While Glen A. Larson’s original Battlestar Galactica may seem a little cheesy when viewed through cynical 21st-century eyes, it still had a helluva lot going for it. That incredible theme composed by Larson and Stu Phillips. There was the effects work by John Dykstra. And there was a foundation built by, among others, concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. With a per-episode budget of a then-unthinkable $1 million or more, Battlestar Galactica hoped to right the wave of excitement kicked up by Star Wars, and so Larson and company had the canny idea to hire McQuarrie to help imagine what the world of BSG would look like. He helped create the look of the ragtag fleet and the Viper starfighters that defended it, but they almost looked very different.
Below is a McQuarrie image showing the Viper BSG fans know and love, a design that was changed very little when it came time for Ronald D. Moore to reboot the series for The Sci-Fi Channel a few years back. It’s sleek shape is perfectly suited for those unforgettable sequences where the Vipers rocket down the Galactica’s launch tubes.
But the design that stuck wasn’t the first one on McQuarrie’s drawing board. No, the Viper could have looked more like this.
It’s hard to tell from that head-on angle, but McQuarrie’s original Viper design didn’t wind up in the circular file just because Battlestar Galactica went a different direction. As detailed in the thoroughly addictive blog of filmmaker Gavin Rothery, the Viper design went through gradual changes, some of which you can see below. And if you grew up watching the original Battlestar during its initial 1979 run, and in the syndication that followed, there’s a good chance the third image down is going to look mighty familiar.
Ringing any bells yet? Maybe this will help jog your memory.
That’s the Thunderfighter ship piloted by Buck Rogers and company in the 1979 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray. Yep, McQuarrie’s unused original Viper design found a home in yet another beloved ’70s space opera series. And being reminded of Buck’s starfighter has me wishing somebody over at Syfy would have the bright idea to give Buck Rogers the same sort of modern retrofit they gave BSG.
You can see more of McQuarrie’s gorgeous BSG concept art below.