The show I never missed growing up was “Battlestar Galactica.” Every Sunday night, no matter what I was doing, I stopped, and I watched “Battlestar Galactica.” The theme of the show was a simple but powerful one. If you stand for nothing, and if you’re not willing to protect what you have, you will lose it.
Let me give some context, though. I pretty much loved everything related to science fiction or fantasy, but I really never watched that much television. Books and music were always encouraged, in my house, but my mom and my brothers really laid into me if I watched too much television. And, frankly, they were right. The three major networks offered next to nothing, and I found most of my imagination charged by books and exploration of the environs surrounding my hometown in south-central Kansas.
So, by family rules as well as by family pressure, I kept my shows very selective. I watched the original Star Trek series on Saturday mornings on our local PBS station. And, for a while, I watched the Six Million Dollar Man, but the show I never missed was Battlestar Galactica. Every Sunday night, no matter what I was doing, I stopped, and I watched Battlestar Galactica. Looking back, I realize that it was a bit of a lifeline, but it was also an invented world I could trust. I immersed myself in every possible way—through the show, through the comic books (Marvel), and through the novels.
If you’d forced me at the time to name my favorite invented worlds, I would’ve gladly have claimed Tolkien’s—above all else—with Star Trek second, and Battlestar Galactica a close third.
My mom, always generous, especially when it came to my passions, allowed me to buy the novelizations and the magazines (such as Starlog) dedicated to Battlestar Galactica. For an 11-year old fifth grader, it was pretty much sci-fi/merchandising heaven.
Let me also admit as I begin this essay, that not all was perfect with Battlestar Galactica. There are things about the show that would make even the cringe-resistant cringe in horror and shame. First, there’s the repetitive use of special-effects shots. Just how many ways are there to blow up a Cylon heavy fighter? Second, there’s an attempt to create a new vocabulary with words such as “frak” substituting for. . . well, you know. Other words and phrases such as “sleep period” and “galmongering” and “feldercarb” just didn’t quite make it into general usage. Third, every time something good happens in the show, everyone (including the aliens) celebrates with disco music. And, yes, the clothing matches the era. Fourth, the aliens are so badly made up, one might suspect these were costumes designed by C-level studios in the 1950s. Just how many stiff-faced rubber masks can the average viewer handle? Fifth, there was also a problem with pacing and intent. Your world has just experienced Armageddon, and you’re joyriding on Planet Las Vegas. Viva! Six, there are way too many allusions to sexual activities. . .
And, yet, there are so many good things about the show that, at the very least, balance the ridiculousness. First, the models used for the special effects—whether a Battlestar, a Cylon Basestar, a Viper, or a Cylon raider—are simply extraordinarily rendered. Even after 40 years, they still look impressive. The same man who designed the special effects and oversaw the models for Star Wars, John Dykstra, did the same for the first several shows of Battlestar Galactica.
Second, the actors are rather stunning as well: Lorne Greene, Jane Seymour, Patrick Macnee, and Lloyd Bridges? An incredible cast. The two main characters, portrayed by then relatively unknown actors, Richard Hatch (Apollo) and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck), are, again, simply extraordinary. They give every single ounce of talent they each have to the roles, and what they have is not inconsiderable. The two leads have an excellent chemistry as well, with Apollo being the moral and serious one, and Starbuck as the stereotypical fighter jock and rogue (think Han Solo) with a heart of gold.
Third, the themes of the show fit the late 1970s perfectly. The twelve colonies of humans resemble an advanced western civilization, having become decadent and complacent, desiring peace no matter the cost. The aliens, however, are a fascistic/communistic group of machines that desire to re-make the universe in their own distorted and simplistic image. They—the Cylons—can do this best by murdering every organic being. Given the threat of nuclear holocaust and the Soviet moves into (on the verge, if not already in actuality) Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the Cylons very much represented the unrelenting communists. The theme of Battlestar Galactica was a simple but powerful one. If you stand for nothing, and if you’re not willing to protect what you have, you will lose it. The opposite of war, for Battlestar Galactica, is not peace, but mass slaughter and complete loss. Ronald Reagan may as well have been writing and acting for Battlestar Galactica as readily as Glen A. Larson and Lorne Greene. I have no doubt that the television show prepared many of us for Reagan’s ultimate showdown with the evil empire.
Fourth, the entire series—no matter how cheesily at times—revolves around the family as the primary social unit of society. Larson, the creator and producer of the show, was a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—the Mormons—and Mormon theology plays a crucial role in every aspect of the show. The 1970s might have seen Donny and Marie conquer the “variety show” world, but Battlestar Galactica actually dealt rather bluntly with Mormon theology and Mormon virtues. When Apollo marries in the second movie, Lost Planet of the Gods, he and his wife (Jane Seymour) are “sealed” for “all the eternities.” It could get none more Mormon! At the exact moment they are sealed, a star appears in a seemingly endless black void—the star, Kobol, a science fiction rendering of the star, Kolob, the home system of all humans in Mormon theology and the one closest to God’s seat of power.
Recently, the original Battlestar Galactica has been remastered and updated for blu-ray. The visuals and the audio of the blu-ray version is nothing less than glorious. Surprisingly, the stories hold up even better than do the visuals and the audio. If you want to relive a slice of the Cold War—at its height and at the height of Soviet expansion—it’s worth re-watching this family show. That Reagan came a year later is nothing less than a glory.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a still from the opening theme of Battlestar Galactica (1978); the image at top is a Battlestar Galactica poster.