“Battlestar Galactica” is returning as a four-hour miniseries, backed by hype befitting a science fiction classic in the same galaxy as “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” Never mind that this classic was a campy space opera that lasted just one season.
When it premiered on ABC in 1978, the special-effects dazzler was the most highly publicized new series of that season. Lorne Greene starred as Adama, the commander of a ragtag band of refugees in search of a lost planet called Earth after a band of robotic Cylons wiped out much of humankind.
In the new version, airing Monday and Tuesday on the Sci Fi Channel (9 p.m. EST), Edward James Olmos takes over as Adama; Jamie Bamber is his son, Apollo (originally played by Richard Hatch); and the hotheaded pilot, Starbuck, is now a woman, played by Katee Sackhoff (Dirk Benedict was the original).
While the original series’ thematic core remains — the human struggle for survival — a lot has changed.
Gone is the space fantasy with the dashing caped warriors of old. Now they’re handsome heroes in uniforms akin to Air Force fighter pilots. The aluminum Cylon enemies look more like humans, complete with feelings, including one with rabid sexual desires.
And the quest is not for a mythical Earth — it no longer exists.
“It’s a fine line in deciding what you want to retain and what you want to change from the original,” says the miniseries’ writer, Ron Moore. “But it all started with the name.”
What he ended up with is a saga for a post-Sept. 11 world: an array of conflicted characters forced to coexist under the threat of more deadly adversaries living among them.
“When 9-11 happened,” says Sackhoff, “I knew for the first time what it was like to feel fear — genuine fear. And had that not happened, it would have been a lot harder for me to actually play this character.”
“What science fiction should be,” says Moore, “is a look at ourselves, an examination of humanity. But where we are with science fiction in television and movies, you’ve sort of fallen into two categories: There’s this quasi-cyberpunk stuff, which is everything from ‘Matrix’ to ‘Blade Runner.’ Then there’s the sort of ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek’ lush orchestral visions of the future.”
Olmos, who’s eschewed science fiction since appearing in the 1982 film “Blade Runner,” says Moore’s script “was different than anything I’d ever read before. There’s a lot of reality in this that you might find in say a ‘NYPD Blue’ or ‘Hill Street Blues.”’
Will new version fly?
Devotees of the original will be hard to convince, however.
Chat-room conversations on many of the scores of “Battlestar” Web sites have been fiercely opposed to this “re-imaged” version.
Hatch understands the fan sentiment.
“I had a lot of anger and frustration because I saw a studio not on any level being receptive to what the vast majority of fans wanted,” the actor says in his small apartment littered with “Battlestar” paraphernalia, including a lunchbox, posters and videos.
Hatch, who has written six spin-off novels, tried his own sequel: “Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming.” A four-minute, self-financed trailer has been a hit among conventioneers, but studio executives have been unimpressed.
“Every time they bring back a classic, they always fail because they’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water,” says the 58-year-old Hatch. “They throw away the very elements the fans loved most.”
A few years ago, fans thought they’d get the continuation saga they’d clamored for when Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto, the director-writer team behind “X-Men,” hooked up with original “Galactica” creator Glen Larson to develop a project at 20th Century Fox.
When that deal fell through, Universal TV chief David Kissinger brought in executive producer David Eick and Moore to rework the franchise for Sci Fi.
“We want the fans to embrace what we are doing,” says Sci Fi President Bonnie Hammer, “but if you produced now what was produced then, it would feel like old TV. We wanted to make it more relatable, even in terms of the stereotypes of characters.”
“I understand they’re trying to do a modern version,” says Larson. “But change for the sake of change — it’s taking the title and exploiting it.”
Not according to Bamber, who as a new cast member is part of the change.
“It’s like a favorite play,” he argues. “It’s there to be challenged, it’s there to be redone and reinterpreted.”