Dad and Galactica: Happy Birthday!

Today is my father’s 75th birthday.

He doesn’t read this blog unless I tell him to, so I can let all of you in on a little secret. In the tradition of Ronald Reagan, he offers Jelly Bellies to the folks who happen to visit his office. So my wild-eyed sister got the idea that all of us siblings would chip in and have 75 pounds of Jelly Bellies delivered to his office.

That’s a lot of carbs.

On another anniversarial note, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Battlestar Galactica. This is a big deal, if for no other reason than I own the world’s stupidest Battlestar Galactica bulletin board on the internet. I can’t let that occasion pass without some commentary, so I thought I’d take a moment to commemorate the occasion.

People nowadays deride Battlestar Galactica as nothing but a Star Wars knock-off, ignoring the fact that, as a ten-year-old kid in 1978, that’s exactly what I wanted. So imagine my surprise when I watched the lengthy three-hour premiere and found something quite different – and far more satisfying. Unlike Star Wars, this was an elaborate creation myth – the untold history of humanity as seen from “somewhere beyond the heavens.” What’s more, they were drawing from a creative wellspring hitherto untapped on network television – tenets of Mormon doctrine, put on display for the whole world to see.

This disturbed my mother somewhat, as she wasn’t fond of seeing her church teachings dumbed down, science fictionized and broadcast to the masses. But I found it fascinating, if for no other reason than it validated the fact that there were others who believed what I believed, and it gave the proceedings more heft than they would have had otherwise.

Fans of the cheap bastardization of Galactica that now airs on the SciFi Channel ritually denigrate the original series upon which it is based, yet all of GINO’s best moments have been lifted from its source material, which had a vast potential that remains forever unrealized. (GINO=Galactica In Name Only.) Sure, the hairstyles are disco and some of the dramatic conventions seem a little creaky with age, but the central premise remains as vibrant today as it was 30 years ago. My children have all watched the entire series, and the pilot episode, along with “Lost Planet of the Gods,” “Living Legend,” “War of the Gods” and “The Hand of God” hold up surprisingly well. (Stay away from “Greetings from Earth,” though. Hector and Vector make me itch.)

What’s most interesting is how realistic the pre-CGI special effects are. They recycled the same shots over and over and over again through the course of the series, but they’re actually pretty impressive shots. An undertaking of Galactica’s scope has not been seen on network television before or since.

All of my school friends watched the first few episodes of Galactica, but they lost interest halfway through the season. My friend Philip, who I’ve mentioned on this blog, convinced me that I was wasting my time and that I should be listening to Dr. Demento on the radio instead. So I checked out sometime after Hector and Vector, only to be disappointed by hearing “Fishheads” every week instead of getting my Galactica fix. So I returned to the Galactica fold in time to see the glorious final episode, and then to be crushed by the news that the series, which had been once hailed as the sure-fire hit of the season, was being ignominiously cancelled.

The following year, my mom served as the Den Mother for my Cub Scout pack, and she arranged for a group visit to the Universal Studios special effects studio to see them doing work on Galactica creator/Languatron’s bane Glen Larson’s lesser follow-up project, Buck Rogers. We watched disinterestedly as they took a series of photographs of a white sphere in front of a black background to be used in the show’s lousy “space vampire” episode. If you get a chance to watch that episode, don’t. But if somehow you do, know that Stallion Cornell and his Cub Scout buddies were there at the creation thereof.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I remember talking to the guy giving the tour about my love for Battlestar Galactica. So, at some point in the evening, he took us into what I recall as an Indiana Jones-style warehouse, which undoubtedly housed lost television treasures of ages past. He took us to an unassuming wooden crate and then opened it, revealing not the Lost Ark of the Covenant, but the next best thing – the original working model of the Battlestar Galactica, live and in color.

That’s right, sports fans. Stallion Cornell and the Battlestar Galactica have actually met in person.

I remember being impressed with how huge it was. It certainly couldn’t have accommodated a crew of thousands, but it was probably four or five feet long, which was much bigger than the wussy space vampire ship I had seen a few minutes earlier. We didn’t have long to look, and soon he was boxing the thing back up again, but it was a moment I will never forget.

It was on a summer trip to Utah that I caught the first promo for Galactica 1980 on television, complete with Lorne Greene in a goofy beard, and my heart skipped a beat. Galactica was coming back!

Well, no. What came back was a watery retread of Galactica that was almost too painful to watch. But watch it I did, religiously, trying not to make the “demented” mistake I had made before, hoping that some semblance of the original series would shine through. It eventually did with the “Return of Starbuck” episode, but everything else was dreck. I was left waiting for the promise of Galactica to finally be fully realized sometime in the future.

Well, here we are, thirty years later.

I’m still waiting.

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