I have to admit I was reluctant to watch it when it first came out as a miniseries on SciFi Channel. I had a soft spot for the glitzy, somewhat camp 70’s show. (It was TV’s answer to Star Wars—minus the really good writing.) However, Ron Moore stood that shiny, cheesedog of a cold war allegory on its frakking head by making some really bold and fearless choices.
Realism. The original was very clean and shiny, and evidently the best and brightest survived the massacre of the human race. On BSG, the Battlestar Galactica survived because the ship was an old rust bucket about to be decommissioned. The Cylon attack didn’t disable its systems because it hadn’t been upgraded. Commander William Adama was in charge of the Galactica because of some questionable decisions. And Colonel Ty was a drunk, whose wife was a notorious flirt. Apollo (real name Lee Adama) hated his father, and Starbuck (Kara Thrace) was in the brig for punching Ty during a poker game. Oh, and the day the Cylons attacked, the President found out she had terminal cancer. And, the Cylons can look human and have sleeper agents on board the Galatica. Good times.
Strong Female Characters. On the original, the only major female character was a reformed hooker. (Yes, Cassiopeia was what was euphemistically called a sociolator.) And then she became a nurse. Paging Nurse Chapel! (That's a Star Trek reference, btw.)
On BSG, Starbuck, the President, the commander of Pegasus, Boomer / Athena, Six, Diana, and about half of the characters, Cylon and human alike, are women. Strong, complex women. And no one questions or even remarks on it. (Ok, the diehard fans of the original show had a hard time with Starbuck being a woman, but they got over it. For the most part.)
Tough subjects. The original, as I mentioned, is kind of a cold war allegory. The Cylons were the Soviets, and they wiped out the humans because we let our defensive guard down. BSG is far more complicated. Moore didn’t shy away from terrorism, religion, free will, destiny, and what it means to be human.
Plot Decisions. The original had its moments, but the plots were mostly predictable. And everything was wrapped up in 42 minutes. (Or whatever the length of a standard hour long drama was in 1978.) And they found Earth. (At least on the short-lived Galactica 1980.)
Moore envisioned BSG as more of a long form. He had the overarching story in mind when he started. And he never took the easy road to get there. For instance, after establishing the Cylons as monotheistic terrorists chasing and infiltrating the humans, Moore turned the tables. Thinking they’ve lost the Cylons, the humans find a habitable planet to settle, which they call New Caprica. A year later the Cylons arrive and decide to occupy New Caprica—and reform the humans. Here, have a look:
After this, the humans have to become terrorists themselves to combat Cylon occupation. (I won’t mention the utterly heartbreaking—and damned ironic—choices characters like Ty make.)
I could go on. And on. And on. The long and short of it is that Ron Moore made his characters—human and Cylon—deeply flawed and tested them in the worst possible situations.
That’s frakking good storytelling.
Any BSG fans out there? How did Ron Moore make BSG work for you? What were some of your favorite moments or characters?
BTW, I found Ron Moore’s podcasts / episode commentary—which are available on the SyFy site and iTunes—great lessons in storytelling. He talked about the writing and editing process for the each episode and the series in general—usually while sitting in his living room, smoking a cigar, and drinking scotch.