Battlestar Galactica (1978) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

The last remnants of humanity travel through uncharted space to find the lost 13th Colony, Earth!

Created as a television series attempting to cash in on the success of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica created a new mythology of space adventure that would itself be a template for other shows and films to follow. It has sustained the battle of time and continues to be an important and well received series–in many incarnations–for fans world wide.

First Impressions

The film looks like an action packed, star fantasy with spaceships, lasers, alien robots and more. It stars Lorne Green from TV’s Bonanza as the commander in charge of the space craft on its way to Earth. It’s the film that launched a TV franchise, next on Sci-Fi Saturdays.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.


Sci-Fi Saturdays

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica title card, edited slightly as each word is flown past individually.

The Fiction of The Film

During the seventh millennia of time, the colony worlds led by the Quorum of Twelve have finally reached a peace accord after 1,000 years of fighting with their robotic rivals, the Cylons. President Adar (Lew Ayres) toasts the council and the event, as the first peace humanity has had in millennia. On the battlestar Galactica, Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) is wary of the Cylons’ peace efforts and puts his ship on alert. His two sons Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Zac (Rick Springfield) run a recon patrol as a precaution. They discover a large contingent of Cylon Raiders waiting behind a nearby moon to attack the fleet. Their signals are jammed and Apollo must leave Zac behind in order to warn about the attack. Zac is killed, and the Cylons still manage to get the upper hand. The fleet, the President, and the council are all decimated with only the Galactica surviving.

Meanwhile the Cylon Basestars are committed to synchronized attack on all 12 of the colony homeworlds at the same time. Adama realizes this too late, and by the time he arrives on Caprica it has already been laid waste by the Cylon attack. Serina (Jane Seymour) and her son Boxy (Noah Hathaway) are two of the survivors that acost Apollo and Adama as they visit the rubble of their former home. As the sole commander of the last Battlestar, Adama vows to rescue as many people as possible and lead them to safety. He gathers a fleet of every ship possible, 220 in all, and sets a course away from the Colony Worlds, and the pursuing Cylon fleet. Baltar (John Colicos), a disenchanted colonist who believes that by helping the Cylons subjugate the humans will have a world he can rule as his own, scoffs at the Cylon’s thoughts that the refugees will be able to escape.

Adama tells a number of assembled refugees that he plans to search for the lost 13th Tribe of Kobol, a planet which is called Earth. Elsewhere the Colonial Viper pilots have been re-tasked with inspecting the fleet. Captain Apollo, along with Lieutenants Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Boomer (Herb Jefferson Jr.) discover a conspiracy of silence with many refugees being in need of food and water, or basic medical attention. Starbuck meets Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang), a woman shunned by other refugees for being a Socialator (an in-universe term for a woman who is paid for sexual favors), and takes her and others back to the Galactica for medical treatment. Boomer and Apollo discover that a wealthy citizen, Sire Uri (Ray Milland), is claiming all the food on his vessel for himself. Apollo uses his rank to claim the food and distribute it.

Battlestar Galactica

Boxey and his mother Serina would both go on to play greater roles in the series. Boxey’s character would grow up to be Capt. Troy in the ill-faring “Galactica 1980.”

Serina contacts Apollo to help her. Boxey is not sleeping well and is depressed since he lost his daggit (a Battlestar Galactica version of a dog) in the attack on Caprica. Apollo calls in another favor to have a robotic daggit, Muffit II, created for Boxey to help train. Apollo also gives Boxey his flight wings, and proclaims him a junior cadet. Starbuck continues to see Cassiopeia even after Apollo’s sister, Athena (Maren Jensen), makes it known that she’s interested in him as well. To avoid Cylon pursuit and make a shorter trip to the planet Carillon–where they can get supplies–they must traverse a dangerous area of space called the Nova of Madagon, which is lined with space-mines. Baltar is called before the Cylon Imperious Leader (Patrick Macnee), who alters their deal and then puts Baltar to death, as no human shall survive.

Making their way to Carillon, Boomer and Starbuck discover there’s a casino and lounge that no one even knew existed. Shore leave is quickly set up for the crews and colonists. Sire Uri, now a member of a new Council of Twelve, believes that the Cylons have completely forgotten them and proposes that the military be dismantled to prove that they mean no further harm. But Adama is still concerned, especially with the oddities found on Carillon. Various colonists go missing including Cassiopeia. Counselor Uri suggests a celebration for the brave pilots that got the fleet through the Nova be held on planet, with all pilots present. Adama tells his second in command, Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) to provide pilot uniforms to other members of the crew and send them down to the planet, while secretly stockpiling their fighter ships near the casino.

