Battlestar Galactica Miniseries
Script by Ronald Moore Part 1
Reviewed by Susan J. Paxton
its very first words, Ron Moore’s script for his “version” of Battlestar Galactica proclaims that the original is dead: The
Cylons were created by man.
But of course the Cylons were not created by man. And therein lies the rub, my friends.
I am not one of those who is a “continuation or bust” person. I have always been willing to accept a remake if – and only if – that original was faithful to the basic premises and themes of the original. Certainly things could change, even be improved. There are vast flaws in the original, largely a combination of rushed production and a lack of any feel for science fiction by the production team. But some things are untouchable, and one of the most important is the matter of the Cylons.
For the Cylons were not “created by man.” The Cylons were once a race of beings who allowed their technology to become too all-encompassing and finally were overwhelmed by it. The Colonials did not meet the Cylons until after the escape from Kobol and after the anti-technological interregnum that Adama talks about in “Lost Planet of the Gods.” At some time the Colonials had an ally race called the Hasaris, whom the Cylons wished to enslave. That was the apparent casus belli of the Thousand Yahren War.
And there was a deep mystery as well. In “War of the Gods” the Colonials encountered Count Iblis, a man, apparently – a man who, according to Baltar, had the voice of the Cylon Imperious Leader, a fact that only he was in a position to know. Who really was Iblis, and what part had he played in the tragedy of the Cylons? It was a wonderful, intriguing mystery.
But no mystery here. In fact, the only mystery in Ron Moore’s Galactica is why Moore feels his version improves on the original (and the real hell of it is, in a few places it arguably does).
The first scene opens on a Colonial space station, apparently one constructed to monitor the armistice between the humans and their malcontent machines who, after the ending of the war in the fairly recent past, have moved off into space. As a voiceover discusses the history of the humans and Cylons, we see a Colonial officer who once a month comes to the station to wait and see if the Cylons show up to talk. As the voiceover progresses, the officer ages and moves up the rank ladder and the family photos he has on his desk change. Every time, he leaves the station with no sign of the Cylons.
Until at last the door snaps open (um, no docking warning?) and two Cylons enter the room, followed by a beautiful woman, who proceeds to make a blatant, ridiculously over-the-top sexual play for the Colonial officer, during which first the Colonial officer’s shuttle explodes, then the entire station. The cold war with the Cylons is about to go “hot” again.
The scene cuts immediately to a corridor of the battlestar Galactica, and a woman jogging. And once again Moore proclaims that, while he has respected Star Trek and evidently so respected Anne McCaffrey’s world of Pern that he pulled out of a miniseries project, he will show no such respect to the creation of Glen A. Larson and Leslie Stevens. For the jogging woman is Lieutenant Kara Thrace, whose call sign is Starbuck.
One of the interesting features of the original Galactica is that it was military without being too recognizably based on Earthian models, although I have argued elsewhere that perhaps Larson would have done well to have hewed a little closer to “wet navy” models. But Moore takes it too far. Not only is his Colonial military based on a “wet navy,” it’s the US Navy by way of Top Gun. The pilots all have smarmy call signs, and the vipers are painted suspiciously like US Navy fighters – warning stencils, NO STEP signs, ship name painted on the tail in F-14 style, squadron emblems (incredibly, the vipers are white instead of gull grey, but I digress) and so on. And once again Moore flushes any sense of mystery, any sense of otherness, away for no good reason at all. Part of the fun of watching BG week after week was trying to figure out when it was all happening. Far in the past? Would the Colonials come to earth and somehow inspire the Egyptians? Would they arrive in the far future? No one knew. These people are all too recognizably us – and therein lies another problem. If the Colonials are a civilization that’s been separated from their brothers on Earth for thousands of years, why do they have names like William? Paul? Sharon?
