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Further Reflections On Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined)

image:public domain(Wikimedia)
image:public domain(Wikimedia)

I have been re-watching the imagined series so I can add a bit more to this section on Battlestar Galactica.

1. The Low Tech Problem
One of the major differences between the original and newer BG is how futuristic technology is employed. Most sci-fi fantasy shows or movies love to show future tech. Star Trek is the most well known with using warp drive, phasers, shields, communicators and bio-beds to name just a few. And they came up with a unique idea to demonstrate how that futuristic society became the worker’s paradise:replicators. As long as the base materials were in the unit, you simply told it what you wanted and it made it for you. A medium rare steak with baked potato? No problem. Need construction materials? The industrial replicator would produce it for you.

The problem with the re-imagined series is that it seriously downgraded future tech making it incongruous. The 12 Colonies were a spacefaring civilization with the ability to cross vast distances by hyper jumping (the faster-then-light drive or FTL). Yet their weapons technology was primarily missiles (nuclear and conventional), guns, bullets, assault weapons and other conventional items. Likewise the Cylons were similarly constricted in using the same types of weapons. While they developed organic ships by the time of the 2nd Cylon War, their weapons tech remains virtually the same as the 12 Colonies. It is hard to accept that either race, as advanced as they appear to be, would not develop more advanced space weaponry. Babylon 5 used hand guns but they did not use bullets but phased plasmas gas(ppg) rounds that were just as deadly as bullets but avoided the problems of firing bullets inside spaceships or stations (the danger of compromising the bulkhead resulting in decompression). The Cylons nuked the 12 Colonies (the pilot indicates nuclear but later likely neutron since buildings are left standing)which means they had to manufacture lots of nukes rather than developing a more planetary approach to wiping out humanity.

The 12 Colonies had advanced space technology but still drove cars, jeeps, trucks and used cell phones. It is one thing to understand why Galactica was basic tech (to prevent Cylon hacking into the ship’s computers) but relying on paper? You would think that at least Commander Adama could record his logs or put them on a tablet like device. It saves space since paper records can be bulky and require storage. I applaud Moore for his desire to be realistic and gritty but by downgrading the tech as he did, he made it incongruous. Sort of like having advanced computer tech but still reading by kerosene lamps in your home.

2. The Mystery of Starbuck
Many were understandably upset with Starbuck being predestined by God. Predestination is a religious belief that God has mapped out what he wants to do. Not everything is predestined, just the big stuff so God does not worry about whether you have a pizza or lasagna for dinner. It goes to the heart of the re-imagined series: that the essential elements were part of God’s plan. Not everything but the important stuff. God knew the Cylon’s would nuke the 12 Colonies so he long ago put in motion plans to counter it and guide people to Earth (the 2nd one since the first was nuked in an earlier Cylon war). And Starbuck was part of that plan. It appears she was given visions of how to find the Cylon Earth and later through music to find the new Earth making her more like a prophet. Until she died and was apparently resurrected.

Resurrection used in fantasy or science fiction is to fit a purpose but not fill a plot hole. Gandalf the Grey became Gandalf the White thus more powerful than Saruman. In Starbuck’s case, she really did die as her body was found on Cylon Earth. That is a clear departure from what resurrection usually is. Jesus came out of the tomb, Gandalf was sent back, and John Sheridan was given energy by Lorian in Z’ha’dum to go back and tell what he learned of the Shadow/Vorlon conflict. The point is the body was resurrected. It would have been better to find the viper with no body in it. That would make more sense that God of Galactica decided to bring her back. Instead she really did die so she was not really resurrected in the true sense of its meaning. Which is what shocked Leoben. Adding more problem is what Baltar found: her DNA was on the dog tags from the body on Cylon Earth. She was not a clone but clearly she was re-created by a higher power in a mortal form. She was likely some kind of angel sent back on a mission with her memories but not of what she really was. Some speculate she might have been a Lord of Kobol. That is possible but that means that there is connection between Lords of Kobol and God of Galactica. Perhaps that is the case but for Starbuck, she was just a manifestation of God’s divine plan to fill a plot hole that the writers created for themselves.

