As a child, I think you connect with role models and heroes in a way that you don’t when you’re grown up. You’re learning about yourself, finding your passions, figuring out where you fit in. You attach yourself to people you see on screen, relating to them in deeply profound ways and perhaps not understanding exactly where reality detaches from fantasy. Those characters become a touchstone for your life. As you get older, you may grow out of that intense passion for your heroes, but they’ve left an indelible mark that never quite fades. For me, Apollo of “Battlestar Galactica” is one of those icons.
I was just eight years old when the series first started airing on ABC, and I have hazy but fond memories of sitting in my living room in front of a console TV, watching a traitor named Baltar give silver robots orders from a high pedestal in a dark room. I have clearer memories of reruns being aired every single weekend throughout my entire childhood, into my mid-teens, even though BSG was canceled after just one high-profile season. I watched the series over and over again. I’ve probably seen every episode of the 1978 series 50 times.
One of the show’s main actors was Richard Hatch, who played Apollo, and who died this week. He was my first star crush. I was way too young to think of Luke or Han as potential crushes, when I saw “Star Wars” at age 6. And I’ve always been more drawn to strong female characters than male ones. This means that though Apollo was my first crush, I always wanted him for Sheba, played by Anne Lockhart – not for myself. That was my first ‘ship. Not that we had a name for it in those days.
By the time I met Richard Hatch in person, I was too wise to the ways of the world to expect this actor to be anything like the character he portrayed, and he isn’t – exactly. The two are both dark and handsome and charismatic. Apollo is serious and uncorruptible, the brooding hero that good girls like me dreamed of. Richard Hatch is outgoing, fun, and easy to hang with. In my limited encounters with him, his charm has seemed more what I’d expect from Apollo’s fictional co-conspirator Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict.
I’ve been told that girls either gravitated to Starbuck or Apollo. This told you pretty much everything you needed to about said girl – and I was an Apollo girl. Whatever that says about me. This didn’t change after I met the man who played him. That was on the 2008 Galacticruise, celebrating the series’ 30th anniversary. I am just one of many fans who experienced the Hatch charm, and found my love for BSG revitalized by his clear passion for the series, even after all these years.
Richard Hatch has a way with people. In my journal from 2008, I say that he’s “handsomer in person,” which is very unlike me. But his attractiveness is more than skin-deep. He makes every single person feel special. You know, at first I thought it was just me – wow, he really thinks I’m cool, I thought. But nope. It turns out he’s that way with everyone. Just ask anyone who’s ever met him. It’s easy to react positively to that vigorous, yet authentic charm, and to be enthusiastic about whatever Hatch is enthusiastic about.
And some of his enthusiasm has always been reserved for BSG – the story, the characters, and the family that has grown up around the series over decades, which expanded when the newer SyFy reboot entered the fold. Over the years, he’s spent much of his time and energy campaigning for another version of the series, being an ambassador for the show, and otherwise strengthening the bonds between BSG and its fans. It has been his life’s work, in a way. The fact that he ended up playing Tom Zarek in the new BSG was simply – fitting.
I’ve met him once or twice at conventions since then, because he’s always going to them all over the world, and I interviewed him just a little over a year ago. He remains one of the most approachable actors I’ve ever spoken with, and I’ve interviewed my share. I also took one of his acting seminars. Now I’m no actor, and I have no pretensions that I’d ever be good at it, but here’s what I remember learning during that experience: acting is a lot like life. You may not be a professional actor, but the techniques used to improve one’s acting ability can help you work through your feelings and establish self-esteem. You can break through the fear that’s sapping your energy, poisoning your attitude, and holding you back from discovering your best self.
I know, it all sounds like cliched self-help stuff, but I can’t do justice to his actual words. When Richard Hatch said it, it was quite moving and very inspiring. And I’m a cynical Gen X-er so that means something. It’s not so much the words I remember as the kindness, and the sincerity, behind it. He really wanted to help us achieve our dreams.
I have come to know firsthand how amazing, interesting, and generous the BSG community is. This is no accident. The fans have had, as their champion, a man who who truly believes in the BSG story – its “heart and soul, and spirit,” as he described it to me in an interview in 2015. In a very real way, Richard Hatch was the heart and soul and spirit of the BSG fandom, and he will be missed. Those of us who were “Apollo girls,” or kids who aspired to be like him in a world that needs heroes, will not forget.
And Apollo, that upright, good, honest man who saw so much darkness but imparted so much hope, may very well be waking up on that Ship of Lights again. At last.
Click here for a Nerdist video paying tribute to Richard Hatch. And click here to go to the article I wrote on BSG, “A Fan History of Battlestar Galactica,” which explains Hatch’s contributions to BSG fandom (and a lot of other things…).