Film Review: Saga of a Star World (Battlestar Galactica, 1978)
Following George Lucas’ massive success with Star Wars, many studios in Hollywood and elsewhere tried to repeat it with their own science fiction spectacles. That included Universal, which had initially rejected George Lucas. In 1978 the studio gave green light for enormously expensive and ambitious project by screenwriter and producer Glen A. Larson that would later become known as television series under name Battlestar Galactica. Its pilot episode Saga of a Star World, then known as the most expensive in history of television, was shown in cinema theatres around the world.
Film begins with an opening narration speculating about possibility that people of the Earth might be just one branch of humanity, with other scattered around space and perhaps connected with Ancient Egypt, old civilisation and mythical lost continents. The plot shows one such branch of humanity organised into Twelve Colonies, advanced society which had been in thousand year war with half-reptilian half-robotic race of Cylons. Thanks to diplomatic skills of Count Baltar (played by John Collicos) this is coming to an end, armistice is signed and President Adar (played by Lew Ayres) is looking forward to formal peace treaty. Adama (played by Lorne Greene), commander of Colonial Fleet capital ship Galactica, is sceptical and proven right when it turns out that the peace negotiations were only ruse made in order for Cylons to stage surprise attack that would wipe out almost all humanity. Galactica gathers survivors into rag-tag fleet that would try to escape Cylons and find new home at distant and mythical thirteenth colony called Earth.
At the premiere, critics weren’t favourable to Saga of a Star World and often described as “cheap” and uninspired copy of Star Wars. More relevant comparisons are, however, between this and 2003 pilot episode of the re-imagined series. They clearly point to 1978 version being much more light-hearted and family-oriented. This is most clearly manifested with the character of six-year old boy Boxey (played by Noah Hathaway) and his mechanical pet “Muffit II”. Although there are some dark moments, content dealing with genocide and protagonists losing loved ones is relatively quickly absorbed and scriptwriters indulge in more lighter moments involving heroic deeds of Adama’s son Captain Apollo (played by Richard Hatch) and antics of his adventurous friend Lt. Starbuck (played by Dirk Benedict) who even has luxury of developing love triangle involving Apollo’s sister Athena (played by Maren Jensen) and “socialator” Cassiopeia (played by Laurette Spang). Even lighter tone is achieved in the second part of the film, when plot takes place on Carillon, some sort of pleasure planet where human tourists seem oblivious to the genocidal events in the rest of universe and even more oblivious but unexpectedly high levels of friendliness by native instect-like race of Ovians. Film, very much like other shows of ABC network at the time that inspired phrase “jiggles television”, employs mild eroticism and features large number of scantily dressed women.
Despite those flaws and inconsistencies, Saga of a Star World functions as surprisingly good television pilot and space opera of its own. Special effects, supervised by John Dykstra, who has worked on Star Wars, represent the highest standard of its age. Film is also elevated by very good score by Stu Phillips including memorable opening theme. Acting is also good, which includes Lorne Greene whose deep comforting voice is quite convincing for leader of desperate survivors, just as Greene plays scenes featuring his grief and self-doubt well. John Collicos, famed veteran of Star Trek, is delightfully entertaining in role of treacherous Baltar, despite his character being less complex than in 2003 version. Although much simpler than its 2003 remake, Saga of a Star World might explain how original short-lived Battlestar Galactica created and maintained loyal fan base decades after its premature cancellation.
RATING: 7/10 (++)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/148980-battlestar-galactica