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  Battlestar Galactica  
Time Slot:
  This was a special "pilot" that aired in December, 2003. IT'll be on again, soner or later.  
  The Sci-Fi Channel  
Reviewed by:

When i was about 9 years old, the original Battlestar Galactica was my favorite thing in the world. I had all of the toys (including several Cylon Centurians to surround my little band of cape-wearing colonials), and watched the show religously for the year it was on. Since then the rosy glow of nostalgia has kept it in a warm place in my heart, even after the Sci-fi channel starting re-broadcasting those old episodes, and i realized how utterly cheesey they are.

That said, the Sci-Fi Channel decided that it was time for the old Battlestar to have a makeover, and what a makeover it is! (Actually, there has been fan buzz at cons about a new version for years. I think Richard Hatch -- the original "Apollo" -- even wrote a pilot episode that went nowhere...) The original series was called a "space western". A sort of wagon train in space, with evil killer robots instead of Injuns. Heck, it even had Western star Loren Greene in a primary role.

But that was then. This new Battlestar show (which aired on Sci-Fi in December and no doubt will be aired again) is not a Western, but a War film. The characters are not good-natured rural folk placed in difficult circumstances, but rather they are hardened, trained killers, used to death and destruction, ready to beat a filthy robot to death with their bare hands if need be.

The character focus has shifted a bit too. In the original series, the main characters were Starbuck and Apollo, the fighter pilots as sharp-shooting space cowboys. Now, the focus is on Commander Adama (excellently played by Edward James Olmos) as the emotionless professional soldier, and Education Secretary turned President Laura Roslin (played by Mary McDonnell). I barely remember her character from the first series, except that the "government" of the Fleet annoyed Loren Greene, but the interplay between military and civilian in the two episodes that made up this pilot was interesting enough. There is both dynamic interplay between the warrior and the politician, and genuine human angst as the characters watch their world collapse around them.

But who watches Sci-fi shows for human angst? We fans watch for special effects and outrageous stories, and then maybe some angst and drama if there is time. So how are those two main elements?

The effects are stunning. The space battles between malevolent and mysterious Cylon cruisers and malfunctioning Colonial Vipers are well done. Missiles fly by and spaceships move around chaotically. The dogfights are confusing, frightening, and glorious all at once. Spaceships, especially the Cylon ships, are neat looking, and really distinctive. They pay tribute to the original series, without simply being copies of old designs.

The outrageous plot is pretty much set: robots come to wipe out humanity, and almost succeed. In the first series, i never really understood where the Cylons came from. In the new incarnation, Cylons are a human creation gone terribly awry. I like that the Cylons, who are self-replicating and self-aware machines, have developed their own "mythology" about their place in the universe. A fascinating development, and one that i hope to see explored more in the upcoming regular series.

In fact, that is why i finally got around to writing this review, albeit 2 months late. The Sci-Fi Channel has announced that Battlestar Galactica will become a regular series, with production beginning the end of 2004. Olmos, McDonell, and Katee Sackhoff (who played an excellent female Starbuck) are signed on as of this writing, and i hope that the rest of the main players do so as well.

So, the new series has good fx, a truly outrageous and fascinating plot, and good characters full of drama. What else does a show need?

How about an overarching message? Maybe i am reading too much into things here, but i always thought of Battlestar Galactica as an elaborate analogy for how we Americans see our place in the world, and how we see our enemies. Bear with me on this, okay?

In the first series, the Cylons came out of nowhere, killed everyone heartlessly, and then sort of went away. Oh sure, they chased the fleet, but there was a clear distiniction between "Human" and "Cylon". At the time, as a 9 year old in rural Ohio, that was pretty much how the Cold War was explained to me. We good human Americans were busy minding our own business, and at any time the heartless Soviets, who are utterly alien and might even be robotic for all we knew, might come and try and kill us, just because we were different. That is what the Cold War, and the first series, were about: people not getting along because they are different.

But in the new series, Cylons look like humans. Some even live on Galactica, spying on the Humans, and plotting to kill everyone. And now, America is not fighting the utterly alien Soviets, but instead an amorphous group of "terrorists" who could, for all you know, be sitting in the next house over plotting. And otherwise they look like us -- not alien at all. Just like the new Cylons. And the new Cylons have a religion, that places them as God's Chosen Replacement for humanity. Which again is parallel -- religous extremists threaten America these days.

Maybe i am reading too much into this, but i think there is a sort of parallel here to the way we feel about the threats in our everyday lives. Or maybe not. Maybe i am just an obsessed geek. Who can tell?

Okay, so the story is good. But the actual episodes, well, all i can say is "bear with them." These two pilot episodes set the stage for what is to come, and the first one in particular drags a bit. But there is so much to set up, that once the action starts you appreciate the slow explanation at the beginning. So, it starts out kind of slowly, but there is a necessary reason for that.

At any rate, it appears that Battlestar Galactica is back, and better than ever. I, for one, will be watching. Now, where did i put that old "first edition" Gold Squadron Flight Ensignia?

Related Links:
  The Sci-Fi Channel's site for this pilot.
The Battlestar Galactica Homepage -- focuses more on the "old" series.

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