Just before the ceremony starts, Boxey goes missing so Apollo and Starbuck head down to the lower levels to find him. There they discover a series of egg chambers of the native Ovions where the missing colonists have been placed as food for their larvae. A group of Cylons is also present, using the planet as a secret mining colony for tylium–an ore used to make fuel. Apollo & Starbuck are joined by Serina and Boomer. They grab Boxey and blast their way past the Cylons, detonating the fuel stores. The casino is evacuated, with colonists heading back to the fleet, just as a Cylon Basestar and squadrons of Raiders make what it believes is a covert attack on the fleet. But thanks to Adama’s plan the pilots race up from the planet catching the Cylon fleet unaware. They drive the Basestar too close to the planet where it explodes, touching off a chain reaction and clowning up the planet Carillon as well.

It is my intention to seek out that remaining colony, that last outpost of humanity in the whole universe. I do know that it lies beyond our star system, in a galaxy very much like our own. On a planet called…Earth.” – Commander Adama

History in the Making

Battlestar Galactica certainly has the weirdest lineage of any film that will be looked at on Sci-Fi Saturdays. To date all the films that have been reviewed here have been in chronological release order. So why is this week looking at a film from July 1978, when last week’s film was from April 1979? Two reasons: primarily I screwed up, but the film was also released in May 1979 in the United States. I’ll explain. As many might think, there’s a master list of films that I use as my working template. I am constantly adding and adjusting the list as I decide that I’d rather talk about one film versus another, or my research discovers a film I wasn’t aware of. And I sort this list by release date in the country of origin (as best I can). Somehow in the rearranging of this list, Battlestar Galactica disappeared. Unfortunately I didn’t realize it until I was watching Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but that turns out to be OK.

So here’s the weird story of the release of Battlestar Galactica in theaters. As many already know, the 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica was a television show created by Glen A. Larson which ran one season of 24 episodes from September 1978 through April 1979. It was originally intended to be a series of made-for-TV movies. After the second “film” was created, ABC decided that they’d rather have a weekly series, so gears were changed and the show was reworked a bit. The first three weekly episodes were re-edited into a two-hour format and released theatrically. But not in America. Only Canada saw a release in July 1978, two months before the debut of the series on American television. Other countries around the globe saw the release of this same film, from Sweden, France, & West Germany in October to Mexico, Finland, Spain & the Philippines in December. It wasn’t until the following summer that the film was shown in the United States almost a month after the series was cancelled.

The theatrical release of “Saga of A Star World” was a plan to recoup some of the money that it cost to make the episodes of the series, some of the most expensive television to date. Obviously releasing at that time in America wouldn’t have been prudent, as people would probably have known to wait for the “free” version on television. But the theatrical film did a couple of things that people may not have expected. An hour of television in 1978 was approximately 50 minutes of content, with the remainder being commercials, which meant that the three episode “movie” was an approximate runtime of 2:30. This was edited down to just over two hours (2:04) for the theatrical release. There were also a number of changes made for the film, or from the film. The most notable is the survival of Baltar, who would become a villain during the first season. Buck Rogers did something similar, adding in more footage to pad the movie into two weekly episodes. The most recent film to do something similar was Marvel’s The Inhumans, which was released in theaters in IMAX prior to debuting on ABC. Unfortunately that film had no additional content making it worth its while.

Genre-fication

Even though a weekly series for Logan’s Run came out after Star Wars, it was in production prior to the blockbuster that captured the imaginations of the public. Battlestar Galactica was the first series and film that was really able to attempt to replicate the success of the biggest sci-fi movie of 1977. It was both to the film’s praise and detriment that it tried to ape Star Wars. In broad strokes Battlestar Galactica is nothing like Star Wars. After a millennia long war, the bad guys sue for peace, and the good guys believe them. Only one small legion of warriors doesn’t fall for it and manages to escape with a handful of civilian lives. This military led group of refugees wander the star systems searching for a lost settlement called Earth. It’s a Western motif, with settlers heading west to a new land. This is neither a “long time ago,” or in a “galaxy far, far away.” But the devil’s in the details as they say, and there were enough similarities that 20th Century tried to sue Universal for ripping off their film.

