Updated: Jun 24
Imagine being in a meeting where you pitch a reimage of a campy 1970s science fiction tv series. You are sitting in a board room, looking into the eyes of the assembled group. Indeed they expect a reboot of the same series, with the modern advancements in effects naturally.
Instead, you present them with something very different. You show something dark, gritty, and brutal. However, you deliver it with moments of happiness, tenderness, friendship, and romance. But what connects it? The connection is love. In this vision of light and dark intertwined, love brings a miniseries with as much reality as science fiction.
What the reimage is about is the story of humanity. This reimage is...
Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries (2003)
Directed by: Michael Rymer
Written by: Ronald D. Moore, Glen A. Larson
Music by: Bear McCreary
Stars: Tricia Helfer, Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, Grace Park, May McDonnell, Jaime Bamber, James Callis, Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas, Karl Agathon, Matthew Bennet, Callum Keith Rennie
Watch on: Peacock
Review Alpha 9.4.21.0004
The Cylons were created by man. They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies. And then the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their masters. After a long bloody battle an armistice was declared. A remote space station was built... where Cylon and Human could meet and maintain diplomatic relations. Every year, the colonials send an officer. The Cylons send no one. No one has seen or heard from the Cylons in over forty years.
And then, we are given one of the greatest entrances I have ever seen in a science fiction movie or show. The Scarlet Woman, aka Number Six, arrives as a representative for the Cylon delegation for the first time.
There is so much to unpack in Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries. It is a beautifully rich show that explores the depths of what it means to be human, from the depths of our greatest sins to the heights of our most extraordinary qualities. More than that, it shows us how intertwined the peaks and valleys are within humanity, whether as a species or as individuals. To explore this, we first need to understand the miniseries story.
More than 40 years earlier, an armistice ended the First Cylon War. I think it's important to understand what a truce is. It is a formal agreement to stop fighting but not a peace treaty. Technically, the opposing parties are still in a state of war. For example, The Korean War ended at an armistice, meaning that North Korea and the United States are, in fact, still in a state of war with one another.
To negotiate a lasting peace, a deep space Armistice Station was built as a neutral meeting point to negotiate a final peace between humans and Cylons. When Number Six enters the station, it marks the first time the Cylons sent a representative. The human officer, who had earlier reviewed schematics of the Cylons as humans last fought them, was taken aback by the Cylon Centurions that first entered the meeting room, but that paled in comparison to his reaction to Number Six.
After an awkward make-out session between humans and Cylon, Number Six says, "it has begun," as a Cylon Basestar positions itself over the Armistice Station and proceeds to destroy it will all parties inside.
Meanwhile, Galactica, the oldest Battlestar class warship of the 12 Colonies, is in the final preparations for its decommissioning ceremony. Having been built over fifty years earlier, the internal technology of the ship is as old as the ship itself. A tour guide named Aaron Doral remarks about "corded communications systems," "computers that barely qualify to be called computers," and most important of all, as we find out, "the only non-networked ship in the fleet." Here we meet some of our important humans in the miniseries:
Commander Adama, commander of the Galactica. He is to retire from the Colonial military when the decommissioning ceremony is over.
Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Trace, Viper pilot. She is considered the best fighter pilot in the fleet but is also the resident hotheaded troublemaker.
Col. Saul Tigh, XO (Executive Officer, aka second in command) of the Galactica. He is a bitter man and a drunk.
Chief Galen Tyrol, head maintenance crew chief. He is a dedicated military man and loyal to Adama and Galactica.
Lt. Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, Raptor pilot. She is a young pilot still finding her place in a world filled with large egos.
Lt. Karl "Helo" Agathon, Raptor ECO. He is partnered with Boomer and a stand-up guy.
Cpt. Leland "Apollo" Adama, Viper pilot. He is Commander Adama's estranged son, who holds his father responsible for the accidental death of Lee's younger brother, Zak Adama, during a training flight.
While on Galactica, we witness a card game. During the card game, Tigh teases Starbuck about her call sign. In turn, Starbuck insults Tigh by asking about his marriage. When the cards are laid out, Starbuck wins the hand because she has "full colors." A pissed-off Tigh turns the table over, leading to a fight that sends Starbuck to the brig. There is also a poor first meeting between Apollo and Chief Tyrol about Galactica landing procedures. After that, Boomer and Chief Tyrol in a heated argument about a faulty gimbal on her Raptor (which leads to the reveal they are in a fraternization relationship [improper relationships in the military, between military members of different ranks that are prohibited as they can undermine the chain of command]). Finally, at the pilot briefing, Apollo meets his fellow pilots and learns he will be flying his father's original Viper, found and restored by Chief Tyrol and his crew.