3. The Cylon Earth/Colonial Cylon Connection
You have to wonder why those sacred scrolls got it so wrong as to not mention the 13th tribe was Cylon. Everything pointed to them being human, and the Tomb of Athena indicated that they (the 12 Colonies)likely came from Earth. Moore realized that was a mistake but they could not erase or get around it. After all, why would the 13th Tribe look up at the sky and see their twelve brothers if they were not human? More astonishing, if the mythology is correct, is that humans made Cylons (possibly to create life of their own) on Kobol. They rebelled and eventually they left to live in peace on another world. And they left 2,000 years before the exodus of humans from Kobol. So we have a timeline that goes like this:

1. Humans evolved on Kobol and lived in peace with their gods.
2. At some point humans got advanced enough to build mechanical workers.
3. These machines rebelled at being slaves, possibly a war erupts. The Cylons depart and settle on a planet called Earth.
4. 2,000 years later humans are forced to leave Kobol possibly due to a conflict or the degradations of humanity. They are ordered to leave and never return. Athena kills herself over the departure of mankind.
5. Humans settle on the 12 Colonies but whatever technology they had is either purposefully set aside or lost. They start over.
6. Cylon humans on Earth reproduce like humans so resurrection technology becomes obsolete. Like their human counterparts, they appear to be polytheists. At some point they too create mechanical workers apparently forgetting why they left Kobol. Their robots rebel but both sides are wiped out except for Final Five who were warned by messengers. They depart for 12 Colonies to warn them but takes 2,000 years to make the journey.
7. Scientists on 12 Colonies create Cylons and begin using them for all kinds of work, even military. They rebel and war ensues (12 years). The Final Five arrive and agree to help centurions evolve, armistice signed.
8. 40 years later Cylons declare war on humans and destroy 12 Colonies. 50,000 escape with Galactica. Less than 40,000 would survive the journey to new Earth (the 2nd one).

It is abundantly clear there is a force behind what happened on Kobol, Cylon Earth, and 12 Colonies. The helmet found on Cylon Earth is similar to the ones in the 12 Colonies (though different). That indicates there is something manipulating the creation of similar robotic life. Whether it is a fallen Lord of Kobol or something akin to Count Iblis of the original series is unclear. What is clear is that this being is no friend of mankind and wants it to suffer. Perhaps the goddess Eris would be the perfect fit here. She brought about the Trojan War by manipulating her fellow Olympians (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite) and Paris. Moore probably did not want to delve into this so he fashioned the great unconscious where different peoples end up doing the same things because, well, it exists in some perfect form (like Plato’s world of forms). Yet it has to be someone behind it all. If Moore went to the trouble to lay out that God of Galactica is working its divine will, then there is likely a being that opposes God. Call it Lucifer, Satan or Eris, but something is working to constantly make sure the outcome is destruction for mankind and Cylons. Remember the human Cylons were wiped out as well on their Earth. Which means the being behind it is not playing favorites. And considering what we saw of Cavil, had he completely won and all humans had died at some point those Cylons would have been eliminated as well through their own civil war.

Of course it all goes back to Kobol. Whatever really happened there set the stage for this cycle of creation and destruction. A cycle that has to be broken if the human race has any chance at all to survive in the Galactica universe. And since the centurions are out there, it lays the stage for the next human/Cylon conflict. Unless of course they simply came back and wiped out the settlers on Earth. Which would explain why 150,000 years later there is no trace of them ever existing on our Earth.

