So Glen A. Larson has passed away.
If that name means nothing to you, then you weren’t a kid in the '70s and '80s. But it just so happens that I was such a kid, and during my childhood, it was impossible to turn on the television and not see Glen Larson’s name on just about every TV show that mattered to me.
But there was one occasion when I got to see some of Mr. Larson’s work live and in person.
I grew up in sunny southern California, and back in the day, our Cub Scout pack took a field trip to the special effects studio doing work for Larson’s series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” This was the pre-CGI era, so all we saw was some tedious stop motion photography. But the real excitement came when one of the technicians took us to a storage room where the models for the canceled series “Battlestar Galactica” had been mothballed. He cracked open one very large crate, and all of us got a good look at the Galactica herself.
That may well have been the greatest moment of my pre-pubescent life.
“Battlestar Galactica” — the original, not the nihilistic, joyless reboot of the series that aired on the SyFy Network around the turn of the century — wasn’t Larson’s most successful series, but it was arguably the most personal to him. It was launched in the wake of “Star Wars” mania, and it spurred a lawsuit from George Lucas for copyright infringement. Lucas lost that battle, and rightly so. Yes, there are superficial similarities between the two space operas, but “Galactica” offered a premise that was actually something much deeper and richer than the “Star Wars” universe.
“Battlestar Galactica,” in essence, was Mormons in space.
Glen Larson, himself a Latter-day Saint, had infused his series mythology with too many Mormon references to ignore. His Twelve Colonies of Man were essentially the Lost Tribes of Israel whose history began at Kobol, an obvious anagram for Kolob, which, in Mormon theology, is the star nearest to the throne of God. The colonies were led by a "Quorum of 12," and marriages were referred to as “sealings” that extended beyond mortality and “through all the eternities.” The show never shied away from religious themes, and, at one point, the characters encounter a group of angels who paraphrase LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow.
“As you are, we once were,” the angels tell the Galactica crew. “As we are, you may become.”
Sound familiar? It certainly did to me.
I was thrilled to see Mormon themes woven into pop culture, but not everyone shared my enthusiasm. My mother thought it was a light-minded approach to sacred things, and I have to concede that time has provided some evidence for that point of view. Critics of my faith take Mormon precepts and present them with a Galactica-esque spin to make them sound kooky and bizarre. An anti-Mormon film in the 1980s sneeringly referred to the LDS concept of heaven as “Starbase Kolob,” and during the so-called “Mormon Moment,” I sensed “Galactica’s” influence in the media reports about Mormons “getting their own planet” after they die.
So if “Battlestar Galactica” is your only context for what Mormons believe, you can be forgiven for thinking that we Mormons are a whole lot less boring than we really are.
But I don’t think Larson’s intent was to mock things he held sacred. I think he was trying to make them accessible to a wider audience. Those kinds of themes were missing from 1970s television, and they’re still missing from much of television today. In a medium celebrated for its vapidity, Glen A. Larson dared to produce something profound.
He will be sorely missed.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.