Monday, July 8, 2013

Five Reasons Why I Love (the New) Battlestar Galactica

Okay, so it's not so 'new' anymore, but as part of my summer fun, I've been watching season one of Battlestar Galactica again and remembering all the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy this series.  The full list is quite lengthy, so I've picked out the top five for this blog post -- all of which teach us something about great story telling in general.  Here they are, in reverse order:

5. Total Destruction

For all our whining and groaning about the old tropes in SFF, the truth is none of us ever tire of seeing the entire village burned to the ground. Especially at the outset of the story.

Galactica takes this old trope and makes it bigger than ever: not only is the village burned down, twelve planets are nuked. An entire species is driven to near extinction, its population going from billions to less than 50,000 in the space of a few hours. The enemy is so formidable it appears impossible that anyone will survive.  The ragged remnants of a sophisticated civilization have no choice but to run, surrendering their fates to the vast desert of space in hopes of finding a legendary livable planet that no one is even sure exists.

4. Those Sexy, Soulful Cylons

I get such a kick out of the fact that all the sexiest characters of the 2005 series are Cylons.  Definitely gives a new twist to the old artificial-intelligence-takes-over-the-universe idea. And what's more, they are highly spiritual sexy robots.  This is presumably not the way they were designed. But after the humans created and then banished the Cylons, the robots continued to evolve. 

Here we see a resurrection of the age-old questions first immortalized in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. What are the consequence of creating intelligent life? Can something we regard as merely a thinking machine have a soul?  And most disturbing of all, what would happen if beings of our creation turned on us and tried to destroy us (because we, after all, tried to destroy them first)? 

3. The Schizo Paranoid Scientist

I think James Callis's portrayal of Gaius Baltar is, in a word, brilliant.  Pulling again on the old tropes, Galactica gives a new and charismatic look to the classic mad scientist.  Gaius is a bit of a Judas as well, having unwittingly betrayed the colonies by providing defense information to his lover, who turned out to be one of those sexy soulful cylons.  (Indeed, the sexiest and most soulful of all.)  He lives out season one in absolute terror that his treason will be discovered, and tries to dedicate his superior intelligence to helping the remnants of human civilization survive, though he is constantly waylaid by tantalizing hallucinations of his Cylon lover, who somehow continues to manipulate him even though she's not really there.

2. Tension Between Military and Civilian Forms of Governance  

All my favorite stories have this thread, in one form or another.  Galactica sets it up beautifully through the characters of Commander Adama and President Roslin. 

On the day of the attack, Adama is preparing for his own retirement and putting his old ship to rest.  Roslin, a low-level member of the presidential cabinet, oversees the Ministry of Education and is 42nd in line for succession.  When the Cylons attack, Adama's ship is the only battlestar to escape, and all other 41 members of the cabinet who would have assumed the presidency before Roslin perish.  Adama and Roslin are forced to work together in order to lead their people to safety. Each comes to the table with different, often conflicting perspectives not only on governance, but on the basic plan for survival.

I particularly love the grace and mastery with which Roslin, portrayed by Mary McDonnell, assumes her new role as leader of a people in exile.  She is an amazing  female character: complex, able, and intelligent, one of many in the series, which brings me to the last (or first) thing on my list:

1. Kara Thrace (call sign: Starbuck)

When Starbuck was recast as a woman for the new series, there was some backlash from fans of the original.  I didn't see any of that, and quite honestly, I don't care.  Kara Thrace rocks, and while I too had a crush on Dirk Benedict back when I was 12 years old, I'm a woman now and I was totally ready for this cocky cigar-smoking fighter pilot to be one of the gals. 

Despite the rocky start with Galactica purists, Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff, quickly established her place as one of the best woman warriors yet to appear on the SFF scene.  Gritty, complex, sexy, intelligent, hotheaded, and with a gift for defying authority, she takes control of the screen every time she appears. 

Looking back, they probably should have recast Apollo as a woman, too. (I mean, let's face it: Apollo the man just couldn't keep up with her!)  But oh well.  Maybe we'll see a woman Apollo, along with other interesting changes, when they film the 2035 edition of Battlestar Galactica. 

That's my list.  Now I'd like to hear from you.  Whether you saw this particular series or not, tell me about your favorite old tropes, and classic characters, remade in new and exciting ways.  In books, series, or movies -- everything is fair game. 
 posted by Karin Rita Gastreich


Terri-Lynne said...

This is one of those series friends and family insist I should watch and would love like I love no other show in the history of television--and it is the one show I've just not seen yet. Not even an episode. I think I'm going to have to rectify that. With Chris laid up, now is the time!

I have to admit that I LOVE the old tropes. The swashbuckling rogue, the fiesty redhead sidekick, the mustache-twiriling villain, even the dreaded Damsel in distress. BUT--I like them turned around a bit, given a new twist. Once again a character that comes to mind is Rincewind from the Discworld series. The HERO! And yet he runs from his own shadow whenever he gets the chance. When he saves the day, it's usually by accident--at least in the early novels.

Tropes can become boring, but they RESOUND. We connect with them because they are familiar. No one wants every hero to be Dudley Dowright and every dastardly villain to be another incarnation of Boris Badinov, but sometimes they're exactly what you need, either as a reader or a writer.

And that brings to mind Dr. Evil (Austin Powers.) Now THAT is a trope down to most of his lines, but put in the setting, in the genre, in the movie this character is put in totally changes the character, tropey as he is, into something "new."

And I suppose that's the bottom line, eh--do it well, and you can pull off just about anything.

Anonymous said...

BSG was probably the first post 9-11 show that captured the feeling that so many of us had after those events unfolded. The destruction of those cities on Caprica was just so intense, and the exodus of a fallen people resonated with the events that were going down in Africa at the time with places like Sudan and Botswana. A roaming, dispossessed people fighting for their lives. The characters were excellent.

I got to see Katee Sackoff at a convention once, and I loved her take on Starbuck. She talked about how she was disgusted when a fan would say Starbuck was a role model, when she thought the character was actually the antithesis of a role model. Kara Thraceis flawed, but still an excellent character.