Battlestar Galactica and Battlestar Galactica (2003)


Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)
Battlestar Galactica (2003-2010)
Type: Revival

   Restarting a TV show franchise you have two ways to go. You can continue the same story from the first go round or you can do a total reboot where you start the show over from scratch with the same basic premise but reworked and as a part of a whole new continuity. Usually continuing the old is the way to go. Full on reboots rarely improve on the original and usually even the best of changes tend to annoy and alienate the fans of the original show. Not a good way to start off.

   Battlestar Galactica flip all those ideas on their head. The first time the series returned from the dead with Battlestar 1980 it did the "continue the old story" thing and it stank up the joint. Then in 2003 the franchise came back the other way with a full on radical reboot on continuity and... damn if it didn't kick ass.

   Okay. Base story for both shows. In a galaxy far far away 12 colonies (planets) of humanity are at constant war with a robot race called the Cylons. Attempts to make peace? Not working so good. In the original the Cylons make a bogus play for peace as a feint in a final genocidal attack on mankind. In the reboot mankind has set up a space station for men and Cylons to meet at in peace. The Cylons never show up. Well, until the day they show up to blow up EVERYTHING and kill all of mankind.

   Then on both shows the last remnants of mankind take off in a "ragtag fugitive fleet" , fleeing the Cylons as they try to find the legendary final colony of mankind. A final group of humanity supposedly took off to colonize a planet know as... Earth!!! Cue dramatic stinger music!!!

   Beyond those basic plot points and the same basic characters, everything else about the two shows is quite different.

   The original show took its cue from space operas like Star Wars. Lots of action. Good guys who were true blue or swaggering bad boys with hearts of gold. Bad guys who all but wore a black hat as they played out their nefarious plans. In the original, mankind was sold out to the Cylons by Baltar. Baltar willingly tricked humankind into a crap peace treaty, knowing everyone would be killed or enslaved, thinking he'd get to have a position of power over some of mankind. Yeah, good deal genius. Never occurred to him maybe the more evil Cylons might screw him on that deal. On the good guy side you had Commander Adama who was in charge of the final space battleship the Battlestar Galactica. His second in command was the competent if under written second in command Colonel Tigh. His son, Apollo was a brave "true blue" space pilot. His best friend was another brave "bad boy with a heart of gold" pilot named Starbuck. Week to week they would travel in search of the elusive planet Earth but make no real progress since if they found Earth the show would end. Or worse it would morph into Battlestar 1980.

   Some other points about the original series. First, the military leaders like Adama? The good guys. Politicians and other leaders of humanity always ended up being greedy or stupid. Leading mankind to near extinction, looking for an easy fix, living large while others starved. Also, the show had a very Egyptian theme. The pilot's helmets looked like Egyptian headdress, the fighters were called vipers...

   Anyway, the show wasn't Shakespeare but it was good swashbuckling sci-fi fun full of heroes, villains and weird aliens. It got canceled which upset the fans. Then it was reborn as Battlestar 1980 and the fans said, "Hey, can we go back to that being canceled thing? Because... damn that's bad." That was quickly canceled and for decades all fans had were a handful of new books and comics to get their fix from. The original Apollo, Richard Hatch (not the fat naked guy from Survivor) tried to get the franchise revived as a film with no real luck.

   Cut to 2003. Battlestar Galactica returns on The Sci Fi Channel as a two part miniseries that rebooted the whole story. The truth? Lets be real. Like I said, reboots rarely work. It was a gamble. A cable outfit can't afford to waste the big money required for a whole series on a show that might tank. So what do you do? You make a pilot that can serve as a standalone "event". If it works, you're golden and you make it a series. If it sucks? Well, you got a standalone event out of it. And even if it stinks you'd likely get enough viewers tuning in out of curiosity to score some decent numbers. As it turned out things went really well and so the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries spawned a full blown TV series.

   Like I said, the new show took a very different approach. If the original took its cues from Star Wars, the new one took its cue from shows like The West Wing. Serious real world dramas. It also turned the show into a more directly allegory for the times we live in, playing off the tragic tones of a post 9/11 world and a country at war.

   In this series a man named Baltar also caused humanity's ruin. But in this case Baltar wasn't a power mad fool who sold humanity out on purpose. This Baltar - Dr. Gauis Baltar - was an arrogant and foolish genius who worked for with the defense department. Turns out in this series the Cylons had disappeared for years and, in that time, had upgraded themselves to the point where some Cylons actually looked like humans. Turns out Baltar's assistant, who he was having an affair with and who he gave access to the defense mainframes? Yeah... she was a Cylon.

