REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA RETRO-STYLE LT. STARBUCK
"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... that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids... or the lost civilizations of Lemuria... or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive--somewhere beyond the heavens!"
With these words, followed by a majestic orchestral score, the TV series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA took to the airwaves in 1978, commencing with a three-hour movie on the ABC Network.
Science-fiction, up until recently, had not had an easy time of it in either the movie theaters or on television. There had been Star Trek, of course, in the 1960's, and the movie theaters had played host to the Planet of the Apes series of movies, which had led to an unfortunately short-lived live-action television series in 1974. There had been Stanley Kubrick's confusing "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, and 1976 had seen a movie called "Logan's Run", which purported a future world governed by a computer system in which everyone had to report for euthanasia at age 30.
But then along came Star Wars in 1977, and everything changed. Suddenly, high-quality science-fiction and space fantasy was seen as an abundantly popular, and certainly profitable and marketable format. And it continues to be so to this day. The list of movies and television programs that have benefited from the ongoing popularity of science-fiction would be preposterously too long to even begin to list here.
One of the first to take advantage of the new popularity of the genre was Battlestar Galactica, and it was no accident that the superb special effects for the time were developed by one John Dykstra, who had worked on Star Wars.
In the series premiere, we were introduced to the twelve colonies, twelve planets inhabited by a human race indistinguishable from our own. They had long developed advanced space travel, and were certainly technologically superior to us. They had also been at war, for centuries, with a race of sentient robots known as Cylons.
Allegedly, a peace had been brokered between the Colonies and the Cylon Empire. On the even of the signing of that declaration of peace, however, the truth was revealed. It had been a feint, orchestrated by a human traitor named Baltar. The colonies were attacked and devastated, as was the Colonial Fleet, a vast armada of huge spacecraft, essentially spaceborne aircraft carriers called Battlestars, that carried squadrons of fighter craft known as Vipers.
At the end of the assault, the Twelve Colonies were in flames, the human race was nearly extinct, and there was only one surviving Battlestar, the Galactica. Its commanding officer, Commander Adama, made a grave decision. He assembled a fleet of any spaceworthy vessels, populated by the survivors of humanity. They would leave the ruined colonies behind, and set out across space in an effort to find a legendary 13th tribe, a 13th Colony of man, which inhabited a planet known as -- Earth.
The series lasted one season, producing 24 episodes, including a number of two-part adventures. The special effects, despite using a fair amount of stock footage over time, were top-notch for the time. The stories, with a few exceptions, were superbly written, with an emphasis on the urgency of their mission and no shortage of action.
Unfortunately, the show was just too expensive for the network, and between this and no small amount of mishandling and poor scheduling by the network, the plug was pulled. There were protests outside the network's headquarters, but to no avail.
Battlestar Galactica was briefly revived in a sequel series called "Galactica 1980", in which the Galactica did find Earth, in our present day (at the time), only to discover that Earth was not the shining technological marvel it was hoped it would be. Instead, the Galactica found itself in the unenviable position of having to covertly protect the planet from the Cylons, even as its people did what they could to bring the planet up to speed.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the series was dreadful. It had to be produced on a much cheaper budget, most of the original cast was gone, and for whatever sad reason, the network dictated that the level of "violence" had to be curtailed, and replaced by "educational content". The highlight of the series was the return of the popular character Lt. Starbuck, who would have appeared a second time if the show hadn't been, perhaps mercifully, brought down after a meager ten episodes.
In more recent years, a new Battlestar Galactica cropped up, developed by former Star Trek veteran Ron Moore. Unfortunately, this new Galactica, despite obviously superior special effects, just as a result of advancements in the field, reportedly decided to rely on political intrigue and social commentary over a decent level of action. I heard nothing good about it from anyone who was a fan of the original. I've never seen it, I have no desire to, I consider it a disgrace, and it will be ignored here.
The original Battlestar Galactica did inspire a toy line. Now, in the 1970's, the major player in the action figure world was Mego -- period. Since the early part of the decade, they had produced numerous series of 8", cloth-costumed action figures based on a wide range of concepts. Their basic design was simple, and yet it made perfect sense. They developed a basic body design that could be produced in any color needed. There was a hole in the top of the torso that any head could be easily snapped into, and the final figure could be dressed as needed. Mego had the licenses to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Wizard of Oz, and a great many other concepts. About the only popular show of the time that they didn't have was The Six Million Dollar Man, which went to Kenner.
But in 1977, Mego missed out on Star Wars, which also went to Kenner. This was, at the very least, part of Mego's eventual downfall.
Another concept they passed on was Battlestar Galactica. It went to Mattel. In the 1970's, Mattel wasn't exactly known for action figures. They'd had exactly two hits in this area -- Major Matt Mason in the 1960's, and Big Jim in the 1970's. Masters of the Universe was still several years away. Their Galactica figures were -- not terribly inspired. Their best one was of Muffit, the robot dog (or "daggit" in Galactica-speak), which in the series was actually a chimpanzee -- one assumes an exceptionally well-trained and tolerant one -- in a robot dog suit. Their Cylons weren't bad, and at least featured a cool chrome finish. Their humans were -- meh. Not terribly well detailed, and certainly not very well painted. No facial features whatsoever were painted onto these 3-3/4" scale figures.