In the next few scenes we encounter the Galactica’s commanding officer, William Adama (portrayed in the miniseries by Edward James Olmos), who back in his Top Gun days was known as “Husker” (big Husker Dü fan, I guess), and his executive officer, Colonel Paul Tigh, who evidently was never graced with a call sign. Adama is busy composing a speech for the Galactica’s retirement ceremony, scheduled for tomorrow, and Tigh is busy nursing a big league hangover. In one of the nicer scenes in the script – and, to give Moore his due, there are a number of these – the Galactica’s ground crew present Adama with a restored viper, one he flew in his younger days, repainted in his original markings, salvaged from the boneyard. Tigh, meanwhile, merely staggers around. Evidently no one wants to give him anything, although an invitation to AA would not seem amiss.
Cut to a doctor’s office somewhere in the Colonies where Laura Roslin is getting the bad news about her breast cancer – terminal. Surprisingly, a race with faster than light spaceships still finds cancer a problem. Does no one think this kind of thing through? This is especially glaring when Moore in certain places in the script has made distinct improvements on the technology of the original (explicitly equipping the ships with FTL drive, opening compartments to space to extinguish fires, etc.). Afterwards we find Roslin aboard a transport on her way to the Galactica. As Minister of Education, she will be present for the decommissioning ceremony at which the ship will be transferred to the custody of the Ministry of Education as a museum vessel.
Next, Moore gets artistic, and cuts back to the Galactica, an exterior scene. But instead of a traditional “hero” shot, the script direction reads that we are to see the Galactica “as if it were being seen from a hand-held camera aboard a plane flying alongside the ship. The framing is a little wobbly and the picture goes soft once or twice as our imaginary cameraman struggles to keep the ship in focus.” Huh? Once again, why? I know, I know, there’s no sound in space, etc, and in fact objects in space don’t look a thing like the kind of model work we’re accustomed to see (usually they are either insanely well lit or in absolute darkness, for one thing), but instead of seeming clever and artistic I have a nasty feeling this is going to come out looking like someone hired their kid nephew to do the effects. Hopefully it will be rethought.
Aboard the soon-to-be-retired battlestar, a card game is underway in the ready room, two of the players being the cigar-smoking (?!) Kara Thrace and Colonel Tigh. A lot of fans have various problems with this scene, but have missed the major one – since when does a senior officer play cards with the pilots? This is not terrifically good for discipline. Tigh might be found playing cards with Adama and some of the other command level officers, but I rather doubt you’ll find the exec of an aircraft carrier drinking and playing games with the pilots (of course in the US Navy you won’t find them drinking at all, since US Navy ships are “dry”).
Tigh gets off rather on the wrong foot by baiting Kara about her call sign. Kara shoots back a retort about Tigh’s wife, whose adultery is evidently common knowledge aboard the ship (although whether it’s the cause of or a result from Tigh’s alcohol addiction remains a mystery). Kara wins the hand – evidently the fifth in a row – and Tigh accuses her of cheating. Tempers flare, Tigh knocks the table over, and Kara belts him. Many fans have a problem with a junior officer slugging a senior. That is bad, but it’s worth noting that Tigh made the first move – and was wrong to put himself in the situation in the first place. In the US military, they would both end up in the brig and Tigh would probably be cashiered. In this early version of the script the other pilots haul off Tigh’s smoking remains, and Kara gathers up her winnings. Reportedly this scene has since been rewritten to have Kara put in the brig. Like I said, they should both end up there. But for some fans to run around tearing their hair out screaming about how this scene will upset the military is just asinine. Perhaps someone will tell me just which TV series has not taken insane liberties with the military, up to and including former Marine Don Bellisario’s JAG, which makes the most effort of any of them not to? Not to mention the displays of mass insubordination in “The Living Legend”....
Back in the Colonies – and evidently in this version of the script “The Colonies” are on one planet, Kobol (according to rumor changed since) – we see a TV interview with the unconvincingly “brilliant” computer scientist Dr. Gaius Baltar, whose view is that the ban on artificial intelligence research set in place during the Cylon war should be lifted. Later, in his apartment, we find Baltar and a good looking female all over one another (another scene fans claim to find appalling although the original, unaired version of the Starbuck/Cassiopiea launch tube scene was evidently not much less explicit than this, and neither is most network TV at this point). At the height of passion, we see – but Baltar does not – that her spine glows! Good heavens, a Cylon. Might as well paint a sign on her. Moore probably feels that his “realistically flawed” Baltar improves on the “insane, crazed” Baltar of Larson, but in fact this Baltar is one of the weakest characters in the script. He’s not realistic on any level. At least John Colicos could act.
