It turns out that the preliminary anti-hype for the new "Battlestar Galactica"
was way off the base-star.
I clearly remember my ninth-grade ritual on Sunday night, when the original "Galactica"
came on television. I'd get loaded into the launch tube with a frozen pizza and
a Coke on a TV tray, and I was in Viper mode. I had models of a Viper and a Cylon
Raider. I have the theme music on a sci-fi medley album, because I loved that
part of the intro where the Cylons in formation flip over like pancakes and swoop
down on a planet. Yet I have, in recent years, tried to watch the old "Galactica"
reruns on Sci Fi, and they were mostly painful to watch. They just didn't seem
as good. I couldn't go back, although I still like those nifty brown flight jackets
with the buckles.
The new "Galactica's" creators say that the casual fans, those who
like the old "Galactica" but thought it could have been better, might
like the new show. This aptly described me, giving me hope that the show would
But the anti-hype has been relentless. Many stories keyed on the outspoken
mega-fans, spewing their outrage that CHANGES had been made from the original.
Starbuck is a woman! Oh no! And Boomer is transmogrified from a black man to
an Asian woman! Horrors!
My blast shield went up. Perhaps it wouldn't be good. I braced myself for
potentially profound disappointment. I've been dreading what appears to be an
approaching drought of science fiction and fantasy. What entertainment would
I look forward to, after "The Return of the King" and the final "Star
Wars" movie? The clock is ticking. But if the refurbished "Galactica"
was worthwhile and was approved as a full series, it would be a shining spot
on the channel guide.
So I watched.
I got home Monday while it was already on. The first scene I saw was Starbuck,
bellowing "LET'S GO!" at the deck crew while Cylons attacked the Galactica.
The crew, wearing carrier flight deck headgear, scrambled to get her aloft.
The catapult fired, hurling her into space with an awful hush, a sudden silence
in the pitiless cold vacuum. And the drums, like a tribal warning beat, pounded
with an urgent primordial pulse. My heart was suddenly in my throat. She charged.
Attitude thrusters puffed on the Viper's nose as she maneuvered, pivoting
in ways impossible for an atmospheric fighter. She sprayed the oncoming missiles
with lasers, ripping two of them from the sky, but unable to get the third as
it slashed past her wing. The Galactica crew braced for the terrible impact....
I was riveted. Rarely have I ever seen such a gripping space combat sequence.
Afterward, I backed up the tape and watched from the beginning.
A human-looking Cylon temptress greets a Colonial officer with a question
and a command: "Are you alive? Prove it." It was the central question
of "Blade Runner" and the sentience trial of Data in "Star Trek:
The Next Generation," turned around on the humans with vicious irony.
Baltar, now a naive egomaniac, is suddenly believable as a pawn of the Cylons.
The inexplicably motivated traitor Baltar of the old show is gone.
Historical precedent paints this drama with the power of authenticity. When
the Cylons' bombs fall, the people react with confused disbelief, stumbling
around, speechless. The actors' performances seemed informed by the reality
of how people felt watching the horrific spectacle of September 11. The president
is sworn in aboard an airplane, another echo of history, just as Lyndon Johnson
was sworn in after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A military ship tries
to evacuate desperate civilians from a lost planet, evoking the mad scramble
for helicopters during the evacuation of Saigon.
Adama gives helm commands on the Galactica's bridge with calm authority and
professionalism, suggesting the complexity of maneuvering the massive vessel.
Starbuck at the card table flashes a triangular grin that reminds me of Dennis
Quaid's smile as Gordo Cooper in "The Right Stuff." She is seen running
laps, doing push-ups, a keg of pent-up energy and ferocity.
The show pays homage to the original, with the old Cylon model on display
in the ship's museum along with a base star model, and a snatch of the old show's
majestic theme music plays as sleek new Vipers do a fly-by. The honor to the
retiring Adama is also a respectful salute to original show.
I love this new "Galactica". I am probably about the same age as
the show's creators, which might explain my affinity for their approach. I was
young enough to be a great fan of the old show, but not so uncritical that I
hold the old "Galactica" sacred with nostalgia. Their method is, evidently,
"What would this be like if it REALLY happened? What would people do?"
The ships and equipment may be the result of the same kind of sensibility that
Peter Jackson used for the armor and weapons in "The Lord of the Rings,"
which was to make the stuff look like somebody really used it.
Potential for greatness
The show's creators have earned my enthusiastic attention. If "Galactica"
makes it to a full series, I just hope they don't let me down. Many shows that
started out good lost their way, including the original "Galactica"
itself. More recent examples of good shows gone lame include "Babylon 5,"
which started well but eventually became convoluted and boring. The entire "Star
Trek" franchise has squandered my loyalty. "Enterprise" promised
to be a grittier approach to Trek, but quickly fell into the same old cliches
and dogma. And "Nemesis" put the nails in the coffin.
The new "Galactica" does have flaws. I didn't see enough of the
old chrome-headed villains to suit me. The scene where the blonde Cylon murdered
the baby was too much; I understand perfectly well that they were seeking to
establish that she is devoid of human compassion, but remorselessly raining
nuclear warheads upon an entire civilization would have been sufficient, thanks.
The pilots' helmets have a long overhead visor, like the bill of a baseball
cap, which is contrived to house the lights that illuminate the actors' faces
for the camera. Logically, though, the glare of these lights inside the visor
would blind the pilot, and the long bill would obscure the pilot's upward field
of vision. The design makes little sense.
However, these are only nitpicks, things that I would have done differently
if it were my sandbox. The greatest threat to the show's potential to continue,
as I see it, is the danger of becoming relentlessly dark, like the morose "Space
Above and Beyond".
But nitpicks aside, I give "Battlestar Galactica" high marks and
a clean slate. If it becomes a series, I will make time to watch it. It is poised
to succeed if it can push through the resistance of those who won't even give
it a chance. As a Cylon pilot once told Baltar, as the Pegasus charged their
flank, "I think you should look at the other battlestar."
This time, though, the other battlestar is another "Galactica."
We sci-fi fans have a chance to rally around something good, a top-notch effort
to cater to our tastes. The new "Galactica" has the potential for
long-term greatness. It's only a TV show, but this is the stuff we love. I'll
buy the DVD of the pilot, and, if it makes it that far, maybe someday a DVD
set of a season's episodes. Perhaps there'll be a soundtrack, action figures,
and little die-cast Vipers to delight the toy collectors among us. Maybe people
will show up at conventions wearing new Colonial uniforms.
If enough people give it a chance, I expect there will eventually be a chorus
of us. By watching the show and buying the DVDs, toys, and collectibles, we'll
proclaim our support for fresh, vibrant science fiction. Maybe then they'll
make more good entertainment like this. Give us a quality show, and we'll embrace
it -- so say we all.