We all know that the Ronald D. Moore’s rebooted Battlestar Galactica, which chronicled the genocidal pursuit of the human race by their evolved cyborg creations the Cylons, is iconic for numerous reasons, particularly as it boosted the Syfy Channel’s credibility and proved that small screen space operas could be smart, sophisticated, and utterly transfixing. But Glen A. Larson’s original 1978 series — as hokey as it can come off today with its oddly upbeat vibe, feathered hairstyles, and Mormonist undertones — still has plenty of good aspects to recommend it. Now that Universal has chosen to reissue the original series, its short-lived sequel Galactica 1980, and the theatrical cut of the pilot on Blu-ray, with every episode viewable in widescreen for the first time, let’s look back at why the original BSG was so groundbreaking.
THE CYLONS WERE BADASS
They looked a little clunky, but with their weird roving eyes, coldly synthesized voices, and blaster and knife weaponry they were formidable allies. They got shot down a lot, but they certainly inflicted their share of damage. Their reimagined classic bodies for the reboot were pretty good too.
THE LEADS WERE GOOD
Bonanza icon Lorne Greene made for a sage Adama, dispensing grandfatherly wisdom while also making hard choices. Richard Hatch played Lt. Apollo with sensitivity rather than machismo. The latter trait was Dirk Benedict’s department as charming rogue Lt. Starbuck. Terry Carter as Col. Tigh and Herbert Jefferson, Jr. as Boomer brought gravitas and humor to their roles. John Colicos chewed the scenery as the bloodthirsty Baltar. And was that Jonathan Harris, Dr. Smith from the original Lost In Space, voicing the clever Cylon called Lucifer? Why, yes it was.
THERE WERE COOL GUEST STARS
BSG mixed up movie and TV vets and newbies: Jane Seymour (who lasted five episodes and went braless in three, thank you), rocker Rick Springfield, Lloyd Bridges, dancing legend Fred Astaire, mega babe Audrey Landers, and Patrick Macnee (John Steed from The Avengers), who played Count Oblis and the rarely seen Imperious Leader and also delivered the opening credits voiceover.
IT TRUMPED STAR WARS ON GENDER
Star Wars had Princess Leia. And while men ran the “ragtag fugitive fleet” fleeing Cylon persecution, there were a few stronger female characters supporting them, and without skimpy clothing. During the two-part “Lost Planet of the Gods” storyline, when the male pilots were stricken by a mysterious disease, women stepped up to fly in their place against the Cylons. (Rosie the Riveter? Rosie the Viper pilot!) Their tenure was short-lived, but it was new for conservative ‘70s TV, and in other episodes female Viper pilots were sporadically shown. At least Viper pilot Lt. Sheba (Anne Hathaway) arrived halfway through the first season to be a match for Apollo and Starbuck.
AND RACE, KINDA…
While the diversity in Lucas’ original Star Wars came from its alien races, BSG took the Star Trek approach. Somewhat. There were two key African-American characters (Col. Tigh and Lt. Boomer) and occasional minor characters of different ethnicities. While not nearly as mixed as what we have on TV today, it was not totally whitewashed like other shows of the era. We know, baby steps.
THEY SECRETLY DROPPED THE F-BOMB
You couldn’t (and still can’t) say “fuck” on network TV, but you could say “frak” and people knew what you meant. It’s similar in spirit to “shazbot” from Mork & Mindy, which debuted that same fall season. Now when Starbuck and others uttered “felgercarb,” that wasn’t quite as effective a faux curse. The reboot helped secure the place of “frak” in our pop culture lexicon.
THE VISUAL EFFECTS PUSHED THE ENVELOPE FOR TV
While many of the optical effects have not aged gracefully, they were cutting edge for the day and some of the battle sequences still look pretty good. Of course, having Star Wars special effects guru John Dykstra on their team was a plus. (And let’s be honest, BSG cribbed a lot from that movie, even instigating a lawsuit from George Lucas.) Unfortunately, the large budgets and dwindling ratings lead to the show’s cancellation after one season. It was resurrected with a lower budget and horribly scripted sequel series called Galactica 1980 in which the humans reached Earth and secretly helped prepare the planet for the coming of the Cylons.
RACY IN SPACE
While Lt. Apollo was more concerned with raising his adopted son Boxy, Lt. Starbuck loved romancing the ladies, often juggling Lt. Athena and medical technician Cassopeia. In “The Long Patrol,” Starbuck tested a Viper with an onboard female computer named CORA (Computer, Oral Response Activated) who flirted with him and took him for a wild ride. In the two-part “Gun on Ice Planet Zero,” the men and women each were cloned from one person. Having a bevy of Britt Eklands was hot, and Starbuck kissed three of them in a row to sample their smooching style. Everyone was happy.
STARBUCK WAS ABSURDLY FUN
While Katee Sackhoff imbued her Starbuck with a gritty quality and more depth for the reboot, Dirk Benedict’s original version of Starbuck was like Han Solo as played by a short coiffed David Lee Roth. He was a gambler and a womanizer who always schemed for ways to get laid, make loads of cash, and quit the military. (Seriously, where would he go anyway?) He also could be surprising — in “The Young Lords,” he admitted: “I always wanted to meet a woman as long on brains as she was on beauty.”
THE SCORE WAS EPIC
Composer Stu Phillips brought a cinematic sensibility to television, speeding up our pulse during the space battle sequences and creating a memorable main title with producer Glen A. Larson. Bear McCreary’s score for the reboot was compelling and unique, but the original theme is eternal.
THE ORIGINAL PROVIDED THE TEMPLATE FOR THE REBOOT
Both the original BSG and Galactica 1980 generated the source material that was respectfully reshaped by Ronald D. Moore for the smart Syfy reboot. Amazingly, the utter disaster that was Galactica 1980 tried, despite its debilitating cheesiness, to tackle weighty environmental and social themes, but more importantly, it spawned the idea of humanoid Cylons that was so integral to Moore’s new vision. Too bad that when they first emerged on earth in 1980 the Cylons were mistaken for Halloween partygoers. Yeah yeah, don’t get us started…
IT WAS DARKER THAN YOU REMEMBER
The original show had many feel good or silly moments to provide levity against larger, darker concepts like institutionalized imprisonment, child soldiers, suicide missions, and genocide. Let’s face it: TV execs in those days were afraid to challenge the masses, so they tossed in cutesy kids, a mechanical dog, a ham-fisted human villain, and romantic hijinx to perk things up.