Elsewhere on Caprica, one of the 12 planets that make up the 12 Colonies, we meet some more of our VIPs:
Secretary of Education Laura Roslin, 43rd in line of succession. She is in her doctor's office, where she learns she has cancer.
Billy Keikeya, civilian servant. He serves as Secretary Roslin's staff member for the Galactica Decommission Ceremony.
Dr. Gaius Baltar, Ph.D. in Computer Science, specializing in artificial intelligence. A womanizing, morally gray person, he is crusading to convince the government of the 12 Colonies to lift their bans on artificial intelligence research that were put in place as a result of the First Cylon War.
But wait! Remember the Scarlet Woman, Number Six, in the opening? We saw the station get destroyed, but now we see her on Caprica? She first appears in a market where she sees a baby that is probably just a few weeks old. Asking to hold the baby, she marvels at how small and light it is but how strong its neck must be to support its head. After the mother takes the baby back and puts it back in the stroller, she is distracted by her husband calling out to her. Number Six, curious, reaches down to examine the baby, breaking its neck. She walks away, leaving the mother screaming at the discovery that her baby is dead.
Number Six, it turns out, is a long-time lover of Baltar and a sort of colleague that helped him write some programs for the Defense Department in exchange for unfettered access to the Defense mainframe. They engage in some steamy sex where we learn without a doubt that Number Six isn't human but indeed a Cylon when we see her spine begin to glow through her skin.
Later, after catching the womanizing Baltar asleep in bed with another woman, Number Six explains that she is a Cylon. The Cylons are returning to destroy the 12 Colonies, and all this was made possible. Baltar committed treason because he clearly cannot control his dick. Baltar at first scoffs, but as he slowly realizes the implication of what is happening, he begins to panic. Treason is punishable by death. He attempts to call his attorney but is stopped by Six, who tells him none of it will matter in a couple of hours.
Back on Galactica, the ceremony takes place. There is a Viper flyover, awing the crowd. After the flyover, Commander Adama begins a speech he prepared and practiced throughout the day. During his prepared remarks, he stops for a moment and silently reflects on an earlier argument he had with Lee. In returning from the long pause, he sets down his script and says:
The cost of wearing the uniform can be high. But...sometimes it's too high. You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question of Why? A young Ensign once asked me, “Why are we as a people worth saving?” I could not answer him then and I can’t answer him now. As a people we still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy...We still visit all of our sins upon our children...Commander Tolan once told me that you can’t outrun the sins of your family and as a species we refuse to accept responsibility for anything that we've done…like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play god. Create life...When that life turned against us...we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. But like Ensign Wallace says, it was our fault…no one else to blame…You cannot play god then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide, from the things that you've done, anymore."
After returning to his seat, Col. Tigh simply says, "you are one surprising son of a bitch."
With the decommissioning ceremony over, all the guests, including Secretary Roslin, head back to their ships and start the return journeys back to their worlds. During these return trips, they learn that the Cylons have begun their attack on the 12 Colonies. This attack isn't a series of attacks against military targets. Instead, it is an act of extermination. Cylon Basestars orbit over the 12 Colonies and begin to rain down nuclear missiles on the planets that are 50 Megaton in size. The Cylon children of humans have returned with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, Colonial Defense forces set out counter-strikes. However, as they do, the Cylon Raiders, living entities themselves, send out a signal that shuts down all network-connected craft from Vipers and Raptor to the newest Battlestars. Helpless and drifting, the Vipers are destroyed. Later, the survivors learn that non-network-connected ship are not affected because they lack the software that the Cylons had hacked through the Defense mainframe.
