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The Most Important Sci-Fi Show Of The Century Revolutionized The Reboot

All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

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Although it’s tough to remember, there was a time in sci-fi and fantasy fandom where the words “reboot” and “reimagining” weren’t common shorthand for moments when a franchise was about to make a bit pivot. The idea that an established something could be reimagined or rebooted was generally just referred to as a “remake.” While the real, nuanced differences between these words may seem like needless nerd hair-splitting, the thing is, in 2003, Battlestar Galactica really did change the reboot game.

Very recently, the entire series — including the 2003 miniseries that launched the show — was just added to Amazon Prime Video, meaning you can watch (or rewatch) the most pivotal 21st-century science fiction series, from start to finish, much easier than you could a few months ago. So say we all!

Before 2003, Battlestar was a curious property from the late 1970s, that, from the point-of-view of the general population, was a somewhat decent TV Star Wars rip-off that wasted its potential. While its fan base was loyal, there was also a relatively small number of diehards who would really get pissed off about hardcore changes. That said, one actor from the classic show, Richard Hatch, did briefly lobby against the reboot series, which eventually led to him being offered a role on the new show as a terrorist who is trying to destroy the fleet.

The larger point is today when someone says “Battlestar Galactica” most people think of the 2003-2009 show, not the 1970s show. More than any other reboot/remake/reimagining, this version of Battlestar Galactica made science fiction history simply because it utterly displaced the original show in the popular consciousness. Unlike something like Star Trek, in which there is sizable debate in the fandom about which show is the best, even hardcore 1978 apologists can’t say, with a straight face, that the classic show is truly better. Perhaps more original, more ambitious, and less cynical. But is the 1978 series really a better piece of art?

Who is the Cylon here?

SYFY/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

In fairness, the reboot BSG didn’t really care to engage with this question too much, simply because it pushed the mythos of the concept into a totally different, and arguably, more grounded direction. While it’s easy to come up with a laundry list of the differences between the two series, there’s basically only one difference that matters. In both shows, human colonies are destroyed by a race of artificial beings called Cylons. In both shows, the human survivors of this massacre are shepherded in a rag-tag space fleet by a big warship called the Galactica. But, in the 1978 version, the Cylons were robots created by a long-dead alien race of intelligent reptiles. In the 21st-century BSG, the Cylons were created by humans, and weren’t all robotic-looking. Many of them looked downright human, making it hard to figure out who was a Cylon and who wasn’t.

Twenty-one years ago, this was Battlestar’s smartest move: to introduce a Blade Runner-esque paranoid conceit into a space opera. It seems simple and obvious now, but at the time, mashing up these sensibilities was beyond creative; it was transformative. As the show went on, and we learned more about who and who wasn’t a Cylon, the series arguably had diminishing returns on this particular area of narrative tension. But, giving the Cylons faces, rather than just robot bodies was how Battlestar Galactica elevated itself out of being a nostalgic sci-fi reboot, and into instant classic territory, with mainstream appeal. The original three-part miniseries, in which Adama (Edward James Olmos) wonders whether Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) is really a Cylon, remains a perfect tone-setting for the series. And the great questions raised in those early episodes remain just as profound, over two decades later.


If you search for Battlestar Galactica on Amazon Prime Video, you’ll notice the series starts with episode 1, titled, “33,” in which the Cylons have already destroyed the colonies. Essentially, Season 1 feels like a show already in progress. So, how did we get there? That’s where the miniseries comes in. The show actually begins with the three longish episodes that establish everything. So, if you want to watch the story from the beginning, watching Battlestar Galactica Season 1, Episode 1, will confuse you. If you’ve never seen the show, start with the miniseries.

Watch the Battlestar Galactica miniseries here.

Watch the Battlestar Galactica here.

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