Recently, I Have Watched a Lot of Battlestar Galactica

Just over a year ago, whilst browsing, I saw a BluRay box set of Battlestar Galactica - and that’s all of the Battlestar Galactica - from the original series, the 1980 series through to the 2005 reboot all its spin-off films and the somewhat ill-fated prequel series.

Of course, I bought it! How could I not?

I really liked the reboot in the mid-naughties but could only see it again via a friend’s BD collection since streaming availability here in Japan has been a bit hit and miss over the years, and I’d never seen any of the other content (save for a few of the web episodes and films) and I hadn’t seen any of the Caprica prequel series.

I don’t think I’d ever seen anything more than the odd episode of the original series either - and certainly don’t remember it if I did - so as a value proposition, this seemed like a pretty good deal, even without all the interviews and ‘Making of …’ bonus features.

OK, So here we go. Let’s start at the beginning.

BSG 1978

Battlestar Galactica - Original Series (1978).

This is very much the 1970’s - it has that 70s view of the future with big hair, a lot of manmade fibre clothing and some casual mysogyny thrown in there, which is even stranger when they’re trying to make the future look really equal with female military personnel and all that. As is said about so many things, ‘it is a product of its time’.

From a production point of view, it doesn’t look too bad, and they were careful with the lighting to only show what was needed in a lot of shots. The Galactica exterior shots look obviously like a model in some shots but what you start noticing quickly is that the re-use of FX shots across the series is really, really high. Take offs, applying turbo and altering course for the Vipers are re-used over and over and over. I suspect the helmets were a single size too as on some of the actors, especially the female pilots, they look huge and wobble about.

Anyway, it’s easy to pick faults with cheap 70s budget Sci-fi TV, so let’s look at the stories. They’re actually not bad for the most part, mixing event-of-the-week episodes with the over-arching storyline of being chased by the Cylons, and the arch-traitor Baltar. The Cylon side are mostly done well, showing minimal amounts of their culture, and focussing on how they’re all just double-crossing each other and how sinister and unpleasant many of the characters are.

The human drama plays out well, as the rag tag human fleet fend off attacks, but it is quite odd that even though the Cylons want to wipe out humanity, during quite a few episodes the Galactica and its fleet meet human settlers on various planets, solve their problem and then just move along, both seemingly unconcerned that Cylons are in pursuit. I suppose this was to appeal to the Star Trek crowd.

Since the series was effectively cancelled after a single season, there are quite a few story threads which go nowhere - such as the creators of the Cylons, or a race in white ships who get various human characters to help them and get white versions of their uniforms into the bargain. Several episodes also show some mystical aspects as well as science-based episodes, which lends variety and might have led somewhere.

Overall, it’s a show which is part Star Wars, part Star Trek, and part producer Glen A. Larson’s attempt to get a bit of religion into Sci-Fi. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it sort of holds up if you can wave away some of the 70s sensibilities. There are some nice bits of the design in the ships too which rightly have their own place in pop culture, and it did seem to be going somewhere, but who knows where it would end. Probably not where Galactica 1980 took it I hope.

BSG 1978

BSG 1978

BSG 1978

BSG 1978

BSG 1978

Galactica 1980 (1980)

Galactica 1980

So what do you do when your show is cancelled after ~24 episodes? Why you do a cheaper sequel of course!

Galactica 1980 sort of continues on from the first series, but changes some of the premise. The fleet has found Earth - our Earth of the late 20th Century - and have decided the level of technology isn’t high enough to help Galactica or to defend themselves from the chasing Cylons either.

Galactica then decides to send some people down to try to accellerate scientific (and social?) development. A sub-plot has some of the murkier members of the fleet going back in time to work with the Nazis as they believe they would be the fastest way to get the technology ready for the future. Yes, time travel is a thing in Galactica 1980.

What all of this means is that much of the series entails a few people from the Fleet (and some kids from the Fleet who are apparently super human in Earth’s gravity) wandering around on our Earth. Also, despite the opening credit sequence which suggests a Cylon attack on our Earth, that turns out to be a ‘simulation’ and there’s actually no combat on Earth with the Cylons at all.

To be honest, the Cylons aren’t such a large part of this series but they techncially continue to pursue the human fleet which then leads them away from Earth, in case they discover and destroy it. If the ratings had been OK and more money budgetted I suppose this would give them a few options for future series.

All in all then it became a fairly normal 80s series where each week these visitors help normal people with their problems, maybe try to get better info about key technologies, perhaps spread a bit of religion and environmental warnings then move to the next story.

Generally, it’s not great - the Nazi episodes are at least odd enough to be interesting, and the two new leads aren’t bad but they’re not from the original series as this is set almost a generation later. Setting it on Earth was clearly meant to stretch the budget, and many of the VFX are worse than the first series, as are the sets, and yes, there is yet more re-use of space ship FX from the first series too in case you missed those sweet shots of Vipers turning.

