Battlestar Galactica 1978 & 2004
In 1978 American Broadcasting Company (ABC) attempted to cash in on the “Star Wars” popularity with the science fiction action series “Battlestar Galactica”. The film’s premise was based on Erich von Daniken’s conjecture that aliens visited Earth in ancient times and that is why some ancient civilizations were advanced for their day. It was a big budget series with sophisticated special effects. In 2004 the Sci Fi[i] network launched a reboot of “Battlestar Galactica”. The reboot is much darker than the original and not geared for children. This article contains spoilers.
[i] The network name has since changed to SyFy.
Battlestar Galactica 1978
In 1978 science fiction was not popular with women. ABC attempted to address this by putting women in significant roles. One of those roles was Lieutenant Athena (Maren Jensen). Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh and Herbert Jefferson Jr. as Lieutenant Boomer made the cast racially diverse. To keep the attention of the traditional audience for science fiction shows there was 8-year-old Noah Hathaway as Boxey. Boxey was given a mechanical dog[i].
The first episode, “Saga of a Star World”, was a three-hour special. It premiered on September 17, 1978. It was the night of the Emmy Awards so the competition was expected to be less than usual for a Sunday night. The ratings were good but many critics dismissed the series as a “Star Wars rip off”. The premier was later edited and given a theatrical release.
The back story is the Humans have been at war with the Cylons for 1,000 years. The Cylons were a race of beings who saw the evolutionary advantage of two arms and two legs. They developed robots with these features. The Cylons became extinct but their robots continued. The Cylons and Humans signed a peace treaty. Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) opposed the treaty because he didn’t trust the Cylons. The Humans were planning a big peace celebration. The Cylons launched a surprise attack. The battlestar[ii] Galactica was the only battlestar to survive the battle. The surprise attack’s success was partly due to Human traitor Count Baltzar (John Colicos). He is depicted as receiving two fatal stab wounds after the Cylons felt they had no further use for him.
With the Human defenses smashed Commander Adama decided the only option was to gather as many civilian space worthy ships, and as many civilians as possible, and set out for Earth. In ancient times a tribe of humans set out for the planet Earth. It was hoped this Earth colony, wherever it was, would be advanced enough to ward off the Cylons. Most of the humans had to be left behind and face extermination.
The survivors included Boxey’s mother, Serina (Jane Seymour), and Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang), a “socialator”[iii]. Technically it was considered an honorable profession, although many people didn’t think so. Serina immediately became a love interest for fighter pilot, and Adama’s son, Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch). Lieutenant Starbuck, Apollo’s wing pilot and best friend, was a hot shot pilot who liked, cigars, “ambrose”[iv], and playing cards. Starbuck was dating Athena, Apollo’s brother[v], but that didn’t stop him from dating Cassiopeia. The love relationships were “G” rated. Laurette Spang received a lot of favorable fan mail which insured Cassiopeia would be seen more in the series. There was no further mention of Cassiopeia being a former socialator.
“Saga of a Star World” included alien beings. It ended with a major battle that ended with a planet’s destruction. Count Baltar recovered from his wounds and the new Cylon Imperious Leader (Dick Durock with voice of Patrick Macnee) claimed a more lenient policy towards humans. Lucifer (Felix Silla with voice of Jonathan Harris) was made Count Baltar’s second in command. Lucifer, though a robot, had some human emotions such as ambition and jealousy.
The next episode was the two-part episode “Lost Planet of the Gods”. In this episode Serina becomes a transport pilot. Apollo considered it too dangerous. Many transport pilots were killed during the Cylon’s surprise attack. Serina pointed the Cylons killed many civilians in the attack and no one was safe. The transport pilots were women. When all the fighter pilots, except for Apollo and Starbuck, came down with a contagious disease the shuttle pilots had to fill in the breach. Apollo and Starbuck trained the women. They had to make an attack on a small Cylon outpost. Apollo, Starbuck, and the women pilots took out the outpost. Later, they have to deal with a larger Cylon force. In the nick of time the doctor came up with a cure for the disease. The experienced fighter pilots were still recovering when they suited up to join the fight. Colonel Thigh said to Lieutenant Boomer, “Lieutenant, obviously you can’t even stand.” Boomer retorted, “A Viper[vi] is flown from the seated position, sir.” The Colonial fighters easily defeated the Cylons. Apollo and Serina married. As in many television shows, the marriage was soon followed by Serina’s untimely demise. Serina being killed off came as a blow to many fans.