I still have my daggit, and it's about the only Galactica toy of the time that I bought. One sort of wonders what would have happened if Mego had picked up the Galactica license.
Wonder no more! A company with the rather unusual name of "BifBangPow", in conjunction with EmCe Toys, a company dedicated to bring back the Mego-style action figures as precisely as possible (and having done a generally superb job of this with their Star Trek and Planet of the Apes lines), has produced a series of 8" tall, cloth-costumed, Mego-type action figures based on the original Battlestar Galactica!
This review will take a look at the figure of LIEUTENANT STARBUCK. First off, let's consider a history of the character, and of the actor who played him in the original series, Dirk Benedict.
Starbuck is a Viper starfighter pilot, gambler, womanizer and smoker of "fumerellos," or cigars. He is involved with Lieutenant Athena and Cassiopeia, and best friend of Captain Apollo.
Orphaned at a very young age in the Cylon attack on Umbra, a small agro community on Caprica at the edge of the thorn forest in yahren 7322, Starbuck never knew his parents. The man known as Chameleon, portrayed by Fred Astaire in the episode "The Man With Nine Lives," is discovered to be Starbuck's father, but Chameleon never reveals this fact to his son, instead trusting only Cassiopeia with this knowledge.
Starbuck is very close to the family of Commander Adama, who refers to Starbuck as a man "he loves like a son" in Galactica 1980: "The Return Of Starbuck."
Starbuck was well liked and had close friendships with some of the other Colonial Viper pilots such as Lieutenant Jolly, and Lieutenant Boomer.
Starbuck is well renowned as an excellent fighter pilot, but nonetheless manages to crash a Viper four times, in "Saga Of A Star World," "The Long Patrol," "The Young Warriors," "The Return Of Starbuck," to crash a shuttle at least once, in "The Gun On Ice Planet Zero," or get into a difficult situation in a dogfight.
Starbuck returned for one episode, "The Return Of Starbuck," in Galactica 1980.
"The Wheel of Fire," an unproduced Galactica 1980 episode, reveals that Starbuck was eventually rescued by the beings from the Ship of Lights and that the entire affair of Starbuck finding Angela, delivering her child, and sending him to the Colonial Fleet was engineered by them, to test whether Starbuck was worthy to join them. Starbuck passes the test and becomes one of the Ship's crew.
Starbuck reappears in Richard Hatch's original Galactica novels, described as still the best pilot in the fleet, even though over 10 years have passed since the last episode and the start of the novel series. He and Cassiopeia have a daughter named Dalton, who becomes a fighter pilot.
In the original series, Starbuck was played by actor Dirk Benedict. Benedict was born Dirk Niewoehner in Helena, Montana, in 1945.
Benedict's film debut was in the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. When the New York run for Butterflies Are Free ended, he received an offer to repeat his performance in Hawaii, opposite Barbara Rush. While there, he appeared as a guest lead on Hawaii Five-O. The producers of a horror film called Ssssss saw Benedict's performance in Hawaii Five-O and promptly cast him as the lead in that movie. He next played the psychotic wife-beating husband of Twiggy in her American film debut, W. Benedict starred in the television series Chopper One which aired for one season in 1974. He also made an appearance in Charlie's Angels.
Benedict's career break came in 1978 when he appeared as Lieutenant Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica.
In 1986 Dirk Benedict starred as a low-life band manager "Harry Smilac" in the movie "Body Slam" along with Lou Albano, Roddy Piper, and cameo appearances by Freddie Blassie, Ric flair, and Bruno Sammartino. His character Smilac ends up managing the pro-wrestler "Quick Rick Roberts" (Piper) and faces opposition by Captain Lou and his wrestling tag-team "the Cannibals".
In 1987, Benedict took the title role of Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Abbey Theatre. 1989 saw Benedict in the TV movie Trenchcoat in Paradise. In 1991, Benedict starred in Blue Tornado. He played Alex, call sign Fire Bolt, a fighter pilot. In 1993, Benedict starred in Shadow Force. In 2000, Benedict wrote and directed his first screenplay, Cahoots. In 2005, he played an impostor, pretending to be an 80s movie star who wants to moderate a charity performance in Goldene Zeiten (Golden Times) by Peter Thorwardt.
Dirk appeared as a contestant on the 2007 U.K. series of Celebrity Big Brother. He arrived on the first night in a replica of the A-Team van, smoking a cigar and accompanied by Post & Carpenter's A-Team theme tune.
In 2010, Dirk starred in Prescription: Murder playing Lieutenant Columbo along with Patrick Ryecart and George Telfer. Benedict also made a cameo appearance in the 2010 film adaptation of The A-Team as Pensacola Prisoner Milt.
