We already looked at Battlestar Galactica and how it remains so incredible so many years after it aired (2003-2009). It’s a sci-fi landmark of a show and deserves to be recognized for its stellar run. There’s more to it than just great stories and music, though. The show’s relevance can not be denied, either.
Battlestar Galactica—a show about humans on the run from killer robots—is a show that needs to be seen in 2020 just as much as it needed to be seen in 2004. To understand that, let’s first consider the power of science-fiction as a genre.
Science-fiction at its core is not about aliens and phasers or lightspeed-jumping or any of the other stuff that’s often associated with it. That’s all window dressing. What sci-fi really is about is exploring the human condition. It’s about asking hard questions, forcing us to reexamine our preconceptions or to debate ethical quandaries that we might’ve previously ignored.
Let’s be honest about humanity: The problem with a lot of people is we tend to have our biases and our pride, making for a dangerous combination. People like what they like and hate what they hate and we’re often too self-righteous to be told we are wrong.
What sci-fi is able to do is take the questions and debates we should be asking and having and recontextualizes them in a fantastical setting. A person who might never open his mind to consider he or she is wrong about a topic might jump right into that exact debate if it relates to a character(s) on his favorite TV show. That’s what sci-fi pioneers like Heinlein, Dick, Serling, Roddenberry, and others understood.
If you dumb down your sci-fi so that it’s JUST about the gadgets and spectacle, the experience becomes hollow and ultimately worthless.
Good science-fiction is about things. It’s about story, not plot. It’s about characters, not contrivances.
So what is Battlestar Galactica trying to tell us? What does it want us to consider about ourselves?
It’s important to remember that Ron Moore’s BSG was made in the shadow of 9|11 and the opening days of the Iraq War. If you weren’t alive or if you weren’t old enough to remember, it was a VERY politically-polarized time. Sure, it still is today, but this was the outset of the modern era of hyper-politicization. The idea of a show that plainly exposed various extremist dangers that might stir up in response to 9|11 and the Iraq War was hard to fathom. It was too sensitive a topic unless you were willing to toe the line and always show “our” side as good and “their” side as bad.
BSG dared to show the shades of grey. It used sci-fi’s greatest tool—the genre’s ability to hold up a mirror and tell you it’s a window—to tell stories about what it means to be human, what it looks like when you’re sucker punched as a race, how you respond, how easy it is to become an extremist or to let personal feelings cloud judgment. It talked about martial law, the role of religion, rigging elections, the thin line between seeking peace and colluding with the enemy, about suicide bombing, and so much more. And that’s just the first two and a half seasons.
Let’s also not forget the idea of skinjob-Cylons, the enemies that look like people. Talk about a fantastic allegory for the terrorists who entered “our” country, stood in lines at “our” airport, and boarded “our” planes, without anyone thinking twice about them. The show “goes there.” It explores not only the fear and paranoia that would naturally arise, but dares to show how easy it would be to go too far in the other direction.
The thesis of the show, written in the shadow of those two wars, is stated in the final minutes of the miniseries. Commander Adama makes the statement: “It’s not enough to survive, we have to have something to live for.” Later, that idea would form the show’s moral code: “We survived the Cylon Holocaust, now what kind of a people are we going to be? Are we going to be worthy of survival?”
The show used science-fiction to warn us in the post-9|11 world—those of us who survived the attacks and the wars that followed—that it’s very easy to have our survival be in vain, and that we must be a people worthy of the gift of life.
Now, twenty years later, the show is as relevant as ever. Look at the list of topics it tackles in its eighty-episodes: political extremism, military extremism, martial law, religious extremism, election-stealing, sending soldiers to combat civilian unrest. BSG tackled all of that. They took the headlines and fears of today and showed us the dangerous road we were on fifteen years before we got there.
Science-fiction is needed now more than ever if you ask me. And I don’t mean “tits and explosions and laser beams in space.”
And I don’t mean convoluted plots that make no sense but don’t think about it because look, mindless action!
I’m talking about real science-fiction, the kind that asks hard questions and doesn’t bury those questions under convoluted technobabble, but grounds them enough for the common person to watch, to contemplate, and–potentially–to be changed by.
Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.
If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.
BSG is fifteen years old, more or less, and it’s never been more relevant…or needed.
This was part two in a series looking back on this incredible show. Next, we’ll dig into the episodes themselves and look at what makes the individual shows and the larger story arcs so great…