15 Frakking Facts About Battlestar Galactica
In the early 2000s, a producer named David Eick and a writer named Ronald D. Moore began working together on a reboot of a 1978 sci-fi TV series much of the world didn’t even seem to remember anymore. By tapping into some of their own past storytelling frustrations, as well as the fears and concerns of post-9/11 America, they began constructing what would become one of the most acclaimed series of the 21st century so far, as well as one of the great science fiction stories of all time.
The road to Battlestar Galactica becoming a giant of 2000s television was not an easy one, though. Its creators fought through uncertain early plans, a fandom who hated the very idea of a reboot, and a supposed “plan” that didn’t really exist, all to establish a new vision of sci-fi television. In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the series finale, here are 15 facts about Battlestar Galactica.
1. It was not the first reboot attempt.
Talk of returning to the Battlestar Galactica universe stretched all the way back to the 1980s, when franchise creator Glen A. Larson issued repeated promises that a continuation would eventually arrive. By the late 1990s, that promise began to look a little more likely, though perhaps not in the way Larson had originally intended.
In 1998, original Battlestar Galactica series star Richard Hatch took it upon himself to try to revive the series with a project he called The Second Coming, maxing out credit cards and spending more than $50,000 of his own money to fund a proof of concept trailer that he hoped would lead to a new life for Battlestar Galactica. Hatch completed work on the project in 1999, but the project never got beyond screenings for fans at conventions. Meanwhile, Larson had begun developing his own new story centered around the Battlestar Pegasus, which was set to get its own film from producer Todd Moyer. When the 1999 adaptation of the video game Wing Commander, which Moyer produced, flopped at the box office, his Battlestar Galactica project also evaporated.
The closet near-miss to a Battlestar Galactica revival was yet to come, though, and it arrived when Bryan Singer, fresh off the success of X-Men, wanted to continue the franchise with a new television series, which executives were eager to set up at the Fox network. According to production executive Todd Sharp, that version—which was described as relatively faithful to the original series, compared to what was to come—got as far as designing ships and building early sets when Singer instead opted to return to the X-Men franchise for X2. With the property up in the air yet again, Universal Cable Entertainment president Angela Mancuso took Battlestar Galactica back with an eye toward bringing it to what was then the Sci-FI Channel (now Syfy). For that, Mancuso turned to executive producer David Eick.
2. It was inspired by 9/11.
By the time Battlestar Galactica made its way to Ronald D. Moore, a veteran of three different Star Trek TV series by that point, it was still only a potentially profitable property that Universal was hoping to revive. When Eick had a general meeting with Moore, he was reluctant to even mention the prospect of yet another sci-fi series, but this was late 2001, just months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and Moore started to see parallels in the original series that he could explore.
“There’s a good chance the show would’ve happened even without 9/11, because they were just looking for someone to capitalize on the title in the library. And it wasn’t because of 9/11 that they saw value in it. It was just a market title,” Moore recalled. “So I think that was on a separate track. I believe that it definitely would have gone in a different direction no matter what if not for 9/11 and the aftermath—the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, the Patriot Act and Guantánamo and all those things—were such a heavy influence in the show that, if none of that had happened, it’s hard to imagine the show would’ve developed in the same way.”
3. Star Trek frustration helped make it happen.
Ironically, though Eick’s concern was that Moore wouldn’t want to take on another sci-fi series after years of writing Star Trek, part of the appeal for Moore was that he could make something that wasn’t like the beloved franchise he’d just left. Though Moore had spent many fruitful years working on both TV series and feature films for Star Trek, it was his frustration with the franchise's storytelling restrictions, especially Deep Space Nine, that got him excited to work on Battlestar Galactica.
“All of that was the beginning of my thinking, ‘If I had to do this show my way, what would I do?’ I would edit it differently, and I would shoot it differently. I would rough up these characters even more, and I would be riskier in a lot of ways than what we were willing to do in Star Trek,” Moore said. “And I’m tired of the big viewscreen, and I’m tired of the captain’s chair, and I’m tired of the way the ships move in space. Why can’t they move more like ships in space would really move? It was a lot of that sort of thinking all through those years that later, when I had the opportunity … well, now you really can do a show. All those things were ready. I’d already thought deeply about them. I was ready to just implement them.”
