In 1978, I was caught in a constant debate with my friends: which is better Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica? Unlike most of my buddies, I was a much bigger fan of the latter. There were several reasons why it worked better for me — not the least of which was the diversity and the maturity of the characters.
While the cast of Star Wars was all white and featured only two women, Galactica had females, blacks, and Asians in lead roles. It felt far more progressive, and like it was meant for everyone. This mattered a lot to me as a young kid of color growing up in the late 1970’s.
Also, while many thought Galactica to be a Star Wars rip-off, I thought that its premise — a ragtag fleet of human colonists fleeing from robotic foes — was far more intriguing. Yes, the show had space battles and cool tech, but there was something more human at its core. It had heart and enormous potential.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. There also were a couple of drawbacks: like the kid character “Boxey” and “Muffit,” his robot dog (they didn’t work for me), and the show was also a little campy at times. That said, I still loved the program and hoped for it to last a long time.
There was one character at the middle of the central trinity of Viper pilots that held the show together. That was Captain Apollo — played by actor Richard Hatch. Apollo was strong and serious. He was good at what he did and he cared a lot about his adopted son. He was a role model that I could look up to as an eleven-year-old boy. Like many, I was deeply saddened by the cancellation of the show.
Over the years, Richard Hatch — aware that there were many disappointed fans like me out there — tried to revive the show. Alas, the Hollywood powers-that-be did not fund his take on a revival. Instead, SyFy chose to go the route of a reboot. I was happy when he was included in the cast as the freedom fighter and politician Tom Zarek in the new critically–acclaimed version.
Having followed Richard’s life and career with interest, I was excited to have the chance to sit down with him for a chat.
At the Aroma Café in North Hollywood…
FutureDude: First off, it’s a real honor to meet you! When I was a kid and Galactica was on, you were the coolest. I always related to your character; he was strong, very serious about his job and the situation in the story.
Richard Hatch: (laughs) You would have been way too young when the original was out.
Actually, I was in sixth grade. So I was definitely old enough to get it.
Ah, same age as my son.
I wanted to talk to you, because it seems like you really get what science fiction is all about.
Well, beyond being an actor, I am fascinated by the Universe, the world, where mankind came from, how we evolved, where we’re going. I study history, sociology, philosophy, and psychology. Anything to do with science and quantum physics. All of that stuff fascinates me, because of the mystery of this world and other worlds!
So, beyond the actor is that part of me that delves into those mysteries. Look, nobody has definitive answers, but it’s all about exploring theoretical probabilities and possibilities. Everyday were having revelations, epiphanies, and scientific breakthroughs.
To me, science fiction is all about weaving that exploration into great human stories.
Great stories and great sci-fi mirror the world much like the new Battlestar did, and even the old Battlestar. It explores theoretical probabilities or possibilities, where we’re going as humanity, all the options, all the things that could happen.
So, for me, great science fiction has always been visionary. It’s always been prophetic, always been written by some of the greatest thinkers and minds of our time!
And when sci-fi works, it’s always about SOMETHING. Not just a bunch of random actions and events. There is a deeper meaning.
Right. I love anything that delves into characters at a deeper level — like the new Battlestar. I loved it because it wasn’t about ‘black and white’ and it wasn’t just entertainment. It was about something! Somebody had something to say, somebody had some powerful questions to raise, and then we set about exploring them.
My greatest joy is really blowing an audience away, opening their hearts, opening their minds, and inspiring people on some deep profound level. Great movies do that; great stories do that. They take you on a journey. They shake you the ‘frak’ up! You know?
They slam you against the wall; they make you laugh and make you cry; but ultimately, great movies leave you with hope! They leave you with light at the end of the end of the tunnel.
Battlestar always touched me in that deep way.
I could see that. Battlestar is really the archetypal human story. We are all on a metaphorical journey. Like the survivors of the twelve colonies, we all wander around out there in the world trying to find our place.
Yes! Going through the ups and downs. Losing it all. Trying this and trying that! You know, on some level we all crash and burn several times until we find ourselves. And some people never do; some people crash and burn and end up falling into the abyss! Others find themselves. Find who they are. Find a direction and go out there and establish a new home! A new homeland, a new job, a family.
So that metaphorical journey is what Battlestar was — only on a much more magnified and epic level.
