Television Reviews

Battlestar Galactica (1978) – The Complete Epic Series on DVD

There are those who believe that life here began out there… Far across the universe… With tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians… Or the Toltecs… Or the Mayans… That they may have been the architects of the great pyramids… or the lost civilizations of Lemuria… or Atlantis… Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive… far, far away amongst the stars…

Something I’ve waited 25 years for – well, waited for since the advent of the DVD player at least. Even more than any of my Star Trek videos, I’ve wanted the complete first season of Battlestar Galactica, uncut. I wanted scenes that were in the theatrical release of Saga of a Star World, but cut from the television release.

What is the biggest mistake ever made by ABC-television (other than Cop Rock)? Canceling this series after its first season. Although it was a top-10 show in its first season, the powers that be deemed it too expensive to produce. Once they realized their mistake, they tried to rectify it with the disastrous Galactica 1980, but it was too late.

Because of the cost factor, one thing that is very apparent through the series’ run is that the same special effects shots were recycled over and over. It’s really funny after a while, especially when the same shots of their video monitors appear over and over again. That effect should have been fairly easy to duplicate as it looks much like the early monochrome monitors. However, the series producers did the best the could with what they had.

Another thing that hampered the series was a lawsuit by George Lucas. This came about over several things, one of them being that Richard Hatch (who portrays Apollo) was one of the possibilities for Luke Skywalker and Lucas saw his casting as a lead character in Battlestar Galactica as trying to grab onto his coattails. This gets some credence since series producer John Dykstra worked on the first Star Wars film in the special effects department. To settle the lawsuit, certain things were agreed to. On Battlestar Galactica, you’ll never see an effect of a laser bolt line. Instead, their weapons seem to fire with a flash and then the target explodes.

The film has been digitally restored, yet there are still some of the film flaws present. It has not been a perfect restoration, although it is much better than the condition of all the re-runs on the Sci-Fi Channel. While at conventions, we’d watch digital images of scenes from the series, and those in the know would show me the special effects flaws in the scenes. It was interesting then, and now those are gone from the series. It’s amazing to see the detail captured in things like the warriors’ helmets after 25 years. Even the reflection of the lights on the helmet in the glass of the fighters’ canopies is noticeable now.

The episodes are presented in the order in which they were aired. Four of the six discs have material on both sides, making it actually the equivalent of 10 DVDs of material. At times, this is a bit confusing – the disc labeled Disc One Side One needs to be facing up in the DVD player to have the beginning – Saga of a Star World. Almost all of the episodes have deleted scenes for viewing. The set comes in a shiny silver box, with a Cylon helmet on the front. Where the eyes are is an effect so that when I wobble the box from side to side it gives the effect of the red eye going back and forth. It’s much larger than a normal DVD case, and I know there’s no way it will fit in where I normally store my DVDs. There is also a collector’s book in with the set which contains some nice photos as well as some diagrams of the battlestar and the Cylon base star.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to read the original novel of the first episode, you’ll know that the enemy of the colonies, the Cylons, were originally intended to be organic beings in a shiny chrome armor. The network powers objected to this as it was deemed too violent for the 7 PM Sunday night time slot, so they were changed to cybernetic beings.

The series was created by Glen Larson and produced by special-effects whiz, John Dykstra. The music is by Stu Phillips and is an excellent score and soundtrack. It gives the formal tone of the military while at the same time conveying the drama of the story.

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Main Characters:

Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) – Commander of the battlestar Galactica. Lone survivor of the Council of Twelve, the ruling body of the colonial government. He seems to be continually at odds with the newly-elected of that ruling body. He is portrayed as the all-knowing and wise leader while the council is filled with inept buffoons.

Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) – Adama’s second in command. He gets to display the emotional reactions on the bridge that would not be fitting for Adama to display.

Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) – Adama’s son and Captain of Blue Squadron, considered the best in the fleet. Falls in love with newsreporter Serina, only to lose her in a Cylon attack. Seems to have a death wish after that throughout the season until he meets Sheba.

Lieutenant Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) – Exceptional pilot and ladies man. Apollo’s best friend, and at one time dated Athena. He is a crack pilot and a loyal friend. Loves to gamble and smoke cigars.

Athena (Maren Jensen) – Adama’s daughter and Apollo’s sister. One of the Ops people on the Galactica‘s bridge. Dated Starbuck for a period of time. Her character was set up as part of a love triangle with Starbuck and Cassiopeia, but that was dropped when it became apparent she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. She pretty much disappeared by the end of the season.

Lieutenant Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) – A Blue Squadron pilot. Has a somewhat jaded past as he once mentions hot-wiring hover-cars in his past. He also has good technical knowledge displays “MacGyver” characteristics.

Flight Sgt. Jolly (Tony Swartz) – A Blue Squadron pilot. Mostly supportive comic relief.

Boxey (Noah Hathaway) – Son of newsreporter Serina. Adopted by Apollo as his son. Annoying as all heck and gets in trouble a lot. Only Wesley Crusher was more annoying than him.

Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang) – Former socialator (prostitute) turned med-tech. Starbuck’s sometimes girlfriend.

Baltar (John Colicos) – Betrayer of the colonies to the Cylons. Motivation unknown, except that he talks of having the human race subjugated under him. The Cylons spare his life and allow him to command one of their base ships to pursue the fleet heading for Earth. Has something of a nemesis in an ambitious Cylon known as Lucifer.

Lieutenant Sheba (Anne Lockhart) – Daughter of the legendary Commander Cain and exceptional pilot. She joined the cast midway through the season. Ace pilot but spends a lot of time looking dewy-eyed at Apollo.

Lieutenant Bojay (Jack Stauffer) – Pilot from Cain’s vessel, the battle star Pegasus who joined the cast midway through the first season.

The series boasts some great guest stars such as Jane Seymour, Ed Begley Jr., Ray Milland, Lew Ayres, Britt Ekland, Lloyd Bridges, and Fred Astaire. One character that should have been tossed out of the airlock was the mechanical “daggit”, Muffit. This was actually a chimp in a costume, and rumor has it that every night the chimp was pretty upset when they took her out of it.


Saga of a Star World * * * * *

Battlestar Galactica 1978 – Remastered HD Trailer for the ABC Premiere


The Twelve Colonies of Man believe they are entering an unprecedented time of peace with their cybernetic enemies, the Cylons. Unfortunately, they have been lured into the ultimate betrayal. The military starfleet is destroyed, along with the twelve worlds upon which the colonists reside.

As the lone survivor of the Council of Twelve, Commander Adama loads the survivors onto 220 civilian ships and they head out across the stars to find the mysterious 13th tribe, thought to be settled on a planet known as Earth.

Rick Springfield gives a performance he’d probably prefer to forget as Apollo and Athena’s younger brother Zac, who is among the first to discover the Cylons’ betrayal and suffer the repercussions for it.

The episode can be watched with commentary by Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, and Herbert Jefferson Jr. which is pretty funny. It was difficult to get into this, as you have to select it from the bonus menu, then go back and play the episode. There are also deleted scenes from the episode. These are pretty good as they add information to the story which has been speculated on among fans for years, such as Serina’s illness.


Lost Planet of the Gods * * * * *


As Serina and Apollo make plans to marry, an illness contracted on an asteroid fells the pilots. Utterly defenseless, they resort to training the inexperienced female shuttle pilots (this was the 70’s, remember. Sexism was still pretty big.)

When Starbuck goes missing, Serina and Apollo fear they’ll never see him again and wed in a ceremony during which a star appears leading the fleet to the planet in the title, the planet Kobol. There Adama located clues to the location of the mysterious 13th Tribe.


The Lost Warrior * * *


Apollo goes on patrol and runs into a Cylon attack force. He lures them away from the fleet, but at the same time ends up stranded on a remote farming world, ruled by a heavy-handed boss with a malfunctioning Cylon as his enforcer.


The Long Patrol * * *


Starbuck is testing a new viper design when it is stolen. He is mistaken for the thief, and ends up on a world where people must serve the sentences of their forefathers. Starbuck ends up in jail serving the man’s sentence and discovering a store of highly valuable ambrosia, as well as possible clues to Earth.


Gun on Ice Planet Zero * * * *


In a direct ripoff of The Dirty Dozen, the fleet is being forced toward an icy planet upon which the Cylons control an incredibly powerful weapon. Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer lead a force of demolition experts freed from the fleet’s Prison Barge to destroy the weapon.


The Magnificent Warriors * * *


The Cylons attack the fleet, targeting the food supply. In an effort to replenish that supply, Adama journeys to a nearby planet accompanied by Apollo, Starbuck, and an old flame (guest star Brett Somers) to trade mechanics for food. When Starbuck wins a card game, he is named Sherriff of the town and must defend the town from pig-like pillagers.


The Young Lords * *


Starbuck crashes on the planet Atilla. The population of the planet has been all but killed off with only a few remaining alive. He falls in with a band of children intent on rescuing their father from the Cylons in the local garrison. He trains the children to fight and together they attempt the rescue of their father. Audrey Landers guest stars as the oldest of the “children”.


The Living Legend * * * * *


While out on patrol, Starbuck and Apollo come across the battlestar Pegasus, believed destroyed with the rest of the fifth fleet. Commanding the battlestar is the legendary Commander Cain. Cain’s tactics are much different than Adama’s, since Adama has 220 civilian ships to worry about. Their battle styles clash and culminate when Cain leads a raid to capture a Cylon fueling ship. Cain deliberately destroys the vessel, forcing Adama to stage a raid on the surface of a nearby planet, something Cain wanted from the beginning.

This episode brings in Sheba and Bojay to the cast. Sheba blindly defends her father, as does his crew who is loyal to him. It is also revealed that Cain had a relationship with Cassiopeia after the death of his wife, something which grates on Sheba to no end when they discover her alive.

