After a twenty-year hiatus following a brief season in the air, the good news for Battlestar Galactica fans is that the franchise will be back. Star Wars prequel hype and the success of three spinoff Star Trek shows has renewed the interest of both Universal Studios - which distributed the original series - and producer Glen Larson - who created the concept and owns the film rights. There are currently not one but two production teams trying to get a Battlestar launched.
So who owns Galactica, anyway? Universal, which owns the television rights? Larson, who came up with the show and is currently working with Wing Commander's Todd Moyer to close a film deal? Actor Richard Hatch, who has spent several years writing books, traveling around the country making appearances, even financing a trailer with his own funds to pitch a "next generation" to the studio encouraging a revival? Do the fans have any stake in the future of the franchise?
History of Galactica
In the dark times between Trek incarnations, the cult favorite Galactica's premise took fans across millennia to the far reaches of the galaxy. Somewhere even further than the Delta Quadrant, humans were on the run from cybernetic Borg-precursors called Cylons, led by an organic Imperious Leader who sought the destruction of the non-compliant species. Boarding the last battlestar, the humans led a ragtag, fugitive fleet on a lonely quest for a shining planet known as Earth, which existed for them only in ancient mythology about a lost tribe. Cylons and other aliens pursued, making their lives extremely difficult. Pilots Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Apollo (Hatch), as well as patriarch Adama (Lorne Greene) and combat veteran Sheba (Anne Lockhart), created a family at the nucleus of the series.
A supporter of amateur web sites and conventions for years, Hatch is adamant that when Battlestar Galactica returns, it should develop the aspects of the franchise which attracted the original viewers as well as appealing to a new generation of fans. "My belief is that once you create something and you put it out in the marketplace, it's no longer owned solely by you," he said a few weeks ago. "The fans, the people you have asked to and pay for tickets and to fall in love with your characters and story, are now a part of what you've done - you owe an allegiance to those people," added the actor, who included fans wearing their own original Galactica uniforms in his production.
It is Hatch's belief that a successful revival must integrate the characters and plot threads of the original Battlestar in addition to incorporating state of the art technology. "With most remakes, they destroy the original essence and quality of the show, and usually it's always inferior," he says, pointing to the lackluster performances of Lost In Space and My Favorite Martian at the box office. "The key is to do what Star Trek did: bring back the original characters and premise of the story in a film, and then add new technology and a new generation of people born in space, so you can really get back into the thrust of the story that everybody's so interested in."
Larson and Moyer, however, apparently disagree. Variety reported that the multi-million dollar big screen version of Battlestar Galactica will focus on the Battlestar Pegasus, which made a brief appearance on the original television series. Moyer also told the New York Post that his movie would feature the Atlantis, a Battlestar destroyed in the original series pilot. While this would have the advantage of distancing the franchise from the disastrous Galactica '80, a spinoff rushed onto the air by Universal when the network realized cancelling the series had been a mistake, it would also greatly limit the chances of following stories and characters from the original show.
The choice to concentrate on tangential storylines may stem from a conflict over licensing: Larson owns the theatrical feature rights, but Universal owns the merchandising rights to all previous Battlestar Galactica material, and Hatch is currently in negotiations with the studio to determine whether they might produce a television series concurrent with Larson and Moyer's film plans. While the actor had been unaware that Larson intended to revive the series until Moyer's announcement stunned the industry, former series stars Anne Lockhart and Jack Stauffer both indicated they were aware that the writer had a script for some time before that.
For Richard Hatch, reviving the series has been a labor of love which has nearly bankrupted him. He owns no rights to Battlestar Galactica, yet has assembled a team of Academy Award-winning special effects technicians, and developed his own script based on years of writing comics and novels based on the show. "Whatever Glen Larson's deal is, he doesn't have exclusive rights, and he doesn't have a done deal; he may have separation of rights for some characters or some aspect of Battlestar," the actor explained. "I waited twenty years for Glen Larson to bring the show back because I believe so much in it, and several years ago I stopped waiting since nobody was doing anything about it."
Hatch mortgaged his house to make a trailer for presentation to the studio. "We got all these companies in the business with people who were kids when Battlestar first came out, now they're heads of companies and they came on board," he explained. "It was really a labor of love. We had Wonderworks (from Armageddon and Titanic), we had Dreamscape, we had the team from ID4, we had the director of photography on Apollo 13. Plus we had fans from all over the country driving in to be extras in the presentation, to supply their uniforms, to bring their props. It was an extraordinary experience to have so many people come together out of pure love and to give their time and energy."
"We went in there with the financing to do a new Battlestar Galactica," he said of his current negotiations with Universal. "We have the team to do it, and also to attach the elements that we feel would make this movie really a state-of-the-art comeback, to do it in such a way that it takes the original premise and characters and adds to it a new generation of characters plus a new generation of technology to create the balance between the old and the new that I think will really be extremely unique in terms of anything that's ever been done before for a sequel. What Glen Larson and Todd Moyer are doing, after seeing Wing Commander, I don't know what kind of quality would be put into a production. They want to put that writer on Battlestar? "
Hatch admits he has personal reasons for not trusting Moyer as well as skepticism about the reported plans to ignore Galactica and focus on the Pegasus. "Four months after I started filming the trailer, Todd Moyer called me and told me that they just finished Wing Commander and they wanted to choose Battlestar as their next project. He was tooting his horn, telling me he knew everybody at Universal and he could put together this incredible deal. It wasn't like he was inviting me to be part of his group: he said, I can do this for you, I have the investors, I can put the distribution deal together...and he wanted to know where the rights stood, if I had them."
