In life, I’ve been disappointed on a number of levels. I think we all have at some point. Part of the human experience is to not get our way all the time, and what often separates us is how we choose to deal with disappointment, and to be sure, it’s how we grow as people and ultimately, how we’re remembered.
Today, we remember the late Richard Hatch, best remembered for his involvement in three iterations of Battlestar Galactica. Hatch passed away Tuesday at the age of 71, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Like many of us, disappointment was a part of Hatch’s life. That disappointment came in the form of the franchise that made him, at least for a time, a star with his portrayal of hotshot pilot Apollo. Even though the original Battlestar Galactica, a clear attempt to capitalize on the runaway success of Star Wars, released a year prior, lasted only one season, the show quickly gained a fanbase hungry for all things sci-fi.
It was the latent popularity of Galactica that led to a letter writing campaign that resulted in Galactica 1980, but because he wasn’t sure how he would fit into the series, Hatch decided to bow out. Luckily for him, Galactica 1980 only lasted 10 episodes, and is remembered rather unfavorably by both critics and fans.
Despite all that, Battlestar Galactica’s popularity would endure, and Hatch, who never really found a niche as anything more as a character actor in soap operas and bit parts on TV, kept a torch burning for the old series, something reciprocated by fans who would meet him at conventions around the world.
It’s easy to be cynical about Hatch’s attempt throughout the 90’s to resurrect Galactica, whether it be through comics or novels he worked on, but when Hatch sunk a significant portion of his time and money into producing Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming, a 30-minute pilot meant to entice Universal Studios, the owner of the rights to the dormant series, into resurrecting the original story, it became hard not to respect the passion Hatch had.
Unfortunately, Hatch had competition in the form of Galactica creator Glen A. Larson, who had his own pitch to continue the Galactica 1980 storyline, and Ronald D. Moore, of Star Trek fame, who had a radically new take on the old material.
Moore’s idea won out, and Hatch ended up with a hole in his bank account, and a pilot that would only ever be a curiosity passed around at sci-fi conventions.
This is the sort of crossroads of disappointment I alluded to earlier, and where we all find ourselves a time or two. For many, the easy part is to let disappointment turn into resentment and let it wash over like a wave of what-could-have-beens and what-might-bes.
But Hatch’s story turned out a little differently.
Moore’s Battlestar Galactica miniseries premiered on the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel on December 8, 2003, to wild acclaim. Nothing from the original series remained outside of character names and ideas, and audiences couldn’t get enough of it.
The success of the miniseries led to a full-blown series a year later, and when asked about the success of the new series, which seemed to accomplish what the original series couldn’t in terms of longevity, Hatch was clearly embittered by the whole process, saying during an interview that he “over the past several years, bonded deeply with the original characters and story...writing the novels and the comic books and really campaigning to bring back the show".
Once the miniseries turned into a series, Moore finally extended an olive branch to Hatch, who really didn’t have to accept, but he did, and playing the role of terrorist turned politician Tom Zarek turned from a begrudging one off into a robust character whose story arc ended up becoming one of the most compelling of the series as a whole.
By all indications, Tom Zarek was never really meant to be more than what it was, a character contained within an episode, but Hatch did something different with the role, and it was that difference that allowed him to be more than just the original Apollo, and embrace a character who, when it was all said and done, appeared in as many episodes of the reboot as Apollo of the original series.
Zarek was at times a hero and also a villain, but to characterize him as either would be to sell the impact of the character short. Hatch said of his time on the Galactica reboot, "I feel privileged to have been a part of this wonderful series and I truly loved playing Tom Zarek. One of the most flawed, complex and misunderstood characters I've ever played."
There’s a bit of a parallel there, to be sure. Hatch’s fight to resurrect the series that brought him his greatest acclaim indeed made him a complicated character in his own right, but where he could have been the villain, he instead chose to embrace something new, and in the exchange, managed to make an even greater impact than he may have if his vision, his dream, came to pass.
Life is funny that way.
Even though I’ve seen every iteration of Battlestar Galactica, I couldn’t mention a single scene off hand of Hatch as Apollo that I’d consider memorable or worth sharing. But when it comes to his time as Tom Zarek, his final scene remains his greatest.
As he faces a firing squad alongside his co-conspirator Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani), Zarek knows his end has come, but instead of rage against the inevitability of the moment, he finds himself at peace, and in the last seconds, he manages a smile before the sound of rifles rendered everything silent.
The same could be said for Hatch, who, in the face of disappointment, found peace, and managed to prosper in a way that leaves his memory in high regard. To that, all we can do is say “thank you”, not just for what he gave, but for what he was willing to give up in order to see an even larger dream, and legacy come to life.
That’s how Richard Hatch should be remembered, and each of us should be so lucky to do what we love and have others enjoy it.