An Introduction to Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica

Created by John Larocque on December 2, 2003
Last revised: September 7, 2006

"Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from what you've done anymore."


The genesis for the Battlestar Galactica miniseries began in December 2001. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in New York, the earlier Tom DeSanto effort for Studios USA had grounded, and the studio was seeking out a new creative team for the project. It turned to producer David Eick, who called writer Ronald D. Moore and asked him if he would be willing to join him in reviving the property on behalf of Universal's own network, the Sci-Fi Channel. Moore agreed, and together with initial director Breck Eisner they presented their proposal to the network. On April 2, 2002 the four-hour miniseries was officially announced, which was intended to function as the pilot episode to a brand new Battlestar Galactica series. Unlike DeSanto, this was to be a "re-imagining" or remake, a decision that has proven extremely controversial among original series fans. Moore explained his reasoning in an interview with Ian Cullen in May 2002.
"In my mind, one of the factors that argued most strongly against doing a sequel, was the fact that Lorne Greene and John Colicos are no longer with us, and hence, any sequel would have to forego using [them]... I'd rather go back to the beginning and retell the whole saga with both Adama and Baltar intact. In my opinion, they're at the heart of the show and I can't imagine Galactica without them... With Galactica, there is a very specific, very involved backstory that you've got to know in order to enjoy the show. Who are these people? What happened to their planet(s)? Who are the Cylons? Why did they attack? Why are they still chasing them? Why are they looking for Earth? I'm not saying it's impossible to answer all these questions in a sequel, but that still doesn't address the problem of getting them to watch in the first place. And even then, you've still got to fill in an awful lot of backstory. To me, it's better to start fresh with the audience and let them experience the key moments first hand."

This did not go down well with longtime Battlestar fans who wanted a continuation (such as that of DeSanto.) Richard Hatch echoed their sentiments in a November 2003 interview:

"To me it seems pretty obvious. The fans want to see Battlestar brought back intact, with the story continued with as many original characters and actors as possible. You can add new characters and elements but they also want to see the tone and spirit of the original taken into dramatic, new situations. They want the old characters along with a new generation born in space facing new challenges while continuing to focus on the original epic premise of the story. Beyond that, the fans are pretty well open to many new ideas. Unfortunately they didn't do that with this remake."

Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch were contacted for cameos, however they were unable to get an agreement with either of them. David Eick wanted Richard to play the role of Elosha, and Dirk to play the armistice station officer. Both commented on this in an interview in TV Guide in October 2003. Richard Hatch's messages to the producers was "I wish you all the best, but I spent four years building a case to bring back the original show and put my time, energy and money into that. And I cannot betray the fans." Dirk Benedict commented that "it wouldn't be right to the fans or to the [Starbuck] character; I owe a lot to Battlestar Galactica, and I have too much respect for the show that was created, and for the people that watched it."

Edward Olmos was drawn to the project due to his strong belief in Moore's character-driven script, but was largely unaware of the original series or Lorne Greene's Adama. Thus, fan opposition to both the remake and the project in general came as a surprise to him. In May 2003 he advised that "if you're a staunch purist, then you won't like it. But if you're open to a new look at that situation, you might." He further sounded off at the TV Critics association in July 2003.

"If you are a person who really has a strict belief in the original, I would not advise that you watch this program. We really don't stand true to the kind of characters that were built around the original. It definitely does break the mold. Some of the characters' names are the same, but the intent and the way that we are building the reality is completely not the reality that was built in the original... I've gotten some really strong, strong mail. They're really bitter. They're very angry. And I know the Sci-Fi Channel wants to say that everybody's going to enjoy it. They're not.... You've got to remember that this is a show that was only on ... in the late '70s, and to this day has a very strong fan base. Tens of thousands of people who write to each other for 25 years over a program that is not on the air and is not even being rerun. They didn't want this at all, and I didn't know any of this. All of a sudden, my e-mails went through the roof. Suddenly I was accused of teaming up with Ron Moore and creating just a slap in the face of all these people, and I didn't want to slap anybody."

Jamie Bamber later that month commented on Olmos' statement. "I understand what he was trying to say. He wasn't saying that our show is bad or that he doesn't believe in it. He was saying, if that's what you love, then stick with it. That's obviously working for you. But I disagree with him, because I think our show can complement the other show. It takes things in different directions. It's much more of a human story. It's much, I think, more plausible, in the sense of the situation that they're in. And as a result, I think it's much more dramatically interesting."