In the two-part episode “The Living Legend” the Battlestar Pegasus, believed to have been lost years earlier, meets Galactica. The legendary Commander Cain (Lloyd Bridges) commands the Pegasus. Cain’s daughter Lieutenant Sheba (Anne Lockhart) is a fighter pilot. Commander Adama views the addition of the Pegasus as a way for the fleet to better defend itself. Commander Cain believes with the Galactica he can switch from hit and run raids to a major offensive against the Cylons. He uses trickery to force Adama’s hand. The episode ends with the Pegasus taking out two of the Cylon base stars[vii]. It is strongly implied the Pegasus was destroyed but the window was left open for a possible Pegasus return. Lieutenant Sheba survived the battle. This left the door open for a possible love interest for Captain Apollo.
Throughout the series it was unknown if they would find the Earth in the past, present, or future. In “The Hand of God” Apollo picks up what he and Starbuck considered routine transmissions between Earth spacecraft. Unknown to them the transmissions were of the Apollo 11 mission. The transmissions’ age was undetermined.
The show lacked the enthusiasm from the younger audience members. The Nielsen Ratings were such that a show might or might not be canceled. The fact the series didn’t do well with women and it had a large budget caused ABC to cancel the series after 1 season.
ABC tried the spin off series “Galacticia 1980”. This series was unpopular and was canceled after half a season. The last episode in this series “The Return of Starbuck” was a popular episode and a cut above the other episodes in the series.
[i] A dog was called a “dagget”. The characters spoke English but some nouns, especially measurements, were made up.
[ii] A “battlestar” was a spaceship that can be described as a cross between a battleship and an aircraft carrier.
[iii] “Socialator” was a made-up term for a sex worker. Another made up term was “Felgercarb”, which meant “shazbot” in Mork from Ork’s language.
[iv] “Ambrose” was a made-up term for an alcoholic beverage.
[v] In Greek Mythology there were many family relationships between the gods.
[vi] The fighters used by Colonial pilots were named “Vipers”.
[vii] The equivalent of a Colonial battlestar.
Battlestar Galactica 2004
In a promotion special for the series it was pointed out Galactica 1980 was not part of the canon. One element retained from the Galactica 1980 series was the concept of Cylons that look human. The 2004 series retained many of the names of the characters from the original series. The characters were different in many ways from those in the original series.
The back story was humans created the Cylons. The Cylons rebelled. The Cylons developed new technologies. This included a series of Cylons that were programed humans. These Cylons would pass as human in a normal medical exam. Some were aware of what they were. Other human Cylons were sleeper agents. They didn’t know they were Cylons until their program was activated. The humans were unaware of the human Cylons. When one of these Cylons is destroyed their memory is automatically downloaded into another body in their series.
Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is a hedonist. One of the women he is having and affair with is a Cylon of the number six series (Tricia Halfer). Dr. Gaius Baltar unwittingly supplied the Cylons with the information they needed to neutralize the Colonial defense system. This enabled the Cylons to take over the Human home world, Caprica, in a surprise attack.
Battlestar Galactica survived the attack because it wasn’t networked into the Colonial defense network. Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) was in command of the Galactica. He is a firm leader. He is not on good terms with his son, Captain Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), call sign ‘Apollo’. Lee blames his father for his brother’s death.
Lieutenant Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), call sign ‘Starbuck’, is an expert pilot. She is a hard drinker with a crude mouth. She is also insubordinate. She views Colonel Saul Thigh (Michael Hogan) as an incompetent drunk. It’s well known Thigh’s spouse, Ellen (Kate Vernon), is a flirt and Starbuck hints at Ellen’s behavior to anger Colonel Thigh.
Lieutenant Sharon Valerii, call sign ‘Boomer’, is a good pilot and a loyal member of the Galactica crew. She is unaware she is a Cylon (number 8 series). The number 8 series Cylons are quirky, but they will obey their orders. Boomer obeyed her orders.
With Caprica devastated and Galactica the only surviving ship in the fleet, the only option was for the Galactica to leave with civilian ships that had a “Faster Then Light” (FTL) capability. The highest government official to survive the attack was Secretary of Education Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell). She was sworn in as president.
