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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

New "Battlestar" beats old

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, March 9, 2007

So, I caved in over interim. After two years of resisting the temptation, I started watching the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica” series.

And yes, it is a big deal. I watched “Battlestar Galactica” reruns from the series’ 1978 stint all my childhood. I could build my cred by rattling off all the sci-fi shows I watched as soon as I got in the door after a hard day at middle school and wax philosophical about how they shaped my perceptions of life, but let’s cut to the chase: I was afraid to pick up watching the re-imagined “Battlestar” series because I figured it would blow the old one out of the water and ruin an important part of my childhood.

My fears have been partially confirmed. The new show is much, much better than the 1978 series, but the original still has its place in my heart. In my opinion, there are two main points of comparison between the new show and the old one: the writing and the characters. Obviously, I could go on about how the Cylons (those are the bad guys, if you've never been an enormous nerd) look cooler and move more realistically and how the space battles have awesome special effects, but that wouldn’t be fair. Of course they do; it’s 25-years later. So, I'll stick to the fair points of comparison.

Before I go on, I’ll give a bit of a “Battlestar” plot primer for those of you not familiar with the series: robots come and destroy the home colonies of humanity; humans fly around in spaceships fighting robots. Of course, that isn’t all that happens, but that's all you need to know to follow this article.

I’ll start with the characters. In the 1978 series, the characters were very one dimensional. The main male actors had a couple modes: there’s honorable, there’s cocky and there’s cardboard. Most of the female actresses had cute and brainless down pretty well.

That’s not so with the re-imagined series. The characters in the re-imagined series have been fleshed out into full people, rather than simplistic archetypes. What surprises me every time I watch the new “Battlestar” is how much thought has been put into the background of even the most minor characters. Even the Cylons have personalities and complex emotions.

In crafting the new series, creator Ronald D. Moore has spent as much time developing the world of “Battlestar Galactica” as he has developing the characters to live in it. I think the best example of the increased level of characterization is Dr. Gaius Baltar. In “Battlestar’s” original run, Baltar was an artistocrat who betrayed humanity to the Cyclons to save his own skin with no remorse. In the new series, Baltar is an accidental conspirator with the Cylons, and following his betrayal of humanity has a crisis of faith, morality and sanity.

With more complex characters comes the need for more complex plots. The premise of the two shows is about the same as described above. Simple. In the original series, that’s about all there is to it. The re-imagined series is more of a space drama than an actual science fiction program.

The humans in the new series are more or less lost in the universe, trying to find Earth and proving Murphy’s Law every step of the way. They’re more vulnerable than their original series counterparts. Political and religious turmoil are two major themes in the series, with many episodes devoted to how the society in “Battlestar” functions as opposed to how it defends itself. Where the old series was very much a show for sci-fi fans, the re-imagining is a show for people who love drama, more along the lines of “Grey’s Anatomy” in space than Star Wars.

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