The Night the Cylons Landed: September 17th, 1978…

Last week marked the 45th anniversary of a show I was absolutely nuts about as a kid. I couldn’t let September 17th, 1978 go unmentioned. Oh, and apologies for borrowing the title of this column from a two-parter of the otherwise sacrilegious “Galactica: 1980,” but it seemed to fit…

What’s This?

In the second half of 1978, I was a few months shy of my 12th birthday and eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new TV show called “Battlestar Galactica” from producer Glen Larson (“The Six Million Dollar Man”) that promised to be TV’s answer to the kind of spectacle seen in “Star Wars” a year earlier.  Even the visual FX work was being overseen by John Dykstra, who’d pioneered the computerized motion-control camera systems used in Star Wars (the “Dykstraflex”). 

Original two-page Boris Frazetta artwork for the premiere of “Saga of a Star World” in TV Guide. That same artwork would appear on the novelization for the later episode “Gun on Ice Planet Zero” (retitled “The Cylon Death Machine” for the novel).

I still remember seeing a quick preview of “Battlestar Galactica” during a TV news show the previous summer.  The clip featured two “Cylon” robots delivering a report to their “Imperious Leader,” as their words (delivered in flat, electronically-modulated voices) seared into my impressionable young brain: “All base ships are now in range to attack the colonies.” 

My first glimpse of the robotic Cylons, as they report to their “Imperious” leader (I know…that’s now how you use the word ‘imperious, but who cared?). These “Cylons” left quite an impression on me at age 11, I gotta say…

These ‘Cylons’ were a fusion of Star Wars’ Imperial stormtroopers and Doctor Who’s “Daleks” (whom I’d only seen in photos in books at that point—“Dr. Who” wasn’t on PBS TV in America just yet).  Whatever this was, it looked mighty expensive. To say I was excited for this new series was an understatement…

Sunday Evening, September 17th, 1978.  

Our introduction to the titular “Battlestar Galactica.”
Some breathtaking miniature work that still holds up today in the age of CGI-FX work.

Cut to Sunday night, September 17th, 1978. Monday was a school day, but I stayed up from 8 pm to 11 pm to catch the three-hour debut of the “Battlestar Galactica” pilot, which I’d later learn was called “Saga of a Star World.”  The music blasted through the TV’s monaural speaker with a heroic fanfare from composer Stu Phillips (“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “Knight Rider”) that sounded downright theatrical

The colorful, exciting Viper fighter ship launches were some amazing television in 1978. This same stock footage would be reused countless times over the course of the series, and so help me, I loved it each time…

The titular “battlestars” (there were a fleet of them earlier in the pilot) were impressive; on a par with the massive Imperial Star Destroyers from “Star Wars” a year earlier.  The Viper fighter launches were colorful and exciting (even when they reused that same launch footage repeatedly during the pilot).  I distinctly remember thinking that the Egyptian pharaoh-style helmets worn by the Viper pilots looked decidedly goofy, but the King Tutankhamen exhibit had toured the US a year or so earlier, and it caused a certain Ancient Egypt-mania in pop culture…

The Cylons rain destruction upon the planet “Caprica” during a false ‘armistice’; this was filmed at the Long Beach Civic Center in SoCal. The vivid scenes of destruction were meant to echo the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941, but would also foreshadow the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 decades later.

The devastating Cylon attack on the colonial fleet and home worlds echoed the attacks on Pearl Harbor, some 37 years earlier (this was 1978, mind you—9/11 was decades away, and would inspire the 2003 reboot of the show). The death of “Zac” (Captain Apollo’s kid brother played by a young Rick Springfield) held surprising punch for me, perhaps because my own older brother had passed away only three years earlier.  These characters were surprisingly vivid for what was supposed to be a spectacle-driven space fantasy show.

“Let the word go forth to every man, woman and child who survived this holocaust; tell them to set sail at once, in every assorted vehicle that would carry them…”

I remember feeling genuine awe—much of it from Stu Phillip’s sweeping score—during the exodus of the “rag-tag fugitive fleet” from the devastated 12 colonies, as they gathered in space to rendezvous with Commander Adama’s (Lorne Greene) last surviving battlestar. Galactica was the last hope of protecting survivors of the human race which inhabited those 12 destroyed planets (their names conspicuously suggested by the constellations of the Zodiacal belt; Capricans, Aires, Gemons, Virgos, Scorpios, Piscons, Sagitarrians, et al. Astrology was huge in those days…). 

