Battling Battlestars

On a whim I decided to compare and contrast the turn-of-the-century Battlestar Galactica and the original from the 1970’s.

Battlestar Galactica Model and Phot by Andrew Creighton

The stylistic differences are obvious, as thirty years of technological advancement has led to an FX wonder, but the primary differences are more fundamental, not only in their view of enemies, but much more critically in their view of humanity.

[SPOILER WARNING: If you have not seen these series, plot details will be given away.]

The differences in characterization are aptly summed up in a furious and accurate rant by the original Starbuck.

A quick excerpt:

So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith and family is un-imagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume. A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy human civilization, one would assume. Indeed, let us not say who the good guys are and who the bad are. That is being “judgmental,” taking sides, and that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Kathryn Hepburn and John Wayne and, well, the original “Battlestar Galactica.”

He does strike upon a fundamental change in the cultures that presented them.

First, we have gone from seeing right and wrong to hating the concept.  In the original series, the Cylons were a foreign threat, created by a lizard race, and turned against all life.  Humanity was just their latest hatred in a general pursuit of all that is different in life.  This echoed the societal view of a people with living memories of Pearl Harbor and the millions fleeing from Communist conquests across the globe.

Sometime in the 1990’s that view inverted, and now we have a Battlestar Galactica where the Cylons, just like all of humanity’s problems, are our fault.  Humans made Cylons, betrayed them, and deserved their ire.  This harks back to the liberal assumption that all wrongdoing in Earthly foreign affairs are due to America.  If we were not strong, we would not be hated.  If we did not have soldiers protecting humanitarian aid shipments, Somalia would have no warlords to attack them in Mogadishu, etc.

A truism in genre fiction is that heroes are proactive, and not reactive.  Heroes see what must be done, and do it.  This difference echoes strongly in the pilot episodes.  Adama is not a clueless reactionary in the original, but a cautious and guarded patriarch (oh my, yes, he is a patriarch worthy of respect, possessing power, compassion, and leading in faith and hope).

Comparing the pilots: Adama the Patriarch is watchful, cautious, and guarded.  Adama the Whipped is old, run-down, and weary with old wounds and dreams.  The power and wisdom of age has been rejected so blatantly that only women lead in any meaningful way, though they lead in circles, always questioning, doubting, and reversing themselves.

Adama the Patriarch leads first, and bears the burdens of his choices later.  Adama the Broken rolls with the punches first, and then tries to pull himself back up.  It breaks my heart because Edward James Olmos has been a favorite actor of mine since Stand and Deliver.

Colonel Tigh in the original embodied the hope of racial reconciliation and a truly colorblind society as he capably leads the ship in Adama’s absense, gives invariably sound advice, offers clarifying questions, and stands as an XO just as admirable and worthy of respect as the CO he supports.

Rebooted Tigh is more than broken, he a wasteland.  Alcoholic, assaulting subordinates, corrupt, foul-mouthed, and ascerbic.  He’s driven his wife away, and the only logical explanation for his continued place on the ship is his shelter in Adama’s coattails.

Starbuck the compassionate lady’s man turns female, violent, borderline psychotic, apparently an abuse survivor (because all women are victims).

In the original pilot, Adama suspects the trap.  His patrol discovers the ambush ahead of the attack.  Reboot Adama is caught by complete surprise.  Patriarch Adama calls an alert to the fleet, is countermanded, but he prepares his ship to fight anyway.  As a result, his battlestar survives to rescue people.  When he goes home, he and his son stand together where their mother died, unified in love and family.  Reboot/Rebroken Adama adopts a lie to people women have gathered, and he wants to abandon the civilians to die in hopeless combat.

The loss of family values is telling.  It isn’t, as the LA Times accuses, that getting rid of a robot dog that tells the switch.  In the Original series Adama’s two sons and daughter fight side-by-side as crew on the Galactica.  Their love for one another is open, unassuming, and endures great pains and tragedies.  In part 2 of the pilot mini-series, original Apollo gives his father a speech about his love for his father, his respect and lifelong admiration for the man.  Reboot Apollo has no good words for his father, who he blames for his brother Zac’s death (In the original series Zac dies fighting at Apollo’s side during the original ambush, but that is too heroic, so he dies in the past of the reboot because Kara and Adama cheated and set him up because like all the men in the series Zac was broken and unready.  He could not be a fighter pilot.)

There is the future of family in the series.  I originally watched Galactica in the 1970’s as a boy, and I admired Boxey, the 7-year-old boy who lost his father in the assault.  He and his mother rapidly become Apollo’s adopted family as the young officer steps up, provides, protects, and revives the hearts of the refugees.  In the reboot Boxey’s father is a Colonial officer who dies at Armistice Station while making out with a Cylon slut-model-6 in front of the pictures of wife and child.  The reboot abandoned Boxey and his mother entirely.  There was no place in the story line for a pre-teen orphan.  Why?  The heroes are no longer heroes.  There is no place for them to show enough loyalty or solidarity to build a family amidst the soap-opera of spies, and soft core pornography.  The new Apollo could never become a father any more than the new Starbuck could be stable enough to grow and mature opposite Cassiopeia.

The original series began and ran through with hope.  Adama really did know the legends about earth.  Reboot Adama lies through his teeth to his people to inspire him, and much of the plot in Season 1 is the legend true despite his lies and manipulations.

In the original, Gaius Balthazar was an anti-Patriarch.  He betrayed his people their deaths knowingly, believing that he would be placed at the head of a Vichy-style subordinate government of his sole surviving colony.  He was betrayed, of course, and his colony wiped out along with the others.  The new Gaius is an incompetent womanizer, who could not even knowingly betray his people.  Craven, with no redeeming qualities, even the villainous men are irrelevant and powerless in the reboot.

The original story was one of faith and hope from the beginning.  Though the odds were long, there was always a belief that Earth was out there, and with courage and unity the Galactica would reach her.

The reboot has the Earth as a myth, a fable that the leaders do not actually believe in.  When they discover their faith, that faith proves to be futile, because Earth is an irradiated uninhabitable wasteland.  Not only does the mythology state that evil is humanity’s fault against itself, but humanity’s self-destruction is the rule, the unchanging cycle that defines the fictional universe.  So, even when Cylons and Humans come together to find a habitable planet at last, they cast their ships into the sun (because technology is the root of all of the fruit of mankind’s evil) and start what turns out to be our own world.

The new series has bolder writing, infinitely better special effects, and a great step forward to show the next logical generation of Cylons.  But what does it profit a story go gain a digital world if it loses the soul that made fans love it in the first place?

The original Starbuck was a flirt, but he was never mean, cruel, or untrustworthy in a crisis.  The original Apollo was the ideal warrior, and he spoke about it.  He was the sort of character who delivered the line, “The lives of everyone depends on our skill as Warriors.” and never stutter, because the character reflected the attitude of heroes from old lore, who knew their role as heroes and accepted the burden and the challenge from the off.  The original crew was a family, and not an incestuous one.  There were self-seeking and foolishness among the first colonial journey, but not overt treason, not humanoid plants too self-unaware to even know their own identity.

I own every season of the reboot, but I will always love the old one, with its derivative effects and blue-screen models, for the heart and the challenge to belief, to move forward in hope, to build family, honor friendship, and become a stronger and better person for the journey.

Rumors that Boxey grown to adulthood will star in the upcoming film reboot makes me think that I am not the only person who longs for the heart of the old series, as the dependent character was rejected by the new series so that the adults could escape the burdens of parenthood and act like pubescent children for the entire show.

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