[Update 12 Mar 2014-A friend commented the God of Galactica reminded him of Q on Star Trek:The Next Generation. Q (played by John De Lancie)was an entity with god like abilities that meddled in human affairs causing problems for Captain Picard. The Q could alter the laws of physics, hurl ships over vast differences, create fantasy situations for humans to live through for their amusement and many other things. If you make them Lords of Kobol, it sort of fits. A group of supremely advanced beings that decide to be like gods to humans. Some Q are benign, others indifferent, and some hostile. Possibly after humans left Kobol they went away to other worlds in the universe and perhaps one or two hang around just to see what the humans are up to. And perhaps enjoy being a deity to humans and causing mischief as well. And when a supreme being says it is beyond good and evil (as Baltar says it is), that is pretty telling clue this God of Galactica is not exactly what many think it is all. And a Q would certainly fit the bill.]


Down Memory Lane:Battlestar Galactica(1978)

image:public domain(Wikimedia)
image:public domain(Wikimedia)

In the rankings of fan favorites for science fiction/fantasy tv there are two main categories: the good and the awful. The rest, as John Kenneth Galbraith notes, fall into that third category of “guilty pleasure.” It is admittedly a subjective category but allows one to express that some shows had something worthy of watching but failed in its delivery. And the original Battlestar Galactica fits into that mode. Derided by many as a rip off of Star Wars (which itself blended elements of many known motifs and the famous Japanese movie The Seven Samurai), it still maintains a loyal following to this day even after the re-imagined series has run its course.

Series creator Glen Larson was a master of timing from all accounts. He had many shows under his belt that were based upon successful movies. Although the seeds of Battlestar Galactica were thought about before George Lucas came along, the popularity of space adventures meant the time was right for something different. And Battlestar Galactica offered to do just that. About the same time there were popular writers arguing that extraterrestrials visited Earth in its distant past leaving their mark in ancient civilizations. His show would combine both a space opera aspect and feed into that theme. The opening credits had this narration to offer up this tease for the audience:

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! (There was a slightly different ending for the movie version .)

With big money behind the effort at ABC and Universal, the show drew good acting talent along with people who worked on Star Wars like John Dykstra (although he would leave the series later due to conflicts about the quality of the episodes). Lorne Greene (of Ponderosa fame) was cast as Commander Adama. Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Dirk Benedict at Lt. Starbuck, Maren Jensen as Adama’s daughter Lt. Athena (a bridge officer), Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh, Lew Ayres as President Adar, Ray Milland as Sire Uri, and John Calicos as the treacherous Count Baltar, and Wilfred Hyde-White as Sire Anton. During the season other famous actors would appear such as Fred Astaire, Bobby Van, Ray Bolger, Randolph Mantooh, Lloyd Bochner, Edward Mulhare, and Patrick Macnee (who played Count Iblis and was the voice of the Imperious Leader along with the opening narration in many episodes). Jonathan Harris lent his voice to the Cylon Lucifer.

Battlestar Galactica (BG)is set in either a distant part of our galaxy or another one (the BG writers were awful about many astronomical terms and their meaning) in a binary star system where twelve planets make up what is called the Twelve Colonies of Man. The names of the colonies are from the Zodiac. They are an advanced spacefaring civilization and descended from a mother civilization called Kobol. Although they speak English, much of their vocabulary is radically different from our own in key ways. For instance centaries instead of hours or yahren instead of years. Terms or names infer a connection to our own mythology (names like Apollo, Athena for instance). The colonies are united in a political union though its exact nature is not clearly defined but has an elected president (in this case President Adar) and the Council of Twelve which are leaders selected by each colony to serve as advisors to the president and possibly head up important areas of government. Commander Adama is the senior Colonial Fleet officer (his exact title is the complicated commander-in-chief instead of Fleet Admiral or Chief Fleet Operations).

