Saturday I got a wild hair and rewatched the initial TV movie (since recut as the first three episodes of the series) of the original Battlestar Galactica. Journey back with me to the days when Apollo had a sister, Tigh had an Afro and Starbuck had a penis.
If you’ve never seen the original series then yes, there will be spoilers. The original Battlestar Galactica starts from a similar premise as Ronald Moore’s reimagined version but there are several differences.
After a thousand years of war with the Cylons (robots built by a reptilian race centuries ago) the Twelve Colonies of Man are set to conclude a peace treaty due to the work of Baltar acting as liaison between the Cylons and the Quorum of Twelve who govern the colonies. The human Fleet of battlestars is assembled in one place for the impending armistice. One member of the Quorum, Adama, has some misgivings about the armistice and suspects a trap. Adama also happens to command one of the battlestars, the Galactica.
Meanwhile on Galactica one last patrol is to be flown. Captain Apollo, Adama’s oldest son and the commanding officer of one of the Galactica’s fighter squadrons, flies the patrol with his younger brother Zac (a perfectly cast Rick Springfield), a new pilot on his first mission. During their patrol the brothers stumble upon a swarm of Cylon fighter craft, enough to wipe out the Fleet (but no sign of any of their baseships). The two race back to warn the Fleet but Zac’s Viper fighter is damaged. Apollo makes it back but Zac’s Viper is destroyed just before he reaches the Fleet.
The warning is too late and the Fleet is unprepared for the Cylon attack. Baltar has been secretly working with the Cylons. He escapes the President’s battlestar before it is destroyed.
Adama realizes the Cylon baseships are in position to attack the Twelve Colonies. The Galactica disengages from the current fight to race back to the colonies but the battlestar arrives too late to stop the Cylons. All of the colonies, including Adama’s Caprica, have been thoroughly devestated. Meanwhile the rest of the Fleet is destroyed, leaving Galactica as the sole surviving battlestar and Adama the sole surviving member of the Quorum. Adama calls for as many survivors as possible to rally to the Galactica in whatever ships they can. He proposes to take what’s left of humanity to the lost Thirteenth Colony of Man called Earth, though he doesn’t know where it is.
Apollo has befriended a young widow, Serina (Jane Seymour) and her son Boxey. The boy is despondent over the lose of his pet daggit (dog) named Muffit. And maybe his father too but mostly the daggit. Apollo arranges for Boxey to get the first mechanical daggit built on the Galactica (to replace the military working daggits that are no longer available).
The Cylon Imperious Leader sentences Baltar to a public execution since the point of the massive attack was to wipe out all humans.
The ragtag fleet is facing a severe food shortage and fuel will be a problem soon too. The fleet traverses a dangerous region of space to reach the planet Carillon. There the fleet finds a resort, food and fuel being mined by an alien race, the Ovion. Adama is suspicious of such a gift horse falling into their lap but he is in the minority on the new Council of Twelve. Adama’s suspicions are given added fuel when he finds out that Balter did the initial survey of Carillon long ago that didn’t mention the abundant fuel ore.
Sire Uri, Adama’s main antagonist on the Council, proposes that the fleet disarm and live on Carillon because the Cylons won’t consider humanity a threat anymore. He says the Cylons didn’t become their enemy until humans intervened in their relations with other races. Adama counters that that the interventions were because the Cylons were enslaving and driving out their neighbors when humans intervened. Uri comes back saying if humans mind their own business the Cylons will leave them alone. (Read whatever geopolitical context you like into that exchange.)
The Council, minus Adama, plan a banquet on Carillon to announce their plans and request all military pilots attend.
Adama sends non-pilot personnel in pilot gear to the banquet (except for the three pilots receiving awards from the Council - Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer) while secretly positioning Vipers and pilots on the planet’s surface.
The alien Ovion have been quietly snatching humans as food for their larvae and also have a secret deal with the Cylons. Apollo and Starbuck run into Cylon centurions and in the ensuing gunfight ignite fuel ore in the underground tunnels.
Cylon fighter craft attack, thinking the Galactica is without its pilots. The Vipers launch from the surface of Carillon and destroy the attackers. Apollo and Starbuck break off to find the baseship that must be nearby. They trick the baseship into descending close to the planet just as the burning fuel ore explodes and destroys the planet.
The battle is won but the Cylons are still out there so…
But wait, there’s an epilogue…
Baltar is spared from execution by the new Imperious Leader (the last one went down with its baseship at Carillon). Baltar is to be given his own baseship so he can hunt down the Galactica and the rest of the fleet.
- Just from the short synopsis you can see some of the differences between the original and the reimagined version. For one thing Adama is both a military and political leader right from the start. Even though there is a council Adama must deal with he has a lot more power legally consolidated in his hands than William Adama ever does. Also Apollo, Starbuck and other names are just that, not callsigns. Just contemplate for a moment that Adama’s three children on the original show are named Apollo, Athena and Zac.
- Speaking of Athena, Apollo’s sister is a pilot and a warrior like her brothers though she’s currently assigned as one of the Galactica’s bridge officers. Her role on the show grows smaller as the show progresses and she’s not seen at all in the later episodes. That is a bit of a shame since the Galactica flight deck is pretty much a sausage fest. The only other prominent female Viper pilot is also the daughter of a battlestar commander so the message is pretty clear that nepotism is the key to a woman’s career as a warrior. I dare say that Flight Corporal Rigel (featured prominently in the trailer at the top) may have more lines over the course of the series than Athena.
- In case you’re wondering about Jane Seymour’s character, no she isn’t a regular. You can probably guess what will happen to her in the next couple of episodes so that Boxey ends up being Apollo’s adopted son.
- There are a few versions of the pilot episode. Besides the original three hour TV movie there is a theatrical version that was released to help recoup the high production cost. This version has some differences most notably the absence of the epilogue where Baltar is spared from execution. And as I noted above the original was chopped into three one hour episodes for the syndicated (and later DVD) version.
- I don’t plan to do a full rewatch of the original series because frankly a lot of it is utter felgercarb. The show has its moments but it is a relic of 1970s television. But if you’re interested the entire original series is streaming on Netflix.