Since the airing of the miniseries, Richard Hatch has agreed to take on a semi-regular role in the series, that of Tom Zarek, a political activist and prisoner of conscience aboard the prison barge. There are thirteen episodes in Season One, which aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in early 2005 and Sky in Britain in Fall 2004. Season Two begins in Fall 2005, which will consist of twenty episodes.

Naturalistic Science Fiction

From the outset, Moore wanted this production to be different, boasting that he would "reinvent science fiction." Along with his approach to characters, was something dubbed "naturalistic science fiction." His instructions were to film this in the cinéma verité documentary style. Moore described this approach in April 2002 for Zap2It.

"In the broadest strokes, I don't want to do Star Trek and Star Wars all over again. There's a certain style of filmmaking associated with those shows, which is a very romantic, glossy approach to science fiction, with big, lush, orchestral scores, etc. I've been wanting for a while to go in a different direction with film science fiction, and we're doing it with Galactica. We're going to try to make it, for want of a better word, more real, a real place, down and dirty, with a sort of 'You are there' feel to it. It's going to be -- and this is a bad phrase -- a 'down to Earth' sort of place."

One of these changes is lack of sound in space, as he promised in his May 2003 Cylon Alliance chat. "I can remember after Star Wars came out that Harlan Ellison was saying that Hollywood film producers were dumbing down the audience by putting noise in space and treating the ships like fighter planes. He said that the audience is smart enough to understand what the reality is without condescending to them and I'd like to put that to the test."

In June 2003, David Eick stated that "there have been two aesthetic touchstones primarily for this pilot: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Black Hawk Down, both of which are very rooted in reality and both of which still manage to be gripping, suspenseful and exciting." This approach has been consistent across the board, including director Michael Rhymer, production designer Richard Hudolin as well as the F/X staff. Clothing and architecture were deliberately kept contemporary (another contrast from the original series), the intent of which was to relate the audience more closely to the dark premise of the plot and the plight of the Colonials.

Before he sat down to write the script, Moore rewatched the pilot episode and looked upon it in a new context, as he stated in SFX Magazine in June 2002:

"Looking at it in a post-9/11 world, brings with it a different resonance than it did [in 1978]. It's a surprisingly dark premise. Twelve entire planets are wiped out in the pilot; entire civilizations destroyed and the survivors are on the run from the enemy. They're not heroically doing anything except trying to survive and hunting for a place called Earth... In the original version, where the characters are coming to peace, and in the version I want to tell where they are at peace, suddenly this bolt from the blue happens and it just shocks their collective psyche in a very profound way... What happens to the people in Galactica is what happened to us in September, but in several orders of magnitude larger. It's sort of like saying September 11th happens, but the only people who survive are the people inside the Twin Towers. So it feels like what we'll be able to do is play out the psychic and emotional reverberations of that kind of an apocalypse through the characters and through the series."

In an August 2003 interview with Script Magazine, Moore said that the original series was caught between the dark, serious premise of the pilot episode, and what he described as the need to make "escapist popcorn fare" riding the Star Wars crest of its era. "In the pilot they go to the casino planet and start gambling. Starbuck is chatting up the ladies. And just moments ago their entire society's been wiped out! The contradiction between the premise and what they could actually do was inherent within the pilot." That same month in SciFi Magazine, he criticized the series for deviating from its original premise, going from planet to planet in the fashion of Star Trek.

Characters Revisioned

In writing the characters of the new series, Moore wanted to move away from larger-than-life archetypes and to infuse them with flaws that made them more like "real people." This is a different approach than the original series, where Adama, Apollo, Cain and even Baltar possessed almost mythical qualities. As he stated in his May 2003 Cylon Alliance chat, "I'm much more interested in a grey universe because that's the one we live in... I'm drawn to stories about people with problems and flaws as a rule because that's a more accurate reflection of humanity and therefore somewhat more relevant to the world we live in." This extends into the military world where the Galactica XO is alcoholic, one of his insubordinate officers strikes him, and there is sexual fraternizing between male and female officers. Additionally, the use of sexuality -- in particular the scenes with Number Six -- is much more pronounced than in the original. The end result is that the characters are different from the original portrayals.

William "Husker" Adama -- played by Edward James Olmos -- resembles more Lloyd Bridges' Commander Cain than Lorne Greene's Commander Adama. In the original series, Adama is military commander, President of the Council of the Twelve (a political body), and even performs a quasi-religious function. In the current incarnation, Adama is a career military officer, and defers to the civilian authority of the President, Laura Roslin. The Priest Elosha performs religious functions in the new series, and it was Elosha who swore in Roslin aboard Colonial One. In the famous "So saw we all" speech, Adama told the survivors that he knew where Earth was although he didn't actually believe in it or even know where it was. However, it was Elosha who referred back to the scriptures, The Book of the Word.

