Unfree Culture and The Science Fiction Wars of 1978

by Devanshu Mehta

In 1978, 20th Century Fox studio sued Universal for “stealing 34 distinct ideas” from the then recently, immensely successful film “Star Wars”:http://www.galaxyfaraway.com to create “Battlestar Galactica”. This was one year after the release of _Star Wars_ and an old, hackneyed genre had just been revived. At the time, Universal said that _this is like the first Western movie ever suing the second one_.

George Lucas visited the production of BSG and decided not to link his name with the law suit. 20th Century Fox, however, pressed on. Universal countersued with a claim that _Star Wars_ (particularly R2D2) was lifted from Universal’s own film _Silent Running_. Maybe it’s time for some descendant of the Brothers Grimm (the great-grandchildren Grimm?) to come knocking on Disney’s front doors with legal papers- suing them for every cent they’ve made since _Snow White_.

A few major _Star Wars_ co-conspirators were major players on the original BSG production as well- John Dykstra, Dennis Muren- which also played a major part in the common “feel” to them both.

There is a “fantastic article from 1978”:http://www.battlestargalactica.com/outside_docs/bg_outdoc0049.htm called *ABC’s Multi-Million Dollar SF Gamble: Battlestar Galactica* which closes with these two interesting paragraphs which hint at more issues than just copyright and derivative works:

Once all the charges of copyright infringement and the other legal elbowing have subsided, and once other modern space fantasies like Buck Rogers, Star Trek — The Motion Picture, Starcrash, and Flash Gordon have come out to keep Galactica company, it will be more evident that Galactica was innovative in many ways all its own — not the least of which is its courageous, almost carefree use of funds in the hope of bringing to the public a TV fantasy of unparalleled quality. And some of the daring can be seen in things that neither zoom, blast, flash, or explode.

When, since the days of the Untouchables, have we seen such exciting wholesale slaughter on our livingroom screens? And it happened during the very season when the networks have been bragging that at last they have censored physical conflict from the screen. The full extent of the ramifications of a successful Galactica on TV programming is yet to be seen, but it will certainly be interesting to watch.

Ah, good old 1978. It was the best of time, it was the worst of times. Television bosses were actively censoring TV. Major studios were trying to control the fate of genre media. Journalists were hoping for a future that resembled a rose-tinted past. And beneath the surface, a vast array of creators were waiting to unleash their derivative works that had the potential to change the face of a genre, at the very least, and media in general if we were lucky. In short, it was a time much like today.

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