Dirk Benedict was cast in the role of Templeton "The Face-Man" Peck on the NBC television series The A-Team, in 1983, after his work as Starbuck. In one episode, the second season's "Steel," while on the Universal Studios film lot, a Cylon walks past Peck, causing him to do a double-take. This shot was used on the later second, third and fourth season opening credits for the series, and honestly is one of the funnier moments as such.
So, how's the figure? Spectacular. I really wish these had existed in the 1970's. Of course, given how few of my toys from the 1970's have survived to the present day, maybe it's just as well.
BifBangPow has licensed the body design of the Mego-type action figures from EmCe Toys. They also made one improvement on it -- they added an upper arm swivel. Beyond this, as far as I can determine, the body design is very nearly identical. And no, I don't intend to undress the figure to find out.
The design is certainly closer than Mattel's Retro-Action DC Super-Heroes. I have no argument with that line, and it was certainly cool to finally have figures of quite a few characters that Mego never made, but I do wish the design had been a little closer. BifBangPow got a lot closer, by working with the company that brought back the design.
The headsculpt is an excellent likeness of the character. The hair is especially well-detailed. Both Apollo and Starbuck were a little on the shaggy side. It was the 1970's, and apparently the Colonial Fleet didn't have much in the way of hair length regulations. About the only criticism I would have of the Starbuck headsculpt is I might've put a little more of a grin on the face, but that's just quibbling.
Additionally, in general, the heads of the figures in this Galactica line are perhaps a little large for their own good, but not horrifically so. It works, if again, you keep in mind that these figures are supposed to have a sort of retro feel to them.
Lt. Starbuck is outfitted like all of the Viper pilots in the series were, and there's definitely a sort of "futuristic fighter pilot" feel to his uniform. He is wearing a tan shirt and trousers, with a black belt that includes a holster strapped to the left leg, that includes one of the laser pistols used in the show. I remember at one point in 1978 I was at Universal Studios, that had a Battlestar Galactica segment as part of its tram tour, and it was noted for including actual lasers.
Anyway, Lt. Starbuck's uniform is completed by a brown jacket and black boots. The boots are notable for having a very distinct "Mego standard" look to them. They're identical in appearance to the boots that Mego used on most of its super-hero figures and elsewhere. These are notable for having the initials "DM" on their soles, which stands for "Dr. Mego", a notable Mego fan and collector who has assisted EmCe Toys and others in the development of Mego-type action figure lines. And, what the heck, the boots work perfectly well here.
The jacket also has a series of plastic clasps (non functioning) down both sides of the front, and the emblem of the Colonial Fleet on the upper right sleeve. Very impressively done, I must say.
Another thing that impressed me was the different fabrics used. The shirt, trousers, and jacket are all different types of fabric. The jacket is especially cool, with a sort of fuzzy finish to it. In all honesty, this figure is outfitted much more impressively than I think Mego would have managed in the 1970's, but still has enough of a retro "feel" to it that it could still fit in that era.
Starbuck comes with two accessories, assuming you count his laser pistol in the holster on his leg as an accessory. The other accessory is his Viper helmet. I always liked the design of these. They had a very distinct futuristic design to them, but also looked like something derived from an Egyptian pharaoh or sphinx. It was a design at once alien and yet somehow familiar. The figure's helmet is superbly designed.
Of course, Lt. Starbuck is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, although the ankles are a bit hindered by the boots. The shoulders feel a little loose, but I don't think this is really anything to worry about.
Painted detail on Starbuck's head is excellent. My one and only criticism, and it barely qualifies as that, is that the skin tone of these figures is a little on the pale side, relative to, say, the Star Trek Megos from EmCe Toys, or even the original Megos as such. But it's still an acceptable skin tone in and of itself. It's just that relative to other Mego-esque figures, it doesn't quite blend.
So, what's my final word? I wish the original Battlestar Galactica had fared better, or been treated better. I have no use for the more recent series.
But, there is still the original series, which has been released on DVD, and now, there's some truly awesome action figures based upon it. If you're a fan of the original Battlestar Galactica, and as such, you really need to have Lt. Starbuck, then you definitely need to check out these action figures. You won't be disappointed.
One last thought. There's a lot of potential for this line, and I really hope that BifBangPow isn't going to limit it to just one assortment. The logical candidates were certainly chosen -- Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, and several Cylons (a couple of which I believe were Comic-Con exclusives). But consider what else could be done. A second assortment could readily include Colonel Tigh, Lt. Boomer, Baltar, and -- heck, why not Commander Cain of the Battlestar Pegasus? And although it would take some extra tooling, I'd buy a two-pack featuring Boxey and the robot Daggit, Muffit. And how about the creepy robed Cylon, Lucifer? Or Count Iblis? See what I mean? Lots of potential here.
In the meantime, the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA figure of LIEUTENANT STARBUCK from BifBangPow definitely has my highest recommendation!