Star Wars was definitely the pop-culture phenomenon of the 70’s. Once it caught on with the public, every entertainment-based company in the world either wanted to be part of the Star Wars marketing juggernaut or, better yet, create a Star Wars of its own. The easiest way to do this was to find an existing project that had never gotten off the ground and resurrect it. This is exactly what happened with the ABC series Battlestar Galactica.
The show began its life as ‘Adam’s Ark,’ a proposal for a Wagon Train-styled series set in outer space. This proposal, dreamt up by creator/producer Glen Larson in the mid-70’s, languished until Star Wars-mania struck the world and was then snapped up by ABC. The network committed several million dollars to the production of the series—some say the show cost one million dollars per episode. The producers also snagged a major coup in landing John Dykstra, a visual effects wizard who had contributed to the effects in Star Wars, to design the visual effects and join the production staff.
The story was set in the distant future. The 12 Colonies of Man had been nearly decimated after a vicious surprise attack from the Cylons, a warlike and cybernetic race led by “The Imperious Leader” and guided by the humanoid traitor Baltar. A group of survivors banded together and formed a fleet under Commander Adama, who led them into space with his mile-long battleship, the Galactica. Their destination was Earth, a popular myth in their culture that also happened to be their only hope for salvation. Apollo, Adama’s son, led the Galactica fighter squadron, and Starbuck was the top pilot of this squadron.
Female cast members included Ensign Athena, Adama’s officer daughter and a love interest for Starbuck, and Cassopeia, an alien medical tech who also had eyes for the rogue-ish Starbuck (uh-oh!). Boxey was the resident kid character, and his mother was Serina (she would eventually marry Apollo). The major robot characters were Muffit, a ‘daggit’ or mechanical dog, and Lucifer, Baltar’s fearsome Cylon assistant. Aliens included the Ovions, an insect-like race that ate humans, and the Lucans, a humanoid race that had two mouths.
The series began with a 3-hour premiere that cost $3 million and depicted the origin story described above. Larson wanted to structure the show as a series of two-hour television films, but ABC decided they wanted a weekly one-hour series after viewing the first half-hour of the pilot. Subsequent episodes depicted Galactica and its followers visiting new worlds as they made their long voyage to Earth and tried to elude the Cylons. Every episode would include plenty of space-battles and other visual effects, although ABC executives would later demand that effects budgets be cut. This led to Dykstra’s leaving the show early in the series. In his absence, visual effects would be recycled.
The combination of effects recycling and the sheer strain of doing a high-concept show in a limited time format and on a limited budget certainly hurt Battlestar Galactica. Still, the show did well and stayed in the Top-25 throughout its run. However, ABC canceled the series because executives felt the show didn’t perform well enough to justify its high budget. The final episode, “The Hand of God,” was telecast on April 29th, 1979. Universal, the company that produced the show, was sued by 20th Century Fox, who accused them of plagiarizing Star Wars. This lawsuit would be settled in Universal’s favor in August of 1980.
The show’s 17 episodes were later re-edited into 12 two-hour television films for syndication. Certain episodes were released on videocassette, and the pilot film was also shown theatrically around the world. After the show’s run, ABC asked Larson to develop a television film to depict what happened when the Galactica found Earth. The proposal eventually mutated into a short-lived sequel series called Galactica 1980.
There was also a revival of the series in 2003 with Edward James Olmos as Adama and a female Starbuck played by Kate Sackoff.
USA / ABC – Universal/ Glen Larson Prod. / 1x180m-e 1x120m-e 19x60m-e / Broadcast 17 September 1978 – 4 August 1979 (Battlestar Galactica) and 16 March – 4 May 1980 (Galactica 1980)
Creator/Executive Producer: Glen A. Larson / Music: Stu Phillips, Glen A. Larson / Special Effects: John Dykstra
Lorne Greene as Commander Adama
Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo
Dirk Benedict as Lieutenant Starbuck
Herb Jefferson Jr. as Lieutenant Boomer
Maren Jensen as Athena
Tony Swartz as Flight Sergeant Jolly
Noah Hathaway as Boxey
Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh
Laurette Spang as Cassiopeia
John Colicos as Baltar
Anne Lockhart as Sheba
Ed Begley Jr. as Ensign Greenbean
David Greenan as Omega
Jonathan Harris as Lucifer
Janet Julian as Lieutenant Brie
George Murdock as Dr. Salik
Sarah Rush as Rigel
Felix Silla as Lucifer