Battlestar Galactica

Please note: This review follows two previous reports concerning this show. A story published December 3, 2002 reporting on the updated characters for this upcoming BSG miniseries/pilot, while the second story on December 8, 2002 presented what was purported to a mission statement created by this current BSG miniseries’ executive producer Ronald D. Moore, which stated his desire to do “nothing less than the reinvention of the science fiction television series” with this series. If you have not read either report, it is suggested you do before continuing.

Also note this review does contain some foul language, when giving examples from the screenplay, as well as frequent spoilers to the new story.

While I am not the biggest fan of science fiction cinema, I am more than well versed in the language. I understand the main appeal of science fiction is the costumes unlike our own clothing and techno-babble and the sense that these worlds are different from our own. The cinefantastique of science fiction is in its differences to reality. “Tron” would not be as beloved today if the world inside the computer looked exactly like the world outside. “Blade Runner” would not have been a better movie had Ridley Scott and Jordan Cronenweth decided the Los Angeles of 2019 should look like it was filmed in the trenches. “Metropolis” still fascinates and influences after seventy five years because of its bigger than life look and feel. One cannot help, after reading all the evidence firsthand, that Moore knows he is stuck with a limited budget, and thus created his mission statement as a way of saying “I know I’m screwed, so I’m going to take this in a totally different direction to minimize the screwing.”

Sadly, this direction includes vulgarity and sexual situations inappropriate for viewing by children. When science fiction entertainment finally regained a foothold in the American psyche in 1977, it was because of teens and preteens like myself going to see “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters” over and over again. One example I can give of how the fantastical worlds of sci-fi changed one person’s life is an old friend of mine, Patrick Read Johnson, the writer/director of “Spaced Invaders” and the original creator of “Dragonheart,” has spent several years trying to get his screenplay “5/25/77” made into a movie. I have spoken to Patrick on a number of occasions about the story, an “American Graffiti”-ish recounting of his own experiences as a teen concerning his experiences that spring of 1977. It’s a great story that deserves to be made. But looking at Patrick’s CV on his production company’s site shows how much he loves this genre. In an interview with Kenneth Plume on IGN Filmforce, Patrick talks about how seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” when he was six began his lifelong love of movies and science fiction. I myself became a cinephile when I was nine, upon seeing “Star Wars” the first of an estimated three hundred times (my best friend in 1977 had a bootleg copy of “Star Wars” on VHS when VCRs were still a playtoy for the very rich, and we watched that movie every day after school for six months straight). The point I’m trying to make, rather unsuccessfully, is that it was the youth of the last generation who were the key to the success of sci-fi in the 70s, and it is this demographic along with their children today who will be the ones to make this show pass or fail. I know that as soon as some families hear that first “asshole” reference during the second act of the first night of the miniseries, their TVs will be switching to something else. That is, if they make it past the first hot sex scene that practically begins Act One.

Those in the Armed Forces will also be turned off by the complete lack of military protocol within the crew. One like myself, who served in Naval ROTC in my youth, whose father served in the Navy in Vietnam and had both grandfathers serve in World War II, one in the American Navy and the other in the Royal Air Force, would wonder how much research went into how the military functions when the script was written. Most glaring is a scene in ready room in which the ship’s XO and Starbuck beat the crap out of each other over a card game for no good reason other than to create “tension” for later scenes, actions which are summarily dismissed by the Commander without even an inquiry into the incident. A commander who also allows his XO to call him “dumb” and a “sonuvabitch” to his face. For someone who almost was a Navy man himself, one might think the author Mr. Moore would have some kind of understand of how the military works. Perhaps Lee Ermey or some other military advisor will be able to go through the script and correct this and other incidents that show disrespect to our armed forces and the principles for which they stand for.

The Story

In a nutshell, the story is basically the same as the three part opener of the 1979 series. The artificial Cylon race begins an unprovoked attack against a peace loving human colony. Most of humanity is wiped out, and a ragtag group of survivors lead by Galactica, the only surviving Battlestar, tries to find a new world to begin civilization anew. The commander of the Galactica is named Adama, and the human who betrayed his people to the Cylons is still named Baltar. And that is pretty where the similarities end.

