How BattleStar Galactica saved Science Fiction
In 1977, Star Wars reintroduced the world to the serialized space opera with groundbreaking results both creatively and financially. In the wake of this paradigm shift came a gaggle of embarrassing me-too projects both for film and television. Then there was Battlestar Galactica.
Battlestar Galactica was the brain-child of producer/writer/director Glen Larson. It was both a pastiche of the Star Wars formula, and a bizarre melding of wagon train and Egyptian mythology. The series chronicled the adventures of a “Rag Tag Fleet” running from the Cylons, a mechanized horde of robots lead by a human traitor; their destination is a mythical world called “Earth”.
Battlestar Galactica was a success both theatrically and on the television. Despite it’s campy acting and plot lines there was an endearing element in the quest of these characters. Battlestar Galactica never made any apologies for borrowing the character archetypes made so popular in Star Wars. Apollo is a dark haired Luke Skywalker, Sheba the strong female cut from the Princess Leia strand, and Starbuck as the charismatic scoundrel that Han Solo would surely approve of. Despite these obvious pastiches, Battlestar Galactica got away with it.
The death of Battlestar Galactica, however, was written in the stars. ABC has long argued it was declining ratings and cost overruns that killed the series. In reality, many argue, it was the budget which was in turn a function of the time. Motion control cameras and blue screen techniques were still a trial and error process at the time and despite the experienced staff in the Battlestar Galactica effects unit these sequences often ran over schedule and many times had to be reshot entirely. Clearly, producing big screen effects in the span and budget of a television production was not something the industry was ready for at the time.
After Battlestar Galactica was cancelled, the studio tried to resurrect the series with Glen Larsen, this time they sat certain parameters that doomed the show from the beginning: No new space battles would be filmed, only recycled footage could be used, and the original cast would be replaced by younger crew who had already made it to earth. A land locked Battlestar Galactica proved to have little appeal to fans of the original audience and it quickly died on the vine.
Battlestar Galactica continued to hold a very active cult following and after several failed big screen attempts, Producer Bryan Singer decided to take a hand at resurrecting the series with Sci-Fi channel and an international consortium of financiers. Contract obligations caused Singer to back out, but his momentum was enough for the project to continue under the guidance of Star Trek alum Ron Moore.
When the new Battlestar Galactica miniseres premiered many fans were outraged. It was billed as a “reimagining” taking only the best parts of the original series and turning some characters inside out. Several male characters, including the cliché chauvinist Starbuck, were now female. Cyclons would look like regular people, and the series would take a more political stance. Despite the nay-saying of Battlestar Galactica purists, the new min-series was a critical success and a long running series was locked in.
Since debuting in 2004, Battlestar Galactica has continued to gain accolades from the industry, the press, and fans, yet award recognition has been denied.
Much like its predecessor, Battlestar Galactica has managed to avoid the fact that it is merely a blending of several recent, well duplicated motifs in television history and stand alone in a way that brings legitimacy to the sci-fi genre by producing stories that are morally, politically, and creatively challenging.
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