This ends Act One; Ron’s directions call for a multiple split screen to start Act Two, something he hopes will become a stylistic trademark of the series. Uh, Ron, Earth calling – 24 has been doing this for two years now and it’s liable to start looking as dated as what Moore has referred to sarcastically as the “70s hairstyles” of the original.
As a tour group watches in interest, a viper comes aboard the Galactica (once again we cut to Top Gun and the pilot has to “call the ball”), and out climbs Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama. Friends, this is not the Apollo we know and love. While our Apollo occasionally disagreed with his father, this Apollo hates his father.
Apollo is followed in by a two seater Raptor (I have no idea if it’s coincidental or not that the new F/A-22 fighter is also called Raptor) flown by Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii, who unlike our Boomer seems to be a remarkably bad pilot. This will become more curious in Part Two.
At this point Moore notes that both men and women are referred to as “sir” in his Galactica universe, and again this has been a nitpick with certain fans. I have no problem with it, and in fact Star Trek II introduced the same logical tradition into Star Fleet. We also learn that Valerii is having an affair with her crew chief, which in our military is automatic kick-them-both-out-of-the-service time. To their credit, the other ground crewman find the whole thing rather disgusting (and to Moore’s credit, the enlisted types get a lot more time in his BG than they ever did in Larson’s; the ground crewmen are recurring characters throughout the miniseries).
Meanwhile, Laura Roslin and her callow assistant arrive on board; Billy, the assistant, is shocked by unisex heads and then attracted to one of the female crewmen within. This is a boring and unnecessary subplot to waste time on.
In his quarters, Adama is asking Tigh whether he wants to press charges against Kara; Tigh decides not to but has revoked her flight status (again, it’s been reported that the script has been rewritten to have Kara in the brig). The sheer dysfunctionality of many of the relationships – and another major and unwelcome difference from the original – is emphasized in the ensuing discussion between the two men regarding Tigh’s wife’s infidelity, his drinking problem, his desire to leave the service, and the fact that although Lee Adama has arrived on board over three hours previously he hasn’t bothered to inform his father of the fact.
Although suspended from flight duty, Kara shows up in the ready room for a briefing by Galactica’s CAG (Commander Air Group – does he fly a viper with a “double nuts” modex?), as does Lee Adama, who recognizes Kara. Lee will be taking the lead in a decommissioning ceremony flyby flying the restored viper the ground crew earlier presented to his father, something that thrills him not in the least.
The next scene features Adama and Laura Roslin discussing an idea she has for the Galactica’s museum ship status – an integrated computer system that will help visitors tour and interpret the ship. Adama, wisely as it will turn out, refuses to have the thing aboard, although in retrospect it’s a little hard to understand how a ship the size and complexity of the Galactica can be operated without one. Evidently the Colonials, suspicious of anything that smells even faintly of AI thanks to their Cylon experience, have found a way, presumably operating the ship by sneakernet. Laura thinks Adama is a fossil, but he’ll be proved right soon enough….
After the briefing, Lee and Kara are catching up, having not seen one another since the funeral of Lee’s brother, Zak. The reason for Lee’s hatred of Adama becomes apparent; he blames his father for Zak’s death. Kara tells him that he’s wrong about that, and tempers flare when she defends Adama, a man who his entire crew obviously admire to the point of idolatry (one of the rare flashes of the original series, by the way), something Lee simply cannot comprehend. This is actually a well written scene, incidentally. Moore can write, and he follows this with another solid scene between Lee and Adama in which some of the reasons for their antipathy are aired. Lee accuses his father of having pulled strings to get Zak into flight school and as a result Zak was killed in a flying accident. It is obvious that there is no common ground between the two men. I believe this plotline is unfortunate, but to give Moore credit, it’s handled fairly well here.
Night in Caprica City, and Baltar and his mysterious girlfriend are wandering down a riverside talking about his computer network project for the Fleet, one that she evidently had a hand in, against all regulations. Baltar believes that although he’s broken rules, it will only result in an advantage for the contractor she works for. As he walks away to meet someone, we find out that the contractor she works for is in fact the Cylons, and his indiscretion is about to cost a lot more than he thought.