The new series opens on an Armistice Station, where we quickly see over the course of forty years a Lieutenant rise in ranks to Colonel, as he awaits the arrival of his Cylon counterpart. It is explained over superimposed titles that the Cylons were created by mankind, first as simple robot toys for the rich, then as workers for dangerous mining work, and eventually to warriors when the Twelve Colonies of Kobol decide to declare war on each other. We learn that, during the wars, the Cylon Warriors turned on their creators, which rallied the colonies together to eventually force an armistice and send the Cylons packing for their own world. It was the job of this Lieutenant turned Colonel to visit the Armistice Station every month, which served to maintain diplomatic relations with the Cylons, who never showed once in forty years. Finally, upon one visit, two Cylon Warriors enter with a woman “in her twenties, with long flowing raven-black hair, drop-dead looks and a perfect body,” who seduces the Colonel by slipping her hands into his pants, before the Station explodes with all aboard.

Back on Galactica, life continues as is. Hotshot pilot Kara Thrace, known by the call name Starbuck, jogs around the passageways of the ship in standard fitness fare of jogging bra, shorts and running shoes. She often has to dodge groups of civilians as she makes her morning rounds, as this day is no normal day for Galactica. Today is the day this first Battlestar ship for the colonies is being decommissioned and turned into a living museum. As Commander Adama takes a walk around his ship, we follow a variety of characters doing their final day of work before being sent to other commissions. In one repair bay, Adama comes face to face with his Viper Fighter from many years ago (virtually identical to the vipers from the old show, the script notes), salvaged from a junk yard outside the capital city of Caprica, the stencil of his old rank and callname still visible just below the canopy. His crew has restored the old machine and wishes to see the Viper participate in the day’s ceremonies.

As the moment to decommission comes closer, we are introduced to various characters who will form the core of the show:

  • Captain Lee Adama, call name Apollo. The son of Commander William Adama (whose own call name was Husker), still angry at his father after all these years, who blames his father for the death of his younger brother Zak. Lee has chosen to be stationed far away from his father…
  • Lieutenant Sharon Valerii, call name Boomer. Sharon is in her early twenties, recently graduated from flight school and still a little less sure than most pilots…
  • Laura Roslin, who begins the series as the Minister of Education just informed of her having breast cancer, and ends up being the President of what’s left of the human colonies after the Cylon genocide despite her being forty-third in line of succession…
  • Gaius Baltar, a doctor in his mid forties. He has won three Magnate Prizes for his controversial views on advanced computer technology. He is disliked by the conservatives of the colonies as much as his is a cult figure for free thinkers at college campuses…
  • Colonel Tigh, the Galactica’s XO. The first time we meet Tigh is during Kara’s morning jog around the ship, in which we see the after effects of a night of heavy drinking. Tigh drinks because he knows his wife is sleeping with half the population of Geminon while he’s on active duty…
  • Number Six, a sexy humanoid Cylon, who looks exactly like the woman aboard the exploded Armistice Station at the start of Act One. She is Baltar’s sex toy, the one who sets in motion the chain of events which will lead to the destruction of the human race…

After the Galactica has jettisoned and destroyed its weapon coils, the decommissioning ceremony continues as planned, until the Cylon attack begins. While some Cylon forces engage Galactica, the force of the attack occurs near Caprica City, which is almost instantaneously destroyed by a fifty megaton thermonuclear device. This sequence takes all of one script page, almost as an afterthought just before a commercial break. More time is spent on a chase sequence between some Cylon warrior ships and the transport ship taking Laura back to Caprica City, who are initially unaware the city has been decimated. However, this is part of the first well written section of the screenplay, the fight between the Cylons and the Galactica crew and guests. Colonel Tigh is forced to make some tough decisions when one section of the Galactica threatens to collapse due to decompression, and Boomer and her co-pilot are forced to make some tough choices when they come across a group of survivors outside Caprica City (including Baltar) when they are forced to make an emergency landing during a battle. Realizing he cannot effectively fight off the Cylon armada without new weapon coils, Adama orders whatever ships in the immediate area to Jump (faster that light, or FTL, travel) to an abandoned station orbiting Ragnar which may have coils in storage. The first night ends with the appearance that Lee and the people he’s been protecting, including the new President, have perished in a nuclear blast.

After a quick recap of night one, night two begins right there on the Galactica, which was in the process of preparing for its Jump to Ragnar. Adama is in mild shock over losing his remaining son, and Tigh continues directing the crew. Meanwhile, Lee and his group are still alive, the mock blast being nothing more than his putting out a big pulse of energy that looks like a nuclear explosion by double-banking the soliton wave generated by a faster-than-light drive. (Finally, some of that hated technobabble!) But fuel is low, and not every ship is equipped with the FTL engines necessary to make the Jump to Ragnar. Lee and Laura argue about the rest way to get whatever survivors there are off the substandard ships and onto the FTL capable ships before another Cylon attack begins.

Galactica makes the Jump to Ragnar, were Adama and the crew come across a space scavenger named Leoben when they board the abandoned station. Leoben has loaded some coils onto his ship, but an accident while unloading the coils blocks Adama and Leoben from the rest of the crew, forcing these two to go the long way around the station in order to make it back to Galactica.

On Sharon’s transport fighter, Baltar discovers that Number Six was a Cylon all along, and through her manipulation of Baltar, she was able to render a navigational program he created for all human ships to be disabled by a certain code wave emitted from Cylon fighter ships. He also discovers that she implanted a silica chip inside his head, so she can manipulate him from anywhere, while he sees (and sometimes, feels) her right in front of him.

Sharon rejoins Lee and that group of survivors above Caprica, bringing a tanker ship with her full “to the brim” with fuel. This is where the second well written section of the screenplay begins. Another wave of Cylon attacks begin on the group of human ships, and one group of survivors is forced to leave others behind before the evacuation is complete. President Roslin can only listen to the pleas of various helpless pilots as the transport ship she is on and others with FTL capabilities make their jump, as those ships are destroyed by the advancing Cylon warships.

With the remaining survivors orbiting above Ragnar, Adama discovers Leoben is really a Cylon. They have a huge brawl in the weightless area of the station called “Transitional Space,” where Adama is victorious after a fierce battle. Baltar has another visit from Number Six, where he realizes he cannot readily share what information he knows without exposing himself as a unwitting traitor… all while getting a cyberific (but offscreen) handjob from the beautiful robot in his head, who also informs him there is at least one Cylon onboard Galactica. Baltar does figure out one way he can help, after the autopsy performed by ship’s doctor on Leoben shows unique chemical compounds in the skin to be synthetic of nature. Baltar takes random hair samples from people in and around the ship and subjects the samples to, in his words, “a new form of spectral-analysis I’ve been experimenting with and then wrote a computer subroutine to screen for synthetic chemical combinations.” (Yes! More of that damned techno-speak!) One sample test reveals Doral, one of the ship’s personnel, to potentially be Cylon. Adama and Laura have one more meeting, where he fights to go back on the defense while she argues they should run and find a new place to resume a civilization.

While on patrol around Ragnar, Kara comes across 10 groups of advancing Cylon fighter squadron. Adama decides it is probably best to Jump to a location far away and to begin again. He chooses the Prolmar Sector, thirty light years away, and begins the preparations to not only jump all the ships to the same coordinates, but send out a group of Viper Fighters to protect the smaller ships until they have all Jumped. A big battle ensues, and if you can’t guess the outcome, you haven’t really been paying attention. However, there is a twist at the end that will shock and anger longtime BSG fans even more than they already are now.

But honestly, is it really that big a deal that Starbuck and Boomer have changed genders? Not really. There is little chance any male actor could match the bravado of Dirk Benedict in the original series, so making the character female could be an interesting choice. However, there is nothing specifically feminine about the new Starbuck, so there is really no reason to make the character female either. Boomer does show some maternalistic qualities when she picks up young Boxey as one of the survivors of the destruction of Caprica City, but any female character could have shown the same instincts. If there aren’t any compelling reasons to make a change, that change shouldn’t be made.

In the end, this could be a good new show… provided there was some intense rewriting and the removal of any remaining evidence of Galactica. Galactica fans have kept the faith alive for almost a quarter century, and they do deserve better than this. As I stated before, I don’t know what happened with previous attempts to mount a Galactica, by original series Richard Hatch or the “X-Men” team of Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer or why either of those failed to happen, but this is a step in the wrong direction. I give the screenplay a C- for effort and a C for execution.

This is not to say that Moore is not a good writer. I happened to have also received a copy of the pilot screenplay for his upcoming Depression-era drama “Carnivale,” which I will be reviewing soon and will be getting positive marks from me, as that show looks to have much potential for the future. But the Galactica fans are right on this fight. This story is not worthy of the name “Battlestar Galactica.”

Rating: C