Earlier this year, I finally watched the reimagined science fiction series “Battlestar Galactica,” brought about by hours and hours (read: sessions until 4 am) spent playing the boardgame based on the show.
I don’t think there’s any other show that’s drawn so much emotion from me. All throughout the episodes I found myself alternating upon a gamut of emotions: gnawing on my fist from the gut-wrenching moral dilemmas, crying at the utter hopelessness of the situation, heaving a sigh of relief at the many close calls, bemoaning yet another crisis, and rejoicing at the triumphs of the characters in the show.
After I had finished all four seasons (and the webisodes), I was having a severe case of withdrawal from the series, and while counting the days until I could have a “debriefing” with friends, I was surprised to find this book at National Book Store: “Finding Battlestar Galactica: An Unauthorized Guide,” by Lynette Porter, David Lavery, and Hillary Robson.
“Finding Battlear Galactica” is a collection of essays about the 2003 Battlestar Galactica (“reimagined” to distinguish it from the 1978 series), exploring the show’s themes, characters, situations, and many more aspects of the show. The essays are written by TV experts, members of the academe, and fans of both the old and new series.
To those who are not familiar with BSG (and let me campaign for it right here!), let me attempt to tell you what it’s about in a nutshell, in the most-spoiler free way possible.
The humans created a race of robots called Cylons, whom they used as soldiers and laborers. After a few years, the Cylons rebelled, resulting in the first Cylon War. Eventually an armistice is declared, but (as the show opens) the Cylons break the armistice with a massive, unexpected attack on humanity. Only 50,000 survive, escaping in a fleet of civilian ships and the last remaining Colonial battle ship: Battlestar Galactica.
The humans need to find a new home planet, the mythical “Earth,” but they must organize themselves, manage their resources, and fight off Cylon attacks in order to survive. But the Cylons have evolved – they look exactly like humans now, and there are some planted in the fleet to carry out the Cylons’ ultimate plan.
The old and the new
“Finding Battlestar Galactica” starts off by comparing the old series to the new series, as most of the authors were apparently fans of the 1978 series by Glen A. Larson, were initially not sold on the idea of a reimagining, and were eventually won over by the 2003 series by Ronald D. Moore.
The section actually has tables comparing the two series and it’s very, very interesting. Most obvious, of course, is the gender-switching, the most controversial of which is Starbuck’s. Originally, Starbuck was a “card-playing, cigar smoking, fun-loving womanizer who is also an ace Viper pilot.” Starbuck is still all of those things, actually, except now female, played by Katee Sackhoff. Another pilot, Boomer, originally an African-American male, is played by Asian Grace Park.
The book also emphasizes that the Cylon back story is a significant change to the canon, they’re not just long-standing enemies of the human race, and it’s not just a simple interplanetary war anymore. The fact that the Cylons were created by man, and now that they’re almost human create part of the moral dilemma that adds depth to the series.
The comparison concludes that while the original series was legendary in its own right, it also establishes that the 2003 series benefits from other elements such as excellent storytelling and production values, taking BSG from a cheesy 70’s show (shiny space suits!) into a dark sci-fi drama.
The reimagined series
With the comparison aside, the book delves further into the reimagined series, from the pilot episode to the initial reaction of the audience, to various essays on the production, and there’s lot to learn about what goes on behind the scenes.
There’s an essay on Jane Espenson and what she brings to the show as a screenwriter coming from Whedonverse, best known for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Another essay zeroes in on directer Michael Rymer, whose work has been key to creaitng the look and feel of the show from the time it was a miniseries. Of course, there’s also one on Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, the prime movers of the reimagined series.
Most interesting to me is the “Battlestarverse” section, a series of discourses on various topics related to the show. The essays explore religion in Battlestar Galactica, pitting the Cylons’ monotheism with the humans’ polytheism; the casting of Edward James Olmos as Commander William Adama, his weathered face in particular and how it communicates his character; BSG erotica, and how the show deviates from the asexuality of science fiction, establishing sexuality as a human trait, and at times, Achilles’ heel; romantic relationships within the show; gender dynamics, in relation to Starbuck’s character, as well as “human masculinity” and “Cylon femininity;” space humor; women’s lib in BSG, touching on the roles of Laura Roslin, Six, Ellen Tigh, and Boomer / Athena.
There’s a wonderfully informative chapter on easter eggs from other hit TV shows, and movies, detailing the inspiration for certain key scenes in the series (e.g. Colonial Day = West Wing on a space ship); one very clever treatise on blood, looking into not just the blood line but also bloody scenes in the series (per episode!) and how they are visual clues on the literal lifeblood of humanity. Another section features one of my favorite things about the series: mythology and astrology in BSG, particularly the Greek Pantheon and the astrological signs.
Wrapping up the book are features on particular episodes (which may be spoilers, so let’s not get into that) and the webisodes, a section listing all the parting shots (up to Season 3), and the appendices: an episode guide, and a listing of all the R&D TV logos (the creators’ gag that appears at the end of the show).
This book isn’t the first unauthorized guide I’ve read (I reviewed one of The Hunger Games in this blog, too), and I realize I enjoy reading them for the fandoms I enjoy. They’ve proven to be a great source of information, as well as an excellent way to extend your enjoyment of a series and relate to fellow fans (because there’s someone more obsessed than you to write an academic piece about it! Hahaha).
As a fan of BSG, I’m glad I found this book right after I finished watching the last episode. Thought-provoking, thorough, and highly edifying, this book is something I’d lend to fellow fans (in fact, there’s a waiting list!) and use for further BSG discussions down the line (Galacticon PH, anyone?). I couldn’t have asked for better closure.
In the words of Admiral Adama, “So say we all!”
Finding Battlestar Galactica is available at National Book Store.