It’s rare for a show cancelled after just one season to be regarded with such fondness by so many people and become embedded into popular culture, but that’s what happened with ABC’s unashamed attempt to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon.
Battlestar Galactica (24 episodes, 1978-79).
After a devastating attack on the Twelve Colonies of Man by the robot Cylons, a rag-tag fugitive fleet of human survivors, protected by the last surviving Battlestar, Galactica, travels across the stars in search of the mythical 13th colony: Earth.
The 90-second title sequence opens with an opening narration by Patrick Macnee (The Avengers, A View To A Kill), who also provided the voice of the Cylon Imperious Leader throughout the series:
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. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens.
The voice-over plays out over images of a nebula and other stellar phenomena and the opening bars of Stu Phillips‘ orchestral Star Wars-inspired theme. Mysterious and slow-building at first, the main body of the theme evokes both military and naval associations with its bombastic 14-note brass refrain, crashing percussion and soaring string section melody. This is accompanied by a series of images captured in circular frames over a slowly-moving starfield, depicting Galactica itself, the Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies, the main cast and the rag-tag fugitive fleet.
Phillips’ majestic Galactica theme is arguably the finest of an impressive portfolio of TV work which includes such memorable themes as The Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Knight Rider. Variations of the main melody were also used throughout the series as incidental music.
In addition to the intro, every episode closed with a brief outro including the following narration by Lorne Greene (Commander Adama):
Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Earth.
Post-cancellation, the series was revived as a short-lived sequel, Galactica 1980, set several years in the future as the human fleet finally locates Earth in the year 1980. It is best forgotten.
It is far better to luxuriate in Ronald D Moore‘s 2003 reimagining, which started out as a mini-series-cum-pilot, and eventually ran for four award-winning seasons, including a coveted Peabody Award. It also had a distinctive and powerful opening title sequence, comprising a separate pre-teaser intro and main credits. The former changed frequently to reflect the current primary story arc, while the closing text of the main intro also underwent minor alterations to reflect the ever-decreasing number of human survivors in the fleet.
Bear McCreary‘s musical score for the newer show was in keeping with its more contemporary world-view. The pre-teaser sequence features a discordant piano and strings melody, while the main theme swaps Phillips’ brass-dominated militaristic theme for a more downbeat, choral and spiritual arrangement. The modern Galactica intro concludes by seguing into a short sequence of fast-cut clips from the forthcoming episode, playing out over a high-tempo martial drumbeat.
Series creator Glen A Larson (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider) conceived the premise for the show, originally titled Adam’s Ark, during the late 1960s. However, he was unable to gain backing for the idea until the success of Star Wars.
At a cost of $7m, the series pilot was the most expensive ever commissioned at that time.
The initial feature-length episode of the series was broadcast on September 17, 1978, but was interrupted for nearly an hour by the announcement of the signing of the Egypt-Israel Camp David Accords.
To construct the rag-tag fleet that accompanies Galactica, the model makers were given a free hand over ship designs, resulting in a collection of very different-looking spacecraft. One of the most distinctive – and frequently shown – was the livery (livestock) ship, which was made simply out of three film cans, one behind the other.
After the series was cancelled, a number of recognisable props were re-used in Larson’s subsequent series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
The title sequence of the 1980s show The A-Team features a clip showing Dirk Benedict’s character Templeton Peck interacting with a Cylon warrior.
The Cylon’s oscillating red LED eye was later replicated as KITT’s external sensor in Knight Rider.