Battlestar Galactica: The TV Space Saga Turns 40

BSG poster

“There are those who believe that life here began out there. Far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans, that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria, or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man, who even now fight to survive…somewhere beyond the heavens.Opening narration of Battlestar Galactica

Nowadays, it is easy to find original sci-fi shows on TV or streaming and it is hard for younger fans to imagine a TV landscape where sci-fi was virtually non-existent. So, when a sci-fi show like Battlestar Galactica premiered back in the 1970s to big fanfare, it truly was a big deal for fans back then.

When Battlestar Galactica debuted forty years ago in Sept. 1978, it generated tremendous buzz for many reasons. The most important being its cost (about $1 million per episode) and for its superficial similarity to Star Wars. In fact, 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (the studio behind the show) for plagiarism, though that case was dismissed. We have to remember that when a movie is a huge hit it is never long before TV shows with similar premises popped up. It’s just the way the things go. This does not mean that Battlestar Galactica was a rip-off of Star Wars. Of course, both properties featured expensive space battles, rich, bombastic scores, and took place far from Earth, but it ends there. Battlestar Galactica was a space saga about the remnants of an advanced human civilization trying to find a safe haven from their robotic enemies, the Cylons, in a convoy of spaceships led by Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) from his flagship the Galactica. The twist was that the humans sought safety in a long-lost colony world called Earth.

This was a clever twist, which spun around the sci-fi concept of survivors fleeing a doomed Earth. Actually, according to series creator, Glen A. Larson, the original concept for the show used the premise of humanity fleeing Earth in a quest to find a new world. It was called Adam’s Ark and like the show it morphed into, incorporated many aspects of Mormon theology. It is important to remember that Larson conceived of Adam’s Ark back in 1968, nearly a decade before Star Wars came along.

Battlestar Galactica captured the imaginations of many sci-fi fans who were hungering for something similar to Star Wars to at least tie them over until the inevitable Star Wars sequel came out. Others, however, were more critical over the show’s scientific inaccuracies, limited production values and scripts. Keep in mind, that though the show was expensive, it was easy to see that it tried to keep its budget in line. Hence, the overuse of stock footage, especially when it came to space battles. These same critics also decried its so-called juvenile nature and lack of vision.

BSG cast

These critics could not have been more wrong. Of course, Battlestar Galactica had its faults, but given its limitation, it was unusually imaginative and did a credible amount of world building. Most episodes added interesting lore and mystery to the world of Battlestar Galactica. This was best seen in its mid-season episodes, “War of the Gods” where the Galactica crew encountered an enigmatic being called Count Iblis (Patrick Macnee) who promises salvation. The episodes explored concepts of good vs. evil, faith, and temptation. What helped was that by this time, we had grown to care for the show’s leads. Although Adama was the leader, the show focused on his son, the heroic fighter pilot, Apollo (Richard Hatch) and his best friend, the roguish fighter pilot Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), along with many supporting characters.

Sadly, as things goes, Battlestar Galactica was canceled after one season. It garnered moderate ratings, but not enough to justify its hefty price tag. What made things worse was that the show was terminated before it could resolve its central storyline. The Galactica and its convoy never found Earth, though they had clues. A mixed blessing came about a year later when a sequel show was commissioned. In the show, Adama and the Galactica convoy finally found Earth, but Galactica 1980 was truly juvenile and lacked any of the charm of the original.

Books, comics, fan fics, etc. followed, which helped keep interest alive in the show. It never reached the heights of popularity like Star Trek or Star Wars, but the devotion was solid. There have been many attempts to bring the original show to a proper conclusion, including some by Bryan Singer and Richard Hatch. Of course, we all know of the popular reboot that came out in 2003, which is considered to be one of the finest sci-fi shows ever made. While the reboot has its justified accolades it is important to remember the original TV show that spawned it and to imagine that there is much more to that space saga that is yet untold, even now, forty years later.

“Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Earth.”Commander Adama, closing narration of Battlestar Galactica

José Soto

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New Battlestar Web Show Has Blood & Guts

The new web-based show Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome was actually a two-hour pilot commissioned by the Syfy channel for a possible TV series. Sadly, the network decided not to greenlight the show and one has to wonder why because this pilot truly captures the feel of the late Battlestar Galactica.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is a prequel to the remake ofBattlestar Galactica but a sequel of sorts to Caprica. It takes place during the oft-mentioned Cylon War that was fought between humanity and the cybernetic Cylons that they created in the Caprica show.

The main character is a young William “Husker” Adama (Luke Pasqualino), an idealistic, eager rookie pilot who is out to win the ten-year war against the Cylons. Seeing Adama as a hotshot, brash pilot is a startling contrast to the grizzled commander we’ve seen in the Battlestar Galactica remake. This presentation is very novel. We’ve could’ve been given a similar Adama who while still young would have many of the older Adama’s traits. But the character is refreshingly shown as being an idealist who by the time he’s commander of the Galactica has grown weary.

After a brief intro that shows various colonial cities across the Twelve Colonies under Cylon attack, Adama is shown excelling at a simulator viper fighter program. Later he’s assigned to the Battlestar Galactica; at this time, the ship isn’t an aging relic but considered one of the best ships in the colonial fleet. Expecting to be given a top-of-the line viper, Adama is disappointed that instead he’s tasked to pilot a rundown, workhorse raptor ship with cynical co-pilot Coker Fasjovik (Ben Cotton). It’s from Coker that we see the older Adama’s characteristics; bitter and disgruntled about the year, Coker is a short-timer who just wants to coast through his remaining few weeks left of service. Naturally, we get a strong feeling that he won’t live long enough to complete his tour but Coker is a likeable character nonetheless. And of course, the two butt heads over their natural differences. Still they have a mutual, grudging admiration for each other.

They are given a mission to transport Dr. Beka Kelly (Lili Bordan), formerly a Graystone Industries employee, who has vital information about the Cylons, to a rendezvous point with a colonial ship. Upon arriving, they discover the ship has  been destroyed by Cylons. After destroying some Cylon raiders (styled after the old raiders seen in the original show), they proceed to a set of coordinates and encounter a fleet of supposedly lost and destroyed colonial ships. Once they drop off Kelly, Adama volunteers himself and Coker to transport Kelly to her objective; to meet up with a contingent of marines on a frozen moon deep in Cylon territory.

Blood & Chrome is an exciting and thrilling joy to watch that is engaging and well produced. Each ten-minute segment ends in a nail-biting cliffhanger that leaves one wanting to find out what happens next. True, there are many of the standard war plot devices and characters (the routine mission that goes wildly wrong, grizzled vets, gung ho recruits, etc.) in this web show but they work well. The presentation has a gritty feel that feels exactly like the remake.  It also has some nods to Caprica and serves as a solid bridge between the two shows. The special effects and production design are simply superb and top notch.. This isn’t a cheap, digital knock-off. It looks just like it could fit in as a companion piece to the remake. It’s truly amazing considering that Blood & Chrome was actually filmed using digital sets.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is so good that one doesn’t mind watching this on a computer or mobile device as opposed to the comfort of a couch and TV. But for those that can wait for traditional viewing methods, the pilot will air complete on Syfy in February and be released on DVD, Blu-ray and download in the same month. Hopefully the reaction to this pilot will be strong enough for the commissioning of at least more web episodes or maybe even a series.

Waldermann Rivera