Battlestar Galactica is a powerhouse sci-fi which first aired in 1978 and was followed by a stream of comics, books, board games and spin-offs. Due to waning interest in the original 70s show, it was abruptly cancelled and many attempts to reboot it were made for years before it was finally picked up again as a mini-series in 2003. It had a long road to success, but Battlestar Galactica has become one of the most-loved sci-fi shows of all time.
The show is about humans from planets collectively known as the Twelve Colonies, which have been engaged in a bitter war with a cybernetic race created by humans known as the Cylons. Their goal is the extermination of the human race and, with the aid of a morally bankrupt human named Gaius Baltar, the Cylons carry out a devastating attack on the Twelve Colonies and on the Colonial Fleet of starships protecting them. These attacks decimate the Colonial Fleet, destroy the Colonies, and almost entirely eradicate their populations. Lucky survivors flee into outer space aboard an array of available spaceships. Out of the entire Colonial fleet, only the Battlestar Galactica, a huge battleship and spacecraft carrier, survives the Cylon attack. Under the leadership of Commander Adama, the Galactica and its plucky viper pilots lead a refugee fleet of survivors in search of the mythical thirteenth colony called Earth.
The most basic explanation for Battlestar Galactica is that it’s about humans and robots fighting each other, but it’s so much more than that. The show covers themes such as religion and race in ways that no other show has ever managed to do. It broke down these themes to what really drives them, what they’re really about; the people. The people who have faith, the people who are prejudiced against other races and the people who battle the good and evil within themselves; it humanises them, both the humans themselves as well as the robots (or cylons, as they’re known as in the show).
The truly great thing about this show is the characters. Even if you’ve never enjoyed sci-fi and watching this show seems like it would be 70 episodes of pure torture, I guarantee you will fall in love with the characters aboard the Galactica and beyond. The wild and damaged but impossibly talented fighter pilot Starbuck, the mysterious and seductive Cylon in red, the dutiful moral compass Apollo, the loveable hardass Boomer, the flawed narcissist Gaius Baltar, the school teacher turned President, Laura Roslin; all of them are just a sampling of the diverse range of well developed, utterly compelling characters in the world of Battlestar Galactica.
You can’t help but root for the characters, even those who are penned as villains, because the show doesn’t paint them as black and white or good and bad. Its greatest strength is it shows the spectrum that real people fall on, that nobody is truly bad or truly good and that our choices are many shades of grey. Despite being a show steeped heavily in religion and faith that has magical elements to it, the reactions of humans and cylons alike are realistic, they’re understandable and you can easily put yourself in their shoes.
The cylons themselves are incredibly interesting, and their very existence brings up interesting ethical questions. These are characters who were initially created to serve human needs before evolving to become almost indistinguishable from real humans. One of the core themes of the series is ‘All of this has happened before and will happen again’, which I think is an enduring commentary on humanity never learning its lesson. No matter how much destruction and tragedy that befalls humanity, even if it is the cause of such destruction, nobody ever learns. It all comes full circle and is both a depressing and damning observation about humanity that is illustrated by the creation of the Cylons and their cause.
In terms of character development, the show is first class. Those who are meek and mild in the first season evolve to become capable of actions viewers could never have imagined, and those who were once dangerous storms are humbled. The show constantly throws curveballs at the audience so what you think you know about a character can be totally thrown on its head in an instant. It always keeps you guessing and doles out some really fantastic twists in a way that’s thrilling rather than frustrating. (Lost, anyone?)
The flaws of humanity – both in grand terms and small – are thrust into the spotlight in this show, and through the different perspectives of the characters of all religious faiths, races and political backgrounds, we see the judgement, forgiveness and nature of humanity. Particularly in the scary and tumultuous world that we actually live in, we see some very interesting parallels with situations dealt with by the characters in Battlestar Galactica, most prominently the fear of the unknown, the ugly truth of war and the widespread mistrust of other cultures and people that are unfamiliar.
The show also boasts a stellar cast, with Academy Award nominees, Edward James Olmos (taking the helm as the inscrutable Commander Adama), and Mary McDonnell, who leads the charge as President Laura Roslin. Other fantastic performances of note includes James Callin as Gaius Baltar (personally I want a t-shirt that says ‘What would Gaius Baltar do?’ to remind me to always do the opposite), and Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck as well as Battlestar Galactica veteran Richard Hatch, who played former political terrorist Tom Zarek.
As well as featuring compelling storylines and excellent action sequences setting Battlestar Galactica firmly at the top of the list for is sci-fi of the highest quality, it also passes the Bechdel test. In case you didn’t know, this test determines whether the story has more than one woman who talk to each other about something other than a man. It also passes the Pandomime test, where a female character can be swapped with a male character, with little to no edits, and the narrative still makes sense. And it also passes Deggan’s Rule, which decides if the show has at least two non-white human characters in the main cast in a show that’s not about race. Not bad, right?
Have you watched Battlestar Galactica? You should! Let us know your thoughts in the comments!