4. The original plan was to explore the fleet more.
Battlestar Galactica returned to television at a time before streaming and DVRs were widely used, and a time when network executives were still concerned that serialized storytelling would turn off viewers who would get confused if they missed an episode. That meant that while Moore and Eick were interested in a serialized story, the show’s first season had to lean in a more episodic direction. According to Moore, this originally took the form of episodes that would explore different types of ships in the Colonial fleet. There was just one problem: Sets are expensive.
"The initial approach was that the show would bring the characters to a variety of ships in the fleet, among them vessels that served as hospitals, prisons, schools, and even malls. We had the idea of the ragtag fleet as our world and our community and we could tell lots of different stories," Moore told Empire. “But for practical reasons that didn't work out. We did the prison ship very early when we established Tom Zarek and we almost broke our budget. We quickly realized that we couldn’t do that as much as we thought we could, so suddenly all those stories and ideas were wiped off the board and we concentrated much more up front what was happening aboard Galactica."
5. Moore kicked off the story with a manifesto.
With a new sci-fi property to work with, and years of experience on Star Trek to pull from for inspiration, Moore wanted to make his intentions for Battlestar Galactica—which began as a miniseries before the network ultimately greenlit it as an ongoing series—clear from the beginning. To do this, he included a three-page manifesto of sorts at the beginning of the miniseries script, a document which has now become legendary to fans. Titled “Naturalistic Science Fiction, or Taking the Opera out of Space Opera,” Moore began the document with a simple but grand mission statement: “Our goal is nothing less than the reinvention of the science fiction television series.”
The document was initially suggested by Eick as a way of better outlining the show’s pitch to network executives, but it ultimately remained attached to the script as it went out to actors. Though he didn’t intend it, Moore’s manifesto ultimately drew some of the show’s most important stars, including Edward James Olmos, to the series.
6. Changing Starbuck’s gender was key (and controversial).
When he first began developing his new approach to the series, Moore began looking at ways to reinvent the series’ original characters, and quickly turned to the problem of what to do about Apollo and Starbuck, the two pilots who were the stars of Larson’s original series. Moore saw the friendship between a strait-laced pilot and a rule-breaking pilot as a “cliché” of genre television, and was looking for a way to break through that. Then a simple idea occurred to him.
“And the thought just occurred to me, ‘What if we made Starbuck a woman?’ I just realized that would change everything. It would change the whole dynamic. She would be an interesting character,” Moore recalled. “It was right at the point where we were starting to get familiar with the idea of women in combat in the United States. So it was kind of a fresh and new character to play with. That was an early idea that then came to be a big influence in the show.”
The move, which star Katee Sackhoff did not even realize was a switch from the original series when she was first offered the part, would prove to be a defining one for the series, as well as a controversial one.
"I thought it might be sort of a minor controversy, but I didn’t really think it would be a thing,” Moore said. “Then once it became a thing, then I was like, 'Yeah, just stoke those flames, man. We need all the help we can get. Yell about it. Get angry. I need the publicity. Please. Go to chat rooms. More males demanding Ron Moore’s head. Please. Give it to me!”
7. The show's original creator was not happy about the reboot.
When Battlestar Galactica began emerging, first as a news item and then as a developing series, fans of the original series rebelled against the idea of a reboot, and they weren’t alone. Glen A. Larson, who’d been trying to revive his franchise for years, was also unhappy about the reboot, and the idea of making Starbuck into a woman in particular.
“That show was my father’s legacy. Ron didn’t make an arbitrary decision to change Starbuck into a female, but that was an iconic character for my father,” Larson’s son David later recalled. “To just say we’re going to gender-swap, we’re going to do this, we’re going to move this around, and we’re going to change some of the mythology, was painful for him. I imagine any author, any writer, would have the same instincts. You want to protect your story.”
There was no love lost between Larson and Moore, particularly when the former pushed for credit on the reboot’s script, which went all the way to Writers Guild of America arbitration. Moore conceded to giving Larson a story credit as the franchise’s original creator, but Larson wanted credit on Moore’s teleplay, which the WGA ultimately granted him. Things got even more frustrating for Moore when Larson decided to receive credit not under his real name, but under the pseudonym Christopher Eric James.
“So it’s not written by Ronald D. Moore and Glen Larson, which at least sort of would acknowledge the roots of it and my contribution versus the creator,” Moore said. “It’s my name and some other guy’s name, which makes it look like I was either rewritten or someone else contributed in some way. I never quite forgave him for that.”
