Man, the time flies by. Thirty years ago (September 17th, 1978), ABC-TV delighted and outraged sci-fi fans with its new series, Battlestar Galactica, a lovable beneficiary of Star Wars' success. It was created by producer Glen A. Larson, whose other contributions to the genre included Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, the ever-referenced Knight Rider and, of course, the unforgettable shows Manimal and Automan. What, you don't remember Manimal or Automan? Okay, what about Quincy M.E.? Magnum, P.I.? The Fall Guy? The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries? These Larson inventions of the '70s and '80s, even during their original runs, all felt like they had expiration dates which didn't really matter since no series at the time was exactly timeless. Larson's recycled sets, plots and actors all seemed to be very era-bound, though not really "trendy"--the exception being Battlestar Galactica, its set designs, costumes and space dogfights obviously inspired by George Lucas' trend-setter. In fact, the series hired John Dykstra, the special effects genius behind Star Wars and former head of Industrial Light And Magic, and he delivered the most elaborate visuals ever seen on television.
But that's where the Star Wars comparisons should end. Battlestar Galactica's complicated premise was more about a cosmic exodus and humanity's challenges than rubber-suited aliens, something pretty intense for that decade's simplistic network broadcasts. Hiring Bonanza's authority figure, Lorne Greene, to star as Adama--the leader of mankind's remaining survivors and commander of its last "battlestar," Galactica--was a brilliant move that added gravity to the series' mission. Boytoys Richard Hatch (who replaced Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco) and Dirk Benedict (later of A-Team fame) were cast as colonial warriors and best friends, Captain Apollo (one of the commander's two sons) and Lieutenant Starbuck. (FYI, then-soap opera star Rick "Jessie's Girl" Springfield had about five seconds of face-time as Apollo's brother and Adama's doomed offspring, Zak.) Maren Jensen (Don Henley's future fiancé and party girl in his video "All She Wants To Do Is Dance") co-starred, very minimally, as Athena, Adama's daughter and Starbuck's early-on squeeze. Anne Lockhart, daughter of Lost In Space's and Lassie's mom, June Lockhart (who, by the way, was a HUGE David Bowie fan), was Sheba, daughter of the series' legendary hero Cain who commanded the only other surviving battlestar, the Pegasus. Speaking of Lost In Space, the "voice" of the nefarious robot "cylon" was supplied by Jonathan Harris, previously, the infamous Dr. Zachery Smith, whose Galactica script replaced his classic "bubble-headed booby" barbs with a much darker comedy; and speaking of sinister, famous for portraying Star Trek's guest Klingon "Kor" (a role which he reprised decades later in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), John Colicos played Baltar, the weasel who was responsible for humanity's downfall. Baltar also had the dubious honor of having been labelled the most evil character ever on television.
The show's popularity was due partly to its casting some surprising guest stars, such as The Avengers' Patrick Macnee (as both the menacing Count Iblis and voice of the Cylons' Imperious Leader), The Ghost & Mrs. Muir 's Edward Mulhare (only known as the mysterious Being of Light "John"), The Invaders ' Roy Thinnes ("Croft"), The Andromeda Strain's James Olsen ("Thane"), Lloyd Bridges (Commander Cain), supermodel and Rod Stewart's ex, Britt Ekland ("Tenna"), The Match Game regular and Jack Klugman's ex, Brett Somers (Siress Belloby), and Ray Bolger and Bobby Van (mugging as the annoying robots "Hector" and "Vector"), these latter two characters credited with having escalated the series' cheese factor exponentially. Actually, the two-part episode they appeared in, "Greetings From Earth," was a foreshadowing and perhaps the template for the series' dull and childish sequel, Galactica 1980. That much-maligned series' only memorable highpoints were the episode "The Return Of Starbuck" (with Dirk Benedict reprising his role), the pilot episode's destruction of Los Angeles, and guest appearances by Wolfman Jack and The Brady Bunch's then-mustachioed Robert Reed. Battlestar's lame offspring seemed focused more on attracting a very pre-teen demo than recapturing what was best about its progenitor.
Those of us who loved the original series were hooked by the show's overall tone, its stars' believable camaraderie and its boundary-pushing--evidenced in one main character's "socialator" (call girl) history. The show referenced religion, albeit in a "new age" fashion, with its main theme being the search for Earth--a parallel to the Old Testament's journey to the Promised Land or a shoutout to Mormonism. It touched on then-Middle East conflicts, class systems/cultural divides, and introduced us to Triad, a basketball-meets-rugby sport that may never make its way into the Olympics, but is still pretty clever. Given what Glen Larson's labor of love attempted in its highbrow plotlines--virtually every one of them having been re-imagined by Ron Moore's and the Sci-Fi Channel's phenomenally well done upgrade--the original Battlestar Galactica still holds a special place in its fans' hearts. From its initial 148-minute pilot's airing that was interrupted by the Camp David Accords peace treaty signing (gee, thanks a lot Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat!) through its last original episode that contained Galactica's most aggressive confrontation with the Cylons and a final scene in which an old moon landing transmission was received, it was the stuff that post Star Wars-era fanboy dreams were made of. Whether it's the gambling casino on Carillon, multiple, hot Britt Ekland clones, Commander Cain's out-maneuvering the cylons with the Pegasus and Galactica, Count Iblis' confrontation with Apollo, the downplayed reveal of Adama's ESP powers (you forgot that one, didn't you!), the Beings Of Light inter-dimensional starships (or whatever they inhabited), Baltar's capture, the exploration of the fleet's "nomad" culture, and even that weirdly portrayed "nazi"-controlled sector of space, these will be fond, geriatric memories for millions. Not bad for a series that lasted only one season.
So Happy Birthday, BG! For many of these past thirty years, your pre-2003, hugely-attended conventions--complete with Richard Hatch's legendary, ambitious Battlestar trailer--proves that you, the 1978-79 series, though not better than your remake, will have left a very large mark on the history of sci-fi television. And with the current Battlestar Galactica possibly being remembered as the best sci-fi series of all time (even over Star Trek, Farscape and Babylon 5), in context, look what that says about the original. Guess you can have your birthday cake and eat it too.
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