This meant a “school teacher” was in charge as the human race was in danger of extermination. Civilians were completely dependent on the military. The military had the capability to ignore civilian authority and declare martial law. Colonel Thigh declared martial law once.
Dr. Baltar survived the attack. His number six’s body was destroyed. Throughout the series Dr. Baltar would see and converse with this number six. Sometimes it was in the presence of others who couldn’t see or hear her. Was the number six a figment of Dr. Baltar’s imagination or something more. Later in the series it was shown the reincarnated number six also had a Dr. Baltar who would speak to her.
The protagonist characters made many questionable decisions. These included decisions related to the survival of the human race and moral decisions. Some protagonists became antagonists and some antagonists became protagonists. President Roslin believed from reading holy scriptures she was destined to lead the people to Earth. Commander Adama falsely claimed the commander of each battlestar was entrusted with the route to Earth. Commander Adama and President Roslin had reputations for being honest and truthful. They strayed from those standards.
The Battlestar Pegasus, commanded by Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), and the Galactica found each other and linked up. Admiral Cain, as senior officer, took immediate command of the Colonial forces. She studied the Galactica’s log and used incidents to highlight the deficiencies of Commander Adama and the Galactica crew. The Pegasus initially had a fleet of civilian ships. Admiral Cain cannibalized these ships of parts and passengers and crew it considered useful. Admiral Cain left the other passengers and crew stranded without FTL capability.
The Pegasus had a number six in custody. She was brutalized by the Pegasus crew. Dr. Baltar found this number six in a catatonic state when he arrived to question her. He immediately felt sympathy for her. This annoyed the aberration number six. It especially annoyed the aberration number six when Dr. Baltar used the aberration number six’s words to help the Pegasus number six. The back story is the Pegasus number six used her sensuality on Admiral Cain. How much did the disdain the aberration number six showed for the Pegasus number six have to do with jealousy? How much did the hatred Admiral Cain had for the Pegasus number six have to do with personal betrayal? These are open questions? Often in the series characters, human and Cylon, let their emotions get the better of them.
The conflict between Admiral Cain and Commander Adama quickly escalate. President Roslin tells Commander Adama Admiral Cain was eventually going to kill him unless he killed her first. Commander Adama and Admiral Cain send people out kill the other. They each call off the assassination at the last minute. Meanwhile, Dr. Baltar helps number six escape and number six got her revenge on Admiral Cain.
Laura Roslin was president for most of the series. One episode revolved around a woman who wanted an abortion. Abortion was against the woman’s tribe’s understanding of scripture. Roslin is pro-choice. Roslin learns from Dr. Baltar the current demographics were that humans would be extinct in 18 years. After the woman has her abortion President Roslin signs an executive order that made abortion illegal. Dr. Baltar uses this as a pretext to announce his candidacy for president. He points out Cylons just obey their programming. Humans have rights and for every right given up humans become more like Cylons. Dr. Baltar enlists the aid of Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch[i]), an experienced politician. President Roslin decisively won the first debate. Zarek advises Dr. Baltar to keep hitting President Roslin on the religion issue. People were growing weary of President Roslin basing what the fleet should do based on religious texts. Dr. Baltar points out while people might not like her following her religious beliefs people were unlikely to vote for an atheist who disparages their religion.
A chance discovery of a habitable planet gave Dr. Baltar a significant issue. The voters had the choice of settling of on planet that was positioned so it would be unlikely the Cylons would find it or continuing with Roslin’s quest for Earth. President Roslin, with help from the military, rigged the election. She believed, without evidence, Dr. Baltar was working for the Cylons. Zarek points out the election had to be rigged but Dr. Baltar believes Roslin an honest woman. Admiral Adama[ii] was unaware of the election rigging. When he learns of the rigging, he confronts Roslin who admitted she rigged the election. Adama talks her into conceding the election. Dr. Baltar said he would have an investigation when Admiral Adama told Dr. Baltar of his election victory. Admiral Adama tells Dr. Baltar he should just accept the victory and forgo any investigation.