The Colonies were at war with Cylons but a peace treaty is about to be signed. The Cylons were a sentient reptilian species that decided to create humanoid robots to serve their needs. Over time these robots became sentient and replaced the original Cylons who are believed to be extinct at this point in time. Their cosmic view of an ordered universe meant humans have no place in it. By extension that would also mean other sentient life might be considered a threat making the Cylons a grave threat to any race they encounter unless they were a more advanced civilization. In a future episode (War of the Gods) we learn that Count Iblis, either a fallen Lord of Kobol or Satan, is behind the Cylons. Which means the Cylons are part of a larger plan in the BG cosmos. The war lasted close to a millennia and President Adar is delighted mankind will at last have peace. Adama is unsure but demurs to Adar. Unfortunately Adama was correct. It turns out to be a ruse. A routine patrol led by his son Captain Apollo and another son Lieutenant Zac find a Cylon tanker and a large Cylon task force. Their discovery prompts the Cylons to attack sooner then intended but it has devastating results. Only Adama’s ship was prepared since he decided to run a battle drill. The other battlestars are unable to launch their fighters and the Cylons are fully prepared to use kamikaze tactics to destroy the battlestars. While this battle is going on, the Cylons move their large ships to attack the colonies directly. All the planets come under attack. We learn in a future episode that Baltar sabotaged the planetary defense platforms. Adama did take Galactica to Caprica but is unable to stop the holocaust that occurs. A lull in fighting allows Adama to collect survivors into whatever transport is available and lead a convoy away from their home system.

220 ships manage to make it with about 50,000 survivors scattered amongst them. They stop at Carillon, which is an old tylium mine, to get supplies and other needed things. However it is now being run by the Ovids (a sentient insect species that runs the resort) and there is a resort where many humans are living it up. They have no idea the colonies have been wiped out. The mine is huge but the official report (d0ne by Baltar’s people) downplayed it. Astonishingly the new Council of Twelve, with the repulsive Sire Uri as member (who was found hoarding food earlier), wants to disarm and live on Carillon! Unfortunately both the Ovids and Cylons get in the way. Turns out the Ovids have cut a deal with the Cylons. The Ovids happen to like how humans taste (literally) so keeping them around for food serves the Cylons nicely. However the Cylons have a small outpost on the planet and when that gets discovered (along with learning the Ovids like to consume humans), a gun battle ignites the tylium in the mine. Meanwhile the Cylons show up and a clever ruse by Apollo and Starbuck forces the Cylon ship closer to the surface where internally it is getting ready to blow. It does taking with it the Cylon fleet and its emperor (called the Imperious Leader) with it.

So where does the fleet go now? Well Adama suggests finding the 13th tribe, which according to scripture, went to a planet called Earth. He does not know its location (unlike the Adama in the re-imagined series that lied that he knew)but believes it is their best hope. And so the Colonials set off on their voyage of discovery and each episode, narrated by Adama ends:

Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest…a shining planet known as Earth.

Meanwhile Baltar is spared (in the theatrical version he is beheaded) setting him up as the main protagonist for the series. In the following episode, he is given a Cylon ship and Lucifer to find Galactica.

Overall the pilot (Saga of a Star World) is not bad. It earned top ratings on television and the theatrical release also did well. Comparisons to Star Wars aside, the show offered something different. A distant but related colony of mankind that lost its home worlds and now seeks Earth as its new home. Their adventure to find Earth offered more opportunities to show their culture and history. Not to mention what they learn on their journey to Earth. So it was a promising start but has it problems. Special effects wise the pilot was well done but later on in the series, those special effects got reduced down to recycled footage to keep costs down. Supposedly the cost per episode was $1 million dollars, which was considerable back in 1978.

One of the big complaints is how the civilian government is always wrong and Adama always right. Critics are right to point this out as a problem. President Adar is a naive in trusting the Cylons and leaving the colonies unprotected by bringing all the battlestars. The new Council of Twelve is always inept and foolish while the military is always right.It  began in the pilot when, after the destruction of their home worlds, the Council of Twelve wants to disarm and live in peace. That is such a nonsensical position to begin with. When the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941, there was no doubt in most people’s minds what needed to be done. Nor in Congress or in the presidency. War was declared and America went to war. It hunkered down, got the resources moving, and went out to challenge the Japanese (and later the Germans). Those that advocated against war were relegated to a corner where they could talk amongst themselves. No one wanted to listen to them.