The Galactica cautiously leads its rag-tag fleet through the “Nova of Madagon” during a spectacular mine-sweeping sequence midway during the film. These were feature film quality FX for the time…

Later, the daring mine-sweeping operation in the blood red “Nova of Madagon” was pure unfiltered “Star Wars”-style adventureright there, on my parent’s 25” Zenith TV! This sequence saw Apollo (Richard Hatch), Boomer (Herb Jefferson Jr.) and Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) flying blind in a super-bright starfield to destroy Cylon mines ahead of the fleet, and it was arguably more colorful (though much less kinetic) than the attack on the Death Star. By this point, I was riveted.  No force of human or nature was going to tear me away from that old cathode-ray TV.  School night or no, I was staying up for the whole thing…

One of the “Ovions” clandestinely reports to her Cylon overlord.
From costumes and sets to visual effects; you could see every nickel of the show’s budget up on screen.

The discovery of the insectoid Ovions was genuinely creepy, as were their multi-armed costume designs.  Aliens on the show were seen more fleetingly than in “Star Wars,” and even at 11 years old, I chalked that one up to a limited makeup budget. The show was clearly spending its ample funds on feature film quality sets, unique costumes and groundbreaking visual effects. It was hardly a surprise when I later learned that pilot cost around $14 million dollars (granted, much of that cost was allotted for the series that followed, but it was still a very impressive number for 1978).

Boxey (Noah Hathaway) is introduced to his new robot ‘daggit’ Muffit II (a chimp stuffed into a furry, hot costume). Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss, as I can only imagine how that poor chimp must’ve suffered for its supper.

After an explosive first hour (with commercials—as was/is the custom for US TV), the  second hour was a bit slower paced, though I enjoyed the creation of the robotic ‘daggit’ Muffit (played by a chimpanzee stuffed in a suit) for the child Boxey (Noah Hathaway) and his grateful mother Serina (Jane Seymour—another childhood crush of mine!).  The survivors later found themselves in a seeming oasis; a Las Vegas-style casino with unlimited wine, women and song, tucked away on a weird little desert planet called “Carillon”; a world that was also rich in much-needed “tylium” fuel.

Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) makes out in a a launch tube with his newfound ‘socialator’ girlfriend Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang). “Socialator” was writer/producer Glen Larson’s oh-so-sly way of getting a hooker into a ‘family’ show…

Some of my sisters watched the pilot with me, but gradually, they each showed more common sense than myself and went to bed.  I still remember one of my older sisters wisely pointing out to me that the ‘socialator’ character of “Cassiopeia” (Laurette Sang) was, in fact, a ‘space hooker.’  By 10 pm or so, I was the last one in our household still watching, but I was so engrossed that I don’t think I even realized I was watching it alone at that point… 

Jimmy Carter hosts prime ministers Anwar Sadat and Manachem Begin at Camp David on September 17th, 1978. Can you believe that the promise of peace between Israel and Egypt had the gall to interrupt my TV show? Jeeeez…

I also vaguely remember a brief news bulletin about Jimmy Carter’s then-historic summit at Camp David between Israel and Egypt, but at the time, callow 11-year old me was only pissed that the promise of peace in the Middle East had the gall to interrupt this exciting new TV show.  Yeah, that’s how kids think, folks…

A secret squadron of Vipers blasts off from Carillon in a surprise counterattack to the Cylons.

The climax of the pilot revealed that the Ovions’ convenient oasis and fuel depot was an elaborate Cylon trap to lure the survivors into their final destruction.  Of course, the all-wise Commander Adama, who expressed doubts about his leadership earlier in the pilot, saw through the trap. The viper pilots take off in a final attack on the Galactica that reused footage from the attack on the fleet in the first hour (optical FX were very expensive and time-consuming in those days, so some slack has to be cut…).  

The planet Carillon goes nuclear and takes a Cylon base ship with it. Once again, John Dykstra and his team at Apogee FX really outdid themselves on this one. This was all done optically; no computer generated FX whatsoever.