8. The first screenings were horrible.
The objections of its creator aside, the Battlestar Galactica reboot moved ahead with production of the initial miniseries, while Moore and Eick always intended to continue the story in an ongoing capacity if the miniseries did well. The next obstacle was showing footage from the reboot to fans, and to test audiences, neither of which turned out to be very receptive.
Before the miniseries was ready to air, the Sci-Fi Channel opted to test it before a focus group in Houston. The results were … not god.
“I mean, they, like, really f**king hated it,” Moore recalled. “The cover sheet said something like, ‘This is one of the worst testings we’ve ever had. We see no reason why you would want to pick this show up as a series.’ And analytics were even worse. They sort of liked Eddie Olmos as Adama, but he was the only one, and even that was kind of a mediocre number. Sci-Fi went into a full-blown panic, but they were already so pregnant with the show. The show was done.”
Die-hard Battlestar Galactica fans also weren’t happy, as Moore found out firsthand when he attended the 2003 Galacticon to screen a few clips from the miniseries and take questions.
“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 booed and hissed. They really did. I’m not making it up. I’m like, ‘Holy sh*t.’ And then it was, ‘All right, time for questions.’ So I’m taking questions from the audience and they were unremittingly hostile. Didn’t like it, thought it was an affront, thought it was an insult to the original show and terrible. And they hated Starbuck,” Moore recalled.
Ironically, it was original star Richard Hatch—who was against the reboot arriving as he tried to forge his own continuation of the series—who stepped in to defend Moore at the convention, standing up in front of the crowd and demanding they show their guest some respect. Moore was so impressed by Hatch’s class that he discussed bringing him on for a role on the series (if it got picked up) backstage that same day.
9. The Cylons had a plan, but the writers did not.
One of the hallmarks of the Battlestar Galactica revival was its decision to make the Cylons not just the metallic Centurions, but also human-looking sleeper agents who would be revealed as the series went on. Initially, Moore and company planned the idea of Cylon sleeper agents to be an even more subtle element of the plot than it eventually became. Moore compared the Cylons to “a shark,” something we wouldn’t see much in the series, in part because the show’s writers were still figuring out exactly who the Cylons were and what they wanted.
"Early on there also wasn't a clear idea of what the overall mythology of the Cylons would be or how everything would tie together, but there was faith that we would figure all of that out as we went along,” Moore recalled. “This meant that, in essence, right from the beginning the show began writing itself, the staff embroidering on discoveries made on a weekly basis."
The initial approach to the Cylons was also vague enough that the famed opening text of the series, in which it declares that the Cylons “have a plan,” was actually just pure marketing copy, inserted at Eick’s suggestion.
“I’m like ‘But they don’t have a plan, David.’ He was like ‘No, trust me! This is marketing. It doesn’t matter. We’ll figure it out later. There’ll be a plan someday,’” Moore said at the 2017 ATX Television Festival. “So for the next 14 years of my life, people have asked me ‘Hey, what was the plan?’ There’s no f**king plan!”
10. The network and the creators argued over darkness.
According to Moore, Sci-Fi network executives did not attempt to control the direction of the story of the show, but there were frequent discussions over tone, something former Syfy president of original content Mark Stern also recalled.
“One of my favorite stories about the series is that there was a constant dialogue with Ron and David about the balance of where does this show become hopeless versus just a struggle?” Stern said.
This back-and-forth over tone is best exemplified by an early request from the network to show optimism on the show in the form of things like birthday parties, the idea being that life would go on in the fleet even after the Cylon attack, and that people would still find reason to celebrate. Moore and the show’s writers gave the network a celebration, but not the one they expected.
“So this pilot achieves a certain a number of flights, and there’s a celebration. Yeah, they hoist him on their shoulders and then, in the middle of the celebration, a bomb shakes loose and rolls into the room and blows everyone up,” Stern recalled. “And with that I was like, ‘Okay, got it. Won’t be asking for that again.’ That was their little ‘f**k you’ to the network, which I appreciated. It was like, ‘Okay, it’s not all going to be hearts and flowers.’ Truth is, you always got nervous when you’d read a script and there would be something happy happening, because you knew, ‘Uh-oh, it’s not going to last.’”
11. "Frak" was a license to curse as much as the show wanted.
One of Battlestar Galactica’s great contributions to the pop culture lexicon was the use of frak as an alternate curse word that could be dropped at will because, in the eyes of network censors, it didn’t really mean anything. The word was used in the original series, but not nearly as much as the reboot’s writers dropped it into scripts. When asked why that was the case, Moore had a very simple answer.
“I just said ‘This is a brilliant opportunity to say f**k over and over again” he said. “This is just a license to kill, so I’m just going to do it over and over again.”
12. Edward James Olmos was a real-life leader for the cast.
Edward James Olmos was initially reluctant to take on the role of Admiral William Adama, in part because his background in science fiction came from Blade Runner, and he was afraid the series would not take its storytelling seriously. Convinced by the scripts, and by Moore’s manifesto, Olmos joined the series and made it clear right away that he was not going to put up with any mockery of the storytelling, going to so far as to gather the cast together and demand that they all take it seriously.
“The thing that I really did get was the passion and the commitment,” James Callis, who played Gaius Baltar, said. “For all of us, we were really led through example by Eddie and Mary [McDonnell, who played Laura Roslin]. These two incredible professionals who gave us everything.”
Olmos’s commitment to leading the cast extended to the first time he used his now-iconic catchphrase “So say we all.” The line was not intended to be repeated at top volume by the rest of the cast, but Olmos committed to the line, saying it over and over again during the first shoot until his castmates followed him.
“You can see it in the take; they all kind of glance at each other and go, ‘So say we all.’ And then he insists,” Moore recalled. “He says it louder and he just pushed them and pushed them until it became this big thing on the soundstage. But it was just something Eddie came up with on his own in the moment, and then it became a signature line in the series after that. That was a big thing.”
13. A writer’s strike almost forced it to end early.
Battlestar Galactica was in the middle of its final season when a major Writers Guild of America strike hit, forcing Moore and the writers room to shut down work even as the show continued to shoot the scripts it did have in Vancouver. At the time, the last scripted episode was “Revelations,” in which the Colonial survivors arrive on the planet they thought was Earth only to find a barren wasteland. Moore flew to the show’s set to make it clear that the show should continue shooting as long as possible, and while he was hopeful the series would continue after the strike, he also wasn’t sure how long the strike would go on.
“You didn’t really think that Sci-Fi was going to cancel the show, but you start talking about it more and worrying about it more. It was in the air. In retrospect, you look back and realize they probably wouldn’t have canceled it unless the strike went on for a year or something. But at the time, it was the uncertainty of it all that was really a big deal,” he recalled.
Of course, the strike did eventually end, and the writers got back to work on the show’s final episodes.
14. The writers weren’t sure what happened to Starbuck either.
One of the great mysteries still tied to the show is what exactly happened to Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, who seemed to die in the show’s third season only to mysteriously reappear in the season 3 finale after a two-month absence. She’s then the character who plugs in the coordinates for the blind jump that leads the fleet to our Earth, only to then vanish into thin air in the series finale. A number of fan theories for what happened to Starbuck, what she really was after returning to the series, and what her role in the story is have since sprung up, but if you’re looking for definite answers, it turns out not even the show’s writers have them—in part because they weren’t looking for them.
“I can tell you that in the writing room, there were multiple theories as to who Kara Thrace really was, how did she come back, why did she disappear in the end,” writer/producer David Weddle recalled. “We never answered those concretely, nor do I think we ever should. The opinions of the writers in the room are just like the opinions of the viewers. It’s open to interpretation, and there are multiple ways to interpret it. It’s a fantastic journey for the character, and I’m so proud of it.”
15. A movie is still possible.
Battlestar Galactica ended its acclaimed run on Syfy in the spring of 2009, but the story wasn’t entirely finished. A TV movie titled The Plan followed in 2010, as did a short-lived prequel series called Caprica, which was co-created by Moore and ran for one season. Another potential prequel series, Blood & Chrome, materialized as only a 10-part web series in 2012 which was later compiled into a 2013 TV movie. Even as those spinoffs were happening, though, Universal was already exploring other options for the franchise, including a big screen reboot, which Moore only found out about in the Hollywood trades.
“I was very upset. I just went home,” Moore recalled. “Syfy called me up and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry. This wasn’t well handled.’ And I was like, ‘F**kin’ A, it wasn’t well handled. What are you talking about?’ It’s, like, you’re gonna do a reboot of the show? We’re on the air! It might have been during Caprica, but it was right there toward the end. I said, “The body’s not even cold yet, for f**k’s sake.”
Though it’s been a few years since the development of the reboot was announced, it is still moving forward. Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy contributed a draft of the script, and Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) is attached to direct. In December of 2018, it was reported that The Girl in the Spider’s Web writer Jay Basu has joined the project to pen a new draft of the screenplay.
Additional Source: So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross