When Star Wars was first released in 1977 the populatity of the Space Opera was waning. The genre, which started with the pulp magazines and books of the 1920’s and 30’s, is built around storylines that involve traveling through space and aliens. Before Luke Skywalker met Obiwan, books by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury captured the imagination of readers and Hollywood producers.
1978’s Battlestar Galactica is one of the TV shows that came about due to the popularity of Star Wars being on the big screen and while it was accused of being a copycat or clone of the Star Wars storyline, the truth is that Glen Larson had been working on a story of this type for many years prior to the release of George Lucas’s hit movie.
Nowadays when you hear “Battlestar Galactica” most people think about a military adventure where Edward James Olmos commands a crew of fighters as they battle the Cylon’s in battles set to a military-like drum beat instead of music. But the story idea is strongly based upon the 1978 TV series which opened with a three-hour premiere on ABC, September 17, 1978.
The original series can be seen on the NBC ‘Channel’, an app that brings current and past NBC and Univeral programming to you. The NBC Channel is available on Roku, Mi Box and other streaming devices.
If you’re not familiar with the story premise, 12 ‘Colonies’ have been engaged in a 1000 year long war with the Cylon Empire and are about to sign a peace. The entire military is gathered and awaiting the Cylon fleet to sign the armistice. The Cylons, a reptilian race, built a bunch of cybernetic androids to be their military force and proceeds to attack the human military fleet and the defenseless home-worlds in a surprise attack nearly destroying everyone. The crew of the last remaining Battlestar (a huge battleship), Galactica, takes it upon their selves to protect the remnants of the human race to flee into the stars in search of the 13th Colony, Earth.
The reboot of the series which aired in the early 2000’s highlighted the darkness of that story premise but the original didn’t play into the darkness as much making it far more family friendly for TV audiences. The whole show was built around a ‘family-like’ feeling among the primary characters. Lorne Green, most known for playing the father on Bonanza played the commander of the Galactica, leading the humans to Earth.
The show was canceled after its first season, allegedly due to high production costs. It’s not surprising, if you watched the original Star Wars, before they released the ‘Special Edition’ in the 1990’s you would see that the quality of the space battles and special effects were on par with what George Lucas did with his original trilogy in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, many of the special effect people brought their knowledge to Battlestar Galactica after working on Star Wars and they result in a superior look to the original Star Trek series which aired only a decade before.
The cancellation of the original series resulted in protests and a letter-writing campaign to ABC to bring the program back resulting in ‘Galactica 1980’ which picked up with the crew several years later as the humans finally find Earth. The new show retained Commander Adama (Lorne Green) and Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) as regular casts as well as the two primary Viper pilots in the show being a ‘grown-up Boxy’ from the original and his best friend. You’ll find Galactica 1980 as “season two” of the Battlestar Galactica storyline. The primary target audience was for young kids with stories like the small children of Galactica coming to Earth to go camping and pretending to be ‘Scouts’ (aka Cub Scouts). The final episode of season 2 is a back story taking place between season one and two telling what happened to one of the more popular Pilots, Starbuck, from season one.
Yes, the TV series is clearly dated and heavily influenced with 70’s style disco music and dancing along with hairstyles. But some of the stories are still good and are timeless. By the time that you get to the mid-season two-part story “The Living Legend” Battlestar Galactica has found its footing and the stories get noticeably better. Not that the first half was all that bad but all to often, they get caught up in the typical Sci-fi story traps. The special effects still hold up to today’s standards especially considering that this was long before CGI and miniature models were used for many of the space battles.
If you’re into Space Opera you won’t need to work hard to binge on this show for the first season but the second season may be more difficult for you. I hope you can tough it out until the final episode, ‘Starbuck Returns’ because its probably the most heart-wrenching episode but you see just how pivotal of a role he plays in aiding the last humans in their journey to Earth.