I still remember my jaw dropping when Carillon exploded and took the Cylon base ship with it.  As the last kid in the house still awake to see it, I felt like the sole eyewitness to a 4th of July fireworks show.  I remember trying to explain the spectacle I’d witnessed to my old man the next morning, who perhaps thought I’d rightly lost my mind. In context, there was literally nothing like “Battlestar Galactica” on TV at the time.  It was unprecedented.

Of course, TV shows with feature film production values are commonplace today (see: any Marvel or Star Wars show on Disney+), but in 1978, TV and movies were as far apart in production value as a grade school play was from Broadway.


A large ‘coffin TV’ very similar to my parents’ old Zenith; this was how we rolled in 1978.

I wrote a breakdown of the pilot and TV series five years ago for the show’s then-40th anniversary (“The original “Battlestar Galactica” 40 yahrens later…”), but for this column, I just wanted to convey the feeling of excitement that pilot delivered to me as a kid.  Young people today simply cannot know what’s it’s like to wait in front of a TV just to catch a program, for fear of never seeing it otherwise.  “Battlestar Galactica” debuted just before VCRs became popularized (they were more of a costly toy in 1978), let alone DVDs, BluRays or streaming.  When a show we wanted to see was broadcast, we would hurriedly finish our homework and chores to watch it.  None of this streaming/binging stuff. “Battlestar Galactica” was event TV. You made sure your butt was parked on the sofa when the music began…

My battered, tattered copy of the original “Battlestar Galactica Photostory”; published in May of 1979. While it’s seen better days, I’m amazed this old paperback has survived multiple moves and dramatic life changes over the past five decades…!

During the run of “Battlestar Galactica” (which I got my kid sister into as well), I collected the soundtrack album by Stu Phillips, got the Mattel action figures for Christmas (neither the “Colonial Warrior” or Cylon looked much like their TV counterparts), built the Revell model kits of the various spaceships, and eventually got my hands on the only collectible I still have today—the 1979 “photo story” of the pilot movie; a collection of screencaps in a single paperback book, with comic book-like captions recreating most of the movie’s dialogue.  This was almost as good as having a print of the movie—no, it was better, because I could take the photostory with me to school and relive that pilot movie over and over again to my heart’s content wherever I wanted.  This was decades before you could casually stream hit movies on your smartphone…

The Movie—in “Sensurround”

A photo I took of the original “Battlestar Galactica” theatrical release poster at Seattle’s formerly-named Sci-Fi Museum (now the Museum of Pop Culture) in 2006.

The pilot episode was never rebroadcast on ABC, because it’d already been released as a theatrical movie in Canada and overseas in Sensurround (monaural movie sound, but with a hidden subwoofer to add some low-end rumble to sound FX). That theatrical version of the pilot would eventually reach the US in May of 1979, and yes, younger me asked—no, demanded that my parents take me to see this movie I’d just watched for free on TV back in September.  I would later cough up allowance after allowance to see the movie multiple times theatrically.  Never mind that 25 minutes of the pilot had been trimmed from the theatrical version—this was “Battlestar Galactica” on the big screen!  

The poor man’s VCR, circa 1979.
I still remember feverishly switching the 90-min or 120 minute audio cassette tapes over so I wouldn’t miss more than a few seconds of a program as I was recording it off of the TV speaker.

In late 1979, my school chum and best friend James (who passed away only 12 short years later) invited me over to record the pilot movie onto audio cassette, directly from the TV speaker, when the movie came to the Showtime cable channel (yes, Showtime was around in those primitive bygone days). That audiotape, combined with the Photostory, was like having the movie at my fingertips.  I used to also play the tape while doing homework, the same way others would play music (I loved music too, of course).  

With that cassette, I came to memorize all of the pilot movie’s dialogue and sound effects.  An amazing feat that sadly had no value whatsoever in those days. Geek culture did not yet rule the roost as it does today…


Kent McCord and Barry Van Dyke were the ersatz Apollo and Starbuck of “Galactica: 1980”; the show that singlehandedly gave the ’80s a bad reputation.

Even as I grew older and my tastes matured (somewhat), I never quite forgot how “Battlestar Galactica” gave me some wonderful, short-lived escapism in my early ‘wonder years.’  Sadly, the show was cancelled in the summer of 1979, only to return as the bastardized “Galactica 1980” the following January (click on the link if you want to read more about that little abomination…).

