When I was invited to attend Seattle’s Battlestar Galactica Convention and write about it, my first thought was about how much I really enjoyed the old-school 1970’s BSG. My second thought was about how much I had always wanted to write about the ill fated spin off – Galactica 1980.
After the cancellation of Battlestar Galactica in 1979, fans came together for a massive write-in campaign and the show was hastily remounted as Galactica 1980. This happened in caveman times–before the invention of online petitions–and the sheer volume of physical mail arriving at Universal Studios convinced executives to give it a second chance. E-mail petitions are fine, but they lack the visceral impact of a dump truck full of tear-stained envelopes (I’m looking at you, Fannibals and Browncoats).
Set 20 years after the end of the first BSG series, Galactica 1980 would chronicle the further adventures of the space refugees as they explored Earth. To save money, Universal Studios decided to step back from the effects-driven action of the original series and find a way to use the sets, costumes and locations that they already had. Setting the show on present day Earth allowed the studio to save millions beacause most of the episodes took place in and around Los Angeles. There were a few indoor scenes on the Galactica, but any space battles that might have happened were cobbled together from old footage, and with exception of a simulated Cylon attack on Los Angeles in episode one, it was a far cry from the original show.
Somehow, even with the penny pinching and making due, it came together to form a perfect kitsch storm that is more fun to watch today than when it originally aired. What makes it fun now is what made it annoying in the 80’s. The show embraces every stupid cliché it can find; it has confused aliens who don’t understand simple technology, a “liberated” female reporter who bullies the men into dragging her into danger, a teenage super-genius named Doctor Zee (played by a young Paul Williams impersonator), and my absolute favorite thing ever, dirt bikes with random crap bolted to them…and these ones could fly!
Look at all that sweet, sweet fiberglass!
The basic premise was that after the Battlestar and it’s ragtag fleet made it to Earth, they couldn’t take refuge here because they had been followed by Cylons. Oddly enough, this announcement comes as a huge surprise to Adama. You would think that a great military tactician would have noticed that a battle fleet was following him. This is not that kind of show. This is a show where you just have to take their word for it. Don’t look too closely.
In order to live on earth, the refugees first need to prepare us for the inevitable Cylon attack. Thanks, space people! Welcome to the planet!! In order to accomplish this and infiltrate human society, they send two of their best pilots to the planet surface in hopes of advancing human technology. It is assumed that the residents of the earth will be super excited about new weapons and will forgive them for the fact that an enemy force beyond earthly comprehension is bearing down from space. Who cares about a few billion casualties when we’ve got these cool flying motorcycles?
Fans of the original series were excited at first, they loved Apollo and Starbuck, and having them right here on present day earth sounded awesome. Then, Dirk Benedict was unavailable and Richard Hatch wisely decided to bow out after reading an early version of the script. The new heroes of Galactica 1980 were the blandly generic Captain Troy and Lieutenant Dillon. Troy was the more serious one, and Dillon was a happy-go-lucky ladies man. To put it in terms modern fans will understand, Troy was the Sam Winchester and Dillon was the Dean. Oh, and instead of chasing monsters, they were in charge of a scout troop full of space kids. Oy vey!
Would you trust these guys with your space kids?
The main villain in the new show was not a scary chrome-plated robot, it was perfectly normal guy named Xavier who didn’t have any concrete plan for global domination, he just wanted to use time travel technology to change the course of history so that humans could kick some shiny Cylon butt. He just happened to think that the best way to do that was to give Hitler a death ray. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing that Star Trek is always warning us about! The first story arc of the season involves our heroes fighting Nazis, and not knowing how to use a payphone.
The next story arc (most of the episodes are multi-part stories) deals with the refugee children of Galactica. They are sent to earth, in the care of Troy and Dillon who disguise them as a scout troupe, and then pretty much ignore them. I’m sure that if they had more screen time, it would be a Lord of the Flies situation, but we only see them when our heroes are with them, which is surprisingly seldom. Did I mention that the kids all have super powers? Of course they do. The villains in this story arc are corrupt politicians, and industrial waste. They are far less interesting than a time-travelling Richard Lynch. Another story arc, entitled “The Return of Starbuck,” brought back Dirk Benedict in a desperate attempt to improve the ratings and save the show.
It was cancelled after only ten episodes, and there was no write-in campaign to renew it.
After the show’s inevitable failure (it was up against Mork and Mindy) Universal cut several of the episodes into an underwhelming cinematic release, and then tried to sell the whole mess as Battlestar Galactica: The Final Season. It briefly showed up in syndication, but was soon sucked into the black hole of popular culture along with Quark, A.L.F., and the late, lamented, Homeboys from Outer Space.
I personally, think it’s worth rediscovering. It may not be the BSG that you love and remember but it is a perfect time capsule into the world of prime time science fiction, and it makes a hell of a drinking game.[If you are a Seattle based fan of Battlestar Galactica, you should consider attending Galacticon 4 in Seattle during the first weekend in August. Galacticon is a media convention devoted mainly to BSG, but they also bring in celebrity guests and speakers from many other shows, this year they have guests from Firefly, Lost in Space, and even Sid and Marty Kroft’s original Land of the Lost. There are panels, workshops (including an acting class taught by Richard Hatch), and a dealer’s room full of geeky treasures. Check their website, www.galacticon.org for more information.]
Rhias Hall is Scarecrow’s resident elder goth. In addition to working in the store she manages Scarecrow’s Tumblr feed, and can often be found spreading the gospel of movies at local science fiction and horror conventions.