Saturday, September 22, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK 65: Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)

The best way to spend the long three years between Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), was to watch Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), one of the most entertaining space operas of the disco-decade. Like every sci-fi TV show airing the 1970s, from Star Trek (in syndicated reruns), to Space:1999 (1975-1977), to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), Battlestar Galactica's time on the air was accompanied by a merchandising toy blitz. Most of the products came from Mattel and Monogram-Revell, but the intrepid young fan of Battlestar Galactica certainly could choose amongst his favorite series-oriented toys.

I was always an action-figure kid and so was thrilled when Mattel released a line of action figures based on the series. Among the first releases, Lt. Starbuck, Commander Adama, Muffit the daggit, a Cylon Centurion, the Ovion, and The Imperious Leader. I'll never forget the day my Granny come over to visit our house in Glen Ridge and brought these six figures over (sold together in one box) for me. I was thrilled. The figures came adorned with capes (Adama and Starbuck), and armed with weaponry (a rifle for the Cylon and Colonial pistols for the heroes). I do remember being terribly disappointed that Mattel couldn't be bothered to create a Captain Apollo figure. He was my favorite character. It would be like releasing Star Wars figures but not making a Luke Skywalker edition, just Han Solo. It didn't (and still doesn't...) make much sense.

Later, Mattel released a second round of figures that included the alien Boray (from the episode "The Magnificent Warriors"), John Colicos' Baltar, a golden Cylon, and my most cherished of all the figures: Lucifer (an IL Series Cylon given voice on the series by Jonathan Harris). As you can see the from the photographs, I still own all these figures, though I must say time is catching up with them. Hard to believe it's been nearly thirty years.

Mattel also released a number of small ships based on Battlestar Galactica vehicles, including the Colonial Viper and the Cylon Raider. Two other ships were made, though they weren't featured on the series: The Stellar Probe and the Colonial Scarab, a kind of land-based viper/tank combo. Kids who grew up with these toys will remember that these ships shot small red pellets from their snout, and that one little boy choked to death while playing with one. This resulted in a quick CYA decision that all future versions of the ships (and the Boba Fett figure from The Empire Strikes Back) would be glued to the ships; and not launchable.

One of my favorite toys from Mattel was the large-sized, eighteen inch or so, Cylon Centurion warrior. You could push a lever on the back of his skull, and see his red eye move back-and-forth, from side-to-side. When you pressed a button on his backpack, his eye, his chest, and his laser weapon would all light up red as well. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Bob got me this toy for Christmas in 1978, and I'm delighted to say the old Cy Centurion is still intact...even though his legs are a bit wobbly. They also bought me the sparring partner for this Cylon, a white-haired Colonial Warrior who did not resemble any character on the series. When I was ten, I tried painting his hair black so he'd look like Apollo and succeed only in ruining the figure. He's no longer with me. Note to self: don't let ten year olds near spray paint.

Monogram released models of the four most prominent spaceships on Battlestar Galactica, including the Galactica herself, the Cylon Base Star, the Colonial Viper and the Cylon Centurion. I had all four (built my dad, who is an incredible modeler...), and spent hours waging space combat with them.

During its one season on the air, Battlestar Galactica merchandise included technical blueprints, an Iron-On-Transfer T-Shirt kit, scrapbooks, a plush Daggit (Muffit) and more. I've kept as much of this material as possible over the long years, and across my many moves (from Glen Ridge, to Richmond, to Charlotte, to Monroe). Looking at these toys, they aren't as in good condition as many of my other collectibles and I think that's because I played with the Battlestar Galactica toys a lot. It was a really, really fun show, and I had fun recreating my own adventures with Cylons and Colonials.


  1. Anonymous10:49 AM

    They should have made a figure of Rick Springfield so I could customize him as Dr. Noah Drake.

  2. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Baltar and Lucifer look so chummy.

  3. Anonymous12:42 AM

    As I recall, the post "stupid kid" Viper and Raider toys weren't glued to the models. They were still spring-driven, but would only pop out about a quarter-inch, then stop against a catch. Industrial young Colonial Warriors quickly learned to file the catches down and still poke their younger siblings eyes out.

    (Note that the Monogram models never had the spring-driven missiles. Only the toys.)