   The Cylons trucked on in and nuked everybody. And since they are living computers, they easily hacked in and shut down any networked computers and ships. Humanity knew from the last war that this was possible but the Cylons went away for so long it seemed they wouldn't come back. The only ships not affected? The oooold ones where networking was not allowed. Like The Battlestar Galactica. When the Cylons attacked it was on its way to literally becoming a museum. Instead it became humanity's last hope. Adama was still the commander. His second on command was still General Tigh. Only this Tigh was more fleshed out. Sadly that fleshing out involved him being an alcoholic with issues of self loathing and self doubt. Well... bad for the folks on the show, good for us folks tuning in for the drama. It should be said that Tigh was also very well intentioned and brave, Just also a loud drunk.

   Again, Adama's son was a hot shot pilot. In this version his name was Lee (Apollo was now his call sign). Apollo and his dad were not on the same page as they were on the original. They rarely agreed on how anything should be done and gad a strained although loving relationship. This Apollo was true blue in that he stuck to his principals but sometimes that meant disobeying military orders to the point of treason, if the reasons were justified.

   Starbuck was still bad with a heart of gold. Only now Starbuck was a bad girl. Despite the sex change, Starbuck was still Starbuck: drinking, gambling, enjoying the more carnal of pleasures when possible. Only this Starbuck's swaggering hid deeper pain. In that respect they tied in another plot element from the original show through her. On the original show Adama had a second son named Zac. Zac was a pilot and was killed in the initial Cylon attack. On the new show Starbuck had been engaged to Zac. Well before the Cylons returned, Zac was in pilot training, Starbuck was his girlfriend AND his flight instructor. She saw that Zac was a bad pilot but gave him a pass because she loved him. As a result, Zac crashed and died due to his own incompetence.

   Oh yeah. Baltar? He was one of the survivors. And no one was aware of the role he played in mankind's destruction. And his Cylon girlfriend? She kept appearing to him as a "phantom" only he could see and hear. But it became clear that she was no delusion. Where the original Baltar was a more black hatted outsider, this Baltar was more complicated. He wasn't a bad guy chasing the Galactica for the Cylons and so utterly removed from all the other characters, This Baltar was IN the fleet. He could play off of all the characters. He also wasn't a cut and dried villain. He was a weasel out for himself but he was also conflicted and torn. He was out for himself but not out to kill everyone. And he had a Cylon in his head seducing him, again literally, into things he might not do otherwise.

   As you can see, the newer show is harder to sum up quickly. I continue...

   Like I said, on the original show all leaders who were not military leaders were idiots. The new show sort of used that prejudice as a starting off point for its take on political leaders. With the colonies nuked and The President dead, it fell to the line of succession to determine the new President. Well, the highest ranking official who was not on planet and so survived the attack was Laura Roslin, The Secretary of Education. She had been on Galactica for its decommissioning ceremonies. The Secretary of Education taking over as the President made her seem like she would be an idiot. Only she wasn't. Thrown into the deep end of the pool she did quite well even as she also battled cancer. Like I said, this isn't your daddy's Battlestar. Adama and The President would butt heads but unlike the original series, who was right and who was wrong was almost never cut and dried.

   There was one other major character from the old show who appeared on the new one that needs mentioning: Boomer. On the original series Boomer was a black, male pilot. He was a second tier character who was a good guy. On the new series Boomer went through some major modifications. By comparison the changes to Starbuck were nothing. On the new show, Boomer was an Asian woman. She also was on equal footing with characters like Apollo and Starbuck in terms of importance. Heck, you might say she was more important. Because there was one more major difference with the new Boomer. She was actually a Cylon. She didn't even seem to know it. It seemed they built a false personality over her Cylon one. 90% of the time she'd be all good. Then she'd have a blackout, wake up and discover she'd blown up the ships water tanks. I should also mention that the Cylons only created a handful of human model Cylons but for each they made oodles of copies. So while the primary Boomer was on Galactica, another Boomer was back on Caprica (one of the home worlds) playing some sort of game with Boomer's flight partner who had been left behind.

   And as to that whole "finding Earth" thing? On the original Adama really was questing for Earth. On the new version Adama threw out the idea of finding Earth simply go give people something to believe in. He didn't actually believe Earth was anything more than a myth.

   Wow. That's just the character and plot stuff. I also have to mention things like how the new show handled the culture of the characters. In the original show they went out of their way to make things "alien" and different. The mode of dress was different. The governing system was different. They would throw in spacey lingo and things just to be different. And it always kinda got in the way. The new show kept some of this stuff but jettisoned a lot of it. Right off the bat, surprisingly for a sci-fi show, they jettisoned the actual aliens! Humans, Cylons (who man created) and that is it.