One of the most annoying plot points is a new character called ‘Doctor Zee’, a child prodigy who makes all the decisions leaving the Adama character spending most of his time looking like a bit of an idiot. I don’t know why, but some of this felt like the old ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ show. Doctor Zee is definitely the low point, and I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve with that - some kind of Messiah figure?

It’s worth watching once I suppose … and then time to move on.

Galactica 1980

Galactica 1980

Galactica 1980

Galactica 1980

Battlestar Galactica Reboot (Mini and Full Series) (2004)

Galactica Reboot

OK, on to the newer stuff and with only minor spoilers.

This reboot took the form of a mini-series followed by ‘4.5’ series. The premise is a little different. In this version humans created Cylons as servants and somewhat unsurprisingly there was a rebellion, then a war before the Cylons left to follow their own destiny.

The mini series opens 50 years later. The Cylons are back, and have launched a full scale nuclear attack on all of humanity’s colonies.

By comparison to the earlier shows, this one feels much tighter, it doesn’t have that 70s flamboyance and this Galactica feels more like something from the Alien / Aliens universe - they use phones, there are no shields or lasers, it’s just kinetic weapons and thick armour. Indeed, this Galactica is more like a massive aircraft carrier. The one concession to ‘sci-fi dom’ is the FTL (Faster Than Light) drive, which was needed as a plot device to add suspence, and enable the humans to keep avoiding the Cylons.

Oh yes, and some Cylons can now look human.

There’s a pile of lore around all of this and it’s fun to go through it all as the show unfurls, but it mainly becomes a cat and mouse game between the much stronger Cylons and the rag-tag human fleet. Through the series we learn more about the Cylon agenda, their eventual civil war, their differing theology (a single god vs. the human pantheon of classical Greek inspired deities) and the way all of this is seen as part of a repeating cycle - “all this has happened before, and will happen again”.

There’s a lot going on. Aside from great action episodes showing off the excellent space-based VFX, they also have social commentary episodes, such as one which addresses abortion in a time when we’re running out of humans (a point driven home with a population count at the beginning of each episode!). Others deal with what to do with criminals, a black market, shortages, social mobility, and even the need for a press corps. Part of one season also has some of the humans living under Cylon rule on a pretty miserable planet, how they get out of it and the repercussions of collaboration.

Deep stuff for an action sci-fi show. Without spoiling too much, the planet rescue with the Galactica is awesome, and possibly my favourite scene in the whole series.

The acting is very decent - a good collection of solid character actors, with true standout performances by Edward James Olmos as Adama, Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, James Callis as Baltar and Tricia Helfer as number 6. The production looks decent too, and by keeping it low tech and military they can get away with everything being grey, generic rooms etc., and with careful use of planetside shots of the human homeworlds gives the feeling that it had a higher budget than it probably did.

To add to the psychological side, both the Baltar character and ‘Caprica 6’, who was his girlfriend before the attack, also become hallucinations to the other after the attack and actually influence their ideas and actions. It’s left in the air for much of the series as to the whether they really ’exist’ or if the characters are driving themselves insane with guilt after their actions resulted in the deaths of billions of people.

One slightly negtive FX point - the Centurions (normal robot soldier Cylons) do look a bit naff in this series. They’re mostly CG, which is fine, but for some reason are poorly composited into several scenes and their walk cycles just don’t look right. They do improve as the seasons go on and there were clearly a few physical ones for close-ups, but those CG ones just don’t quite work in some scenes.

That aside, the SFX - both audio and video - are generally excellent, especially in space, where the sound design team opted for almost silent backdrops punctuated by creaking metal and the dull thuds of cannon fire. It’s also worth mentioning the soundtrack is excellent, which much of it by Bear McCreary, to the point where the song ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is an actual plot device in the later seasons.

You can tell it was feeding off events in the real world too, and it mostly works, especially commentary on the then current Iraq occupation, and the morality of suicide bombing by a subjugated populace. It also led to a fairly famous quote coming out of one episode:

Adama: There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

As you can likely tell, I liked the show. Hey, that’s why I bought the BD set and I regularly take in an episode.

Some people soured on the ending; I didn’t find it too bad given what it leads you through over the seasons, especially on the spiritual belief side, and they do throw in a couple of bits which you weren’t expecting both for characters and plot points, so I don’t have many complaints about it.