Richard Hatch (1945-2017).
The actor behind “Captain Apollo” was a generous, delightful man and one of the most passionate voices of Battlestar Galactica fandom I’ve ever met; he was every bit as in love with the series as any fan. Hatch even wrote several novel continuations of the original series and produced a proof-of-concept trailer called “Battlestar Galactica: Second Coming” (1978). We last ran into each other at San Diego in 2016. I truly miss our conversations at conventions.

Older me would also have access my younger self could’ve never dreamed, as my sci-fi fan wife would introduce me (at the tender age of 34) to the thrill of sci-fi conventions, starting with smaller conventions in Pasadena, before ‘graduating’ onto much bigger cons, like San Diego Comic Con and WonderCon in Anaheim. 

Meeting Dirk Benedict (“Lt. Starbuck”) in 2010; he was surprised that I knew of his performance as “Columbo” in a London stage production; he even performed a bit of it for me in this photo (he was amazing, by the way; not doing a Peter Falk impression, yet easily retaining the essence of the character).

During these events, I would come to meet the late Richard Hatch (1945-2017), Herb Jefferson Jr. (whom I recently had another chat with at WonderCon), Dirk Benedict (who appreciated that I was interested in his stage revival of “Columbo” in London), and Anne Lockhart, who appeared as “Lt. Sheba” during the series’ run, and was the daughter of June Lockhart (“Lost in Space”).  I would also meet composer Stu Phillips in 2003, and he was a surprisingly humble and lovely man who seemed delighted that I was using his “Battlestar” theme as my cellphone ringtone.

Actor Herb Jefferson Jr. (“Lt. Boomer”) and I enjoyed a nice chat about stunt-work at this year’s WonderCon 2023 in Anaheim. I first met him almost 20 years ago, and he’s a terrific guy. One of my favorite people to see at conventions.

Younger me would’ve never imagined that I’d ever meet the stars of the show, let alone see them multiple times at various events over the years. It got to a point where Richard Hatch and I would often wave to each other in recognition before his premature passing. Of course, I would later become a huge fan of the 2003 rebooted version of “Battlestar Galactica”, and would meet many of those cast members as well. 

Anne Lockhart (“Lt. Sheba”) joined the series mid-way through its first season, but became a fan favorite. Lovely woman. Her character of fighter pilot Sheba was ahead of the curve, predating female sci-fi icons such as ALIEN’s Ellen Ripley.

But September 17th, 1978 was the genesis of my connection with “Battlestar Galactica,” and I’ll never forget it.  Yes, we do get older. That’s unavoidable, like death and taxes.  But we shouldn’t forget or dismiss those cathode-ray tube delivered tales of imagination, wonder and joy we first experienced as kids.

That dreaded Cylon tyranny…from whom the rag-tag fleet fled.

“Fleeing the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest… a shining planet known as Earth.” 

Where To Watch

1978’s “Battlestar Galactica” sometimes rotates on, and can be digitally streamed/purchased on YouTube Premium and PrimeVideo. The complete series is also available on DVD and BluRay from Amazon. I also read on DigitalBits that the feature film of the pilot was recently released in 4K BluRay.

Images: Universal,, Author

16 Comments Add yours

  1. “The Galactica cautiously leads its rag-tag fleet through the ‘Nova of Madagon’…”

    I read in a copy of ‘The Smithsonian’ of that day, that John Dykstra aimed a laser at his ‘oscar’ from the Saturn Awards to get just the right flare of color, even though it left a permanent notch in his trophy.

    I was 15 my brother was 11 and I’d say he was more enthused than me, though I watched ever single episode (including the weird one with men turned into panpipe-playing fauns), but it just wasn’t Star Wars. Patrick Macnee as a suave villain – John Steed gone bad – was quite a treat and worth the wait.

    1. Your brother was my age, and I got my kid sister into it as well. She and I watched every episode, and she saw the pilot theatrically with me several times, as well.

      As for the flute-playing fauns? Actually they were satyrs, and they was from Glen Larson’s other space opus “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (Season 2’s “The Satyr”).