Act Three opens in one of the Galactica’s hangar bays, already transformed into a museum with displays of artifacts and preserved vipers, as the decommissioning ceremony begins with an invocation and then a speech by Commander Adama. Remembering his confrontation earlier with Lee, it’s not quite the speech he intended. He concludes, “We decided to play god. Create life. And when that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it wasn't really our fault, not really. It was the Cylons that were flawed. But the truth is...we're the flawed creation. We're the ones that tried to manufacture life and make it serve us. But you don't play God and then wipe your hands of what you've created. Sooner or later...the day comes when you can't hide from what you've done anymore. A day of reckoning.” And indeed that reckoning is closer than anyone aboard the Galactica can imagine.
Morning dawns on Kobol, and we see people going about their usual activities, including Baltar, who gets caught by his mystery girlfriend in bed with another chick. After his girlfriend (who we learn is named Number Six) throws the interloper out, she begins what seems to Baltar an unnecessarily theological discussion:
Children are born to replace their parents. That is God's plan. God plans the death of one's parents to be a critical component of a child's development into adulthood.
(trying to be light)
Nothing worse than parents that hang around too long. Mine certainly did.
God wants children to grow and develop on their own. He wants them to reach their full potential. And so it is that parents must die.
But parents who stand in the way of
God's plan, who defy his will... they must be struck down.
hairs on the back of his neck are starting to rise.
Where the hell is this going...?
What's going on...?
Humanity's children are returning home.
Back aboard the Galactica,
Roslin has boarded her transport, which is going to return to Kobol with Lee
as escort. Meanwhile, Adama and Kara are walking down a corridor in
discussion, Adama suggesting that Kara needs to get some staff time to ensure
her continued promotion. Then he asks her if Zak really was a good pilot. Kara
assures him that he was. The relationship between Adama and Kara,
incidentally, is considerably more like that between the Apollo and Adama of
the original and refutes fan claims that all
of the relationships are poisonous. Adama clearly has been a father figure and
a strong influence in Kara’s life. Fans have accused Moore of making all of
his characters idiots, but that’s a little unfair, and Kara and Adama are
the most interesting of the bunch; Kara Thrace, in fact, is probably the
strongest character in the show.
Adama and Kara are on their way to the Galactica’s weapon control room, where Tigh is waiting to perform the act that will signify the Galactica’s decommissioning, the jettisoning of her weapon coils. That done, the Galactica’s teeth are truly pulled. Although she can still carry her vipers and other craft, her main armament is now nonfunctional.
Cut back to Baltar and his Cylon girlfriend, who, in the grand tradition of film and TV villains everywhere, is spilling the entire plot to the horrified Baltar. He asks why, if everything is going to be destroyed, she is still there, and learns that if her present body is destroyed, her memory and consciousness will be immediately transferred to a new one. A distant blast shakes the windows as the Cylon attack begins.
Act Four brings an unexpected Red Alert aboard the supposedly retired Galactica. After some expressions of doubt, it becomes obvious that a massive attack is underway. Fleet headquarters on Kobol has already been destroyed, and command of the fleet has passed to Admiral Nagala aboard the Atlantia. As the Galactica’s fighters, which were in transit to Kobol for reassignment, move out to attack, the situation continues to worsen. Thirty battlestars, a third of the fleet, are destroyed in the first attack (a vast improvement on Larson’s five, by the way), and severe damage done on the planet. Adama calls Kara to the CIC and plans for the Galactica’s defense. Kara points out that they no longer have vipers, but Adama disagrees – they do have 20 vipers that have been left on board as part of the museum displays. Kara rushes with the pilots to the launch bay, where the ground crews are yanking away velvet ropes and descriptive signs. The real problem, it turns out, will be moving the ships to the port launch bay, since the starboard has already been turned into a gift shop….
Lee, escorting Roslin’s ship, has his own problems. The systems aboard his viper are refusing to function correctly. Back aboard the Galactica, word is starting to drift in that mysterious equipment malfunctions are pretty much universal in the fleet, although the older Galactica remains unaffected.