There was a lot of other stuff going on around the main series too - a two part spin-off called ‘Razor’ which tells the story of the Pegasus before it meets the Galactica, and its commander, Caine, who basically went all out for war, whereas Adama was persuaded it was better to cut and run. Caine’s ruthless approach to the Cylons and her crew is a good foil - a kind of ‘What if…’ to the main series. Caine’s treatment of a captured number 6 contrasts well with captured Cylons on the Galactica. It also spends more time looking at that initial strike against the humans, when the Pegasus was in dry dock and it makes for a fantastic battle scene and fills in some backstory only hinted at offscreen in the mini-series.

Another side story is ‘Blood and Chrome’, which is a kind of prequel set in the final days of the First Cylon War and featuring a young Bill Adama and his experience with the Cylons whilst trapped on a planet where they’re conducting human-Cylon hybrid experiments. It was originally released as webisodes but is presented here together as a whole film. It’s fairly low budget and a bit clunky at times, but on the whole it works quite well.

Finally is another longer episode called ‘The Plan’ which is different again as it’s set during the normal series timeline and features some of the events, but is told from the Cylons point of view, from those hidden in the human fleet and planning subversive activities (some of which are seen in the regular series). It also looks at events on the Caprica surface between the resistance and Cylons hiding amongst them - another interesting perspective.

If you haven’t seen this series of BSG, and you like a bit of sci-fi, I’d definitely recommend it.

Galactica Reboot

Galactica Reboot

Galactica Reboot

Galactica Reboot

Caprica (2010)


Finally we get to ‘Caprica’ and it’s an odd one.

It’s set before the first Cylon war in the rebooted universe, when AI and the mechanical Cylons are just being created and VR is all the rage amongst a fairly jaded, decadent populace. It’s odd because it’s kind of two shows in one - one one side it’s a young adult, coming-of-age drama, with late teens playing in virtual worlds with no restraint. Then there’s the adult world dealing with with the development of advanced robots (which surprise, surprise, look like primitive Cylon Centurions), political intrigue and ethnic gangs which involve Bill Adama’s father.

The young adult part gets potentially interesting when the consciousness of a deceased teenager is placed in to a robot Cylon but still with virtual world access, and the backstory of conspiracy, social status and secret groups within her living friends. This might have been meant to parallel the adult storyline but it doesn’t quite sync up in this season, so who knows where that thread would lead.

Production-wise the show looks very good - good set design, decent CG, a mix of dress sense from the 1940s to 21st century and a very different look compated to the new BSG, yet within the same universe.

Acting is very good too - plenty of actors you’ve seen before like Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales as the main protagonists, with support from Sasha Roiz as the aggressive uncle and also Alessandra Torresani as the daughter of the Greystone empire.

Yes, it sounds odd, but its real issue is that it can’t decide which of these two sides it wants to be and the two don’t gel very well. Somehow a school of rich kids who are unhappy with being rich doesn’t match the street thug violence from the adult storyline, or the impact of terrorism and violence in society. They could be a mirror potentially, but they never seem to get there.

That’s likely why it got cancelled after the single season - no single large-enough audience.

Personally, I think they were both good ideas, but the adult characters were more interesting to me, and perhaps fading out the young adult storylines and making it align more with the main BSG reboot would have been better in the long term. It certainly would have been interesting to see how the First Cylon War came about, but this feels like it would take a long time to get from these basic AI/robots to ubiquity to rebellion.

Basically, it’s a shame this got cancelled as further seasons might have been able to fix the issues and tell quite an interesting story. We shall never know.





In Summary

So that’s all the Galacticas, and it took me quite a while to get through them all I can tell you - and probably as long to write it all up. They’re all products of their times to an extent, but I still liked the re-imagining from the naughties the most, even the spin-offs.

It just works well as a story and collection of characters; certainly some bits have plot holes, and some things seem to happen for no reason, but on the whole the series has a good story arc and it has an ending - yes, a real ending. Sure, some people didn’t like it, and indeed, I didn’t think I would, but given the journey it just kind of works in my humble opinion.

For the others, the original Galactica is fun, with an interesting universe, albeit somewhat inconsistant as I mentioned, the humans are being chased by the Cylons and yet they pass human settled planets and then just keep going without trying to rescue them, and there’s nothing to indicate the Cylons attacked them. The 1980 show is just a completely different beast and could really have been a different universe and is the weakest of all the Galacticas, but has that 1980s American daytime show feel to it.

Caprica, despite its somewhat split personality/story line I think could’ve worked with a second season for sure. There was enough to go at, even though it had the 2010s YA feel to it.

Anyway, as a whole, that massive box set was great for watching so many generations (and hours) of differing takes on sci-fi, all supposedly based around a consistant concept. It was great value for money and I’ve already re-watched a few episodes of each since it’s a set you can dip into whenever you want. I’d definitely recommend anyone pick it up, or if you have the opportunity to watch any or all of them, then take the time and give them a watch.