Thirty years ago a new Science Fiction series blasted onto television in the wake of Star Wars. The new series depicted the fall of humanity and its flight across the galaxy, pursued by the robotic cylons, as they search for a mythical planet, Earth.
“There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…” Opening narration by Patrick Mcnee
The original Battlestar Galactica is often, rather unfairly, compared with Star Wars or labeled a Star Wars rip-off. The late 1970s television series came right after the first Star Wars film and as seen as cashing in on the success of the movie. The series was created by Glen A Larson, who created many memorable television series, and drew influence from a variety of sources. Part of the series is obviously drawn from the book Chariots of the Gods which proposed that humanity was given technology by visiting aliens who went on to become idolized by our ancient forefathers as gods. Other influences upon the original Battlestar Galactica series were the Mormon religion, of which Larson is a member, and Mormon doctrine.
The series opens with a peace conference designed to end a 1000 year long war between humanity and a robotic race, the Cylons. In the series there are 12 tribes of humanity, based on signs of the Zodiac, who inhabit 12 worlds called the Colonies – the planets are named after the tribe who inhabit them. So for example there is Caprica, which is presented as the leading colony, which is the . All of these Colonies are the remnants of a mother world, Kobol, which the 12 tribes left thousands of years before after the planet became inhabitatable. Colonial legend claims that a 13th tribe of Kobol didn’t follow their brothers across the stars to the Colonies instead they headed on a different course, to Earth.
The series opens with the destruction of the colonies and the colonial fleet by the Cylons, after tricking the humans into thinking there was to be peace between the two races. The survivors of the attacks form a fleet of ships, under the protection of the Battlestar Galactica [the only war ship to survive] and flee from the Cylons – setting out to find the lost 13th tribe and Earth. The series deals with the flight towards Earth and the adventures along the way. As the “rag-tag” fleet flees from the Cylons they encounter lost outposts of the colonies, rediscover Kobol, and come across clues leading them towards Earth. Midway through the series they encounter Count Iblis, a mysterious stranger with magical powers who is hinted to be a fallen Colonial god – and the man who created the Robotic Cylons. Later on in the season, towards the end of the series, the fleet encounters humans who are hinted to be stragglers of the 13th tribe.
Battlestar Galactica was originally intended to be a series of television movies that would air as specials across the year. The series pilot episode, the three-part Saga of a Star World, was designed to open the story and be continued in the form of specials such as Lost Planet of the Gods, which followed the pilot. However, ratings for Saga of a Star World were huge and so broadcasters ABC decided they wanted a weekly series of the sci fi and so Galactica was rushed into production. Because of this rush to produce a backlog of episodes in time for the series return to screens the show often ran over its budget and rewrites of scripts were happening around the clock. On some occasions rewrites were handed to the actors just before they were due to film a screen. The lack of time also meant that the spectacular special effects of the first few episodes were reused as “stock footage” leading to entire battle sequences being repeated again and again. This also cut down costs of special effects as they were hugely expensive to produce but lead to criticisms of the excessive use of such footage. The rush to production led to many episodes being commissioned which didn’t hold up well on television and were criticised by fans and critics for being too “formulaic” or being full of plot holes.
Another problem encountered by the series was when 20th Century Fox sued producers Universal for copyright infringement, believing Galactica was too similar to Star Wars. Universal responded by countersuing claiming Star Wars was an infringement of Silent Running and the Buck Rogers films of the 1940s. Interestingly the man behind the special effects on Star Wars was also behind the special effects on Battlestar Galactica. In 1980 the two lawsuits were dismissed by the courts for being “without merit”.
The main stars of the series was Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and Lorene Green all of whom received top billing and were seen as the show’s main stars. Lorene Green played Commander Adama, leader of the “rag-tag” fleet and commander of the Galactica. Hatch played Captain Apollo, Adama’s son while Benedict played space Casanova Starbuck. The series had a core cast of secondary characters such as Maren Jenson who played Athena, Adama’s daughter. Terry Carter played Colonel Tigh, an old friend of Adama’s and Executive Officer of the Galactica. Laurette Srang played Cassiopeia, love interest for Starbuck and a former solicitor turned Med-Tech. Herb Jefferson, Jr. played Boomer, a viper pilot and friend to Starbuck and Apollo. John Colicios played Baltar, the man who betrayed humanity to the Cylons. Baltar had worked with the Cylons in wiping out humanity but was executed by the Cylons in the pilot episode. However, when the series went to weekly episodes this ending for Baltar was retcon and an alternative sequence was inserted to the episodes were Baltar was saved and later given a Basestar in which to chase the survivors with. Part way through the series Anne Lockhart joined as Sheba, a love interest for Apollo. There were also a small group of recurring characters who would occasionally appear in the episodes. British actor Patrick Mcnee narrated the series opening monologue and also provided the voice of the Cylon Imperious Leader across the series and guest starred in two episodes as Count Ibilis.
Although the series wasn’t known for its particularly gritty portrayal of the plight of the humans it did kill off several characters during its run. In the opening episodes Apollo and Athena’s brother, Zac, is killed off in the Cylon attack on the Colonial war fleet. In the two-part story Planet of the Gods Apollo’s new wife Serina [Jane Seymour] is killed by a Cylon on the surface of Kobol. It was originally intended that the character of Serina was to die of a “space-cancer” in the pilot movie and although these scenes were filmed they weren’t included in any cut of the pilot as producers wanted to keep the character on as a regular fixture. Actress Jane Seymour agreed to return to the weekly series but only so her character could be written out as she didn’t wish to be locked in contract with the series. Serina’s son, Boxey [Noah Hathaway], was also a regular in the series but had a mixed reception from fans of the series. Jonathan Harris provided the voice of Cylon character Lucifer, a more advanced and superior Cylon model, who was Baltar’s assistant in his quest to destroy the Galactica.
Production costs on the series were extremely high due to the nature of the series and become of episodes running over budget due to the rush go to a weekly series. The series was, at the time, one of the most expensive shows ever with it costing, sources claim, one million dollars per episode. Saga of a Star World, the pilot, had a budget of seven million dollars. Because of the huge production costs associated with the series and a decline in ratings – although the series still won its timeslot – ABC, the broadcaster, decided to cancel Battlestar Galactica. The cancellation came as a shock to the writers and the actors on the series all of whom expected to be renewed – as the show was winning its timeslot. A fan campaign was launched to save the series and the cancellation lead one obsessed fan to tragically take their own life.
Glen A Larson created the show and also was responsible for its memorable theme tune along with Stu Phillips, who also wrote much of the incidental music for the series. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra provided the incidental music and also the theme tune to the series. Glen A Larson shared writing duties on the series with Donald P. Bellisario, who Larson collaborated with on many projects, Jim Carlson, Michael Sloan, Terrence McDonnell, John Ireland and Ken Pettus. Bellisario also directed two episodes of the series and was credited as a supervising producer, later full producer, on the series. John Dykstra, who was responsible for the special effects, was also credited as a producer on some episodes.
The campaign by fans of the series eventually lead to ABC to relent somewhat and commission a sequel television movie to the series. The sequel movie would act as a pilot for a possible follow-up series. However, there were big changes afoot as a smaller budget was allocated and a new time-slot too and it was decided that the Galactica should find Earth, which the broadcaster hoped would bring down costs for the show. The television movie, Galactica Finds Earth, was a ratings hit and a series was commissioned, entitled Galactica 1980. However, only Lorene Green and Herb Jefferson, Jr. had agreed to return for the pilot and series as the other actors involved with the series were committed to other projects or declined to return as they didn’t like the direction the show was having to take.
Galactica: 1980 wasn’t what the fans had been hoping for and the series was quickly dropped by ABC as the ratings declined. In the 1980s episodes of the original series were edited together to create “television movies” which ABC aired. Some over dubbing was recorded in order to tie plots from two different episodes together for the movies. In the 1990s there were several attempts at reviving the series with Richard Hatch and Glen A Larson involved in separate attempts. Larson was trying to produce a film version which would centre of the Battlestar Pegasus, seen in two episodes of the series, which Hatch wanted to produce a continuation series. In the late 90’s Hatch produced a trailer, The Second Coming, to show studio’s how the series could continue.
At the turn of the century Fox announced they were bringing Battlestar Galactica back and it would be a continuation of the original series. Tom De Santo and Bryan Singer were both signed on to produce the new television movie which would act as a pilot for a new series. The television movie was to take place thirty years after the original series, ignoring Galactica: 1980, and would have seen the Cylons finding the Colonials, who had settled on an asteroid, and the flight of humanity once again starting up. It was hoped that several original series actors would return to reprise their roles and sets for the series were constructed. But the terrorists attacks of 9/11 caused filming to delayed leading the departure of Bryan Singer from the project upon which Fox lost faith in the project and it was junked.
After the DeSanto project was cancelled a reimaging of Battlestar Galactica was announced by the Sci Fi Channel and popular Star Trek writer Ronald D Moore was tasked with bringing a 21st century take on the 1970s series. Fans of the original series were not happy about the reimaging and Richard Hatch even spoke out against it but when the reimaging became a weekly series Hatch agreed to take on a recurring role in the series as it became clear that Moore was a fan of the original series, incorporating many elements of it in different ways.
The reimaged Battlestar Galactica has won critical acclaim and a host of awards but will end next year after four seasons as producers decide to go out on a high rather than stretch the story out. Although the reimaged series has attracted new fans to the world of Battlestar Galactica the original series still enjoys popularity to this day and is still fondly remembered by its legions of fans.
“Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest for a shining planet known as Earth.” Closing narration spoken by Lorene Green