Well, it was a film as far as I was concerned at ten years old; early cinema experiences circa 1978/9 included Star Wars, Close Encounters, Battlestar Galactica and The Black Hole. Now, one of these things is not like the other; a tv pilot, constructed of two spliced together episodes, wasn’t an unknown way to create US product for UK cinemas, and I couldn’t tell the difference at the time. Having not set eyes on this space western until 2021, it’s pretty obvious that Battlestar Galactica isn’t cut from the same cinematic cloth as it’s competitors, but it’s not bad either.
‘I’ve got a funny feeling about this,’ murmurs one of the characters, and that’s only one of the reasons that Star Wars producers Fox sued Universal over copyright issues. The suit doesn’t seem to have too much merit; Fox were presumably more miffed that effects whizzo John Dykstra jumped ship with his precious Dykstrafelx system, creating dirty-space effects that actually still look great in the way that the original 1978 Star Wars still looks better to me that any of the CGI versions. The ship design of the Galactica feels massive, and the X-wing fighter variants, the Vipers, look nimble and cool; the dogfight sequences look fantastic. Things are less impressive when we leave the titular ship, with some shonky blue-screen and tatty glass paintings, but in general, the package still holds.
The story, however, is obviously broken backed; the Cylons have offered our colonial mover heroes a peace-deal via two-faced Count Baltar (John Colicos), and Colonel Adama (Bonanza’s Lorne Greene) has his suspicions, vindicated when the nefarious metal-men attack. As sole survivors, the Galactica crew make plans to head for the far-off planet of Earth, but first seek refuge on a gambling-and-sex planet Carillion that looks glam from the outside, but should be twinned with Mos Eisley in terms of villainy…
‘If it looks like a trap, and it feels like a trap…’ muses Adama ’…then IT’S A TRAP!.’ And indeed it is, although the real trap here seems to be avoiding getting sued by Fox, leading to some choice dialogue. ‘What of Preston and his council of twelve?’ Caprican tv reporter Serena (Jane Seymour) asks; what indeed? If Harrison Ford complained about the gibberish in his dialogue in Star Wars, he should cop an earful of this. ‘Would you be doing THAT if you knew I was a socialator?’ is the kind of chat that flyboys Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) had to struggle with, and yes, socialators are space hookers, although that element went way over my head at the time. ‘Do you ever take that smouldering weed out of your mouth?’ one character asks of Starbuck; meanwhile Lorne Greene just substitutes ‘Yahren’ for ’years’ in his dialogue to offer a veneer of interstellar hipness.
It’s been many, many Yahren since I saw Battlestar Galactica da Movie at my local fleapit, and I gather that it metamorphosed into many more sophisticated things since, but I can’t tell you much about them. At the time, this delivered the high-concept space-action required; the lines between film and tv were blurred long before Netflix came along. Time has moved on like a ‘daggit on a sunspot’, and we’re left to ponder how simple and fun things seemed when we were kids; much like Apollo standing at nightfall, pensively examining the two moons in the sky that suggest the world of adventure that awaits.