Galactica’s CAG and her fighters run into two Cylon ships, which use some kind of ECM device to disable them. All of the fighters are destroyed, except for Sharon Valerii’s Raptor, which is somewhat farther back.
On Kobol, a panicked evacuation is already underway, and Baltar is getting onto a transport ship. Ready to take off, the ship is grounded by a power failure. Baltar leaves the ship and is wandering around the terminal in a mass of panicked people, in a daze, as the city is destroyed by a nuclear attack.
As Act Five begins, Adama informs his crew of the disaster to their city, then we cut to Sharon and her copilot (WSO?), Helo, attempting to escape from the attacking Cylons. Eventually they realize that the only way to survive is to power down their already damaged Raptor, play dead, and coast down towards Kobol.
Aboard her transport, Laura Roslin takes charge and puts the other people on board to work checking supplies. Making contact with the government, she learns that although a surrender was offered, the Cylons have ignored it. Signing off, the transport pilot indicates that a Cylon missile is heading their way.
Act Six opens with Lee’s attempts to save the transport ship. Fortunately he is able to decoy the missile away, and in what could be an exciting sequence he leads the missile on a chase into a viper training range on a small moon that he knows intimately. He flips the viper end for end – credit Moore with understanding how these things should be able to maneuver – and destroys the missile with his lasers. But the chase has burned all of his fuel, leaving him in a powerless viper drifting over the moon.
The Galactica finally has her antique vipers ready, and begins launching. The Cylons once again try their ECM device on the Galactica’s vipers, but the old vipers, with their hardwired avionics and simpler computer systems, aren’t affected at all. In the ensuing dogfight, most of the Cylons are mowed down, but one gets off a nuclear-armed missile, which detonates near the Galactica. Again, with the addition of missiles and ECM, Moore has made a distinct technical improvement on the original.
Act Seven finds the damaged Galactica drifting in space, venting air and fluids from her damaged areas, which include the port hangar pod. As Kara watches in alarm from her viper, aboard the Galactica Adama and Tigh are supervising damage control efforts. Although the damage is serious, shielding protected the crew from dangerous levels of radiation. As damage progresses through the crippled port hangar pod, Adama has to put his trust in Tigh and sends him to take charge of the situation personally. Arriving on the scene, Tigh sees that the only way to get ahead of the fires is to decompress a section of the hangar, where over a hundred crewmen are trapped. Not hesitating, he gives the order.
Fans have complained that Tigh is an irredeemable disgusting drunk, but Moore allows him to find new strength in himself in this scene. Also, it must be said that this is a gigantic improvement on “Fire in Space.”
Sharon Valerii and her copilot Helo have landed their Raptor on an abandoned airstrip on Kobol and are watching as one after another the mushroom clouds of nuclear attacks rise into the sky around them while Sharon tries to repair their ship. Then Helo notices an oncoming mob of refugees from the nearest destroyed city. One of them is Gaius Baltar.
Laura Roslin and her transport pilot, meanwhile, pay Lee Adama back for his efforts in decoying the Cylon missile by recovering his fuel-less viper from above the training asteroid. As he climbs out of his viper inside the transport’s cargo bay, Lee learns that some people aboard the transport, led by a man named Doral, whom we have previously seen as a tour guide aboard the Galactica, are less than inspired by Roslin’s leadership. Lee finds her very much in charge, preparing the transport to take on refugees, as the government has ordered a mass evacuation. Doral, clearly hoping that Lee will take over, is startled when Lee backs up her orders.
Back at the landing strip, Sharon and Helo are having a hard time trying to hold off the desperate civilians from their ship. This is another powerful, genuinely harrowing scene; the pilots turn down money, but in the end Sharon is moved by one woman’s request that they take her six year old nephew – a boy whose face is familiar from a family photograph that the officer at the armistice station, killed in the opening scene, had with him. They realize that if they can take one boy, they might be able to get a few more people into their ship as well. They take the five children there, and can take three adults as well, and the people draw lots for the three adult passengers.
