The Ending of the 1979 Battlestar Galactica is Way Better Than It Should Be

The classic sci-fi show’s finale was unexpected, but perfect.

Los Angeles, CA - 1979: (L-R) Dirk Benedict, Herbert Jefferson, Jr appearing in the ABC tv series 'B...
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For many, the title Battlestar Galactica conjures up images of Edward James Olmos barking orders into a retro phone, Tricia Helfer in a slinky dress, or perhaps even early aughts jokes from The Office or Portlandia. But before there was the groundbreaking 2003-2009 Battlestar reboot, there was the humbler, but no less important, 1978-1979 Battlestar Galactica that started it all. And, on April 29, 1979, the last episode of the show’s first season became the show’s de facto series finale. Interestingly, unlike the series finale of the reboot Battlestar, the last episode of the original show holds up much better, even if this was never really the plan.

Here’s why “The Hand of God” is such a great episode of classic BSG, why it's worth another look, and how it should serve as a strange lesson to sci-fi shows today. Spoilers ahead.

Like the reboot series, the classic BSG follows a group of humans fleeing from the Cylons (robots) who have massacred their home planets, known as the colonies. These humans are of the Star Wars variety; not from Earth, but they speak English, and may or may not be having their adventures in the distant past, or at some point in the future. When the show debuted in 1978, the mythology leaned heavily on the idea that these humans were connected to ancient aliens.

The opening voiceover narration — performed by the legendary Patrick MacNee — professed that: “There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe... some believe that there may yet be brothers of man, who even now, fight to survive, somewhere beyond the heavens.”

Doesn’t this look like the greatest sci-fi show ever?

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So, a big part of the overall mystery of the original Battlestar Galactica is: If and when the fleet would find Earth, and when they did, what era of Earth would they discover? Eventually, the nearly unwatchable sequel series, Galactica 1980, settled on the year 1980. But when the real BSG ended in 1979, things were more ambiguous. At the start of the episode, Apollo (Richard Hatch), Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), Sheba (Anne Lockhart), and Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang) pick up a transmission from what we know is the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. But, as Boomer (Herb Jefferson Jr.) explains, it’s possible the signal is either very contemporary or thousands of yahrens (years) old.

And if you consider Galactica 1980 to be non-canon (which you really should), the show actually ended with very cool ambiguity. Was the Galactica about to roll up on us at any moment? Or would they arrive in our distant future? As Anne Lockhart put it in the BSG oral history book So Say We All, “It was one of the most interesting science fiction concepts... that concept was very cool.”

At its most enjoyable, Battlestar Galactica was basically a show about starfighter pilots living and working on a massive aircraft carrier in space. After several episodes of moving away from this format, “The Hand of God” doubles down on the classic Galactica formula, and presents a moment where our heroes can take out a Cylon Basestar by launching a sneak attack. And, in a plot device that predates the events of Return of the Jedi, the best way for this attack to work is if a small team sneaks onto the Basestar first, and deactivates the scanners. Flying a stolen Cylon ship, Starbuck and Apollo have to land on the Basestar, not get noticed by the Cylon soldiers, and then blow up the control room.

This daring suicide mission — featuring a plan with multiple moving parts — was not intended to be the last episode of the series. There are a lot of reasons why Battlestar was canceled after one season, but the biggest problem was money. At the time, it was simply one of the most expensive shows on TV, and as such, ABC and Universal pulled the plug.

The Cylons, remain, some of the greatest evil robots in all of science fiction.

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But because the season finale combines all the best elements of the entire show — the camaraderie of the Viper pilots, the robotic evil of the Cylons, and the ongoing mystery of Earth and the timeline in general — this episode became a kind of microcosm for everything that was good about the series. In fact, if you were to only watch one episode of the ‘70s Battlestar, it might be this one. The characters are fully established, the show is confident in what it is about, and best of all, it’s not rushing to answer any questions too quickly.

On top of all of this, the mysteries left unsolved in “The Hand of God” aren’t frustrating or confusing. Everything here makes sense, and it’s okay that this is where Battlestar Galactica stopped. Sure, it would have been cool had the show gotten a proper second season. But as it stands, the legacy of the classic show is a positive one, because the writing, sci-fi ruminations, and pew-pew action all hold up splendidly, over 40 years later.

Battlestar Galactica (classic) is streaming for rental on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and elsewhere.

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