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Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series

Movies Reviews Battlestar Galactica
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Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series

DVD Release Date: July 28
Creators: Glenn A. Larson, Ronald D. Moore, David EickThere’s often a dichotomy in art between the epic and the personal. Smaller stories, those dealing with the kinds of challenges we regularly experience—family, romance, friendship, work, money—connect because they’re familiar. We watch epic films like Braveheart or Lord of the Rings to get caught up in struggles much greater than we face and vicariously inherit the satisfaction of seeing them overcome. But we read novels with minimal plots to see people like ourselves make the same stupid mistakes we do and come out on the other side having changed.

Science fiction is almost entirely the domain of epic stories—working through a relationship gets completely overshadowed with the fate of humanity on the line. This is one of the main things sci-fi fans love about the genre and also what many people hate about it. So when people say that Battlestar Galactica is a show with a broader appeal than sci-fi, this is partly what they’re getting at.

Certainly, it’s an epic tale—it begins with the near annihilation of humanity, a culture spread across 12 planets but with many similarities to 21st-century Earth. The villains are Cylons, intelligent robots who believe that human extinction is the key to their own survival. And nearly every episode takes place aboard a single spaceship. On paper, it’s got everything to set off those with sci-fi allergies.

But over four seasons, it does a better job than any sci-fi film, book or TV show, of telling small stories. Unlike the Utopian crew of Star Trek’s Enterprise, each of the major characters has significant flaws. Even with only 50,000 survivors facing a single oppressor, humanity has a difficult time uniting. First, there’s the issue of the military taking control of a society used to its freedom. The tension between President Laura Roslyn (Mary McDonnell) and Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) is among the show's most compelling threads. An inexperienced education minister, Rosyln finds herself promoted to the top post when no other senior government officials survive the initial attack. She pushes for a restoration to democracy, while Adama is hesitant to reliquish any decision-making in the face of the Cylon threat. Complicating things are Roslyn's religious visions—a controversial experience among polytheistic cultures of varying degrees of observance. The challenges the leaders face are of a higher magnitude than we've experienced on earth, but the moral squirming and self-justification are all too familiar in politics today.

Creator Ronald D. Moore took the bare bones of a campy 1970s series and completely reimagined it, bringing a realism that sci-fi hadn't quite seen before. The ship itself is aging and cramped. Quarters are claustrophobic, leading their inhabitants to live in a hyper-sensitive fishbowl—everyone is in everyone else's business. Characters like Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) and Adama's son Lee "Apollo" (Jamie Bamber) are forced to drag their emotional baggage into the uncomfortable open, which frequently causes them to snap. Ordinary life—love, marriage and raising kids—doesn't cease just because there's a war going on. Rosyln keeps a whiteboard with an updated population count, and each of the principle characters changes with every right or wrong decision.

But where Battlestar Galactica trumps other sci-fi stories in the minutia, it also beats them at their own epic game. Each season propels the main story arc along at light speed. A limited number of Cylon models are perfect human replicas—"skinjobs" who've infiltrated the human fleet. Their relationship with humanity grows more complex as disagreement arises within their ranks. And humanity's search for the mythical Earth is full of constant surprises. Nearly every season is better than the last.

With no alien civilizations to discover, Moore turns his lens inward on the species we know best. All the tensions in life are examined: religion vs. science, safety vs. freedom, the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few, conscience vs. loyalty, passion vs. commitment. And the show's big question—"What does it mean to be human?"—is explored on every level, big and small.