Aboard the transport, a coded message comes in, indicating that the government has been largely destroyed. Although forty third in the line of succession after the President, Roslin sends her code back in reply. The message that comes back confirms that she is now President of the Colonies – or what is left of them. In the crowded cabin of the transport, in a scene reminiscent of Dallas, 1963, she takes the presidential oath.
Lots are being drawn back at the Raptor, and three people are chosen. An older woman near Baltar is one of those whose number is drawn; she’s lost her glasses, can’t see the number. We never know if Baltar is going to do something nefarious when Helo recognizes him and, feeling that one of the greatest scientists in the Colonies might be useful, gives up his own seat to Baltar, who, in the meantime, has mysteriously begun seeing visions of Number Six.
The situation aboard the Galactica has been stabilized. Tigh’s courageous order to decompress the hangar has cost the lives of 85 crewmen but saved the ship. He joins Adama in the navigation station, where Adama is seeking out a source of replacement weapon coils. The nearest possible surviving site is the abandoned Ragnar anchorage, three days travel away, and the Cylons are between the Galactica and there. Tigh realizes that Adama has decided to make a quick subspace jump to get there, and it has been over twenty years since the Galactica made a jump. As the crew readies the ship, news comes in that almost the entire fleet has been destroyed, and Adama is now in command; he immediately sends out a message informing all units of his plan to rendezvous at the Ragnar anchorage.
Roslin’s transport is approaching a crippled passenger liner when Adama’s message is received. She immediately tells Lee to send a message back requesting assistance. Again, fans are irritated by this, but it was evident in the original also that the Colonials had a strong principle, as we historically have, of civilian control of the military. Adama is bound by his oath to obey the lawful orders of the government. Whether her request is doable or not is one thing; she has the right to give the order and Adama’s duty is to obey.
As the Galactica prepares to make her first subspace jump in decades, Adama receives now-President Roslin’s message from Lee and, as Lee had predicted, he doesn’t like it. He orders the ship to proceed to the rendezvous; Lee has to remind him that the President has given him an order. This is not one of Adama’s better moments in the first half. He can respectfully disagree with the President, he can try to reason with her, but disobedience is treason. Before he can do anything other than complain about the President’s qualifications to lead, the transmission is interrupted when the transport and the passenger liner it has docked to come under Cylon attack. As Adama watches and the first night of the miniseries ends, a massive explosion appears to destroy both ships….
Viewed in as neutral a manner as possible, the first two hours of Moore’s script are a very mixed bag of OK, bad, and indifferent. If I was a fan who was totally unfamiliar with the original Galactica, I might like this. If I was a fan who was only vaguely acquainted with the original, I still might like it. But as a fan deeply involved in the original, I have to ask Moore why does he believe that the changes he has made are improvements? He actually writes and plots well. The first two hours are a tight, exciting script. Some of the things fans profess to be most irritated by – the sex, the relationship of the civilian power to the military, some of the military details themselves, are, in my view, really not major issues. But why change the relationship of the Cylons to the humans? This not only is unnecessary, it adds nothing. The human looking Cylons also add nothing except saving effects money, which I suspect is why they’re here. Why remove the mystery by using common Earth names and turning the Colonial world into a slightly more technically advanced version of our own? Why the unnecessary character changes? While some of Moore’s characters have real promise, they are no better or more involving or more complicated than the ones created by Larson, and in most cases they are less interesting and certainly less inspirational. Is Tigh, for example, made more involving by his being an alcoholic? Gaius Baltar is about as absorbing as Bill Gates (and judging from early production photos has an even worse haircut).
What makes the script even harder to read is that there are good things here. Moore has done a decent job in expanding the Colonial military to realistic levels, improving the combat scenes, and adding at least a modicum of science fictional sensibilities, even if these are inconsistent. He’s also turned the holocaust from something disposed of by Larson in fifteen minutes into a genuinely appalling disaster. It’s clear to me that if Moore had hewed more closely to the original, or penned a continuation, he could have written a first rate Battlestar Galactica script that would truly have brought new life to the franchise while honoring and expanding on what had gone before. Moore reportedly pulled out of a miniseries version of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels because the network involved refused to respect the original. Why has he done what he protested against here?