Hatch "naively" told Moyer about the trailer and his discussions with Universal, which was still clarifying the issue of the rights with their attorneys. According to the actor, Moyer asked Hatch if they could meet to discuss the matter further. "Todd never called back. The next thing, I get this press release that Todd Moyer and Glen Larson are doing a Battlestar Galactica project. My first thought was that they did a pre-emptive strike: they knew I was working on putting this together, they knew I had the trailer, and they wanted to jump out and claim that marketplace. I called Universal, and all my sources were as surprised and shocked as we were. I also felt a little stabbed in the back, that Todd misrepresented himself. With the new Star Wars coming out, I think they felt like they could jump in there and put a deal together and make some quick money."
According to actress Anne Lockhart, however, Glen Larson had plans to revive Battlestar Galactica for a year before Hatch put together his trailer. "I was certainly aware well over a year ago that he had an interest and that he owned the theatrical rights and had a script as well," she said two weeks ago, adding that Hatch - whom she describes as "the greatest cheerleader of a revival, he's so dedicated, he's really been the greatest fan" - had asked her to be in his production but she never received a final script.
Jack Stauffer, who played Bojay on the series, told several web sites that he was excited to learn that the show's creator has picked up the theatrical rights. "The worst thing that can happen to the Galactica family now is for us to divide ourselves into two camps. I know that it always has been Richard's desire that the revival of Battlestar Galactica be a team effort utilizing the best talent in all areas of production...unfortunately, show business tends to be ego-driven," he noted, expressing hope that Hatch, Larson, and Moyer could all work together on future projects.
The Moyer-Larson $40 million film is tentatively planned to start filming in Luxembourg this September for a Christmas 2000 release. The movie will utilize some of the facilities used for Wing Commander and will be scripted by Mike Finch, one of the Wing Commander writers. No studio or distribution company has been attached to the project.
Moyer told The New York Post that he and Larson "just think the [story] has to be re-invented." He added that the new film will have similar themes as the original series, possibly including some old characters though not necessarily the same actors. In addition, Moyer said the film will introduce new characters and another "lost" Battlestar.
Hatch believes this plan could alienate the original viewers while failing to gain new ones. "I think the premise, the family, is why people remember this show 20 years down the road," he noted. "Most shows are forgotten after one year. I got asked to do the comic books after at Extreme Press found out I had been writing Battlestar Galactica stories, and then I went to a big convention in Pasadena with mostly fans of Star Trek who gave me and Battlestar a standing ovation. Then I began to get invited out into the world, and because the Sci-Fi Channel was playing it everywhere, Battlestar slowly was gaining an interest again. And then after all this work, I hear that Todd Moyer has gone over to Glen Larson and basically told Glen the same thing he told me."
Since Moyer's original press release did not mention using the original cast and proposed a tangential spinoff series, it was not greeted with great enthusiasm on fan web sites or newsgroup posts. The Pegasus, captained by Commander Cain (played by Lloyd Bridges on the original series), appeared in only two episodes, though the character Sheba came to Galactica from that ship. Hatch had the participation of Terry Cryder and John Colicos, but Lockhart and Herb Jefferson declined to participate, suggesting to Hatch that they "didn't feel comfortable" and wanted to keep their options open in case Larson eventually decided to use the original cast in his production. After a lukewarm-to-negative response from fans to his announcement, Moyer suggested that original characters might appear in cameos in his film.
"I think Battlestar is one of the most original things Glen ever did, but I don't feel that Glen ever understood what was unique and special about that show - in his attempts to recreate it, Galactica '80 and now this, it seems the direction he wants to go goes totally against what was special about the show in the first place," said Hatch in frustration. "I get feedback - I got a bunch of marketing research from the fans, and I wove that into the script that we wrote, what everybody says they want to see. There's been fan fiction, millions of stories, and then Glen comes back and doesn't care about what people have thought about or cared about. It seems like they want to throw a deal together, make a bunch of money and move on. Hopefully that's not the case, but that's what it appears to be."
Hatch added that he wishes Larson and Moyer well, and hopes that they will honor the series if they make their film. "As far as I'm concerned, there's room out there for everybody - I just want to bring back the story that everybody fell in love with, I want to bring back original characters with a new generation of children that have grown up in space joining us, and have a true family which is like the wagon train I think Gene Roddenberry originally intended for Star Trek," he added. "I want to attach a director with the ability to bring together great technology, great story and great character development. I want somebody who can bring a vision to Battlestar. Let's either create something that's going to relaunch this series, or we forget about it."
On the heels of the new Star Wars film, it is likely that a revival will receive a great deal of attention whether or not it reflects the values of the original production. "You can make a buck just throwing anything out sci-fi," Hatch agreed. "But Battlestar never got fully explored. The reason I wanted to do it is not because I thought I'm the special one who can do this better than anyone else, I just thought I'm a fan as well as being an actor and I believe in the show. In a sense, I believe so much in this story that I ended up doing things I never thought I could do, and then I had all these wonderful people with incredible talents and abilities come on board to help me. Everything was a team."
For original series fans, Hatch is the indisputable heir to Battlestar Galactica: as one newsgroup post states, "He was the only one interested in it when none of the other Powers That Be were doing anything." The actor points out that some of those early fans are now the cream of the cream in the industry, and have come back to work on his presentation just because they love the series. "I think it's possible Universal could give both of us a free hand to go out there and make our own version, or they could work with both of us," he concluded, noting that Star Trek has had a movie franchise and two television series at once.
The Battlestar wars could be a win-win situation, with fans getting both a theatrical release and a new television series...or it could dissolve into a standoff which will weaken any future spinoff by depriving whoever ends up producing it of valuable human resources. It seems very likely that Galactica will come back to Earth next year, but who will pilot it remains to be seen.