While Moore wanted to retain the focus of the series around the family Adama, he chose to base the dynamics of Adama, Apollo and Tigh on a favorite war movie, Otto Preminger's "In Harm's Way" from 1965. As he stated in his Cylon Alliance chat in November, "I wanted to make the [Adama/Tigh/Apollo] relationships more complicated, more challenging than in the original and I always loved the way 'In Harm's Way' handled them so I borrowed some of the relationships." Like the John Wayne character in that movie, William is divorced and estranged from his son, Lee "Apollo" Adama (played by Jamie Bamber), who blames his father for the death of his brother Zak. His trusted second in command, Saul Tigh (played by Michael Hogan), like the Kirk Douglas character, has alcohol and marital problems. William relies upon Tigh, believing that despite his flaws, he will come through for him when needed. In a larger sense this is the kind of heroism expected from the other flawed characters in the cast.

Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell, is completely new to the Galactica mythos. Roslin plays the education minister, who is 43rd in line of succession to the president, and ascends to the position of President in the wake of the Cylon attack. The closest equivalent in the original series is the dynamic between Adama and his civilian counterpart Siress Tinia in "Baltar's Escape," although the space cancer storyline has parellels with the discarded storyline intended for Serina/Lyra in the 1978 pilot. Moore intends to use the Adama/Roslin dynamic to play out conflicts between the military and civilian points of view.

Dr. Gaius Baltar is played by James Callis. The original Baltar was a career politician, who lets himself be used as a liaison in order to broker a false peace in return for political authority over his homeworld. This did not occur, and Baltar's role evolved into that of the human face of the Cylon enemy. In the current version, Baltar is a brilliant, arrogant, deeply flawed amoral scientist, with a large ego. Unbeknownst to him, his humanoid Cylon lover Number Six uses those weaknesses to the Cylons' advantage, penetrating the Colonial defence grid with a trojan horse virus on the night of their attack. He survives the Cylon holocaust and is haunted by holographic images of Number Six, who teases him through a cybernetic implant in his head. There are different ways for a prospective series to go, but Moore intends to continue the Baltar / Number Six dynamic.

The most controversial change was the decision to recast Starbuck as a female. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff, is a flight officer and the fiancée of Zac and a kind of a surrogate daughter to William (who is closer to her than son Lee.) Possessing many of the rogue qualities of the original Starbuck, in some respects she's more vulnerable. Regarding their dynamic, Moore told in February 2004 that "that although Starbuck is the wild one, she's closer to Adama than Apollo, more conservative than he is. Between her and Apollo, you wouldn't think it, but he's really the more liberal, while she turned out to be a Republican."

In his May 2003 Cylon Alliance chat, Moore briefly restated his reasons for the gender change. "I felt that making Starbuck a woman would provide greater creative opportunities in the show and was a way of avoiding what I felt would be clichés in the 'rogue pilot with a heart of gold' once Dirk Benedict (whose personal charm was such that he made the clichés go down a little easier) was removed from the equation. Boomer was a similar process, but given the deeper truth about Boomer in the mini, turning the character into a woman provided other opportunities down the road." At the TV Critics association in July 2003, he stated "I hadn't seen that [male/female] relationship played on camera. The whole notion of women in the military, in the U.S. military, is a relatively new idea."

In his TV Guide interview in November, Dirk Benedict, who would have played a major role in the defunct DeSanto project as Starbuck, commented on the gender switch. "What a sad fate to happen to Starbuck. I don't know why they've done this; it's kind of mystifying." Hatch commented on this a month later in TV Guide. "What bothers me is that women were always a strong part of Galactica; we had some wonderful female characters. But they left those characters out, and chose to change male characters into women. Why not add women characters instead of changing two of the most popular characters into women? That seems like such a slap in the face to fans."

Cylons Revisited

Moore found the thousand-yahren Cylon-human war a major problem, as he stated in his May 2003 Cylon Alliance chat:

"I felt the idea the Colonials just buy into an armistice and gather their entire fleet together and get wiped out was a serious flaw in the story. Also, the idea that every character in the show had grown up in a world that had been at war for literally centuries meant that they would be hardened and inured to the nature of war to such a degree that they would scarcely be recognizable to us... For those and other reasons the long war with the Cylons was discarded. However, I also felt the idea of a surprise attack which wipes out the Colonial civilization was fundamental to the concept, so retained it in a modified form."
With the shortening of the duration of the war came another major deviation from the original series -- the origin of the Cylon race. In the original series, the Cylons were a robotic race patterned after man, and created by a now-extinct race of lizards, also called Cylons. They had waged a genocidal war with the humans afer the humans had prevented them from taking over a neighboring race. In Moore's version, the robotic Cylons were patterned after man, because they were created by humans! One of the reasons for this change is that Moore found the Cylon/human conflict in the original series dramatically unsatisfying, as he stated in a December 2002 interview with Ian Cullen:
"The original backstory was always a bit vague, and to me it seemed a little generic... reptilian creatures who became robots out to conqueor the universe. One of the first questions we had to ask ourselves was what is the nature of the conflict between the Colonials and the Cylons? Why do the Cylons feel so strongly that they must wipe out humanity that they're willing to chase them across the galaxy? 'Well...... because they're EVIL.' That didn't seem like a very satisfying answer during the original run and it seems even less satisfying now. To just write it off to Cylon 'programming' also seems rather dull and vaguely Borg-like. No, to sustain this kind of never-ending threat requires a deeper motivation, a more profound conflict between two civilizations."

With the humans as creators, the source of the conflict is now that of the sins of the parents being revisited upon them by their own children. In the new version of the Cylon war, it was the humans who "played God," and created Cylons to do their work and wage their wars for them. Then the machines revolted against their creators and were forced into exile. In the pilot episode, the Cylons return after 40 years a changed race, and put an end to their parent race. In his November 2003 chat at the Cylon Alliance, he elaborated on Adama's controversial line "we are the flawed creation," which appeared in the script as well as early advertising trailers.

"It's a comment on us -- human beings and our flawed nature. We are not gods or god-like but we think that we are... Adama's speech is supposed to be that of a man who looks around him on the eve of the destruction of his entire society and wonders aloud why his society is even worth saving in the first place. It's a fair question, an existential question, if you will, one that all thinking men and women should ask themselves. Certainly in the post 9/11 world, we've all had to stop and take a breath and ask ourselves why we're here and what we're doing with our lives. All I did was have Adama ask that before the attack instead of after it."

Prior to the Cylons return, they had developed humanoid versions of their species, indistinguishable from humans. The focus on humanoid Cylons was done partly for cost reasons (actors in suits, CGI), but it also opened up other doors. "Once we started looking at doing humanoid Cylons, we realized that ... it creates many other possibilities. They can infiltrate human society. Will they lose themselves in human society? Will they begin asking existential questions such as 'Who am I?', and 'Is there a God?' Those are fascinating things when they are ostensibly a synthetic life-form." In the miniseries, the Cylons have their own religion, a culture and even the concept of a soul. One of the characters, Baltar's lover Number Six, claimed a capacity to love and be loved.

One of the more controversial scenes in the miniseries was the snapping of a baby's neck by Number Six on Caprica. In a December 2003 chat, he was asked how this serviced the plot. "The scene demonstrates both the cold-blooded nature of the Cylons and their more human aspect at the same time. Watch Tricia's performance carefully in this scene and I think you'll see that from her point of view, she's conducting a mercy killing -- as frightening as that may be to you or I."

Future Plans

In June 2003, David Eick discussed future plans for a prospective series. "We have also been inspired by certain episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica series, as well as classic sci-fi (Philip K. Dick especially) and broader strokes culled from pretty disparate sources -- running the gamut from Greek to Native American mythology, for example." Obvious original series episodes to utilize in the new series include "The Living Legend," and "War of the Gods."

Although the Von Däniken ancient astronaut element has been de-emphasized, it is still in the background of the series, along with some of the original mythology and religion. In a September 2002 chat at, Moore promised the series would have a different emphasis. "The mini's focus is by necessity on the military world because it's the story of a military attack and its aftermath. The civilian world is set up in the mini but will be enlarged in the series." And in his November 2003 chat at the Cylon Alliance, he said, "They might encounter technologically superior planets, but our intent is to keep the drama primarily within the rag-tag fleet and the Galactica herself."

And what about Earth? "I don't think we're going to find Earth."

Offsite Resources

An Early Draft of the Pilot Episode Script
A transcript of the broadcast version of the miniseries
Script review by Michael Faries
Script review by Edward Havens
Script review by Susan Paxton (Part 1)
Script review by Susan Paxton (Part 2)
The Sci-Fi Channel Battlestar Galactica site (USA)
The Sky One Battlestar Galactica site (UK)
The Space Channel Battlestar Galactica site (Canada)