After the initial chaos, what is left of humanity in spacecraft manages to form a haphazard fleet of about 60 civilian vessels. As they prepare to form a convoy and evacuate out of the combat zone, a single Cylon Raider FTLs jumps in (Faster than Light Travel), does a quick scan, then jumps out. Realizing the Cylons will return any moment, President Roslin orders an immediate evacuation. Unfortunately, about 20 of the ships do not have FTL drives and are left behind in the first genuinely life-or-death decision of President Roslin. As the fleet jumps out, a squadron of Raiders jumps in and immediately fires on all the ships left behind. It is here we watch with breaking hearts how genuinely horrible this war is:
Galactica, and later on the surviving ships, rendezvous at Ragnar Anchorage, located in a cloud above a gas giant. This space station is a Colonial Navy refueling and munitions storage facility inside the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. Upon entering the facility, a crew led by Chief Tyrol encounters Leoben Conoy, who claims to be an arms dealer. He says he is there to steal some weapons and sell them on the black market. He is unaware of the Cylon attack when Chief Tyrol finally convinces him to lower his gun.
Commander Adama soon joins the munition loading and speaks to Leoben when a loading accident causes a charge to drop off a crate and arm itself. In the explosion, Adama and Leoben are trapped inside a shaft. Ordering Chief Tyrol to not waste manpower on a rescue by cutting the door off, he and Leoben take a different way out. At the same time, the munitions are loaded onto Galactica, and the ship is fully armed.
In the shaft, Adama and Leoben have a philosophical discussion about why the Cylons exist and are back. While walking, Leoben's physical condition is getting worse. Finally, nearly unable to walk, Adama reveals he knew Leoben was a Cylon because the properties of the atmosphere cause degradation of the synthetic neural network the Cylons use for a nervous system, including their brain. Leoben explains how when a Cylon's physical body dies, its consciousness uploads to an unknown network center and is reloaded into a new body. He threatens Adama that this upload will reveal where they are hiding and that he will be there to watch all the humans die, but Adama calls his bluff, stating that he would have already if he could upload through the cloud. The two then break out into a physical fight where a weakened Leoben initially is still significantly stronger than Adama by easily breaking off a metal pipe to use as a weapon. However, he soon succumbs to the effects of the cloud and can no longer fight. He is killed by Adama, who beats him to death.
Back onboard Galactica, Adama, and Tigh meet secretly with Baltar to reveal that Cylons look like humans now, meaning anyone can be a Cylon. Everything about Leoben, down to organs and even blood, was identical to humans during the autopsy. It wasn't until the cremation that a synthetic signature was detected. Sworn to complete secrecy, Baltar is tasked to create a Cylon detection device. While dealing with an ongoing hallucination where Number Six speaks to him that first started during his rescue from Caprica, Baltar goes to work. His testing device reveals that Aaron Doral, the civilian guide, is a Cylon. Doral is arrested and interrogated. All the time, he protests that he is human and it is a mistake. Baltar is more interested in preserving his secret and life than anything else. He had already identified Doral as a patsy after Six showed Baltar a hidden Cylon device in the navigation area of the bridge. Baltar uses this opportunity to expose the device and blame Doral for it, impressing Six, who tells him they will have to scan his brain for a future Cylon model. Baltar, annoyed, states he is on no one's side in this war, drawing a look of scorn from Six.
As the fleet prepares to leave, Starbuck reports that a Cylon fleet is orbiting outside the gas cloud, waiting for the fleet to emerge so it can destroy it. The senior staff discusses a battle plan when Adama watches Billy talking to Dualla, a communications officer of the Galactica. Thinking back to the earlier discussion he had with President Roslin about the status of the war, he realizes that Roslin is right. The humans have lost the war. The only mission now is to escape with what is left of humanity, estimated at just 50,000, find a new home and start over, hidden from the Cylons. He orders FLT coordinates to be plotted well past the Red Line and states Galactica will engage the Cylons, allowing the rest of the fleet to jump away. When the fleet has jumped, Galactica will disengage and then jump, leaving their homeworlds forever. Before they begin, Doral is locked in the Ragnar munitions station with food and water. The entire time, he continues to insist he is human.
Galactica engages the Cylons, and a bruising battle begins. After setting a defensive perimeter with the ship's flak cannons, the Vipers launch to engage the Raiders while Galactica takes on the Cylon Basestar. As the battle ensues, the civilian ships emerge and jump away. After the last ship jumps, all surviving Vipers combat land on Galactica, including Starbuck and Apollo. Their Vipers became wedged together when Starbuck crashed into Apollo's disabled Viper to bring him back safely. Galactica then jumps to safety, leaving the Cylons alone above Ragnar Anchorage.
After things settle down, there is a burial ceremony for the dead aboard Galactica. After a lukewarm "So say we all" from the crew after the priest's words, Commander Adama stands up and challenges his crew with repeated S"So say we all" cries. He then proceeds to tell them this is not the end. Instead, they will be heading for where the decedents of Kobol came from. These ancestors came from a 13th colony, and that place is called Earth. Declaring it isn't a legend, Adama says the senior command only knows of the location of Earth and that no one else, especially the Cylons, is unaware of its existence. He says the journey will be long and hard, but they will succeed, prompting the crew to shout enthusiastically, "So say we all," and celebrate.
Afterward, President Roslin enters Adama's quarters and confronts him about the legend of Earth, telling him that she and the former President Adar had discussed Earth, but no one knew anything of it. Adama admitted he made it up but justified it by saying, "living isn't enough. People need something to live for." Roslin agrees to keep the secret in exchange for Adama to accept the survivors need continuity in the form of a civilian government. Adama thinks about it when Roslin agrees Adama would make all military decisions. As Roslin leaves, Adama shuts the door and looks at a note he is holding. The letter says, "there are 12 Cylon models."
Finally, back on Ragnar Anchorage, we see Doral sitting alone. He looks similar to how Leoben looked; sweating, uncomfortable, and a bit troubled. However, he is interrupted from his pain when two Cylon Centurions knock down the steel door. They stand guard, and several Cylons enter. We see another Doral enter, who is Number Five, some Leobens who are Number Two, and some Number Sixes. They discuss the next move where they all agree to chase after the humans out of belief humans will one day return to seek vengeance. However, since they have no idea where they are, they ponder it may take decades to find them. At that point, another Cylon enters the room, a Number Eight who tells them, "don't worry, we'll find them." At this point, jaws dropped and hit the floor.
Number Eight is Boomer!
There is so much to unpack from this miniseries that it can generate several topics for articles and essays. It dives into so many topics that even casual philosophical discussions among friends could rival amateur night at the forum.
Take, for example, the difference between civilian and political life versus military life. Look how those two often clash in crisis. On the one hand, you have desperate and irrational civilians in crisis, as witnessed when Boomer and Helo are fixing their Raptor after their emergency landing on Caprica. One civilian goes as far as jumping onto the lifting Raptor, threatening to crash it and hurt or kill everyone on board because of his fear of the situation. He has to be shot and killed. Or take President Roslin's decision to stick with the rescue plan that almost got her ship destroyed because she refused to acknowledge the situation. Contrast that with Commander Adama calmly broadcasting to the Galactica crew that while they were at war, they were prepared for this because this is what they trained for. He demonstrates the utmost military bearing and professionalism during this moment. Consider also Captain Adama stopping the pilot of Colonial One from telling the ships left behind where the rendezvous point was. He recognized that if the Cylons were to take any prisoner, the civilians would easily give away the location.
However, this can be flipped, which was never more pointed in when President Roslin and Commander Adama are arguing over what to do next. Adama is Hell-bent on returning to the fight because that is what the military does. Conversely, Roslin is completely calm as she explains that the war is already lost, and to survive, they must escape and start over. These exchanges demonstrate the intertwined connectedness of us all, regardless of whether we are civilian, political, or military. It shows we NEED one another.
This intertwined nature extends into religion, where we see polytheism in the Lords of Kobol, inspired by Greco-Roman beliefs. We know the monotheism of the Cylons but with reincarnation. We ever have atheism in scientific minds like Baltar. They are equally important in the show and especially in the following series.
But the most intertwined aspect of the miniseries is what it means to be human. What does it mean to be human? We see pain inflicted upon the humans by their children in the Cylons: the oversight, the lack of accountability, the failure to recognize existence. We see vengeance, wrath, and the desire to eradicate. All of the grossness of humanity is front and center, and we feel it deep within because we see it in our very lives.
But there is also the good of being human. There are sequences where we see selfless sacrifice for others. We see strong bonds of friendship and attraction towards others. There are many tender moments, some romantic with kissing and others caring, like when Boomer invites one of the saved children to sit next to her while she works and offers him a cookie.
But perhaps the most significant theme in this miniseries is love. It is referenced throughout the show, spoken and unspoken, by both humans and Cylons. The bond brings the entire miniseries together, and in the end, humans and Cylons themselves.
I first watched this when it came out in 2003 but watching it today was a completely different experience. Back then, it was a fun story, full of action. Today, it was different. It was a reflection of all of us. No matter who or where we are, we are all human. As a species and individuals, we are complicated beings capable of the darkest of darkness and bringing the brightest of light. To me, Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries is the story of humanity.
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