Created by: Glen A. Larson
There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans….some believe that there may yet be brothers of man, who even now, fight to survive, somewhere beyond the heavens...
BSG is really Wagon Train, in space.
In a far-away galaxy and time, twelve tribes of humanity exist within a political system known as the Colonies and ruled by the Council of the Twelve. Sadly, the tribes are named after the Zodiac symbols: Capricans, Leonids, Ariens, Pisceans and so on.
There's a back story that becomes clearer in the first few episodes. All humanity evolved on the lost planet Kobol. Thousands of years earlier, all humans had left their home world. The twelve tribes subsequently settled in the Colonies but a lost 13th tribe headed off in a different direction, to Earth.
The Colonies have been fighting a race of cyborgs – the Cylons – for over a thousand years (or yahrens, if you want to use their own rather daft terminology). The Cylons come in three 'forms':
- the basic Cylon is a Centurion, a six foot tall silver metal robot whose eye slit has a moving red light behind it. Centurions have little autonomy and independence. They're drones, really—foot-soldiers and pilots for the Cylon attack craft. Their catch-phrase is an acknowledgement to an order: "By your command.";
- IL Cylons are the next level up, more intelligent and independent. They aren't silver robots like the Centurions, but oddly disjointed-looking creatures dressed in glittery robes and with transparent domed heads. They are very self-aware and the two that feature the most—Lucifer and Spectre—have a surprisingly dry and human sense of humour; and
- The Imperious Leader who rules the Cylon Empire. He is voiced by Patrick McNee, who has a wonderful velvet tone, dresses in the same glittery robes as his IL underlings and has a massively distorted, organic-looking head.
The series opens with all the Colonies' military ships gathered at Cimtar to sign a treaty with the Cylons. There are half a dozen Battlestars, huge ships that seem to be the equivalent of aircraft carriers, heavily armed themselves and carrying squadrons of smaller one-man fighters (Vipers).
The peace deal has been brokered by a traitorous human, Count Baltar (John Colicos) who is setting them up for a killing. Only one of the Council of Twelve, the representative of Caprica, is suspicious about Baltar and the Cylons: Commander Adama of the Battlestar Galactica, played by Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame. He continues to send out Viper patrols to scout the area. One patrol is led by his son Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch. Oh Lord, those cheekbones….) and Apollo's younger brother Zac, who's on his first mission as a Colonial Warrior following his stint at the Military Academy. Zac has swopped patrols with Apollo's usual wingman, Lieutenant Starbuck (Dirk Benedict). Apollo and Starbuck are our two heroes around whose adventures the series revolves.
While on patrol, Apollo and Zac come across thousands of Cylon attack craft. Zac is killed, but Apollo manages to get back to warn the Galactica only minutes before the Cylons attack. Persuaded by Baltar to do nothing, the other Battlestars are caught unawares and destroyed. Meanwhile, the Galactica, realising that the main Cylon attack is against the undefended Colony planets, rushes back to try and save them. Too late. Most of humanity is wiped out with only a few thousand survivors gathered into about 200 assorted ships (cargo ships, freighters, luxury liners) fleeing, under Galactica's protection, to escape the Cylons.
The premise of the series is that Adama decides that the fleet of “rag-tag ships” should seek haven with the long-lost thirteenth tribe and leads the survivors in the search for Earth. (See? Wagon Train!) The survivors are constantly pursued by the Cylons and run into the usual crop of unfriendly insectoid aliens that were de rigueur in the late seventies, as well as coming across other human societies. Oddly enough, only once do they integrate the humans they come across. Given that the Cylons are pursuing them to destroy humanity completely, it always seemed a little bit perverse that the Galactica leaves so many behind to be killed by the advancing Cylon forces.
This is an episodic series within the overarching arc of travelling to Earth, the second Exodus. I choose that word advisedly. There are strong religious undertones in the series, derived from producer Glen Larson's Mormonism: marriage is 'sealing' and Kobol isn't a lame attempt to call a planet after a computer language, but an anagram of Kolob, which Wiki claimes to be "the star or planet nearest unto the throne of God" (I'm taking that on trust as I'm neither religious nor Mormon). The Lords of Kobol were the powerful and patriarchal leaders of the twelve tribes before they left Kobol and, at the least, are considered to be semi-divine. The back story parallels the biblical exodus, of course; the themes of expulsion and wandering run throughout the series. Whilst the tenets may be religious, the imagery is Egyptian: pyramids and obelisks feature heavily in Colonial architecture and the fighter pilots' helmets are versions of Tutankhamen's Mask.
The religious parallels become more overt as they come across Kobol itself – where Apollo's new wife, Serina (Jane Seymour) is killed and the directions to Earth destroyed. And in one of the greatest episodes (War of the Gods), they meet Count Iblis (Patrick McNee) and the people of the Ship of Lights. Iblis is Satan, the guiding force behind the Cylons, which is why each Imperious Leader has his voice; the Ship of Lights appears to be from the Lords of Kobol, who oppose everything Iblis does and eventually overpower him to allow the Galactica and the refugee fleet to escape his influence. In the course of this, Apollo is killed, Starbuck tearfully offers his own life in exchange (something that has every true slasher in palpitations), thankfully, the offer isn't accepted and Apollo is resurrected anyway. But really, the producers and writers couldn't have made the parallels more obvious if they'd hit the viewers over the head with the New Testament.
