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Spaceships that became other Spaceships #2: The Colonial Viper

If you're like me, you'll like spaceships and that means you'll like this. An original 1980's era Colonial Viper courtesy of the Battlestar Gallactica.

As a kid I used to love seeing swarms of these things taking on even bigger swarms of cylons. The creators of the show really got the sense of big dogfights in space spot-on and when the show was rebooted I was so glad they'd kept this important ingredient.

It's been about a million years since the original Gallactica left the screen and although I enjoyed the reboot immensley, there was one important ingredient that was missing from it. Ralph McQuarrie.

The original Battlestar TV show was designed to cash in on the sucess of Star Wars and at the time was some of the most expensive TV ever produced. Typical episode budgets ran to around two million dollars. That's 1980s dollars. Given that the shows producers were keen to keep the production up as high as they could they did an incredibly savvy thing and hired Ralph McQuarrie to come in and conceptualize. I was quite suprised at this when I first found out about it and was thrilled to discover his work on this beloved old show. And then I found this.

If you're a fan of 80s sci-fi shows you'll likely recognise the ship in this painting. Even though it appears here as an early concept for the Colonial Viper, it is more familiar as this:

Another 80s icon: The Buck Rogers Starfighter (sometimes refered to as the Thunderfighter). Upon looking into this I discovered that the Thunderfighter was the original viper design which was why it appeared in early Gallactica concept art. Further investigating uncovered these images of the initial concept sketches for the viper.

I like how through these sketches you can also see elements of Y-Wing and A-Wing fighters from the original Star Wars trilogy in there as the designs were worked out. Turns out Ralph McQuarrie had even more influence on my young mind that I relaized. Both these ships are beautiful and iconic within sci-fi and obviously the shows producers were saving money by re-using designs from one show to another but the real lesson here is that if you've got Ralph McQuarrie on board you just don't throw any of his stuff away becasue it's all gold. So there you have it: The Buck Rogers Starfighter was originally the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Gallactica.

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Reader Comments (4)

Great post. How do you feel about the recent case of the guy in Twickenham making stormtrooper costumes and claiming they're his design, and the UK courts backing him up? While I'm no fan of the way Lucas has commoditised (is that a word?) Star Wars, it seems to me blatantly obvious from drawings and paintings dated back to the early 70s that McQuarrie was the designer there also, and I just don't see how the courts could deny this. The Twickenham bloke may well have figured out how to construct and produce the costumes, but surely the intellectual property should remain with Lucas/McQuarrie.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason Regan

How could you own basic shapes? A cockpit with wings and engines tend to follow a certain formula and you hire a designer for "their' taste. As long as the wings don't split open to form another shape then I guess you're good to go!

BTW another insightfull blog post, I can't believe the feelings these images are giving me. I didn't know that I was so sentimental. Must... go... to... youtube.... now

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

It's a funny one that Stormtrooper armour court decision. The chap himself seems pretty cool and fans and collectors are going to want the most authentic kit possible - I'm surprised they couldn't organize some sort of team-up and just work together.

September 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterGavin Rothery

I always thought the Buck Rogers Starfighter had a bit of a F-14 fighter look to it (twin tails etc.) whereas the Colonial Viper suggested a MiG-21. Obviously the X and Y fighters in Star Wars look more human-built and familliar while the TI fighters seem more alien and strange. Thus we'd naturally root for the rebels' fighters because they seem more like 'us'. The same with the Cylon fighters, they look alien and unfamilliar.

Any thoughts on how actual military design of the '70s and '80s affected SciFi ship design Gavin?

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLung the Younger

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