   As to costuming, people on the new Galactica dressed like we dress. Suits and ties, regular clothes you might expect to find for sale in the real world. Setting aside the military clothes I think the cast could mostly get away with wearing their clothes home after work. And even the military clothes were less "spacey".

   They kept some of the other cultural stuff from the old show but found ways to make those seem more Earth-like as well. When they would play cards on the original show it always seemed like some insane made up card game. On the new show it just feels like poker. Likewise the original show had a made up professional sport called pyramid. Every sci-fi show ends up making up some goofy sport. They never feel real because it's always played in some wacky game space that looks like a cheesy set and you never feel like you are actually watching real athletes playing a real sport with real rules. When the new Battlestar reintroduced pyramid in season 2, they did it by having two characters essentially playing a one on one schoolyard game of pyramid on a hand made court. And it looked like they were ACTUALLY playing. Do I know the rules? Nope. But they were actually sweating, actually tackling each other and getting dirty. It felt real.

   In terms of spacey dialogue, most all of the "space" words were gone. The main one that they kept was the expletive "frack". And they put that to use big time. On the original show you pretty much only heard the word used as "frack". The equivalent to "dang!" On the new show frack seemed more like another "f" word. Instead of just "frack" you got all sorts of variants: frack, fracking, mother fracking, fracked up, frackitty frack (don't talk back). Okay... maybe not that last one.

   And now to end on the biggie. Religion. On the old show there was religion and it was important. But it was also... science fictioned up in a sorta standard way. First off, the humans had a religion featuring multiple Gods. This basically came out in ways like characters saying, "By the Gods!" instead of, "Oh my God!" The main reason for this also seemed simply to be that they were going for an ancient Egypt motif and the Egyptians had multiple gods. The fleet would also encounter beings that seemed like angels or demons but it would always be couched in a way where the point seemed to be, "Maybe angels and demons aren't mystical but other races of some sort."

   The new show got way more radical with the religion. The humans were still polytheistic but not simply as a shout out to ancient Egypt. See, on the new show, the Cylons got religion too. Only their religious system? Monotheistic. One God. Do ya see where this makes things funkier? The whole show is hitting all sorts of issues and concerns we have today about war and terrorism, on our worries about people with "weird" religions that aren't like ours. Well, on the new show, the good guys have the multiple god religion the majority of viewers would view as "weird" where the bad guys have the more Christian like single god thing going on. Not claiming there is any deep metaphor going on but merely another element to throw viewers off their footing so they will have to think about what they are watching. Making some Cylons look human adds to putting the viewer off balance. They might look human but they are toasters without feelings. They look human but they are actually subhuman so its okay to just kill... errr... destroy them. Can't "kill" something that's not really alive. It gets into that area of people viewing other humans as less than human for whatever reason. And by making them monotheistic... well that confuses things.

   I don't think there is any deep agenda being pushed. I have seen folks posting about this show where one guys says the show is pro-military. That it's all about dashing civil rights in favor of destroying terrorism. Then I see someone else saying the show is anti-military. Then someone says the show is all about being touchy feely emotional about evil terrorists and someone else says its all about the exact opposite of that! The thing is, I think the truth is the show isn't trying to espouse ANY of those agendas. I think the point of the show from the start has been, first, to entertain and, second, to prompt the very dialogue and debate these people are having!

   I can't remember the original Galactica spurring any debate other than how best to destroy the chimp powered robot dog. I vote for a straight forward, "Crushed by a boulder on an alien world."

   Oh yeah. One last post script just to hit the few other "connections" just so I don't get the "you forgot" emails. The initial mini-series featured several shout outs to the original show. The museum on Galactica included many artifacts from the last contact with the Cylons. These included Cylon Centurians and models of the Cylon Base Stars taken right from the original show. They also threw in the original theme music when some of the fighters did a flight performance for those there for the Galactica's retirement. Biggest of all, Richard Hatch, the original Apollo and the man who worked so hard to revive the show was given a juicy recurring role on the new show. He played Tom Zarek, a Nelson Mandella-ish political activist. Only he was different from Mandella in a very important way: he was out for himself and his own wants and beliefs to the point of kinda being a scary ass. So the greatest guy and the worst jerk in one package. Hello? that has to be the juiciest role Hatch has EVER had. And damn if he isn't really good.

Other Battlestar Galactica Crossover Links
Battlestar Galactica and Battlestar 1980

Other Battlestar Galactica (2003) Crossover Links
Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Caprica
Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Firefly

Click here to return to main Crossover List

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