These similarities include the design of the space ships, villains, plus some plot points and set pieces. The Colonial Vipers are similar to the X-Wings, just as the Cylon Raiders are similar to TIE Fighters. In truth they’re basic design shapes are different enough to be readily discernible in the fast paced space dogfights. The fact that both sets of ships were both designed by Ralph McQuarrie may have led to people assuming there was more of a crossover than there actually was. The bad troops were shiny, armored robots not unlike the white armored Stormtroopers of the Original Trilogy. There was also a set piece in a galactic bar/casino with a performing lounge act, and the film ends with the destruction of the giant evil space station, which coincides with a planet exploding as well. People are more likely to get Star Trek and Star Wars confused than Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica however. Battlestar Galactica presents itself as a different enough property, with different types of characters and quests that confusion is not likely. It’s probably one reason the lawsuit was settled out of court, and Star Wars would continue to be a template for sci-fi films for the decade to come.

One other similarity between the “star” franchises is Battlestar Galactica’s use of mythological influences and other cultural influences. These are core lessons that Star Wars taught that were more or less untrademarkable, but could provide a richer background tapestry for the action. The mythology within the universe of the show appears to derive from Egyptian culture, with the helmet styles of the Colonial Warriors, and the pantheon of Gods that are worshipped. In real life Larson based the mythology of the show on the teachings of the book of Mormon. From the use of a council of 12, to the use of the planet “Kobol,” and anagram for Kolob, a star near the throne of God, Larson peppered other references through the series.

Battlestar Galactica also created its own technical vocabulary, like Star Wars, which many other properties would utilize to sound more “spacey.” The adopted a decimal based measurement system with units such as Centons, Microns, Sections, and Yahrens, as well as units of current called cubits. They even created a series of slang curse words, such as “felgercarb” and the oft-used “frack,” to skirt the issue of censorship on television. As much as Battlestar Galactica imitated others, it also created a lot of new content, ideas, and possibilities in the world of science-fiction.

Battlestar Galactica

Casting younger actors in the roles of Starbuck, Apollo, and Zac was a great draw for the ladies. Rick Springfield (Zac) had a modest music career at this time, but would reach superstardom in the early 80s with his hit “Jessie’s Girl” among others.

Societal Commentary

At its core Battlestar Galactica is a film about the horrors of war. A war that has been fought for 1,000 years which ends with near genocide of an entire race of people. It shows a different kind of space opera, where the survivors of a war must band together to help each other out, with the military leaders shifting from wartime to peacetime protectors. Of course, there was no shortage of action moments, But seeing the warriors switch roles in the film provides a clue as to the difficulty ahead. The moments where Starbuck is bemoaning the fact that they have to search for Solium leaks on the refugee ships, complaining that it’s dangerous is telling. He’d rather be putting his life at risk with a high profile job like starfighter pilot, than an engine maintenance worker. These warriors must also become keepers of the peace. Transitioning from warriors with a gun to warriors with words. The realm is more political now, like Apollo picking a fight with Sire Uri, or Starbuck sticking up for Cassiopeia when other people are mistreating her.

Battlestar Galactica

Baltar, a modern day Judas, thinks that his betrayal of the human race will curry favor with the genocidal Cylons.

The film is peppered with pollyanna-type characters that would rather believe the best case scenarios than appraising the situation for what it is. The first character is President Adar. He naively believes that after 1,000 years of war, the robotic Cylon species is ready to throw in the towel–even after the Cylon’s have vowed to destroy every human. He trusts Baltar, rather than listen to his military commander who might know a thing or two more about the nature of the warfare they face. He dies for his beliefs and manages to kill millions more. Baltar is the next to go. Like a person that cheats with a married individual, he acts surprised when they in turn cheat on him! The Imperious Leader is very clear. “So long as one human remains alive, the alliance is threatened.” Baltar is shocked they mean him as well. This scene was excised from the TV version of the film so that he could continue to be a Judas in the side of the Galactica through the rest of the season. Finally, Sire Uri learns nothing from the recent history with the Cylons, and would sacrifice all that was one by destroying their arms. Luckily Adama has a solid head on his shoulders. He’s not a warmonger, but is cautious to the motives of others, and takes his leadership role seriously.

