In the summer of 1978, I went with my parents to Ports O’ Call Village in San Pedro California. This was a shopping mall with curio shops and restaurants done up in the style of a New England fishing village. Eleven-year-old me was mostly bored by these excursions, but I perked up when we went into a hobby shop with some models that reminded me of Star Wars, which was still a relatively new thing. It turned out these were models for a new show called Battlestar Galactica, scheduled to debut that fall on television. They depicted a Colonial Viper and a Cylon Raider. My parents wouldn’t let me buy the models, but I did watch for the show and was captivated by its 24 episodes featuring Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, and Dirk Benedict.
As it turns out, Battlestar Galactica would only bear some superficial resemblance to Star Wars through the space dogfights and robots that somewhat resembled chromium-plated Darth Vaders. Still, in those days before on-demand video, it was the closest thing I could get to reliving George Lucas’s 1977 film. As I’m sure most people reading this blog know, Battlestar Galactica tells the story of a group of robots called cylons who destroyed twelve worlds occupied by humans. The last living humans then went in search of a mysterious thirteenth colony called Earth, while pursued by the cylons. I did like the idea of a group of humans searching for the lost colony of Earth and I liked many of the characters. I also liked the almost mystical elements the show had, with angelic and demonic beings cropping up from time to time. That said, even eleven-year-old me had a hard time believing that noisy cylons with all their whirring sounds could sneak up on anyone and I wondered how the viper pilots were supposed to see with those lights around their helmets. Wouldn’t those reflect off the glass of their canopies and keep you from seeing the enemies?
In 2004, Ron Moore, known for his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, would bring Battlestar Galactica back. This time, Edward James Olmos would play Commander Adama of the Galactica, most of the cylons we saw on screen looked human, and people wore contemporary neckties and spoke into analog phones. I liked this gritty new look. Unfortunately, the show came out at a time soon after I’d eschewed cable, so I only saw episodes here and there. Still, I liked the way this new show explored contemporary issues through a science fictional lens, gone were the helmet lights I didn’t like, and the human-like cylons seemed a bit scarier than the robots, precisely because you were never quite sure who exactly was and wasn’t a cylon.
Sitting at home during the 2020 pandemic, I finally had an excuse to start watching the 2004 Battlestar Galactica from beginning to end. I finally made it to the end a little over a week ago. Overall, I liked this new take. I liked the fact that it told a complete story and I like the nuts-and-bolts reality of it. I hesitate to say too much about the ending for anyone like me who has waited a while to watch the entire show. Still, most of it worked for me. Elements of it had a deus ex machina feel, but as I noted earlier, angelic and demonic forces have been part of the show since the original incarnation. I did feel those elements were there throughout the new version, though they could have been just a little stronger to better support the ending.
To me, both shows felt like they wanted to tell a story like a novel, but both were confined to the realities of episodic television. What’s more, from the special features on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica Blu-rays, it was clear they weren’t writing from an over-arcing outline. At best, they seemed to plot out a general direction from half-season to half-season. It mostly worked, but at times, it felt like the writers came up with more good ideas than they could satisfactorily resolve.
The original series always felt like it made a promise it never kept. It promised the Battlestar Galactica would find Earth. It kind of did in the Galactica 1980 series, but that 10-episode series never really lived up to the original. This time, I feel like the humans finally did find their way to Earth, and while I had some quibbles with some plot elements that could have been better resolved, I still thought it was a ride worth taking.