Joshua Rich
September 21, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It launched in the enormous wake of George Lucas’ sci-fi hit and was dubbed Son of Star Wars even before hitting TV orbit. By the time ABC’s Battlestar Galactica premiered on Sept. 17, 1978, skeptics had been salivating for months.

But without a ”blockbuster movie” to set the stage, says creator Glen A. Larson, who conceived Battlestar in the early ’70s, ”the networks wouldn’t have been receptive to a show [with combat] in space.” So Larson brought Star Wars special-effects whiz John Dykstra onboard his cosmic Wagon Train, and its trans-universal quest for Earth—not to mention those silver-spooky Cylon robots—was set in motion.

Bad or not, the publicity worked. More people watched the three-hour debut than that night’s Emmy Awards telecast. And with Bonanza‘s Lorne Greene playing patriarch to pilots Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Apollo (Richard Hatch), Battlestar took off. It finished the season just under the top 25 and won Emmys for costume design and special effects.

The same effects, it turned out, that forced ABC to cancel the then-unprecedented $1 million-plus-per-episode series after only one year. ”We were ahead of our time technologically for the television budget,” says Larson, who moved on to hatch action staples like Magnum, P.I. and Knight Rider. Still, Battlestar became a syndicated cult hit following a 1979 theatrical release of the premiere, the TV sequel Galactica 1980, and even an attraction on the Universal Studios tour. Now a new series à la Star Trek: The Next Generation, tentatively set to air on Fox in 2002, is in the works from X-Men director Bryan Singer. Take that, Star Wars.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO RICHARD HATCH?

No, the other one.

Fresh from the Golden Globe nod and hunk status he earned on Battlestar Galactica, Hatch passed on every script that came his way. “I was frustrated as an actor,” says the 56-year-old L.A. native. “And after I turned everything down for a couple years, the offers stopped.” The onetime Streets of San Francisco star still acts in cable flicks like The Ghost (2000), but spends most of his time writing. He is at work on his fourth Battlestar novel. Hatch spent years pitching a Galactica movie, but dropped his plans when the new series was announced. Mum’s the word on whether he or his costars will participate. Meanwhile, he’s creating a sci-fi show called The Great War of Magellan.

So what about his Survivor doppelganger? “I haven’t met him,” Hatch laughs, but he’s “probably a lovely gentleman.”

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