July 2003

Another One Bites the Dust...
The Re-Imagination of Battlestar Galactica

Photographs of the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica miniseries, due to air on the Sci-Fi Channel in December of 2003, mysteriously surfaced on the net this week. Oddly, especially considering the specifics that have already been reported about the project, some of those leaked photographs are downright perplexing. For instance, in the online spread there were a couple of shots of the imposing chrome robots, the famous Cylon Warriors from the original 1978-1979 ABC TV series. Of course, the new miniseries will not actually feature this classic robot design, a trademark of the first series, but instead spotlight a new brand of humanoid-type Cylon, more like Arnie's Terminator, allegedly.

So what's the deal? Why no illustrations of the new Cylons, the ones that will actually populate the miniseries? Could it be because the creators of the new production don't wish to reveal this far in advance that they have discarded this impressive and much revered design? Instead of releasing photographs of the miniseries' new featured villains and at the same time reveal a major change in the Galactica universe, these photos of the classic Cylons appeared online instead, ostensibly to placate the faithful. What fans may not realize is that this sturdy old Cylon Centurian reportedly appears only briefly as a museum relic in the new miniseries, at least according to rumors! You wouldn't know that from the photo spread, that's for sure.

From online script reviews and interviews with writers and creators, we already know that the universe is drastically altered as "re-imagined" by the creators of the new Galactica. The gambling, womanizing character named Starbuck, once played by the macho Dirk Benedict, is actually a blond woman this time around...and already cast. Also, the mythological-sounding names such as Apollo, which formed so much of Galactica's background gestalt, have been ditched, transformed into pilot CB radio handles like "Maverick" in Top Gun. Captain Apollo's new name is "Lee." Now there's a courageous, heroic sounding moniker! One wonders if he'll be joined by daredevils Stan, Jimmy and Bob. And what's this, Edward James Olmos has been cast as Commander Adama? That's great - he's a terrific actor and will do a wonderful job, but no cast members have been retained from the original series! Not a one! Why?

As a longtime admirer of Battlestar Galactica, I don't necessarily object to the idea of an updating or a remake. What does concern me, however, is the fact that this re-imagination co-opts the Galactica brand name and apparently shows little respect for the original drama. Where's the original cast? (Come on folks, why wasn't Richard Hatch cast as Adama?) Why the change in the nature of the Cylons? Why remove the mythological names and allegedly the spiritual and mythic overtones that made the original show something unique? Why replace the series' Pearl Harbor surprise attack with a faddish September 11th scenario instead?

Again, I haven't seen the miniseries. It may be the best thing to happen to science fiction TV in 2003, but no matter how good it proves to be, it doesn't deserve the name Battlestar Galactica. And that's simply because, like all myths, Battlestar Galactica boasts a history, style, and legacy all its own. Yes, even baggage too, including flaky science and a presumed status as a Star Wars rip-off. The creators of the new miniseries - enterprising and talented individuals all, no doubt, have raided the series' name, some of its production design (like the Colonial vipers, which appear relatively faithful), but shredded the original characters and scenarios in favor of their own original ideas. That, my friends, is nothing less than hubris - to believe that something you come up with will be better than what millions of fans enjoyed the last time around.

It's also a really stupid tactic from a marketing angle. Name recognition may bring in a lot of curiosity viewing, but there are going to be many disappointed and angry fans, no matter how brilliant this version turns out to be, when they discover that this miniseries is an "alternate" take on Galactica, not a continuation or faithful remake. The miniseries may be heartfelt entertainment, intellectually stimulating and exciting drama, but it just won't be Battlestar Galactica.

Of course, Battlestar Galactica isn't Scripture. It has faults. All genre series do. I've enraged the militant faction of Galactica fans myself by pointing out some of the series' shortcomings, and to this day I half-expect to find a Cylon burning on my front lawn. Fine. I'm on board with the notion that Battlestar Galactica can be improved and re-built. I wholeheartedly buy that argument, and so do, I suspect, most rational fans. But can this mission not be accomplished in a manner that pays tribute to the original series? After it all, the series lasted for only twenty four episodes and yet millions of fans remember it twenty-five years later! Wouldn't it be better to build on that solid foundation, rather than cast aside tradition for totally new, untested ideas?

A question to the makers of the miniseries: Why name your effort Battlestar Galactica at all? By doing so, you set yourself up for failure. No matter how brilliant your updates and re-imagination, it will be judged against fan nostalgia and admiration for the original. So why push your ideas at the expense of a show that already carries its own vision and legend? Like the deceptive Cylon photographs on the net, it smacks of a gimmick or trick. Star Wars and Star Trek have both survived by demonstrating at least a measure of respect for their original source material. Various movies, prequels and spin-offs in those franchises at least appear to exist in the same universe, so that old episodes and movies aren't ignored and shunted aside for something new.

This new Galactica actively negates the old Galactica, and that's nothing short of a slap in the face to fans. Let me ask you, clever producers, which version do you think fans will have more allegiance to? A version they've grown up with and cherished for twenty five years? Or your spanking new production, no matter how smart and updated?

We all remember just how well this "re-imagination" approach has worked before, don't we? That's why we've had so many sequels to 1998's Godzilla and Lost in Space, 1999's The Wild, Wild West, and 2001's Planet of the Apes, right?