Critics say the show advocated fascism but I doubt that was in Glen Larson’s mind. Rather this is an example of lazy thinking and not understanding the implications of what the characters were implying. In short, bad script review. Worse was the total misuse of terms like galaxy, sector, quadrant throughout the series. Then there are the cliché driven episodes that really stank. Since they rushed to series, they relied upon using western themes hoping to fill out the schedule. And they really botched it about what happens in space. You can go up, down, right and left. A planet with a huge pulsar cannon can be easily avoided without having to remake, Galactica style, the Guns of Navarone. Since fire cannot burn in space (no oxygen), the episode Fire In Space was a nod to Irwin Allen. And trying to put out a fire with water would be likewise useless (it would freeze). The re-imagined show got that part right by having the affected area vented to space.

The did however manage to produce some stand out episodes that overall still made the series compelling.  Lost Planet of The Gods took us to Kobol, Living Legend found another battlestar and its well known Commander Caine had also survived, War of the Gods introduced Count Iblis and the mysterious beings of light, and Hand of God had Galactica turn around and take on the Cylons and at the same time receive an interesting message that had traveled thousands of yahrens to get there (the moon landing). Some of the lesser episodes were not totally bad like Baltar’s Escape or The Man With Nine Lives in which Chameleon (played by Fred Astaire) might be Starbuck’s father (turns out he was but wanted it kept secret). And the ratings, overall for the entire first season were not totally bad. But ABC cancelled it despite its strong ratings (and some better ideas for a second season) likely because of the cost. And so ended Galactica.

Not quite. Perhaps because they realized they erred or the stars aligned properly, they decided to bring it back. Unfortunately that was Galactica 1980. Larson really lost his mind on this venture taking with it any loyalty of fans with it. The show had Galactica arrive at Earth in our time frame (totally contradicting the original series) and was a total mess. No one who liked BG liked Galactica 1980. It quickly went down in ratings and then a merciful dump into trash bin where such shows as My Mother The Car are tossed into. From that point on, I doubt many BG fans ever trusted Glen Larson again.

The Re-imagined Series
The SciFi(SyFy now)miniseries and series was a wholesale reinvention of the BG story. Ron Moore, who worked on Star Trek:Deep Space Nine was an executive producer with David Eick. Glen Larson is listed as a consulting producer. The show ran from 2004-2009 and received good ratings though they slipped in season three and four. It was received critical acclaim in many places as well. Many in the classical BG community were disappointed it was not either a continuation of the original BG series or a remake of it. The series was darker and more gritty in tone, not unlike Otto Preminger’s excellent 1965 World War II movie In Harm’ s Way. In that movie nearly all the major characters had significant flaws.

In the re-imagined series, there are significant changes. First, the Cylons are a creation of man. They were created as robots to serve them in a variety of tasks and rebelled. Second, the series fleshed out the religion of both humans and Cylons. Humans were polytheists who worship the Lords of Kobol, whose names are chiefly drawn from the Greek pantheon though Egyptian, Roman and even Norse ones appear as well. Cylons were monotheists (worshiping one god). Like the original series the humans are descended from a mother civilization that came from Kobol. Unlike the original series, on Kobol they co-existed with their gods until they had to leave. It is unclear exactly what these Lords of Kobol really were. Were they really deities, a highly advanced race that benevolently tried to help humans, or humans that had become like Bodhisattvas?

