2017’s reaper is really trying to meet some kind of quota early, and this one’s even more personal than the last.
Actor Richard Hatch passed away today at age 71. He was in hospice care resulting from his fight with pancreatic cancer.
For me, and for many fans across the globe, he will forever be Captain Apollo of Battlestar Galactica, producer Glen A. Larson’s television answer to Star Wars. I’m playing the Stu Phillips score now as I type this, for I could think of no more fitting tribute. You see, Hatch spent a lot of years trying to revive that series in various media, and he put a lot of his own money into the efforts.
Let me back up some before I get into that. I wrote a blog some time back about how I discovered Star Wars, and as part of that story, I told how my quest for a Darth Vader action figure brought me into contact with Battlestar. It wasn’t long after acquiring my first Cylon Centurion that I had the entire toy line for the same reason: they were cheaper and easier to find than Star Wars. By that point, I didn’t mind because I’d already been hooked on the TV series. There was so little Star Wars, that Battlestar helped to fill the void, the little brother to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And as the star of the series, Richard Hatch featured prominently as the primary action hero. In those days it was so easy to latch on to heroes for the right reason.
After both Star Wars and Battlestar faded away, Richard Hatch kept the dream alive on the Battlestar front. He wrote novels and comics that continued the story a generation later. They were good stories. He really captured the feel of the series and pushed its boundaries in the right ways.
It was in May of 2000 that I got to meet the man. I’ll never forget this due to the unfortunate timing, which I’ll discuss in relating this story. Battlestar had been regulated to this nebulous cult thing that nobody in the current generation had heard about, and that people like me remembered fondly but vaguely because it was no longer airing on TV and wasn’t yet on home media beyond the initial theatrical pilot movie. Hatch had no waiting in his line. He had no line. I proudly took my pilot movie DVD to him and had him sign, and the next thing I know I’m engaged in spirited conversation for well over 90 minutes.
He groused a bit about how the DVD was only in mono sound, and how the series deserved a full release, which I readily agreed, though we were hoping at that point that it was a test disc to see how well it would sell. Turns out it was, because the series box set was released in a giant Cylon head (which I also have) not long after, but we didn’t know that at the time. We reminisced about his co-star Jon Colicos, who chewed up scenes as Baltar (and who had recently passed, which is why I remember the timing of this meeting so well). I chatted him up about the novels and the comics he wrote, and we talked about this love he had of Celtic mythology, where he examined those old stories as the inspiration for how great sci-fi could be told. I’d never made the connection before, but once he put it out there, I could absolutely see the influences in his writing. Then he told me of his efforts to gather the surviving members of the old cast with some new faces and do a sort of Next Generation reboot in the spirit of some of the stories he’d written. Of course I was intrigued. He baited me well, but told me little. Instead, he invited me to the Q&A panel that was to be held later that afternoon where he would be unveiling the trailer he’d put together, paying for cast, crew, production, etc. all on his dime. This was the first I’d heard about this entire project, but absolutely I would be there. In the end, I ultimately had to walk away from the conversation so I could keep an appointment with friends elsewhere in the convention hall. But I felt bad. There had been no one in line that entire time but me, and I could tell he was as thankful to talk to me as I was to him. Looking back, I think my friends would have understood if I’d stayed longer.
When it came time for the Q&A that afternoon, we got two such trailers from him, which included the last footage Jon Colicos ever filmed, reprising his iconic role. The fans that were nowhere to be seen in the autograph hall were packed in and cheering for what they saw, and steam built over time for the series revival. And no wonder. The footage looked great! Combined with the tales I’d read from his pen, I knew this would have been something special. Just for the record, his autograph line was quite long after the Q&A. He waved as I passed by, and we thanked each other. More than a few fans were wondering what they’d missed. I smile to think about it now.
After months of buildup, the reboot project stopped cold. Hatch was issued a cease and desist order from the studio. It seems that his efforts had made enough waves on the internet that the studio opted for a complete reboot, their way. In 2003 the new series premiered with a mini-series, the regular series kicking off a year later. It wasn’t Battlestar. I know a lot of people liked this show, including Hatch, who did get to guest star as a villain, but for me the only thing I enjoyed about it was the score by Bear McCreary. At any rate, it does offer a great example of how a man’s passion can light up the world, even if the end result is out of his hands. I’ve never forgotten that, nor have I ever forgotten the time I got to spend talking to him.
Maybe that isn’t reflective of the big picture, but it’s my experience. I’ll always remember the man who not only made time for his fans, but who went that extra mile to see a dream realized. “May the Lords of Kobol shine upon you always.” Those were the last words he said to me as we parted ways so long ago. Seems a fitting way to wrap this now.