Saturday, August 1, 2015

Universal Studios Battlestar Galactica (1978)

When I was a young Jimbo, just barely old enough to remember what was on my television, I had four favorite shows: Star Trek (and that's all we called it then), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica.  My memories of the last two in particular are a little time worn, mainly because I couldn't get them on TV for the extended period that I did for ST:TOS. I watched the adventures of Starbuck, Apollo and Captain Adama, of Buck Rogers and Twiki fascinated me but I had forgotten too many details to count. Seriously, my best remembered memories of Battlestar Galactica were of a robot dog (and no, I couldn't remember the word daggit) and mushies. Exciting, huh? But one day I found myself jonesing for some of the reboot goodness and realized it had been taken off of Netflix, so I decided to settle back in for some old school awesome. I was not disappointed.

The Battlestar Galactica story is familiar to just about any science fiction fan over the age of thirty-five. In the first episode the Twelve Colonies of Kobol are invited to a peace conference with their enemies, the robot empire known as the Cylons. The Cylons  the proceed to kill every human they can find. All of humanity is reduced to two-hundred and twenty ships full with associated problems of overcrowding, boredom and lack of food. They search for the mythical (?) Thirteenth Tribe at their home planet - Earth.

Their search takes them light-years away from where they started. Along the way there are battles with the Cylons, intrigue between the military and civilian governments, unexpected visitors with highly evolved powers and even parties and sports. Things rarely go as planned and things aren't always as they seem. The writers of this show did a great job keeping things moving and keep their audience guessing.

I'm going to do something I'm not sure I should. I'm going to compare BSG to ST:TOS. ST:TNG, ST:TNG and to a lesser extent ST:DS9. There is something that has always bothered me about the various Star Trek stories is the fact that they always seem to involve senior members of the crew leaving their ships and going off to find trouble. This makes no sense at all. In Battlestar Galactica we see many missions. Almost every episode features at least one. But here's the thing: They're carried out by members of the crew with a logical rank for what they're doing. I've been told, by a very wise and intelligent friend that the reason this happens so often in Trek is because the main characters are all senior officers. My reply has always been that Trek should have included more lower ranked characters for just that reason. BSG did that. They got it right. Granted, Tigh and Adama feature prominently, but they feature prominently on the bridge where they belong. Kudos to the BSG production staff for getting that bit right.

The characters were excellent. Apollo as the duty-obsessed son of Adama worked perfectly. Starbuck is in many ways the stereotypical adrenaline junkie fighter jock and a womanizer but it works. Tigh is the perfect number two man. Adama is a deeply religious leader who matches his faith with intelligence and a healthy sense of caution. He has the perfect balance of religious belief, enabling him to remember relevant passages of scripture when necessary, and cold-blooded pragmatism to keep things moving in the right direction. I'll admit to being a bit of a Lorne Greene fan (Bonanza was one of the very few Westerns I actually liked) so I may be a bit biased, but his portrayal was spot on. Boxey (Apollo's son/Adama's grandson) meant a lot more to the story than you would expect a kid to, but I mean that in a good way. He helped keep the story focused on the bigger picture and not just on the military. He reminded us that there were bigger things at stake than just a couple of fighter pilots and some senior staff. The best part is that he did it all while still being a little boy. The only part of his character that was extraordinary was who he was related to. He was a kid caught in a mess and he acted like one alternately brave and scared and sometimes just wanting to have fun. Oh, and he had the daggit I remembered.

And let's not forget the women; Cassiopeia, Athena, Serina and Sheba were some of the best things to happen to this series and its fans. Sheba in particular is my favorite type of female character: Hardcore enough to fly a Viper in combat and female enough to cry when her man goes off to fight without her.  The women give their men a kick in the tail when they need it, support them when they need it and do their own thing when they need to.

All of that said there were still a few problems. I don't want to get too far into the ending of the series because I don't really do spoilers, but it wasn't what it could have been by a long shot. A little bit of ass-kickery goes a long way for us Space Opera fans but it just wasn't satisfying. I watched the last episode and shook my head. I knew there had to be more than that but there wasn't. Seriously. The last two episodes I've watched have left me empty at the finale and it's starting to get frustrating. That much being said there was one other problem with this series that quite frankly drove me up a freaking wall.

Something I can't stand in the SF/F world is the tendency to make up words for concepts that exist in the real world and are well known and defined. Granted, no one knew what a phaser was before Star Trek debuted and Star Wars Episode IV introduced the concept of droids but those were new things. The writers of BSG invented an entire vocabulary of new words for time and distance. This was confusing and unnecessary. There was no need. We all know what minutes, seconds, hours, days and years are. What in the world is a "centar" and how is it different than a "centon"? Better yet, why am I trying to figure this out in the middle of a battle when I should be worried about my heroes? I can't help but get frustrated by this kind of thing.  Overall though, this was an epic show and definitely worth your time.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Full Pyramids

Battlestar Galactica
Universal Studios, 1978

Battlestar Galactica is available for purchase here:

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