This dueling theology (polytheism vs monotheism) made the show interesting along with the conflicts between the military and civilian leaders. We also learn in season 2 where Earth is and, as it was revealed at that time, there could be only explanation for how this information was displayed: that humans had come from Earth setting the whole thing in the future. However that turned out not to be the case at all. By the end of season 4 we learned that the 13th tribe that left Kobol 2,000 years before the departure of the colonials were humanoid Cylons and settled on not-our-Earth. There they learned to procreate naturally without the need of resurrection technology. But alas they also created mechanical robots who rebelled and the resulting war killed everyone leaving that Earth a desolate wasteland for Galactica to find. There were five survivors (the Final Five) who were warned about the destruction, used resurrection technology to save themselves, and set off for the colonies to prevent them from mistaking the same mistake. They got their too late but did end the war and created the new Cylons (Cavil etc). In the finale, after the destruction of the Cylon colony, Starbuck enters the coordinates realizing a song she heard her father play has the information. And then they arrive on Earth II, our Earth it seems. An Earth that already has a tribe of primitive humans genetically compatible with them. The colonials decide to settle, give up all their technology, and start anew. The Cylon centurions are given their freedom to head out into the cosmos and the remaining Cylons decide to stay on Earth. Adama selects areas around the globe for people to settle in. 150,000 years later we see New York City and a man (Ron Moore) reading a news story about the finding of a  mitochondrial Eve, which is Hera Agathon, born of a Cylon mother and a human father. Messenger counterparts of Six and Baltar speculate on whether it will turn out as before but Six thinks they will make it by the law of averages.

The finale was controversial. It not only misused what mitochondrial Eve is, it made it abundantly clear that a supreme being was behind everything from the beginning. In short, none of the characters had any free will. They were living out what this deity wanted, Cylon and human. And only a supreme being make another Earth and make it compatible for the colonials. The colonials desire to somehow make a change never materializes because there is no evidence they ever existed on this Earth. They also gave up everything for a simple basic existence, which defies logic considering how dangerous that is considering the threats they know exist. Aside from diseases they have never dealt with before they would have a hand to mouth existence living on what ever they are able to grow, catch or raise. Another troubling thing is that, if there is a supreme being involved, the same bad thing happens over and over again. It happened on Kobol, on the humanoid Cylon world, and in the Colonies of Kobol. It is like a lab experiment, with only variations on a theme. Either mankind is doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again, or perhaps there is another element that is sort of hinted at. Perhaps there is a fallen Lord of Kobol or Lucifer that exists as well that somehow manages to help muck up what ever this supreme being tries to do.

A mess is what it is and Moore, like Larson, has earned wrath from the fans who may not trust him again. Why Moore choose this route is anyone’s guess. If the original series can be blamed for sloppy writing and poor thinking, one can argue Moore over thought this series. It would be one thing had from the start if a supreme being was calling the shots and have them deal with it by trying to circumvent the design. But that is now it was laid out for most of the series. Babylon 5 had its principal characters challenge the Vorlons and Shadows to stop trying to make the universe in their image. It forced them to leave when they learned none of the younger races would be part of their grand plans. That might have had a chance on this Galactica had it been shown the Lords of Kobol, in competing factions, were behind much of went on.

Final Thought
The possibility of a movie based on the original series is still out there. Glen Larson owns those rights and has indicated a script is being done. And if reports are accurate, will link to the re-imagined series. Since the shows took place in different eras (the re-imagined show thousands of years ago, and BG thousands of years from now)it is possible to link them. It would be interesting to see how that turns out. Till then those of us who enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching the classic BG can do so thanks to it being out on dvd. It is also available on Netflix (dvd and streaming as of this date). Battlestar Galactica was one of those shows that ought to have succeeded. But a combination of bad writing, incoherent thinking, and costs all conspired to ruin a promising show. It had its moments, like all guilty pleasures do.

End Notes
1. For those wanting to delve deeply into classical BG, I highly recommend John Kenneth Muir’s book An Analytical Guide To Television’s Battlestar Galactica(McFarland & Company, 1999). It is available through Amazon in hardcover and paperback editions. Also check your local library as well. Muir gives the series a through examination going through all its good and bad points. John Muir has a website and a blog.

2. There are numerous websites about Battlestar Galactica. But a good place to start is Battlestar Wiki. The site has detailed information about the classic series, the re-imagined series, Caprica, and Blood & Chrome.

3. One of the most well written analysis of the finale was written by Brad Templeton on his blog Brad Ideas. The entry Battlestar’s “Daybreak:” The worst ending in the history of on-screen science fiction goes through all the problems created by Moore’s decision to make it all God’s will and use Hera to fit Mitochondrial Eve.