Still, if you're like me, you can resolutely ignore the religion and concentrate on The Pretty.
This first series ended after 24 episodes (a few of them doubles), with the Rag-Tag Fleet still light-years from Earth. It was technologically quite an achievement - each episode is said to have cost $1m to produce, mainly because of the special effects by John Dykstara who also did the effects for Star Wars. This was long before computer graphics, don't forget, and everything was hand done with models. Universal decided that it was too expensive to continue with the series and in 1980 produced a shorter series of (I think) six episodes, 20 years on where Galactica reaches Earth. While this meant that it was cheaper to produce with fewer effects needed, it effectively killed BSG.
As a true BSG fan I am in total denial about Galactica '80. It does not exist. And I do not even acknowledge the new version. Starbuck as a woman? Nuff said.
Apollo is Adama's son, third in command of the Galactica, and in direct command of the Viper squadrons. He's serious, introverted, melancholy (well, the script writers did marry him off to Jane Seymour. You'd be a bit down over that as well) and a stickler for duty and honour and all that stuff. A bit of a loner, shy and easily embarrassed. Luckily Serina, the Jane Seymour character, is killed off when they reach Kobol, leaving him with a six year old stepson to bring up. See the man and realise why the Greeks made him a god. Dark hair, green eyes, those cheekbones! Oh, I mentioned the cheekbones already? Really? Must be good then.
|Starbuck is Apollo's best friend and wingman. They're opposite in character – Starbuck's nonchalant, a devil-may-care womaniser and gambler. He spends much of the early part of the series playing off Cassiopeia against Athena, Apollo's sister. Unlike Apollo who's obviously of high social class – his father was one of the Council of Twelve after all – Starbuck's an orphan who doesn't know who his family is.|
|This is a slash site. So of course, to me, Apollo and Starbuck belong together. They were, and are, the slashiest couple in TV history.|
Other characters :
|Boomer - Apollo and Starbuck's friend. Great guy: practical, sweet and downright nice, he must sometimes have felt a bit like a spare wheel, as the trio was definitely uneven tilted towards the other two.|
|Adama – the commander of the Galactica who becomes President of the new Council of the Twelve and the leader of the refugee fleet. Adama is a deeply religious man, but a sympathetic character, broad-minded and compassionate. It's his vision and religious conviction that sets the refugee fleet's direction for Earth. His wife, Ila, is killed in the destruction of Caprica and his youngest son, Zac, is the first to die in the battle of Cimtar that opens the series. His two surviving children are Apollo and Athena.|
|Athena - Adama's daughter and one of Starbuck's squeezes. She's at most a year or two older than Zac (she's a Lieutenant, but Zac is just graduated from the Military Academy as an Ensign), but at least 6 or 7 years younger than Apollo. She isn’t seen in the second half of the series—the actress was very young and inexperienced, and was reportedly written out as she couldn't cope.|
|Boxey - Serina's son and Apollo's stepson. A child. A cute child. Nuff said, I think. He's afflicted with a mechanical 'daggit' (or dog), the usual cute droid that was a necessary part of any seventies/eighties sci-fi series—in this case, the droid was a chimp in a suit.|
|Cassiopeia (Cassie) - one of the refugees, a former 'socialator' – it seems that some of the Colonies licensed prostitution as something that has been "practised with the blessing of elders for a thousand years". She is a former lover of Cain's and Athena's main (and more successful!) rival for Starbuck's affections. She becomes a medtech.|
|Sheba - the warrior daughter of Commander Cain, brought in to be Apollo's love interest to replace Serina, Boxey's mother, who's killed just after the Destruction.|
|Colonel Tigh - the Galactica's executive office and second in command, an old friend of Adama's. Outwardly he can be a little rule-bound and tetchy, but it's obvious Adama holds him in trust and affection.|
|Sire Anton - in canon, he makes a brief appearance in the first couple of episodes. In my stories he's a crucial ally for Adama on the new Council, an intensely political man, wily and a little manipulative, who undertakes to give Apollo some political training.|
Why do I love BSG?
The late seventies and early eighties saw an explosion in sci-fi on both TV and cinema screens. BSG stood out for me because of its enormous potential. Frankly the story lines are laughable and limited, the writers didn't seem to have heard of consistency (of character or arc or concept or even terminology), but by the end of the series you could see the potential for producing something good. With more control over the scripts, more coherence, it could have been the seventies equivalent of Babylon 5: facing an implacable enemy, political infighting, character development, the tension between democracy and need for military rule during the emergency, the tensions between religion and secularism—all of these could have been explored.
But they weren't. Let's be honest, here. The scripts were cheesy, the plots limited to well-worn tropes and stereotypes, the 70s mores were overwhelming (female pilots were threatening the male bastions of privilege, for example, and seemingly emasculating them—Apollo's conversation with Starbuck about glittery curtains is amusing and annoying at the same time), the characterisation was thin, the acting could be hammier than a pork pie, there was no thought given to how systems on a battle ship would work… .
But Apollo and Starbuck are wonderful characters and the huge canonical gaps leave fanfic writers loads of space to exercise their imaginations. That's what made me fall in love with BSG all those years ago, and that's what's kept me in love ever since.
I once found a review of BSG on a fundamentalist Christian website. After pointing up the euphemisms and warning against Starbuck's flirtations with Cassiopeia, they described BSG as “minimally redeeming.”
Minimally redeeming. I just love that.
Revised November 2011
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