lunar module descending to the moon’s surface (!).

Then the series was cancelled; arguably as it was just beginning to turn over a new leaf. And that was that… well, sort of.

*  Galactica: 1980.

News of the cancellation caused an uproar in that pre-internet age.  It was reported that a depressed boy (about my age at the time) actually committed suicide over the news (though I’m sure the poor kid had far more pressing issues than a cancelled television show).   Letters also poured into ABC (not too unlike the letter-writing campaign to save “Star Trek” back in the 1960s), and the two hour theatrical version of the pilot was making decent bank in theatres.

ABC decided to revive the series, but not quite the way we knew it.

The revived series would see the Galactica finding Earth in the then-present of 1980.   Series stars Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict refused to return, but Lorne Greene and Herb Jefferson did (both played ‘older’ versions of themselves with the application of fake facial hair and graying sideburns).  The ‘new’ Starbuck and Apollo would be Kent McCord (“Adam-12”) as a grownup version of Boxey now called Troy (don’t ask), and his partner Dillon (played by Barry Van Dyke; son of Dick Van Dyke).   The two would get around on flying motorcycles (shades of “CHiPs”) and render themselves temporarily invisible with forcefields.

Troy and Dillon would have an Earth ally in newly minted reporter Jamie Hamilton (Robyn Douglass) who would act as the Mindy to their Mork(s).  The show was horrible on so many levels that it’s actually watchable in an “Ed Wood”/”The Room” sort of way.   Gone were the mythical aspects of the previous season; replaced with “Dukes of Hazzard”-style car chases and ‘educational’ messages that were clumsily shoehorned into each episode in an attempt to justify a ‘family hour’ 7 pm Sunday time slot.

G1980 mercifully died after just 10 episodes, but not before squeezing out one really good installment; the aptly-named flashback episode called “The Return of Starbuck”, which shed some light on the popular warrior’s fate.

Dirk Benedict’s presence could not be more welcome in this series, even if only to bury it once and for all.

*  Galactica: 21st Century.

Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos gave tremendous star power to the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” miniseries.

After several aborted attempts at revivals (by Glen Larson and Richard Hatch the 1990s, and in 2001 by X-Men producer Bryan Singer),  “Battlestar Galactica” would finally return with a fully rebooted miniseries in December of 2003, and a subsequent regular series a year later.   It would last for four memorable seasons.

I won’t go too deeply into this show right now, as I plan to do a full retrospective on it later this year (in time for its 15th anniversary), but suffice it to say it is one of my favorite series of all time.  Oscar nominees Edward James Olmos (the new Commander “Bill” Adama) and Mary McDonnell (as new character, president Laura Roslin) headline a terrific cast, including Katee Sackhoff as a female “Starbuck” (now named Kara Thrace) and Jamie Bamber as an angrier, edgier “Apollo” (now named Lee Adama).

Even the late Richard Hatch returned, as political agitator/activist/terrorist “Tom Zarek.”

The sophistication of this new series is light years beyond its predecessor.  Without the constraints of being a ‘family’ show or even airing on a major network (the new series aired on NBC/Universal’s “SyFy” cable network), the show was able to fulfill the darker promise and consequences of an AI apocalypse.  The Cylons in the new series have evolved to Blade Runner-levels of humanoid duplication.  Series’ star Edward James Olmos also appeared in Blade Runner, and has said at conventions that he considers the two to be related.

More on this series to come in a future post.

For now, I want to wish a very happy 40th anniversary to a show that entertained me so much as a kid.

It may not have been perfect, but it had a very able cast, and would later prove (with its 2003 reboot) that the overall idea was a sound one, only limited by restraints of 1970s television.

First ambrosia’s on me…

*  Screencaps via

23 Comments Add yours

  1. ADeweyan says:

    Thanks! I enjoyed remembering the excitement BSG brought in the early Star Wars era. Just one quick addition to the story of the cancelation of the original, if memory serves. BSG was killed by poor ratings. The show was scheduled for Sunday nights up against the other network’s stalwarts (sorry, don’t remember what the other shows were), and it couldn’t win it’s time period. After cancelation, the network moved its most popular show (was it Mork and Mindy?) to that time slot, and its ratings immediately dropped below where BSG’s had been. The network discovered they may have had more of a winner on their hands than they realized, so consented to try again — only the new version would have to be less expensive (so setting on no current-day earth). The rest is history, though not very good or interesting history. Galactica 1980 stank, and even 14 year old me knew that immediately. The only two good things in Galactica 1980 were the Starbuck episode you note, and a scene from the very first episode that shows a simulation of a Cylon attack on current Los Angeles.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! And yes, the computer simulation of the Cylon attack in G1980 was pretty neat; a nice recycle of “Earthquake” footage as well…

  2. Ergodic Mage says:

    Nice read! Kudos on the two different endings for Baltar. But I point out that there where only 5 Battlestars at the peace conference; Galactica, Atlantia, Pacifica, Acropolis and Triton.
    Sorry, but your article stirred up my inner Battlestar Galactica geek. 🙂

    1. LOL! I thought there was some mythology I’d read somewhere (?) about there being twelve (maybe I was confusing it with the 2003 miniseries). Anyway, thanks for setting me straight, and for the kind words. Much appreciated.


  3. Leyla Ergun says:

    Is it true that there are really 40 episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica and not 34 as most are saying? are they are not showing them as they hit too close to home?

    1. As far as I know (?) there were only 24 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (the 1978 version) and 10 episodes of its followup Galactica: 1980.

      I’ve never seen/heard of any more than that, unless one counts the made-for-Japanese/European cinema movies that were hastily stitched together episodes repackaged as ‘feature length’ movies in 1979 to recoup expenses. Universal would edit together two unrelated episodes (such as “The Living Legend” and “Fired in Space”) as sell them as a single movie (“Mission Galactica: Cylon Attack”).

      I also remember a slew of 1980 TV movies that did the same; taking two hour-long installments, and bridging them together into 90 minute TV movies. They would have actors dub a few lines of dialogue as segues.

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