And, of course, even though it was a journey, not everybody survives it. People die. People self-medicate. And people get lost. Deep things happen, because life can really challenge you!
Well, take that into outer space in a situation like that and everything is intensified! You’ve raised the stakes and its life or death, and its really having to deal with your dark side. Dealing with all of your fears, dealing with that part of ourselves that most people never want to look at. Which is the part of ourselves that is capable of under the right circumstances of doing anything! Horrific things. Also, courageous things.
The coolest aspect of Galactica is when they turned characters that we knew and loved into terrorists. They all had gray areas and flaws, unlike so many characters in the space opera genre.
That was the brilliance of Ron Moore. He and the entire writing team for Battlestar were amazing.
When you started working in sci-fi, did you think about these sorts of things?
Yeah, for me, I’ve really been exploring the human condition. I’ve had tough times, a little bit like Tom Zarek. I think that Tom Zarek was an idealist, and he kind of had to deal with the realities of the world. But I think he was very critical and judgmental of a world that seemed to be passive.
I look at this world and I get angry because I look at the passivity that allows extremists, both left and right, to have control. They control the agenda rather than the vast majority of us who probably agree on the same things and are in the middle.
There’s no meeting point. And it’s getting worse!
It is. I am about doing the things that serve the commonality of man!
I think we’re in a powerful time of transition, a powerful time of change. I think that over the next fifty years the world is going to change in ways that we can’t even imagine. We’re going to move into a much better world, a much more productive world, and a more fair world.
I think that the powers-that-be are going to lose control, because ultimately people are going to become more educated, more knowledgeable, and more empowered. Ultimately, they will make their governments more accountable. Then you’ll get a higher quality of politician.
I think maybe we’ll move away from a platform of either Republican or Democrat, and people will start voting for the man or the woman, and they’ll just start finding more common ground.
The polarization is not just happening in politics; it’s happening in media and business. Look at this whole conflict that’s going on between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is about the gatekeepers trying to keep control! Maintaining the old system. I think we are caught in the same dilemma with energy. It’s like we are being barred from the future by people who only have a vision for today’s profits.
I totally agree. But, I think over the next fifty years, we’re going to be moving from oil — a limited source of energy — to unlimited sources of energy due to new technology. We’re going to see a breakthrough everyday.
By the way, I hate say it, but we probably already have the technology. It’s just that they’re locked in safes, because people can’t figure out a way to make as much money as they are now with oil.
You should see a documentary I recently watched, called Gashole, about a guy who created a car that could get nearly 200 MPG a few decades ago. The movie claims that it was suppressed by oil companies. That sort of greed will keep us in the Dark Ages. We need a balanced system that encourages competitive entrepreneurship and economic fairness at the same time.
Totally. We also need to restructure our education and healthcare systems. Because, while I believe in “let the best man win,” you still need a fair and equal playing field!
True. And the frustrating part is that we DON’T all start on equal footing. Some people simply have the advantage. While I don’t think we should just give handouts, there are ways to make things more fair.
Yes. And while I’m not a socialist, I believe we should have education and heath care systems that are not profit-based. Education is too expensive. Poor or rich, everybody should be entitled to an education. Everyone should have access to quality health care.
I think ‘tough love’ means that you have to let the old business models crumble, and then you need to let new businesses with new models come in and build from the ground up!
I see an optimistic future, and it’s not going to take 3,000 years to get there. In the next fifty years, I see a transition into a new world, a new economy, a new thing.
The kids growing up today are going to be training with new job skills that fit into that new economy, and the people of today are going to have to really just suck it up and evolve. They have to stop trying to compete with their neighbor.
We need to provide opportunities for people to go back to school and get a quality education for both the old and young, so that they can plug into the new economy that is coming.
It’s a whole new way of thinking. It’s like actors can’t just act anymore; you’ve got be an entrepreneur! You’ve got be a businessperson; you’ve got to be a writer; be a producer; you’ve got to put projects together and be empowered! You can’t sit there and wait for the phone to ring.
What’s great is that there are new technologies that allow people to do just that! Using technology to empower the individual. THAT is a new way of doing things.
It’s like what you are doing with FutureDude! I think you are 100% on the right track with your approach to it and your own sci-fi projects!
Thanks, Richard. I really appreciate the vote of confidence! I hope someday, in the near future, that we can work together on a project or two.
Jeff, it would be my pleasure!