      You might be thinking of the BSG episode “The Magnificent Warriors” where Adama led a rare landing party to a planet where the locals were terrorized by pig-like creatures called “Borays.” Similar stories, easy to confuse.

      Thanks again for reading!

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Out of all the mechanized villainies through the sci-fi decades, from the Daleks and the Cybermen to the Terminators and the Borg, the Cylons were certainly blessed by the visual improvement for the sci-fi universe thanks to the wake of Star Wars. As much of Battlestar Galactica was and most essentially as one of the first space-age TV sagas to stand on its own outside of Star Trek. Sadly in all my sci-fi show viewing from childhood, I only have a few small memories of BSG. But I can so easily say that I admired John Colicos’ talent for playing villains when it came to Baltar, as well as Kor in Star Trek.

    I had no idea that Dirk Benedict played Columbo on stage. Although I’m sure it would have been interesting. Thank you for another revisit to a sci-fi treasure from the last century.

    1. Happy to share, always!

      And yeah, I read Benedict was playing the role in London and caught a clip online a couple months before the convention. When I mentioned his “Columbo”, his face (excuse the pun, “A-Team” fans) just lit up. He was thrilled to be recognized for it. We had a nice little chat about the role, too (I love TV mysteries like “Columbo,” “Monk,” etc).

  3. I am just a bit younger than you but felt similarly about the show at the time. It was part of my Sci-fi foundation. I think my favorite episode is the one with the Cylon turned sheriff that helps Starbuck. I envy you meeting all those great actors and getting the chance to express your respect for their work.

    1. Thanks! It’s very rewarding to share those experiences, too.

  4. Paul Bowler says:

    I have vague recollections of when Battlestar Galactica came out. It was an exciting show, and something a bit different from Star Wars and Doctor Who, which I both loved as a kid. The Cylon’s were my favourite thing about Battle Star Galactica, they reminded me a bit of the Cybermen. Funny coincidence you mention the Six Million Dollar Man, that’s being repeated here in the UK atm on TV 🙂

    1. Gotta give it up for slo-mo Steve Austin… 😉

      1. scifimike70 says:

        It’s indeed more interesting to see how action sequences for TV superheroes like Steve Austin and the Incredible Hulk were all so appealingly done in slow motion, as opposed to what CGI in all its addictiveness can spoil us with now.

      2. I think the slower-motion action heroes indelibly burned themselves into our brains.

        We saw them onscreen for far longer stretches of time, hence, they seared themselves into our memories forever.

        I can’t say if that’ll happen with heroes flashing by modern eyes as little more than CGI motion-blurs, but who knows?

  5. anthony2546 says:

    I have not watched this show in quite some time – but I remember the Cylons in 1978 too!

    1. They’re hard to forget. 😉

  6. firemandk says:

    Have to say it : No mention of Patrick Macnee, how could you ? My heart bleeds, tears flow from my eyes…… In all seriousness, as a very young fan of the Avengers ( The REAL Avengers, not those silly comic book movies!) I was always stoked ( yeah, I’m a California kid ) by anything Mr. Macnee was in .Loved it when he was on Magnum P.I….. the fact that Lorne Green was in BSG too was a plus… Imagine my thrill when “The New Avengers” was televised in the USA ( I have no idea where I watched that as a young person, I want to say the Indie station channel 44 out of San Francisco but I for the life of me can’t remember …maybe it was CBS late night..but I digress.. The fact that Patrick Macnee got to work with Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson and Joanna Lumley was never lost on me..poor ugly women, so sad…. enjoyed the read , but it really pushes home the realization that at 61 I am way older than most of these now deceased actors were during these shows.. I may yet get my 8 year old to watch my Avengers dvd’s with me !

    1. Well, I tried to keep this one from the memory/perspective of my then-11 year old self, who had no idea who Patrick Macnee was, and only vaguely knew that Lorne Greene was in “Bonanza” before this, but thanks for correcting this quasi-deliberate injustice on my part (hehe)… 😉

  7. Dan says:

    A very young me used to sneak out of my bed and hide behind the loveseat just so I could see the intro to ” Bonanza” and that map burning up ..I wonder if my parents ever knew I was there … 😂

    1. LOL! I remember the burning map, too! ;-D

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