Remember that episode of “The Office” where Jim is making fun of Dwight by imitating him and says, “bears, beets, ‘Battlestar Galactica’?” While many people have heard of “Battlestar Galactica,” most people don’t know that it’s actually a reboot of an older series from the late 1970s.
I’ll just say this up front: I love the original 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” series. Was it overflowing with ‘70s sci-fi cheesiness? Yes. Were the tone and setting very similar to the first “Star Wars” film? Yes. However, what the original “Battlestar Galactica” lacked in originality, it made up for in heart and great stories. During its mere one-season run, the show tackled themes of sin, age and honor, all within a sci-fi/fantasy universe that was equal parts “Star Wars” and “Lost in Space.”
The central premise of the show is fairly simple. Evil robots, called Cylons, have been waging a war with humans for decades. On the eve of what seems like a peace treaty, the Cylons use the negotiations as a ruse to attack the last human colony, Caprica. The last humans are forced to flee aboard the Battlestar Galactica, a massive starship that leads many smaller ships in an interstellar caravan across the galaxy to a search for a new home. The humans decide on “Earth,” where a small group of humans settled centuries ago.
While this basic idea seems hokey on paper, the show producers forged many great stories when they weren’t hampered by broadcast standards and interference from executives to make the show more of a family-friendly affair. One of my favorite episodes is “The Long Patrol.” In that episode, Lieutenant Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict of “The A-Team” fame, crash-lands his ship on a prison planet, where all the prisoners are forced to serve lifetime sentences for the crimes of the ancestors. As such, all the prisoners are given names like “Assault 9” and “Adulteress 58.” The other prisoners believe that Starbuck is an “original sinner,” and his lineage will suffer for his crimes. The idea of being born into crime was very dark subject matter for a show that was otherwise marketed as a show for all ages. At the same time, however, these were the kinds of ethical questions good science fiction raises. Are people born into lives of crime? Is there a system in place in which some people are forced to repeat the crimes of their parents? Seeing this episode for the first time really made me question they way we view justice as a concept within our society and whether it’s truly an effective system at all.
Sadly, despite offering great programming like the above episode, the show’s days were numbered from the beginning. In addition to having special effects and stage settings that just weren’t feasible on a television budget, the increasing pressure of the studio to make the show more kid-friendly created a lot of tension between the show’s creators and studio executives. Ultimately, the show was cancelled after one season but has since become a cult classic around the world. The rise of online streaming and Netflix have allowed an all new generation of fans to discover the series and the rich universe it had developed.
When the 2004 revival series came around, many of the central ideas/characters of the show were changed. The Cylons were created by humans rather than being made by aliens. The Cylons were now able to disguise themselves as humans. Benedict’s cocky, womanizing Starbuck was replaced by Katee Sackhoff, playing a darker, more emotionally tormented version of the character, something Benedict and many other fans objected to.
As for me, the original 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” is still my favorite version. I felt the 2004 series was too self-conscious of its own setting and took the characters a bit too seriously, playing many situations for melodrama which I simply wasn’t a fan of. While the original series had its moments of soap opera antics, they usually took a backseat to developing good interactions between the characters and crafting compelling plots for each episode. Sure, not every episode was perfect and even I chuckle at some of the dated 1970s dialogue, but it was clear that the show’s creators were really working to make something greater than the “Star Wars” clone that many derided it as.
In the end, the original “Battlestar Galactica” was simply a show ahead of its time. In the modern television climate in which shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” utilize elaborate sets and effects, the show may have been able to survive beyond its untimely one-season demise. However, the show still has a legacy as one of the all time greats of science fiction television, and I highly recommend checking it out.
– By Vikrant Nallaparaju, Contributing Writer