Battlestar Galactica also was a leader in casting black actors in positions of power on the show. Both Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh (2nd in Command of the Galactica), and Herbert Jefferson Jr. as a prominent pilot and friend to the main characters showed early sci-fi representation of people of color. These characters were not just token representation but served important roles in this and the other episodes of the series. Star Trek of course had Nichelle Nichols and George Takei representing non-white culture in space as early as 1966, but there was a significant lack of non-white representation in major sci-fi films and television series in the 1970s. This representation is something that would be slow to change, but it has to start somewhere.

The Science in The Fiction

As with Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica is more of a space opera than hard science fiction. However it’s less fantasy based than Star Wars, which was more concerned with the monomyth and the hero’s journey. Both films have spaceships flying like airplanes in the vacuum of space. Laser blasts and explosions make sounds in space, and seemingly every planet they encounter has a breathable atmosphere. As far as this film shows, the aliens are evil robots that want to control all the worlds, led by a leader that appears to be an organic frog-like creature. It’s a genre-swapped Western story, like many sci-fi films are. In this case six-shooters and horses are traded in for laser pistols and spaceships. The ragtag fleet of spaceships is a modern wagon train of stagecoaches. And the Cylons represent the coming technology that threatens the ways of the Old West.

Unlike Westerns the warriors of this fleet had to switch gears and become warriors for peace within the fleet. It became less a battle of guns and became a political battle with, for, and about the civilians. This film, and other episodes of the original series, showcased the leads of the show acting as a conduit between the Galactica and the civilians in the fleet. Apollo tries to placate the starving passengers who are crammed into the lower quarters of the Rising Star. They want food and water, so he vows to find out what is going on. He understands that a riot of civilians will not be good for the survival of the whole. When he discovers that Sire Uri has secured the majority of the supplies for himself and his party, Apollo is incensed. He calls out the Sire, attempting to shame him by invoking the Sire’s dead wife, and what she may think of his actions. For a soldier, Apollo is really quick on his feet in the realm of politics and uses his position of power in  the best interests of the group.

The film also drew from many backstories, creating a second race of bug-eyed aliens, the Ovions. They were in cahoots with the Cylons (of course–they looked evil) but also used the colonists as food for their young. Much like certain insects on Earth, the Ovions placed the humans in egg chambers–resembling a bee’s hive–where they were encased in spider-like webbing to be consumed by the Ovion larvae. Not a pretty way to go. It was unclear if the aliens functioned as a hive. They seemed more like slave labor for the Cylons, used to mine the tylium. But they were obviously a smart species, having set up an enticing “front” for their operation using a casino and lounge to entice their prey inside.

Battlestar Galactica

With an exciting finale where Cylons chase the heroes over a never-ending chasm, and an exploding planet, it’s no wonder comparisons to “Star Wars” are often brought up when discussing this show.

The Final Frontier

Even though the Battlestar Galactica film did okay in theaters, the television series only lasted one season. That was enough to make it a popular icon for fans craving any and all sci-fi merchandise. Like Logan’s Run, Star Wars, and Buck Rogers, there were action figures, clothing, trading cards, comic books and more. With Universal Studios footing the bill for the show, it was quickly turned into a popular part of the Universal Studios tour. The tour bus would avoid a Cylon laser cannon, and pull into a depot where a Captain Apollo would blast Cylons to help the humans escape. Part of the ride, or at least a Cylon, was even featured in the opening credits for The A-Team, the follow-up series for Dirk Benedict.

Even though the series received early cancellation, a new show was put in the works due to fan outcry. Galactica 1980, fared even worse, getting only 10 episodes from January to May of 1980. It followed the adventures of a grown up Boxey, another colonial warrior, and an American TV reporter with their flying motorcycles and time travel. It would seem the series was deader than the 12 colonies after this series. But amazingly in 2003 Ronald D. Moore introduced a modernized and reimagined series that followed the same basic premises at the beginning but kept the storylines more adult and mysterious. It ran for four seasons plus a number of webisodes and a couple of TV Movies. There are even current rumors that another reboot of the series is in the works.

Whether you believe that Battlestar Galactica is a rip off of previous material or a fan of its take on science-fiction, there’s no denying it served as an important bridge between the 1970s and the more advanced sci-fi epics of the 80s.

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