When the heavily-hyped Battlestar Galactica premiered on ABC in September 1978, many publications (including TV Guide) predicted it would be the fall season's breakout hit. But lukewarm ratings and a punishing production schedule led to its cancellation after only eight months. Flash-forward 25 years later, and we're suddenly in the midst of a Galactica renaissance. The original series has just been released for the first time on DVD in an elaborate six-disc box, featuring remastered and uncut versions of all 24 episodes, plus a number of bonus features. Here, two stars of the cult phenom Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) and Richard Hatch (Apollo) reflect on their trip to the stars and sound off on Sci Fi Channel's upcoming Galactica remake.
TV Guide Online: On the DVD, you both team up for a commentary track to the three-hour pilot. What was it like watching that episode again, 25 years later?
Dirk Benedict: Looking back, it's a pleasant view. I was young, I was pretty and I had nice, long hair. The show was good. I was so busy making it, at the time, and it's hard to appreciate something when you're in the middle of it. Watching the premiere, I found there was so much I didn't remember, because the DVD has material that was only shown on that one night. [The episode was recut in subsequent airings.] I was struck by the production values; some of them are dated, but the Galactica sets are still pretty elaborate.
Richard Hatch: Most people never got a chance to see those extended scenes and they make a big difference. I was enjoying it like an audience member. It was also great getting together with Dirk and reliving those times, which were very challenging. We were working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week and living on the backlot in our motor homes.
TVGO: Aside from the pilot, do you have any other favorite episodes?
RH: I love "War of the Gods," which explores the deeper philosophies of Galactica. I also like "The Hand of God," which was the very last episode we shot. To me, those shows really capture the mystique, the magic and the heart of Battlestar Galactica. I think that's what fans remember most about the show this epic journey to the stars, which Gene Roddenberry was basically trying to do with Star Trek. I think Galactica captured that even more fully, in the sense that here was an entire family of mankind going to the stars with no home to retreat to. We're out there and committed.
DB: "The Man with Nine Lives" with Fred Astaire is one of my favorites. He plays a character called Chameleon who may have been Starbuck's father. There were fewer special effects in that episode than in most. In some ways, it was really more of a drama. And Fred was so good in it; he was a charmer and we became good friends. In fact, I'm looking at a picture in my office that Fred gave me that says "Dear Dirk: From Dear Old Dad???"
TVGO: At the time, Galactica was criticized as being a rip-off of Star Wars. Will the DVD help change that opinion?
DB: Absolutely. It's no accident that this show has a following, and when the DVD comes out, I think it will be re-evaluated. And people will realize how silly the whole "It's just a Star Wars rip-off" thing was. I think that was just George Lucas not wanting anyone else to make a sci-fi show.
RH: The success of Star Wars allowed the show to be pitched to the network, but the mythology and story of Galactica are totally different. And this is not a show that just has fans from 25 years ago. It has been passed down from generation to generation. You wouldn't realize how many fans got into sci fi, based on Galactica. I think the reason is because the characters are so endearing and loveable and the story is so epic. Nothing before or even since has ever been done on that scale for television in the sci-fi genre.
TVGO: How do you feel about Sci Fi's upcoming "reimagining" of the original show?
DB: I can't avoid hearing about it because people keep coming up to me and saying, "Hey, I hear they changed you into a woman!" And I say, "Well, what are you going to do with an old swashbuckler in today's world?" What a sad fate to happen to Starbuck. I don't know why they've done this; it's kind of mystifying. But, as I told Richard, we're still going to be the only Battlestar Galactica! The show has still never been remade.
RH: The difficulty in bringing back a classic is, if you change it too much, you lose your core fan base. But if you don't change it enough, it loses its relevancy. We'll see what they do; I wish them all the best and hope that they find a way to reach out to fans. But I know there is a tremendous group of fans out there who are waiting with baited breath about what they're going to do with a show that they have loved and followed for 25 years.
TVGO: Do either of you have cameos in the show?
RH: I was asked to do a cameo but I declined. I told them, "I wish you all the best, but I spent four years building a case to bring back the original show and put my time, energy and money into that. And I cannot betray the fans."
DB: After they were filming, they called me and asked if I would be in it. But that wouldn't have been right, if I had just walked through a scene. It wouldn't be right to the fans or to the character; I owe a lot to Battlestar Galactica, and I have too much respect for the show that was created, and for the people that watched it. Besides, they don't really need me in the new series. I think they just felt that if Richard and I were in there, they could tell the fans: "See that guy, standing third from the end in the shadows? Oh, he's walking out now, but that was Dirk Benedict!"