It’s never resolved whether or not Cain and the Pegasus are actually destroyed following this episode, leaving an opening for the possible return in the future.


Fire in Space * *


A kamikaze attack by the Cylons leaves the Galactica in flames. Boomer, Athena and Boxey are stranded in one part of the ship, cut off from the rest by a raging fire. Adama needs to undergo emergency cardiac surgery.


War of the Gods * * * *


While out on patrol, several of the Galactica‘s pilots encounter mysterious orbs of light and disappear. Starbuck, Apollo, and Sheba are sent out to locate the missing pilots and come across the wreckage of a downed ship on a planet. The lone survivor calls himself Count Iblis. Once back on the Galactica, he develops a following and strives to be placed in power over Adama. To prove his abilities, he promises to satisfy three tasks the Council asks of him. He delivers food to the fleet, and Baltar surrenders to them. The third, finding Earth, seems to present a problem.

There are doubters among the crew, but one who falls for him hook, line, and sinker is Sheba. Whether it’s to fill the void of the loss of her father, or some other reason, she seems to give herself completely over to him, forcing quite a few confrontations between Iblis and Apollo, who suspects his true nature.


The Man With Nine Lives * * * * *


The story goes that Fred Astaire loved this show so much, he requested to be on the show. In this episode, he portrays Chameleon. The name says it all: he’s a man who adapts and blends into his environment quite well. To escape pursuit by Borellian Nomen on a blood trail, he pretends to be Starbuck’s father. This causes a great deal of introspection for Starbuck, as he struggles with the feelings of suddenly having a father after always being an orphan. However, is it really all a charade?


Murder on the Rising Star * * *


After a heated confrontation during a Triad game, Starbuck is accused of the murder of his opponent, Ortega. The only way to prove Starbuck’s innocence is to dig into Ortega’s past and figure out which of three shadowy figures is a man who aided Baltar in his betrayal of the colonies.


Greetings from Earth * * *


When Starbuck and Apollo come across a mysterious ship while out on patrol, they believe they have their first contact with people from Earth. The six humans inside are in a deep sleep for space travel. While the Council debates a course of action as to whether or not these people should be awakened, one of them awakens on his own, The atmosphere on their planet is not compatible with that on the Galactica and he collapses. Covertly, Apollo, Starbuck, and Cassiopeia manage to smuggle him back onto his ship and complete the journey with him to the planet Paradeen, hoping to find clues to the location of Earth. What they find is a militaristic Easter Alliance pursuing the six humans.


Baltar’s Escape * * * *


In an episode that highlights the tremendous acting ability of John Colicos, Baltar stages an escape with the Borellian Nomen and Eastern Alliance. To do this, they take the Councillors from the Council of Twelve (who were journeying to the prison barge to talk with the Eastern Alliance captives) hostage. It’s up to Apollo and Starbuck to save the Council and the fleet from a return to the Cylon tyranny under Baltar.


Experiment in Terra * * *


Apollo and Starbuck finally stumble upon the mysterious Terra from Greetings from Earth. Apollo is chosen by the beings of light (represented by Edward Mulhare) to save the planet from destroying itself. He must pose as a Terran astronaut, and attempt to save the planet from being betrayed by the Eastern Alliance in almost the same way the Colonies were betrayed by the Cylons. Star Trek fans listen for John DeLancie as one of the soldiers. You won’t see him, but I knew that voice the minute I heard it.


Take the Celestra * *


At a ceremony promoting Kronus, the commander of the Celestra, Starbuck sees someone he believes was once a girlfriend of his (Ana Alicia), whom he believed died when the Cylons destroyed the colonies. When he and Apollo track her down on the Celestra, they walk in on the middle of a mutiny. Unfortunately, the woman he is searching for is one of its ringleaders.


The Hand of God * * * * *


The first season closes with Baltar helping the Galactica to destroy a Cylon baseship blocking the route they have to take. In exchange, he is marooned on a planet, leaving open the possibility of him being picked up by the Cylons in the future which never happened. Starbuck and Apollo volunteer to head the mission to infiltrate the basestar and blind it so it doesn’t know the Galactica is approaching.

The episode begins, however, with Apollo and Starbuck in an observation tower on top of the Galactica, picking up a mysterious transmission. They attempt to record and decode it, and fail. However, at the end the viewers are shown what the transmission is: the lunar landing in 1969.


There are special features on this in addition to the deleted scenes and commentary. On disc one, there is an interview with Glen Larson where he talks about creating the series, and Stu Phillips talks about his amazing score. On disc three, there are several specials on the making of the series as well as a preview of the new (and in all likelihood, dreadful) series coming to the Sci-Fi channel. There also is a look inside the Battlestar Galactica interactive game as well as a photo gallery with some terrific shots.

This was a fun series back when it was on, and I’m so glad its finally getting its due with a DVD release. There are a few dud episodes, and the effects pale when looked at against more recent science fiction television offerings, but this was pioneering in its time as much as Star Trek was.

And I still want one of those cool looking suede flight jackets!


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