liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Lizbeth Rewatches Battlestar Galactica — 1978: Saga of a Star World

As some of you may (or may not) know, I decided to cut back on the Netflixing and rewatch the DVDs I actually own (as well as rewatch other people's DVDs).

At any rate, I had just finished rewatching Battlestar Galactica the new series up until 'Lay Down Your Burdens' (as a sidenote, if you re-watch the first two seasons back-to-back without a break, Season 3, especially 'Crossroads,' makes a whole fuckload of sense...but I'm getting away from the subject...)

Once I finished up the new Battlestar Galactica, I cast my eye around to find out which new series I was going to watch. Lo and behold, my eye fell upon the next series I owned. It just so happened to look like this:

Oh, Lordy me.  What's a girl to do?

Could I dive back into the the 1970s, cold war paranoia, Mormon recruitment tool that was, in fact, the original Battlestar Galactica with its reach-for-the-Emmy moments, lines that go *thunk* in the night, men with pretty-pretty hair, questionable physics, and plots that make no sense whatsoever?

Rest assured, good people, I resisted. I resisted hard. But, no! I had made up my mind. I would grit my teeth and march boldly backwards into my childhood when Battlestar Galactica was the one fandom that ruled my heart.

And so, I started right at the beginning, with 'Saga of a Star World.'  I should note that the title for the original 2-hour and 15-minute mini-series that kicked off the regular ABC extravaganza (which was broadcast over 3 nights) was not at all evocative of Star Wars. Really.

What can I say about 'Saga of a Star World?'

Well, good people, it's a hell of a lot better than a remembered. It wasn't good, Lords of Kobol know, but definitely not quite as deeply cheesy as I thought it would be. Even so, to quote the great Bruce Campbell on the subject, I remembered why people of a certain age had their brains short-circuit when the words "Battlestar Galactica" and "Peabody Award" were mentioned not just in the same breath, but with the word "won" located right in the middle of those phrases.

As for the casting, ummmm. Not to get all wanky about race, but let me put it this way: According to the original series, the Twelve Colonies were lily white, with a smattering of black faces. No Latinos. No Asians. No one from the Indian subcontinent. No one looking like they hailed from the Mediterranean, even.

The fact that I even noticed this says something about the casting of the new series. I should note that Ron Moore is quick to point out that most of his cast with several notable exceptions — is drawn from the local Canadian talent pool. I'm not sure how it affected the casting of the new series, but I suspect that it might have played something of a role.

As for the plot of 'Saga of a Star World?' Well, I want you to combine the following from the 2003 Battlestar Galactica:

  • The Mini-Series (all of it)
  • The last 10 minutes of Black Market (from S2)
  • The last 10 minutes of 'Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2' (from S2)
  • A touch of 'Exodus, Part 2' (from S3)
I'm being dead serious.

To give you an idea of how telescoped the timeline is in the 1978 Battlestar, Commander Adama leaves the the Colonial Fleet, flees his ass to Caprica, witnesses the massive attack, and is down on Caprica announcing the big ol' evacuation within the first 40 minutes. (Bwhuh?) The Fleet getting together under the aegis of the ol' Galactica is done with a handwave. The Council is also somehow elected off-screen and already sworn in within that same handwave.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to think about this. The 1978 Battlesar managed to sum up the entire mini-series and the first half of Season One of the 2003 Battlestar in 40 minutes by not mentioning it at all. Awesome!

There are some striking parallels between the old and the new series, too. For a start, it's interesting to note that both Battlestars started life as mini-series (Trufax!). The difference is that in the case of the 1978 Battlestar, ABC ordered it into a series right away, which meant the everyone involved in production scrambled like hell to fill the order. Budgets were blown, scripts were constantly behind deadline, production was pure chaos for the entire season, and actors they wanted to keep either ended up jumping ship because they did not sign on for a series (Jane Seymour) or couldn't rejoin the cast right away because they weren't under contract (Lorette Spang).

At least SciFi let Moore & Co. get their shit together before going into a series. The wait paid off in a big way for the new series.

Another striking resemblance can be found in the scenes the 1978 Battlestar cut: the infamous "cancer storyline" for Serena (Jane Seymour).

What? You didn't think the 1978 Battlestar dealt with such a sensitive subject?

Au contraire!

In fact, the 1978 series did, it's just that it never made it to screen because of the ABC order to go to a full series. As a result, Larson's production team felt compelled to slice it out because, well, let's be honest. No one thought a 1978 audience was gonna accept this storyline. End result? The editors went to town so much, that you can't even tell it was there. However, the storyline lives on, thanks to the magic of DVD. All those scenes have been restored and are now in the "cut scenes" portion of the collection.

To sum up: Serena, a reporter who was broadcasting from Caprica City at the time of the attack, got radiation poisoning. She's informed that she's got cancer and has months to live. From there on out, Serina does everything in her power to get Apollo (Richard Hatch) to emotionally connect with her son so he'll adopt him. In fact, at the very end of what would've been the mini-series, she abandons her son, flees the Galactica for the anonymity of the Fleet, leaving this 6-year-old kid in the care of this guy she just met.

Holy shit, Batman! That's fucking dark.

Weep, people. Weep for what could have been.

On the character front, there were other surprising parallels, as well.

It appears that no matter what the incarnation, Zac is a sucky pilot and Starbuck is ultimately the reason why he's dead. In 2003, it's because flight instructor Kara gave Zac a pass when he should've failed because she let her emotions rule her head. In 1978, it was because Zac (a very, very young Rick Springfield) pouted until Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) let him take his place on what was supposed to be a routine patrol. It helped that Starbuck didn't want to go out anyway and wanted play cards instead. Wheeeeee!

There's another character parallel, too, but it's one that I had been aware of for awhile. Let's just say that whenever fans of the 2003 Battlestar complain that this guy...

...can be a self-righteous, holier-than-thou prick who's way too much into his manpain, it is blindingly obvious to me that they never met this guy...

I mean, c'mon. The running joke in the 1978 fandom was that Apollo had a deathwish, and he was gonna take Starbuck out with him (probably as revenge over Zac) when he finally self-destructed in that spectacular way we all knew was coming.

And that joke wasn't a fanwank, either. The 1978 Battlestar actually came out and said it. On Screen. The writers wanted to make sure everyone knew, just in case someone in the audience failed to get brained by the rain of anvils.

I mean, dude, in the space of four episodes, this guy saw his entire world get shot to hell, left his dead duck of brother behind so he could run ahead and warn the Galactica of the sneak attack, watched his wife get killed, and ended up the permanent guardian of a 6-year-old kid and his annoying mechanical daggit (read: dog).

Sheeet man, I'd be looking for an handy Alamo to make my heroic last stand myself, if only to get away from the damn daggit.

What truly surprised me, though, is just how close the parallels between the two Apollos actually are. Granted, the 1978 Apollo actually respects and loves his father, whereas the 2003 Apollo's relationship with his father is problematic at best. However, both Apollos have a nasty tendency to get up in their fathers' grills if they think the Old Man is being an ass. I counted several fights between Apollo and Adama in 'Saga of a Star World.' Apollo even went so far as to berate the Old Man for playing politics while lives were on the line.

My jaw. She droppeth on the floor. Holy shit! How the hell did I forget that?

One thing, though, that 1978 Apollo has over 2003 Apollo in spades (at least in 'Saga') is that he is a snarky son-of-a-bitch. Hatch plays those digs with such straight-faced glee that I was completely floored. Could I have been that blinded by the character of Starbuck ('cause Lord knows it wasn't Bennedict's straight-from-the-school-of-Shatner acting), that I totally missed this? Holy cow! Apollo the character got off some terrific shots at various people, and Hatch played it so deliciously well that I finally could see why Moore and company cast him as Zarek.

Hell, I could even see why Hatch got increasingly frustrated as the writers and the series increasingly focused on Starbuck while Apollo turned into the pull-string doll of moral up-tightness (a fact that Hatch has readily admitted in numerous forums). What I once (as a fan) put off as an actor whining, suddenly looks like a legitimate complaint.

[Side note: I adore Hatch's portrayal of Tom Zarek. The fact that I like not just the character, but Hatch's work in that role, took me by surprise. Granted, the writing for that character helps tremendously, but Hatch's acting is solid. Stupid me. I had forgotten that the 1978 Battlestar writers had pretty much abandoned development of Apollo beyond a few limited parameters. Hatch had a hard time with the role in large part because he had nothing to work with. Meanwhile, Benedict gets the praise and his Starbuck gets iconic status because the writing staff was, in essence, writing for him and the character. After seeing 'Saga,' I declare my mysterious love for Zarek officially solved.]

In other parallels, one of my favorite mental games to play while watching 'Saga of a Star World' was to play "spot where this character ended up." It's no secret that this guy... split into these two...

And can I just say that it is a very wise move? Seeing the 1978 Adama be all he can be as President of the Council of Twelve, military commander of the fleet, the person who comes up with the plan to head away from the Colonies and have humanity make a stand somewhere else, and the religious lunatic who really, really believes that earth exists based on scripture hurts my brain.

However, it's pretty fraking obvious that the brain-hurty part of it is deliberate. You get the very real sense that military power is the political power. Every member of the Council commands their own battlestar, which means (I would assume) they're all military commanders (although Adama is the only one who's wearing a uniform). Not only that, the President of the Council of the Twelve — who's name is Adar — (which would assume that he's a civilian leader), is actually the military commander of the fleet (as opposed to the commander-in-chief).

Yet, the members of the Council of the Twelve are supposedly elected by their various colonies. Either the colonies were limiting the pool of candidates to only those who were active military above a certain rank, or those elections where nowhere near as free as the 1978 series would like us to believe.

This theory, by the way,  gets shot to hell in later episodes of the 1978 Battlestar, which I'll get into when I re-watch those episodes.

In either case, at least 2003 Battlestar has laid out the responsibilities of the military vs. the civilian government in a surprisingly clear manner, right on down to how Bill Adama and Laura Roslin have negotiated their spheres of responsibility.

Other character parallels come into play, too. For example:
  • Omega (1978) = Gaeta (2003) — It's scary how much Gaeta resembles fannon Omega

  • Rigel (1978) / Athena (1978) = Dualla (2003) — It's scary how much Dualla resembles the fannon version of both of these women

  • Cassiopea (1978) = Caprica Six (2003)/Anders (2003) — A character who started as a sex object who mutated into something else, crossed with...well, let's just say I knew there was a reason why I loved Sam

  • Apollo (1978) = Lee (2003)/Helo (2003) — Lee gets the manpain deathwish part and Helo gets the morally upright occasionally annoying self-righteous part

  • Serena (1978) = D'Anna (2003) — Only without Serena being a Humolon...I think

  • Sire Uri (1978) = Tom Zarek (2003) — started out as an idealist, is now a scoundrel, and involved in the black market
The other thing that struck me is how much of 'Saga of a Star World' actually ended up in the 2003 Battlestar, even if in a somewhat mutated form. I was probably surprised because I forgot how dark the first half of the 1978 Battlestar pilot mini-series actually was.

For example: When Apollo and Adama land on post-attack Caprica at night, they're confronted by an angry and hysterical mob who a running down a hill to get to them. In fact, several people physically and verbally attack Apollo, demanding to know what the hell happened. It's more the staging than anything else, complete with the surprise recognition between two characters, although in this case, it's Adama recognizing Serena instead of Helo recognizing Baltar.

Another striking example: The set up of Adama announcing in front of a gathering of survivors and military that the Fleet is going to run off and find the Thirteenth Tribe on earth. The staging is somewhat the same, the way Adama announces it is somewhat the same, right on down to "I know where it is," although in the 1978 version Adama admits that he doesn't know precisely where it is, just that he's got a general direction they can head off into.

