7 FASCINATING FACTS: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
The Space Rocks Uplink which featured the reimagined Battlestar Galactica actors Tricia Helfer (Number Six) and Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) was one of our most popular livestream episodes yet. If you missed it, you can watch it in full on our Youtube channel here. But in the meantime, here are some things you might not know about one of TV’s most successful – but also maligned – sci-fi franchises…
1. Battlestar Galactica’s origins are based in Mormon theology
TV producer Glen A. Larson experienced huge success with multiple shows in the 1970s-1980s. The original Battlestar Galactica first aired in 1978, but Larson came up with the show’s premise in the late 1960s, which he gave the working title Adam’s Ark. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormon Church), Larson incorporated Mormon theology into the original TV series. BSG’s Council of Twelve is based on the church’s Quorum of the 12 Apostles. The planet Kobol (the home planet of BSG’s humans) is an anagram of Kolob, a planet in the book of Abraham which is a sacred text of the Church.
2. The Cylons were inspired by Viking warriors
Legendary sci-fi author Fred Saberhagen wrote a series of classic novels titled Berserker about self-replicating droids intent on destroying all life – on which the Cylons were based. In turn, the Berserkers in Saberhagen’s series are named after the Viking Berserker warriors of Norse legend!
3. The original show had an ensemble cast…
The first Commander Adama was played by Lorne Greene who was famous for playing Ben Cartwright in ancient B&W American TV western Bonanza (first broadcast in 1959). Starbuck was played by Dirk Benedict who went on to play Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck in popular 80s TV show The A-Team. Richard Hatch played both Apollo in the original series and political extremist Tom Zarek in the reimagined BSG.
4. Everyone hated it
Battlestar Galactica’s studio company Universal was sued – unsuccessfully – by Fox Studios for Star Wars copyright infringements. Glen A. Larson claimed the original BSG series was more inspired by Wagon Train (another ancient American TV western about a fleet of wagons attempting to make it home). He described BSG as, “Wagon Train heading toward Earth”.
Each episode of the series cost $1m to produce – an incredibly high budget for the era. Ratings were poor and the show was cancelled after 24 episodes. Larson went on to produce another sci-fi series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Based on cheesy American sci-fi comics from the 1930s, Larson recycled sets, costumes and effects from BSG for the show.
George Lucas threatened legal action against John Dykstra’s effects company for using effects and equipment owned by Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic in Battlestar Galactica. Dykstra was one of the founders of IL&M and worked on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Legendary sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov described the original BSG series as “Star Wars all over again and I couldn’t enjoy it without amnesia.”
Most bizarrely, a Russian journalist criticised BSG as encouraging anti-Soviet hysteria by claiming the fictional Colonial/Cylon negotiations resembled the era’s US/Soviet SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) summits.
5. Admiral Adama actor Edward James Olmos was crucial to the success of the reimagined BSG
Harrison Ford, Sam Shepard and Ed Harris were all considered for the role of Adama in 2004-2009’s enormously popular and highly acclaimed reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. But legendary actor Olmos – best known amongst sci-fi fans for playing the inscrutable Gaff in classic 1982 movie Blade Runner – was perfect for the role. He came up with the re-imagined BSG motto ‘So Say We All’ as an ad-lib. He took the humanitarianism theme of the series very seriously and even had a clause written into his contract that BSG wouldn’t include any clichéd monsters or aliens to cheapen the programme’s aesthetic. The humanoid cylons were referred to as ‘skinjobs’ in another reference to Blade Runner: ‘skinjob’ was a derogatory term for Replicants used by Deckard’s LAPD Captain, Bryant. In Deckard’s narration, he compares Bryant to racist cops of the past.
Following his appearance in Blade Runner, Olmos played the highly taciturn Lieutenant Castillo in classic 80s TV cop show Miami Vice. The show was produced by Michael Mann who was a pioneer of the revolutionary story arcs later used in blockbuster TV ‘golden age’ mini series. Bringing his usual gravitas to the role, Olmos also provided input on the show’s mood with his portrayal of the strictly no-nonsense Castillo.
The reimagined BSG was so popular that when it finished in 2009, the UN held a symposium to discuss the show’s themes of human rights and armed conflict. Speakers included BSG screenwriter Ronald D. Moore, writer David Eick, and actors Whoopi Goldberg, Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos.
Inspired by, but not a continuation of the reimagined BSG (and no relation to the original series), a new version of BSG is on its way which was originally planned to be shown on Peacock (the NBCUniversal on demand streaming service) this year. While it doesn’t follow on from the 2004-2009 series, it’s not being described as a ‘reboot’ as it will exist in the same universe as the reimagined BSG.
The executive producer of the new show is Sam Esmail of Mr Robot and the show runner is Michael Lesslie, best known as screenwriter for the BBC 2018 miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, based on the John le Carré novel.
Of the new show, Sam Esmail was quoted as saying: “I don’t want to spoil it for fans, but you kind of see it a little bit in The Little Drummer Girl where politics plays a big part in it but without compromising the entertainment value, because in my opinion, you’ve got to have that. That’s number one priority. I want people to be excited and emotionally invested and on a thrill-ride but at the same time I think Mike is going to bring a lot of depth and sort of parallel and mirror what’s going on in the world right now.”