In the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica we learned that “this has all happened before and will all happen again.” And now, that prophecy is coming true, again. On Tuesday, news broke that NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, will debut a new version of Battlestar Galactica written and produced by Sam Esmail, famous for his work on Mr. Robot. But, because Battlestar has already been rebooted, and kind of recently, the newly announced series is either a losing sci-fi gamble or the best reboot idea in years.
Back in 2003, the late Richard Hatch actively tried to sabotage the Sci-Fi Channel’s “reimagining” of Battlestar Galactica. Having starred as Apollo on the original 1978 version of the TV series, Hatch had, at that time, unsuccessfully attempted to relaunch the cult series many times before, and was opposed to the new reboot. Back then, the idea of rebooting old-school sci-fi franchises was still fairly risky, and as far as reboots go, the 2003-2009 Battlestar is much more radical than perhaps any other reboot in recent memory. From changing Starbuck’s gender to female to introducing humanoid Cylons, to presenting the entire series as kind of gritty, jumpy war-documentary, the “new” Battlestar was nothing like the pseudo-Star Wars rip-off many 1970s fans remembered at the time.
In the 2018 book, So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica, journalists Ed Gross and Mark Altman interviewed BSG showrunner Ronald D. Moore to find out exactly what the fan opposition to the then-new version of the show as really like. Here’s a quote from Moore about what happened when he showed the pilot of the new show at one fan convention.
“So I brought the house lights down, played the show, played it all the way through and then the house lights come up and they [the audience] booed and hissed. They really did. I’m not making this up. I’m like ‘Holy shit.’”
Obviously, the struggle of the rebooted Battlestar in 2003 has a happy ending. Richard Hatch would end up coming to Moore’s defense at that very same convention, and eventually, even took a role in the new show as a terrorist who was trying to destabilize the rag-tag-fleet. (Meta, get it?) The point is, in 2008-2009, when the fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica was airing on the newly rebranded “SyFy channel” you would have been hard-pressed to find a self-respecting science fiction fan who didn’t think it was the best sci-fi show on TV at the time. Despite some of its flaws (we’re still all debating the finale to this day) when someone thinks of Battlestar Galactica right now, they’re not thinking about Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict in 1978; they’re clearly thinking about Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff and the rest of the amazing cast from the newer series.
Which brings us back to the reboot of the reboot. The last reboot of Battlestar achieved the impossible: it turned an okay cult classic into a bonafide cultural phenomenon. This may be hard to believe, but prior to the new Battlestar, the kind of binge-watch culture we associate with big shows like Game of Thrones didn’t really exist. Remember the Portlandia sketch in which Fred and Carrie put their lives on hold to watch the rest of a TV show? Yeah, that was Battlestar Galactica. There were new Star Wars movies, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot happened during the final BSG season, and Doctor Who was just starting to become something people could actually watch in the United States again. Oh and Marvel? Forget it. Iron Man came out just as BSG was ending, too.
For all intents in purposes, at the beginning of the 21st century, sci-fi geek culture’s last best hope was Battlestar Galactica. The series was never really a ratings hit, but it was a critical success and represented a moment where the entire zeitgeist took notice of a sci-fi show that blended political allegory with speculation about artificial intelligence in a ridiculously accessible way. The point is, the reboot Battlestar wasn’t just an underdog success story in the vein of Star Trek: The Next Generation, its mainstream appeal was a fraking miracle.
So, with that in mind, you gotta wonder: Who would be crazy enough to remake it, again? These days, I’d argue fans are a little less quick to shut-down the idea of a reboot of anything, because, in some ways, we’re all desensitized to the novelty of it. But, because the 2003-2009 BSG was such a big deal, many fans might suddenly find themselves sounding exactly like the haters did back at the convention: booing and hissing at the very idea that anyone could replace Edward James Olmos as Adama. And, it seems like Sam Esmail agrees. After the news of the new show broke, Esmail tweeted a clarification:
“BSG fans, this will NOT be a remake of the amazing series @RonDMoore launched because… why mess with perfection? Instead, we’ll explore a new story within the mythology while staying true to the spirit of Battlestar. So say we all!”
So, cleary, Sam Esmail isn’t an idiot. It sounds like he knows what fans want, and by the way Mr. Robot is pretty freaking amazing. It’s not as though the franchise is being tackled by Michael Bay or something. And, based on what he’s saying, Esmail’s new version could, in some way, honor the continuity of both existing versions of the series; to say nothing of Galaticia 1980 or some of the lesser-known miniseries like Blood and Chrome. There’s a way to do a new BSG without doing a total reboot, and its baked-into the premise of the series.
In fact, in the first reboot, showrunners Ronald D. Moore and David Eick certainly played the with idea that it was possible that the original Glen A. Larson series did, in some ways, take place in another dimension. (Moore even considered casting Dirk Benedict as the role of God in the new series at one point.) Either way, unlike something like Star Trek or Star Wars, the canon of Battlestar Galactica is a little more fluid; the show plays with the idea of cycles happening in the universe. And, just when you thought you understood everything about the new series, the 2010 prequel show Caprica subtly rebooted the origins of the Cylons. So, in some senses, BSG is a franchise that has always been revising itself, not unlike the robotic Cylons, upgrading into new models, and when those models die-off, transferring consciousness into a new body.
With material this good, perhaps it’s okay to get excited about a Battlestar reboot, even if it scans as unnecessary at first. After all, the opening credits of the rebooted BSG told us this of the Cylons: “There are many copies.” There it is: the idea of the reboot is built into the robot DNA of the franchise itself.