The third striking example: Settlement on what appears to be a suitable planet, only to find out that such a decision was a huge mistake. In the 2003 version, that played out through the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3.

In the 1978 version, it's telescoped to a great degree, but a lot of the same elements are there. Fleet finds a planet (okay, it's a resort planet run by insects, but you get the idea) where they can settle down. The Council thinks it's a dandy idea and decide to make the "shore leave" permanent. The President (in this case, Adama) strongly objects because he just knows that the Cylons are gonna find them and squish them like bugs if the Fleet is found.

The Council, naturally, says pshaw to all this and overrules him. End result, almost everyone who asks for one gets a pass to "visit" the planet. The essential personnel, mostly military and the skeleton crews needed to keep the ships running, are left behind and morale on the ships sinks fast.

The stories do diverge a little bit, because the Council decides to campaign for permanent settlement. They do that by throwing a big ol' fest so they can put the permanent settlement proposal in front of the people, cause a big ol' popular uprising in support of it, and then take the final vote. Naturally, in the middle of making their case to the people, the Cylons attack, so the Fleet never got to make the permanent settlement.

But there was a mass evacuation of the population off the planet, complete with people being under fire, and a bunch of military assets that had been sneakily placed there by Adama. That's something at least.

Really, it kind of made me go, "Whoa!"

There was also another dark bit (and one that has not made it into the 2003 series — yet). There's a scene where 1978 Adama is describing to Athena (Maren Jensen) his time on Caprica where he had to pick and choose who'd get to board ships that would ultimately join the Fleet. Naturally, he picked only those people he thought could 1) survive and; 2) make a contribution to survival. He then goes on to say that while he was handing out tickets, one woman with a child in her arms grabbed his arm and begged him to take her and her child. Then he watched while soldiers shoved her away and forced her to go back into the crowd. He concludes this charming little tale by stating that he has no idea if that woman got on a ship, or got left behind.

Yikes! How the hell did I forget that scene? What makes it truly memorable is the Lorne Greene sells that puppy for all it's worth, not by overplaying the scene, but by underplaying it.

That said, there's plenty of WtFery to go around, not to mention that some bleedover from the 2003 Battlestar did happen in my brain.

One clear case of bleedover from 2003 was a one-line joke from Adama. After it comes to light that they've been hiding military assets (read: colonial warriors) in reserve despite orders from the Council (again, the Council has military authority?), the following exchange happens:

Adama: Tigh, it appears we're going to have to discuss the importance of military discipline on this ship.
Tigh: Yes, sir.
Me: Military discipline on the Galactica? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA......oh, wait. Wrong Galactica. Nevermind!

There are also mysteries galore! I'm still mystified how Serena and Adama are on friendly terms, despite the fact that Apollo has no idea who the hell she is. Want to know how friendly they are? They great each other personally when they see each other on post-bombing Caprica.

I'm also mystified how Serena has managed to so quickly wrap Apollo around her finger so fast. Seriously. It made Dualla/Lee look like it moved at a snail's pace by comparison.

How wrapped around her finger was Apollo?

Lemme put it this way: The military are down on the resort planet (which they don't know is a resort planet because it looks like a barren piece of rock) looking for the abandoned tylinium mine so they can mine ore for the ships (an idea that Moore says that he shamelessly stole for his version because he liked the idea of the Fleet contending with a finite fuel source instead of Star Trek's endless supply of matter-antimatter). It's a military operation. The chatter is all military, too.

So why the hell is Serena, Boxy, and the stupid daggit hanging out with Apollo in a military transport while they're looking for the supposedly abandoned mine? No, seriously. What the hell? Serena does not have a military background (obvious close personal friendship with Adama aside), the kid sure as hell isn't military, and the daggit...

I mean, hunh?

I can only conclude that Serena is a Humolon. It's the only thing that makes sense. In fact, every time Serena appeared on screen, I kept yelling, "Look out! Humolon! Run, Apollo! Run like the wind!"

However, right in the middle of me what-the-fucking, there's actually a very nice scene where Apollo explains to Boxey the whole deal with the Cylons:
  • They were created by a lizard race

  • Lizard race died out 4,000 years ago leaving behind their super-race of machines

  • Super-race of machines are on some mysterious mission to do — well that part's not entirely clear, so really no changes between 1978 and 2003 on that front

  • Humans and mechanical Cylons clash (we find out that it's because the Colonies intervened when the Cylons tried to subjugate a nearby alien race from Adama)

  • Cylons have some clear advantages they're faster (they are?), smarter (you sure about that?), and they're immortal because they can exchange parts (Say it with me: Whoa! This looks familiar.)

  • Humans decide that creating AI is a bad idea and never develop the tech for it

  • Humans and Cylons war non-stop for 1,000 years
That last point leads to a new WtFery. The humans and Cylons are at war for 1,000 years, non-stop. (Bwhuh?) The Cylons are — as we have been told by Apollo himself — immortal because they can exchange parts (and one assumes memories). Worse, they can just manufacture more. The human population must've been breeding like rabbits to keep up. Plus, it's no wonder that the political system was as militarized as 'Saga' seems to show.

Which leads me to a completely new WtFery. You've been at war with these dudes for 1,000 years, right? The other side decides they want to change tactics, hold hands, and sing 'Kumbaya.'  And your people...go for it. Except Adama. Because he's the only one in all of the Twelve Colonies who doesn't trust those metal bastards. 

Okay, in an odd way, there's a parallel to Bill Adama. Bill wouldn't allow any computers to be networked on his ship for as long as he was in command, unlike all those other stupid commanding officers who went ahead and signed up for the upgrade, despite the fact the Colonies just 40 years before got their asses kicked by AI robots who were awfully good at downloading viruses into the Colonies collective PCs and Apples. Then again, the Galactica was getting decommissioned anyway, which was probably why Bill's bosses let him get away with it.

Let's now get to entire families serving on one battlestar. Adama, daughter Athena, and sons Apollo and Zac. (Bwhuh?) No hint that they were "visiting" (as in the case of 2003 Apollo), which is why they were all aboard the same ship. No hint that being the superior officer of your sibs or your offspring was considered a damned bad idea. No raised eyebrows. No issues. No nothing. It's just perfectly okay. Right.

Then there's the fact that somehow, don't ask me how, the writers confused the ocean with space. No, seriously. Planets are just these islands in space, y'know? And all those islands — I mean planets — have native lifeforms. The lifeforms in question aren't necessarily human. In fact, they can be giant bugs, as we clearly see in 'Saga'. To get from planet to planet you have to...I dunno, navigate hazards in the waterway. There are corridors that don't seem to allow anyone to travel a straight line to anywhere because of...prevailing winds? Currents? That part's not entirely clear. The only way to travel in a straight line is to blow shit up.

Okay, then!

I would also beg all of you to imagine this:

You come across a planet that seems to have an active tylinium mine. The nice bug people who seem to own it are more than happy to give you all the ore you want for free. However, when they ship the ore up to you for processing, it's in miniscule amounts. Remember! Active mine! That ore's going somewhere and being used for something, right? You find out that the company that did the original survey of the planet and declared it a waste of time was owned by Baltar, the rat-bastard who sold you out. While this is never shown on screen, I suspect that when you ask for the bug people's client list, they decline to share it with you. Client confidentiality, they say. After all, you don't want someone to find out that you're parked on their doorstep sucking up free ore, do you?

Golly-gee-willickers Adama, do you think it's a trap? And do you have to say: "It looks like a trap, it smells like a trap, it walks like trap..." We get it! It's a frakking trap! So how come you're the only one who knows it's a trap?

And does Tigh really need to go, "Really? You think it's a trap? What if you're wrong? Uri will hang you by your balls if you're wrong, you crazy motherfrakker. I mean, are you totally sure it's a trap? Because I'm so much less sure that it's a trap. Do you have more evidence or something? I mean, I'll follow orders and all since this is the Galactica where everyone knows the definition of 'military discipline,' opposed to the other Galactica where just saying it causes people's heads to spin while vomiting pea soup like they all want a role in the remake of The Exorcist, so are you rilly, rilly sure? Because, dude, I like my job and I'm not all that thrilled with the idea that I could end this in the brig."

Okay, Tigh doesn't say that exactly. It's just a general approximation of what he said.

And by the way, does it really matter that there's no apparent connection between the resort-o-ramma on the surface and the mining operations? Who cares? The fact that there's a version of Las Vegas where the customer always wins and the house always loses sitting on top of this mysterious mine is utterly immaterial to the equation. Stop worrying about it and haul ass out of there!

The really big WtFery for me was, well, how they measure distance. In microns. Bwhuh? So, like, when you say the Cylons are 10 microns away, they're not standing on your toes and poking your eyes out like they're Moe and you're Shemp? Oh. They're more like a light year away. Okay!

Time elements are screwy, too. Years are used interchangeably with yahren. Centons are some vague unit of time that's not entirely clear (in 'Saga' I think it means 'months,' although later in the series it seems to mean 'minutes'). And microns (again, in 'Saga' I think it means minutes, and later in the series it seems to mean 'seconds').

But the big WtF moment comes in the penultimate "victory" for our rag-tag Fleet. See, apparently, the entire planet of the bug people was made of tylinium. In fact, it's so packed with tylinium, that a few laser shots from Starbuck and Apollo can set the whole planet on fire! Not just on fire, but it cause it to explode and take out a Cylon basestar with it!

Wow. *shakes head* Kara never blew up a whole planet. And people say she's got no sense of discipline.

And before I forget, there's also:
  • No one in the Fleet seems to have a last name. They all only get one name and that's it.
  • 70s hair
  • Civilian clothes that seem to be made of rayon
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that my favorite character in the 1978 series is introduced here: the one, the only Cassiopea! YAY! 

Our gal Cassiopea plays her part like she's a living Barbie doll, until the time comes to start calling ol' Starbuck on his womanizing bullshit. She doesn't seem to really care about the womanizing, per se, she just hates being made to look like a fool. *sigh* The path of true love is never easy. But can our favorite socialator (read: prostitute) conquer all? Hey! She conned her way onto a permanent spot on the Galactica by just batting her eyes and Barbie-dolling her way on board (it helps that those nasty religious fanatics from Gemon were so mean to her). She's on the right path, but can she march up the hillside?

Tune in for the next installment of Liz Rewatches Battlestar Galactica1978 to find out.

Yes, indeed. For some people, it was all about Apollo. For some people, it was all about Starbuck.

Count on me to dig the prostitute chick who got split between Caprica Six and Anders.

So, it's time to keep score, peoples. In 'Saga of a Star World' we see:
  • The first sighting of a Humolon in the wild (Serena)
  • Conclusive evidence that Apollo = manpain, regardless of Battlestar incarnation
  • Proof that Starbuck always kills Zac. Frakking is optional. I think. I saw the way that  "Zac" was checking out "Starbuck," so I'm not 100% on the frakking part.
  • The roots of the "throw Boxey and that damned daggit out an airlock" fan movement.
  • A big ol' gapping hole where Laura Roslin desperately needs to be
  • Cassiopea's significant presence almost making up for no Laura. Almost.
  • Ample evidence that humanity's so stupid that it doesn't deserve to live.
  • Much more ample evidence that humanity is still alive only because the Cylons are slower and stupider, no matter what the writers keep telling us
  • Proof that Dirk Benedict can't emote for shit
And, so, class, what is our moral lesson from 'Saga of a Star World?'

"The military rools and the civilian government drools."

Read it, memorize it, love it, and live it, because you're going to get this lesson pounded into your head for the rest of the series.

I give 'Saga' a big Three Minutes of 1978 Baltar chewing the scenery while 2003 Baltar complains about how the other Baltar keeps blocking his close-up.
Tags: fandom: battlestar galactica 1978, review: dvd

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