The series skips to a year later. President Gaius Baltar shows little interest in doing the work of the president. The big issues are a labor dispute and shortages. The settlement on New Caprica, the name of the planet, is a tent city. The Cyons came to the solar system in force and the Colonial fleet leaves the solar system. With the settlers defenseless President Baltar surrenders. The Cylons let Baltar remain president as a figurehead. A resistance forms and there are a series of attacks and reprisals. The Cylons decided a human police force may turn people away from the resistance. The resistance viewed the human police as traitors. The humans carried out suicide bomber attacks. The resistance fighters show sadism. Starbuck is taken by the Cylons. After killing her Cylon captive Starbuck’s behavior looks psychotic.[iii] The Cylons decide to carry out a mass execution. Baltar, with a Cylon holding a gun to his head, signs the death warrant. The resistance rescues those scheduled for execution. The colonial fleet arrives and evacuates the settlers.
With Baltar in Cylon hands Vice-President Zarek becomes president. President Zarek knows Admiral Adama wouldn’t let him be president long. President Zarek makes a deal with Roslin where she would become president and he would be vice-president. Zarek’s only significant act as president was setting up a star chamber. The court’s existence is a state secret. The court consists of six former resistance fighters who would read the charges and evidence and decide whether to execute the accused. The accused would not know about the proceedings until the sentence is executed.
Roslin confronts President Zarek about the summary executions. President Zarek explains public trials would become circuses and she would spend most of her presidency signing death warrants. The star chamber would allow Roslin to assume the presidency with a clean slate. Roslin tells him there would be no more executions. Instead of tribunals she decides to record what happened during the Cylon occupation. This is similar to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Dr. Gaius Baltar’s trial, which happens later in the series, ended in acquittal. The acquittal was largely based on Major Adama’s testimony. Major Adama pointed out he was not tried for destroying a ship with over 1,000 civilians on board. They forgave everyone else for their actions. This forgiveness applied to everyone except Dr. Gaius Baltar.
The crew of a base star brought an ancient human satellite into their ship. The crew was soon contaminated with a virus. When the Galactica crew finds the base star most of the crew is dead. They bring the survivors aboard the Galactica. Humans are immune to the virus. The doctor (Donnelly Rhodes) develops a treatment for the infected Cylons. The Galactica crew devises a plan to bring the Galactica within the range of a resurrection ship. The crew would kill the Cylon prisoners. When the resurrection ship downloads the Cylons into new bodies the contagion would spread and wipe out the Cylons. Major Adama advocated the plan. Captain Carl ‘Helo’ Agathon (Tahmoh Penoikett), who was married to a Cylon[iv], vehemently opposed the idea, calling it genocide. In a private conversation Admiral Adama points out future generations might disapprove of killing all Cylons. President Roslin said if future generations hate them for wiping out the Cylons that would mean there is a human race in the future. Admiral Adama tells President Roslin he could not engage in germ warfare without an order from the president. He admits he was “passing the buck”. President Roslin gives the order.[v] Captain Agathon kills the Cylon prisoners before they were in range of a resurrection ship. A cursory investigation would have identified him as the culprit but Admiral Adama says there would be no investigation.
The series shows both humans and Cylons had reason to believe both sides always intended to exterminate the other. The series shows breaks in the ranks of both sides.
Religion is a big part of the series. The humans have the polytheistic religion of Greco-Roman gods. The Cylons have a monotheistic religion. There are various levels and variations of belief on both sides. Dr. Baltar began, and believed in, a monotheistic cult.
Unlike the original, and many well-known science fiction movies and franchises, the Battlestar Galactica 2004 series universe has no sentient beings except for humans and Cylons. Human habitable planets are a rarity in the universe. While the space ships are highly advanced much of the technology in the series is comparable to late 20th or early 21st century technology. These seemingly limiting factors worked to the show’s advantage.
Battlestar Galactica 2004 has many twists throughout the series. This made it exciting and defied predictability. The series ran its full course and had a conclusive ending. The series spawned a spinoff, Caprica, that was set years before Caprica’s destruction. Caprica lasted 18 episodes.
[i] Richard Hatch played Captain Apollo in the original series.
[ii] Commander Adama was promoted to admiral when the demise of Admiral Cain left him in command of two battlestars.
[iii] She killed the Cylon multiple times but he returned after his memories were downloaded to a new body.
[iv] A number 8 series who identifies as Lt. Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii.
[v] Captain Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” faced the same option with the Borg. Dr. Who faced the same option with the Daleks. In both cases they chose not to destroy their enemy race.
Is it appropriate for the government to take away certain rights for the greater good?
Is it right for military or career government officials to rig an election to prevent someone who will be a disasterous leader from taking power?
Should a head of state take into account how history will judge an action when making a decision?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi